Title: Right In Front Of You
Disclaimers: These are Joss Whedon's toys, we only play with them when he's not looking.
Spoilers: Takes place the morning after the S6 episode Wrecked so anything up to that is fair game.
Feedback: Feedback is my antidrug.
Distribution: See, want, take - just tell me.
Reluctantly she opened her eyes. Even with the shades drawn she knew it was late, maybe even after noon. Lunchtime. The day was already halfway gone. She only sat up to stop herself from calculating how many hours she had left until the sun set. At least she didn't have to make the bed. Buffy had fallen asleep wearing the clothes she had worn the night before, hadn't even bothered to slip under the blankets.
Smoothing down the comforter with her hands, she stared for a moment at the empty pillow next to her. Two pillows, one girl. Why did she keep two pillows on her bed? Had she even noticed? Did her body want something that she didn't even know she needed? And then her eyes focused on the silver cross nestled in a fold of her covers.
Buffy quickly turned and ran to the window, pulling on the shade. It slipped from her grasp and snapped up, forcing her to cover her eyes with her forearm. The warmth of the sun felt comforting, felt reassuring, yet Buffy had to squint as her eyes slowly adjusted to the brightness. It was another thing that she hadn't told the others, how everything seemed too bright, too harsh now. Dawn seemed to have noticed but made it obvious that she didn't want to talk about. As long as her sister was back the details didn't matter.
With a sigh that puffed out her cheeks, Buffy rubbed her eyes and left the room. Willow's door wasn't open yet it wasn't exactly shut, either. Buffy inhaled slowly once and peered in. Willow's bed was unmade but she wasn't in it.
"Willow?" called out Buffy as she gently nudged the door open.
The room was dark, lit only by the flickering glow of a single candle. Willow was sitting cross-legged on the floor at the foot of her bed. She didn't look up at Buffy. Buffy walked over and sat down next to her.
"Morning. Or afternoon. Not really sure. Only got up a few minutes ago myself," offered Buffy. Willow glanced at her with half a nod.
"Get any sleep?" asked Buffy, touching Willow's shoulder softly with her hand.
Willow shook her head ever so slightly, her face expressionless. Buffy noticed that she was rubbing her hands together, repeatedly, probably unaware that she was even doing it. Suppressing a frown, Buffy hesitantly slid her hand across her friend's shoulder and pulled her close.
"I, I couldn't...the bed, I mean. I couldn't stay in it. It just seemed so...so empty, you know?" whispered Willow.
With her other hand Buffy reached over and covered Willow's hands, calming them. She gave Buffy the briefest of grateful smiles then looked away.
"I know," nodded Buffy.
Willow inhaled sharply and painfully closed her eyes.
"Why don't we go see how Dawn's doing, maybe make her some pancakes or something?" smiled Buffy. She felt Willow's body tense.
"I...I already saw Dawn. Earlier, I mean. She wouldn't talk to me...wouldn't even look at me," sighed Willow, not looking at Buffy.
"Oh. Well, I guess she's entitled to a hissy fit. Or two. But you know Dawn...she'll come around," reassured Buffy. "You'll see."
Willow halfheartedly shrugged her shoulders.
"And why should she?" protested Willow with a pout.
"Hey. I'm only going to allow you some minor wallowing. And a little guilt is okay, but self pity? Sorry, ain't going to let you get away with that."
Willow just stared out ahead of her, as if Buffy weren't even there. Buffy leaned forward and kissed Willow's hair, adding a little squeeze on her shoulder. She made to stand up but Willow lashed out, fiercely grabbing Buffy's wrist. Her eyes danced from Buffy to her hand and back again. Slowly, embarrassed by this display, Willow eased her grip. But she didn't let go.
"Buffy, do me a favor? Please?" pleaded Willow. Buffy cringed at the desperation in her voice.
"Of course. Anything. What..."
"Could...could you call Tara for me? I need...I mean, we need to talk. I...it's just..."
