A/N: *Please do not distribute or post this story anywhere without my permission.* Thanks to cookiesarefood for her betaing skills.
This story was inspired in a very broad sense by a Wiffy fic I read many years ago. It was called You Used to Be Mine, by Chimera Bloom. I don't think it exists on the web anymore, but if anyone's familiar with it, I think you'll see what I mean.
FLOWERS FOR A GHOST
Her perception of the outside world was foggy, as if she was fighting her way through endless clouds. Gradually, sound came to her. First, the gentle hum of electronics. Then, the intermittent beeping of monitors. The deep breathing of two people, matching their slow and steady heartbeats. Buffy's eyelids fluttered, trying to adapt to the dim lighting of the hospital room.
Her ribs ached as she inhaled, reminding her of the circumstances that led her to the room she was in. Glory. Dawn. Darting around the room, her eyes landed on her sister, curled in a chair by the window. Dawn's long, dark hair wrapped around her like a cocoon. If she didn't feel like every muscle in her body was exhausted, Buffy would be climbing out of bed and moving to her sister. Dawn. Dawn was alive and safe. Buffy: one, Hell Bitch: zero. Buffy won, in fact. The realization brought a smile to her face. She'd been ready to die when she jumped in that portal. Making it through relatively intact was just icing on the 'Glory Lost' cake.
Across the room, Giles was sleeping uncomfortably in a chair. His glasses had slid down the bridge of his nose, and his hair stood up in several directions. He looked as tired as Buffy felt. It wasn't hard to guess why. No watcher should have to see his slayer die twice, after all. Buffy made a mental note: take Giles out for watcher/slayer bonding. Something English, all Giles-y fun, no demons. Somewhere out there, there was a Keats reading with Giles's name on it.
"Giles," Buffy called quietly. Her throat felt thick and scratchy.
The watcher stirred slowly, blinking awake.
"Morning," she managed to croak, "or maybe evening, I'm not sure."
"Buffy!" He cried, leaping from his chair to her bedside. "You're awake!"
She nodded, immediately wincing at the stiffness of her neck. "Awake girl, that's me."
Awakened by the noise, Dawn practically launched herself into Buffy's arms. It hurt her ribs, but Buffy didn't care. She gripped her little sister as hard as she could without damaging the girl's bones.
Dawn sobbed, and Buffy ran soothing hands over her hair. "It's okay. It's okay."
"I thought you weren't going to wake up," Dawn cried, tears streaking freely down her cheeks.
"Hey," Buffy tried to joke, though she had tears in her own eyes, "you thought a little portal to hell was gonna kill me? Where's the faith?"
"Right here," a gravelly voice interjected from the doorway.
Buffy froze, her sister still tightly clasped in her arms. She looked at the woman at the door. Faith's pale, tired face stared back at her. A look of relief painted her features.
"Buffy?" Dawn winced. "You're hurting me."
"What is she doing here?" Buffy demanded, only lessening her hold slightly.
Giles cast a surprised look between the two slayers. "What do you mean, Buffy?"
Before the blonde could answer, Willow and Xander pushed past Faith and crowded around the hospital bed.
"Buffy!" Willow cried, happy tears in her eyes.
Xander touched her shoulder, his joy at seeing her awake obvious in his face.
Buffy ignored all of them, still staring daggers at Faith. "I mean, why isn't she in jail?"
"Why would I be in jail?" Faith asked, confused. She took several steps toward the bed.
Buffy practically leapt from the bed, shoving her sister behind her. All her muscles screamed in protest, but she didn't care. What the hell was going on?
"Stay away from us!" She shouted a warning. She was in no condition to fight Faith, but if it came down to protecting Dawn, she'd do what she had to.
Holding up her hands non-threateningly, Faith took two steps backward. "Okay, B, it's okay. Just calm down."
"Don't tell me to calm down!" Buffy bit back. "How'd you get out?"
Trying to help, Dawn spoke over her sister's shoulder. "Buffy, it's just Faith. It's okay."
"Why is everyone saying it's okay?" Buffy looked at the faces of her friends, all of whom were staring at her in concern, instead of watching Faith like they should have been. "She's tried to kill us before!"
"What?" Faith gaped at her.
