Disclaimer: All of the materials borrowed from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel the Series belong to Joss Whedon and to the entities and companies associated with their creation. I have borrowed them for creative and entertainment purposes only. No compensation has been or ever shall be received for the writing below. No copyright infringement is intended.
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Spoilers: BtVS Season 6 (and beyond).
Author's Notes: (1) This story rewrites the events of Buffy's resurrection and introduces a number of non-canon plot changes. One is that Spike leaves town almost immediately after Buffy's death. Another is that Giles leaves much earlier than he did in the original episode, long before Buffy is resurrected. The others you can probably figure out as you go along. (2) The story is written in modified Watchers style. This means that it uses something similar to scene headers in screenplays, but the actual text is mostly written in fiction format. Unlike Watchers, though, I may occasionally show a character’s thoughts in italics. (3) In Part 1 of my fan fic story "The Buffy Tapes," I created four flashbacks that occurred behind the scenes of the actual BTVS Season 3 (one flashback is before "Revelations"; another is between "Lovers Walk" and "The Wish"; the third is after "Amends"; and the last one is after the end of "Consequences.") I'm assuming those same events--or something similar to them--happened in the past of this new story; however, none of the other non-canonical events of "The Buffy Tapes," other than those flashbacks, occurred here. (4) Thanks, as always, to Lilly for the beta read and edit! I would also like to thank the Buffy-vs-Angel web site, whose transcripts I used ("Faith, Hope and Trick," "Bargaining I and II," "Afterlife," and "Tabula Rasa").
Summary: This story explores Faith's reaction to Buffy's death and resurrection, and it presents a new take on the real reason Buffy was raised from the dead.
Part 6 Part 7 Part 8 Part 9 Part 10
Heaven -- A Short Time After Buffy's Death
It was unclear whether the current space was interior or exterior. There were no walls, floor, or ceiling visible. The area seemed almost gaseous as if one were floating within a nebula.
Gradually, the view cleared, and a figure could be made out--a small blonde woman emerging from what appeared to be a swirling portal. As she stepped forward, a pair of glorious angel's wings spread out behind her. Buffy leaned her head back and gazed at the upper tips in awe.
"Yes, we all love them..." a voice lightly chided. "But, honey...most of us try not to flaunt them."
At her mother's words, Buffy blushed a bit and then reluctantly tore her eyes from her new wings. "Sorry," she said sheepishly. In a flash, she put them away.
Joyce pulled her Buffy into her arms. "Oh, it feels so good to hold you again. I missed you."
"I missed you, too. So much."
When the two finally separated, Joyce looked into her daughter's eyes. "So...life review's over...tell me...what have you learned?"
Buffy glanced away in thought and then walked a few feet away. When she turned around, she said, "Well, I-I-I think that it wasn't enough to just want to see Uncle Henry and Auntie Em--it's that--if I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won't look any further than my own backyard. Because if it isn't there, I never really lost it to begin with! Is that right?"
Joyce gave her daughter a mock glare for the Dorothy quote from the Wizard of Oz. "Smart ass," she said teasingly.
"Mom!" Buffy warned in a hushed voice. "You said 'smart ass' in heaven."
"It's allowed when it's accurate," Joyce countered.
Buffy laughed and then got serious. "I did learn something--a lot of somethings, actually. I learned how lucky I was to have you and Dawn and my friends in my life. I was blessed with a lot of love."
"I'm glad you think so, honey," Joyce said with a smile.
"Unfortunately, I also realized that I was a total screw-up in a lot of ways." Buffy shook her head sadly. "So many things I wish I'd done differently."
"We all learn that," Joyce pointed out. "We're only human."
The two became quiet for a while until Joyce broke the silence with a slight change of subject. "So...are you ready to start being a guardian angel?"
Buffy snickered. "Still can't believe I'm getting to be the star of my own Touched by an Angel episode."
"Have you thought about who you want to watch over?"
Buffy nodded and then gave a hesitant shrug. "I know it should be Dawn..."
"I think I've got her covered," Joyce assured.
"Good 'cause honestly...it's Faith."
Joyce showed no reaction. She just cocked her head and asked, "Not Angel?"
Buffy let out a heavy sigh. "Angel was a mistake. I realize that now. As much as I loved him, it never should have happened."
"What about Willow or Xander?"
"I-I-I know it should be them next to Dawn, I know that," Buffy said, twisting her fingers together, "and I do love them, so much, and I'll worry about them like crazy, but...Faith needs me more." She dropped her gaze to her hands. "She doesn't have anyone. She never did really..."
"Do you feel like you have unfinished business with Faith?" Joyce asked gently.
"Yes," Buffy instantly answered, raising her head to meet her mother's gaze. Then she cringed a little. "Don't be mad."
"I'm not mad, honey," Joyce assured her. "I faced some 'Faith' issues in my own review, if I recall," she admitted.
The slayer's expression saddened. "She had such a tough life in Boston, and when she came to Sunnydale, I should've been a better friend to her. I should've helped her, reached out to her more, I should've--" Buffy stopped and didn't say the rest.
She didn't have to because her mother filled in the blanks. "Told her how you felt?"
Buffy looked up in surprise. "How did you--? I never told anyone."
"I didn't know. Not at first, anyway. It took me a while to piece it all together. Most of it I didn't see or understand until I was here in heaven." Joyce stepped closer to her daughter. "You loved her from the start, didn't you?"
Buffy gave a tearful nod. "I think so. I felt something with her the very first time I met her, but I just thought it was slayer stuff, you know? But it didn't take long to figure out that it was way more than that. It was intense, like, scary intense. I mean, the last time I felt that strongly for someone, it was for Angel, and..."
"And that turned out to be a disaster."
"Exactly," Buffy said. Then she let out another sigh. "No matter how scared I got, though, my feelings kept growing stronger. A-A-And I think hers did, too, but...then Angel came back, and then Faith killed Finch, and then...I lost her. After that, I think we both went a little crazy. I mean, my god...I almost killed her...I almost killed her..."
As her mother tugged her into another warm embrace, Buffy let the tears come. After a moment, though, she forced them down and pulled away. As she wiped the tears from her face, she gave a rueful laugh.
"I swear, sometimes it felt like the universe was against us, like there was some great conspiracy to keep us apart. Every time we started to get close, something always happened."
Something about Buffy's statement set Joyce to thinking. She glanced away, her brow furrowing. Buffy didn't notice her mother's reaction.
"I thought maybe things would be different when Faith woke up from her coma," Buffy went on, "but she just went berserk all over again. I don't know why I'm telling you--you were there, you remember."
"I do," Joyce said, coming out of her moment of contemplation. "But I think Faith's actions were more about her not being able to face what she had done. It was easier to blame you."
Buffy nodded in agreement. "It must've all come crashing down on her because when I tracked her to L.A. she wasn't angry or blaming. She was just...broken. If I had tried to kill her, she would've let me. I really think she would've let me." She hung her head before continuing. "She was really sorry and wanted to apologize, tried to apologize, but I wouldn't let her. I was too busy playing the justified victim, being all self-righteous." Buffy shook her head sadly. "Angel forgave her and was helping her, but I refused to. I just wanted to punish her."
Buffy finally raised her head and met her mother's gaze again. "And that's why I want to watch over her now. I owe her, and she needs somebody."
"She does need someone," Joyce confessed. "Now more than ever."
"What is it?" Buffy asked worriedly. "What do you know?"
Joyce reached out and squeezed her daughter's arm. "Let's just say she didn't take your death very well..."
California State Women's Penitentiary -- Cellblock -- Night
In the common area of her cellblock, Faith was perched on a bench, shit-talking with some of her fellow inmates. When her eye caught the time on the wall clock, the blue-jumpsuit-clad slayer hopped off her bench.
"Gotta run, chicas," she told them cheerily. "Time for my shift in the infirmary."
A scraggly-haired redhead named Lena called out to her in mock complaint, "How come you get all the sweet jobs around here?"
Faith laughed as she backed away. " 'Cause I'm sweet!"
"Yeah right!" Lena shot back. "We know that's a fuckin' lie!"
As Faith passed by another group of inmates, a verbal fight broke out. Debbie, a huge hulk of a woman, was screaming obscenities at a much smaller but just as angry female. When the two started a shoving match, Faith immediately intervened. She leapt over a metal table and put herself between them, pushing them apart.
"Hey! Stop it! I said STOP IT!" Faith yelled.
The smaller woman instantly backed down, but Debbie didn't. She looked ready to turn her wrath on Faith. She balled her fists at her sides and appeared seconds away from decking the slayer.
Two of Debbie's associates came beside her and tugged on her arms. "Come on, Deb. Let it go," one said.
"Yeah, you don't want the Super Bitch comin' down on you," the other whispered to her.
After a very tense moment, Debbie reluctantly let her two associates lead her away.
Once Faith was sure that the situation had been defused, she got back on her path toward the exit.
While watching her walk away, Debbie glared maliciously at the brunette's back. "One day I'm gonna kill that bitch..." she promised.
As Faith was led by a guard out of the common area and into the corridors between cellblocks, he leaned over to her and said, "Thanks for breaking that up. Those two have been going at it for days."
She flashed the guard a slick smile. "Awww, Eddie...nothing says 'thank you' like a new pack of Luckys..." she said in a sing-songy voice as she held up an almost empty pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes.
Eddie laughed and said, "Deal." But then he quickly sobered. "Seriously, watch your back, okay?"
Faith just flashed him another smile. "Don't worry. I can take care of myself."
As he sent Faith on to the next junction, Eddie murmured to himself, "Don't I know it." Once she had been buzzed through, he turned around and headed back to the common area. "Fifteen minutes! Then it's lights out!" he called out. "Get to your cells!"
Penitentiary -- Infirmary -- Minutes Later
As the two guards on duty gave her friendly nods and held the door open for her, Faith entered the infirmary. She headed straight for the sink to wash her hands, then called out to the doctor on duty, Dr. Victoria Raine.
"Hey, Doc! What's up?"
As Faith turned around, still drying off her hands, she saw a short, pudgy, salt-and-pepper-haired woman in a white lab coat standing amidst multiple stacks of brown cardboard boxes.
"At the moment, not a single thing," Dr. Raine replied in an exasperated tone, "and therein lies the problem. My supplies shipment arrived today, and now it all needs to be put away. Unfortunately, I have a mountain of charts to attend to as well."
In a flash, Faith's mind took her back in time to Boston, to her memories of her first watcher, Professor Diana Dormer. In the short time she'd known the woman, she'd come to respect her--and then to fail her. Although Dr. Raine didn't really speak or look like her former watcher, Faith was nonetheless reminded of her.
No sense dredgin' up all that shit, she told herself. The Council, slaying, that part of your life's over.
"Why don't you let me handle the restocking while you work on your charts?" Faith suggested. "If I don't know where something goes, I'll ask."
Dr. Raine smiled gratefully. "Sounds perfect. Thank you. You have been a godsend, my dear."
Faith snorted jokingly in response. "First time anybody's ever said that to me."
"Well, it's true," Dr. Raine merrily insisted, moving to her small desk in the corner. "And not just here. Out there, too. All the guards say so."
Faith shrugged off the praise. "Just trying to keep the peace and pass the time."
As Dr. Raine turned her attention to her patient charts, Faith got to work on the shipment of supplies. She put away several boxes of gauze, bandages, and dressings, followed by latex gloves and surgical tape. When she opened the next box, though, a puzzled look came over her face. She picked up one of the items--a small clear bag with a coil of plastic tubing inside it.
"Hey, Doc, where do these oxygen thingees go?" Faith asked, holding up the bagged tubing. "The ones that stick in your nose?"
Dr. Raine looked up to see what Faith was holding. "Nasal cannula," she replied, identifying the item. "They go in the bottom drawer of the red cart here."
"Got it, thanks," Faith answered then headed toward the cart that stood between herself and the doctor. "Cannula...what kind of a word is that, anyway?"
"It's Latin, my dear," the doctor answered, her eyes now back on her charts. "It means 'small reed' because the tube is like a plant stem that's round and hollow."
"Oh, well that makes sens--arggghh!!!"
Faith's comment was cut off as a surge of pain suddenly ripped through her body. Her hand clutched at her chest as she stumbled against the cart, causing items to crash to the floor.
"Faith!" Dr. Raine called out in alarm, rising from her chair.
The pain was so great that it forced Faith to her knees. She doubled over, groaning and grimacing, unable to even form words yet.
Dr. Raine rushed to Faith's side and lifted the slayer's head enough to look her in the eyes. "Faith! What's wrong? Tell me what's happening."
Faith was crying and showed no recognition of the doctor. "Oh god...no..."
Series of Shots -- Sunnydale -- Glory's Tower
-- Buffy making her final words to Dawn then jumping from the tower
-- Buffy falling into the roiling portal, being twisted and contorted by its energies
-- Buffy screaming in pain within the portal, then a flash
-- Buffy lying on her back on a pile of bricks, her lifeless eyes staring upwards
Penitentiary -- Infirmary -- Resume
Faith was practically sobbing as Dr. Raine continued to call out to her, trying to pull her from whatever state she had fallen into.
"Oh god...she's dead..." Faith cried. "She's dead, and it's all my fault..."
"Faith, listen to me," Dr. Raine instructed, helping the stricken slayer to her feet. "Let me get you to a table, I need to--"
"NOOO!!!" Faith screamed, violently shoving Dr. Raine away. The doctor slammed into an open cabinet, sending more items crashing to the floor.
Drawn into the infirmary by the noise, the guards rushed Faith and tackled her to the floor. She fought them like a mad woman, and they were unable to restrain her. The ensuing battle was destroying the infirmary piece by piece.
Meanwhile, Dr. Raine got to her feet, hurried to the counter, and pulled a loaded syringe from a drawer. She headed back toward the ongoing fight.
Faith had just kicked one guard away when the other one tackled her again.
"Hold her still!" Dr. Raine ordered the guard.
"I'm trying!" he yelled back.
Dr. Raine finally saw an opening and jabbed the syringe into Faith's leg. Within seconds, the drug took effect, and Faith's struggle weakened. Her eyelids fluttered closed, and she slumped to the floor, unconscious.
The guard who had been trying to hold Faith down rolled off her and lay on the floor beside her, grimacing and trying to catch his breath. The other guard limped over, holding his side, and asked, "What the hell was that all about?!"
Dr. Raine knelt beside Faith and stroked her forehead worriedly. "I haven't the foggiest idea."
Penitentiary -- Psychiatric Ward -- Faith's Cell -- Next Morning
When Faith woke up, she found herself face down on a hard, cold tile floor. She blinked groggily as she took in the sight of one half of what would prove to be a very small square cell.
She went to push up from the floor but realized that her upper body was encased in a straight-jacket. She rolled onto her back and used her heels to nudge herself toward the wall. She kept scooting and nudging until she had propped herself up in the corner.
Leaving her legs splayed out before her, she leaned the side of her head against the wall. Tears leaked out of her eyes, but her expression was blank, as if she were dead inside.
Penitentiary -- Psychiatric Ward -- Corridor -- Same Time
Outside Faith's cell, a guard watched her through a tiny slit in the door. When he saw her move to the corner and sit up, he stepped over to a nearby phone on the corridor wall. He dialed a number and waited.
"Infirmary," he heard Dr. Raine answer.
"She's awake," he told her.
"I'll be right there."
Penitentiary -- Psychiatric Ward -- Faith's Cell -- Minutes Later
Once the guard had unlocked the door for her, Dr. Raine cautiously entered the small cell.
"Faith, it's Dr. Raine," she called out to the troubled girl.
Faith didn't reply; she just stared blankly at the wall.
The doctor crossed the cell and knelt down on the floor. "Faith, I just want to help, but I can't help if I don't know what's going on."
Faith remained unresponsive.
Dr. Raine had no choice but to leave and give Faith a little more time.
Penitentiary -- Infirmary -- Later
Hours later, after several more failed attempts to engage Faith, Dr. Raine was standing at her desk. With one hand, she held an ice pack to the back of her head where it had impacted the cabinet after Faith's shove. With her other hand, she rapidly punched in a number on her cell phone. After a substantial pause, it finally began to ring.
When she heard the expected voice answer, she said urgently, in an accent that was now totally British, "Quentin, I have disturbing news."
"Vicky!" exclaimed her brother, Quentin Travers, Head of the Watchers Council. "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine," she replied, "but Faith isn't."
"Faith has had some kind of...reaction. To what, I don't know, but she became so distraught earlier that I had to sedate her." She got a puzzled look on her face. "It doesn't appear to be connected to anything here, though. That's what's so odd about it."
She heard her brother let out a weary sigh. "It's Miss Summers," he told her. "She's dead."
Dr. Raine's mouth fell open. She pulled the ice pack away from her head and sank into her chair. "Dear God..."
Penitentiary -- Infirmary -- That Night
After a short, ineffectual sleep and a very busy day, Dr. Raine now sat slumped in her chair, a weary and worried expression on her face. She was so preoccupied with her thoughts that the phone greatly startled her when it suddenly rang. She fumbled for it and then answered in a neutral accent, "Infirmary."
"Lehane's friend is here to see her," the visitation guard informed her. "What should we tell him?"
Dr. Raine thought for a moment then said, "Tell him to wait. I'll call you back."
Penitentiary -- Psychiatric Ward -- Faith's Cell -- Minutes Later
Dr. Raine found Faith in exactly the same position and demeanor as she had on all of her other visits--despondently propped in the corner, refusing to eat, drink, speak, or even make eye contact.
As before, she knelt beside the stricken slayer and called her name.
"Faith, you have to come out of this," she told her. "Your-your friend is here to see you...the one who always visits...Angel..."
This information got the result she wanted. Faith looked up and met her gaze.
Penitentiary -- Visitation Area -- Minutes Later
As Angel sat on the other side of the glass, he watched the guards bring Faith in. Unlike previous visits, she was brought in fully restrained--with leg irons and handcuffs attached to a waist chain. Once they had placed her in the chair, the guards unlocked her left handcuff and snapped it onto a large u-shaped bar that jutted from the table. Then they left her alone in the cubicle. Angel could tell by the look in her eyes as she picked up the phone that she already knew what he had come to tell her.
"How did you find out?" he asked her.
"I felt it, and I just knew," she said, her voice nearly breaking. She cleared her throat and made herself ask, "What happened?"
"I don't have all the details," Angel answered, "but the short version is...she went up against a hell god named Glory who was trying to open a portal to the hell dimension she came from. Buffy defeated her but not before the portal was opened. The only way it could be closed was if Buffy sacrificed herself by jumping in."
Both were quiet for a while, still trying to get their minds to accept the truth of Buffy's death. Finally, Faith looked up and met Angel's eyes.
"I'm sorry," she said sincerely. "I know you loved her."
Angel nodded and then said, "I know you loved her, too."
Faith's eyes grew wide, and her mouth dropped open in surprise.
Angel gave her a small smile. "Yeah, I knew."
Guilt eventually overtook Faith's shock, and she dropped her gaze to the scarred table she was handcuffed to. "Sorry," she mumbled.
"For what? For loving her?"
Faith didn't know what to say to that. After a while she raised her head again, the anguish of even more guilt now on her face. "I shoulda been there. If I hadn't screwed things up...if I hadn't ended up here..."
"Don't go there, Faith," Angel said sympathetically.
"Why not?" she shot back. "You have. I can see it in your eyes."
It was Angel's turn to hang his head. He couldn't deny Faith's accusation. He did blame himself for not staying in Sunnydale when he could have. He pushed the guilt down, though, and hurried to finish what he'd come to do. After glancing quickly at the clock, he turned back to Faith.
"I don't have much longer," he said. "I need to tell you something: I won't be coming by for a while." When he saw the hurt in Faith's eyes, he quickly added, "It's only because I've got a job overseas...in Sri Lanka. Might take a few months."
Faith nodded in understanding and then shrugged nonchalantly as if his absence wasn't going to bother her. "No big. I know you got a life to lead." Inside, though, her heart sank even more.
"I'll be back," Angel promised.
"You better," Faith said, forcing a smile. "Bring me a souvenir. Something like 'My vampire sponsor went to Sri Lanka, and all I got was this lousy t-shirt'." Then she sobered and said, "Be careful."
"You too," Angel replied. Then he hung up the phone and left.
Faith slumped in her chair, feeling the cold, lonely, and inescapable darkness settle over her once again.
Penitentiary -- Cellblock -- The Next Day
Having been released from the psych ward, Faith was returned to her usual cellblock. As she was led hobbling down the corridor in both handcuffs and leg irons, she could feel the stares, hear the laughs and the speculations.
"...heard she had a meltdown and attacked the doc..."
"...stupid bitch...blew the best job in the joint..."
"...knew she was a fraud...just as fucked up as the rest of us..."
No one dared to taunt her directly, though--none except Debbie.
"Off your high horse now, aren't ya, bitch?" Debbie spat snidely at her through the bars.
"Shut your pie hole!" Eddie yelled, pointing furiously at the trouble-maker.
When they passed Lena's cell, the redhead called out to her fellow inmate. "Yo, S.B.? Faith? You okay? What happened?"
Faith made no answer. She didn't even acknowledge her friend's presence. She just continued down the corridor, a blank, dead expression on her face. She mechanically followed Eddie's commands until he had uncuffed her, placed her inside her cell, and locked the door.
She stood stock still inside her cell for a solid minute before plopping wearily onto her bunk. When she felt a wave of anguish well up inside her, she ran her hands through her hair and forced it down. Then her eye caught the picture she had taped to the wall. She got up, walked over, and plucked it off the cement.
It was a novelty picture from a photo booth containing four separate shots of herself with Buffy. The first two frames showed Buffy and Faith making goofy faces and poses inside the booth. The third frame showed the slayers kissing passionately. The fourth frame showed them looking at each other intently.
Faith couldn't hold the pain back any longer. She pressed the strip of pictures against her heart and leaned face first against the stone wall. Then she let the tears come.
Penitentiary -- Exercise Field -- A Few Days Later
As she had for several days, Faith kept her distance from all the other inmates, even those she called friends. She didn't feel like feeding the gossip hounds, and she sure as hell didn't feel like sharing. She didn't need or want anyone's pity. She sat on the bench on the far corner of the exercise field, smoking cigarette after cigarette from her pack of Luckys.
Most of the other women had kept their distance, too. They knew how dangerous Faith was in a fight. They didn't want to risk pissing her off, especially when the girl had proven to be unstable. Only her friend Lena dared to approach her.
"Hey, S.B.," Lena called out amiably as she joined Faith on the bench. "How ya doing?"
Faith didn't even look her way.
"Eddie says ya lost somebody. If you wanna talk..."
Faith sent her a scathing glare, so Lena instantly left that topic. She cleared her throat nervously and tried again.
"So...um...do you think you'll get your infirmary job back?"
"What do you think?" Faith retorted.
Lena looked away for a bit then scooted closer. "Look, Debbie's making big talk about taking you out--you know, hit you while you're down? You better watch yourself."
Faith just shrugged like she didn't care.
Not knowing what else to say or do, Lena slipped away.
Penitentiary -- Faith's Cell -- That Night
As the other inmates lay sleeping and snoring in their cells, Faith tossed and turned on her bunk, her eyes darting beneath their lids. Her face was tensed in pain as she mumbled incoherently, trapped in a horrible nightmare.
