A/N: *Please do not distribute or post this story anywhere without my permission.* Thanks to cookiesarefood for her betaing skills.
It's shortly after sunset in Sunnydale, California. Maple Court's many shops are bustling with people, but no one notices the jumpy wisp of a girl walking through the crowds. This is a town where people can't attend their children's school events without becoming possessed by demon eggs or nearly eaten by their newly serpentine mayor, after all. At first Faith huddles into her hood, expecting someone to recognize her, but she passes through the downtown area without incident. No one has so much as looked twice at her. It surprises her because she feels so alien. She wears stolen clothing that hangs off her gaunt frame and it feels like she's inhabiting a stranger's body. Her ribs are visible and her cheekbones jut from her pale face. She's probably still stronger than most average people, but she doesn't feel like it as she walks through the dark Sunnydale streets.
Under the thin, pale skin of her bony chest, her heart beats wildly. She's restless in her own skin. This is not an unfamiliar feeling; she's always been this way. The little wild girl with perpetual snarls in her hair and a natural talent for stealing became the out of control slayer. But being the slayer didn't change Faith, the predilection for danger and chaos is all hers. She's lived her life like wildfire, carelessly torching everything in her path and managing to stay two steps ahead of the chaos she caused, until the moment it finally caught up with her.
She's awake now and slowly starting to feel more like herself. Her stomach clenches and rolls with hunger and the desire to slay. Her hands tremble with the effort of walking silently forward when she wants to scream, hit, tear out her own hair even. She can't believe it's been eight months. She walks without any conscious purpose, but somehow her feet know where to go. Faith is instinctive by nature. Maybe she was born that way or maybe it's the slayer line humming under her skin, but she's got guts aplenty and she follows where they lead. Right now they lead her to Giles's living room window. Crouching in the shadows, she grips the window ledge for support and peers inside.
The confusion in her mind begins to fade as she her gaze lands on one familiar face. Perched on the arm of a chair, Buffy smiles widely. She's as beautiful as ever. It seems unreal somehow, that Buffy has been here, smiling and laughing, and going on with her life, while Faith has been gone. From the world, from consciousness, from herself even. Hurt is all she can feel. It overwhelms her and she grips the ledge harder as tears start to flood her eyes. Under her fingers, the wood starts to crack. She can't get control. Her eyes dart frantically around Giles's home, trying to focus on anything to pull herself back from the edge and then… there. A broad hand lands gently on Buffy's thigh and anger floods Faith's mind, hot and fast.
The phone rings and Faith shrinks further into the shadows. When she peeks back inside, Buffy wears a mask of shock. Faith barely has time to move away before the other slayer's gaze sweeps across the window. She knows she has to leave. They know that she's awake. They will find her.
She only goes a few short steps into the tree cover before the door behind her opens. Freezing, Faith dares to look back.
"I know you're here." Buffy's soft, familiar voice barely makes a sound but Faith can hear every word. She can hear the other slayer's heartbeat, mirroring the slightly too fast rhythm of hers.
She wonders if that's a slayer thing, the way their bodies seem to match so perfectly.
"Faith?" The way her name sounds, pouring from Buffy's soft mouth, makes her breath catch.
"Buffy?" The man with the broad hands stands in the doorway.
The blonde's searching eyes slip away from the shadows she's hiding in and Faith takes that opportunity to disappear. She's almost shaking now, so overwhelmed with fury. It's like a thousand blades in her stomach with a thousand Buffys shoving them in. It was bad enough knowing Buffy was willing to sacrifice her for Angel. Now she's not even with Angel, her supposed soul mate, the not-even-person she was willing to kill Faith for! Before she can stop herself, a raw scream bursts from her throat. A couple getting into their car pause and look her way. She bears her teeth in response and the two avert their eyes.
She rubs her right hand over the scar on her stomach and wills herself back intro control. Tomorrow, she'll be stronger. She'll confront the other slayer. It's time to finish this. And Faith's not planning on losing this time.
It takes a few minutes, but Buffy manages to reassure them all that she's fine to patrol alone. She doesn't tell them Faith was outside of Giles's apartment. Her friends all think it's naïve, but she desperately wants to believe that she can help Faith this time. Maybe she doesn't remember what happened. Maybe she wants to be good again. Catching Faith alone is her best chance of getting through to her. They were a team once. Faith had trusted her, as much as she could trust anyone anyway.
