A few days passed, then almost a full week, and Faith remained removed from Buffy's and the others' lives. Since she had entirely become her teenaged self again- since they had changed her into herself again- no one had heard from her, seen her, or even heard of her or actions carried out by her from any other sources. It was as if Faith had simply vanished, and maybe that was exactly what she had wanted to do with herself.
On one hand this was a good sign. No reported sightings of her, no wanted posters or new reports for her arrest, and no suspicious- sounding crimes reported by a young female meeting Faith's description probably meant that the police weren't after her right now, and she was keeping herself out of trouble, wherever she was. On the other hand, maybe it wasn't such a great indication that Faith was okay. Maybe she HAD been picked up by the cops or the Council… maybe she was injured or sick or even-
Faith couldn't, could NOT be dead. Buffy would have known, she would have felt it somehow. But almost anything else could have happened to her.
The others, though they rarely said as much in words, were worried too. Buffy knew that Giles often made phone calls to the local police (with vague descriptions not using Faith's name, of course) to hospitals, morgues, bus stations, motels, even to Angel in LA, trying to find out what she had been up to since disappearing from everyone's presence. Both he and Xander had driven around Sunnydale and its outskirts several times, and outside of it as well, and though they had never directly said so, Buffy knew that they were looking for Faith.
Tara had asked her once, away from Willow's hearing, if she would like her to scry for Faith, like she had done when the Council had kidnapped her. But as tempted as she had been by this, Buffy had ended up declining. She didn't want in some ways to know, because she would then be unable to resist going to Faith- something she had promised herself she wouldn't do. Still…it would ease her mind some just to know WHERE Faith was… just in case…
And just because Buffy refused to go to Faith didn't mean she didn't hope to run into her somewhere, where it wouldn't entirely count as "going to her." On patrol Buffy was distracted because she was looking for Faith more than she was for vampires…and as stupid as she knew it was, she hoped the girl would just show up, start slaying with her or something. A few times she had deceived herself into thinking she could sense her nearby and had whirled around, heart pounding wildly…but it was never Faith. Sometimes it was nothing at all. Sometimes it was a vampire…but sometimes there was NOTHING, and Buffy wondered if she was starting to crack up.
She felt like she was sometimes, when she was home. The house seemed so quiet, even empty without Faith there now. Her bed seemed huge without Faith sprawled across her in it, and she couldn't look at any of the things they had bought for the little girl without her heart twisting sharply in her chest. She knew that her mother felt the same way. Joyce Summers was very quiet, though she still smiled at Buffy, still went to work and did everything she had done before Faith's stay with them. Buffy could see the worry and sadness constantly glinting in her eyes, tensing her features. She noticed that Joyce watched the news and read the paper more often than she used to, and made a point of asking Buffy casually if she had heard anything about Faith yet, though she knew very well that Buffy had not.
Almost daily Buffy questioned if she had done the right thing. Should they have really turned Faith back? Should she have chased her after all- should she let Tara scry for her now, so she can find her and explain? Was she only making this an even bigger mess than it had already been?
Buffy didn't know…she only knew that she could barely stand the way things were now. She wanted to let Faith decide to come to her herself…but what if she never did?
She showed up out of nowhere, when Buffy least expected her, and maybe that was the best way it could have happened. One minute Buffy was opening the front door, preparing to head out to Willow's… and in the next second she was standing face to face with Faith, so stunned by this that for a second her breath stopped.
Faith had been standing on her doorstep for who knows how long, not knocking, not making any sounds to acknowledge her presence. Maybe she had been working herself up to do so, or maybe she had been unable to decide yet if she wanted to run away. Whatever the case, there she was…
She was dressed in different clothes than she had left the Summers' house in- dirty, ripped jeans and a wife beater that looked worn as well, both hanging off her slim frame. Her hair was loose down her back, tangled, and she was carrying nothing with her, not so much as a purse or duffle bag. Of course, Faith had never really been the purse type, Buffy had never seen her carrying one… and she hadn't taken anything with her when she left…
But what Buffy was really paying attention to was Faith's expression. There was no aggression, no rage or vicious intent in her eyes, in the way she held herself. In fact, as Buffy stared, blinking frequently, not quite sure that she wasn't imagining the girl's presence, Faith seemed to find it hard to meet her eyes. She shifted her weight, her shoulders slumped, and one hand in her pocket, looked up at Buffy again, setting her jaw and swallowing visibly. In her expression Buffy saw shame, embarrassment, determination…and fear. What Faith was doing would have to be incredibly hard for her…Buffy could still hardly believe that this was real.
"Faith?" she said slowly, not daring to make any movements, lest she cause her to bolt, or to close her eyes, lest Faith be gone when she opened them again. "Faith…you're here?"
Faith looked for a moment or two as if she were considering running, and Buffy tensed, resisting the urge to grab her, or else to turn to see if her mother had yet noticed anything amiss. She didn't know what she should do, and her mouth felt dry and pasty even as she fought to keep herself seemingly calm. She wondered if Faith could hear how rapidly her heart was beating. She was here…god, she couldn't believe Faith was here…
But Faith didn't leave… though she was very tense, she shrugged slightly, once more looking past Buffy briefly before responding.
"Yeah…in the flesh."
She sighed suddenly and sharply, lifting her chin; her expression was defiant, but her voice was uncertain, fumbling, as she spoke again.
"Look, B… I don't' really know why I'm here… you want me to leave, then I'll just-"
"No!" Buffy said quickly, her voice rising, eyes widening in something almost like alarm in spite of herself, and she shook her head again, barely restraining herself from reaching out to Faith physically.
