A/N: *Please do not distribute or post this story anywhere without my permission.* Thanks to cookiesarefood for her betaing skills.
FLOWERS FOR A GHOST
She was going to give this her all, really try to get along with the other slayer. She was The Slayer. She defied prophecies of her death, defeated hell gods, and managed to graduate high school. She could handle one seemingly not evil slayer. Couldn't she?
Buffy placed her cup onto the high table and hopped easily onto the stool. She glanced around the coffee shop, pushing her hair self-consciously behind her ears.
Willow appeared a moment later, cup in hand. Her mouth gaped open slightly. "Wow," she said, staring at Buffy. "I almost didn't realize that was you."
"I know," Buffy agreed. "It's horrible."
"No!" Willow protested immediately. "It looks good! It's just a change, that's all."
"Well, this change is about to get changed back," Buffy said defiantly. "I made an appointment for later today."
Willow studied her friend across the table. Buffy continued to toy with her newly brown hair. In addition to being brown, it had also grown several inches, spilling down Buffy's back in loose waves. "What happened?" Willow asked.
"Giles's big spell about restoring the natural order of my life," Buffy answered sourly. "Apparently nature wants me to be a brunette." She grimaced and then added, "And hairy. Very hairy. See what you missed out on by skipping the a whole weekend of wacky magic hijinks?"
"I'm sorry," Willow said sincerely. "It's just that we RSVP'd to Devon's wedding months ago."
"I know," Buffy relented, picking up her cup and sipping. They were all getting burned out on the constant research with little result. Willow and Oz deserved a break. "Thank God mochas are the same here," she said, changing the subject. "I was half afraid mochas didn't exist in this reality."
Smiling, Willow replied, "I think they exist everywhere. It's one of the laws of the universe."
Buffy laughed. "You're probably right. " It felt good to be hanging out with Willow, away from the increasingly depressing group meetings. With the exception of Oz still being in the picture, the redhead was pretty similar to her other world self. "I'm glad we did this. I was starting to have Willow withdrawal."
"Me too! Well, you know, Buffy withdrawal." Willow frowned. "I can't really have withdrawal from myself." Cutting off her babbling, she asked, "How are things at home?"
Her best friend was nothing if not perceptive. Was it that obvious that things at home were troubled? Buffy had to admit, Willow hang time wasn't the only reason she'd wanted to get out of the house today. She was trying hard to live up to the promise she had made herself, and keep things civil with Faith. But it was so hard. "Not that great," she admitted.
Frowning sympathetically, the redhead said, "Oh, Buffy. I'm sure it'll get better soon."
"I hope so," the slayer replied, not feeling very convinced. "I mean, it's not all bad. I think I'm slowly working toward a point where I can stop sleeping with one eye open."
Willow chuckled. "It's still so unbelievable to me that Faith could have gone bad. I mean, she's a slayer."
"We found it kind of hard to believe at first, too," Buffy's voice was dry.
Hesitating for a moment, Willow finally said, "I know it's probably hard to talk about, but if you ever want to…"
Buffy thought about this. She knew Willow was looking for information. That was only natural, but she didn't especially want to divulge the details of what Faith had done. That meant thinking about them. Thinking about Faith was something she tried very hard not to do. "Thanks," she said, putting the matter to rest.
"Is it getting any better with Dawn?" Willow asked, thankfully moving on from the topic.
"Well, yesterday she spoke about 10 words to me. So that's an improvement over silence."
"Yikes," the redhead shook her head in sympathy. "Dawn's going to come around. She's been kind of difficult since she figured out the whole key thing. Maybe your Dawn is a little more mature than ours."
"My Dawn?" Buffy snorted. "Definitely not. She's a lot like Dawn here, actually. But there I get to pull the guardian-of-you card."
"Not so successful here, huh?"
Buffy sighed. "That's a negative."
Willow winced in sympathy, but her curiosity had been peaked. "It seems like our realities are pretty similar," she pointed out.
"I guess so."
"There's one thing I can't figure out," Willow said. "How did you beat Glory without Faith?"
"Jumped in a portal to hell, remember?" Buffy lifted a handful of her dark hair for emphasis.
