The Faith Factor
by Erin
Chapter 1

"Down!" Buffy yelled at me, and I dropped like a stone, kicking the vamp behind me in his kneecap. I felt a satisfying crunch under the heel of my boot, and the vamp howled.

"YEAH! Take that, you fuckin' bloodsucker!" I yelled, and followed it up with a kick to his face. The vamp went down and I was on 'em in a second, driving the stake home. I rose and dusted off my jacket; B had already taken care of hers.

"Ooh, yeah! That really gets the juices flowing," I said. I was bouncing up and down, trying to work off the excess adrenaline. "What's the matter, B, you sick? You only got two that time."

"I figured I'd let you have most of them, since you so obviously needed the practice," B replied, throwing me a wink. She's such a crack-up.

"You know, I really missed this, B. Just you and me, the Chosen Two. Wicked cool."

B smiled at me, and wrapped her arms around my waist. "Yeah, I missed it too. I missed you."

I didn't answer, just leaned in for a quick kiss. Throwing my arm around her shoulder, I said, "So, what's the plan for the rest of the night?"

I tried to keep my voice casual, but B saw right through me, as usual. "I bet I know why you're asking," she said, a sly smile on her face.

"Slaying always gets me wicked hungry."

"Among other things," she said, chuckling. She had me there. "My mom gets back in town tomorrow morning, so all we have to do is clean up."

"Yeah," I said, my voice somewhat wistful. "Too bad, cuz..." I stopped, deciding it would be best if I just shut the hell up before I made a fool of myself.

"Because why?" Trust her to ask.

"Ah, nothing."

She stopped and looked at me. "Please tell me."

I shrugged. "It's just...I really kinda liked hangin', and, ya know, eating, and watching TV...and stuff." God, what a dope. I can't even tell her that I liked living with her.

And since when did that happen? I've always been more of a 'my space' kinda gal; even when I had boyfriends I never liked living with 'em. Always such a pain in the ass trying to share your space with someone else. But with B, it just didn't seem that way.

She didn't laugh or anything. She just smiled, and said, "I know. I feel the same way." We started walking again, crossing through the cemetery on our way home.

"So, those vamps seem a little tougher than usual?" I asked, hoping to change the subject.

B nodded. "Yeah, Adam's been putting some bad thoughts in their heads. It's almost like he's making them fearless."

"Whatever." I shrugged. "Just means they'll learn otherwise. After all, we're the Chosen Two, right?"

"Right." She smiled up at me, and I felt my insides turn to mush. Pissed me off. I don't do the love thing, at least, I hadn't done it until now.

Maybe I should recap for those just joining us. Buffy loves me. And I love her. End of recap.

So I was waiting upstairs, pacing back and forth while B was downstairs with her mom, "explaining the situation." I had nothing against Joyce; she was actually a pretty spunky chick for someone's mom. Hell, she stood up to me even though for all she knew I would have killed her without a second thought.

Would I have? Hell, maybe. I was so fucked up at that point, I couldn't see past hurting Buffy anyway I could. But it wasn't part of the plan. I was just gonna hold her for a bit, really mess with her to get to B. But she still did a pretty good job of standing up to me.

Ah, hell. I never could handle suspense. I opened the door a crack, listening carefully.

"...telling you mom, she's a lot different now."

"Is she? How can you tell? She's dangerous, Buffy. She doesn't see any problem in hurting people to get what she wants."

Hmm. Fair enough. In my defense, though, I also don't go out of my way to hurt anyone...anymore.

"She's really making an effort this time. You know, mom, I probably made at least as many mistakes as she did. If I had been a better friend, none of this would have happened."

"People don't change, Buffy, not just like that."

"It wasn't just like that, mom. It really took some trust. But I believe her, and so do Willow and Giles."

I heard Joyce sigh. "Ok, honey, I believe you think she's sincere. But I'd like to talk to her, just the two of us."

Oh crap.

"I think I can arrange that."

I eased the door closed, and parked myself on B's bed, flipping through some magazine. Wasn't long after that I heard the door open, and B came in.

"Ok, I think I've got my mom talked down."

"You've got a big 'but' there, somewhere."

She had to think about that for a second before she got it. "Yeah, well, she wants to talk to you alone."

I tossed the magazine back on B's desk and stood up. "I can do alone. I've been doing it for a long time now." I wasn't scared really, just uncomfortable. But I wasn't weak or anything, I could pull my shit together.

"Ok." She wrapped her arms around my waist. "Hey. I love you."

I smiled back at her. "I love you too. You didn't happen to tell your mom..."

"Are you kidding? One bombshell at a time, please."

So I went downstairs to face the lioness in her den; only it wasn't a den, it was a living room, and she was watching me like a hawk.

"Faith." She nodded to an empty chair, on the other side of the coffee table from her. Whether that was for her protection or mine, I wouldn't have placed bets.

"Joyce." I sat down, resisting the impulse to plant my boots on her coffee table. Not the way to impress the girlfriend's mother, especially not one that you held hostage.

"My daughter tells me that you and she have worked things out."

Oh boy, she had no idea. I just smiled, and said, "Yeah, we have. B--uh, Buffy's been really great about that."


Huh? "Why her, why me, why what?"

"Why are you trying to work things out? Don't you just want to kill us all and get over it?"