Hell -- Faith's Nightmare
Faith ran through a hellish landscape--stone buildings burning or destroyed, demons roaming freely, humans screaming in torment. She focused on one set of screams.
"Buffy?" she called out. "Buffy?!!" Then she took off toward a particular building that was only half demolished.
As she wound through the crumbling hallways, the screaming she had honed in on grew louder. When she tracked it to its location behind a heavy wooden door, she heard the screaming suddenly stop. She kicked down the door and ran inside. Several demons were hovered over something Faith couldn't see. They turned and rushed the slayer. Even with no weapon, she made quick work of them, ripping them to pieces with her bare hands.
When the demons were dead, Faith hurried to where they'd been hovering. There she found Buffy--chained to a table, her body so ravaged by the tortures the demons had subjected her to that she was almost unrecognizable.
"Oh god, Buffy..." Faith said in horror before reaching for the chains. "I-I-I'm gonna get you out of here...just let me..."
"Don't. You. Touch Me."
The intensity of Buffy's voice made Faith freeze in her attempt to free the woman. She slowly looked up and met Buffy's eyes.
"This is all your fault!" Buffy accused, suddenly and inexplicably able to rise from the table, no longer bound.
Faith backed away in terror. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry...I should've been there to help, but--"
"Poor Faith...finally sorry," Buffy taunted as she descended upon her. "Well, sorry came too late." She grabbed Faith by the throat with both hands and shoved her against the wall, strangling the life from her. "I'm in hell...because of you!!!"
Penitentiary -- Faith's Cell -- That Night
Faith awoke screaming, rousing the entire cellblock. While she grasped at her neck and panted for air, the inmates around her grumbled and cursed.
"Jesus Christ! Not again...every fuckin' night since she got back..."
"Damn psycho...they need to send her ass back to the ward..."
When Faith realized, once again, that it had only been a dream, she sat up and swung her legs over the side of her bunk. She leaned her elbows on her knees, covered her face with her hands, and just cried.
As Faith's body shook with sobs, she couldn't tell that she wasn't actually alone in her cell.
She couldn't see that, there with her, standing right in front of her, glowing wings and all, was Guardian Angel Buffy.
She couldn't feel Buffy's fingers caressing her brow or wiping the tears from her cheeks.
She couldn't hear Buffy telling her again and again, "It's not your fault...I'm not in hell..."
She couldn't see Buffy falling to her knees, crying and pleading with her, "Faith, please don't do this to yourself...please..."
Faith could only sink deeper into her despair.
Heaven -- Later
"I'm trying everything I can," Buffy desperately reported to her mother, "but Faith is getting worse. She blames herself for my death, and now she just wants to die. I don't know what to do!"
Joyce reached out and squeezed her daughter's arm. "Just keep at it, honey. Don't give up."
Buffy nodded, but worry still creased her face.
Penitentiary -- Exercise Field -- The Next Day
As Faith sat smoking on her bench at the far corner of the yard, she was closely watched by the guards, particularly by her two closest allies within the correctional officers--Jack, who was positioned on the wall, and Eddie, who was stationed on the ground near the free weights.
They had heard the rumors and knew that Debbie had made threats against Faith. They also knew that Debbie was fully capable of making good on those threats. She was a lifer with no possibility of parole, so she had very little to lose, and her girls were fiercely loyal. So far, Debbie and her gang had minded their own business, but Jack and Eddie weren't convinced of their seeming disinterest.
Suddenly, a fight broke out at the tables near the free weights. As the two women started shoving and slapping, a crowd gathered around them. The ground-level guards moved in. Before they could get there, though, the single fight escalated into a bench-emptying brawl when the two girls' respective friends jumped into the action. Every available guard rushed in to break up the incident before it worsened.
Faith turned back and glanced at the massive fight. For a moment she considered intervening; then she shook her head and returned to her smoking. What the fuck difference does it make? she thought to herself. They're just gonna beat the shit out of each other another day.
The brawl, of course, was Debbie's idea--the perfect distraction that would allow her to make her move against the Super Bitch. While the guards struggled to make a dent in the violent mob, Debbie and five of her most loyal followers hurried over to where Faith sat alone.
From his position on the wall, Jack noticed Debbie and her gang creeping toward Faith and immediately got on his radio. "Eddie! Eddie! Forget the fight! Debbie's moving on Faith!"
Eddie, though, had his hands full within the ongoing brawl. He tried to look in Faith's direction but couldn't see past the crowd.
On the far side of the exercise field, Debbie finally reached Faith. "You're sittin' on my bench, bitch," she called out in challenge.
Faith cut her eyes over her shoulder and then took a long drag off her cigarette. After breathing out the smoke, she said, "Fuck off, Debbie. I'm not in the mood."
"Well, I am."
Faith got up from her bench and shot the larger woman a deadly glare. Then she threw down her cigarette and stalked directly toward Debbie.
For a second, the hulking woman seemed to reconsider her actions, but then she stood firm, determined to follow through. She readied herself, expecting an instant fight. She was surprised when Faith just walked right past her.
"I told you," the brunette growled, "I'm not in the mood."
As Faith walked away, she made no attempt to watch her back. She knew they were going to try something, but at that point, she just didn't care. Debbie took the opportunity given to her and punched Faith hard in her lower back.
Faith fell to one knee, grimacing in pain, but after a moment, she got back up. When she turned around toward her attacker, she saw Debbie's girls begin to surround them. When the circle was complete, Faith lifted her eyes to meet the larger woman's stare, but she kept her arms loose at her sides.
When she realized Faith wasn't going to retaliate, Debbie punched her in the face several times. Each impact made Faith's head snap to the side with such force that it set the slayer to stumbling. Debbie then gave Faith two brutal punches to the gut followed by a vicious uppercut to the chin. Faith hit the ground on her back, seeing stars and spitting blood from her mouth.
Back on the wall, Jack kept yelling at Eddie over the radio. "Get your ass over there! She's not even fighting back!"
Eddie shoved away the woman he'd been trying to restrain and began fighting his way out of the mob.
As Debbie's friends cheered, Faith turned over and crawled along the gravel, trying to get to her feet. When Faith was almost there, Debbie grabbed her by the front of her jumpsuit and yanked her close.
"I'm gonna make you wish you'd never been born!" Debbie snarled.
Faith gave a rueful laugh. "Too late."
Debbie's face scrunched into a scowl, and she tossed Faith to her friends. "Get her!" she ordered.
At Debbie's command, the five women began raining down blows on Faith. After a hailstorm of punches, Faith went down again, this time on her stomach. But the blows didn't stop. They just became kicks and stomps instead of punches.
As Faith lay on the ground, grunting and wincing each time a foot connected with her body, she couldn't see that Guardian Angel Buffy was right there with her.
"Fight back!" Buffy yelled at her. "Damn you, fight back!"
But Faith didn't hear her. She just took all the punishment that Debbie and her gang were putting out. If she was lucky, it would all be over soon--the pain, the guilt, the pathetic life she'd wasted.
When Debbie figured Faith was sufficiently softened up, she called out to her girls, and they picked Faith up and held her upright by her arms.
Blood was pouring down Faith's face from a large gash on her forehead. She kept blinking, as if she were trying to focus her vision. Buffy continued to plead with her to no avail.
Debbie held up a shiv and said, "Time to die, bitch."
Buffy's translucent form stepped between the slayer and her attacker. "Faith! Remember what I told you when we were fighting Kakistos? The first rule of slaying? Don't. Die." Buffy practically sobbed her next words, "Faith, please! Please, don't die!"
Something in Faith's eyes changed. It was as if she had actually heard her guardian angel's desperate words. Just as Debbie shoved the thin blade of the shiv through Buffy's glowing form and toward Faith's stomach, Faith yanked her arms free and stopped Debbie's thrust.
Debbie's eyes showed shock, then fury, and when she failed to even budge Faith's grip, they finally showed fear.
Back at the brawl, Eddie at last made it clear of the mob and ran toward Faith. When he arrived, he found Debbie and her gang on the ground--either groaning or unconscious. Faith was beaten and bloody, barely able to remain standing.
When Eddie rushed to her side, she pointed at the others and said in a slurred voice, "I didn'start it...they..."
"I know," Eddie assured her. "I know."
When Faith's eyes promptly rolled back in her head, Eddie caught her and eased her gently to the ground.
Penitentiary -- Psych Ward -- Infirmary -- Later
When the injured had first arrived in the main infirmary, Dr. Raine had immediately separated Faith from the others and sent her to the facility in the psych ward. The doctor had then summoned all of the prison's on-call medical staff. After doing a rapid triage, Dr. Raine had sent a few of the injured women on to the local hospital and left the rest to be tended to by her staff. Then she had rushed to the psych ward to check on her favorite inmate.
Currently, Faith lay groaning on a gurney as Dr. Raine systematically examined her abdomen for signs of internal bleeding. Satisfied that there was none, the doctor helped Faith sit up and swing her legs off the side. She flashed a pen light in Faith's eyes, rechecking her pupil dilation. After putting her pen light away, she began cleaning the gash on Faith's forehead. Once she had it sufficiently cleaned, she began applying a line of butterfly bandages to pull the wound closed.
As she neared the end of the gash, she said, "Jack tells me you didn't fight back. Not at first. Is that true?"
Faith cut her eyes away and didn't answer.
Dr. Raine stopped her work and demanded, "Am I going to have to put you on suicide watch?"
Faith just shrugged in response.
Dr. Raine huffed in frustration. "Is that it, then? Is that how it's going to be?" she accused, her British accent beginning to leak through. "You not talking, not taking care of yourself, not defending yourself until you end up dead?"
Faith just shrugged again.
"You've got to snap out of this!" Dr. Raine ordered her. "Buffy is gone, and the world needs you! Do you think that giving up is what Buffy would want you to do? Just give up and die?"
Faith hadn't noticed the doctor's use of Buffy's name or the lapse of her accent. She just wearily replied, "I doubt she'd care."
"She bloody well would care!" Dr. Raine shot back, her British accent in full force now. "She'd come in here and kick your slayer arse all around this bloody room!"
This time Faith noticed. She stared at the older woman in shock as the doctor went on.
"Slayers don't let themselves die," Dr. Raine told her. "They don't give up. They never give up."
"Who the hell are you?" Faith asked warily, although she suspected she already knew the answer to that question.
"I work for the Council," she replied. "I was sent here to watch over you."
"Spy on me, you mean," Faith retorted as she pushed past the doctor, slid off the table, and walked a few feet away. "Can't take your eyes off the psycho slayer--she might go out and kill somebody!"
"Faith, I came here to help you."
"Oh? Well, why were you so damn secret about it, huh? Why didn't you just tell me who you were when you got here?"
The doctor ducked her head for a moment before raising it again. "I wanted to, but Quentin...he wanted strict observation only."
" 'Quentin'," Faith noted snarkily, recognizing the first name of the Head of the Watchers Council. "You and the big wig must be mighty close..." she insinuated.
Dr. Raine gave a disgusted huff then informed Faith, "He's my brother." While Faith got an 'oh' look on her face, the doctor continued. "I should have told you sooner, and I'm very sorry that I didn't, but putting that aside for the moment, I have something important to tell you. An offer to make, actually."
Faith's eyes narrowed in suspicion. "What kind of offer?"
"If you'll pull yourself together, the Council will get you out of prison so that you can resume your duties in Sunnydale. With Miss Summers gone, the Hellmouth needs a guardian, and that, my dear, is you."
Faith snorted in disbelief. "The Council wants me back? Come on! Last time I checked they were trying to kill me."
"They've been persuaded that you've reformed."
"Oh yeah? By who?"
"By me," the doctor answered earnestly. "I've been here almost as long as you have, and I've seen the change in you. You've gone from a confused, out-of-control girl consumed by her own rage to a mature young woman determined to redeem herself."
Faith snorted again but without conviction. Glancing away, she said, "I think you're the one who's confused."
"I know you've made mistakes. Serious ones. So serious that you were sent here," Dr. Raine conceded. "But now you have the opportunity to atone for those mistakes, to make a fresh start with the Council. You're needed, Faith."
After a long moment of silence, Faith shook her head and said, "If I die, another slayer can be called...one that's not in prison, one that's not as screwed up as I am."
"No, Faith, no," Dr. Raine said, lifting the girl's chin to make her meet her eyes. "You are the Slayer. You. You have been since the day you were called. It's what you were meant to do, what you were fated to do..."
Faith backed out of the doctor's grasp and turned away to think, her mind instantly bombarded by her inner voices.
This has gotta be some kinda trick, her cynical self asserted. You can't trust the Council.
I dunno, Faith thought. The doc seems cool.
Yeah, well, so did Gwendolyn Post, the watcher from hell.
But you'd be out, another voice countered. No more prison food, no more eight-by-eight cell for a home...you'd be free.
I ain't ever gonna be free. Not really. And I shouldn't be. I don't deserve to be. Not after what I did.
But, but...you'd get to slay! the voice insisted. You know how much you've missed that.
Faith let the various voices battle back and forth until she came to the one question that she knew would settle the matter: What would Buffy do?
She'd fight the good fight, Faith answered herself. She'd go where she was most needed.
With a heavy sigh, Faith turned back around and faced her watcher. "Okay," she told her, though without much enthusiasm.
"Marvelous!" Dr. Raine exclaimed, a pleased smile spreading over her face. Then she began rattling off what would happen. "It will take weeks, perhaps months, to get everything arranged. Until that time, you'll remain here in isolation. You'll have to heal, of course, and then be evaluated, both physically and psychologically. In the meantime, Quentin will need to negotiate your release..."
As Dr. Raine excitedly went on, Faith tuned her out and let out another sigh. Maybe it won't be so bad, she thought. Maybe I can get it right this time.
Guardian Angel Buffy stepped in front of the slayer and caressed her bruised cheek. "You will...you'll make a difference...you'll be twice the slayer I was, I promise..."
Although Faith couldn't consciously hear Buffy's words, she did feel a small sense of reassurance come over her. She turned back to the doctor and gave her new watcher her full attention.
At that, Buffy smiled and then disappeared in a golden flash.
Heaven -- Moments Later
When Buffy arrived in heaven, she immediately found her mother and rushed to tell her the good news. She took no note of the woman Joyce was speaking with.
"I did it, Mom! I did it!" Buffy blurted ecstatically, totally interrupting her mother's conversation. "Faith's going to be okay. It was a close call, she almost let herself get killed, but I got through to her, and she didn't, and now the Council's gonna let her go back to Sunnydale, and I just know things'll be better for her there. She can be a slayer again and--"
"Oh dear, oh dear," said a chiding voice--one that didn't come from her mother.
Buffy finally turned and looked at the woman who was with Joyce. She couldn't believe her eyes. "Pat?"
Joyce's former book club friend smiled condescendingly and reached over to pat Buffy's arm. "Don't you worry, dear. I don't blame you for that whole zombie incident..."
While Buffy tried to shake off her surprise, Pat turned back to Joyce. "You simply have to tell her," she insisted. "I know, I know...the Powers forbade you to speak of it, but she needs to know the truth. Save her the agony of working a hopeless case."
"Mom," Buffy said, her anxiety skyrocketing now. "What is she talking about?"
When Joyce didn't answer right away, Pat eagerly continued for her. "This girl you've chosen to watch over? Faith Lehane? I hate to tell you, but...the poor thing isn't going to make it to her next birthday. And since her redemption will be far from over when that happens, you know what that means..."
Buffy's eyes widened in horror, and her mind went reeling. Faith's going to die? Faith's going to hell?
"And she was making such progress, too," Pat said with fake pity. "Too little, too late, I guess..."
"That's enough!" Joyce said sharply to her one-time friend. "You, you... sanctimonious, self-serving...pain in the ass!"
Pat gasped in wounded outrage.
"I didn't even like you when we were both alive!" Joyce accused. "If I hadn't been so desperate to connect to someone after Buffy ran away, I never would have tolerated you. I don't know how you're even here! But I don't have to put up with you now, so get out! Get away from me, and don't you ever speak to Buffy again!"
Pat was, for once, rendered speechless, and she wisely and quickly scurried away. When Joyce turned to speak to her daughter, though, she found that Buffy was nowhere to be seen.
"Oh, no..." Joyce said with dread. She knew exactly where Buffy had gone.
Heaven -- Inside the Palace of the Powers-That-Be -- A Short Time Later
Buffy was being dragged backwards out of a cavernous chamber by two very burly angels who had hooked their arms around hers.
"Wait! Wait! I just want to talk to them!" she insisted, reaching out toward the front of the chamber.
When it was clear that the angels were not going to listen, she decided that it would be necessary to fight force with force. She wasn't even sure if she still had her slayer powers or if she had any special angel strength, but it was time to find out.
She surged forward, breaking the grip that they had on her arms. When they turned to grab her again, she slammed her elbows back into their guts, making them double over. She spun around and aimed a sweeping high kick right across their jaws as they rose up from clutching their stomachs. They went down in a domino-like heap and didn't move.
As she stood over the downed angels, breathing hard, she started to hear some light applause. She turned and saw seven glowing beings sitting upon thrones at the front of the chamber. They were currently in human form, probably for Buffy's benefit, but they could appear in any form they chose.
The one who was slowly clapping was on the left end of the dais. He was young and handsome and wore a smirk on his bearded face.
"Thank you," he complimented as he stopped his applause. "I've missed watching you work."
The female being next to him rolled her eyes and sighed.
He leaned forward and addressed the other Powers. "I still say she'd be better suited to the warrior ranks than the guardians..."
The gray-haired man in the center of the seven shook his head. "Her place has already been decided," he reminded, and the other man said nothing more. The older man then turned to Buffy and said in a softer tone, "So has the place of Faith Lehane."
"No! It can't be!" Buffy objected. "Y-Y-You haven't given her enough time. She can make up for what she's done. I promise she can. She can do so much good, you'll see. She--"
The elderly man raised his hand, and Buffy fell silent. "It is her fate," he told her solemnly, "and we cannot interfere with fate."
"What?!!" Buffy replied in an incensed voice. "Are you kidding me?! You interfere all the time! It's what you do."
The elderly man pulled his shoulders back in a defensive posture. "Only in the most dire of circumstances."
"This is dire," Buffy insisted. "This is as dire as it gets. This is Dire City!" Then she calmed herself a bit and stepped toward the seven. "Faith is the Slayer. The world needs her."
"When she falls, another will be called," the elderly man announced resolutely. "That is the way it is, the way it has always been."
"Well, your way sucks!!!" Buffy shot back at them before stomping out.
Heaven -- Outside the Palace of the Powers-That-Be -- Moments Later
Joyce was wringing her hands as she anxiously awaited Buffy's return. When she saw the door burst open and Buffy come stalking out, she was so relieved. She had been deathly afraid that her daughter would mouth off to the Powers and earn herself a quick ticket to Purgatory, but the fact that Buffy was here instead of there boded well. She hoped.
As Buffy approached her mother, she sent her an angry glare and then proceeded to walk right past her. Joyce reached out and grabbed her arm, stopping her.
"Buffy, I'm sorry," she said sincerely. "They told me not to tell you..."
"I don't need apologies," Buffy coldly replied, pulling out of Joyce's grasp. "I need a way to save Faith."
At that, the slayer stormed away, leaving her mother behind.
Author's Note: (1) The next several chapters will contain a rehash of portions of "Bargaining I and II" (with some key changes). I apologize in advance for the massive lifting, but it's necessary for the continuity of the story. Please bear with me. (2) One of these key changes to the canon of "Bargaining I and II" is that both Spike and Giles leave Sunnydale weeks before Buffy is resurrected. (3) By the way, Dr. Raine has no connection to Ethan Rayne. They have similar but totally unrelated names.
Sunnydale -- The Summers Home -- Late At Night
Dirty and exhausted from substitute slaying, Willow, Xander, and Anya trudged through the front door. Buffybot walked in behind them and shut the door; the android was as chipper as ever, although she too showed signs of wear and tear. Tara rose from the couch to greet them.
"Willow, I need service," Buffybot reminded when a small spark popped on her damaged arm.
"I know," the redhead said wearily. "Just go on up to your room, and I'll be there in a bit. But don't wake Dawn up, okay?"
"Okay!" Buffybot said before heading upstairs.
"Tough night?" Tara asked as the Scoobies sat down in the living room.
"Yeah, you could say that," Xander replied. "We tried to take out this nest of vamps. Didn't exactly go as planned."
"A whole nest?!" Tara exclaimed. "What were you thinking?"
"I thought we could handle it," Willow grumbled. "If we had just kept them contained, I could've...But we didn't, and some of them got away."
"This is getting ridiculous," Anya complained. "We're not slayers. We can't keep doing this."
"Well, what do you suggest?" Willow retorted. "Just sitting on our ass and letting evil take over Sunnydale?"
"No, I was thinking more like saving our ass by getting out of Sunnydale. Like Spike and Giles did."
"We can't do that, An," Xander said. "We have a responsibility. We have to keep going. It's what Buffy would do."
"Buffy's not here," Anya replied. "And that's the problem." She let out a sigh. "We need Buffy."
"Yeah," Xander said in a hopeless voice.
As Tara nodded sadly, Willow frowned and then gazed off in thought. There's gotta be a way...
Heaven -- Day
While Buffy was spending most of her time on earth with Faith, Joyce was following her own line of investigation back in heaven. At the moment, she was meeting up with a friend of hers.
"Hey, Ozzie," she said as she greeted the towering, dark-skinned man.
"Joyce," he replied warmly as he took her hand and guided her to a nearby sitting area.
"Have you thought about what I said?" she asked as they sat across from one another. "About Buffy and Faith?"
"I have, and I see that it has merit," he told her solemnly. "I have reviewed their history, and I believe that you are correct. There have been definite instances of deliberate sabotage designed to thwart any relationship developing between them."
"I knew it!" Joyce exclaimed.
Ozzie continued his analysis. "When the slayers first met and became attracted to one another, what did our foes do? They brought Angel back, long before the Powers-That-Be intended to. When Buffy and Faith began to bond again in spite of Angel's presence, our enemies arranged for Angel to be haunted, causing Buffy to defend him, cling to him, and once again reject Faith's tentative outreaches to her. Using Furies, they systematically baited the slayers, trying to force them to destroy one another. The question is why."
"They're afraid of them," Joyce answered. "They're afraid of them together," she corrected.
Ozzie sighed and considered the idea for a moment. "It could be nothing more than simple 'divide and conquer' tactics," he suggested, playing the devil's advocate.
"I don't think so," Joyce said, thinking deeply. "They know something we don't." She turned to Ozzie with determination in her eyes. "We need Buffy and Faith together, and that means we need Faith alive and Buffy back on earth with her. Those two love each other. Nothing the other side has done has changed that. This time we're going to make sure the girls get it right. Are you in?"
Ozzie nodded. "I'm in."
A FEW WEEKS LATER
Dr. Raine's House Near Penitentiary -- Day
"Watch your step, watch your step," Dr. Raine called out cheerily as she guided her brother, Quentin Travers, through a maze of half-filled boxes.
"I see you've finally begun packing..." he noted.
"Don't start with me," she warned teasingly as she led him to a small breakfast nook at the back of the house. "Between my infirmary duties and working with Faith, I've scarcely had time to shower and change my clothes regularly over the last few weeks..."