"Well, yeah," Willow agreed, "but how did you even make it that far? Without Faith running interference and trying to get to Dawn, I mean."
Buffy considered the events of the last day she'd spent in her world. "Well I had you guys helping me, plus Spike."
"Spike," Willow repeated, surprised. "Really?"
"Yeah," Buffy laughed at her friend's astonishment. "I take it Spike's not holed up in a crypt somewhere local?"
"I don't know where he is. He disappeared after we took down the Initiative." Willow looked at her expectantly. "Spike was a friend there?"
Buffy considered this for a moment. She thought of Spike, enduring hours of torment from Glory, just to keep Dawn safe. I know that I'm a monster, but you treat me like a man. "Yes," she said at length, deciding to use the simplest explanation, "he was." Spike was obviously evil, creepy, and gross; that went without saying. It was just that he had the capability of truly good actions. He'd cared for her and Dawn, in his own way. "When you say you 'took down the Initiative…"'
Willow nodded enthusiastically. "Went in, kicked their butts, and showed them not to mess with the real slayers!" She beamed proudly. "You didn't meet them?"
"No, we did," Buffy clarified. "I worked with them for a while, but they tried to have me killed," she finished causally. "Plus they were drugging Riley and building a super monster they unleashed on the town. The government shut them down after they found out about that."
"Wait," Willow interrupted incredulously. "You worked with them?"
Willow shook her head, totally amazed. "Here, they were mostly interested in capturing a live slayer to study. Them drugging Riley would make sense though. He seemed really nice when we first met him. By the end it was like he was a totally different person."
Buffy tried to follow the course of events. "But, if you never found out how they were drugging him, how did he get out?"
"He didn't," Willow said, again looking apologetic at breaking bad news. "I don't think he wanted to. He was Walsh's right hand. Your Riley turned against Walsh?"
"My Riley," Buffy began, her words scraping along the wound of her recent break up with him, "was good. He helped us bring them down."
Willow reached for her friend's hand. "I'm sorry, Buffy. I guess there are more differences than we thought."
Buffy nodded, trying to process all this information. Their worlds had crossed paths at a similar junction, but each had taken different roads to arrive there. Trying to put Riley out of her mind, Buffy decided to ask some questions of her own. She wanted to start small, with something she was pretty curious about. "Did you guys ever meet another wolf? A girl named Veruca?"
"Yeah," Willow replied easily. "She wasn't like Oz. She actually went out and hunted people." She shuddered. "You and Faith caught her."
"And then what happened?"
"We had another cage in the crypt Oz was using, and we put her in there. Giles figured we could talk to her when she was herself again. But she got loose. Faith was watching them that night, and she shot her with the tranq gun, but I guess wolfy adrenaline was working overtime."
Buffy waited for a conclusion to the story. "So you guys never saw her again?"
"No," Willow bit her lip thoughtfully. "Although now that I think about it… we found out about the Initiative not too long after. Maybe they captured her."
"Yikes," Buffy said, shuddering. She had no real concern for Veruca, not after what she'd done to Oz and Willow, but the slayer didn't like the idea of anyone or anything being locked up by the Initiative.
"What made you ask about her?" Willow wanted to know.
"Oh," Buffy said airily, "in my world, Oz had kind of a wolf crisis. It started around the time that she appeared."
"Is he okay?" Willow's forehead creased with concern over this other Oz.
"I think he's doing okay," Buffy couched her words. She didn't want to outright lie, but she didn't think anything good would come from telling Willow too much about what happened in her world. Quickly changing the subject, she said, "I was kind of wondering about how your Buffy and Faith… happened. I mean, I remember when Faith came to town, and it wasn't exactly sparks a'flying, you know?" Not romantic ones, anyway. There had been sparks, if you counted annoyance as a spark.
Willow blushed a little bit. It felt weird talking to Buffy about the other Buffy's relationship with Faith. But maybe it would help them get along if Buffy understood this world's Faith a little more… She figured it couldn't hurt to give the slayer some of the details. "I think things started happening between them right after Gwendolyn Post came to town. Did that happen for you guys too?"
Buffy nodded, thinking about the watcher who had tricked them and tried to turn Faith against her.