Ouch. Well, I suppose I deserved that, to a point. "No, I don't. I'd much rather have Buffy as a friend than go through life knowing I had hurt her again."

"How do I know you're telling the truth?"

I shrugged. "You don't."

"I'll tell you what the problem is," Joyce said, really milking it now. "The problem is that you gladly hurt people if they don't give you what you want."

"I don't do that anymore." Ok, I admit I deserve some of this, but I hate people who ride my ass. She was starting to piss me off now.

"So who's to say that the next time Buffy or some of her friends tell you no, that you won't turn homicidal again?"

"Because," I said, teeth really clenched now, "I won't. I don't want to hurt them."

"Until you get in an argument and you feel they've 'abandoned' you."

"Listen!" I yelled, bolting out of my chair. I had had about enough. "You have no fucking idea what you're talking about. Everyone made mistakes back then, including me, including Buffy. How do you think your 'can-do-no-wrong' daughter put me in a coma, huh? She stuck a goddamn knife in my gut. She came after me to kill me and feed me to her vamp boyfriend. So don't tell me about homicidal, cuz I know it from both ends!"

I stared at her hard, saw that she was really uncomfortable now. I caught the slightest glance she threw over my shoulder, and I looked to see Buffy standing at the bottom of the stairs.

Oh, god. She had a sickened look on her face, and I knew it was because I had put it there. She turned and ran up the stairs.

"Shit!" I ran after her, catching the bedroom door just as she was about to close it. She walked over, sat on her bed, and covered her face with her hands.

I stood there for the longest time watching her, wanting to take a step forward and put my arm around her, but I couldn't. I couldn't get my legs to move, I just stood there, hands clenched. "Shit," I said again, "I'm sorry, Buffy, I'm really, really sorry. I didn't want to ever go back to that stuff again, but it's just... sometimes I'm just stupid."

"You're not stupid." She was all sniffly, and her voice was breaking. "It's not your fault. I just feel really guilty about that whole thing. I still have nightmares...about hurting you, about us fighting. I hate it, I hate that we ever felt that way about each other..."

I finally got my feet to move, and I sat down next to her and hugged her, feeling wicked awful about bringing it up. We had promised each other clean slates, and here I was dredging up some piss-poor ancient history. "Hey, it's ok. What's done is done. If you can forgive me for the Angel thing, then I can forgive you for that tiny little coma you put me in, ok?" And as long as I can keep my fuckin' mouth shut, we don't have to even think about it again.

She seemed to chuckle a little at that. "Ok."

"Great. I don't think it would be a good idea if your mom and I talk to each other again today, though."

She nodded. "Yeah, I'm really sorry for the kind of stuff she was putting you through."

"She's got some reason to be suspicious, hey? She might have gone a little overboard, though..." I mumbled.

Buffy blew her nose and stood up, grabbing her bag. "I'll just say goodbye, and then we can go back to the dorm."

Didn't take long before B and I were walking back to campus. Joyce and I didn't say two words to each other when we left. Fine by me; I knew we'd have to have it out again soon, if only when Buffy told her mom about us. Hmm. Speaking of which...

"Will you...I mean, are you going to be telling your mom about us?"

"I thought I'd practice first on Willow and Giles...maybe Xander too if he ever emerges from his hole." We hadn't seen or heard from Xander since the meeting a couple of days ago, when we told him I was still in town. Either he didn't want to deal, or his girlfriend found out about us screwing. From what B tells me, she's the vengeful type.

"Oh. Ok."

She smiled and slipped her hand into mine. I got a little tingle every time she touched me; it's either because of Slayer powers, or I'm really getting pathetically mushy about our whole relationship. I choose Slayer powers.

"I'm not trying to hide you, don't worry. I want everyone to know how happy I am. It's just a little complicated."

Ah. I nodded. "Not every day you involve yourself with an ex-homicidal lunatic."

She frowned. "Well, not that so much as the fact that you're a chick."

I laughed; I couldn't help it. "Oh yeah, guess so." The whole sex issue seemed a little silly considering how much else we had overcome to get this far. But it did still matter, I guess. "Eh, doesn't bother me. I've had girlfriends before."

"Yeah? Yeah, I guess you probably did, huh? Did you ever have to worry about coming out?"

"To who? I didn't have anyone else except me." No family, and the few friends I did have, mostly guys, just asked if they could watch. Which they could, sometimes.

We made it back to the dorm, and Red was there reading a book. "Hey guys." She seemed a little down; guess things with Blonde Wicca Chick weren't working out.

"Hey Will. Everything ok?" B dropped her bag and went over to sit by Red. I just parked it on B's bed and kept quiet.

"I dunno. I don't think so. Tara's been avoidance person lately. We used to spend a lot of time together, but now..."

"What happened?"

"I wish I knew. Whenever I try to talk to her, she gets all red and stuttery." Red smiled; just thinking about her Wicca chick was getting her all mushy, you could tell. "We haven't done any spells together in the past couple of days, either. Every time I ask her, she makes up some excuse."

I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe that Tara would just let Red stew like that, when it was obvious to anyone that Red was head-over-heels for her. I also couldn't believe that Red didn't realize it herself. Well, fuck that. This was getting pretty damn annoying.