As Quentin took a seat at the table, Vicky slipped into the kitchen, filled the tea kettle with water, and placed it on the stove to boil. She set two delicate cups with saucers on a tray and dropped a satiny sachet of loose tea into each one.
"Be grateful I actually have tea on hand," she told him.
By the time the kettle was whistling, she had the tray ready with napkins, spoons, sugar, and cream. She filled the cups with hot water, gave the sachets a few dunks, then brought the tray to the table. After handing her brother his cup, she sat down and took up her own.
After they had prepared their teas to taste, Quentin leaned back in his chair and regarded his sister over the rim of his cup. "So...tell me about Miss Lehane. Is she ready? And most importantly, can she be trusted?"
"Yes, and yes," Vicky answered simply. When she saw her brother roll his eyes at her overly concise response, she added, "What do you want me to say that I haven't already said? You've read my reports, we've talked on the phone...She's completely healed from her recent altercation, she's excelled at her training, she is one hundred percent ready to resume her slayer duties."
"It's not her physical abilities that concern me, it's her mental state." He leaned forward and set his cup on the table. "Has she shown any signs of losing control? Has she given any indication that she intends to flee once she's freed?"
"No, and no," Vicky replied, smirking a bit. Before Quentin could roll his eyes again, she went on. "Faith is determined to fulfill her duties to the best of her ability. She won't run. I'm certain of that. She feels responsible for Miss Summers' death. If anything, she'll overcompensate in an effort to assuage her guilt."
Quentin merely murmured a doubtful 'hmmm' at his sister's certainties. "I'll want to speak with her myself, of course, before I finalize her release."
"I assumed you would. I've told her you'll be interviewing her tomorrow."
"Very good, very good," he said before taking a final sip of his tea and getting to his feet. When Vicky also stood, he reached out and lightly grasped her arms. "I'm thankful she didn't hurt you badly that day in the infirmary."
"She was reacting to Miss Summers' death...grieving...in a way we'll probably never be able to understand. Despite their differences, they obviously shared a very unique connection."
After a brief but warm glance, Quentin cleared his throat and stepped back, all official once again. "I'll call you in the morning to confirm a time."
Vicky nodded her agreement. After a bit more small talk, she guided her brother back to the front door and saw him on his way.
When she returned to the kitchen, she cleared the table of the tea tray and came back with a glass and a bottle of scotch. She poured herself a double and took a hefty swig.
"Brother dear, I love you with all my heart, but you really do need to get that cork out of your ass..."
Penitentiary -- Psych Ward -- Infirmary Office -- The Next Day
When Quentin had arrived at the prison, Dr. Raine had set him up in the small infirmary office in the psych wing. He now stood behind the desk and watched as a guard escorted Faith inside. He gave the guard a curt nod, dismissing him. Then he gestured toward the chair before the desk, indicating that Faith should sit. Once they had both taken their seats, he leaned back in his chair and wove his fingers together, eyeing the slayer coolly. Faith tried not to fidget, but she found it difficult to meet the watcher's gaze for more than a few seconds at a time.
"Miss Lehane, I won't waste time with meaningless pleasantries...I have serious concerns about releasing you from prison."
"Can't say I blame you."
"So you agree that I shouldn't trust you."
"No, I didn't mean it like that. It's just...I get it if you don't. I know I'll stay on the straight and narrow, but you don't know that."
"Dr. Raine has given you a glowing recommendation, as I'm sure you're aware."
Faith just shrugged in response.
"If these reports had come from anyone else, I would have summarily dismissed them," he told her sternly. "But I've learned to trust my sister's judgment," he admitted begrudgingly, "even when it conflicts with my own."
Faith didn't say anything in reply. She just waited for him go on.
When he did, he leaned forward and placed his hands flat on the desk, pinning the slayer with an intense stare. "Let me be perfectly clear," he told her, "if Vicky comes to any harm on your watch, you will suffer consequences far worse than a life sentence in an American prison."
"I won't let her down," Faith promised. "I swear."
After glaring at her a moment longer, Quentin straightened in his chair and then opened his briefcase. He removed a lengthy document and slid it across the desk. Then he went into an equally lengthy lecture. "The terms of your release are non-negotiable..."
Faith tried to pay attention, but her thoughts soon wandered. Although a part of her longed to be free and to be an active slayer again, the rest of her dreaded returning to Sunnydale. Being there would be a constant reminder that Buffy was gone, that she'd never see her fellow slayer again, never have the chance to say she was sorry.
She wished she could go back in time and change things--take back all the hurtful words, the hate, the violence. Most of all, she wished that she could stop Buffy's death, somehow prevent her from having to jump into that doorway to hell. But she knew she couldn't do any of those things. All she could do was try to honor Buffy's memory now, by being the best slayer she could be.
Although Faith couldn't see her guardian angel, Buffy was with her, surrounding her with love and reassurances.
Sunnydale -- Summers Home -- The Next Evening
It was grownup time at the Summers home. While Dawn was at the movies with friends, Willow and Tara had invited Xander and Anya over for dinner. Their meal was interrupted by the doorbell.
"I'll get it!" they heard Buffybot call out cheerily from the living room.
In the dining room, all four friends nearly choked on their food as they tried to yell out a "No!" to the robotic slayer. Despite Willow's best tinkering, Buffybot was still prone to inexplicable bouts of word salad and behaviors that non-Scoobies would certainly find bizarre. By the time they rushed into the living room, though, Buffybot had already opened the door.
Willow and the others froze when they saw Quentin Travers standing on the other side of the threshold.
Buffybot searched her database and immediately spit out the results. "You're Quentin Travers, Head of the Watchers Council...total British tight ass..." she announced. Then she tilted her head and narrowed her eyes. "I don't believe my biological predecessor would appreciate your presence."
"Buffy, it's all right," Willow interjected. "Let him in."
"Okay!" Buffybot chirped and instantly stepped aside.
"Thank you," Quentin said tersely to Willow before passing by Buffybot without a word.
"W-W-What are you doing here?" Willow asked, casting a nervous glance at her friends, fearing that the Council had gotten word of their plan to resurrect Buffy.
"I have news," he answered. "May we sit?"
"Uhh, sure," Willow said, gesturing toward the couch and chairs. Within seconds, they were all seated.
"First of all, I'd like to, ahem, thank you," Quentin said, "not only for your assistance to Miss Summers during her service but also for your undertaking of the slayer's duties after her death."
The Scoobies looked on with surprise, never expecting even reluctant gratitude from the normally dictatorial head of the Council. However, they didn't have to wait long for the watcher they all knew and loathed to quickly return.
"Secondly, I'm here to inform you that the Council will be reinstating Faith Lehane as the slayer here in Sunnydale."
"What?!!" Willow objected. "She's in prison. For murder. And you want to let her go?!"
"The world needs the slayer," Quentin countered. "And, despite your mechanical replica, Miss Lehane is the only one we have. Besides, her watcher tells me that she's reformed, and I'm inclined to believe the assessment."
"Faith's watcher?" Xander replied. "What? Some clueless Wesley clone who's spent less than fifteen minutes with her?"
"Certainly not!" Quentin shot back. "Do you think I'd entrust this endeavor to his like?"
"You did before," Xander pointed out.
"Faith's watcher is my sister, Dr. Victoria Raine. She's been serving as the prison physician for nearly all of Faith's time there. She's had ample opportunity to observe her. Although my sister does have a bit of an idealistic streak, I trust her implicitly."
Quentin got to his feet and looked down at the Scoobies imperiously. "This was just a courtesy call. The Council needs neither your permission nor your approval to reinstate Miss Lehane here in Sunnydale. Any interference with her reinstatement or with her fulfillment of her duties will not be tolerated. Dr. Raine will be contacting you soon with details."
At that, Travers turned on his heel and left the house. For a moment, the Scoobies said nothing, too much in shock to form words. Then Willow spoke up.
"Who does he think he is?" the witch complained. "Mr. High and Mighty. We helped save the freakin' world, more than once, in case he's forgotten."
Xander shook his head in disbelief. "I can't believe the Council is getting her out of prison--letting that psychopath back on the streets."
"And arming her with weapons," Anya added.
"But...her watcher, this Dr. Raine, thinks that Faith has changed," Tara pointed out. "Maybe we shouldn't judge until we see for ourselves. I mean, everybody deserves a second chance...right, Anya?"
"Well, I can't argue with that," the ex-demon conceded.
"She got a second chance," Xander said, "and she used it to team up with the Mayor. In my book, she's out of chances."
"Plus, we don't need her," Willow said firmly.
"But...what if the ritual doesn't work?" Tara asked, wincing a bit. "We're doing okay holding down the fort, but that can't last. Word's bound to get out about Buffy, and we're already seeing more demons than usual. The hellmouth needs a slayer--a real slayer." Tara looked over at Buffybot. "No offense."
"None taken," Buffybot replied with a smile.
"And we'll get one," Willow insisted. "The ritual will work. All we have to do is get our hands on the Urn of Osiris. It's the one missing piece. We find that, then Buffy's as good as back."
SEVERAL WEEKS LATER
Penitentiary -- Exercise Field Off Psych Ward -- Day
In the yard Faith was working out at the chin-up bars. On one set of bars, she went through a dozen chin-ups, reversed her grip to palm out, then did a dozen pull-ups. After letting herself drop to the ground, she shook out her arms. She moved over to the higher bar on the end, where Dr. Raine had installed a punching bag for her. She took a deep breath then started pummeling the heavy bag. The bag shook on its chain as she delivered blow after blow, varying the pace, the target, and the strength of her punches. By the time she heard Dr. Raine calling out her name, she had worked up quite a sweat. She laid one final punch into the bag then walked to where her watcher was waiting beside a bench.
"What's up, Doc?" Faith asked.
Dr. Raine had long since given up on correcting Faith's shortening of her title and name. She made no mention of it and instead pointed toward the bench. When Faith sat down with her, she handed over a bottle of water, which the slayer gratefully took and instantly downed.
"I'm afraid I have some bad news," Dr. Raine reported. "Well, not 'bad' really, just a bit disappointing."
"The house that Quentin's rented for me in Sunnydale...it's not going to be available as soon as scheduled."
"Oh. So I guess we're not headin' to the hellmouth any time soon?"
"It's just as well," the doctor said. "I've still got an enormous amount of packing to do, and I'm not yet satisfied with the transitioning of the new physician who will be taking my place here."
Faith slumped a little in disappointment. She set down her empty water bottle, pulled a cigarette and a book of matches from her pocket, struck a match, and lit her cigarette.
"It's okay. I get it," she said, taking a deep drag then blowing a cloud of smoke away from her watcher. Suddenly, a grin spread over her face, and she turned back to Dr. Raine.
"Unlessssss...you wanna send me on ahead, all early-like..." she suggested with eyebrows raised invitingly.
When the older woman started to get that 'now, now' look on her face, Faith cut her off.
"Didn't the Scoobs tell ya things have been extra demony lately? The sitch could go downhill super fast without a real slayer bein' down there. I mean, I know they got that robot and all, but it's not the same."
Dr. Raine crossed her arms and started to shake her head. Faith kept at her.
"Oh, come on...I'm goin' stir crazy in here, and it's not like I don't already know my way around the place," she pleaded good-naturedly. Then she sobered and said, "Seriously...I'm ready. You can trust me."
Dr. Raine reached over and patted Faith's arm. "I know, dear. I just don't feel comfortable sending you there by yourself. Every slayer needs her watcher."
Faith shot her a teasing smile and took another drag off her cigarette. "You just don't want Big Brother ridin' your ass about it."
Dr. Raine narrowed her eyes at her slayer. "Very sneaky...pushing the ole sibling rivalry button..."
Faith grinned unrepentantly. "Did it work?"
The watcher made a grouchy grumble and got to her feet. When she met Faith's gaze again, she asked, "And where would you stay? My house isn't going to be ready."
"There's plenty o' motels and hotels around there," Faith answered as she stood up. "I mean, it's only for a week or so, right?"
Dr. Raine rolled her eyes and let out a heavy sigh. "Very well," she relented, "but only because I'm concerned about the increase in demonic activity. Putting a knot in my brother's knickers has had no influence in my decision whatsoever."
"Sweet!" Faith crowed, cocking her fist. Then she surprised her watcher by giving her a sudden hug. "Thanks, Doc!"
When the hug was over, Dr. Raine waved her hand in the air to drive away the smoke. Then she pointed at Faith. "There will be no smoking in my house!" she sternly informed the slayer. "So I suggest that you dispose of that habit before I arrive in Sunnydale."
"Awww...come on, Doc...I'm a slayer. Smoking can't hurt me."
"But it can hurt me," the doctor pointed out.
"Oh. Right," she said with a frown. "But, hey, no problem," she added with a grin as she tossed her cigarette to the ground and crushed it under her shoe. "It'll be over and done by the time you get there." Then she placed her right hand over her heart and raised her left hand as if swearing an oath. "Scout's honor," she promised.
Dr. Raine smiled then said, "I'll go make the arrangements with the warden and order your bus ticket. After that, I'll call Miss Rosenberg and let her know to expect you within the next few days."
"Great!" Faith replied excitedly as her watcher turned and went back inside.
Slowly, Faith felt her enthusiasm deflate a bit when she considered how the redhead and her friends would react to the news of the schedule change--not to mention to her actual arrival in Sunnydale.
"Yeah...they're gonna be thrilled..." Faith mumbled.
Sunnydale -- The Magic Box -- Later That Day
As Anya checked out a customer, Tara gave her a hand by answering the phone.
"Magic Box," Tara answered. "Oh, D-D-Dr. Raine, hi..." she said, nervously glancing over at Willow and Xander, who sat at the table nearby. "W-W-We're good. You?...Good, that's good...A couple of days?...No, it's just, we weren't expecting her to come so soon, that's all...O-O-Okay, sure. We'll, um, get ready, I guess. Good luck with the move." Tara hung up the phone.
By then, Willow, Xander, and Anya had gathered around her. "What'd she say?" Willow asked.
"Faith will be here in a couple of days. Dr. Raine can't get away quite yet, so she's sending Faith on alone."
"Damn it," Willow said at the news. Then she turned to Anya, "Is the Urn in yet?"
"No," Anya replied, "but Cairo-Casanova assures me it will arrive late this afternoon."
"Cairo-Casanova?" Xander asked, confused.
"The desert gnome I got the urn from," Anya explained. "That's his eBay name."
Tara's eyes went wide. "You found the last known Urn of Osiris on eBay?"
"Yeah, he drove a really hard bargain, too, but I finally got him to throw in a limited edition Backstreet Boys lunchbox for a--"
Xander coughed. Anya paused. Xander looked nervous.
"--a friend," Anya finished.
Tara shot Xander a knowing smile.
Willow shook off her annoyance and went on in a determined voice. "Okay, then, once the urn gets here, it'll be time."
"It's time?" Xander asked anxiously, "Like, time time? With the..." He made a vague hand gesture. "...timeliness?"
"Are you sure?" Anya asked quietly.
"I am," Willow replied resolutely.
Willow returned to the table and began putting her things in a bag.
"But why the sudden rushy-rush?" Xander hedged. "I mean, whoa! Let's apply the brakes and check the rear- and side-view mirrors here." When he had their attention, he went on. "This is deep stuff, Willow. We're talking about raising the dead."
"It's time we stopped talking. Tomorrow night...we're bringing Buffy back."
"Tomorrow? I don't know..." Xander said.
"Um, Di-Discovery Channel has monkeys," Anya interjected. "And our tape machine's all wonky."
"Guys, I need you on board here," Willow told them.
"It's just..." Xander fidgeted nervously. "It feels wrong."
"It is wrong," Tara said, surprising Willow. "It's against all the laws of nature, and practically impossible to do, but it's what we agreed to. If-if you guys are changing your minds--"
"Nobody's changing their minds," Willow stated. "Period."
"Excuse me? Who made you the boss of the group?" Xander questioned.
"You did," Anya answered.
"You said Willow should be boss..." Tara added.
"...and then you said, 'let's vote,' and it was unanimous..."
"...and then you made her this little plaque, that said 'Boss of Us,' and you put little sparkles on it..."
"Valid points, all," Xander stipulated to Anya and Tara. "But we...I mean...we were just talking then."
"Xander, I can do this," Willow promised. "But not without you."
"But...what if something does go wrong?" Tara dared to venture.
"I'm telling you it won't."
"Okay, Scenario," Xander offered, "we raise Buffy from the grave, she tries to eat our brains. Do we, (a) congratulate ourselves on a job well done--"
"Xander, this isn't zombies," Willow corrected.
"Zombies don't eat brains anyway unless instructed to by their zombie masters," Anya supplied. "A lot of people get that wrong."
"This isn't like Dawn trying to bring Mrs. Summers back, or anything we've dealt with before," Willow explained. "Buffy didn't die a natural death. She was killed by mystical energy."
"Which means we do have a shot," Tara added.
"It means more than that," Willow said before turning to Xander. "It means we don't know...where she really is."
"We know where she is, Will," Xander said. "We saw her body. We buried it."
"Her body, yeah," Willow said. "But her soul...her essence...it's somewhere else. She could be trapped, in-in some sort of hell dimension like Angel was..." Tears filled Willow's eyes as she went on. "...suffering eternal torment, just because she saved us, saved the world, and I'm not gonna let--I'm not gonna leave her there. It's Buffy."
Xander looked at her for a long moment before finally saying, "What time do we meet?"
"Ten o'clock," Willow answered. "You're on Dawn duty. Then Anya and Tara and I will head for the gravesite. Before the tomorrow night is out, we're gonna have Buffy back."
Sunnydale -- Street Alley -- Hours Later
The night was dark and quiet; the street was deserted but for one. A young woman was closing up her shop. She locked the door and turned to walk down the street, putting her keys into her purse.
At one point she paused and looked behind herself, then walked on. A little further down the street, she paused again, looked back, then rapidly resumed her walking.
When she entered an alley, a vampire grabbed her from behind, causing her to scream in terror. He pulled her back against him and prepared to bite down on her neck.
"Don't be scared..." he suddenly heard another female voice say. The vampire glanced up in surprise and saw a small blonde woman standing in front of him.
"...I'm going to kill him," Buffybot finished.
"Slayer!" the vampire exclaimed in fear.
"You can run away now," Buffybot told the shopkeeper.
The woman wrested herself out of the vampire's grip and ran out of the alley. The vampire tried to edge away as well.
Buffybot rolled her eyes at the vamp. "Not you!"
When Buffybot ran after him, the vampire pushed a dumpster into her path. She vaulted over it and landed on top of him, knocking him down. When they both got up, she brought him down again with a circle kick. When he rose again, she punched him and then kicked him to the ground.
He crawled toward an empty glass bottle, grabbed it, and then hit Buffybot in the face with it. When she stumbled back, he scrambled to his feet. When the slayer straightened up, he saw that the broken glass had torn a hole in her forehead. But instead of blood and flesh, though, he saw circuitry and sparks. His eyes went wide.
"You're...you're...you're, you're a machine!" he accused.
Buffybot smiled. "Thank you!" Then she saw the vampire backing away. "Stop!"
When she tried to follow him, she walked directly into a stack of large kegs. She backed up a few steps and repeated her attempt, with the same result.
"Vampires...beware..." she warned as she continued walking into the kegs again and again.
The vampire grinned at the sight of damaged slayer robot. "Bet the Hellions will let me in now," he said to himself before dashing off down the alley.
Bus Station Near Penitentiary -- The Next Day -- Early Evening
Faith was out of her prison blues and back into street clothes, grateful to be in her apparel of choice--jeans, t-shirt, leather jacket, and boots. She carried a duffel bag over her shoulder as she and Dr. Raine stood in the waiting area near the exit to the bus bays.
"Are you sure you have everything?" Dr. Raine asked worriedly.
"Yes, for the fiftieth time, yes," Faith replied with a smile. "Clothes, shoes, toiletries...in the bag," she said, patting the duffel. "Cash, license, calling card...in the wallet," she said, patting the back pocket of her jeans. "Stake, dagger...in the jacket. Bus ticket in hand. I'm good."
Dr. Raine nodded but kept her worried expression. "I'll be along shortly, I promise, just as soon as I can wrap things up here."
"I know," Faith groaned teasingly. She gave her watcher's arm a small poke. "I'll be five-by-five, don't you worry..."
"I'd feel better about this if I knew that Mr. Giles was still there..."
"Bus 435 southbound to Glenview, San Luce, and Sunnydale...Bay Three..." came the announcement over the intercom.
"That's me," Faith said. "See you in a few..." she told Dr. Raine as she backed toward the exit. With a final wave to her watcher, she turned and headed for her bus.
As she watched Faith leave, Dr. Raine prayed for her slayer's safety and prayed for herself, that she wouldn't regret her decision to send Faith to Sunnydale alone.
Demon Bar Hours From Sunnydale -- Same Time
An hour north of the penitentiary, in a nothing of a town, on a nothing of a highway, was a dump of a biker bar. Outside, there were the expected lines of parked motorcycles. Inside, however, were the unexpected operators of those vehicles--demon bikers who called themselves the Hellions.
The ugly, large, leather-clad demons milled about, drinking beer and laughing raucously. At the moment, the Hellion called Mag was in the process of dragging a pudgy weakling vampire toward the gang's boss, Razor.
"What's the wannabe blood rat doin' back here?" Razor asked.
"He says the slayer's been replaced by some kind of machine," Mag answered.
"A robot, yeah!" the vampire interjected. "And I kicked her synthetic ass. You shoulda seen the sparks."
Razor got up and walked over to the vamp. "You tellin' me there's no slayer in Sunnydale?"
"That's what I'm saying," the vampire replied, trying to act tough. "They got some kind of decoy standing in for her. Town is wide open."
"Nowhere like the Hellmouth for a party," Mag noted. "There's all kinds of bad in that place."
Razor nodded thoughtfully. He and his cronies all began to laugh.
The vamp laughed, too, then dared to ask, "So...does that mean I can be a Hellion?"
Razor stopped laughing and grabbed him by the neck and squeezed. "No," he said, easily decapitating the vamp. He brushed the ash off his hands then glanced around the room. All of his demon buddies were watching and waiting for the word.
"Let's ride!" the gang leader called out. They all cheered and turned to go.
Soon the Hellions were riding off in a cloud of dust on their motorcycles.
Author's Note: Just a reminder to bear with me regarding the rehashing of parts of "Bargaining I and II." It makes the story flow better.
Greyhound Bus To Sunnydale -- Night
As the bus approached the outer limits of Sunnydale, most of the few remaining passengers were still sleeping. They had long since turned off their reading lamps and dozed off. Faith, however, was too nervous for napping. She fidgeted in her window seat, taking turns between staring out the window to her right and glancing around the dimly lit cabin. Guardian Angel Buffy was in the empty seat next to Faith. She rested an ethereal hand on Faith's thigh and tried to surround the worried slayer with a sense of calm.
More than once, Faith started to pull her pack of Luckys from her jacket pocket; each time she stopped herself when she remembered that she couldn't smoke on the bus. On her last reach for her cigarettes, her fingers landed on the one thing she considered to be a prized possession--the strip of photo booth pictures of herself with Buffy. She removed the strip, which was folded in half with the photos facing out. She smiled when she looked at the first two frames. The two slayers had engaged in typical photo booth behavior and had hammed it up for the camera, striking goofy poses and making silly faces.