She was so used to looking at the adult Faith's body and seeing the child in her mind's eye, to touching her without thinking, that even though she knew very well she was looking at the older Faith, she still felt an instinctive urge to touch her, to show her physical reassurance. She knew very well that Faith would not accept this, however- there was no telling how she might react, how she might interpret Buffy's gesture. Buffy still had no idea what the other girl might be thinking…or what it was that had made her return. But god she was glad she had…
"No, Faith, it's okay," she clarified, trying to sound calmer, more reasonable and low-key. "You don't have to go… and it doesn't matter why you're here. I don't mind…it's okay…"
She realized that Faith looked no less skittish, her posture such that she seemed ready to turn and bolt at any moment. Buffy didn't know what to do, what to say to keep her there… and she ended up blurting out the first thing that came to mind.
"Faith- why don't you come in? Are you hungry- or, or want something to drink, or…"
Faith shook her head quickly, actually stiffening. Her eyes snapped up to regard Buffy's with something like shock, hurried denial, and disbelief flickering across their surface.
"No- no, look, I've five by five, I'm not taking anything…I don't' want anything from you. I was just-"
Here she stopped, coming to an abrupt halt in her words as she frowned, seemingly lost as to what it was that she was doing or wanting. She had said as much earlier, that she didn't know why she was here… but Buffy thought she knew at least part of the reason. Faith was different now… whatever the reason, she was. She could see that just by looking at her, by observing the behavior she was exhibiting that was so different from the older Faith she was used to.
Buffy wanted to tell her this, to say something to assure her…but she thought instinctively that what she was doing now was probably best. Let Faith speak on her own time, in her own way…let her figure out for herself what she wanted.
Faith sighed sharply, shifting her weight again, and several seconds passed before she spoke suddenly, her voice abrupt, almost harsh, even as her face seemed strangely slack and vulnerable.
"Look…I remember, Buffy," she said, and Buffy of course knew exactly what she was referring to. "And…it's…it's so damn weird, I don't…"
She stopped, looking past Buffy and taking another breath, blinking, watching her, Buffy felt a pang of sympathy, for Faith was so obviously struggling with this. But still she stayed quiet and still, letting Faith find her own way to talk. She didn't want to push her… and she knew perfectly well that nothing she could say at the moment would probably do much to help, since she couldn't even think of anything to say to her.
"You took care of me," Faith said slowly, and she was watching Buffy now, her words uncertain, confused. "When I was young…you took care of me. You and your mother."
"Well, yes," Buffy replied, not sure what Faith wanted, what it was she was looking for in her response. "Yes, we did…of course we did…"
"Why?" Faith asked, her words quiet, and she was still looking at Buffy steadily- though more at her chin now than into her eyes. "Why would you do that for me?"
Buffy took a breath, attempting to think of a response that would be truthful, yet also something Faith needed to hear. In that short question the other girl was laying herself bare to her, whether she knew it or not…Buffy remembered what Tara had told her, remembered her own convictions and Faith's own admission of her desire for Buffy's love under hypnosis. She remembered, and she hoped…
"We wanted to, Faith," she said quietly. "You were just a child. And we…we liked you. We cared about you-"
"After everything?" Faith cut her off, her voice rising slightly, fraught with her disbelief. "I don't-"
She stopped herself, shaking her head as she looked down. When she spoke again, her voice was more controlled.
"You said…that you loved me."
"Yes," Buffy said quietly, and she nodded, trying to catch Faith's eyes again, to determine what the girl was thinking even with the few clues she was providing for her to interpret in her words and behavior. "We did. Does…does that-"
"But you meant her. The little girl me. Right?" Faith interrupted again, and there was again a roughness to her voice not matched by the poignant look she was unable to hide in her eyes. "She's little, she behaves and all that shit, gives hugs and holds hands and all, you were talking about her. If you weren't lying in the first place. I mean, you hate me. Like always. Right? That's the way it is, things just don't change because-"
"Faith- Faith, no," Buffy said hurriedly, shaking her head, and she did reach out to her instinctively then. When Faith drew in her breath sharply, taking a step back, Buffy withdrew her hand, gentling her tone somewhat.
"Faith- no, of course I don't hate you. No one does. I couldn't…I-"
The words "I love you" had been on the tip of her tongue, but Buffy froze, stopping them from emerging. Did Faith really want to hear that…did she want to say it? Did she mean it? She knew she cared about Faith…but did she really love her, or just the child?
She could love her…she knew that now. And that was enough to start with.
"I want things to be better," she said slowly instead, holding Faith's eyes with her own. "I want to help…with you let me help, Faith?"
For several moments Faith simply stared…both girls were nearly holding their breaths, assessing the other girl's intentions. She was struggling with herself, with everything that had once been and the way it had changed. When Faith spoke her voice was soft, shaking slightly, but she made herself look into Buffy's eyes. She didn't answer her question directly, but in a way her response was an answer.
It was only a few words, very weak if taken by their definition alone. Faith seemed to realize this as her eyes lowered again, her posture hunching further into herself…and yet what she was saying, the meaning behind it, was everything.
Buffy couldn't help herself; she smiled. Faith, having dared to look up again, was utterly disconcerted by this, but Buffy's smile only widened.
"I know," she said simply.
She didn't promise that everything would be okay; she didn't attempt either to reassure Faith, nor to berate her. She didn't try to sweep the past under the rug…she just looked at her, and hoped that Faith could tell that she was at least trying to understand.
"Faith…will you come in?" she asked quietly. "Please…Mom will be happy to see that you're okay."
She didn't add that she was glad too, not wanting to be too pushy…but she hoped that Faith could see it in her face.
Another several seconds passed, the silence stretching between them as Faith remained motionless, rapid thought flashing across her eyes…but then she was stepping forward hesitantly, meeting Buffy's eyes, as though asking for approval once again. As Buffy's smile widened, she opened the door; together they stepped inside.