Chapter 40

After Dawn had finally emerged from the bathtub, fingers and toes red and wrinkled from her long exposure to hot water, Buffy and Faith had taken Joyce up on her offer of also taking showers. Separate ones, however- even had Buffy wanted to 'conserve water' with Faith, which she admittedly was far from opposed to, just knowing that her mother not only knew what they were doing, but had suggested it, would skeeve her out.

Faith had let her have the first shower- to Buffy's guilt, since she knew all the hot water would be gone before Faith could have one, between her and Dawn. Faith had just grinned at her protests and said slyly that maybe a cold one was in her best interests anyway, if Buffy was actually interested in sleeping. Buffy knew that Faith was just being playful, but somehow it made her feel worse about it- as if she were somehow denying Faith sexually.

Seeing the look on her face, Faith had quickly reassured her that she was just kidding. But even so, Buffy had still worried that Faith didn't really mean it. A part of her knew that she was probably worrying over this deliberately, as a way to protect herself from worrying about Dawn and Glory. But it was still a real worry, regardless of her reason or its silliness.

When Faith had come out from the shower, wearing only a towel and still dripping, Buffy hadn't even been distracted by her- even when she dropped the towel. This too she had felt guilty over, afraid that Faith was hurt or disappointed- even though the younger Slayer's expression had instead been one of anxious concern. Buffy knew that Faith must be wanting a physical release with her- she always did after slaying, especially when she was stressed. Usually Buffy did too… but tonight she just didn't. Tonight it would feel wrong, somehow… and even though Faith didn't push her, was sweet and understanding about it, Buffy still felt bad about it.

They lay together in bed, with Buffy wrapped in Faith's arms, her head resting against the other girl's chest. Tonight both were clad in boxers and tank tops, for Buffy had felt a desire to cover up more than usual for some reason. Faith, who usually slept either entirely nude or in her panties now that they were so comfortable sexually with each other, had followed Buffy's lead with her sleepware, and this too made Buffy feel bad. She felt as if she had to be making Faith unhappy, that Faith unconsciously felt she had to defer to her and her moods and wishes.

Again, not the real issue there, and Buffy knew it. But it was easier than going back to other things she could be worrying about.

It was quiet between them as they lay there; Buffy listened to Faith's heartbeat under her head, thinking to herself that hers was a few beats too fast for them to be in sync. This too irrationally troubled her. She could feel Faith slowly stroking her hair, rubbing blonde strands of it between her fingers, but for once the sensation didn't really relax her. Though neither said anything, Buffy could tell from the feel of Faith's body against hers that she too was not going to be able to sleep for some time, that she too was more anxious than she was trying to let on.

Buffy spoke up suddenly, unable to quite any longer about what she was thinking. Pushing her face into Faith's chest so that it was mostly hidden- so that she wouldn't have to look at her- she said quietly, her voice small, "Faith… I'm sorry…"

"Sorry? For what, B?" Faith frowned, her tone startled as she looked down at her, her fingers still absently combing through Buffy's hair. Seeing her honestly confused expression, Buffy bit her lip, pressing her face more fully against her skin so that her words came out muffled.

"For… for being like this today," she nearly whispered, and not surprisingly, she felt the tears that had been threatening on and off for the past few hours prick behind her eyes again. "For… for not wanting to, tonight… for… for acting like I did. Like I am… god, Faith, don't you know what I mean?" she asked, turning her face suddenly to look at her as her voice rose, grew more stressed in tone. "I'm being completely… I completely freaked out on you, I didn't even know what I was doing. I'm still freaking…"

"Hey, it's five by five, B," Faith cut her off gently, and she pulled Buffy's head back down against her chest, stroking her hair again as she bent to quickly kiss her forehead. "You don't' have anything to be sorry for, I get it. You don't have to-"

"Quit acting like it's okay, Faith, it's not okay, I know it's not okay!" Buffy burst out with, her voice getting a little shriller with her own indignant self-condemnation. "You want to make out with me, and, and have sex, I know you do, and I don't' want to, I can't, and that's bad, that's not GOOD, and I totally, completely went crazy on you, out there, and I still am, only now it's all up in my head and I don't even get to cut up something-"

"Hey, what the hell are you talkin' about?!" Faith stopped her, her face scrunching up in worried bewilderment at Buffy's increasingly rapid flow of words, but her tone was gentle. She kissed the top of Buffy's head briefly, then stroked the hand on Buffy's hair down to her shoulders, beginning to rub them in a mini, one-handed massage. "What the hell makes you think it's not okay for you not to want sex? Look, if you don't wanna have sex, B, I don't' want to either. I don't' want you doin' it with me just because you think you should, or because I want you to-"

"No, that's not it- I like it, I love it, Faith!" Buffy started quickly, her eyes widening as she heard the hurt in the brunette's tone, could see some of the no-longer-quite-usual insecurities returning to her eyes. "I DO want to, I, I love it, okay? I love YOU… just… right now it feels wrong, and it's not you, it's me, and I know it's wrong, I shouldn't, it's stupid. And I'm sorry, I don't-"

"Hey, I told you, it's five by five," Faith told her again, squeezing her shoulder and quickly leaning to kiss the tip of her nose. "It's… 'cause you're tired and all, and worried. It's alright B, really. It's okay. Like I said, I don't want to if you don't."

Buffy heard the sincerity in the other girl's tone and was not comforted; instead her stomach squeezed tighter with feeling of being undeserving of it. Taking a slow breath, she pushed her cheek harder against Faith's skin, as if she were trying to merge it with her own.