I cracked my knuckles and walked over to sit next to Red. If there's one thing I knew, it's girl-on-girl action.

"Do you like her?" I asked.

"Of course I like her, she's a great friend."

I shook my head. "I mean, do you like her?" Nope, baffled look still there. Ok, time to be blunt. "Do you want to do the down and dirty? You know, make the beast? Get goin' on with some hot lesbo action?"

Ok, baffled look became shocked look. "Wha...I...She..."

Buffy cleared her throat. "I think what Faith is trying to say is, do you love her?"

"Love her?" Red squeaked. "I don't--I mean, I do, but I don't... Yeah." She finished, with a sigh. "I mean, I think so."

"Excellent, no worries then," I said, clapping her on the shoulder. "Just go over there and tell her how you feel."

"What?" All this time I didn't think it was possible for a human voice to hit that note. "I can't do that!"

I raised an eyebrow. "Why not? It's pretty damn obvious she feels the same way."

Red just stared at me.

"Look, trust me on this. I know the signs. Hell, I made the signs. You guys have 'shyly cute couple' written all over you. Just go and talk to her. Worse comes to worst, at least you guys will be talking again."

Red seemed to think about that, and she glanced over at Buffy, who nodded back to her. Finally Red nodded and grabbed her jacket. "Yeah, I think I'll do that. Faith...thanks." She smiled at me, and I grinned back at her.

"No problem, Red. Good luck, and don't forget if it feels good on you, it probably does on her too. Light her up like a Christmas tree." I got some personal satisfaction out of the shocked look she gave me before she left.

B just shook her head and smiled. "You're pretty good at that, you know?"

"Good at what, embarrassing Red?"

"That too." She dragged me over to her bed and pulled me down on top of her. She could be pretty butch when she wanted to be. One kiss sent my blood racing. Two kisses, and I was fighting to get rid of all those damn clothes that were in my way, both mine and hers. Three kisses -- and we were interrupted by a knock on the door.

"Shit!" I said, as B and I scrambled for clothing. I pulled my shirt over my head and backed up behind the door. B straightened her clothes and opened the door a crack.

"Riley." Hmm, this could get interesting.

Chapter 2

"Um, hi. Willow said you were getting back today. I know you said you needed to think things out, but you also said you'd call in a couple days,'s been a couple days." The poor boy. You could just tell that Beefstick was jonesing for his Buffy fix.

"Yeah, I want to talk to you...hold on just a sec." Again she shut the door in his face. Harsh.

She turned around to talk to me, but before she could say anything, I said, "Oh no. Sorry B, but there's no way I'm going back in that closet, not on any level." A sudden chilling thought occurred to me. "Unless you're planning on going back to him..."

B winced at the look I gave her, and pulled me into a hug. "I love you. I want to be with you. But I care about Riley; I don't want to hurt him. Let's just...see if we can make this as gentle as possible, ok?"

I let out the breath I was holding. "Yeah, ok. You know me, gentle as a kitten." I took a seat at B's desk, leaning back and propping up my feet.

B shook her head a little, and then opened the door. "C'mon in." Riley walked in and gave me a look. "Hello," he said; his voice was pleasant enough, but he had a look on his face like he knew he should hate me, but wasn't sure why. Guess he hadn't placed the face yet.

"Hey." I said, stifling a grin. I'm probably a real bitch for saying this, but I like winning. I like it a lot.

Buffy walked over and sat on her bed. "Riley, I needed a few days to get some things straight in my mind--"

"Are we going to talk about this here, with..." He waved a hand in my direction.

"What I have to say concerns her as much as you or me," Buffy said.

He took a closer look at me now. "Faith." Man, he was bitter. Can't say as I'm surprised, though.

There really must be no justice in this world. Here I was, the person who tried to make B's life miserable by sleeping with her boyfriend, and she falls in love with me. And now here is said boyfriend, as sweet and vanilla a person to ever come out of the hideously dull midwest, about to be dumped.

Well, cry me a fuckin' river. I saw her first.

"Yes, Faith. These past couple of weeks have really shaken things up, made me look at things in my life--"

Riley interrupted her. "Why is she here? I've heard nothing except how she," he pointed at me now, "is a criminally insane psycho killer. And now she's hanging out in your dorm room like she's your best friend? Buffy, what the hell is going on here?"

B was trying her best to get Beefstick calmed down. "Look, Riley, things between Faith and I have been very complicated in the past. It's really not a pretty story, in fact some parts get really ugly. But we're not dwelling on that anymore."

"And what about all the terrible stuff she's done recently?"

"I've forgiven her for that." B's voice was pretty quiet; I could tell this was really hurting her. I wanted to sit next to her, put my arm around her like she did for me when I was hurting, but...

"You've forgiven her, but you can't forgive me."

B shook her head. "It's not a matter of forgiving you. I know you didn't cheat on me, not really."

"Then what's the deal, Buffy?" He glanced at me sideways, and knelt down in front of her, all 'sensitive new age guy' and shit. He wrapped his hands around hers, and I wanted to put my fist through his face. I almost did it, too, but I knew that B didn't want that and I'd be making trouble for myself. So I held off, just barely.

"I can't be with you anymore, Riley." She never looked at him; if I knew B, I'd say she felt too guilty about hurting him.