Wheels were turning in Buffy's head and she didn't like the conclusion they were leading to. "Oh my God," she murmured, as the most likely scenario occurred to her. "You put a spell on us, didn't you?"
"Spell?" Faith repeated, flabbergasted. She looked to their watcher in distress. "Giles, what's wrong with her?"
"What's the matter, Faith?" Buffy glared at the other slayer. "Thought your little spell would work on me, too?" She was growing lightheaded from how fast her heart was pounding. Leave it to Faith to show up here and try to kick her when she was down. Closing the portal to hell wasn't enough; now she had to deal with the psycho slayer on top of it.
Shaking her head slowly, Faith tried to keep her voice even. "There's no spell, B. I don't know what you're talking about."
Ignoring Faith's protests, Buffy continued, "Haven't you done enough? Now you're getting my friends involved? My sister?"
"I…" The other slayer looked toward Giles, as if he could tell her what was going on. "What?"
Buffy had to hand it to Faith, the brunette looked genuinely confused and horrified. "You know exactly what," she hissed back. Her legs trembled underneath her, and she struggled to keep herself upright. If Faith saw one moment of weakness, she'd attack.
"Dawn," Giles called calmly, "why don't you go and get something from the vending machine?"
His motives were transparent, and Buffy knew she couldn't trust Giles right now. He was under some sort of spell! Who knew what would happen to Dawn without Buffy to protect her?
"No," Buffy insisted, reaching for Dawn's arm when the girl tried to step around her.
Dawn winced in pain, trying to free her arm. "Buffy, let me go!"
Willow and Xander stepped forward, trying to get between the sisters.
"Stop!" Buffy cried, trying to keep a hold of Dawn. Black spots swam in her vision. She was overexerting herself too soon, but she had no choice.
Xander pulled at her waist while Willow tried to tug Dawn's arm free. Struggling furiously, Buffy accidentally elbowed Xander in the jaw. He fell against the bed, gripping his face. It was becoming hard to breath, but she couldn't let her sister go.
"Buffy! Buffy, let her go!" Giles's voice came to her as if from through a long tunnel.
She felt Dawn slip away from her grasp as she sank to the ground.
As the room faded into a blur, Faith's panicked face appeared above her. Buffy's last thought as she lost consciousness was puzzlement. Faith had never been a very good actor.
Faith anxiously gnawed on her fingernails as she paced outside the room she shared with Buffy. Giles emerged, looking exhausted.
"Is she okay?" Faith asked immediately, peering over his shoulder at the unconscious slayer.
"In a manner of speaking," Giles replied. He placed a caring hand on Faith's shoulder. "I have some ideas about what may have happened to her. Let's go downstairs."
The slayer nodded, digging her fingernails into her palm to keep herself calm. "I'll be right down."
As Giles walked away, Faith cautiously entered the bedroom. Buffy was lying on her back with the covers pulled up to her shoulders. Having no idea how long she would be out, Faith took a cautious seat beside her. Gently brushing some hair away from Buffy's face, Faith studied her. She'd been so elated when she'd heard Buffy awake and talking, but it had all gone to shit so quickly. Buffy was acting like she didn't even know who Faith was. Whatever had happened to her when she jumped in that portal had obviously done a real number on her. Bending down, she pressed a gentle kiss to the other slayer's forehead.
Faith closed the door behind her, heading downstairs to join the gang. Dawn sat alone on the love seat, and she quickly snuggled into Faith's side when she joined her. Buffy's little sister was growing up so fast, but in some ways she was still very young. Especially since losing her mother, Dawn always seemed to want affection from Buffy and Faith. It couldn't be easy for the kid, losing her mom and knowing that her surrogate parents were out risking their lives every night. Faith slipped an arm around Dawn's shoulders, squeezing. "What's up, Giles? You said you had ideas?"
"None of them good, I'm afraid." Giles pinched the bridge of his nose. "That was why I insisted we should—"
"Kidnap Buffy from the hospital?" Xander put in.
"Well, I hardly think it qualifies as kidnapping," Giles protested mildly.
"I have an idea," Anya announced. "Buffy could have spent several years in a hell dimension before we saw her exit the portal."
Dawn immediately shrunk against Faith in horror.
