They stood, face to face, neither sure how to begin, what to do, whether they wanted to really do it. Kennedy's face, human now, looked back at her friend, at the girl who'd shared a similar rebellious streak, a similar discomfort with Buffy's managerial style in the fight with the First—something they'd bonded over. But Faith was not the same as she had been then—not altogether new, but different somehow, more grounded. And Kennedy was not the same as she had been then, either. Now they only looked as if they knew each other.

Still, it is difficult to kill, or nearly so, someone who looks like someone you knew. Faith heard the whispered "I can't" under the other girl's breath, saw the squeezed-shut eyes for a moment, before Kennedy turned to find Willow, eyes pleading for another way.

And Faith just wasn't going to wait all day for this. Pulling a page from Buffy's book, she hauled back and punched the other girl in the face. Kennedy staggered, then snapped to form with a snarl, reaching out, little hesitation now, as she took Faith's neck in one strong, slender hand and yanked the girl to her.

Willow looked away.

Buffy could not.

Faith wanted to, forcing her fingers into fists so she would not push away, would not do what was natural for her. Her body wanted to fight against the hand at her throat bringing her in, holding her to where she could feel Kennedy bending close to find that other side of her neck, feel the blood waiting under the skin. The slayer blood Kennedy needed, that was also the blood Faith needed, as slayer, as living human being.

And then the teeth tore their way through skin, reopening that wound that had never had time to heal fully, reopening all its inflamed tissue. From far away, Faith heard Buffy cry out. She may have cried out, too. She couldn't tell.

It felt like hours, but was only seconds really before Kennedy gave a cry of her own and pulled away. Faith stumbled back. She knew this was not right—she was still here, she felt too alive for this. It had not hurt enough. With a shake of her head, she looked up to see Kennedy trying to turn away into the wall, wipe the blood from her human mouth.

"We ain't done here. If you're gonna do it..." Faith spun her around by the shoulder, punching her again. " it right." When she didn't turn, she hit her again, until she did, this time pushing the girl against her neck herself, feeling only those teeth sliding into the holes they'd already made, gasping as they found blood again.

When Kennedy had pulled away, Buffy had grabbed Dawn's hand, thinking it might be over. But seeing the vampire at Faith's neck again, the dark slayer swooning more this time in her grip, it plainly wasn't over. Giles gently unwrapped Buffy's hand from Dawn's, knowing the blonde could easily crush the other girl's fingers without knowing it, so focused was she on the bloody scene unfolding. Giles spoke to his former slayer softly, counseling patience even as he could see it was running out for her. Tears on her cheeks.

Faith couldn't feel anything but the hideous feeding pull at her neck, that way it is when you hurt yourself and it's as if the rest of your body goes away until you become the wound only. She fought to keep her hands in fists at her side. Fought to remember why she was keeping them there.

Buffy's hands, too, were balled, her mouth open, wanting to scream. She would have, she was sure of it, had Dawn not grabbed a hold of one fist, had Giles not circled his arm around her chest, holding her in like the father who wanted to protect her from everything he could not protect her from.

Dawn and Giles knew they could not hold the Chosen One forever.

Buffy knew it, too. Didn't know how long she could stand the sight of Faith's neck, laid open, the dark waves of her hair cascading down, her back arching as Kennedy's arm slid down to bend the other girl to the urgency of her feeding. The sight of Faith's legs crumpling slowly, inevitably under her as Kennedy followed her to the floor, still on top of her, still hungry at her throat.

"Faith!" Buffy's strangled scream.

And hearing her name from so far away, the dark slayer turned to look over, find the blonde slayer's eyes, hold them as her hand reached out across the floor. Then her eyes rolling back under the jerk of Kennedy's grip. The hands coming out of their fists to push at the other girl, but finding themselves too feeble now to do any good.

Buffy saw it and could not wait any longer, almost feeling the other girl slip away through the link between them.

Giles tried to hold her. "Buffy! We don't know yet..."

That hoarse cry. "I can't!" And then of course he couldn't hold her and she flew to Faith's side, knocking Kennedy off and away into the wall. Scooping up the now-limp girl. "Xander! Car! Now!" He raced out the door towards the garage, Buffy only moments behind him cradling Faith and with Dawn at her heels as Willow and Giles stayed behind to look to Kennedy.

Please don't die, please don't die, please don't die.

The words were a chant in her head. Or maybe they were aloud. Buffy didn't know as she held the dark slayer to her in the back seat. She checked every few seconds for a pulse, for breath, finding it each time but only barely, shallowly there. She held that pale body, brushed the dark strands of hair from her face. Held in whatever blood was left with her hand pressed against that bite.

She only looked away to narrow her eyes when she felt Xander slow down for a light, a stop sign. Things that seemed not to apply now. Vaguely she heard Dawn calling ahead. Girl. Some sort of bite. Lost a lot of blood. Bringing her in. Soon.

It could never be soon enough. Until it was and they were there and she was out of the car before it even stopped moving and through those swinging doors. The confusion of nurses and bright lights and finding a bed and inserting an IV and hooking her up to a machine and all the tedious explanations that weren't important when Faith needed blood. She didn't even know what she said. The girl on that bed was all that mattered and all she kept her eyes on, feeling the flutter in the link between them, like the flickering of a light, and then the shrill alarm of a flatline.