"Why?" Damn, he was going to be an asshole and press her on it, I was sure of it.

"It's...There's someone else."

"Who?" Riley glanced at me, and I knew he already knew the answer, he just wanted Buffy to have to say it. Fuck that, this interview is over.

"That's it, just give her a break," I said, getting out of my chair and opening the door.

"Who?" He repeated; fuckin' Beefstick just ignored me. Well that's it, I tried to play nice.

"I told you, that's it," I said, grabbing Beefstick and tossing him toward the door like he was a ragdoll. He didn't put up much of a fight; he tried, though. I didn't mind. I just pushed him outside into the hall and shut the door behind me. "Just back off. She's obviously made her choice." I grinned and lowered my voice so not even Slayer hearing could pick it up past a few feet. "Why would she want to bother with a mortal man when she could have a Slayer?" I saw the hatred in his eyes, and my grin widened. I licked my top lip slowly and turned my back on him, going back into the room.

B was still sitting in the same position as before. I walked over to her and put my arm around her shoulders, feeling her relax.

"That wasn't fun," she said softly.

It could have been worse, I thought, but I decided that the story about one of my mom's boyfriends holding her at gunpoint could wait for another time. "Nope," I said, moving to lay down on the bed and pulling her with me. She wrapped her arm around me, and I felt her smile.

"Thanks for being here."

I shrugged one-shouldered, not wanting to disturb her leaning on the other one. "Hell, it's nothing. If it wasn't for me, you wouldn't have had to do that in the first place."

"Yeah, I would have. Riley is sweet and nice and everything, but he's not who I thought he was when I started falling for him." She stopped talking, and I really didn't have anything to say. Didn't take long before her breathing got regular, like she was asleep.

I just watched her. Wasn't the first time I watched her sleep, and every single time I did, the thoughts were the same. This is too perfect. Of all the people who want Buffy, there's only one person she wants -- me.

I should leave. My mind is screaming at me to leave, but my body won't budge, won't move a muscle. Because I know that I don't want to give this up. I can't.

I must've dozed off or something, because next thing I knew I heard a key in the door. I glanced over at the clock and saw that we were out for a couple of hours. That's ok, B needed it.

Red came in, grinning like she just ate the fuckin' canary. Guess things went pretty well with the Wicca chick. She looked over at us, so mushed out that she didn't even realize Buffy and I were in a clinch.

"Hey Red," I said, and I felt B wake up.

"Hi guys!" She said, obviously excited.

"Hey Will," B replied, rolling off of me and rubbing her eyes. "How'd everything go."

"Great!" She was so goddamn excited she almost squeaked. "Tara and I talked...we're going out to dinner tomorrow night." She looked between Buffy and I, trying to gauge our response. Hell, she should know it by now.

"That's great!" B grabbed her up in a big hug, and I couldn't keep from grinning. Red really was a pretty cool chick, and now that she had Wicca chick to loosen her up I figured we'd get along pretty well. "What are you going to wear?"

Red gasped. "I don't know!" She and B immediately went into "fashion consultant mode", and I just rolled my eyes.

They spent a good half hour trying to decide on Red's outfit for her date; they finally settled on a light sweater and skirt combo. It looked good, in a wholesome sort of way.

The whole time I could see that B's mind was working away, trying to come up with a good way to tell Red about us. It wasn't a pretty sight, and I could tell that if B didn't get it out soon, she was going to start second-guessing telling her at all. And after second-guessing comes what I call 'reality leakage.'

I've seen it before with girlfriends who were closeted, but really didn't want to be. They bring up all sorts of weird topics of conversation, in the hopes that they get their perfect chance to tell family or friends or whoever that they're now dating a girl. Usually they end up chickening out, and just getting a rep for being a freak. It's got to come out somehow, so it usually ends up leaking out around the edges.

It better not go that far, because if it does, I'll have to do something about it.

Luckily, Red saved the day. "Oh! I forgot to tell you before. Riley was looking for you."

Buffy frowned. "He found us." Her eyes shifted, like she was nervous. Hell, she probably was. She'd never done this before. "I told him I couldn't see him any more."

Red just nodded, like she was expecting it.

"To tell the truth, there's someone else," Buffy continued.

Red just nodded again, and had a hard time not grinning this time. I almost laughed. I wonder when the little witch figured it out. "I figured as much...when I came in here and saw you and Faith all snuggled up together."

B blushed, and I choked. "Snuggle? Now wait a goddamn minute, Red, I do not snuggle."

She just kept grinning. "Ok. Cuddled, then."

I mock growled at the little witch, and B burst out laughing. "Down girl." She smiled at Red. "You're the first person we've told... Well, except for Riley. And if you hadn't been preoccupied with a certain blonde witch, then you really would have been the first."

Red just smiled and pulled B into a big hug. "I'm happy for you guys," she said, and looked over at me. I knew she meant it, and I couldn't help smiling in response. Best of all, she seemed to really snap Buffy out of the funk Riley put her in.

"You know, Will, there's something...a favor I want to ask you."

"Anything, Buffy, you know that." Red caught the serious tone of Buffy's voice; made me wish I knew what the hell she was talking about.

"Now that the heat's off of Faith a little bit, I was wondering if there's anything you can do to the police records, you know, work a little of that hacker magic." Oh. That.