For a brief moment, Faith looked away and wondered what it would be like to see the 'Buffybot,' if the android was actually as realistic as Quentin had said. Then she turned her eyes back to her photos and let her thoughts drift to happy memories of the past.
Series of Shots -- Sunnydale Flashbacks
-- Buffy and Faith high-fiving after their synchronized vamp slaying
-- The two of them laughing and sharing stories while patrolling
-- Faith mercilessly tickling Buffy in a sparring session gone awry
-- The girls lounging comfortably on the Summers couch with their feet propped up on the coffee table as they ate popcorn and watched movies
-- The slayers dancing wildly at the Bronze with one another
-- Buffy allowing Faith to pull her into a slow dance when the music shifted
Cut To: Greyhound Bus To Sunnydale -- Resume
Faith sighed and turned the strip of photos over to look at the other two frames. The third one showed Buffy and Faith kissing passionately; the fourth showed them staring intensely at one another. For the longest time, Faith sat there, gently running her thumb against Buffy's cheek in the picture of them kissing.
But then her mind took her back to the spiral of events that had followed their moment in the photo booth.
Series of Shots -- Sunnydale Flashbacks
-- Deputy Mayor Allen Finch gurgling with Faith's stake in his chest
-- Xander pulling at Faith's hands as she choked him
-- Buffy's head snapping to the side when Faith punched the chained slayer
-- Willow panting for breath as Faith held a knife to her throat
-- Angel sinking to the ground after being pierced by Faith's poisoned arrow
-- Buffy looking back at Faith atop the theater
-- The two slayers fighting like mad women at Faith's apartment until Buffy stabbed Faith in the stomach
-- Faith letting herself fall from the roof of her building
-- Faith waking up alone and confused in the basement of the hospital
-- Faith seeing Buffy with Riley at Giles's apartment
-- Joyce hitting the floor after being decked by the vengeful Faith
-- The slayers battling at the Summers home and then the church
-- Faith sobbing in a railway car on her way out of Sunnydale
Greyhound Bus To Sunnydale -- Resume
Faith closed her eyes and tried to push the bad memories from her mind. She knew that dwelling on them wouldn't change anything. Buffy and Joyce were gone, and even if they weren't, they probably wouldn't forgive her. And the others--well, she figured she had about a snowball's chance in hell of them giving her another chance.
When she saw her slayer frowning, Buffy began to caress Faith's forehead and whisper comforting words to her. As soon as Faith started to relax, though, a rapidly approaching roar made Faith's eyes shoot open.
The slayer stood up and turned around, but the bus had no back window. When the roar came alongside the bus, she rushed right through her invisible angel, crossed the aisle, crawled over the empty seats, and glanced out of the window. She saw a long line of bikers pass the bus at a high rate of speed. Although she hadn't been able to get a good look at the bikers because of the darkness, she had an uneasy feeling about them. After watching the last set of tail lights disappear, she sank into the seat she was at.
Buffy seemed as unsettled by the motorcycle gang as Faith was. She stood up and stepped into the aisle, glancing worriedly at the bikers in the far distance before finally turning back to Faith. Before she could return to her place beside the slayer, her mother suddenly materialized in front of her.
Joyce took hold of her daughter's arm and said, "Buffy, I need you to come with me. Now."
"No," Buffy refused, pulling her arm out of her mother's grip. "I'm not leaving Faith. Not when she's so close to Sunnydale. I don't know what's going to happen, when it's going to happen, I have to be there, I have to be ready, maybe I can--"
"Honey, it's important."
Buffy saw both the seriousness and the urgency in her mother's eyes. "What is it?" she made herself ask.
"I think we found a way to help Faith," Joyce answered.
Sunnydale -- Buffy's Grave -- Night
While Xander watched Dawn back at the Summers home, Willow, Tara, and Anya knelt around Buffy's grave--Willow at its base, Tara and Anya on its sides. Tara and Anya held lit candles. Willow held the Urn of Osiris--a flower-vase-sized vessel of red clay etched with Egyptian hieroglyphs.
As Tara and Anya looked on nervously, Willow began the ritual. She produced a small jar and poured its contents into the urn.
"Osiris, keeper of the gate, master of all fate, hear us."
She dipped her finger into the urn and marked her forehead and both cheeks with what appeared to be blood.
"Before time...and after. Before knowing...and nothing."
She poured the contents of the urn onto the earth and set the urn on the grave.
"Accept our offering. Know our prayer."
Suddenly, she jerked backward, panting, and her arms fly out at her sides. Deep ugly gashes appeared on her arms.
"Willow!" Tara reached out in alarm.
"No!" Anya reminded the blonde. "She told us she'd be tested. This is supposed to happen."
"Osiris!" Willow called out. "Here lies the warrior of the people. Let her cross over."
Willow winced and moaned in pain. Blood ran from the cuts on her arms, and round shapes began moving under her skin. The round things moved up her arms and over her chest toward her neck.
"She needs help!" Tara insisted.
"She's strong!" Anya countered. "She said not to stop, no matter what. If we break the cycle now, it's over."
Willow continued breathing heavily. When Anya and Tara heard a loud rumbling nearby, they looked around nervously.
"Oh god, what is that noise?" Anya asked.
Sunnydale -- Main Street -- Same Time
People screamed in fear as demons on motorcycles roared through the downtown area. The rampaging Hellions drove over cars, through curbside restaurant tables, and between pedestrians.
One demon grabbed a woman and pulled her onto his bike. Several others threw garbage cans through windows and hit cars with baseball bats. One Hellion lit a Molotov cocktail and threw it through a store window.
Pedestrians continued screaming and running away.
Sunnydale -- Buffy's Grave -- Resume
Willow still knelt with her arms held out, panting. The others watched with concern as she forced herself to yell, "Osiris, let her cross over!"
When the round things under her skin moved up her neck, Willow began to choke.
"Oh my god, oh my god..." Tara cried.
Still gagging, Willow leaned forward and put her hands on the ground. A snake head appeared in her open mouth. As she clutched the grass, the snake slithered out of her mouth and onto the ground. The others looked horrified.
"It's a test, it's a test," Tara repeated to herself. Then she whimpered, "Willow..."
As Willow straightened up, a reddish-orange light engulfed her. She cried out in pain as the energies racked her body.
Sunnydale -- Main Street -- Same Time
The demons were still running rampant, pillaging and destroying everything in their path. As people could be heard screaming, a couple of demons rummaged through a woman's purse. The Hellion Mag was taking stuff out of a smashed window display when he heard a stern voice behind him.
"That doesn't belong to you," the voice said.
Mag turned and saw Buffybot standing there with her hands on hips.
"Put it back," Buffybot commanded.
Mag opened his mouth and let out a high-pitched squeal. All the other demons turned his way. Buffybot looked around nervously as the demons began to converge on her. Razor came right up to her as the others formed a circle around them.
"Slayer," Razor said, "I've been hearing interesting things about you."
"Yes. I am interesting," Buffybot replied. "These your friends?"
"They're my boys, yeah."
"Good. Now tell them to get back on their loud bicycles and go back wherever they came from."
"Or what?" Razor asked snidely. "You'll electrocute us?"
He punched her in the face. She staggered back into a couple of other demons, who caught her and held her arms.
"Hold her," Razor ordered.
Buffybot struggled as Razor came forward and lifted his right hand, revealing a set of ugly claws. Then an even uglier set of serrated metal claws popped out at the ends of his fingers.
He reached out and swiped at Buffybot. The claws ripped slashes in her shirt and shoulder. Blue sparks sizzled from the wounds.
"You're nothing but a toy," he told her. "A pretty toy. Wanna play?"
He moved a little closer, and Buffybot kneed him in the groin. As he doubled over, she went into a back flip, kicking him in the face with both feet and breaking free from her captors.
"I would, but you've injured me," Buffybot announced. "I have to return to Willow."
She turned and delivered spin-kicks to two of the demons, laid out four or five more of them in quick succession with kicks and punches. She leaped over the prone bodies and ran off.
Razor lifted up onto an elbow. "Get her!" he bellowed.
A few more demons tried to stop Buffybot, but she punched them out of the way. The rest of the demons got on their bikes and tore off after her.
Sunnydale -- Buffy's Grave -- Resume
Anya and Tara continued staring as reddish light swirled around Willow, who was forcing her way through the rest of the ritual.
"Osiris...release her!" she demanded between heaving breaths just as Buffybot ran up behind Tara.
"Willow! I need service!" Buffybot informed Willow.
At the sound of approaching motorcycles, Buffybot ran away, only to be cut off by the Hellions who had been chasing her. The demons rode their bikes around Buffybot and around the grave, forcing Anya and Tara to move away. Willow, though, was still trapped within the energies of the spell.
"Willow!" Tara cried out just as one of the demons drove directly over the Urn of Osiris, shattering it.
"Nooooo!!!" Willow screamed as the orange light instantly dissipated. She fell to the ground unconscious.
Tara called out Willow's name again and ran forward, but Mag rode in front of her, cutting her off. She screamed and moved back.
"Look what I found!" Mag bragged as he and his brothers rode circles around Buffybot.
Eventually Tara and Anya saw an opening in the chaos and dashed forward. They grabbed Willow and pulled her out of the way just as Mag rode his bike through the spot where Willow had been lying.
Tara whipped around and sent a magic bolt against Mag. He flew off his bike and crashed into a tree. The other demons continued to move in on Buffybot.
Tara and Anya picked Willow up and carried her away. After a few minutes of running, they had to stop, too tired to go on. They hid behind some bushes and tried to catch their breath. Willow started to mumble.
Tara cradled Willow's head in her lap. "Willow! Are you okay?"
Willow weakly blinked her eyes open. "Did it work?"
Tara shook her head. "No, I'm sorry."
Willow passed out again.
Tara touched Willow's face and then turned to Anya. "We need to get her home."
With the sound of motorcycles roaring around, they picked Willow back up and headed away.
Heaven -- The Gateway -- Same Time
When Joyce and her daughter zapped back to Heaven, Buffy found herself in an area she had never seen before. The room was immense, and everything inside it was made of stone and covered in hieroglyphs.
In the center of the room was a black pit swirling with energy. Near it, at a stone table, was a tall, dark-skinned man that Buffy vaguely recognized as one of the very important higher-ups in the heavenly hierarchy.
"Isn't that--?" Buffy asked.
"Osiris? Yes, it is," Joyce supplied. She turned to him and asked, "Is everything ready, Ozzie?"
He gazed into a bowl that he had been monitoring and said, "Yes, but we have to hurry."
"Mom, what's going on?" Buffy inquired. "You said you found a way to help Faith."
"We did, but...there's a catch. Several, actually."
"I don't care," Buffy said. "Just help me save Faith."
Joyce took a deep breath and let it out. "The only way we could come up with was for you to return to earth as your human self."
"That's fine," Buffy insisted. "I'll go back. Just get me there."
"There's more," Joyce told her. "I wish we had an easier way, but without the assistance of the Powers-That-Be, we don't. This is all we've got, and I hate to tell you, but it's going to hurt like hell."
"Hey, I was the slayer," Buffy quipped. "I ate pain for lunch."
Joyce shook her head and met Buffy's eyes. "Not pain like this."
Buffy sobered and for a moment seemed worried. Then she affirmed, "I can handle it."
Joyce gave a nod of acknowledgment and then went on. "Also, you won't remember anything from your time here in heaven. You'll remember your own past and how you died, and you'll remember that you were in heaven, but that's all. You won't remember any details, including the real reason you're going back."
"What?!!" Buffy exclaimed. "How can I help Faith if I can't remember why I'm there?"
Joyce gently rested her palm on Buffy's chest. "Honey, you'll just have to follow your heart."
Buffy thought a bit, calmed herself, and then put her hand over her mother's. "Okay, I can do that."
"It's time," they both heard Osiris say. When they looked, they saw that he had moved to the edge of the pit.
"I'm ready," Buffy said, joining him beside the portal. "What do I have to do?"
"Everything is prepared," he answered. "All you have to do...is Fall." Then he tilted his head toward the swirling blackness.
Buffy turned and looked down. She swallowed hard as she stared at the massive maelstrom of energy. After stepping to its very edge, she steeled herself, fanned out her wings, and dove right in.
While plummeting toward the earth, she cried out in indescribable pain as every aspect of her heavenly self was stripped from her being. Those same cries became screams of utter agony when, in the last moments of her fall, her angel's wings were ripped from her body.
Greyhound Bus -- Night
Just as the bus hit the city limits of Sunnydale, Faith was struck by a crushing pain that raced through her body. She cried out and tried to rise from her seat, but instead she fell to the floor of the bus, screaming and writhing in agony.
At first the passengers closest to her moved in her direction, but they backed away in fear when they saw the intensity of her reaction.
Series of Shots -- Buffy in her Coffin/Faith on the Greyhound Bus
-- Buffy screaming as her Fall ended with her resurrection inside her buried coffin
-- Faith still screaming on the floor of the bus
-- Buffy wailing in anguish then realizing where she was -- Faith curling onto her side and crying
-- Buffy weeping as she frantically pounded the sides of the coffin and ripped at the cloth covering the inside of the lid
-- Faith flipping onto her back and tearing at her clothes
Greyhound Bus -- Resume
"What the hell's going on?" the bus driver called out as he looked into the mirror that allowed him to view the cabin behind him.
"This girl's freaking out, man!" yelled a scraggly haired teen with headphones around his neck.
"She must be having some kind of seizure!" an older woman exclaimed.
"Just keep back, don't try to hold her down..." the driver instructed. "Somebody call 911, I'll try and pull--oh shit!"
When the driver dropped his eyes from the mirror back to the four-lane road, he saw a mob of demon bikers barreling towards him. He swerved sharply to the right, causing the wheels of the bus to slide onto the rough slope of the shoulder.
As he struggled to maintain control, the passengers were tossed about the cabin. They screamed and tried to hang on. Faith, however, was oblivious to the motion of the bus, still caught in a nightmare of pain that she didn't understand.
When the driver attempted to pull back onto the highway, he overcompensated, and the bus veered across the lanes and into the median. It hit the divider at just the right angle and went airborne. The bus reared up into the air, twisted, and then slammed down onto the driver's side.
After skidding down the asphalt, the bus came to a stop. Several of the passengers were crying and groaning as they dragged themselves to their feet. With the bus on its side, they had to stand on the shattered driver's-side windows. When they glanced around the cabin, they saw that the driver and a man who had been seated near him were both dead. When they looked at the back of the bus, they saw Faith lying contorted and motionless amidst the broken glass and damaged seats. Assuming that she was also dead, the surviving passengers found the escape hatch on the roof, kicked it open, and crawled outside.
Once they got outside the bus, they found themselves under attack by the biker demons who had caused the wreck in the first place. The Hellions rode circles around the frightened passengers, preventing them from moving away from the wreckage. Then suddenly one of the demons lit a Molotov cocktail and threw it at the bus. The bottle crashed into the roof and exploded, sending tongues of fire against the backs of the fleeing passengers and into the open escape hatch.
Inside the bus, Faith moaned as she slowly regained consciousness. As soon as she was able to shake some of the fuzziness from her head, she felt massive panic set in. The bus was on fire, and she was trapped within the twisted remains of the row of seats she'd been in. Panting for breath in the increasingly smoky cabin, she fought to pull her legs from the misshapen bus seats.
When she had finally freed herself, she stood and glanced toward the growing fire that was in the area of the escape hatch. She could see that there was no way out but up. She climbed up the row of seats above her until she got to the window on the passenger side of the bus. She used one hand to hang on to the seat and the other to punch the window with her fist. It cracked but didn't break. She hit it again.
Buffy's Grave --Same Time
Buffy relentlessly punched the coffin's exposed wooden lid, pummeling it until her fist eventually cracked through. She pulled away piece after piece of broken wood, causing dirt to rain down upon her. She was drawing in ragged, panicked breaths when she finally cleared enough of the lid to escape.
As she crawled through the opening, the jagged edges of the wood bit into her flesh and ripped her clothes. She ignored the pain, focusing only on digging through the dank, dark, heavy earth. She forced her way to the top until she emerged from the grave, clawing herself across the grassy soil.
Struggling to her feet, she stood beside her grave, looking lost and confused.
Greyhound Bus -- Resume
Just as Faith nearly succumbed to the smoke, the window above her finally shattered, and she pulled herself up through the broken glass. Coughing for air, she dragged herself across the side of the bus and slid over the edge.
Her body hit the pavement with a thud. She groaned and grimaced then forced herself to jump up. Just as she started dashing away, the fire reached the gas tank, and the bus blew. The explosion sent Faith reeling to the ground. She immediately got back up and kept running.
Once she was a safe distance away, she stopped and caught her breath. She turned around and stared in shock as the wreckage was consumed by the intense flames.
It took a few seconds for Faith to register the rest of the scene around her. Over the roar of the bus fire, she heard motorcycles revving and rumbling and people screaming. When she turned around, she saw one group of demon bikers smashing into a convenience store and another set chasing people in the parking lot.
"Welcome back to the hellmouth, Faith! Gee, thanks," she quipped to herself as she surveyed the chaotic scene. Then she pulled her dagger from her jacket and ran for the store parking lot at slayer speed.
Convenience Store -- Seconds Later
When the Hellion named Clyed stepped out of the store's busted front window with a buddy of his, he nearly dropped the cases of beer he was carrying. He couldn't believe his eyes. A small girl with long dark hair was whaling into his brothers. She had already downed one and was just in the process of clothes-lining another from his bike.
"Slayer!" Clyed exclaimed in surprise.
"But I thought Sunnydale wasn't supposed to have a slayer," his buddy said.
"Well, you thought wrong," Faith called out as she stabbed the demon she had knocked from his bike. "That's right," she added with a smile as she headed toward the beer-stealing duo. "There's a new sheriff in town..."
The two demons tossed their beer and ran for their motorcycles.
"Hey!" Faith shouted. "Get back here!" Then she took off after them.
Clyed's bike started immediately, and he zoomed away. His buddy wasn't so lucky. By the time he got his bike started, Faith was on him. She leaped onto his back, snapped his neck, and tossed him off the bike. Before the motorcycle could even hit the ground, she caught it, righted it, and slipped onto its seat. With an ear splitting screech of tires, she sped away after Clyed.
Downtown -- Same Time
Meanwhile, Buffy had trudged from the hidden site of her grave to the edges of the downtown area. In her tattered and dirty funeral clothes, she stumbled along the streets, crying, her whole upper body heaving from the force of her sobs. At one point she stopped and bent over at the waist, hugging herself tightly.
No word existed for the kind of agony she was experiencing. Every nerve in her body was screaming 'pain!' at the same time, and her soul was crying out in utter anguish, and she didn't even know why. She finally had to slip to her knees until the worst of her sobs had passed.
Eventually, she somehow pulled herself together enough to stand again and then resumed her walking. She didn't know where she was going; she just knew she needed to keep moving. As she walked, she repeatedly straightened her back and shifted her arms, unable to relieve the sharp pain that burned at her shoulder blades.
When she drew closer to Main Street, she winced at the lights and sounds. She saw several of the biker demons destroying a storefront, but she made no move to intervene. They ignored her as well, too intent on their looting to care about the lone, lost-looking human wandering the streets.
When Buffy came to a burning car, she walked past it, squinting and frowning at it. Then a Hellion rumbled by on his motorcycle and smashed an empty beer bottle to the pavement. Buffy backed away, frightened.
Wooded Area -- Same Time
Clyed had tried to lose the slayer by leaving the pavement and driving off into the woods, but the effort had failed. She was right on his tail and quickly closing.
Just as she came alongside his motorcycle, ready to jump him, her bike hit a log. The bike stopped short, but unfortunately, she didn't. Her momentum flung her forward, and she tumbled through leaves, logs, and rocks before landing on her back on a grassy area. Clyed sped away on his bike through the forest.
"Owww...fuck..." Faith groaned. "This is the part I don't miss about slaying..."
When she rolled onto her stomach and got to her knees, she noticed that she had been lying across the top part of a grave. She took one look at the headstone and felt her heart seize.
As she stared at the inscription, tears welled up in her eyes. "Buffy..." she whispered, reaching out to touch the carved stone.
When she finally tore her gaze from the headstone, she realized that the grave itself was disturbed. Directly to her left was a gaping hole. When she looked down inside, she could see that the coffin had been broken into and was now empty.
"Son of a bitch!" she swore, thinking that the biker demons had stolen Buffy's body. "Fuckin' son of a bitch!"
She whipped around and glared back in the direction of the town, where the Hellions were undoubtedly still wreaking havoc.
"I'm gonna kill 'em," she growled. "Gonna kill 'em all..."
She let out a roar and took off.
Residential Area -- Same Time
Buffy was still wandering, traumatized and confused. As a siren whined in the distance, she went to a parked car and leaned wearily against it. The car's lights instantly started flashing, and its security system began to wail and honk. Buffy pressed her hands over her ears in pain.
The house lights came on, and the front door opened. A man holding a shotgun rushed out onto the porch.
"What are you doing?!!" the homeowner demanded.
Buffy peered at him through her fingers as she blocked the light with her hand.
"Get away from there!!" he yelled.
Buffy just squinted at him.
"Do you hear me?" he yelled, moving down his front steps and onto the sidewalk. "I said get off my property!"
When he racked his shotgun, a Hellion suddenly screeched by on his bike and flung a firebomb toward the porch. The bottle hit the homeowner dead on, and the man was immediately engulfed in flames.
Buffy gasped in horror as the burning man ran toward her, shrieking in pain.
"Oh god, oh god!" she cried before fleeing.
Main Street -- Near Sun Cinema -- Minutes Later
Razor and more than a dozen of his gang were gathered in front of the Sun Cinema. Their bikes were parked in loose lines in front of the theater's entrance. Barrels of trash were burning nearby. The demons themselves carried torches, weapons, and bottles of booze and beer.
Razor waved his arms in the air. "Say hello to your new home, boys!"
The demons cheered. One of them took a mouthful of booze and blew it at his torch, creating a huge flame.
"This here is a momentous occasion, the beginning of a new era," Razor went on. "Now, no question, the open back roads and highways have been good to us. But we've got ourselves a juicy little burg here, just ripe for the picking. And I ain't in no hurry to leave it, you?"
"Noooo!" yelled all the demons.
"So I figure, what better way to kick off our semi-settling-down, than with a little christening?"
The crowd of demons cheered as four Hellions attached chains to their motorcycles.
"A symbolic act commemorating the new order around here," Razor said, "and ridding ourselves of any not-so-pleasant reminders of the old."
Razor held up a revolver and theatrically put a bullet in. "All in one quick, really, really violent fell swoop." He held the gun back up. "Gentlemen, start your engines."
The four demons with chains on their bikes were pointed in opposite directions. They started up their bikes. The chains attached to the bikes were wrapped around the helpless Buffybot. The demons sat still on their bikes, engines rumbling.
"Bye-bye, slayer!" Razor yelled before firing into the air.
The motorcycles streaked away, ripping Buffybot's arms and legs from her body. Razor grinned and tossed the gun aside.