"I'll call her right now. You go get in the shower. Okay?" asked Buffy, lowering her head to meet Willow's gaze. Willow seemed to consider this, almost afraid to let Buffy go. Then she nodded. She tried to smile but just as quickly looked as if she would cry.
Buffy stood up and helped Willow to her feet. She put her hands on Willow's cheeks and made her friend look at her. And then she smiled, forcing a confidence that she didn't feel.
"It's going to be okay. Trust me," said Buffy, touching her forehead to Willow's. Willow closed her eyes, fighting back tears and eased her chin onto Buffy's shoulder with a hug.
"Buffy, it hurts so much," whispered Willow.
Buffy awkwardly pulled away.
"Will, go get into the shower. I have a phone call to make."
Buffy smiled to make her point. Willow nodded, wiping her eyes as she turned from Buffy.
Buffy made her way to the top of the staircase. Downstairs she heard Dawn run to the front window.
"Buffy! There's a taxi in front of the house!" called her sister.
"Giles?" whispered Buffy, her eyes opening wide as she ran down the stairs.
"Who is it?" asked Buffy, her voice louder than she wanted.
"I don't know. Some girl, brunette...wearing a black leather coat," shrugged Dawn, not bothering to turn to face Buffy. Buffy stood behind Dawn.
And her mouth dropped open.
Buffy glanced at her sister. Dawn wrinkled her eyebrows at her.
Once again Buffy's eyes opened wide.
"Faith," she repeated, still getting a confused look from Dawn. "You know...the other Slayer?"
"Oh. That's right, you died. Hence another Slayer. Wow, you were gone what, three months? Didn't think she'd show up here that quick."
Buffy's mouth slowly opened, her eyes narrowed in confusion...and fear.
"What? I should have said quickly?" frowned Dawn.
Buffy shook her head to clear it.
"Stay. Here. Don't. Move."
Buffy walked to the door and glanced back as she opened it. Dawn's expression, that of stark trepidation, never changed.
She stood at the end of the walk, not moving, staring...waiting. Black. Her leather jacket, her top, her pants (surprising not leather), the backpack slung over her shoulder, even the sunglasses she wore. Black. Same old Faith.
Buffy closed the door behind her and walked towards Faith, stopping about ten feet away. Faith didn't say anything, didn't smile, didn't move. Putting her hands on her hips, Buffy eased into her best glare.
"So. You're out," challenged Buffy, stating the obvious.
"Hey B," replied Faith, her lips nervously taut.
Buffy ignored her, waiting for an explanation.
"Um, yeah. I'm out. Time off for good behavior, throw in some extenuating circumstances..."
"Good behavior! You've got to be...and so you come running back to Sunnydale? What happened? Angel get sick of you already? Last time I saw you he was in your arms," added Buffy bitterly.
Faith looked down, wincing. Buffy's words had seemed to hit home hard.
"Angel probably...he doesn't know. Don't see how he could," shrugged Faith.
Buffy lowered her arms to her side.
Faith took a deep breath but didn't look up at Buffy when she spoke.
"Angel stopped coming to see me over a year ago. He...no one has even spoken to me since..."
"Oh, and you expect me to throw you a big pity party? Is that it?" demanded Buffy, incredulous.
"Actually, I needed to ask Red a question. Is, is she here?" asked Faith hopefully, looking up.
"She's here. But Willow isn't...she's not feeling well right now. And I don't think she'd be up to dealing with you."
"B, please. It's wicked important," pleaded Faith.
"And I should care why?" laughed Buffy. "Angel obviously doesn't. Hell, you think Wes or Cordy are worried about you? Maybe if someone else's wishes about what happens to you needed to be considered I might care enough to continue this conversation!"
Faith bit her lower lip, her voice almost a whisper.
"There is, B. See, I..."
Just then the door behind Buffy opened. She turned to see Dawn standing there. Her sister didn't come outside. She just stood there...watching.
"Who is that? Is it Re...I mean, Willow. Is it..."