"I'm sorry, Fai," she repeated, her voice small; she was blinking hard against the tears now, drawing her lips together tightly as she swallowed against the sudden choking in her throat. "I… I don't' want to do this, I don't' want to be freaking out… I've got to…"

"Shut up, B," Faith interrupted, but her voice was tender. She slowly ran a hand up and down Buffy's back, reminiscent of the way that Joyce had soothed her, before, and of how Buffy herself often behaved with her. "It's alright… I freaked out on you too, remember? Freak away. It's five by five."

Buffy knew again that she genuinely what she was saying… Faith really didn't care if she was a mess right now. Well, she CARED… but she wasn't going to get awkward, she wasn't going to leave, or take it on herself as her fault, as she might have before. Faith understood… and realizing this, shocked at herself for having doubted it before, Buffy let out a little sob, a few tears slipping out before she could stop herself. Faith hugged her tighter against her, not saying anything, and a part of Buffy distantly marveled at her reaction, at how much more confident with herself and Buffy she had grown, how much more comfortable in dealing with emotions… even if it were Buffy's rather than her own.

She gained control of herself quickly and just lay there for several moments, allowing Faith to hold her, trying to accept the comfort Faith was trying so hard to provide for her. Her love for the brunette surpassed her feelings of guilt and weakness, and she adjusted herself so that she was holding Faith too, craning her neck to give her a soft, grateful little kiss.

"Thank you…" she said softly, unable to articulate any further what she was feeling.

"No prob, B… it's five by five," Faith told her quietly, repeating the phrase for the third or fourth time unconsciously. But more and more, Buffy was beginning to notice when she said it now, she really seemed to mean it rather than be using it as a defense.

"I love you," Buffy whispered, closing her eyes and turning her head to kiss the skin of Faith's chest closest to her lips, and realizing that it was very near Faith's heart. After a moment's pause, Faith squeezed Buffy around the waist gently, answering slightly hoarsely.

"I love you too, B."

"It's… it's just that I'm so scared, Faith," Buffy went on, her voice shaking slightly, and she kept her eyes closed, turning her face so her cheek was resting on Faith as she continued, finally giving in against her own precautions and venting to the younger Slayer her thoughts and feelings. "For everyone, for everything that might happen… that.. that Glory might do to them. She's going to be furious when the snake doesn't come back- you KNOW she will be. What if she sends something else- or what if she comes back here? What if she finds out? What if… what if she hurts Dawn, even if she doesn't know what she is? What if she hurts Mom, or Giles, or Willow or Xander or Tara… what if she hurts you?"

"Hey, don't' worry about me, B," Faith said quickly, temporarily stopping her words with a gentle kiss. "I've seen her twice now, and I'm still here. Look, it's… it's gonna be okay, you know? That's what you told me, and that's what your mom says too… and I've learned all too well by now that what a Summers woman says, goes," she finished up with a hint of a smirk.

Buffy smiled weakly at that, but her anxieties could not be chased away for very long.

"It's just… I'm so scared, Faith," she said, slowly, her voice faint. "I couldn't stand it if something were to happen to Dawn. I mean, I couldn't with anyone, but Dawn is my little sister, you know? Well… okay, she isn't really, not technically… but it still feels like it, you know? I still remember everything we did together as kids… even though it never really happened. I still remember how she broke my Barbies when she was mad, how she had to have stitches because she hit her chin when she fell off her bike when she was seven. I remember… all this never happened, it isn't real, but I feel like it is. I still feel like she's my sister. Only now… it feels like even more."

"I know," Faith said, and she met Buffy's eyes with her own, combing a hand through her hair without seeming to realize that she was as Buffy continued to raise her eyes toward her. "All this is some freaky shit, B… it's kinda like we don't even know who she is anymore…"

"She's… she's from us," Buffy repeated, as if she were still trying out the idea, testing how it sounded aloud. "Only she doesn't get our powers… I still don't get it, still don't see how it's possible, but I guess it is. She's… it's hard to think how she's not even a real person, Faith, not really. She's… she was never born… she's just a mix of our essences that appeared, and we don't' even know when. But god, she doesn't FEEL like she isn't a real person! She still feels like my sister- like DAWN!" Buffy said, her rising a little with her emotions.

"She is," Faith said slowly, her hand stilling in Buffy's hair, resting against her neck. "She is still Dawn, B… you told me that, remember? It's just… I don't know… now what we think Dawn as being… it's different. You know… but, but it's still her."

"I know," Buffy fretted, still frowning deeply as she shifted her position slightly, trying not to rest so heavily on Faith anymore. "And I still love her… I love her even more. I still would do anything to protect her… but the difference is now that I don't just want to protect her because she's my sister. I HAVE to protect her because a god or goddess or whatever Glory is, is after her, she wants her, she'll hurt people to get to her… and if she gets her, she will use her to destroy the world. I have to protect Dawn because she's the key- because she could destroy the world if I don't. Because she could be used to kill us all…"

Suddenly there came the sound of something crashing to the floor, something that sounded like breaking glass, right outside the door… as the Slayers bolted upright, eyes widening in panic and alertness, there came the sound of feet thudding down the hall. Small, clumsy, unsteady feet, moving very fast. And when a door slammed loud enough to echo through the hall, their fear was all but confirmed.

Dawn… Dawn must have somehow been listening to them, somehow overhead. Dawn must know the truth now about what she was.

The end

Author notes: I know, I know… I will post the beginning chapter of the sequel as soon as possible. Right now I am tentatively calling it Bound, but if you have any other suggestions for a title having to do with the word bound, bonds, binds, or binding (as in Faith/Buffy's slayer bonds and Dawn's blood bonds to both) I would appreciate it.