Buffy is so preoccupied with her thoughts of Faith that she doesn't immediately pick up on the shadows of men occasionally flickering through her peripheral vision. It isn't until she rounds the corner onto Main Street that she catches a glimpse of a familiar face ducking into an alleyway. She doesn't remember his name, but he is definitely one of the Initiative commandos and he is definitely following her. There's no time to get angry at Riley's obvious betrayal. If the Initiative get their hands on Faith, who knows what will happen to her? Buffy needs to get to her before they do.
Ducking into a nearby store, she makes her way toward the employee only section. There must be a backdoor. Maybe she can lose them. "Hey!" The man behind the counter shouts at her. "Where do you think you're going?" She escapes through the backdoor before he can catch up. In the alley, she all but trips over a dead demon.
"Never subtle, were you?" Buffy mutters, scanning the other buildings lining the alley. The light of a television flickers through the window above the pawnshop and Buffy heads for the door. It's locked, but no match for a slayer, and the wood around the lock cracks under her strength. She hurries inside and latches the door just as the first of the commandos hits the alley.
Buffy allows herself a small sigh of relief before turning to the dark storeroom. She heads up the darkened staircase, as quietly as possible. In the doorway, she pauses.
Faith's back is to her, blocking the lit television screen.
"How'd you find me?" The dark slayer asks, with only a hint of malice in her voice.
An open box is on the table. This makes her nervous, but Buffy forces herself to relax. "Faith," she begins, hoping she sounds reasonable. "I know you have no reason to trust me," she trails off as the other woman chuckles mirthlessly, "but in another minute, a bunch of army guys are going to burst in here. We do not want to be here when that happens."
She tenses as Faith stands up, turning so they're facing one another. The laughing face of the late Mayor Richard Wilkins III is frozen on the screen.
Trying not to jump to conclusions, Buffy looks at the other girl. "Please," she holds out a hand toward her, "let's go."
There's a knife in Buffy's hand. Faith shrinks back. She blinks and it's gone.
Buffy lets her empty hand fall back to her side. "Faith?"
"Why should I trust you?" Faith's voice is infused with accusation and Buffy blanches. "You tried to gut me, blondie."
"I know," Buffy responds, placatingly. "I know I did. You have no reason to trust me now."
"That's it?" Faith stares incredulously. "That's all you've got?"
Frustrated, the blonde shakes her head. She takes a step forward and Faith takes a bigger one back. Halting, Buffy holds up her open palms. "I don't want to hurt you."
"That coma could have fooled me."
Closing her eyes for a long moment, Buffy collects her thoughts. "Faith, I'm asking you… If you've ever trusted me, trust me now." She gestures toward the door. "They're coming and they will take you."
The brunette peers back at her uncertainly. Buffy can see her resolve wavering. She starts to hope Faith will come with her. Behind her, a voice says, "That's the plan."
Buffy hasn't moved an inch since the four men burst into the room. All the same she's shifted her center of gravity, putting her weight on the foot nearest to Faith. She's calculating the time it would take her to reach the other girl even as she tries to reason with her boyfriend. "She's human, Riley."
His hold his hand up, motioning his team to stand down. "She's a murderer, you said so yourself."
Faith snorts, "So's Buffy." Riley's eyes widen slightly and a harsh laugh breaks from Faith's throat. "Well, almost."
"Shut up," Buffy hisses through her clenched teeth.
"You didn't tell him, B?" Faith's fingers trace the still scarred part of her abdomen. "Didn't tell your new boy toy how you slid that knife right into my gut?"
Riley's gaze wavers, "Buffy?"
Willing Faith to shut up with every ounce of her being, Buffy looks back at Riley calmly. "Faith was evil. She needed to be dealt with."
"More like you wanted to save your boyfriend." The brunette shrugs lightly. "The vampire one, that is."
"I thought slayers didn't hurt humans?" Riley's hurt eyes are focused on Buffy's face and he fails to notice that two of the commandos' guns are now drifting in her direction.
"We don't," Buffy responds, her eyes tracking the tranquilizer guns. "Those were special circumstances."
"Vampire boyfriend," Faith reiterates helpfully.