"She really did a number on Faith. I mean, she lied to her and made her feel like you, I mean, Buffy, sorry, didn't want her here. So when it came down to it, the two slayers ended up fighting over that glove. Buffy knew that Post was lying and trying to get the glove for herself. But Faith didn't know what to believe."
"Sort of the same in my world, go on…"
"After that, Buffy felt really horrible about everything. She went over to her place to talk and apologize, and, I'm not sure exactly what happened, but they were together after that."
"Wow," Buffy replied, trying to integrate this scenario into her memories.
"I think she already had a crush on Faith," Willow confided. "She was so upset about the fight. It just seemed like there was more there, you know?"
"Yeah." The slayer still couldn't really see why this Buffy would go for Faith. She remembered how she had felt when Post was in town. She'd been so screwed up over Angel, she hadn't known up from down. Then Faith had threatened him. Buffy had felt really bad about having to kick Faith's ass too, but when Faith wouldn't accept her apology, she'd gone back to business as usual. She had too much on her plate to worry about the other slayer all the time. "So your Buffy… she didn't try to get back together with Angel?"
Willow stared back at her, puzzled. "Huh?"
"Did he just move to LA earlier?" Buffy tried to think of an explanation for why she would have stayed away from the vampire.
"Buffy," the redhead's voice was cautious, "Angel's dead. He went evil, killed Ms. Calendar, and tried to end the world. You had to send him to hell."
"And then he came back," Buffy finished.
"No." Willow looked upset now, and Buffy couldn't blame her.
"Angel came back during our senior year," she insisted. "Right after Faith got here."
Face clearly distressed, Willow said, "I'm sorry, Buffy. That didn't happen here."
The slayer's mind was reeling. Angel had never come back. There was no Angel in this reality.
She realized dimly that Willow was saying her name. "Buffy? Buffy, are you okay?"
"I have to go," the slayer replied, ignoring the worried look on her friend's face. Without another word, she slid from her seat and walked out the door of the Espresso Pump. Her feet carried her back toward the house on Revello Drive. Not home, she wouldn't call it home. With every day, it was becoming clearer how very far away home was.
With the house to herself for a rare change of pace, Buffy locked herself in her room and cried until her eyes ached. She tried to console herself with the knowledge that Angel was alive and well in her own world, but somehow that didn't help. No matter how many worlds Angel was alive in, she would never be able to see him again. That knowledge hurt like she hadn't expected. It was like their break up all over again. She pressed her hands to her chest, trying to calm her breathing. She was 21 years old and had already nursed herself through more heartbreak than she cared to remember. Buffy felt like she could handle almost anything, but to lose everyone and everything she loved all in one moment was too much, even for her. The people in this reality were good people. They shared the same core personalities with her friends at home. She could trust them and rely on them, even love them. But still her heart ached. No matter how sweet and kind this Willow was, she wasn't the one who'd held Buffy in her arms while she cried. This wasn't the Giles that drove her home on one of the darkest days of her life, when Angel had lost his soul, and offered her his unwavering support and respect. This wasn't the little sister who'd cried in her arms on top of the tower, bleeding and ready to sacrifice herself for the world. These weren't her people. Her people were gone.
Downstairs, the door closed loudly. Buffy sat up in bed, quickly wiping her cheeks. She reached for the tissues on her bedside table and blew her nose. She didn't think they would try to talk to her, but she didn't want to be caught crying if they did. She could hear the sound of voices now, Faith's and Dawn's. They were chatting easily, moving through the first level of the house to the kitchen.
Moving to her door, Buffy opened it a crack so she could listen.
"How'd you do on the English test?" Faith asked, rustling through the pantry.
"A-," Dawn replied, her tone sour.
"That's great!" The slayer's voice was thrilled.
"I should have gotten an A," the teen said. "It was Romeo and Juliet. Who can't ace that test?" Buffy nodded in agreement. Even she had aced that one.
There were clinking sounds. Buffy imagined Faith was serving them both something. "You're too hard on yourself, Dawnie. You did good."
"Not good enough," the younger girl muttered.
"Hey," Faith said in a serious tone, "with all that's been going on around here? The fact that you even read the book and showed up to school is amazing."