"It's Dawn," interrupted Buffy, turning back to face Faith. "You going to tell me you don't recognize her?"
"Who's Dawn?" asked Faith. By the expression on her face, Buffy could tell that Faith was both serious and confused. Buffy's mouth once again dropped open.
"Uh, B? About the recognizing part? Thing is...I'm not wearing these glasses as a fashion statement. I'm blind," said Faith flatly, her face now empty of emotion.
If Buffy was confused before, she was absolutely speechless now.
Buffy still didn't move. She simply stared at Faith.
"I knew coming here was a mistake. Just, just call me a cab, okay? Or maybe Xander can drive me over to the shelter," sighed Faith.
"What? Oh! No. No, Faith, I didn't...I'm sorry. It's, it's just a lot to take in, you know? Why...I mean...Faith, how did this happen?" asked Buffy, just now realizing that she still hadn't moved any closer to Faith.
"I don't know," replied Faith, shaking her head. "Just woke up like this. Doctors can't find anything wrong with me, say it's psychosomatic or some such crap. But I know better. So do you."
"Huh?" countered Buffy.
"Magic. It's a spell or a curse or something. Wolfram and Hart are probably pissed that I didn't do what they hired me to do. Least that's my take on the sitch."
"Hired you to...oh. You mean...kill Angel," nodded Buffy.
"So that's why you want to talk to Willow."
Faith nodded but didn't say anything at first. She winced and then looked down at her feet.
"Not that she has any reason to help me," whispered Faith.
"You never did understand her, did you?" smiled Buffy. "Come on, let's get you inside. Um..."
Buffy walked over to Faith, stopping about an arm's length from her.
"Why don't you give me your hand?" offered Buffy.
Faith slowly raised her head. She started to extend her hand but hesitated. And suddenly Buffy knew why. The last time they had clasped hands together...
As if she knew what the other Slayer was thinking, Faith slowly opened her hand, palm up, showing Buffy that it was empty. Only then did she hold it out. Buffy looked at Faith's face, searching for any hint of the emotions that Faith might be dealing with, that she herself felt. Conflicting, inhibiting, both pain and anger, fear and pity preventing her from reaching out to Faith. But the younger Slayer's face betrayed no such feelings. Looking down, Buffy noticed that Faith's hand was trembling. And Buffy allowed herself a brief smile.
She brushed her fingers across the palm of Faith's hand and held it.
"I'll help you," said Buffy, slipping her other hand down to her elbow. She could feel Faith's hand tense.
"Thanks," answered Faith softly and without a smile.
Buffy turned and saw Dawn staring at them. She mouthed the words 'get inside' to her sister as she guided Faith up the walk. Dawn frowned and stomped off.
"Okay, almost there. Coming up on a step...here," warned Buffy, leaning forward to push the door open. Faith nervously reached out with her left hand, searching for the door.
"I got ya," encouraged Buffy. Faith nodded slightly and let Buffy lead her into the living room.
"The sofa is right behind you. Why don't you sit down?"
Faith sat down, slipping her backpack off one shoulder. She realized that she was still gripping Buffy's hand tightly and quickly let go.
"Thanks," repeated Faith, embarrassed. She dropped the backpack down next to her.
"So...you want something to drink?" asked Buffy.
"No. I'm fine."
Faith placed both hands on her knees, tense, her head tilted slightly as she listened to her surroundings. She froze and Buffy turned to look behind her. Dawn was standing by the stairs.
"Dawn, go upstairs and see if Willow is out of the shower yet. Tell her...don't tell her anything. Just...bring her down when she's ready."
Dawn nodded and ran up the stairs.
"Faith...that's Dawn. She's my sister. Are you telling me that you don't remember her?" grimaced Buffy, sitting down on the couch next to Faith.
"Sister? Buffy, what the hell are you talking about? You don't have a sister," said Faith, turning her head in Buffy's direction. "I mean, what, did Joyce adopt while I was in prison?"