Faith is going to get them both captured. Buffy just needs to talk to Riley and get the situation under control. There's still time. She starts to tell the other slayer again to shut up when the faintest hint of movement catches her eye. It's Forrest's finger tightening on the trigger.
Faith shrieks as Buffy's shoulder drives into her chest, throwing them both through the window. They land on the awning below, tumbling over one another like rag dolls until they're dumped abruptly onto the concrete sidewalk.
"Buffy!" Riley's dismayed voice shouts, and then the commandos are darting down the stairwell. Climbing to her feet, Faith looks down at Buffy's unmoving form. A tranquilizer dart protrudes from her shoulder. The slayer's instincts are screaming at her to run as fast as she can… but she hesitates. That dart was meant for her. Buffy jumped in front of the gun for her.
Faith tries to make sense of this in her jumbled mind. Buffy stabbed her. She tried to feed her to a vampire. She put Faith in a coma. Faith thinks about leaving her, just like how Buffy left her. Took away her life and left her to rot in that miserable hospital room.
The backdoor to the pawn shop clangs open. They'll be here any moment.
Cursing under her breath, Faith grabs Buffy under her arms and hoists her limp body up. Tossing the blonde over her shoulder, she runs with all her might.
They don't have much time. As soon as the Initiative figures out she's left the area, they'll know where to check. Faith pounds her fist on Giles's front door, shifting Buffy's weight around. She may only be 105 pounds soaking wet, but it's dead weight that she's been carrying for 12 blocks at a sprint.
Alarm is written all over the watcher's face as he swings open his door.
"Those guys in camo are right behind me," Faith says without any further introduction.
"I'm not seeing the problem." To his credit, Giles has restrained his frantic worry at seeing his unconscious slayer and his voice is hard.
Faith drops Buffy to his doorstep none too gently and flips her limp body forward. "She got this," she points at the protruding dart, "while knocking me out a window and away from them. Pretty sure the military don't take kindly to consorting with the enemy."
Giles blinks. "Right," he says, pulling his keys off the hook by the door. "I'll drive."
When Buffy finally wakes up, she feels like she was hit by a very large truck. Her groggy eyes take in an ugly, polyester comforter and she sits up too quickly, causing her whole head to throb.
Faith, from her position in the only chair in the room, touches her chin and says, "You got a little…"
Embarrassed, the blonde quickly clears her chin of drool. "What happened?"
"Your boy and his friends."
Wincing, Buffy remembers standing in a room with the commandos and then… nothing.
"They shot you," Faith clarifies, twirling the small, feathered dart in her fingers for Buffy to see.
"How did we get here?"
"Right," Buffy mutters. Talking to Faith is like talking to a brick wall at the moment, so she pulls herself aching body off the bed and heads toward the bathroom. Inside, she turns on the water and splashes her face. She hadn't been thinking any further ahead than keeping the other slayer out of the Initiative's grasp and she has no idea what to do with her now. The truth is that the only time the two slayers ever got along was the night of the ill fated shoplifting spree. Buffy never expected to see the other girl awake again.
A soft knock on the door breaks her concentration and Buffy turns the water off. Faith stands on the other side, looking uncomfortable. "Got these for you," she shakes a couple small packets of Tylenol, obviously retrieved from a vending machine.
"Thanks," Buffy accepts them with surprise.
Faith shrugs her thanks off, disappearing back into the main room.
Buffy swallows the pain medicine gratefully and follows her. "So did Giles say what the plan was?"
"He just said to stay put."
"Great," Buffy responds, completely unenthused.
"It's not exactly my dream to be stuck here with you either," Faith snaps. "Don't think just because I didn't snap your neck while I had the chance I've forgotten you tried to kill me."
"Faith," Buffy says cautiously, "I didn't want to, I—"
"Just wanted to save your boyfriend, yeah. I know." Faith's hands slap down on her thighs angrily. "And where is your precious Angel now? Already climbed on top of the first college beef stick you saw—"
Buffy's open hand connects with stinging force against Faith's cheek. "Shut up," she growls.
Cupping her face, Faith smirks at her. "There's my girl. Was wondering how long you'd play little miss nice slayer." She lashes out with a vicious kick that sends Buffy tumbling to the floor.
"I don't want to do this with you." Buffy tries to keep her voice even as she climbs to her feet.