Dawn was quiet for a long moment before she responded. "It's just that school's kind of my thing, you know? Buffy had the slaying, and I wanted something that was just mine."
A stool scraped against the floor. Faith had seated herself at the island. "I get that. B's kind of hard to compete with."
"Yeah," the younger girl agreed quietly.
Spoons scraped their bowls for a few moments before Faith cleared her throat. "Well, A- or not, you're the smartest kid I know. I'm real proud of you."
"Thanks," Dawn replied, her voice a little choked.
Pretending not to notice the younger girl's emotion, Faith said, "You gonna finish that?"
There was a clattering of spoons as Dawn tried to defend her ice cream. "Yes! Yes, I'm going to finish it!"
"Better make it quick. I'm still hungry."
"You're a pig," Dawn declared, laughing.
Buffy heard Faith oink before she closed her door. Sitting on her bed, she wrapped her arms around herself. Of all the weirdness that came with swapping worlds, the differences in Faith were the weirdest. As much as she'd looked for an ulterior motive to this Faith's actions, she was beginning to think there wasn't one. It was a big pill to swallow. Huge actually. Like horse tranquilizer size. The Faith she knew was manipulative to the core, and Buffy wouldn't have trusted her around her baby sister for a second. She was starting to think this one was different. It seemed crazy, but Buffy actually thought that this Faith loved her little sister.
Giles had said Dawn needed the stability of having Faith around right now, but Buffy hadn't realized how deep that relationship went. She had to admit, it hurt her. Dawn was hardly speaking to her, but she was willing to open up to the other slayer. Even at home, Buffy struggled to understand and get along with her sister. She wondered what kind of relationship the other Buffy had with Dawn. Was the teen open with her sister too? Or was this unique to Faith?
A gentle knock on her door startled her. "Yeah?" She called, scrambling off the bed.
Faith cracked the door, looking at her cautiously. With Buffy, she never knew what kind of response she was going to get. "Hey," she said.
"Hi," Buffy replied, trying to sound friendly. It was marginally successful.
"I'm gonna patrol early tonight," Faith told her. "Got work early in the morning."
"Just… if you want to come with, I mean, you're welcome to."
Buffy bristled. Who did Faith think she was, inviting her to patrol in her own town? She managed to get a hold of herself before she snapped anything back. "Okay," she agreed. "I'll come."
"Great," Faith said neutrally. "Let's go at sunset then?"
Buffy nodded in agreement, and Faith left, closing the door behind her.
If she stayed in her room any longer, Buffy knew she would only start crying again. Instead, she headed down to the kitchen, in search of fuel before going to get her hair fixed. Dawn sat at the island, school books spread in front of her.
"Hi," Buffy greeted cautiously. She was never sure how her sister would react to her.
Dawn barely looked up from her books. "Hi."
The teen barely managed to suppress an eye roll. "Yup."
"What are you working on?" She leaned her elbows on the island, craning her neck toward Dawn's books.
Scowling, Dawn folded her arm over her notebook. "I'm trying to get stuff done, so is there something you want?"
A wave of impatience washed over Buffy. If Dawn mouthed off to her like this, she'd been spending the weekend on lockdown. Grounding was definitely in order for this. Refusing to let the girl bait her, Buffy took a deep breath. "I just want to talk to you."
"About what?" Dawn asked suspiciously.
"Anything," the slayer responded sincerely. "I miss my sister. I'm thinking maybe you miss yours too."
The younger girl seemed to waver for a moment before a careful look of disinterest took up residence on her face. "I do, and as soon as she gets back, I'm sure I'll talk to her."
"Dawn," Buffy began, but Dawn was already closing her books and standing up.
Shaking her head, she fled the kitchen, leaving a disappointed Buffy behind. Buffy sighed, slumping against the island. If her day so far had been any indication, patrol was sure to be a nightmare.
Faith watched Buffy from the corner of her eye as they battled a pair of vampires. When they were out together like this, just them and the night, covered in the dust of battle, it was so easy to forget who the other slayer really was. Buffy spun and whirled, her long, once again blonde, hair flying behind her. Faith watched the curve of her neck, the flash of grin when she got in a particularly good hit. Buffy was the picture of gracefulness, every move flawless. Faith lost herself for a moment, thinking about them going home together, touching the smooth muscles in Buffy's back, and pressing her lips to that soft neck.
