Title: Into The Mirror

PART FIFTEEN - Ripples

Collins snapped the latches closed on his suitcase and turned around. The door to his motel room was open and he stood where he was. He knew that he hadn't left it open. And then she stepped into the doorway, her arms crossed in front of her chest.

"So, it's you. You're just full of surprises, aren't you," said Collins.

Pat just stood there and stared at him.

"A girl. And the new Slayer to boot. Very clever of old Quentin," nodded Collins.

Pat continued to stare at him.

"If you hadn't heard, the Council has granted me immunity in exchange for my testimony about what happened here," said Collins.

"Sorry, but was there a memo?," asked Pat sarcastically.

"You can't kill me," laughed Collins.

"No. You're right, I can't," sighed Pat. She turned and took a step outside the room.

And then pulled the door shut behind her. And locked it.

"But when I leave you'll wish I had killed you," said Pat flatly.

"You wouldn't dare!," spat Collins.

Pat smiled.

"I'll, I'll scream!," yelled Collins, holding the suitcase up in front of him.

"I'm counting on it," answered Pat coldly.

She was no longer smiling.

*****

"So, you'll stay here awhile, keep an eye on things?," asked Travers.

"If you'd like."

"We would like that, not I. Remember that," reminded Travers.

"Of course."

Travers sighed and shook his head.

"You're still upset with me for not warning you about Collins? I told you already, there was no time. I couldn't risk blowing my cover."

"So you said," replied Travers, doubt clearly evident in his voice.

"Do you doubt my loyalty? You wanted her Watcher's brakes cut and I did as I was told, without hesitation."

"And you were rewarded for your services," replied Travers.

"Man can't do his job efficiently if he isn't happy," smiled Smith.

"I do not doubt your loyalty, Smithy. You have certain skills that I might require from time to time. Perhaps things worked out for the best. After all, the Slayers are nothing more than tools to be used. And I think I've gained their trust," smiled Travers.

"Perhaps," agreed Smith.

"We'll be in touch, then," stated Travers.

"Of course," nodded Smith.

*****

Faith opened her eyes. She stared into the mirror in front of her. And saw Buffy's reflection looking back. For the briefest moment she froze, fear tightening her gut as she flashed back to when she was in possession of this body. But then it passed. And Buffy smiled.

"What do you see?," asked Buffy, moving in closer behind her.

"I see the Slayer," replied Faith, turning around to look at Buffy.

"That's strange. I thought vampires were renowned for their keen eyesight. Why don't you look again?," encouraged Buffy.

Faith smiled and turned around.

"My mistake. You're right. I see two Slayers. It's just that sometimes I can't be seen, standing in your shadow."

"Faith...shut up," sighed Buffy.

Faith smiled.

"Angel's on the phone. Guess they finally tracked down that demon. Messy kill, too, from what he hinted about it. He wants to know how you are," said Buffy.

"Tell him...tell him I'm alive. And that he can send me a postcard from LA next time he thinks of me," grinned Faith.

Buffy smiled back.

"I'll call him later. Don't want to be late for our first patrol together, do you?," asked Faith.

"I'll be right back," said Buffy.

Buffy left the room. Faith turned around and stared into the mirror. She slowly raised her hand and touched the cold glass.

*****

"Wow, the bugs are nasty tonight," complained Pat.

"Gee, they don't seem to be bothering me," laughed Faith.

"Hmm, mosquitoes, lawyers, vampires...bloodsuckers don't go after their own, do they?," asked Buffy.

"B, are you comparing me to a lawyer?," asked Faith.

"Sorry. That was a little harsh."

"So Pat, you're going to lose those vitamins Travers gave you, right?," asked Faith.

"I guess. But he said they'd help prevent the buildup of lactic acid in my muscles, help me not get tired so quickly in a fight."

"You don't even know what your body is capable of yet and he's already trying to push you past your limits. Trust me, Pat, you don't need them. Hey, what do we have here?," pointed Buffy.

Up ahead of them, in front a bar that in its heyday could have been called a dive, stood two teenage boys and a girl. None looked old enough to drink.