"Thank you, sweetie," Xander interjected, before Anya could add anything further. "Let's wait to hear what Giles has to say."
Anya beamed, happy to have contributed.
"As much as it pains me to say so," Giles's voice was grim, "there may be some weight to Anya's theory. I noticed a rather large scar on Buffy's neck… I would say it was a vampire bite."
"From the Master?" Willow asked.
"It's more recent," Giles replied. "Definitely not the Master's."
Faith's emotions warred between pure, unadulterated rage and horror. The slayer in her was repulsed by the idea of a vampire sinking his teeth into a Chosen One. The part of her that was all Faith was furious. Buffy had been hurt, possibly horrifically and over a long span of time, if Giles was right, and Faith hadn't been there to protect her. Her throat felt tight, and she wished she were alone so she could break down. As much as she loved the gang, she hated for people to see her cry. Swallowing hard, Faith asked, "What are the other possibilities?"
"Well," Giles answered, "she may not be our Buffy at all."
"What do you mean?" Dawn asked in alarm. "Whose Buffy is she?"
"Glory opened a portal between multiple dimensions, including her own."
Faith nodded impatiently. She knew that already.
"That could have included any number of worlds quite similar to ours, in which Buffy is a slayer, and she jumped into that portal."
"All the Buffys jump into the portal at once…" Xander began.
Willow finished his thought with a frown. "It's like musical slayers; everybody ends up in a new dimension."
Faith wasn't sure which possibility was worse, that Buffy had been in a hell dimension, or that she actually came from another world. One in which Faith was apparently evil, and had tried to kill her. The rest of the Scoobies appeared to be pondering the same question.
"Any other ideas?" Oz asked. "Less scary ones?"
Beside him, Willow brightened at the possibility.
Thinking it over, Giles said, "Well, there's the possibility that the energy from the portal has, well, driven her insane."
Dawn started to cry softly, and Faith glared at Giles. "Way to be optimistic, Giles."
Sitting down tiredly, Giles rubbed a hand across his eyes. "I'm afraid I can't think of very many good scenarios. We need to face facts."
"All right," Xander agreed, before the slayer could reply. "So, how do we know what happened to her?"
"We'll have to wait until she wakes up."
"When she does," Faith said, "I don't want Dawn around her alone."
Dawn immediately sat straight up. "What? Come on, that's ridiculous." She looked around the room for an ally, but only found the others refusing to meet her gaze.
Finally, Giles spoke up. "I think that's probably for the best." He held up a hand when Dawn opened her mouth to protest. "Just until we figure out what's going on."
"She might not even be our Buffy," Faith added. "I don't want her to hurt you." She pressed the faint hand shaped bruise on Dawn's arm for emphasis.
Wincing, Dawn nodded reluctantly. "Buffy wouldn't hurt me on purpose, though. She was just scared."
That wasn't up for debate. Faith had seen the fear that under laid Buffy's harsh words. Someone else might have missed it, but she'd been with the blonde slayer for almost two years, and loved her even longer. She was an expert in Buffy Summers.
"Hey," Oz poked his head cautiously in Buffy's bedroom door.
Looking up from the book in her lap, Willow gave him a strained smile. "Hi."
"Want some company?"
Nodding, Willow stood up from her chair. Oz closed the door quietly behind him and walked to his girlfriend, taking her in his arms.
Trembling, the redhead struggled not to cry.
"It's gonna be okay," Oz murmured, rubbing her back soothingly. "We'll figure it out."
"I know," Willow sniffled, pressing the back of her hand against her nose indelicately. She pulled back from Oz's embrace. "It's just hard… seeing her like this."
Oz nodded in understanding. Taking a seat in the room's armchair, he gently pulled Willow into his lap. The two held each other for a long moment before Oz nodded to the book in her hand. "That one, again?"
"Hey," she pouted. "It's my go-to book for sad times!"
"Why don't you read us some?" Oz asked. "Maybe it'll be Buffy's go-to book, too."
"Okay." She could tell he was just trying to take her mind off worrying about her best friend, but it was a good book. It gave them a way of passing the time, anyway. Opening to the first page, Willow began to read, "The unicorn lived in a lilac wood, and she lived all alone..."