"What?" Buffy asked, after staking her vamp.
Faith snapped back to reality, realizing she has been staring. "Nothing," she lied.
Buffy looked irritated, as she so often did when she was forced to interact with Faith. The brunette barely noticed, however, lost in her own sad thoughts. The more time she spent around this Buffy, the more it made her heart ache for her girlfriend. More than just a girlfriend actually, Buffy had been her partner in every sense of the word. The two were a perfect slaying team. They shared responsibilities at home, helping Joyce during her illness, and later, caring for Dawn together. Faith worked to supplement what little money Joyce had left them, and Buffy, forced to take leave from school to deal with the Glory situation, was planning to go back the following semester. Faith hadn't ever pictured herself as particularly domestic, but everything had changed for her when she'd gotten together with Buffy. She'd been sharing her life with someone. She'd been happy, which made it really hard not to resent this other Buffy, just for being here when the real Buffy wasn't.
"So… you work?" Buffy asked, trying to make conversation as they walked through the cemetery. She'd be just as happy not to speak to Faith, but she was determined to make good on her promise to herself.
"Uh," Faith muttered, surprised to be addressed, "yeah. I work construction. We got a project right now, turning a couple of the old factories into loft apartments."
"Industrial chic," Buffy replied without enthusiasm. "Who would wanna live in an old factory?"
"Some people I guess." Faith shrugged. She was surprised that Buffy was trying to talk to her, no matter how insignificant the topic. Curious about the world Buffy had come from, she asked, "Did the other me work? Before the whole prison thing."
"Only in the service of evil," the blonde said matter-of-factly.
"How long's she been locked away?" Faith inquired, ignoring the acid in the other slayer's tone.
Buffy was uncomfortable with this line of questioning. The last thing she wanted to talk about, or think about for that matter, was the Faith back home. She glanced at the slayer walking beside her. "About a year," she answered.
"So you must have known each other a while before that," Faith deduced. "Been friends or something before she..." She trailed off.
"Went evil and tried to kill me?" Buffy supplied helpfully. "No, not really. She was in a coma for a while before she went to jail."
"A coma?" Faith gawked. Even with the little crumbs of information Buffy doled out, she was intrigued by the other world. "How'd that happen?"
"I put her in it," Buffy snapped back, causing Faith to stop walking.
Raising her palms defensively, the brunette said, "Chill out, Buffy. I was just wondering. If you don't want to talk about it, fine."
Knowing Faith was right only irritated Buffy further, and she seized on something else that was bothering her. "Why do you keep calling me Buffy?"
Faith stared at her like she was crazy. "Because that's your name?"
"But you don't call me that."
"What did she call you?" Faith asked, ignoring the fact that Buffy was referring to her and the other Faith as the same.
"B," Buffy answered. "She calls me B. I've heard you say it too, so what's with the full name thing?"
Faith looked across the cemetery, searching for any possible threats that would give her an escape from this conversation. Unfortunately, no evil was afoot. "You ready to head home?" She asked, delaying her answer.
Buffy nodded her assent, and the pair moved toward the exit. A cool breeze ruffled through her hair, and the slayer turned her face toward it. How odd that she could travel across dimensions, stand in a totally new world, and yet some things were still the same. It looked like home, smelled like home even, but it wasn't. This wasn't the cemetery she'd spent hours patrolling. They weren't even the same stars peeking through the tree canopy above her. The thought of living out her life here, with familiar strangers, was hard to wrap her mind around. She realized Faith hadn't responded to her and glanced over to her.
The dark haired woman was watching her unabashedly.
Buffy felt her cheeks go red.
Faith tore her eyes from the woman in front of her. "That was what I called her," she said, her throat dry and tight. "Doesn't feel right to use it with you."
"Oh," Buffy said, for the first time feeling a tinge of sympathy for the other slayer. The grief in Faith's face and voice were clear.
"Funny that she called you B, too," Faith pointed out, trying to move the conversation away from herself.