Razor walked over to where Buffybot's torso lay. He stomped on the robot's neck, severing her head from her body. Then he picked up Buffybot's head and held it up by its hair in front of his gang. "Now that we've properly christened our new home, let's get down to business!" He tossed Buffybot's head into a nearby burning barrel.
The gang went wild with hoots and cheers.
"WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH BUFFY?!! "
Razor and his gang stopped cheering and turned toward the booming voice. They saw a dark haired girl before them--a dagger in her hand and vengeance in her eyes.
"WHERE IS SHE?!!" Faith yelled, pointing at Razor with her dagger.
Clyed nudged Razor and whispered, "That's her! The other slayer! Only she ain't no robot."
"The real thing, eh?" Razor said. "Don't matter. Just another body for the fire."
The demon leader pulled out the keys to his motorcycle and gave them several nonchalant twirls around his finger as he sauntered in Faith's direction. The gold medallion that served as a key chain flashed in the firelight. His gang parted to make way for him, and when he had gotten about halfway toward the slayer, the Hellions formed a circle around them.
Razor stopped his key twirling and feigned puzzlement. "Hmmm, Buffy, Buffy?" Then he held out his hand as if to approximate a height. "Blonde, about this high?" he asked before answering himself. "Oh yeah, I ripped her apart. I imagine you'll be finding pieces of her all over this place."
The Hellions laughed raucously.
"Next in line for the ripping apart?" Razor announced, pointing at Faith with his keys still in his hand. "You."
"You son of a bitch!" Faith yelled as she rushed the gang leader.
Razor just laughed, tucked his keys into his pocket, and backed out of the circle, letting his boys descend upon the slayer.
Faith went into a whirlwind of kicks and punches, stabs and slices, taking out demon after demon. Her rage and her slayer powers gave her a strength and a ferocity that the Hellions couldn't match, despite their greater numbers.
Faith, however, wasn't exactly going untouched during the battle. By the time she had whittled Razor's boys down, she was bruised and bleeding and had lost her dagger. She knocked out the last two with a set of vicious punches to the head. Then she turned to face Razor, the last one standing.
He glared at her as she walked over to her dagger and picked it up. Her legs nearly gave out on her, and her arms were trembling with exhaustion, but she refused to let him see that. She stood up straight and made a sarcastic wave of welcome with her arms.
"I believe you were next," she snarked.
Razor snapped out the blades on the fingers of his right hand and rushed the slayer. They met in a titanic clash in the center of the street.
Further Down Main Street -- Moments Earlier
Still trying to escape the horror of seeing the homeowner torched in front of her, Buffy hurried along the sidewalk. She was crying, continuing to repeat 'oh god' to herself. Periodically she would glance over her shoulder, fearing that the demons might be coming up behind her.
When she got to the point where she could see the cinema in the distance ahead of her, she instantly stopped walking. Her eyes widened at the sight of the cheering demons in front of the theater.
She drew in a terrified breath before turning on her heel and rushing away.
"WHERE IS SHE?!!"
Buffy froze in place when she heard this voice booming from within the crowd of demons. She slowly turned back around and looked. She could now see that someone was battling the mass of demons.
"Faith?" she called out tentatively.
Cautiously, Buffy started moving toward the fight.
Main Street -- Near the Sun Cinema -- Resume
Both Razor and Faith were bleeding from multiple wounds, but Faith was the one who could no longer hide her fatigue. She tried to call upon her hate, her outrage, her desire for revenge, but it wasn't working. She was just spent. Still, she fought on. She thrust forward with her dagger but missed. When Razor counterattacked, she couldn't react fast enough to defend herself. His left hand shot out and latched around her neck. As he began to squeeze, he lifted her off the ground.
Gasping for breath, Faith swiped at Razor with her blade; he easily knocked it from her grip. With her dagger gone, she used both of her hands to try and pry the demon's fingers from her throat, but it was useless.
While he continued to apply pressure, she could feel herself starting to pass out. As she began to see prickles of light at the edges of her vision, she directed her final thoughts to Buffy.
I'm sorry, she told her. I tried...
Seeing the slayer begin to cease her struggles, Razor pulled her close and got right in her face.
"You know...I really enjoyed ripping your little blonde friend apart," he said with a sadistic smirk, "but I think I'm gonna enjoy you more...it'll be much more fun with a live one..."
That was all it took for Faith to get the extra boost of rage she needed. With all her might, she rammed both of her knees into Razor's groin. He instantly doubled over, releasing her in the process. When she hit the ground, she scrambled back for her dagger. By the time Razor raised up, Faith buried the blade deep into his belly. He made a strangled sound in his throat and then peered down in disbelief.
"Who's ripped up now?" she taunted as she yanked the dagger upwards, splitting open his stomach.
As demon blood and guts poured over her hand, Faith shoved Razor off the blade. He gurgled one last time and then died. Wanting to be sure, Faith moved around his body to his head and slashed the dagger through his neck, slitting his throat almost to the point of decapitation. Satisfied that he was dead, she stepped back to catch her breath.
Once she was breathing a bit more normally, she knelt beside Razor and reached into his jacket pockets. She kept searching until she found what she was looking for--his set of keys. She studied the gold medallion that served as the key chain. It appeared to be the Hellions' coat of arms. She smiled to herself and twirled them on her finger as Razor had done.
"Guess you won't be needin' these anymore," she told the dead demon as she stood back up.
"Neither will you!"
Faith whipped around to see four more demons coming her way--the two she had knocked out at the end of the fight and two new ones who had just come upon the scene.
Faith's shoulders slumped. "You gotta be kiddin' me..."
Already so tired she could barely stand, she decided a bluff was in order. She stood up straight and shot her meanest glare at the four demons. She twirled the keys and then caught them in a fierce grip.
"You try and take these," she told them as she put the keys in the inner pocket of her leather jacket, "you're gonna end up like all your buddies here, 'specially him." She gestured at Razor's gutted body with her dagger. "So save your guts and get the hell out of here!"
The demon who spoke just narrowed his eyes and growled. Then he barked to the others, "Get her!"
"Well, it was worth a try," Faith mumbled to herself before preparing to defend against the attacking demons.
Further Down Main Street -- Moments Later
As Buffy drew closer to the theater, she suddenly realized that Faith was in danger. She called out Faith's name and tore off in a run. As she passed by a demolished utilities truck, she grabbed a sawed-off length of metal conduit to use as a weapon.
Main Street -- Near the Sun Cinema -- Same Time
Faith had managed to kill one of the four demons, but as fatigued as she was, she hadn't been able to hold out against the remaining three. They had disarmed her and then pummeled her into the pavement. When she was sufficiently dazed, the new wannabe leader had the other two lift Faith from the ground and hold her up by her arms while he continued beating her.
With blood pouring down her face and her consciousness fading with every punch, Faith couldn't help but think about the last time she'd been in this position--at the hands of Debbie and her girls in prison.
Left jaw! Ain't this... Right jaw! ...some fuckin'... Body blow! ...deja vu...
The demon slammed punch after punch into the slayer's head and body until he saw her eyes close and her head loll forward. When he went to reach into the inner pocket of her jacket, though, he jerked and then stopped as a long piece of metal conduit penetrated his skull.
The two demons holding Faith watched their brother crumple to the ground. Then they turned to see where the metallic missile had come from. When they saw the enraged blonde bearing down upon them, they threw Faith face down on the ground and rushed forward to meet the new threat.
In the middle of the fight, Faith came to long enough to raise her head and glance bleary-eyed at the ongoing battle.
"Buffy?" she asked in confusion before quickly dropping right back down. Her body seemed to sink even further as a long breath came out of her mouth. When her eyes closed, she stopped moving altogether.
Once Buffy had finished off the two demons, she rushed to Faith's side and carefully turned her over. She gently caressed the slayer's battered face and called out to her.
The slayer was completely unresponsive. Buffy gave the brunette's shoulders a small shake, but her body was totally limp.
"No, no...god, no..." Buffy cried. "Faith, please wake up...please..."
After failing to get any response from the fallen slayer, Buffy finally broke down.
"NOOOOOO..." she wailed in anguish, draping herself over Faith's body.
Apartment Off Main Street -- Living Room -- Night
Faith lay on her back on the hardwood floor of the foyer area. She was completely still except for the slight rise and fall of her chest as she breathed. Slowly, her beaten face scrunched into a grimace, and her eyelids began to flutter open. She appeared a bit dazed as her eyes tried to focus on her surroundings.
She could make out a ceiling above her and a door at her feet. To her right, she saw an interior wall with a row of coat hooks and a cluster of small paintings. To her left, she saw a recliner, and beyond it, the living room of what appeared to be an efficiency apartment of some kind.
"What the hell?" she mumbled, wondering where she was and how she had gotten there.
She started to sit up, but the intense pain forced her back down. She was hurting all over, but it was her stomach and ribs that hurt the most.
"Fuck..." she groaned as she cradled her arms against her body.
When her head began to pound and her back to ache, she decided that she'd have to get up. She took in a deep breath and blew it out before making herself roll over and rise to her hands and knees. She paused, grimacing again, letting herself adjust to the pain before moving to the next stage of standing. With a final push, she got to her feet.
"Damn, I'm gettin' too old for this..." she grumbled as she straightened up. When she realized what she had said, she snorted. "Yeah, too old at twenty. Better send me to the old slayers retirement home."
Faith forced herself to go through a few stretches. "Just rusty, I guess. Prison made me soft." She couldn't help snorting again.
The sarcastic chuckle gave way to a hissing curse when the sharp jab of bruised ribs shot through the left side of her body.
"Damn, those fuckers beat the shit outta me..."
It was then that she caught sight of herself in the large mirror on the wall opposite the front door. Her hair was a tangled mess. One clump above her forehead was matted with partially dried blood. A streak of red ran down that side of her face. Another line of blood led from her split lip, over her chin, and down her neck. Both jaws were bruised. One of her eyes was swollen and beginning to turn black.
"And I left prison for this?" she quipped before turning around to face the living room.
She absently wiped at her chin with her sleeve as she shuffled between the recliner and the television and then over to the large living room window. When she pulled the curtain away and looked outside, she saw that she was in a second floor apartment. She could make out another building across from her and an alley below.
"Must be those apartments on the back of the furniture store," she mused. "But how did I get here?" She turned back around and glanced at the front door. "I guess I must've dragged myself here after the battle."
She squinted her eyes and tried to recall what had happened. She'd been fighting those four demons that showed up after she'd killed the gang leader. She remembered killing one, then getting jumped by the other three, then...
She shook her head, trying to clear her muddled memory, but it didn't work. "I really gotta stop getting these head injuries," she said as she gingerly pressed her fingertips against the crusty wound at her hairline. With a heavy sigh, she headed for the kitchen area. "This place better have hot water..."
Apartment -- Hallway -- Continuous
Without even wondering if anyone else was in the apartment, Faith trudged past the eat-in kitchen and into the short hallway. She had expected the bathroom to be right after the kitchen, but it wasn't. Must be off the bedroom, she thought to herself as she forced herself to keep walking even though every step sent a new streak of pain through her body. As she moved toward the bedroom, she was so stuck in her own physical discomfort that she didn't even notice the sounds of crying coming from the room ahead of her.
Apartment -- Bedroom -- Continuous
As Faith turned the corner into the bedroom, she stopped dead in her tracks. She couldn't believe what she was seeing.
Buffy sat on the edge of bed, rocking and holding herself, sobbing inconsolably. Her long blonde hair was frazzled and dirty. The long-sleeved black dress she wore was dingy and ripped in multiple places. Fresh cuts were on her face and arms.
As Faith stared in utter disbelief, Buffy was totally oblivious to the other slayer's presence. She just continued crying hysterically, "Please make it not real...please make it not real...please..."
In a flash, Faith's mind filled in the blanks of her memory. She saw the demon who was beating her get skewered by a piece of metal conduit that came out of nowhere. Next thing she knew, she was face down on the ground. When she looked up, she could have sworn she saw Buffy slaying the remaining demons. She remembered saying Buffy's name before everything went dark.
As her brain struggled to come up with an adequate explanation, Faith could only speak the slayer's name again.
Buffy's head snapped up at the sound of Faith's voice. She leaped to her feet and rushed to hug her fellow slayer. "Faith! You're alive!" she sobbed. "Thank god...thank god...I thought you were dead..."
Faith was still in a state of complete shock. It took her a full minute to even respond to Buffy's hug, to loosely return it. She couldn't even feel her physical pain at that moment; her mind was just reeling. She thought I was dead?
Meanwhile, Buffy continued to be overcome with emotion. "I-I-I tried to wake you up," she wailed, "but you wouldn't wake up...you wouldn't wake up..."
This can't be happening, Faith thought. Buffy's dead. I must be hallucinating, I gotta be. Still just stupidly wishing for what I can never have. Unless...this is that Buffy robot the doc told me about...
Faith abruptly grabbed the blonde around her biceps and shoved her away, holding her at arm's length. Buffy's crying hiccupped to a stop as the dark slayer examined her intently.
Faith recognized the adorably unique nose and the wide mouth with its pleasantly pouty lower lip. She gazed into the familiar green eyes that were now rimmed in red from crying. Then she caught sight of the dried blood on the other woman's face. It was from a row of jagged scrapes on her cheek. Then the truth hit her: robots don't bleed.
She reached up and cupped Buffy's scratched cheek. She gently ran her thumb along the lines of dried blood before lifting her eyes to meet Buffy's. "I thought I imagined you, but...it's really you, isn't it?"
With a few tears still trickling down, Buffy nodded.
Now it was Faith's turn to do the bear-hugging. "God, I never thought I'd see you again," she said in a choked voice as she held Buffy tightly. It took all of her will not to begin sobbing herself.
After a lengthy embrace, Faith pulled back and stared at Buffy in amazement. "How--? How are you here?" she asked, still holding the other slayer's arms.
Buffy frowned and shook her head. "I don't know," she said. "I don't know..."
"Are you hurt anywhere?" Faith asked in sudden concern as she began scanning the blonde for injuries more serious than scratches.
"No, I don't think so," Buffy replied. "Not like you," she added, ending Faith's inspection by touching the slayer's bruised face.
For an intense moment, the two slayers locked eyes. Their hearts began beating madly, and they could feel fire racing under their skin where they touched. They were both breathing hard when Faith finally cleared her throat and stepped back out of touching range. She shoved her hands into the back pockets of her jeans.
"Look…I know I'm probably the last person you want to see, but I think we better stick together for a while. At least until we see how things are outside." She tilted her head toward the window behind the bed.
When Buffy turned and saw the window, she immediately backed away from it, whimpering. "I don't want to go outside," she said in a small, scared voice.
"It's okay, it's okay," Faith assured her. "You don't have to. I don't want to go out there either. No way I can take on any demons right now. I'm tapped out."
Buffy became upset again. She wrapped her arms around herself and cringed with her back against the wall. "Are we in hell?" she begged with new tears streaming down her face. "Please tell me we're not in hell...please..."
Faith grasped Buffy's shoulders. "We're not in hell," she told her. When Buffy didn't meet her gaze, she reached up and lifted Buffy's chin. "We're not in hell, and we're not dead. I promise."
When Buffy had calmed somewhat, Faith stepped back and gestured toward the bed. "Why don't we sit down?"
Buffy wiped the tears from her cheeks and nodded, then joined Faith at the end of the bed.
"Tell me what you remember," Faith asked. "I mean, obviously you remember me--of all things--but what else?"
Buffy thought for a moment and then said, "I remember my life before I died, and I remember dying, but...then it all goes fuzzy. How long was I dead?"
"One hundred and forty-seven days," Faith instantly replied. "But who's counting?" she added with a chuckle, a little embarrassed at her answer. She turned the conversation back to what Buffy remembered. "How about this?" she suggested. "What if you start with now and work your way back? Like, why did you think you were in hell? I mean, I know Sunnydale's like Demon City at the moment, but compared to where you were, it was probably pretty tame."
"Where I was?" Buffy asked, confused.
"The hell dimension you went to--the one that hell god came from?"
"I--I didn't go to Glory's dimension."
Now Faith was confused. "Well...where did you go?"
"I don't know. I can't remember exactly, but...I think I was in heaven."
"Heaven?" Faith asked in surprise.
Buffy nodded. "I was at peace. I wasn't hurting anymore, and I could finally rest."
"And then you got yanked here. Shit. No wonder you thought you were in hell. Town bein' ransacked by demons..."
Buffy shook her head. "They weren't even the worst part."
Faith waited for Buffy to explain, but she didn't continue right away. She looked away for a long time, gathering the courage to describe the details of her resurrection.
"When I first woke up, I was...in a coffin...my coffin...as in buried in my own grave."
Faith glanced down at Buffy's battered and bloody hands, realizing then the real reason Buffy's grave had been disturbed. Shit...fucking shit...she had to dig out of her own grave? "Awww...Jesus Christ, B..."
"I screamed, I panicked, I finally dug my way out, and demons were everywhere, and I hurt so bad, and then you were dead, and all I could think was... 'I'm in hell. That other place, where I was before, it wasn't heaven at all. It was just...a-a-a holding place, a waiting area until my eternity was decided. And now I'm in hell forever'..." Buffy began to weep once again.
"But you're not," Faith insisted, pulling Buffy into a hug. "You're not in hell. I swear."
Buffy put her arms around Faith and clung to her as she tried to make herself believe what the other slayer was telling her.
Not knowing what else to do, Faith just held her. She rubbed Buffy's back and caressed her hair. Most of all, she kept repeating her earlier words, trying to reassure the distraught slayer that she really wasn't in hell.
As Buffy felt her crying slowly cease, she noticed how comforting Faith's embrace was. For the first time since she had dug out of her grave, Buffy felt safe. Her pain was still there, but it wasn't as strong; it was almost bearable. When she felt Faith start to end the hug, she nearly resisted, not wanting to leave the shelter of the other slayer's arms. She didn't, though, and reluctantly allowed Faith to separate them.
"Thank you," Buffy said with a sniffle. "You're the only thing good that's happened to me since I've been back."
The statement surprised and moved Faith, but she hid it with a joke. She shot Buffy a grin and said, "You used me and the word 'good' in the same sentence. Are you trying to jinx us or something?"
That got a little bit of a smile out of Buffy.
Hoping to continue the light mood, Faith stood and said, "Look, I don't know about you, but I've got demon gunk where a person really shouldn't have demon gunk. I think a couple of hot showers are in order."
"Come on...let's go see what we've got to work with," Faith suggested.
Buffy followed her to the bathroom.
Apartment -- Bathroom -- Continuous
"We got soap, we got shampoo, we got towels," Faith announced after conducting a quick search. "Looks like we're good to go."
Buffy seemed distracted and didn't reply. She just nervously glanced around the room.
"Why don't you go first?" Faith offered. "I'll see if I can round us up some clothes."
"Okay," Buffy replied, nodding but not really meeting Faith's gaze.
At that, Faith left the room and shut the door.
For the longest moment, Buffy just stood there, looking lost. Then her attention was drawn to the full-length mirror on the bathroom closet door. She walked toward it and stared at her own reflection as if she didn't recognize it.
Suddenly, she saw her reflection replaced by a golden image of herself with wings. She jumped in reaction, but within a second, her real reflection reappeared, bringing with it an overwhelming sense of loss that Buffy couldn't understand or escape. Feeling a sob developing in her chest, she turned away from the mirror. Drawing in short, halting breaths, she made herself concentrate on removing her clothing. When she was done, she reached into the bathtub and turned on the water, adjusting it until it was the right temperature. She pulled the knob to divert the water to the showerhead and then stepped inside.
She let the water hit her face first then turned to let the stream wet her hair. When the hot water hit her back, though, she gasped as the burning in her shoulder blades returned with a vengeance. Pain streaked through her body as frightening memories of herself screaming and falling assaulted her mind. This time she couldn't suppress the tears. She folded her arms against her chest, leaned against the shower wall, and let the sobs come.
Apartment -- Bedroom -- Same Time
Meanwhile, Faith was rummaging through the dresser and chest that paralleled the bed. She was finding many of the drawers to be surprisingly close to empty.
"She must be out of town," Faith speculated about the apartment's resident. "Looks like she's taken a lot of her stuff with her."
Despite the short supply, Faith was able to find some usable clothes for herself and Buffy--underwear, socks, sweats, and t-shirts.
"Ain't nothing fancy, but it'll do," she said as she gathered Buffy's stack and headed for the bathroom.
Apartment -- Bathroom -- Continuous
Faith could hear the shower running, so she gave a loud knock and then stuck her head through the door.
"Hey, I got you some clothes," she called out.
She heard a bump in the shower and the telltale signs of Buffy forcing herself to stop crying.
"Great. Thanks," she eventually heard Buffy reply.
"Are you all right?" Faith asked.
"I'm fine. I'll be out in a minute," Buffy answered.
Although she knew Buffy was anything but 'fine,' she didn't press the matter. When she heard Buffy pop the top of a bottle and begin making the sounds of shampooing, Faith called out an 'okay' and then reluctantly left the room again.
Apartment -- Bedroom -- Continuous
Faith was twisting her fingers in worry as she re-entered the bedroom to wait for Buffy. For a time, she just paced back and forth at the end of the bed.
God, she is really messed up.
Shit, do you blame her?
No, it's just...I don't know what to do, I don't know what to do!
Just then, Buffy came out of the bathroom, startling Faith from her internal debate. Faith threw on a smile and turned to face Buffy.
"Hey. Feel better?" she asked.
"Yeah. Thanks," Buffy answered, only fleetingly making eye contact.
"You better have left me some hot water," Faith teased.
She immediately regretted her attempt at levity when she saw Buffy's face crease in concern. She could tell the blonde hadn't even considered the hot water issue, couldn't even remember how long she'd been in the shower. Faith instantly crossed to her and touched her shoulder.
"Don't sweat it," she told her. "I was just kidding. At this point, I'd take a polar bear plunge to get this gunk off o' me."
When she felt the blonde relax, Faith stepped back over to the bed and picked up her stack of clothes. "I'll be back in a few," she said before heading off to the bathroom.
Apartment -- Bathroom -- Moments Later
Not wanting to leave Buffy alone for long, Faith tore her clothes off as quickly as she could, hissing in pain only when she had to tug her t-shirt over her head and maneuver herself out of her sweat-soaked sports bra. She tried to rush through her shower, but at times she had no choice but to stop and scrub to get the last vestiges of 'demon gunk' from her skin.
When she finally got out, she wrapped a towel around herself and tiptoed to the bathroom door. She eased it open and listened. No hysterical wailing. That was good. She hoped.
She returned to the mat in front of the tub and toweled herself dry. When she was finished, she stepped over to the closet door to inspect her reflection in the full-length mirror.
"Shit...I still look like hell," she commented when she saw her bruised body. Then she just shrugged. "Well, at least it's a clean hell." She headed for the vanity and began combing out her damp hair. "Slayer healing'll take care of it. Gimme a few days, and I'll be good as new."
Apartment -- Bedroom -- Same Time
While Faith showered, Buffy restlessly paced beside the bed. She focused on her breathing, trying her best to keep from falling apart during the other woman's absence. She wasn't having any luck, however.
The brief moment of reprieve she'd felt at Faith's touch had disappeared, and her pain had returned. She had fought off the tears as long as she could, but now they were freely rolling down her face. She stopped in front of the chest of drawers and hugged her arms tightly around herself.