"Cracker," Red corrected automatically. She thought for a sec, and then said, "Yeah, I think there is." She hopped up and down like she was excited or something, and sat down and started typing away at her computer. B and I just looked at each other and sat down to watch TV. Red wouldn't even talk to us until she was done.

"Okay," Red said, leaning back and stretching. "The police have been taken care of. I messed with their profile of Faith; I even changed your address, height, weight, race, everything." B got up and went to take a look over Red's shoulder.

I raised an eyebrow. "I don't feel any different."

"You look pretty good for a five foot tall Samoan woman," Buffy said.

"Just to be sure, I modified the status of the case, so that you aren't even wanted for questioning anymore. Oh, and one other thing..." She looked at us like she was so fuckin' pleased with herself she couldn't stand it. "That apartment the Mayor bought for you? I've switched the title from his name to yours."

I just stared at Red; I almost couldn't believe my ears. "What?"

"It belongs to you now. I wasn't sure what to put down for your last name, so I put down Summers. We can change it."

I looked at Buffy for a long time and she looked at me right back, smiling. "Faith Summers..." I said. "Nah. I think I like that just fine."

"Ok." Red did some additional tapping away and soon after shut down her computer. Grabbing her jacket, she said, "I'm going over to Tara's. There's a spell we can do that will cloud the police's memory of you, Faith, so that they have to rely on those fake computer records."

I smirked. "You're going over to Tara' cast spells." Yeah, right.

She blushed. "Among other things."

"Don't do anything I wouldn't do," B added. Red just grinned.

"No fear of that, is there?"

Faith Summers. What the fuck was I doing? Damn, girl, when you fall you fall hard. A few days together and you're ready to rent the fuckin' U-Haul.

This isn't me. Since when is this me?

Since B was willing to share her life with me, that's when. It's what I wanted all along, wasn't it? Poor, pitiful Faith. Got no home, got no family, got no friends. Only... Now I have a home, family, and friends. So what the hell is the problem?

I'll tell you what the problem is. The same goddamn thing that comes up every single time I start to get close to someone. That feeling like it's all going to go away, like I'm going to fuck it up like I always do.

"What'cha thinking?" B asks me. She must've noticed I'm not really watching the TV.

"I'll fuck it up, as usual."

"No you won't." It's a familiar speech by now, but one which made me feel a little better every time I hear her say it. "You're stuck with me, because I'm not letting you go. I love you too much."

I smile and shake my head. Un-fucking-believable, what she does to me. "I love you too."

"Glad to hear it. You want to go check out your kinda-new place?"

"Yeah. I think I do."

Chapter 3

Guess whatever spell Red & Tara did worked; either that, or the cops lost interest in me, because there was no one watching my old apartment.

"How do we get in?" B asked me.

"I hid a spare key on the balcony...go ahead and go on up, and I'll meet you at the front door." I ran around the side of the building and climbed the tree that was there, easily making the jump from the tree to the adjoining balcony. I searched under a couple of loose stones and, sure enough, my key was still here.

Normally, balcony doors don't lock from the outside as well as the inside, but this was a little modification the boss made at my request a long time ago. See, when you're out at all hours doing god-only-knows-what, you don't want a whole lot of people seeing you coming and going from your apartment. It's just not a good idea.

I walked through the dark apartment; very little light filtered in from outside, seeing as how it was nighttime and there weren't many streetlights, and it took me a minute for my eyes to adjust. I noticed that all my furniture was still where I had put it. Even the comic book I was reading when Buffy came over that last time was there, laying on the floor. I bent over to pick it up, and brushed off the thick layer of dust.

I shouldn't have come back. Too many bad fuckin' memories here.

I heard a soft knock on the door, and I walked over and opened it.

B stepped inside and looked around. I guess I really should give her the tour, since the last time she was here it wasn't exactly a social call. I rubbed at my stomach, thinking I felt a dull ache there where a scar would be, if I were anyone less than a Slayer.

"It's pretty dark in the lights work?" B asked quietly, like she didn't want to disturb the moment or something.

"I dunno..." I went over and switched on the overhead track lights. They worked; a little too well, actually, damn brightness made me blink a few times before my eyes adjusted.

"I should have known Willow would have thought of the electricity," she said, smiling. "She's very thorough."

"Isn't that stealing, B?" I asked, with a little bit of a hard edge to my voice. I couldn't help it, this place was starting to get to me.

She looked at me a second before she answered. "Yeah, I guess it is, but..." She shrugged. "It's not like being a Slayer leaves a whole lot of time for mundane work. Considering all the good we do, I'm sure that Southern California Edison can spend a few pennies for a good cause."

"Careful, B, you're starting to sound like me." I walked over to one of the leather chairs, the one that the boss liked to sit in when he was visiting.

A sudden thought hit me, and I looked over at the window, the one B and I crashed through during that last fight. The boss had it replaced.

He knew I'd be back. He had confidence in me, in his Faith. And I fucked him over, when it came down to it, I failed him.

But if I hadn't failed, B would be dead. Most everyone in this goddamn town would be dead.

It's never easy, is it? Nothing in my life is ever just goddamn easy.

B must've gotten some clue that something was wrong, cuz she came up to me and wrapped her arms around my waist. Bad idea.