Buffy hadn't thought about this. What did it mean that the Faith in her world called her what was essentially a pet name between two lovers in this world? Not wanting to think about it, she said, "Faith uses nicknames for everyone."
Picking up on the defensiveness in her tone, Faith just replied with a low, "Hmmm." The two walked in uneasy silence from the graveyard and toward Revello.
As they neared home, the younger woman looked up at the big house in front of them. It was the only real home she'd ever known. Somewhere inside, was a teenager she loved fiercely. Dawn would be watching TV, or maybe talking to a friend on the phone, maybe preparing a little post-slayage snack as she sometimes did when she was feeling generous. The thought brought a wistful smile to Faith's face, which lasted only as long as it took for Buffy to step onto the bottom step of the porch, and back into Faith's line of vision.
There was the reason home felt less and less so, wrapped up in a tiny, blonde package.
At the door, Faith put her hand on the knob before Buffy could, and stood blocking the way for a moment.
Buffy looked at her expectantly.
"Maybe it would be better," Faith said hesitantly, still unsure herself, "if I stayed somewhere else while you're here."
Buffy didn't immediately reply. She was taken aback.
"Or if you we can't figure it out, and you're here for the long haul," Faith added, hating even the thought of it, but recognizing it was a possibility. "I just don't see how this is going to work. You and me… we don't know each other, and neither of us really want that to change."
"But Dawn…" Buffy protested, remembering her conversation with Giles.
"Dawn's gotta learn that you're family."
Fidgeting under Faith's stare, Buffy pondered this suggestion. Faith was handing her exactly what she wanted on a silver platter. Getting along here would definitely be easier without constantly seeing someone who was the doppelganger of one of her most lethal enemies. As an added bonus, there would be no more reminders of the apparently amazing romance between the two slayers here. She and Dawn would learn to get along. If there was no way back, maybe Willow could move in, just like at home. She'd even take Oz. The basement had plenty of room for a wolf cage.
"If you're worried about Dawn, I can tell her," Faith offered magnanimously.
And that was the bottom line, wasn't it? Faith could talk to Dawn. Faith was the one who could break bad news and not be hated. She was the one her little sister trusted and relied on most right now. Could Buffy really take that away from her? She thought of her own little sister, so fragile under her bratty exterior. That girl had lost her mom, been hunted by a bitch from hell, and found out she wasn't even real, all in the space of a year. If there was anyone who deserved stability and happiness, it was Dawn. This Dawn was stubborn and even a little mean, but she was still just a girl. A girl who obviously adored her big sister's girlfriend. Buffy didn't understand it, but she didn't have to. "You should stay," she said, before she could change her mind, "if you want to, I mean."
"Buffy," Faith began, warily.
"Dawn doesn't know me yet," Buffy told her. "We could probably use someone to buffer."
"I don't know," the brunette hedged.
"Look," Buffy said, "If it's too hard to be here, I get that. I'm just saying… don't go on my account. I'm fine with this."
Snorting, Faith shook her head.
"Okay, maybe not fine," Buffy admitted, "but I'm working on it."
Faith exhaled harshly, thinking it over. Buffy was looking at her with earnest eyes, clearly sincere, which was part of the problem. It was hard enough being around the blonde when she was irritable and distant. Faith didn't know how she'd handle things if the two of them actually managed to become friends. There was Dawn to consider, and her lack of other living prospects. At the very least she could admit she was being rash. They didn't have to make any decisions yet. "Okay," she agreed, "I'll stay. For now, anyway."
Buffy nodded as if she thought this was fair. "Thank you," she said, acutely aware of how weird it was to be thanking Faith for agreeing to cohabitate with her.
"Sure," Faith acknowledged, opening the front door. She gestured for Buffy to enter first. Following her inside, she closed and locked the door, wondering what she had gotten herself into by agreeing to stay.
More Buffy and Faith interaction to come next chapter. ;) Hope you're hanging in there with me. Thank you for reading! Reviews are always appreciated. :)
Also, I don't know how many of you also use BNF, but if you do, you know the alerts system is not working more often than not. I've started a twitter to link new fic and updates to ongoing ones. Every update to BNF will be linked there, as whatever else I come across that I like. If anyone is interested, it's FuffyFicAlerts. Thanks!