"God, it hurts so much," she whispered, "and I don't even know why..."
Apartment -- Bedroom -- Minutes Later
When Faith hurried into the room, she found Buffy leaning face first against the tall chest of drawers. She was crying again. Faith walked over and touched Buffy's back.
"Are you okay?" she gently asked.
Buffy turned around and shook her head. "No," she answered in a raw voice.
Faith reached out and lightly grasped Buffy's arms. "Tell me what to do," she pleaded. "Tell me how to make it better."
Buffy looked into Faith's eyes. "Just hold me."
Faith didn't wait. She opened her arms and wrapped them around Buffy. As she pulled Buffy close, Faith felt a tide of emotions well up inside her. Regret for all the hurt she had caused Buffy in the past. Sadness at the pain Buffy was experiencing now. Helplessness at being unable to ease any of Buffy's anguish. More than anything, though, Faith felt elation. Buffy was alive and in her arms--something she had only been able to dream of, to wish for. She hated herself for being so selfish, for being happy when Buffy so clearly wasn't, but she couldn't help it. God, please don't let this be a dream, she prayed.
Once she felt Faith's arms close around her, Buffy shuddered once and then sagged wearily against her fellow slayer, grateful to have the pain inside her diminish as it had done each time Faith had hugged her or touched her.
"Thank you," she whispered against Faith's chest.
Buffy could hear Faith's heart thudding like a drum and her breathing becoming short and shallow. She could feel something building between them, growing stronger the longer they touched, but she didn't know what it was, and right then she didn't have the strength to ponder it. Sleep was what she needed--deep and painless sleep.
"I'm so tired..." Buffy murmured.
"Time for you to lay down then," Faith replied before leading Buffy to the neatly made double bed. "I can take the couch," she said, pulling back the covers and guiding Buffy to sit on the edge of the mattress. "In ya go," she directed, and Buffy did as she was told. Faith tucked her in and then straightened up to stand beside the bed.
As soon as Faith was separated from her, though, Buffy once again felt the anguish return. It was as if tons of earth and stone had been piled upon her, crushing the air from her body. Yet long after her breath had left, life and consciousness had inexplicably remained, trapping her in an eternal second of agony. She didn't know why the pain eased in Faith's presence; she only knew that it did, so she reached out and captured Faith's hand.
"Stay with me?" she asked.
Faith hesitated and glanced about the room, unsure of what to do. Then she pulled her hand from Buffy's and took a step back. She gestured pointedly between them. "You do know it's me, right? Faith Lehane? The girl who killed people, tried to frame you for murder, steal your boyfriend, your body...?"
"I remember," Buffy said. Then she held out her hand again. "Please?"
Seeing the pain in those green eyes, Faith couldn't deny the request. She stepped forward and took Buffy's hand, joining her under the covers of the bed. Once Buffy had snuggled into place against her, Faith encircled her with her arms and held her close. As she felt Buffy relax into sleep, Faith closed her eyes and repeated her earlier prayer, Please let this be real. Then Faith too gave herself over to sleep.
Apartment -- Bedroom -- Moments Later
Invisible to human eyes in their ethereal forms, Joyce and Ozzie watched the two slayers sleeping peacefully.
Joyce heaved a sigh of relief and smiled. "We did it."
Ozzie nodded his head but then said solemnly, "It's not over yet. The other side is just going to renew its efforts to keep Buffy and Faith apart."
"We'll just have to make sure that doesn't happen," Joyce said in a determined voice.
Suddenly, the room was filled with a pulsing light and the booming clang of what must have been an enormous gong. The otherworldly sound went unnoticed by the resting slayers. Only the two heavenly beings were privy to the deep resonating note. They cast nervous glances at each other before gazing upwards.
"Oh, fudge cookies," Joyce grumbled before she and Osiris were yanked back to heaven by the Powers-That-Be.
Heaven -- Palace of the Powers-That-Be -- Night
As they had been during Buffy's visit, the Powers-That-Be were in human form, sitting upon their seven thrones. Joyce and Ozzie stood before them, keeping their eyes appropriately downcast, as the gray-haired senior member of the Powers-That-Be angrily lectured them.
"There are rules in place, and they are there for a reason!" he barked. "They cannot be broken on a whim!"
Joyce's head shot up. "A whim?!!" she objected irately.
Ozzie reached out and placed an arm in front of Joyce to prevent her from stepping forward. Then he turned his gaze toward the Powers. "Well, technically we didn't break the rules, we just--"
"Silence!" came the booming reply. The gray-haired man calmed himself then cast a disapproving gaze at Ozzie. "I shouldn't be surprised by her actions, but you Osiris, you know better."
"Yes, my lord..." Ozzie meekly stated.
Joyce gave her partner a scowl before turning back to the Powers. "You should be thanking us. We acted when you wouldn't! Buffy and Faith are going to be needed. For what, I don't know, but it's big enough that the other side has done everything in its power to keep them apart, and--"
With a wave of the Senior Power's hand, Joyce found her voice suddenly gone. Her mouth was still moving, but no sound was emerging from it. She grasped her throat in surprise.
The bearded man at the left end of the row of thrones, the one who had earlier objected to Buffy's placement with the angelic guardians instead of the warriors, leaned over to the female beside him. "Now I see where Buffy gets her fire," he said with a grin.
"Be quiet, Laran," she chastised without turning her head.
Meanwhile, the Senior Power stood up from his throne. "I believe it would behoove the two of you to spend some time pondering the error of your ways..."
Ozzie's eyes grew wide. "No...please..."
Joyce looked at Ozzie with concern, not knowing what was causing the dread in his eyes.
"Perhaps, after a short timeout, you'll reconsider the necessity of your actions."
He clapped his hands together. There was a crack of thunder followed by a flash of light; then Ozzie and Joyce were instantly transported to another location.
Purgatory -- The Timeout Room -- Seconds Later
Once they had materialized in the new place, Joyce found that her voice had returned. "Oh!" she said, a bit startled by the abrupt relocation. She seemed relieved to be able to speak again, however. When she heard Ozzie make an unhappy sound beside her, she turned to him.
"Oh God...I hate this place..." he groaned before hurrying to a chair and sitting down. He hunkered down as if he were trying to make himself as inconspicuous as possible.
Confused, Joyce took the opportunity to gaze around the room. The walls were a dingy off-white, and the ceiling had equally dingy tiles around buzzing, blinking fluorescent lights. The room contained multiple groupings of chairs, end tables, and coffee tables; all available surfaces were covered with grimy magazines clearly out of date. An opening with a sliding glass window could be seen on the far wall, but nothing was visible beyond it. Several large TVs were in place throughout the room, but they were stuck on annoying infomercials. In the areas where there were no televisions, speakers blared mind-numbing elevator music.
The room did have other occupants; several of them shot desperate, needy glances in Joyce's direction. She immediately rushed to sit next to Ozzie.
"What is this place?" she whispered urgently.
"The waiting room from hell," Ozzie replied with disgust. "Actually, the waiting room from purgatory, but it might as well be hell." When one of the other occupants started shuffling towards them, he hissed under his breath, "Don't make eye contact, don't make--" Damn it, too late.
A neurotic looking woman wearing a tattered sweater sat down beside Joyce and asked, "Have you seen my cats?"
"Hell no she ain't seen your stupid cats!" complained a pudgy man puffing away on a nauseating cigar. He sat right across from Joyce and blew smoke towards her.
Ozzie tried to get up and move but found his way blocked by a young mother with two bawling children, one toddler and one infant. She handed the crying baby to the towering man. "Do you mind? I need to take Jesse to the little boys' room." Before he could stop her, she rushed away, toddler in tow.
Ozzie held the squalling infant out away from himself, then slowly turned around to glare at Joyce, who was getting an earful of cat stories and a nose full of cigar smoke. "This is all your fault," he griped as he sat down and began going through the motions of calming the baby that he knew would never stop crying.
"I can't just sit around here doing nothing! I need to get back to Buffy!" Joyce exclaimed. "How do we get out of here?"
"We don't," Ozzie replied. "Not until the Powers decide to let us out."
Joyce stared at Ozzie in shock for a moment, then hung her head, closed her eyes, and covered her face with her hands in an attempt to drown out the noise. She jumped when she felt a hand on her arm. When she looked up, the cigar-smoking man was right in front of her, grinning.
"Did I ever tell you about my third wife's ugly toe? Ugliest thing you ever saw! The toe, not the wife. Course, I can't say that about my current wife..."
As the man let out a string of guffaws at his own joke, Joyce groaned and slumped against her chair, resigned to her fate.
Sunnydale -- Apartment -- Bedroom -- Before Sunrise
It was about an hour before sunrise when Faith awakened from sleep. She blinked her eyes several times and drew in a deep breath. When she felt a warm body readjust itself against hers and drape an arm across her stomach, she instantly froze. It took a few seconds for her brain to remind her of where she was, how she had gotten there, and who she was with.
She exhaled in tiny, tightly controlled breaths before looking down at the person who was snuggled against her right shoulder. When she saw that it was Buffy, she relaxed and let the rest of her breath out.
Thank God, she thought to herself in relief. It wasn't just a dream.
She pulled Buffy closer and leaned her cheek against the top of the blonde's head. She could feel a lump forming in her throat and tears filling her eyes, but she didn't fight the reaction. It felt too good to have Buffy alive again and to be holding her in her arms.
Unfortunately, her mind didn't allow her to enjoy the embrace for long.
Since when are you a cuddler? it taunted.
Since now, Faith grumbled back.
Well, don't get attached. You know this won't last.
She's only with you because she was traumatized and needed someone and you were the only one available.
I know already! Now shut up.
After quelling her inner nag, she indulged in a few more moments of snuggling before forcing herself to get out of bed. Slowly but surely, she extricated herself from Buffy's embrace without waking her.
Once she had slid out of the bed, Faith stood up and watched the blonde carefully. When she was sure that Buffy had remained asleep, she stepped to the large window behind the head of the bed and peeked through the blinds. Although it was completely dark outside, she could tell that it was close to sunrise.
Better go take a look outside, she thought. But first, the bathroom.
Apartment -- Bathroom -- Moments Later
After taking care of business, Faith stood in front of the full-length mirror and examined her reflection.
"Still look like I got dragged behind a car and then dropped off a mountain, but I feel better." She went through a few stretches but stopped when she felt a sharp pain in her left side. "Still pretty sore, though," she said, wincing.
She put her boots on and pulled her wallet from the jeans she had taken off the night before. When she picked up her leather jacket, she immediately grimaced at the smell and held the jacket away from herself.
"Damn demon guts...ruined my new jacket," she complained.
She rummaged through the jacket's pockets and retrieved a small dagger, her Lucky Strike cigarettes and lighter, the strip of photo booth pictures of herself and Buffy, and the keys she had taken from Razor, the leader of the Hellions. She gave the keys a thoughtful glance then tucked her belongings into the pockets of her borrowed pants.
Apartment -- Bedroom -- Continuous
After she came out of the bathroom, she took a quick look at Buffy before quietly easing into the bedroom's walk-in closet. She hunted through the apartment owner's clothes until she found a jacket she liked. It was a heavy but well-worn blue jean jacket. She transferred her cigarettes, lighter, and photo to the right breast pocket, her wallet and dagger to the inner pocket, and Razor's keys to the regular left pocket.
After leaving the closet, she once again checked to see if Buffy was still sleeping. When she saw that she was, she glanced around the room, looking for something to write with. She spied a notepad and pen on the nightstand. Taking them up, she wrote in large letters:
Went to scout. Be right back.
After leaving the notepad and pen on the nightstand, Faith left the bedroom and headed for the front door.
Outside The Apartment -- Moments Later
Once she had closed the outer door at the bottom of the stairs, she immediately scanned up and down the entire length of the dark alley. Seeing and hearing nothing of a dangerous nature, she pulled out a cigarette and lit it. She took a deep drag and let it out. Then she cautiously moved up the alley toward Main Street.
Main Street -- Continuous
As Faith eased around the corner, she noticed that the most of the Hellions' bodies were gone. The destruction caused by the marauding demons, however, was still there. The front windows of stores were crashed in, inventory was either missing or destroyed, broken glass and other garbage littered the sidewalks. The metal trash barrels had, at least, burned down to mere smoldering.
Ahead of her, in front of the Sun cinema, though, she could see four hooded figures heaving something into a large black van. She tossed her cigarette to the ground and headed their way.
As she got closer to the black van, she realized that the hooded figures were the Shrnkar--demonic scavengers who fed upon the demon dead. Slayers often had unwritten alliances with the Shrnkar. In exchange for cleaning up the slayer's 'dirty work,' the Shrnkar were allowed to live. At the moment, they were in the process of loading up the van with the last of the dead Hellions. When Faith walked right up to them, they drew back and hissed at her.
"Hey," she called out to them, "you seen any live ones o' these out and about?"
"The living...do not conccccern ussss, SSSSSlayer..." one of the scavengers answered.
"Yeah, but ya got eyes, don't ya?" Faith countered.
The Shrnkar looked at each other a moment; then another one of the scavengers said, "We ssssaw a few leave hourssss ago. The ressssst belong to ussss."
"Hey, they're all yours," Faith said as she started to walk away. "And thanks."
She only got hisses in return, but she didn't care. Right now, she was on cloud nine. She had kicked some major demon ass last night, and it sounded like the stragglers had hightailed it out of town. Most importantly, though, Buffy was back.
"And she hasn't even tried to kill me," Faith said, grinning to herself. "All I need now is a little icing on the cake."
She headed toward the Hellions' motorcycles that were still parked a few yards away. When she reached them, she pulled Razor's key chain out of her jacket pocket. She studied the key chain and then walked down the line of bikes, looking for the one that the keys might fit. At the end of the row, she found it. The symbol on the medallion matched the image on the bike's gas tank. She swung her leg over the bike and sat down. She inserted the key and switched it into the 'on' position; then she punched the ignition button. As the engine roared to life, she turned the gas handle and revved it up even more.
"Sweet!" she said.
After engaging the clutch and clicking the bike into gear, she drove it down the block and into the alley beside the furniture store. As she made the turn, she killed the engine and coasted silently the rest of the way to the apartment. She parked the bike by the bottom door, locked it, and tucked the keys in her pocket. Then she went up the stairs to the apartment, a smile still on her face.
Apartment -- Kitchen -- Continuous
Faith let herself back into the apartment and crept to the bedroom. When she looked inside, Buffy was still asleep, so she quietly shut the door and headed back into the dining area at the end of the kitchen. She pulled a calling card from her wallet and picked up the handset from the wall-mounted phone, intending to call her watcher, Dr. Victoria Raine. She hesitated before punching in the numbers, though.
What am I gonna say? she thought while glancing down the hallway toward the bedroom. I can't tell her Buffy's back. Not yet. B's a total basket case--no way she can handle a Watchers Council Inquisition right now. After considering the matter a moment longer, she decided, Ah, I'll give it a day or two, then go from there.
Satisfied with that scenario, Faith turned back to the phone and punched in the numbers on the calling card Dr. Raine had given her. After several rings, the phone was finally picked up by a tired-sounding Dr. Raine.
"Faith, thank goodness! I was beginning to get quite worried. Where are you?"
"I'm in Sunnydale. Sorry I didn't call sooner. Things have been kinda crazy since I got here."
"Biker gang called the Hellions apparently got word that the slayer was dead. They were tearin' the town apart when I got here. They even torched the bus I was in. I spent half the night fightin' 'em."
"Dear lord!" Dr. Raine exclaimed. "Well, clearly you were victorious, else you'd not be calling."
"Were you hurt?"
"Got the crap beat outta me, but other'n that I'm fine."
"My word, you certainly experienced a trial by fire upon your return, didn't you?"
"Yeah, literally," Faith replied.
"How did the others react to your arrival?"
"Haven't seen 'em yet. Guess I'll drop in on 'em later today." Woo-hoo, can't wait for that joyous reunion, she thought sarcastically to herself.
"Get some rest first," Dr. Raine instructed. "I want daily calls from you until I arrive, all right?"
"Yes ma'am," the slayer dutifully replied.
Faith ended the call and hung up the phone. For a moment she considered calling back and telling her watcher everything, but in the end, she decided against it. It wasn't that she didn't trust Dr. Raine; she just thought it would be better for Buffy to have some time to adjust. It wouldn't hurt to wait a few days before making her watcher rush down to Sunnydale.
She looked back down the hallway toward the bedroom, where her fellow slayer was sleeping. She shook her head, still trying to wrap her mind around the totally improbable yet completely undeniable reality of Buffy's presence.
How did you get here? Who brought you here? Did the Powers-That-Be send you back like they did Angel?
When an amusing explanation popped in her mind, Faith ducked her head and smirked to herself.
You probably heard the Council was bringing me back, didn't you? 'They're putting Faith in charge? Over my dead body! Send me back now before she destroys Sunnydale!'
Faith's chuckling ended abruptly when she heard Buffy scream as if she had awakened from a horrible nightmare. Faith flew down the hallway and into the bedroom.
Apartment -- Bedroom -- Continuous
By the time Faith rushed to her side, Buffy was frantically calling out the dark slayer's name and reaching for her.
"Hey, it's okay," Faith said as she grasped Buffy's arms and looked her in the eyes. "It's okay...it was just a dream..."
Buffy was still in a panic, her words tumbling out between breaths. "I-I-I was falling...I kept falling...and it hurt...so bad...then I hit the ground...o-o-or something...and I woke up, but you weren't here...you weren't here..."
When Buffy began crying in earnest, Faith pulled her into a hug and held her. "It's okay, it's okay...I'm right here..."
In the past, Faith had never been into all that touchy-feely stuff; in fact, she would have been downright repelled by it. But here with Buffy, she didn't seem to mind it, couldn't seem to help herself from falling right into it. And stranger still, Buffy seemed to want it, to need it from her somehow.
This is so fuckin' weird, Faith thought to herself. But it's a good kind of weird, she had to admit.
Buffy, on the other hand, didn't have room in her head for any kind of conscious debate on the matter. Right then, she only knew what she felt, and that was relief. With Faith's embrace, Buffy's feelings of terror and pain had receded and had been replaced with safety and comfort. Behind all of that, though, was a profound sense of rightness--that where she was, here in Faith's arms, was exactly where she needed to be. The thought of losing her filled Buffy with despair.
Frowning in worry, she pulled back so that she could look at Faith. She lifted her hand and gently touched the other woman's face. "I was so afraid I'd lost you again..."
When their eyes met, the two slayers locked into an intense stare, just as they had the night before. Even though their hearts were thundering in their chests, they scarcely allowed themselves to breathe. They stayed that way for what seemed like an eternity of seconds before Faith finally swallowed hard and flashed Buffy a teasing grin.
"You can't get rid o' me," she joked as she stood up beside the bed. "I'm like a bad penny...I just keep comin' back."
When Buffy's face lit up with an actual smile, Faith tilted her head toward the bedroom door. "Come on, let's raid the kitchen. I'm starving!"
"Okay," Buffy said with a nod. "Let me go to the bathroom, and I'll meet you there."
"Deal," Faith said.
Apartment -- Kitchen -- Moments Later
As soon as Faith got into the kitchen, she anxiously began pacing the floor.
"What the hell is goin' on?" she whispered as she made a quick glance toward the hallway. "Something that probably shouldn't be," she added with a shake of her head.
Then she stopped pacing and consciously slowed her breathing. "Don't think about it," she told herself. "Just...think about something a lot less complicated...like food."
She turned and headed for the refrigerator.
Apartment -- Bathroom -- Same Time
While Faith worked in the kitchen, Buffy took her time in the bathroom. After a visit to the toilet, she gripped the edges of the vanity, trying to rein in her rapidly changing emotions.
Her pulse was still racing from the intense embrace she had shared with Faith, and she felt a strong need to be with her or at the very least to be near her. The sense of unbearable loss that she had experienced the night before remained deep within her, although it had begun to dull somewhat. She looked up and frowned at her reflection in the mirror above the sink.
Who are you? she asked herself.
She didn't know the answer to that question. Not fully, anyway. She took a deep breath and forced herself to focus on her past, on her life before she died. Who she was then had to be who she was now. Right? But who was she back then?
Daughter. Student. Slayer. Friend. Lover. Sister. Sacrifice.
Memories, both good and bad, flashed through her mind with each role she recalled. The memories felt so far away, though...almost as if they belonged to someone else's life.
It had been months since she had died. She knew she should be wondering where her sister and friends were and how they were doing, but all she seemed to feel for them was a kind of distant numbness. The wrongness of that made her sad, and she felt her eyes well up with tears.
She wiped the tears away and turned on the faucet in the sink. When she went to splash some water on her face, she noticed the bruises and abrasions that had been left on her hands by her escape from her coffin. In an instant, she was reliving the horror of digging herself out of her own grave.
"Stop it!" she scolded as she closed her eyes and willed the images from her mind. "You've got to pull yourself together and try to act normal!"
She hated feeling so out of control, she hated being the shell of the person she remembered. She ran her hands through her hair in an effort to calm herself. Then she opened her eyes and huffed at her own thoughts.
"None of this is normal," she mumbled as she turned the water off and dried her shaking hands. "But since when was my life ever normal? Don't know why I'd expect my new one to be any different."
After letting out a weary but determined sigh, she left the bathroom.
Apartment -- Kitchen -- Seconds Later
When Buffy got to the kitchen, she did a double-take when she found Faith making scrambled eggs, bacon, and toast.
"You're cooking," Buffy said with obvious incredulity.
"You really do remember me," Faith replied with a grin. Then she shrugged and said, "Did a short stint in the prison kitchen. Ain't sayin' I'm a gourmet or nothing, but I can do some basics."
Buffy paused a moment and then said, "Speaking of short stints..."
Faith glanced at her fellow slayer. She expected to find judgment in her eyes, but she found only curiosity. She finished filling their two plates with food and then picked them up. "I think we better sit down for this one," she said, gesturing toward the small table at the end of the kitchen. "Might take a while."
Buffy walked to the table and sat down. Once Faith had set the plates next to the silverware and the bottles of juice that she had already laid out, she also sat down.
"You're wondering why I'm not still in prison, right?" Faith asked before digging into her eggs and bacon.
Buffy nodded as she took a bite out of her toast. She hadn't thought she was hungry, but once she started eating, she regained her appetite, and the two slayers began eating heartily as they talked.
"After you died, the Council contacted me and offered to get me out of prison if I'd resume my slayer duties here in Sunnydale. I said yes, obviously." She waved her hands indicating where she was.
"How long have you been here?"
Faith looked up at the clock on the wall. "Uhhh...about six hours."
"What?" Buffy exclaimed in surprise. "You just got here last night?"
"Yep. Just in time for the biker dudes from hell," Faith said ruefully.
Buffy glanced away to think. She and Faith had come back to Sunnydale on the very same night? At almost the exact same time? What the heck did that mean?
"At first I didn't want to."
"Huh?" Buffy said, her attention snapping back to Faith. She had lost track of the conversation due to her own thoughts. "Sorry. Mental tangent."
"At first I didn't want to take the Council's offer," Faith repeated.
"Didn't miss the slayer life, huh?" Buffy asked.
"No, I missed it all right. I just didn't feel like I deserved it. I was in prison for a reason. I didn't deserve to be free."