"It was easy for you, wasn't it?" My voice was hard, almost accusing.

"What do you mean?"

"Coming here, killing me. Killing the boss. Easy choice for you to make."

She let go, stepping back a couple of feet. I missed her already. "If you think that was easy, you're wrong."

I shrugged. "Sure didn't look hard to me."

"Don't do this."

"Don't do what?" I knew exactly fucking what. "I'm just saying it was a pretty easy choice for you to make. I had to choose between two people that I loved. The only two people that I loved." I looked out through the window, imagining that I could still see the broken glass on the floor, the proof of violence.

"You think you're the only person who had to make that choice?"

"As a matter of fact."

"I had to choose between you and Angel."

"Big choice there, the love of your life or the chick you hated with a fiery passion."

"I didn't hate you, Faith; that's the point." I heard her sigh, and she walked up behind me again. Didn't try to hug me, just put her hand on my shoulder. "Even back then, I was falling for you."

What? I turned around and looked at her, but she wasn't playing me. "You can't be serious."

"Dead serious." She looked up at me, her gorgeous hazel eyes never leaving mine. C'mon, try to pull it together, Faith, she's talking. "I loved you back then. At the risk of inflating your ego, I'll just say you were gorgeous, impetuous, wild, confident -- everything I wanted to be, you already were. And you understood me, really understood what it was like to be a Slayer. No one else did, not even Giles."

"Why? Why didn't you tell me?"

She smiled, but not because she was happy; it was more of a self-pity thing, I could recognize it a mile away. "You weren't the only one who was 'fucked up' back then, Faith. It was horrible, to have Angel but not have him, to try to deal with High School, Slaying, SATs, and then the Mayor and the Watchers..." She ran a hand through her hair, steadying herself. Like the whole thing gave her a headache. "But the honest truth of it was that I didn't even recognize it in myself. If you asked me, I would have been able to tell you what lesbians or bisexuals were, but I never, ever thought that what I was feeling for you made me one. I just knew it was... different."

"So, it was a choice between me and Angel, and you chose him." Can't let up on her for a second, can I?

She shook her head. "It was more than that. More than just Angel's life or yours. The Mayor...he wanted to destroy the whole town." She sat down on the edge of the bed, shoulders slumped. "The choice I made wasn't between you or Angel, but at the same time it was the only one I could have made."

I couldn't argue. In her position, wouldn't I have done the same thing? Probably. Maybe. Hell, I don't know. There was some reason why I went back to that church, although I'll be damned if I understand it.

We sat there in silence for a minute. Thinking.

"Sorry," I said, shortly. "About laying all that shit on you."

She shook her head. "It's ok. We never did really talk about it, and we probably should have. I know the Mayor meant a lot to you. I'm sorry."

I shrugged it off. "No big deal."

"It was a big deal. You cared about him."

"Look, I'm not looking to share and grow here, ok?" I said, walking over to the window. "He was fuckin' psycho, and he had to be put down. I know that."

I heard a rustling behind me, and felt her light touch on my shoulders, turning me around to look at her. Ah hell, what now.

"Faith." I loved to hear my name coming from those lips. I suspected that Buffy knew it, too. She knew exactly how to calm me down. "You never did allow yourself to mourn for him. You should, it's not a good idea to hold it in."

I shook my head and kissed her, silencing her, at least for the moment. When I finally backed away, I said, "I'm not like you, B. I can't just share everything and make it all better. I need time to think about it, time to deal with it on my own. You understand?"

She nodded, but she didn't look happy about it. I figured I knew why.

"I won't shut you out, I promise," I said, brushing her hair away from her face. "As soon as I deal, I'll come talk to you about it, ok?" Yeah, she looked a lot happier after that.

"Ok, Faith," she said, and hugged me tightly. I'd be a liar if I said it didn't make me feel a whole hell of a lot better.

After that, things seemed to lighten up a little. I showed B around the place, which wasn't hard to do since it was more or less a studio. There was a nice, big bathroom/dressing area/walk in closet, though, and I was glad to see all my clothes there even if they were a little dusty.

"Mmm. Six pairs of black jeans, four pairs of black leather pants... A remarkably diverse wardrobe you've got here, Faith."

"Real funny there, B. I'll tell ya, those beat the hell out of any of your little pastel numbers anyday." I caught sight of something over by the TV, and laughed. "All right!"

"All right what?" B said, and followed me over there. "You got a Playstation?"

", I'm gonna need some money, I'm probably way behind on all the games right now." I turned it on and tossed B a controller. "C'mon, we'll play."

"Oh no," she said, looking at the controller like it was some alien device or something. "I don't know how."

"Ah, I'll teach you," I said, starting a game of Tekken. "You'll like it, it's just like Slaying."

"Speaking of which, we should probably run a patrol..."

"Oh no you don't," I said, grabbing her. "C'mon, just a couple of quick games and then we can patrol."

"Okay..." she sighed. This was gonna be fun.

"I still can't believe I got my butt kicked so badly!" Buffy said. We were walking through the graveyard, looking for fresh vamps. "I mean, you haven't practiced in months, I should have done better than that..."

"Yeah, but you just learned," I pointed out. "And besides...I didn't exactly teach you how to use your special attack."