"Well, Pat, what do you think?," asked Buffy.

Pat wrinkled her nose and looked at Buffy for a hint. Buffy only smiled.

"Well, it's not like they're wearing big eighties hair and while I think her sweater is butt ugly, at least it ain't a cowl neck."

Faith rolled her eyes.

"Pat, come on! It's wicked obvious they're vampires," said Faith.

"Um, maybe being so close to you is throwing my spider sense off," shrugged Pat.

"Fair point. Weak, but fair," commented Buffy. "Still, I'll give ya a passing grade. Welcome to the club."

"Sweet!," grinned Pat.

"Okay, but she doesn't learn the secret handshake until after the Initiation Ceremony," complained Faith.

"The...what?," asked Pat.

"Oh, it's nothing to worry about. It does involve Xander, a blindfold and a feather. But I'm sure you'll do fine," comforted Buffy.

Pat smiled, quickly catching on.

"Xander, a blindfold and a feather. Well, as long as he kisses better than your sister," shrugged Pat.

"You'd have to ask Faith that one. I've only danced with him. Faith has..."

"So, B. What's the plan here?," glared Faith.

"Okay, how about I get an attack of dumb blonde. Just follow my lead," said Buffy, quickly walking towards the three. Faith and Pat followed.

"Excuse me, but we seem to have got lost. Where's the bus station?," asked Buffy with a smile.

The two guys looked at one another. And then smiled.

"Two streets up, take a right," said one.

"Thanks," answered Buffy perkily.

She walked away and the other two Slayers followed.

"Two streets up," said Faith. "Isn't that..."

"A dead end," finished Buffy.

"Faith, you don't think they knew you were a vampire, do you?," asked Pat.

"No. That crowd couldn't screw in a light bulb. Wouldn't matter if they did know. They probably figure I'll attack you when I get the chance, something we might use to our advantage," said Faith.

"They're following us," said Pat without turning around.

Buffy looked at Faith and nodded approvingly.

"Atta girl," smiled Buffy.

They turned the corner and disappeared from sight. The three vampires walked faster to catch up. When they got to the corner they eagerly ran. And looked at an empty dead end street. The girl looked back at her two companions, confused. She took a drag on her cigarette and motioned for them to stay put as she walked cautiously away from them.

Unseen behind the two male vamps, a sewer cover silently was raised and eased down onto the pavement. Buffy quietly lifted herself up out of the sewer and stood behind them. Suddenly Faith and Pat jumped down in front of the two vamps from the roof of the one story corner store. Only momentarily startled, they both charged the girls.

"Now!," yelled Faith to Pat behind her.

Pat ran towards Faith and jumped as if she was going to tackle her. Faith caught her wrists and used Pat's momentum to swing her around in an arc, knocking the first vampire back into the second one. Behind them, Buffy reached up and broke off a flag pole from the store front, holding it out spearlike in front of her.

The vamps were skewered, shishkabob style, and exploded into ash.

"I get it. If you can't beat them, join them!," smiled Pat.

"Not bad. We'll work on it," said Faith. "B! Watch where you're pointing that thing!"

"Oops! Sorry!," cringed Buffy, dropping the flagpole.

Now outnumbered three to one, the girl frantically looked around her for a way out. She spotted some paint cans and rags in a nearby dumpster and ran over to it, pulling out a broken stick. She wrapped a couple of rags around the end of the stick and held her cigarette to it. The rags quickly ignited.

"Okay, having a flashback to the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz. Uh, a little help here guys?," said Faith.

Pat and Buffy quickly moved in front of Faith. They both smiled. The girl slowly backed away.

*****

"Well, that was worthwhile," said Pat. "And...not unlike fun."

"That was a nice move there, Pat," nodded Buffy. "And Faith, I should add."

"Um, B? You know how you get after a good kill?," asked Faith.

"Oh, sure. Man, I could go for some ribs right about now. Something you can really sink your teeth into. Why? You up for some...oh. You want something to sink your teeth into without having to sink your teeth into...that something," frowned Buffy.