"Um, no. And Faith, about my mom..."
Just then they both turned their heads, hearing Dawn come running back down the stairs.
"She'll be right down, Buffy. I didn't tell her who was here," said Dawn, looking at Faith.
"Thanks, Dawn. I..."
Faith slowly stood up, her face visibly pale. Buffy looked from her to Dawn and back at Faith, quickly standing up as she realized something was wrong. The look on Faith's face...she had seen Faith afraid only twice before, when they had faced Kakistos and, oh so briefly, when she had mistakenly staked Allan Finch in that alley. And now.
"Buffy...Buffy, who is that?" whispered Faith, her voice trembling.
"Faith, I told you, it's my sister. Dawn. I'm not sure why you don't remember her, but I think I can explain. There's something you don't know about her," added Buffy, moving to stand in front of Faith to get between her and her sister.
Faith stood motionless, staring past Buffy at Dawn as if she could see.
"Dawn...say something. Speak to me," said Faith.
"Um," began Dawn, glancing nervously at Buffy.
"Say something!" screamed Faith, startling both Buffy and Dawn.
"I, um...what do you want me to say? I'm Dawn. Like Buffy said, I'm her sister," answered Dawn defiantly, hiding her fear.
"Oh my God!" breathed Faith, her voice less than a whisper. She moved along the couch and nearly stumbled as she pressed back against the wall behind her, moving away from Dawn.
"Faith?" called Buffy.
"What are you?" demanded Faith, the fear in her voice replaced by anger.
Buffy and Dawn stared at her.
"Are, are you a ghost? A demon? What? Answer me!" yelled Faith, still trying to back further away.
Buffy looked at Dawn and then walked towards Faith.
"Dawn, don't move. Faith, it's me. What's wrong? I don't understand..."
"Buffy, that's not your sister. I know that voice. I will never forget that voice. Hell, she even has the same name!" cried Faith, her voice breaking.
"Faith, what are you..."
"Buffy! Dawn was my sister! But she's dead!"
Again Buffy's eyes grew wide. So did Dawn's.
"Wh...Faith, that's impossible! And, and you never told me you had a sister!" protested Buffy. Yet Buffy knew Faith believed what she said. The girl was shaking.
"No, I didn't tell you. It was too...Buffy, she's dead. She died when she was ten!"
Faith had pressed back until she was in the corner of the room and could go no further. Buffy swallowed and closed her eyes, trying to think. Just then Willow came down the stairs, a towel wrapped around her head.
"Okay, what's so important that I couldn't dry my hair? This had...oh my God," said Willow, stopping in midstride. She reached out and pulled Dawn behind her.
"Willow, it's okay. Faith, um...well, first of all...she's blind," winced Buffy. "And she, uh, doesn't remember Dawn."
Willow scrunched her eyes together, staring at the figure in the corner and slipped her fingers into Dawn's hand. Dawn just stood there as if she hadn't noticed.
"Buffy, I, I can prove it. In my backpack there's a leather wallet. There's a photo of me and Dawnie. We're, um, outside Fenway Park, sharing a sausage and pepper grinder."
Buffy unzipped the backpack and quickly found the wallet.
"Oh, and Dawn, she has a small V-shaped scar just above her left knee. She got it when she was nine and fell off the carousel at the Big E. Oh, that's this huge fair they have every fall back in Massachusetts," said Faith confidently.
Buffy looked at Dawn. Dawn was shaking her head.
"No. No, I got that scar when I fell off the carousel in Los Angeles. With you, Buffy. Not her," denied Dawn weakly.
Buffy looked at Faith. Faith had closed her eyes and leaned her head back against the wall. She covered her mouth with one hand as if she might throw up. Buffy chose to ignore her for the moment and pulled a worn, faded photograph from the wallet. And then she gasped and shot a worried look at Dawn. Dawn's eyes opened wide.
"Faith, this looks like you're outside of a stadium...and you have a grinder in your hand...but you're alone. There's no one in the photo but you. See?" asked Buffy, holding it up. "Oh! Sorry!"