"The Last Unicorn again?" Buffy's tired voice asked, startling Willow so badly she nearly dropped her book.
"It's my go-to book!" The redhead cried, jumping from Oz's lap and rushing to her best friend's side.
"I know," Buffy assured her. "Maybe next time I'm unconscious, pick another book. I just spent several dream hours running from the Red Bull. Who looked suspiciously like Faith, by the way."
Willow stared back at her with a nervous look.
Buffy continued, "I was nearly saved by Prince Lir, who was Faith again," she added dryly. "I know I slept through most of Psych, but I'm thinking this means something." Looking up at Willow, she frowned. "Please tell me I dreamed that Faith is here."
"Afraid not," Willow grimaced, expecting the slayer to leap from the bed. She cast a pleading look over her shoulder. Oz came to her rescue, moving to stand beside her.
"Hi, Oz," Buffy greeted calmly. She began to ask Willow something further, but her eyes flew back to Oz. "Oz!"
"Hey, Buffy," he greeted with his usual nonchalance.
"What are you doing here?"
"Sorry," Willow interjected, thinking Buffy was upset about Oz being in her room. "He was just keeping me company."
"But," the slayer's gaze flicked back and forth between them, taking in Oz's arm wrapped around Willow's waist, "when did this happen? What about Tara?"
Shaking her head in confusion, Willow asked, "Who?"
Buffy was beginning to feel very uneasy. On top of Faith being there and up to who knew what, Tara was… not there? And Oz was. She pushed herself into a seated position, intent on getting out of bed. Even her room looked strange.
"Get Giles," Willow said to Oz, as Buffy climbed to her feet. Nodding, he ducked through the door.
Buffy muttered to herself, moving around the room. Her eyes lingered on unfamiliar items, boots she wouldn't wear, cluttered cosmetics strewn over the dresser top when she kept hers neatly packed in her makeup bag, a… vibrator?! She was positive that was not hers. "That's not mine," Buffy declared, thrusting a finger in its general direction.
Flushing bright pink, Willow shielded her eyes. "I know!"
"Will," Buffy sat heavily on the edge of her bed. "This… is this Faith's stuff?"
Nodding tentatively, the girl took a seat next to her best friend. "But Buffy, it's not what you think. It's not a spell."
"It has to be," Buffy protested. "Faith was definitely not living in my bedroom yesterday!"
"Buffy," Willow gazed longingly toward the door, hoping Giles would show up to help her explain, "umm, the thing is, this might not be your bedroom, exactly."
Giles stepped through the doorway, followed closely by Dawn and Oz. "What Willow means," he clarified, "is that we think you may be from another dimension."
This did not compute. "I say again, huh?"
From outside the bedroom door, Faith listened to Giles explain his theory on the world swapping again. It seemed clear, to her at least, that this was definitely what had occurred. Buffy was calmer now, listening to Giles's thoughts.
"So, Faith, your Faith, she never went bad?" Buffy seemed stuck on this point.
"No," Giles replied. "Faith has been working alongside you, err, Buffy, since she arrived in Sunnydale."
Risking showing her face, Faith stepped into the doorway.
Buffy looked up at her, seemingly dumbfounded.
"Hi," the brunette said, "I'm non-evil Faith."
Flushing, Buffy mumbled back a hello. It was clear she didn't trust this information completely. Faith wondered how bad she'd been, in Buffy's world, to make the blonde distrust her this much.
Putting that out of her mind, Faith moved on to more urgent questions. "Okay, so we got some other Buffy. Where's my B?"
The blonde slayer's eyes flashed, having picked up on the possessive wording Faith used.
Faith didn't even notice. She was looking at Giles, waiting for him to respond. "We have to get her back."
Giles nodded emphatically. "Certainly, we'll get both Buffys back where they belong," he trailed off, his voice less certain when he continued, "somehow."
"Great," Faith responded. "Any ideas?"
Each face was completely blank as she looked around the room. Buffy was the only one meeting her eyes. Looking at this imposter, sitting on her bed, Faith felt the first twinge of hopelessness enter her mind. She tried to feel positive, but Faith had never been a very positive person. Even as the gang began brainstorming, she couldn't escape the little voice in the back of her mind asking, what if Buffy never came back?