Faith nodded, somewhat embarrassed.

"Okay, let's swing by the Magic Box on our way out to our midnight snack," announced Buffy.

"I was wondering about that. Getting hungry afterwards, I mean," said Pat.

"A little perk the Council failed to mention," said Faith.

"But that's not quite it, is it? I mean, yeah, I'm hungry. But there's something more," said Pat.

Buffy and Faith looked at one another.

"Um, B, you'd better tell her," said Faith.

"Me? Why me?"

"Tell me what?," asked Pat.

Faith crossed her arms.

"Um, Pat, how old are you again?," asked Buffy.

"Fifteen. Why?"

"Faith, she's...like, Dawn's age!"

"Tell me what?," repeated Pat.

Buffy sighed and started walking. The others followed.

"Pat, have you had a boyfriend yet?," asked Buffy.

"No. What's that got to do with Slaying?"

"Um, well...Faith, stop looking at my neck!"

"I'm not looking at your neck!"

"You should've had something before we left," said Buffy.

"Um, Buffy? Back to the boyfriend bit," said Dawn.

Buffy sighed and shook her head.

"Now I know why the Council doesn't tell you about this stuff," said Buffy over Faith's laughter.

"What stuff?," yelled Pat.

*****

Willow lit another candle and gently blew out the match, her eyes now focused on her girlfriend. Tara stood by the window, one hand holding back the curtain so that she could peer out into the night. Willow's bare feet made no sound as she walked up behind her, wrapping her arms around Tara's waist and resting her chin gently on her shoulder. The robe Tara was wearing was still damp from just getting out of the shower.

"Whatcha thinkin' about?," whispered Willow.

"Oh...nothing."

"Hmm. Maybe I should ask who are you thinking about?"

Willow rose up on her toes and kissed the base of her neck but felt Tara's body tense at the embrace. Tara let the curtain fall back into place.

"I'm sorry. Am I really that shallow? It's just..."

Tara felt Willow's arms release her.

"I'm sorry. I just...I keep seeing her face and, and I can't stop thinking that maybe...maybe she has a part of you now that I can never touch," sighed Tara.

Tara looked down at her hands but heard no answer from Willow. Almost a full minute passed before she warily looked up. And was promptly hit in the face with Willow's pajama top. Tara slowly pulled it down and smiled, seeing Willow sitting on the edge of the bed wearing only her pajama bottoms and a teasing grin.

"What are you doing?," asked Tara, taking a step towards her and letting Willow's top fall to the floor.

"Trying to make you forget. And there's nothing here that you can't touch," winked Willow.

Tara took another step towards her, untying the belt around her robe as she did. Another step and she was within an arm's reach of her lover.

"You want me to forget?," asked Tara softly.

"Oh yeah," nodded Willow, her eyes on the opening of the robe. She reached for Tara, eager to pull away the terrycloth, but Tara grabbed her wrist.

"Hmm...but maybe I want you to remember," said Tara, lifting Willow's hand and kissing the inside of her wrist, letting her tongue glide along the smoothness of her skin.

Willow looked up at Tara, her eyebrows knitted together. Tara let go of her hand and slipped the robe past her shoulders, letting it fall to the floor. Willow ignored Tara's body, her eyes searching for answers hidden in Tara's expression. Tara placed each leg on the outside of Willow's knees, straddling her. Then she firmly grasped Willow's shoulders, forcing her down onto the bed.

"Tara?"

"Shh. We're going to play a little game. You like the games we play, don't you?"

Willow swallowed nervously but forced a smile.

"Close your eyes," whispered Tara.

Willow closed her eyes and felt Tara's lips first on her forehead, then gently brushing against her cheek. The tenseness flowed from her body as Tara's lips moved down to the hollow of her shoulder. Willow's hands were lifted above her head and pressed into the softness of the bed.

"I like this game," smiled Willow.

Tara moved upward, nibbling on the lobe of her ear.

"Honey, you need to relax. There's nothing to be afraid of," whispered Tara, her breath as soft as a feather.