"Wh-what? No. No! That's impossible. I, I've had that photo for years. I...oh my God," whispered Faith. She slumped down into a sitting position, her knees drawn up and her head in her hands. Buffy wasn't sure but she thought Faith was crying. And she had never seen Faith cry.
Buffy tossed the wallet back into the backpack and glanced at Willow and Dawn. They stood motionless, both waiting for her to say or do something. Buffy exhaled slowly and knelt down next to Faith. Buffy put her hand on Faith's knee and she recoiled at the touch.
"Buffy, it's not fair," whispered Faith. "Even what I don't have anymore is being taken away. This, this can't be happening."
Buffy hesitantly reached out and then put her hand on Faith's arm. This time Faith didn't flinch.
"Hey. We'll figure this out," comforted Buffy.
"Yeah. Magic. It's got to be magic. I know! Giles! He can figure this out. That's what he does, right?" asked Faith, her voice holding no hope despite her desire.
"Yeah, he does. Except that he's back in England now," frowned Buffy.
"Oh," replied Faith, her answer hollow and empty.
"Buffy, there's something wrong here," called Willow from the other side of the room.
"Ya think?" sighed Buffy.
"Buffy, listen to me! I know Faith tried to...I mean, when she was with the Mayor and, and...Buffy, I can't remember! We know Faith tried to hurt Dawn. Don't we? That time when...Buffy, I...something's not right here," said Willow, now pulling Dawn close to her. Dawn didn't protest.
Buffy looked away, lost in thought. Very slowly she turned towards Faith and then she looked back at Dawn. Her sister, while obviously scared, was trying to put on a brave face for her.
"You're right. I can't even remember Faith even meeting Dawn now. But I know..."
Buffy looked back at Faith. Faith raised her head and looked back as if she knew what Buffy was doing.
"It's as if...even when Faith came over, Dawn would be sleeping over a friend's house, or she was at school, or...but I know you tried to hurt her. At least I used to!" sighed Buffy, shaking her head.
"Buffy, my sister is dead. There's no way that what I remember isn't real. It was raining and the clock had just started to chime ten. And then I saw that the front door was slightly open. I...I had told her that I had lost one of my favorite earrings on the way home. She wanted to look for it but I said we'd wait until morning because it was raining."
Faith paused, swallowing hard, lost in her remembering...and then she turned her head in the direction of Dawn. Buffy followed her gaze and looked at her sister. Dawn was listening intently, afraid to even breathe. When Faith spoke again, her voice was small, distant, as if she were back in Boston, watching this scene unfold all over again.
"I ran outside. We lived at the top of a hill and it was dark. It was dark because I had thrown a rock at the streetlight and busted it the night before. Dawn, she...she was in the street...and she was just standing there in the rain. But she was smiling. She held out her hand and I knew. I knew she had found that damn earring. That God damned earring!"
Faith turned her head but Buffy could see the tears welling up in the corner of her eye.
"This pickup truck came over the hill. And it was coming fast...too fast. I, I tried to scream Dawn's name...she barely had time to even turn around. She didn't...she didn't..."
"Faith, don't. I believe you, okay? Faith...stop," said Buffy, now getting upset herself. She put her hand on Faith's shoulder but she pulled back.
"No one is going to tell me that I don't remember that," snarled Faith through clenched teeth even as she choked back her tears. "No one. That's not going to be taken from me...ever. And I know my sister's voice. She screamed my name. She..."
Faith turned her head towards Buffy.
"This is hell, right? I'm dead...and this is my hell," nodded Faith.
Buffy couldn't answer her. She had wondered, no, had believed the same thing almost every day herself. Without realizing what she was doing, Buffy turned away from Faith and stared accusingly at Willow. Willow's lower lip quivered as she turned away, unable to look at her friend. It only took one simple look. But Willow knew what Buffy was thinking.
END OF PART ONE