"I've been waiting eight months to do this with you," Faith returns, as the two begin circling one another.
Faith's face is contorted in a sneer. Her eyes dart around wildly. The sight of her thin frame taut with tension, eyes bulging, is so pathetic that it takes all the righteous anger right out of Buffy's mind. Cautiously, the blonde steps backward, holding her hands up supplicatingly. "I'm not going to fight you, Faith."
"Not so tough when you don't have a knife?" Faith taunts, following her as she moves backward across the room.
Buffy keeps moving until her back is pressed against the door. "It doesn't have to be this way."
Stalking after her, Faith stops mere inches away. "Yeah it does." Her hands dig into Buffy's shoulders and she steps impossibly close. "Hit me."
"No!" The blonde winces as the other slayer increases the pressure on her shoulders.
Changing tactics, Faith steps back and releases Buffy's arms. A wide grin forms on her face. "Gotta say, I'm surprised you're not still with Angel."
Buffy doesn't reply.
"That act he put on about losing his soul… Before we came over by your place, we sure had some fun at the mansion." Faith picks at her cuticles, feigning disinterest in Buffy's reactions.
A low flicker of anger begins to glow in the blonde's stomach. Her fingers itch with the desire to throttle the girl across the room.
"I mean, humans really don't have the stamina to keep up with us," she spares a glance at Buffy's rigid form, "I guess you'd know what with your new boyfriend and all. But wow, vampires? Angel could have gone all day." Faith has time to lick her lips lasciviously before Buffy tackles her onto the bed.
"He never touched you!" Distantly, Buffy's aware that she's giving Faith exactly what she wants, but her mind is so clouded with hurt and fury, she can't bring herself to pull back.
Faith doesn't need to say anything else. She's achieved her goal. Hooking a knee into the other girl's stomach, she kicks her off the bed.
Buffy rolls immediately to her feet, leaping right hook first back onto the bed.
Grunting as Buffy's fist hits her cheek, Faith struggles to free herself. They slide off the bed onto the thin carpet.
The older girl cries out as she lands awkwardly on her elbow. Faith lands on top and her hands circle Buffy's throat.
Frantically, the blonde tries to pry the impossibly strong fingers from her neck.
Above her, Faith is muttering, "Should've finished the job, B. Why didn't you kill me?"
Darkness dances in the edges of Buffy's vision as she gasps fruitlessly for air.
Faith is rocking back and forth as she strangles the other slayer. Tears flow freely down her face, completely unnoticed.
The tiniest slackening of Faith's grip allows Buffy to pry her hands off. She kicks upward desperately, knocking Faith off kilter. Scrambling on top of the brunette, she drives her fist down against the brunette's temple.
Faith is sobbing as Buffy lands blow after blow. The sound forces its way into Buffy's consciousness and she pauses, looking down at the pathetic form below her.
"No!" Faith screams through bloody teeth. She grips Buffy's shirt and yanks her down hard. "Finish it!" She shrieks into Buffy's bewildered face.
The blonde's fingers cover the other girl's almost gently. She tries to pull them from her shirt.
Faith kicks and bucks, still pulling at Buffy's clothing. "Kill me! I'm bad!"
"Stop!" Buffy catches her hands and holds tightly. Her voice shakes as she pleads, "Faith, stop!"
"I'm evil!" She cries, fighting to free her hands. "I'm evil, Buffy!"
Buffy holds Faith's hands still. "You're not!"
"Please," the brunette sobs weakly as her body finally stops struggling, "please kill me."
Sliding off Faith's abdomen, Buffy pulls the other slayer's limp form into her lap. "No," she repeats quietly as she wraps her arms around Faith's torso. "I won't. It's okay, Faith. It's okay."
Buffy strokes Faith's tangled brown hair away from the other slayer's face and holds her helplessly as Faith cries. Faith's arms slink around Buffy's waist and her tears soak the blonde's shirt.
"I've got you," Buffy promises, rocking them back and forth soothingly. "It's all going to be okay."
The girl in her arms shakes her head.
"Faith," Buffy leans back to peer into her tear-streaked face. "You are not evil. I promise you, you're going to be okay." Closing her own watery eyes, she presses her lips against the brunette's forehead gently.
Faith freezes in her arms.