"Afraid? Why should I be afraid?," giggled Willow.

Tara ran her tongue down the side of Willow's neck, paused, and then gently kissed the top of her breast. She moved from one side to the other, nuzzling her skin and teasing Willow by putting her mouth everywhere but on her nipple. Willow bit her lower lip.

"Tara," moaned Willow.

"No, darling...not Tara. It's time for our game. I want you to relax. So...don't think of me as Tara. Just pretend...that I'm Faith."

Willow's eyes snapped open but Tara's mouth was on hers before she could cry out. She tried to free her arms but Tara was stronger. Tara kissed her deeply, passionately, and soon Willow responded. But she kept her eyes open. Tara pulled on her lower lip with her teeth, gently releasing it and smiling as she looked into Willow's eyes.

"Tara..."

"Shh...don't you trust me?," pouted Tara.

"You know I do, but..."

"Willow...I need this. Can you understand that?," pleaded Tara.

Willow hesitated but gave the slightest nod of her head. Tara smiled. And leaned forward, kissing the side of Willow's neck just above the scar that now branded her. Soon Willow closed her eyes, letting herself enjoy what Tara was doing. Tara shifted her weight, sliding her leg over to the inside of Willow's knee and then repeating the motion with her other leg, forcing her legs apart.

"I know you had to do it...but you never imagined it would feel so good, did you?," asked Tara.

"No," admitted Willow.

"What did you like more...the physical pleasure...or the surrendering to someone who is stronger than you?"

"I...I don't know," sighed Willow reluctantly.

Tara took one hand off of Willow's wrist and eased it down the side of her body, caressing her breast.

"Yes, you do. You remember what it felt like...don't you?," accused Tara, now kissing the other side of Willow's neck.

Willow nodded.

"I know you're weak...I know you want me," breathed Tara.

Willow moaned and put her hand on the back of Tara's neck, pulling her lips to her mouth. They kissed but Tara pulled her mouth away. Willow responded by wrapping her legs around Tara's waist.

"Did you call out my name? Or did you call out hers?," asked Tara.

Willow opened her eyes, afraid to answer.

"Yours," whispered Willow. "Always yours."

"You're not lying to me, are you?"

"No. No, I swear Tara, I was thinking of you!," cried Willow, shaking her head.

"Did you know that I felt your nails across my back when you were with her? Did you?," demanded Tara.

Willow's lower lip trembled and her body went limp. She began to cry.

"Tara, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry," sobbed Willow.

Tara smiled.

"Call me Faith."

"No. Oh, God, please no," begged Willow.

"Do it!," yelled Tara.

Willow's body was shaking as she closed her eyes. Tara grabbed her wrist again, forcing her arm above her head.

"Do it!," screamed Tara.

Willow clenched her eyes shut but couldn't stop the tears.

"Faith," whispered Willow.

"Again," ordered Tara.

Willow winced.

"Please," pleaded Willow. "I'm so sorry."

She felt Tara licking her cheek, erasing the tears first from one side of her face, then the other. Willow managed to take a deep breath.

"Faith," she repeated, barely able to hear her own voice. Willow opened her eyes.

And stared into the yellow eyes of Faith. She opened her mouth to scream but before she could Faith leaned in, ripping into the flesh of her neck, knocking the very breath from her.

Tara sprang up into a sitting position. The room was dark. Willow was asleep by her side with her back to her. Even in the dark Tara could see the scar on the side of Willow's neck. And it would always be there, even if she could forget, even if she could block these images from her mind. Soaked with sweat, she slowly drew her knees into her chest, circling her arms around her legs.

It was only a dream. Just like last night. And the night before.

Tara pressed her face into her knees, gently rocking back and forth, desperately trying to stifle her sobs so that she wouldn't wake Willow.

THE END

Author's note - The Velveteen Rabbit was written by Margery Williams. No, there was no Spike in this story, but when this fic "takes place" in the Buffy storyline, Spike wasn't around much. Apologies for not working Giles into this more. I meant to as he has been underused on the show this year, with the exception of the episode Checkpoint.