"What?" She said, stopping and glaring at me. "You cheated?"

"I didn't cheat," I said, mock indignation in my voice. "I just strategically withheld information from the enemy. It's a completely valid move in warfare."

"Oh, you are so in trouble for that..." she said, starting to tickle me. Let's get one thing straight, I am not ticklish. I don't know how B manages to do it.

I started to laugh, and then I caught a noise somewhere off to the right. "Shh!" I said, grabbing B's hands to hold them still. She immediately froze, all her Slayer senses on full. Sure enough, there was a vamp, about a hundred feet away. He took one look at us and took off, leaping gravestones at full speed.

"C'mon!" Buffy yelled, running after him. I was only a split-second behind her, and we saw the vamp turn a sharp corner around one of those family crypts, and disappear from sight. By the time Buffy and I got there, we couldn't tell where he ran off to.

"Ok, I'll go this way, you go that way," B said, pointing off down an adjacent trail, "and if we see anything, we'll yell, ok?"

"Sure thing," I said, running down the trail. Didn't take too long before the trail ended in a small clearing with a couple of picnic benches nearby. Who the fuck has a picnic in a graveyard, anyway?

"Faith. It's been a long time." I turned around, looking for the source of the voice. It came from a vamp, medium height, black hair, lame-ass goatee, like he wanted to look like Satan or something. I recognized him.

"Should I have bothered to remember who the fuck you are?" I said, pulling a stake from my jacket. God, what was his name, it was some lame Mafia ripoff, like Vic, or...

"Vinnie. I used to work for the Mayor, just like you." His eyes flicked over me. "So, I see you're back to being the Slayer's lapdog. Looks like the Mayor had a little too much confidence in you, huh?"

"Why don't you just shut the fuck up, deadboy," I said, taking a step toward him.

He held out his hands. "Now, that's no way to talk to a business associate."

"Why the hell would I want to conduct any 'business' with you that didn't end up with you inside a dustbuster, huh?"

He just smiled. "Because. There was one reason why you were with the boss. You don't like to lose." He walked toward me, like he was fearless or some shit like that. "It's all about winning and losing to you. You don't Slay because you're trying to beat some great evil, or defend the innocent. You Slay because you need to be a winner."

He walked around me, knowing I wouldn't hurt him. Knowing I'd listen to him.

"So you chose the Mayor," he continued, "because you thought he would come out on top; and he would have, if the Slayer hadn't kicked your little white ass, proved that you were, and always would be, second best."

Fuck this, no one talked to me like that. I grabbed him, shoved him down on one of the picnic benches. "You don't know when to shut your mouth, do you asshole."

He just kept smiling the whole time, the psycho. "It's all come down to winning and losing again, Faith. This time, it's Adam who is going to be the winner." I rolled my eyes. "Don't believe me? Ask your master, the little Slayer. She's fought him, and he's swatted her like a fly. She's scared of him, and for good reason. She's on the losing side."

He got up and dusted off his clothes. "You can be a winner again, Faith. You don't have to be second best."

"Faith!" I heard Buffy yelling from up the path, and it distracted me. By the time I looked back, the fucking vamp was gone. Didn't take long before B came into the clearing. "Any luck?"

"Nah," I said, glancing around the clearing once more. "Didn't find what I was looking for."

"Yeah, big strikeout for me, too," B said. "C'mon, let's go."

"Sure. Hey B, can I ask you something?"

"Of course."

"What do you know about Adam?"

Chapter 4

Buffy looked at me, all curious. "Why do you want to know about Adam?"

"Oh, I was just thinking about him, and what he's doing to the vamps around here." Well, that part wasn't a lie, at least.

She nodded. "Well, he was some sort of demon/human/machine hybrid that the Initiative created. Only, now he's completely out of control." She sighed. "I only fought him once before, but he's tough. Really tough."

"You couldn't take him down?"

"Nope. He acted like he didn't even notice I was there... I've never fought anything like that before," she admitted.

"But he's got a weakness or something, right? I mean, everyone has a weakness."

She just shrugged. "If he does, we don't know it."

That wasn't exactly what I wanted to hear, right then.

Once again, I have to ask:

What the fuck was I doing?

I knew that what that goddamn vamp said was right -- or, at least, it was right. I didn't enjoy Slaying because of any righteous thrill, or smug knowledge that I was doing the 'right thing.' I loved it because it was excitement, a challenge. Winning and losing. And until B came along, I was all about winning.

She beat me. She was the only one to put me down.

I looked over to where she slept, red and black blankets pulled up around her shoulders. We had come back to my place, and made love until we fell asleep. Well, until she fell asleep; I had too much on my mind, and even Buffy couldn't really quiet the thoughts I was having.

So I got up, pulled on a sweatshirt and some boxers, and just sat, staring into space.

I thought about that chick in the alley outside the Bronze. The one I saved from being vamped. That look in her eyes, when she thanked me -- it had been a long time since the last time I saw it. When you're going around killing people for the Mayor, they just don't give you that same look. The look they gave was fear; fear was almost as good, to be honest. But gratitude, their honest get-down-on-their-knees thankfulness that you are who you are and you decided to save their lives -- that was something else entirely.

I decided I liked it.

But did I like it enough?