"I'm sorry," the blonde apologizes and starts disentangling herself.
"No," Faith half laughs through her tears. Her arms tighten around the blonde's back and their foreheads press together. "Don't be sorry." If Buffy minds the unexpected intimacy of their position, she doesn't indicate it. She holds Faith back just as tight, the soothing arcs of her hands calming the other slayer's erratic emotions.
As the first rays of the morning sun filter through the gap in the curtains, Buffy lies awake in silence. Beside her, Faith is deep in sleep. Her dark hair rings her exhausted face and mascara smudges still mar the delicate skin under her eyes. The blonde lies on facing her, studying the sleeping girl carefully. She'd known that Faith needed help after she killed the deputy mayor. She'd tried so hard to help her, but the betrayal—the attempt on Angel's soul and then his life—cut so deeply that she'd given up.
Faith stirs, her lips parting as her breathing shifts. Gently, Buffy lays a hand on the other girl's forearm. Faith shifts, her body relaxing once more. Looking at the sleeping girl, Buffy thinks maybe she didn't try hard enough. The thought is disturbing. Being the slayer has brought out the best in her. She's a fierce protector of people she loves. It hurts to think that she could have done something more for Faith and she gave up too easily. She promises herself that this time she won't give up. She's gotten behind the walls Faith hides behind, and she's not going to be thrown back out for anything. Faith is not evil and she's not beyond saving. Buffy will save her, if it's the last thing she does.
An unsettling feeling creeps along her spine.
"B?" Faith murmurs with trepidation clear in her voice.
"You feel that?" Buffy's not surprised that Faith's woken up.
"Yeah," Faith sits up as Buffy slips toward the window.
"Get up," Buffy says commandingly. "We've got company."
Buffy nods affirmatively as both quickly get their shoes on. Faith follows the shorter girl into the bathroom and quietly closes the door behind them, just as a deceptively gentle knock sounds against the motel door.
Yanking the small bathroom window open, Buffy stands aside. "You first."
Faith nods, shimmying out the window to the sounds of the front door behind kicked in.
Buffy follows, getting half way out before the bathroom door slams open and strong hands grab her ankles. She struggles to pull away, getting dragged further back inside. Looking down into Faith's petrified face, she tells her, "Run!"
Faith grabs her hands and yanks hard as Buffy squeals in pain and angry orders are shouted from inside.
"Faith, go!" Buffy screams.
Gripping her hands for another moment, Faith looks in to her big hazel eyes and promises, "I'll find you."
"I know you will." Buffy smiles reassuringly, and then lets go, disappearing back inside the window.
Faith doesn't waste any time. She takes off at a run, repeating the promise over and over to herself like a mantra. I'll find you. I'll find you, B.
"So," Spike says conversationally as he leads them toward the secret entrance to the Initiative. "You're the other slayer."
Faith grunts in response, single mindedly stalking toward her goal.
"Not much of a conversationalist. That's alright," Spike's voice is genial. The $357.32 the Scoobies scrounged from their pockets in order to procure his guide services has lightened his mood. "I thought this one was evil?" He directs this to Xander who gives him an immense scowl.
"Can't you shut up for four seconds?"
"That costs extra, mate." The vampire smiles sunnily.
"Shut up, both of you." Faith growls. "We're here."
As they hit the Initiative, the power clicks off, illuminating the corridors in pale blue emergency lighting.
"Right on time, Will," Xander mutters gratefully.
"Cells are this way," Spike heads down the hall at a brisk pace. Faith and Xander follow, both armed with crossbows. As they turn the corner, a brass nameplate catches Faith's eye.
Without a word to the other two, she quickly kicks the door down and enters the darkened suite. "Slayer!" Spike hisses. "Bloody hell!"
A shout pierces the air and the two men quickly dart after Faith. She stands in the suite's bedroom, holding a tall man against the wall by his throat. "Where is she?" She demands.
He casts a withering look at her. "At any moment, my soldiers are going to arrive. And then we'll throw you in a cell right next to hers."
Faith's face shatters into a terrifying grin and then she swiftly breaks the Colonel's nose.
As he howls in pain, Spike rocks on his heels and says approvingly, "Evil slayer!"
"Where. Is. She!" Each of Faith's words is punctuated with a punch to the man's face.