Buffy didn't say it aloud, but she couldn't help thinking how different Faith was. Before, Faith had done everything she could to avoid taking responsibility for her actions. Now, she was the exact opposite.
"Plus, I wasn't sure if I could trust the Council," Faith continued. "I mean, last time I saw 'em, they were trying to put a bullet in my head. But…you were gone…and I was 'it'. The one and only 'one girl in all the world'."
Buffy forced a chuckle. "I bet you were happy about that." When she looked over at Faith, though, she saw a very unhappy expression.
"You were dead, B. How was I supposed to be happy about that?"
"Sorry. I just thought that--I mean, you wanted me dead before, and the last time we met, I was--" Buffy gathered her thoughts a second and then calmly pronounced, "I was a cold-hearted, self-righteous bitch."
Faith went into an instant coughing fit as she nearly choked on her toast. She had not expected those words to come out of Buffy's mouth. Like ever.
At Faith's reaction, Buffy said somewhat sheepishly, "Well, I was."
Faith downed the rest of her juice to get her voice back. "Hey, you had a right to be, okay? I screwed you over something good." She shook her head before adding, "Still don't know why you saved my life that night. You coulda just let those Council goons kill me."
"No, I-I-I couldn't..." Buffy said, frowning in confusion. She could see the 'why not' question in Faith's eyes, but she didn't have a clear answer to it, so she simply repeated herself, "I just...couldn't."
An awkward lull entered the conversation, and both slayers started fidgeting. Buffy dropped her gaze to her uneaten food, using her fork to push the remaining eggs around on her plate. Faith picked at the plastic label on her empty bottle of juice, trying to get up the courage to say what she really wanted to say. Finally, Faith raised her head and broke the silence.
"Look, I know I'm probably gonna get that 'death beating' you promised me in L.A., but I gotta say it, at least this once...I'm sorry." She poured all of her heart into those two words, hoping that Buffy could see that she meant them. Then she hung her head again and went on. "Ever since I left here, that's all I've wanted to do--to apologize to you, to somehow try to make things right even though I know I never can. When you died, I thought I'd lost my chance. I thought I'd never see you again, that I'd never get the chance to tell you..."
Faith stopped when she felt Buffy reach across the table and take her hand. She looked up and met her gaze.
"I'm sorry, too," Buffy told her with the same heart-felt sincerity.
The two slayers stared intently at each other for a long moment before exchanging small smiles. Then they turned their attention back to their food.
"I know you haven't been here long," Buffy said after taking a sip of juice, "but do you know what happened after I died? I-I-Is Dawn okay? Is everybody okay?"
"Everybody's fine," Faith assured her. "I don't know how the battle and the aftermath went down exactly, I just know that everybody's okay. Dawn's still at your house. Willow and Tara moved in to take care of her. Giles went home to England, though. Hey, did you know they have a robot you? I think they call it the Buffybot?"
Buffy flushed in embarrassment. "Ahhh, yeah."
"So, how'd that happen?" Faith asked when Buffy didn't elaborate.
"Long, long story..." Buffy replied, clearly trying to avoid answering.
Faith smirked but chose not to press her advantage at that particular moment. She rose from her chair and picked up her empty plate. "Well, some day you're gonna tell it to me," she informed her before heading for the sink.
"Oh, I am, am I?" Buffy objected as she too stood and carried her plate into the kitchen.
"If you don't, I'll just get it from your friends, and then you won't be able to censor it," Faith shot back as Buffy joined her at the sink.
Buffy narrowed her eyes in a mock glare, but she didn't have a comeback for Faith's threat. Instead, she just hip-bumped Faith away from the sink. "I'll wash, you dry."
Faith gave her an 'excuse me' look but then just picked up the kitchen towel. "Still bossy," she grumbled.
"Still whiny," Buffy countered as she handed over the first washed and rinsed plate.
They shared a playful grin as they continued dish duty.
Apartment -- Kitchen -- A Short Time Later
As Faith put away the last of the dishes, Buffy leaned against the counter, a worried look on her face.
"I guess I should go home and see everybody," Buffy said but without the least bit of enthusiasm.
"Yeah, you probably should," Faith agreed. "They need to know you're here. Especially Dawn. Kid's gonna be ecstatic that you're back. The others too. They're gonna be freakin' out, but in a totally good way."
When Faith noticed Buffy's apprehension, she stepped closer and asked, "What's up? Why aren't you happy about going home?"
"I don't know," Buffy said in a strained voice. "I think...I think I came back wrong."
"What?! No way. Why would you even think that?"
"I should be worried about my sister a-a-and my friends, about what happened to them after I died...I should be thrilled about seeing them again, about being back with them...but I'm not." She shot a pleading glance at Faith. "What's wrong with me?"
"Nothing is wrong with you," Faith insisted as she lightly grasped Buffy's arms. "You just got yanked out of heaven and dumped back on the hellmouth in the suckiest resurrection ever. It's gonna take some time to adjust, to feel normal again. They'll get that."
"I guess so," Buffy replied as Faith released her.
"Plus, maybe Red can figure out the whole 'back from the dead' thing for ya."
Buffy nodded, seemingly taking a measure of comfort from that idea.
"If she can't figure it out," Faith added, "we can turn it over to the Doc when she gets here."
"Dr. Raine...my new watcher. She'll be here in about a week."
"She's not evil, is she?" Buffy had to ask.
"No, but she has an evil brother." When Buffy shot her a puzzled look, Faith explained. "Her brother's Quentin Travers."
"Are you sure she's not evil? It could run in the family."
"I’m sure. She's cool. Probably means she's adopted." Faith gave Buffy a nudge. "Come on, let's get you in a jacket and some shoes so we can head over to your house."
Outside The Apartment -- Minutes Later
Buffy was a little wary as they stepped outside into the early morning light. Her eyes darted nervously about as if she expected demons to descend upon them at any moment.
"It's okay," Faith assured her. "I checked things out this morning before you woke up. The Hellions are either dead or long gone." She pointed out her new bike. "You wanna ride?"
Buffy's eyes widened when she recognized the bike as one of the Hellions' motorcycles. She shot Faith a questioning glance.
"Hey, no sense lettin' somebody else have it," Faith said in defense. "I won it fair and square, spoils o' war and all that."
"Yes. Yes, you did," Buffy said, smiling briefly. Then she quickly sobered. "I-I-I think I'd rather walk...i-i-if that's okay. Maybe clear my head a little before we get there."
"Sure, no prob," Faith replied.
At that, the two slayers began a slow walk through town. When they reached a certain intersection, though, Buffy stopped and looked down the opposite street. Faith moved to look at what had caught Buffy's attention. In the distance she saw a tall metal tower that clearly didn't belong in its current setting.
"What the hell is that?"
Buffy didn't answer; she just turned and headed in that direction.
Glory's Tower -- Moments Later
As Buffy walked purposefully through the abandoned construction site, Faith just followed along, unsure of where they were going or why. She was even more confused when Buffy stopped right in front of a pallet of bricks at the base of the tower.
"What is this place?" Faith asked.
"This is where I died."
Faith closed her eyes in a wince. "Awww, shit, Buffy..." When she opened her eyes and saw the blonde's gaze move upwards, she moved closer and looked up. "What happened?" she gently asked. "Doc didn't tell me much."
"Glory had Dawn up there, at the very top. She was going to use her to open a doorway to the hell dimension she came from, but I got there too late. The ritual had already started, and the portal was opening right below us, and the only way to stop it was for one of us to die. I couldn't let Dawn die. So I jumped into the portal..."
"...the fall seemed to last forever...and I felt like I was being ripped apart...and then..."
When Buffy didn't go on, Faith asked, "Is that what you were dreaming about this morning?"
"I...I don't know..." Buffy said, dropping her gaze to the pallet of bricks. She wanted to say, 'Yes, it must've been,' but something inside her told her that she hadn't been dreaming about that at all.
Neither slayer said anything for a long time. They just stared in silence at the place where Buffy had breathed her last. After a while, Faith finally spoke up.
"I felt it when you died," she softly admitted.
Buffy turned surprised eyes in Faith's direction. "Really?"
Faith nodded then met her gaze. "Worst day of my life. Felt like a part o' me died with you."
Buffy was touched and gave her a warm smile, which Faith returned.
Without another word, they turned their backs on the tower and made their way out of the construction site.
AN: I've stolen and slightly modified a behind-the-scenes flashback from another story of mine ("The Buffy Tapes"). I consider this flashback scene to be part of the backstory for "Follow Your Heart." I hated having to recycle a piece of a previous story, but I just love this scene so much, and it really fits well here. Besides Lilly insisted. ;)
Revello Drive -- Early Morning
When they got to the corner of the Summers yard, Buffy froze on the sidewalk and eyed her former house with trepidation.
"I-I-I don't think I can do this..." she whispered.
Faith stepped in between Buffy and the house and touched the slayer's arm. "You want me to go in first and break the news and make 'em calm down?"
Buffy glanced around nervously as if torn between being left alone and sending Faith inside.
"I'll make it quick," Faith promised.
After a moment of indecision, Buffy finally nodded.
"Be right back," Faith said before turning around and heading for the house.
Buffy wrung her hands as she watched Faith turn onto the sidewalk that led to the Summers home. As Faith moved further and further away from her, she felt her sense of dread and worry increase with each step. Buffy tightened her hands into fists and turned away, forcing herself to calm down.
Summers Home -- Moments Later
Faith walked up to the front door, glanced back at Buffy for a second, took a deep breath, then rang the bell. When the door was opened, she started to speak but was cut off.
"Faith! Thank god you're here!" Dawn exclaimed before rolling her eyes in disgust. "I can't believe I'm saying it, but…thank god you're here!" She grabbed Faith's arm and dragged the slayer into the house. "We've got biker demons all over the place and--" She stopped to yell toward the kitchen, "Willow! Tara! Faith's here!" When she turned back, she scrunched up her nose at the sight of Faith's battered face. "Jeez, what happened to you?"
"Big showdown with the biker demons you mentioned," Faith answered. "You don't have to worry about them anymore."
Dawn turned and started to yell again, "Willow! Tara! Faith's--"
"--here. Heard ya the first time," Willow finished as she and Tara walked into the living room. The redhead shot a haughty glance at the dark slayer. "Faith," she greeted in an icy tone.
"Willow," Faith replied, snarkily matching her coolness.
When Faith turned to her, Tara gave a quick smile and said, "I'm Tara."
"Yeah, I remember," Faith noted.
"Oh! Right," Tara said, remembering that Faith had been in Buffy's body at the time.
"Faith took care of the biker demons," Dawn announced.
A look of relief came over the witches' faces, but then Willow stiffened in defensiveness.
"We would've dealt with them--" she started to explain.
"--but we were kinda wiped out after--" Tara added without thinking.
"Like I said," Willow cut her off, "we would've dealt with them."
"Are we gonna have a Scoobies meeting?" Dawn asked. "Should I wake up Xander and Anya?"
"Ummm, yeah, sure," Willow answered. "They're probably gonna want to go home after breakfast anyway."
As Dawn rushed up the stairs, Faith, Willow, and Tara stood fidgeting in the awkward quiet until Willow turned and headed into the dining room. Tara and Faith followed. While Willow went about moving her laptop from the end of the table to the buffet, Tara finally broke the silence.
"So...how was your trip from, ummm…?"
"The pen?" Faith prompted.
Tara blushed in embarrassment at her lame question. "Yeah."
"It was fine till I got here," Faith answered. "Biker demons trashed the bus--while me and everybody else was still in it."
Tara frowned in concern, but Willow just gave a sigh of disinterest. Then the three heard footsteps and voices as Dawn returned with Xander and Anya.
"Next time we're going home no matter how many demons there are," Anya griped. "That bed is not guest-friendly."
Xander ignored his girlfriend's complaining as they entered the dining room. When his gaze met Faith's, he said, "Kinda early for you, isn't it?"
"Yeah, well, things change," Faith replied, not knowing what else to say.
After another tense moment, Willow gestured toward the table. "Come on, let's sit down and get this over with." Once they were all seated, she started her spiel. "Okay, Faith, we know the Council's all gung-ho about you being here, but--"
Thinking of Buffy waiting outside, Faith impatiently interrupted. "Look, spare me the lecture, okay? I got something important to tell ya, but it's gonna sound crazy, so hear me out." She took a deep breath and then said, "Buffy's alive."
"What?" Dawn asked. Her expression was surprised, but there was hope in her eyes.
"Buffy's alive," Faith repeated. "I've seen her."
Xander shook his head in confusion. He looked at Anya and then Tara before settling on Willow. "But I thought--"
Willow waved her hand dismissively. "She just saw Buffybot. That's all."
Xander and Dawn both slumped in disappointment.
"No, this wasn't your little RoboSlayer," Faith insisted. "Robots don't bleed. This was Buffy, in the flesh."
Willow's face instantly lit up. "I-I-It worked! I knew it was working!" She turned to Tara and grasped her hand. "I felt the energies shift, right at the last second. But then the urn was destroyed and..."
As Willow, Tara, and Xander chattered on in excitement, Dawn just sat there in shock. Anya, however, kept a skeptical eye on Faith, sensing that there was more to the story.
"You? You brought Buffy back?" Faith demanded.
"Me, Tara, and Anya," Willow proudly answered. "We got interrupted by those biker demons, though, so we didn't think it worked."
"Buffy's alive? Where is she?" Dawn interjected when she was finally able to speak. Then she turned on Willow and the others, "And why didn't you tell me what you were doing?!!"
The Scoobies went into another loud simultaneous babble-fest until Faith suddenly stood up and slapped her hand onto the table, startling them into silence.
"Do you have any idea what you've done?!!" she growled at them.
"Oh no…she came back wrong, didn't she?" Anya asked. "Does she look like a Picasso painting?"
"Of course she didn't come back wrong!" Xander scolded Anya. Then he quickly turned to Faith for confirmation. "Did she?"
"Well, you tell me," the slayer accused sarcastically. "She was resting in peace in heaven, got ripped outta there and dropped into her own coffin six feet under, had to claw her way out of her own grave into a Sunnydale overrun by rampaging biker demons, and no one was there to help her!!! What do you think?!!"
She glared at the group, and they all looked away in shame. She let out a calming breath before sitting back down.
"By the time I found her, she was so traumatized she thought she was in hell."
Tara tilted her head to the side. "But…she was in hell. Before, I mean. Wasn't she? We thought--"
"I know," Faith said. "We all thought it. But she wasn't. She was someplace nice. Like heaven."
A sickened look of horror came over the Scoobies' faces.
"Oh god…" Willow whispered, tears filling her eyes.
"We didn't know, we didn't know…" Xander said.
For a long moment, no one said a word. Each person stared at the surface of the table trying to come to terms with the revelation. Eventually, Dawn spoke up.
"Where's Buffy?" she asked in a plaintive voice. "I wanna see her."
"I'll go get her," Faith said as she rose to her feet again. "But when she comes in, give her some space, okay? Don't mob her all at once."
Faith left the room and headed for the front door.
Revello Drive -- Moments Later
At the corner of the front yard, Buffy paced the sidewalk. At Faith's absence, all of her pain had returned and was now compounded by new anxieties racing through her mind.
What's taking so long? she wondered.
Maybe they're freaking out. Like in a bad way.
Or maybe they don't believe her. It is Faith, after all. Maybe they think she's making it up.
Buffy's inner worrying was cut off when she heard the front door open. She turned to see Faith coming down the steps. She waited anxiously as the brunette headed her way.
"How did they take it?" Buffy asked when the dark slayer reached her.
"Not like I expected, that's for sure."
"W-W-What do you mean?"
Faith ran a hand through her hair and then met Buffy's eyes. "I don't know how to tell ya this, B, so I'm just gonna say it flat out...They're the ones who brought you back."
"What?" Buffy asked in shock.
"Willow and Tara and Xander's girlfriend…they did the spell that brought you back."
Buffy couldn't utter a word. My friends did this? she thought. Brought me back to a life where everything hurts?
"They didn't know you were heaven. They thought you went to that hellgod's dimension. They thought they were saving you."
Buffy's expression remained one of turmoil. Faith couldn't stand to see her fellow slayer in such anguish, so she tried to put a positive spin on things.
"They're glad you're back, though," she told her with a smile. "They missed you. They love you."
For a long moment, Buffy said nothing. She just stood there looking shell-shocked. Eventually, Faith felt the need to prompt her.
"They're waiting for you. Do you still want to see 'em?"
Buffy didn't answer. She just numbly began moving toward the house. Not knowing what else to do, Faith followed alongside of her.
Summers Home -- Moments Later
When they reached the porch, Faith moved ahead of Buffy and opened the door. After walking inside, she stepped to the left to allow Buffy to enter. Then she shut the door behind them.
The Scoobies were clustered at the base of the stairs, clinging to each other, frozen to the spot by Faith's earlier words. One glance at Buffy confirmed everything Faith had told them--from the slayer's battered hands to the traumatized, haunted look in her eyes.
Dawn was the first to break free from the group and step forward. She softly spoke her sister's name, cautiously moved closer, then engaged in a tentative hug. "I'm so glad you're home," she said.
Buffy mechanically returned the embrace.
Willow came forward with Xander. "We're so sorry," she said, crying. "We didn't know…"
Even Anya seemed upset as she and Tara joined the group. Buffy just nodded in response and endured the hugs and touches.
"We, um, we were just getting ready to have breakfast," Tara offered. "Do you maybe want something...?"
"No," Buffy replied flatly. "Thanks. I'm not hungry. But you can go ahead."
As the Scoobies murmured more apologies and made small talk about breakfast, they slowly but surely led Buffy into the dining room and away from Faith, as if the other slayer didn't even exist. Faith considered leaving, but when she saw Buffy glance back at her, she moved away from the front door and stood at the outskirts of the dining room, her hands stuffed into the pockets of her borrowed jacket.
As Anya and Xander helped Tara bring juice, milk, and danishes to the table, Buffy sat at the end where Faith had been earlier. Willow and Dawn sat on each side of her. Soon the others joined them, but none of them could take their eyes off Buffy long enough to eat or drink anything.
"We're so sorry for bringing you back like we did," Willow said.
"We should've known better," Xander said bitterly. "We should have known that you wouldn't just materialize like a transporter beam or something."
"I didn't know what they were up to," Dawn said, "but if I had, I would've wanted them to do it." She dropped her gaze to her hands. "I don't know how many times I pulled out that resurrection spell that I tried to use when Mom died. Every day I wished and prayed for a way to get you back." She looked back up and grasped her sister's hand. "But I wouldn't have if I'd known you were in heaven."
"I know," Buffy said, trying not to let her pain seep through her facade. She could see how guilt-ridden they all were. There was no sense in making them feel worse than they already did.
"Did you...did you see Mom?" Dawn asked.
Buffy opened her mouth to speak, but at first no words came out. Her brow furrowed in confusion. "I...I don't know...I can't remember..."
"Ah, I'm sure you did," Xander interjected jovially as he took up a danish. "You and the Momster, hanging out in the heavenly kitchen, pigging out on french vanilla ice cream and chocolate chip cookies, talking about your favorite chick flicks..."
Everyone chuckled along with Xander--even Buffy, although her laughter was solely for their benefit.
When Faith saw Buffy laughing with her fellow Scoobies, she glanced away and began fingering the motorcycle keys in her pocket.
Damn, I need a smoke, she thought.
She stopped fiddling with her keys and pulled out her lighter. She flipped it end over end several times. She looked back to the dining room but found no one looking back at her. She glanced away and let out a sigh.
Come on, she told herself. You did your good deed, you brought the lost kid home, now it's time to get outta here.
Without a word to the others, she slipped out of the room and out the front door.
Summers Home -- Front Porch -- Continuous
As soon as Faith got outside, she pulled out her Lucky Strikes and lit up a cigarette. She paced the porch for a bit, trying to erase the sting of being left out and ignored. She felt that old sense of rejection--and the rage that came with it--creeping up inside her, and it took all of her will to force those feelings back down.
What were you expecting? her mind snidely remarked. A 'Welcome Back' banner with party hats and confetti?
Faith whipped around at the voice and found Tara standing a few feet away from her. "Hey," she answered, hoping that the blonde hadn't noticed how much she'd just scared the beejesus out of her. "Is Buffy okay?" she asked, thinking that was the only reason Tara had come outside.
"Oh, um, yeah…I mean, I guess," Tara said, glancing back for a second at the front door. "She seems okay. As okay as she can be, anyway."
"Oh. Okay," Faith said, relaxing a little.
"I just wanted to check on you. Do you want a juice or something?"vFaith shook her head and put on a rueful smile. "You don't have to be nice to me, you know. I treated you like shit when I was in Buffy's body, and I threatened to kill most of the others, so I'm not expecting a warm welcome."
"Well, you probably won't get one," Tara admitted. "Not from the others at least. But you are welcome." She smiled sincerely and even reached out to briefly touch the slayer's arm. "I'm glad you're here, Faith."
Faith's eyebrows shot up, and she looked at Tara intently. "You're different."
Tara was taken aback by Faith's statement. "What?"
"You're not so shy and stuttery."
Tara ducked her head in momentary embarrassment, causing Faith to scramble to rephrase.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to--I mean--it looks good on you, that's all I'm trying to say." Jesus, Lehane, you're a fuckin' idiot sometimes, she mentally cursed herself as she took a long drag off her cigarette.
Tara looked up and smiled, clearly touched by Faith's words. "Thanks," she told her before gesturing at her cigarette. "That's a nasty habit, you know…" she teased.
"Yeah, well, prison'll do that to ya...teach ya all kinds o' bad habits. Most people come out worse than they were before they went in."
Tara gazed at Faith curiously. "But you didn't."
Faith snorted in reply. "How would you know? Maybe I've got the Council fooled. Maybe I'm the same crazy killer I was when I got sent to jail."
Tara shook her head. "Nope. I can tell. And even if I couldn't…would a 'crazy killer' risk her life fighting demons all night? Would she take care of someone she used to hate?"
It was Faith's turn to be embarrassed. She glanced away and said, "Look, I gotta go." She didn't wait for a response. She threw down her cigarette, stamped it out, then hurried down the steps toward the sidewalk.
"But where are you going?" Tara called out.
Faith didn't answer.
Summers Home -- Dining Room -- Moments Later
When Tara came back into the house without Faith, Buffy's anxiety level went through the roof.
"Where's Faith?" she asked worriedly.
"Um, she left," Tara replied.
"She left?" Buffy said, shooting to her feet, her agitation now apparent to the others. "Well...w-w-where's she going? I-I-Is she coming back?"
"Oh, um, yeah. I mean, I'm sure she is," Tara assured her. "She probably just had some stuff to do. She'll be back before you know it."
When Buffy saw the concerned expressions on the others' faces, she realized that she was probably over-reacting. "Right. You're probably right," she said, slipping back into her seat.
She's fine, so get a grip, Buffy told herself. Besides, I'm sure she has better things to do than babysit the hysterical slayer who's back from the dead.
Buffy turned back to Dawn and tried to pay attention as the teen enthusiastically resumed the story she had been telling.
Apartment -- Minutes Later
After leaving the Summers home, Faith returned to the apartment behind the furniture store. As she turned into the alley, she was glad to see that her newly acquired motorcycle was just where she had left it. She gave the bike a caress before entering the outer door and going up the stairs to the apartment.