And miles away in the dorm room almost empty of those potentials who had gone home, who had places to go, Angie had not gone, having no place, sitting on the bed when she felt it come into her.

In the ER, it all went out of Buffy: the ability to stand, to see, to think. Her world narrowed to her scream "No! I love you! Faith!" She nearly collapsed, caught by Xander and Dawn rushing in before she hit the floor. The swirl of medical professionals around them, busy, working, doing this and that with furrowed brows until they finally coaxed that machine to sound the reassuring, regular blip of life again.

Faith awoke to the heaviness of a head on her chest, blonde hair splayed out, the soft breathing of sleep, a hand holding hers. Faith squeezed that hand a little and felt the other girl start awake, the look of panic quickly fading when she saw the dark slayer's weak smile.

"Kinda cute when you sleep. Heavy, but—"

She couldn't even get the whole of it out before Buffy was kissing her.

"Whoah, takin' advantage of the infirm, B." Faith said this into that insistent mouth, and Buffy, chastened, pulled away for a moment. But Faith didn't let her go far, holding her to the bed as the nurse walked in.

Looking down at her clipboard. "I'm sorry, Miss, but you can't be in here unless you're family."

Buffy blinking at the obviousness of it. "But I love her."

The nurse and Faith both looked at her.

The nurse smiled a little. "Well, that's fine with me then." Checked the machines and left.

Buffy turned to meet Faith's eyes, suddenly nervous at the intensity she found there. "I, thought I'd...yesterday when...did you mean it?" And despite all the drama of the night, all the pain, the desperation, the chaos of it, both knew exactly what "it" Buffy meant.

Simply. Putting it out there. Okay, maybe kinda nervous. "Yes." And Buffy leaned in to kiss her again, more gently this time.

"Hey, save the hot girl-on-girl action for my home videos, ladies!"

"Xander!" Buffy's mock growl as she looked up to see the young man walking in with Vanessa, followed by Dawn and Giles.

The watcher placed his absurdly large bouquet of flowers next to the bed.

"You know I'm allergic, right?" Giles' panicked expression, ready to swoop the flowers away again before she stopped him. "Kidding." He smiled down at Faith, placing his hand on her shoulder.

"It's good to see you well, Faith. I hope you'll be staying with us..." His question hung in the air as he glanced over at the blonde sitting next to her, still holding her hand. Faith also looked over at her.

"Till B kicks me to the curb." She earned a swat on the shoulder from the blonde for that one.

Faith made a theatrical gesture of pain. "Ow! And people think I'm the violent one! Least I don't go beatin' up on sick people."

"I'm perfectly gentle unless provoked."

Faith snorted at that. "There's a joke in there about your sexual proclivities, but I ain't makin' it."

From Dawn: "Ok, ew."

From Buffy: a mock glare. "There will be no discussion of Buffy's..." But she trailed off, seeing Kennedy standing nervously at the door with Willow next to her, holding her hand. Both girls looked pale. Buffy fought back her initial reaction, her slayer sense that still picked up the vampire, the too-recent images of Kennedy on top of Faith. She looked over quickly at the window to find it was night. She had lost a whole day. Then back to the girls at the door, rising to meet them, watching the brunette closely.

"Is she...are you...?"

Kennedy nodded. "Thanks to Faith. To all of you." She came into the room and Buffy moved aside to let her pass, placing a hand on the other girl's shoulder, squeezing. At the bed, she gave Faith a shy smile. "My hero."

Faith's face was serious for a moment with the gravity of how close they came, but then hid itself, making light in the heavy air of that room.

"S'no big. But, ya know, I'm gonna make you buy a turtleneck to cover this hickey you gave me."

"Don't know how I feel about Faith in turtlenecks." Buffy tossed in before she looked over to Willow, raising an eyebrow. When she received an answering smile, she pulled the other girl into a hug, then let her go so Willow could stand next to Kennedy, her arm around her lover once again.

Faith gave the room an exasperated sigh. "It took her, what, all a 15 minutes to start tellin' me what to wear. Christ, you guys coulda warned me."

Buffy raised an eyebrow, coming over to stand by the dark slayer again, taking her hand. "Well, somebody's got to save you from yourself. And save the cows from you. Should I have waited a half an hour?"

The dark slayer drew her in. "Never one to make a pretty girl wait, B." She took the blonde's face in her hands, kissing her, tugging a little on that lower lip.

Dawn's protest: "Hey, still in the room here!"

And indeed, the rest of them, though unnoticed, were still there, until Giles gently shepherded them all out into the hall with a feeble "I believe Faith needs her rest" as the two girls kissed and Buffy climbed onto the bed next to her, settling into that kiss and that space.


A/N: And so it ends, timed to coincide with the upcoming bar exam that—alas, alack—must now take my attention. This has been really fun for me...a great way to procrastinate! Thank you all for your wonderful, encouraging responses. I'd love to hear any final thoughts you have on what you liked, didn't like about the story as a whole. Whether I should ever in a million years try this again. Etc. Etc. My humblest thanks for reading (very humble...see the cat (Ginger) on my page)!