He moans in pain and Xander steps forward, "Faith, don't you think—" His words choke off as Faith looks at him with cold fury. "Nevermind."
"Get him up," The slayer commands. "He's coming with us."
A crowd of soldiers lines the hallway outside the cell containing the unmoving form of Buffy. "Open the door," Faith says to the closest one, whom she recognizes from the pawnshop.
The soldier's eyes drift toward the limp Colonel, who is barely standing between Spike and Xander. Stepping casually backward, Faith whips her elbow into the man's face. As he pitches forward in pain, her closed fist comes down on the back of his neck. "I said open the door," she repeats, knotting her fingers in the Colonel's hair to keep him kneeling upright.
Swallowing hard, the solider keys in a code on the door and it slides open.
"Get her." Faith nods at Spike who darts quickly into the cell, and emerges with an unconscious Buffy in his arms.
"Xander," the slayer says, not taking her eyes off the soldiers ahead of them. "You're in front, I'll take the Colonel here."
Without protest, Xander starts backing up the hallway. Spike starts after him, still carrying Buffy. As he passes Faith, her eyes flicker briefly to him. "She dies, you die."
Once Spike is behind her, Faith yanks the Colonel back to his feet. "Anybody follows, I'll tear out his throat. You get me?"
The group nods stiffly and the slayer begins dragging the Colonel up the hall.
They abandon their hostage as they exit the elevator. Outside, Faith holds out her arms. "I'll take her."
Spike shrugs, quickly depositing Buffy in Faith's grasp. "I'll be going then."
Faith doesn't even spare him a glance. She is totally focused on the girl in her arms.
When Buffy wakes up, she's lying in Giles's guest bedroom. Dark hair is spread across the comforter next to her and Faith's sleeping hand is entwined with hers.
"Hey," Buffy croaks and the other girl jolts awake.
"That's me." The blonde winces, "I think." She raises her free hand to her head. "Ouch."
Faith scrambles closer, peering at Buffy in relief. "Giles said you'd feel crappy when you woke up. They gave you some heavy sedatives."
Buffy closes her eyes against throbbing in her head, but she manages a small smile. "You found me." She squeezes Faith's fingers. "I knew you would."
"How?" Faith asks in a small voice.
"You told me you would; I believed you." Forcing her eyes back open, Buffy meets the other girl's eyes. "I believe in you, Faith."
"Sure that's smart?" The brunette tries to laugh but it's obviously forced.
"Yes," Buffy gingerly sits up, moving closer to the other girl. Her fingers lightly stroke upward on Faith's arm, until she grips the other slayer's bicep. "I am."
"B," Faith whispers weakly, leaning into her touch.
"Yeah," Buffy acknowledges. Faith's hand rests on the blonde's leg as she leans ever closer. The look on Faith's face is confirmation of what Buffy's long suspected (and denied to herself). She raises her free hand to Faith's cheek, looking into the other girl's dark eyes. Her fingers trace the too sharp cheekbones, the soft curve of Faith's jaw.
"What are you doing?" Faith's voice is tense. She looks torn between desire to stay and the urge to flee.
In lieu of answer, Buffy gently tips Faith's head forward. Her lips press into the other slayer's warm cheek. Faith's breathing pitches and her body stills. Slowly, Buffy moves her mouth to Faith's and brushes their lips together.
The dark slayer's arms slowly encase Buffy as the blonde kisses her fully. They melt against each other as both relax into the kiss. Buffy threads her fingers into Faith's thick hair, pulling her closer. Faith goes willingly, pressing her torso against the blonde's. They grasp at each other eagerly, lips parting to pull and press at one another. A loud grumble of someone's stomach makes Buffy laugh.
Faith smiles too. "I guess I should tell them you're awake."
"Yeah," Buffy agrees.
"Be right back," Faith seems reluctant to release the other slayer and Buffy squeezes her hand reassuringly.
"I'll be here."
Faith heads for the door.
"Faith?" Buffy's voice calls from behind her. "Thank you."
An easy grin appears on the dark slayer's face. "Yeah."
As she heads out the door, Buffy lays her sore head back down on the pillow and closes her eyes. The battle isn't over. Not with the Initiative. And probably not with Faith's personal demons. But they've got a shot at a second chance. Buffy can't help but think, this time, it's really all going to be okay.
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