When she got to the stoop on the second floor, she knocked on the front door. She didn't expect to get an answer, but she figured it was better to be safe than sorry. After a few seconds of silent waiting, she opened the door.
As she pushed the door forward, she stopped to look at it more closely. She hadn't noticed it before, but she could see now that the lock had been broken, presumably when Buffy had kicked the door in after saving Faith from the Hellions.
Hate to leave it like that, she thought, imagining what could happen while the owner was still away. I'll have to tell somebody, see if they can get it fixed.
After leaving the front door, she went into the kitchen, opened the cabinet under the sink, and grabbed a garbage bag. Then she headed for the bathroom that was off the bedroom. When she got there, she picked up her 'demon-gunked' clothes and crammed them into the bag. When she gathered up Buffy's clothes, she looked at them for a moment, then shook her head and stuffed them into the bathroom's tiny garbage can, shoes and all.
No way is she gonna want these back.
After making up the bed, Faith picked up her bag and left the apartment.
Furniture Store Front -- Moments Later
After tying the garbage bag to her bike, Faith started the engine. She drove down the alley, went around the block, and then pulled up directly in front of the furniture store. She looked through the broken display windows but didn't see any movement inside.
I'll come back later, she thought to herself. Maybe somebody'll know who lives back there.
With her bike still idling, she considered her next move.
"Guess I could go see if my bag survived the bus fire," she said, thinking aloud this time.
She scoffed at her own suggestion. "It exploded in a fiery ball, you moron. Your bag's history."
She patted the front of her jacket. "Good thing I kept my wallet and stuff in my pocket. Gotta get some clothes, though. Guess I'll hit the thrift store. Maybe it got skipped over in the looting."
Downtowner Motel -- Lobby -- A Short Time Later
Fortunately for Faith, the thrift store, as well as the small discount store next to it, had emerged unscathed from the previous night's attack. Both had opened early and had been doing brisk business when Faith had gone in to get clothes and other personal necessities.
Now carrying those purchases and her dirty clothes in an off-white canvas laundry bag, Faith stepped into the lobby of an all-too-familiar place--the Downtowner Motel. Its decor, if it could even be called that, was the same old faded and outdated orange.
God, I hate this place. Why did I even come here? she asked herself.
Because it's still the cheapest place in town and you're not sure when your watcher's gonna get here with more cash.
She let out an unhappy grumble and headed for the front desk. She didn't recognize the clerk, but that didn't surprise her. The place had changed management about every three months when she'd lived there before.
"I need a room," she said as she reached the desk.
"Check-in's not until three o'clock," the clerk informed her.
Faith snorted. "Yeah, right. Look, we both know this place has check-ins every hour on the hour, so do you have a room or not?"
The clerk rolled his eyes and then glanced down at his chart. When he looked up, he said, "Thirty a night. Two hundred a week. Cash. In advance."
Thirty a night? Faith thought to herself. Three years ago it was eighteen. Talk about inflation.
Faith pulled out her wallet and handed over enough money for a week. Once she had signed the registration card, the clerk passed her the key and said, "You'll be in number three."
Faith's hand froze in the middle of taking the key, and she let her head fall back against her shoulders. Are you fuckin' kidding me? The same damn room? she mentally complained to the universe. Then she tilted her head back down and asked the clerk, "You got any others?"
The clerk crossed his arms and gave her a snide smile. "Nope."
Resigned to her irony, Faith took the key and trudged away from the desk.
Faith's Motel Room -- Minutes Later
With her sack of stuff slung over her shoulder, Faith unlocked the door and stepped inside. She flicked on the light and scanned the room, hoping that it looked better than it had when she had lived there before. Unfortunately, it looked exactly the same, right down to the dingy walls, the dated furniture, and the pathetic excuse of a television.
When her eyes fell on the interior side of the door, her mind took her back time.
Flashback to "Faith, Hope and Trick"
Faith's Motel Room -- Night
Buffy had just informed Faith that Kakistos was in Sunnydale, and now the dark slayer was packing as fast as she could.
"You don't know me," Faith told her. "You don't know what I've been through." She finished cramming her belongings into her bag and headed for the door. "I'll take care of this, all right?"
"Like you took care of your Watcher?" Buffy countered.
Faith stopped cold. She let go of the doorknob and looked down sadly.
"Kakistos killed her, didn't he?" Buffy asked.
Faith clenched her jaw. "They don't have a word for what he did to her."
When they heard a knock at the door, Faith looked through the peephole and saw the manager, looking more strung out than usual.
"Oh, what now?" she groaned in annoyance as she reached for the doorknob.
"Faith, you run, he runs after you," Buffy reminded her.
"That's where the head start comes in handy," she replied as she opened the door.
Standing behind the dead manager, holding him up, was Kakistos. Aghast, Faith stepped back into the room. Kakistos dropped the manager's body and smiled at her.
"Faith," he said in a pleased voice before roaring and grabbing the dark slayer by the neck.
"No!" She clawed at his wrist, trying to pull him off of her, but he was too strong.
Buffy rushed up between them, shoved Faith back into the room, forcing Kakistos to let go. Then she slammed the door on his arm. He yelled in rage and pain until he eventually had to pull his arm out. Buffy slammed the door shut, locked it, and put on the safety chain.
Faith's Motel Room -- Resume Present Time
Faith closed her eyes and shook her head, willing the unpleasant memory away. She sighed and set her bag down on the floor by the dresser.
"Just another time Buffy had to save my ass..." she grumbled as she plopped onto the bed. She scooted back and leaned on the pillows resting against the headboard. "Just another time she tried to help me and I pushed her away..."
She thought back to the other times Buffy had reached out to her and she had pushed the blonde away--after Gwendolyn Post had been revealed as a fraud, after Faith had killed Allan Finch, after Wesley had tried to take her into Council custody.
"Why did I push her away like that?"
She had asked herself that question a million times, and she still wasn't sure of the answer.
Did she think Buffy would betray her again? Or did she just hate being pitied?
Was she really better off alone? Or was she just too scared to open up, to make herself vulnerable?
Or maybe...deep inside...she just knew that Buffy would never love her.
And Faith had come to hate her for that.
The few times Faith'd had the courage to even try to get closer, Buffy had rejected her.
When they kissed for the first time, Buffy had freaked out and thrown herself into all things Scott Hope.
When their stag homecoming date led to a second and more emotionally intimate kiss, Buffy had predictably pulled away. Later, when Faith found out that Buffy had been hiding Angel's return, the sense of betrayal had felt like a humiliating slap in the face.
After that, Faith had distanced herself, avoiding her fellow slayer at all costs, even to the point of turning down her first-ever invitation to a real family Christmas. Ultimately, Faith had changed her mind and had surprised the blonde by showing up at the house on Christmas Eve night, "crappy" gifts in hand.
Although the smile on Buffy's face had lit up Faith's heart, the evening hadn't gone as planned. Mere moments after Faith's arrival, Buffy had run after the troubled Angel, once again leaving the dark slayer behind.
When Buffy returned the next morning shortly after sunrise, she had found Faith on watch, as promised, and her mother and sister long since in bed.
Flashback to "Amends"
Summers Home -- Living Room -- Early Morning
Faith was walking the floor for the fiftieth time in the last hour, debating whether or not to go looking for Buffy, when she heard the front door open. She whipped around and then let out a relieved breath when she saw a safe-and-sound Buffy come inside and shut the door.
Faith's sense of relief faded when she saw Buffy walk wearily to the sofa and plop down. For hours, she'd been worried that Angel had killed Buffy. Now, seeing the defeated look on Buffy's face, she was worried about the opposite scenario--that Buffy had been forced to kill him...again.
After a moment of feet shuffling and hand wringing, Faith went and sat on the edge of the couch near the blonde.
"So, um...how'd things go?" Faith made herself ask. "Is Angel okay?"
Buffy sighed heavily and nodded, then leaned up and rested her elbows on her knees. "I think he's free of the hold the First had on him. I'm sure he'll be fine now."
"Good. That's good," Faith said evenly before glancing away.
The two fell into awkward silence. Faith's eyes darted around the room, landing anywhere but on Buffy as she struggled to come up with something appropriate to say. Although a part of her wished that Angel really was dead, she didn't want it to be at Buffy's hand. She couldn't imagine putting her through that.
The sudden sound of a stifled sob brought Faith out of her thoughts and made her turn immediately to Buffy. She found the blonde covering her face with both hands and crying hard--something Faith had never seen.
Hesitantly, Faith moved closer and placed a hand on Buffy’s back. "Hey, a-a-are you okay? What's the matter? What's wrong?"
At first, Buffy only sobbed louder. Then she sat up and dropped her hands. "Everything," she whispered in a choked voice. "I almost lost Angel today." She turned to face Faith and made a helpless shrug. "He was going to kill himself. Just let sunrise catch him on an isolated ridge."
"But...you saved him, right?"
Buffy shook her head. "Not me. I tried, but he wouldn't listen, and then time ran out, and--"
Buffy slumped for a moment, as if giving up on how to explain what had happened. Then she got up and walked to the window. Faith followed. Buffy opened the curtain and gestured at the snow still falling outside. Faith got it: heavy cloud cover plus showers of snow equaled no sun.
"It was a miracle," Buffy said, but without any awe or elation. Instead, she had hopeless tears streaming down her face. She looked at Faith, who stood beside her. "I should be happy. Angel's alive, and we even got to walk around town together in the daytime...I should be happy, but I'm not."
Buffy's crying was turning into sobs again, but this time into angry, frustrated ones. She went on in a shuddering voice as she paced the living room floor.
"It doesn't change anything! One stupid snow-day walk doesn't change a single thing! It's just a cruel reminder of what Angel and I can never have!" Her rage temporarily spent, Buffy stopped pacing and brought her hands to her face again. "It's not fair," she sobbed, "it's not fair..."
Faith hurried over to Buffy and quickly pulled her into a warm hug. She gently stroked Buffy's back as the blonde cried against her. "It's okay," she told her. "It's okay. I’ve got you." She repeated those words many times before Buffy's sobs finally subsided.
Buffy pulled back from their embrace but not away. Her eyes were anguished as she met Faith's concerned gaze. "What am I going to do?" she pleaded hoarsely, tears still trickling down her face. "I--"
"Shhhh," Faith whispered, reaching up to brush the tears from Buffy's cheek with her thumb. "Don't worry about that right now. Everything will be okay. You'll see."
Buffy's eyes softened in heartfelt gratitude, and when Faith leaned forward and placed a comforting kiss on her lips, she couldn't help but respond. She lifted her hand to Faith's cheek, caressing it as she eagerly returned the dark slayer's embrace.
But then, as before, something inside Buffy eventually made her stop. She forced herself to pull out of the kiss and to place her hand against Faith's chest. "I can't," she whispered, her eyes downcast. "I just...can't..."
Faith cupped Buffy's cheek and waited for her to glance back up. When she did, she softly asked, "Why not? I know you want to."
Buffy's expression was agonized as the two slayers stared deeply into each other's eyes. After what seemed like an eternity, Buffy pulled out of Faith's arms and backed away.
"Because I'm too screwed up right now to even think about another relationship," she answered, her gaze averted. After letting out a deep breath, she added ruefully, "Besides...I know this is just a fling for you, and I--"
Faith instantly cut her off, "What if I told you it wasn't?"
What the hell are you doin'?!! Faith's mind screamed at her. She will never let go of Angel. You're just beggin' for a heartbreak.
Faith didn't waver, though. She just anxiously waited for Buffy's answer.
At the blurted-out question, Buffy's head had shot up. Now shock was on her face as she saw the sincerity in Faith's eyes. For a moment, she seemed to consider the brunette's unspoken offer, but then she dropped her gaze and silently shook her head.
Faith had to look away. Told ya, her mind huffed at her. She could feel her eyes welling up, but she gritted her teeth and clenched her jaw and forced the sadness down. "I should go," she said, heading for the front door.
"Faith!" Buffy called out.
She ignored Buffy's plea and continued toward the door, talking over her shoulder. "Thanks for inviting me. I'll see you around."
Without another word, Faith walked out of the door and into the cold winter day alone, tears rolling down her cheeks.
Faith's Motel Room -- Resume Present Time
Faith blinked away the tears threatening to appear in her eyes.
That was a long time ago, she reminded herself as she rose from the bed. No sense cryin' about it now. Didn't do any good then, sure as hell ain't gonna do any good now.
As she walked around the small room, her thoughts inexplicably kept returning to images of Buffy crying--how upset she'd been that Christmas morning, how shaken and traumatized she'd been just hours before when Faith had found her sobbing in the bedroom of the apartment behind the furniture store. She felt a strong urge to go and check on Buffy, but her mind immediately shot that idea down.
You really think the Scoobies want you crashin' their big reunion party?
Besides, why would Buffy need you when she's got her friends and her sister to take care of her?
Hell, the Council's probably gonna decide it doesn't need you either, so just ditch all this emotional shit, do your fuckin' job, and enjoy your freedom while you can. You're here on borrowed time anyway, you know that.
Faith sighed and rubbed her forehead. "Yeah, I know," she told herself.
She took off her jacket, kicked off her boots, and turned out the light. Then she crawled into the bed and closed her eyes, hoping that sleep would come.
Summers Home -- Living Room -- Near Noon
For the past several hours, Buffy had been subjected to an overly enthusiastic Scoobies catch-up party. Her sister and friends were filling her in on everything that had happened since her death. Although they did mention Giles's departure, they focused instead on the lighter events of the summer, always telling Buffy with each one that they wished she'd been there.
At the moment, Willow, Tara, Xander, and Anya were laughing as Dawn told her sister about the infamous Parent-Teacher Day that had occurred days before.
"God, I was so worried that Buffybot would blow it," Dawn said, "but she did really well." Saddening a bit, she turned to Willow and Tara. "She didn't come home last night."
"I know," Tara said sympathetically. "We can go look for her tonight."
"She's probably still in the woods somewhere," Willow added. "We can use the handheld scanner..."
As Willow and the others went on, Buffy tried to stay focused on the conversation but was failing miserably. Her smiles were becoming noticeably forced, and she was beginning to fidget in her seat. She knew she couldn't take much more, especially when all she could think about was Faith.
Where is she? Why hasn't she come back?
Maybe she ran away. Perfect chance to.
No, she wouldn't. Buffy turned and frowned at the front door. Would she?
She couldn't even bear to consider that possibility. Just the thought of Faith leaving Sunnydale filled her with fear and anguish.
"Are you all right?"
Startled by the question directed at her, Buffy jumped slightly and turned back to the others. Struggling to compose herself, her gaze went from person to person; she didn't even know who had spoken. "I, um, I-I-I'm just...tired," she finally blurted. "Really tired," she added as she got to her feet. "I think I need to go lie down."
"Oh, um, okay," Willow said as everyone also stood up.
"Hey, no problem," Xander said with a smile. "We can do some more catching up later."
"Dawnie, why don't you take your sister upstairs? Show her where she can lie down?" Tara gave the teenager a pointed look, and Dawn got the message: Buffy didn't know about the room swapping yet.
"Right! Sure, I can do that. Come on, Buffy," Dawn said before leading her sister up the stairs.
Summers Home -- Dawn's Bedroom -- Moments Later
Once they got to the second floor, Dawn turned around and stopped in the hallway. She twisted her fingers in a knot and gave her sister a worried look.
"Don't be mad, but...we kinda rearranged while you were gone." At Buffy's confused expression, Dawn pointed at the master bedroom. "Willow and Tara took Mom's room since it was bigger, and I, uhhh, I took your room."
Dawn winced, expecting an outraged objection from her sister, but all Buffy did was blink her eyes and say, "Oh."
"I didn't take it right away," Dawn rushed to explain. "For the longest time, we didn't change anything. And when Willow got Buffybot running again, that's where she slept. Well, recharged." She twisted her fingers in knots again, then made herself stop. "Sometimes I'd go in there and sleep next to her. It was almost like you weren't really gone. Almost. I just missed you so much." She let out a heavy sigh. "But after a while, it hurt more to pretend that you were still here, when I knew deep inside that you weren't and you were never going to be. I had to do something, so I moved Buffybot into my room, and..."
Dawn trailed off and gave a sheepish shrug, but Buffy didn't say anything in reply. She knew that she should feel something for Dawn, empathize with her grief somehow, but she couldn't. So she just walked past the teen and entered her room. She glanced around, trying to recognize some semblance of her former bedroom.
Dawn joined her and said, "I didn't change everything. See?" She went to her bed and picked up Mr. Gordo, Buffy's beloved stuffed pig. She handed the toy to her sister and smiled. "Why don't you nap here?" she suggested. "Anya and Xander's stuff is still in the other room, anyway."
Buffy felt a wave of emotion come over her. She couldn't speak, so she just nodded. Dawn gave her sister's arm a squeeze and then left the room.
The minute Dawn closed the door, Buffy turned away from it and drew in a heaving breath. She hugged Mr. Gordo to her chest and let the sobs come. She had held back her pain as long as she could, but now she had to let it out.
None of this is right, none of this is right, she thought as she cried. How can it be when it hurts so much? God, I wish Faith was here...
Outside the room, Dawn leaned against the door, eavesdropping. When she heard Buffy crying, she frowned and dropped her gaze to the floor. After a moment, she walked away and headed back downstairs.
Summers Home -- Living Room -- Minutes Later
When Dawn came back down, the others could tell she was upset.
"What is it, Dawnie?" Willow asked. "What happened?"
"She's crying," Dawn said. "I explained about the switching and took her to her room--my room--but she hardly said anything, and the second I shut the door to let her rest, she started crying. I could hear her in the hall."
"I'm sure it's not about the room, sweetie," Tara said reassuringly. "She's still recovering from a really bad trauma. She may cry a lot over the next few days."
"She got ripped out of heaven, she's lucky she's sane," Anya noted. "I'm just saying..." she added defensively at a glare from Xander.
"I'm just not used to Buffy crying," Dawn said as she returned to her previous seat. "Even when Mom died, she barely--" After a deep breath, she softly asked, "What do you think it was like? Being in heaven, I mean."
"We don't know," Tara answered honestly. "It could have been any number of heavenly dimensions. All we know is that...it was a good place and she was happy there."
"And we took her away from that," Willow said guiltily. "We wrecked it for her."
"We didn't wreck," Xander said. "We didn't know."
"We didn't wanna know," Willow said. "We were so selfish. I was so selfish."
"Maybe we were," Xander admitted, "but I just feel weird feeling bad that my friend's not dead. It's...too mind-boggling. So I've decided to simplify the whole thing. Me like Buffy. Buffy's alive, so, me glad."
"I'm glad, too," Dawn added, "but...she's so sad. I wouldn't have wished for her to come back if I had known how much it would hurt her."
For a full minute, everyone stared off into guilt-ridden silence. Then Tara spoke up.
"Guys, we have to stop obsessing about what we did and focus on making things better for Buffy."
Xander began to suggest possibilities. "We, ah, we need to spend time with her, just hang out. Maybe have...weekly dinners or something."
Willow brightened. "I have a better idea. I know this spell. It's called Tabula Rasa. I can make Buffy forget that she was ever in heaven."
"What?!" Tara exclaimed in shock.
"It's perfect," Willow went on. "Without those memories, Buffy can--"
"No, Willow...no!" Tara said angrily. She opened her mouth as if to say more but then couldn't. She just made a fed-up growl and rushed upstairs.
After Tara left, Dawn gave Willow a disgusted look. "Way to go, Miss Sensitivity."
Willow was clueless. "What?"
"How can you even suggest a spell like that after what Glory did to Tara?" Dawn demanded.
Willow still wasn't following. "But...I fixed that, I--"
Xander cut her off but gently. "Will, you can't 'fix' a rape, not even a mental one. Sure, you gave Tara her mind back, but she's always gonna remember what it was like to have somebody invade her brain."
"And now you're suggesting doing the same thing to Buffy," Anya pointed out.
"The Tabula Rasa spell is nothing like what Glory did," Willow insisted. "Buffy won't even know I was there. I'll just make a few tweaks and--"
Dawn shot to her feet. "Who died and made you God? You don't get to decide what stays in Buffy's brain and what doesn't!" She stormed off to the kitchen.
Anya rolled her eyes, already weary of the drama. "I'm gonna go get our stuff," she informed Xander.
Still dumbfounded, Willow turned to her best friend. "I-I-I was just trying to make things better..."
"I know, Will," Xander said, "but magic can't fix everything. Sometimes we gotta do things the old fashioned Muggles way."
"Just stand by and watch our friend suffer because of something we did?" Willow asked with tears in her eyes.
"Not standing by--standing with," he corrected. "We're gonna help Buffy through this."
He patted his friend's shoulder and then headed upstairs, leaving Willow all alone.
Summers Home -- Willow & Tara's Bedroom -- A Short Time Later
After Xander and Anya had left and Dawn had given her the cold shoulder in the kitchen and stalked into the backyard, Willow cautiously made her way into the master bedroom. As she came in, she saw the blonde turn from the window and face her.
"Hey," Willow said as she quietly closed the door. She took a few steps toward her girlfriend and stopped. "I just wanted to apologize for what I said earlier. It was pretty insensitive considering what you've been through. I'm sorry."
Tara didn't seem amenable to apologies at the moment. "You can't just violate somebody's mind like that," she warned her. "It's not right."
Willow held her hands up in surrender. "Okay, okay, I get it."
Tara crossed her arms. "I don't think you do."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that you don't seem sorry about the suggestion at all. I can see it in your eyes. All you're sorry about is saying anything to us about it. You wish you'd just stayed quiet and then done the spell on your own."
"Oh really?" Willow shot back. "Did you see that in my aura? Are you a mind reader now?"
"I don't have to be a mind reader to see that you are using too much magic!"
"What?!" Willow asked in disbelief.
"Lately, any time things get rough--or even when nothing's rough at all--you don't even consider the options. You just...do a spell. It's not good for you, Willow. And it's not what magic is for."
"But I-I-I just wanna help people," Willow defended in a softer voice.
"Maybe that's how it started, but...you're helping yourself now. You can't stand the guilt of what we did to Buffy, so you wanna fix it with a spell."
"That...that is not what's going on!" Willow argued, her anger returning.
"Look, I don't wanna talk about it anymore right now," Tara said, "I need to go down and make lunch for Dawn."
At that, Tara walked away, leaving a grumbling Willow behind.
"Jeez...they all act like I'm suggesting we lobotomize her or something," she muttered to herself. "Like I'd be that clumsy."
"And Tara was making it sound like it was all my fault--that I did this to Buffy, that I'm the one who made her so miserable. Hey, news flash! She was in on it, too. All of them were. They wanted Buffy back as much as I did. So if I'm to blame, then we all are."
She stopped and thought for a moment. "Unlessssss...Faith did something to her..."
Willow cocked her head, thinking once more, almost as if she were listening to someone who wasn't there.
And she was.
Standing behind Willow was a shadowy, mist of a figure, invisible to the human eye. Its long-fingered, insubstantial hands were resting on the redhead's shoulders as it whispered into her ear.
As Willow listened, her expression turned cold, and her narrowed eyes began to darken.
TO BE CONTINUED IN PART 11....
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