"Faith?" I heard B's soft, sleepy voice from the direction of the bed. "Everything ok?"

"Yeah. Yeah, everything's fine. Just couldn't sleep."

"Ok..." Her voice was drifting off now. "Love you..."

"I love you too."

Ah hell. I really did love her. But, shit, that 'second best' comment really tore at me, just like that fuckin' vamp knew it would. I wasn't built to be second best, not to anyone. Not even Buffy.

"You mind if I borrow a pair of jeans?" B was getting ready for class, and I was laying in bed, half-asleep. It took me a long time to get to sleep last night and I was still pretty wiped.

"Go for it," I said, opening an eyelid carefully. "You'll need a belt." Even though I liked my jeans tight, B was a size or two smaller than me, and they'd be a little baggy on her.

"Thanks." She finished getting dressed, pulling on her socks and shoes.

"You should just leave some of your clothes over here," I said, before I even realized what the hell I was saying.

She looked over at me, kinda surprised. "You wouldn't mind?"

Would I mind, ah hell. I wouldn't mind if she brought all her clothes, and stayed with me for the rest of my fuckin' life. "Nah. I mean, if you don't."

B just smiled, and leaned over to give me a kiss. "I don't." She grabbed her jacket. "I've got classes all day; want to meet me tonight, at the dorm? We can grab some dinner or something."

"Sounds like a plan," I mumbled, and went back to sleep.

I had to find something better to do with my afternoons, I decided. Daytime TV was really starting to piss me off, and you can only play video games for so long before you start craving the real thing. So around dusk I cut through the graveyard on my way to the campus to meet with B.

I had tried my best to avoid thinking about all the crap that had been going through my mind lately; so, of course, life threw me a curve.

"Well, if it isn't our favorite Slayer." Of course, just my luck.

"Just fuck off, Vinnie, before I dust your ass," I snarled. My hand clenched around the stake in my pocket.

He just looked amused. Pushed off of the tombstone he was leaning on, and came walking over. "You think about my offer?"

"Why the fuck would I want to do that?"

"You disappoint me. I thought for sure you were a winner. Instead it looks like you're just as happy trotting after your little bitch in heat."

I grabbed him, shoving the point of my stake against his chest. "No one fucking talks about her like that," I said, gritting my teeth. I raised my stake to shove it into his chest, and he didn't even blink.

"You're not going to do that."

"Why the hell not?" I said, and just as I was ready to shove the stake into his chest, I felt it.

It was like getting hit by a truck, if a truck was the size of someone's fist. It sent me flying to the left several feet, and I crashed against a tombstone, shoulder first. Fuck, that hurt! Not even B ever hit me that hard.

I stumbled to my feet and saw Vinnie standing next to some bizarro demon/machine thing which could only be Adam. The sucker must've stood about six and a half feet tall, with muscles which could put Arnie to shame. He just looked at me, his head cocked to the side a little, like a dog. Or a robot.

"You are Faith. The extra Slayer."

"Just a Slayer, asshole, there's nothing extra about me."

"You were an accident, activated upon the death of the Slayer Kendra, who was also an accident." He spoke in a monotone, like he was reading all this from the goddamn encyclopedia or something. Slayer, The. "After arriving in Sunnydale you turned renegade and took orders from former Mayor Wilkins. You fought with your counterpart, who put you in a coma with acute neural trauma and severe lacerations."

I glared at Vinnie. "You feed him all that?"

He just shrugged. "Some of it. You'd be surprised how many records the Initiative had about this town." He walked toward me, totally cool like I didn't just try to kill him. "Adam knows everything the Initiative does. They'll never catch him. Neither can Buffy."

"Don't be too sure about that." My voice sounded hollow, even to myself. I was never too convincing a liar.

Vinnie chuckled. "Adam can make sure that you're the only Slayer in Sunnydale, if you get my meaning. No being second best, no having to live in the other Slayer's shadow. I know how much that gets to you, Faith. I know how much it drives you nuts."

My jaw hurt from me clenching my teeth so hard. "I can't. I won't."

"Why, because you think you love her?" He laughed. "I remember you, Faith, and your revolving bedroom door. She's just another fuck to you, and that's all you are to her. Experienced. I bet you give a good ride." My fists were clenched now, but I still didn't make a move. Not with Adam standing there a few feet away. "It will never last between you two, anyway. How long do you think she'll be able to put up with your shit, huh?"

I just shook my head. Somewhere in my head, that voice tried to tell me that he was right. How many times have I tried to push Buffy away? Did I really think our hormones would be enough to hold us together, with all the shit that has gone down between us?

"Listen, you don't have to do anything. That's the beauty of it. Just bring her here, and we'll do the rest. You'll be the Slayer here, just like you always wanted. The only Slayer. The Chosen One. Sunnydale will be your town, like it was supposed to be."

I didn't answer, I just closed my eyes. I heard movement, and I hoped it was Adam coming up to rip my head from my shoulders. Put me out of my fucking misery. But when I opened my eyes, both of them were gone.

"Are you feeling ok?" B asked me, all concerned about my welfare. Damn her.

"Yeah, I'm fine." I picked at my fries, not really hungry. I met up with B at her dorm, and she wanted to go to this burger place for dinner, so here we were.

She frowned. "You don't look ok. Did anything happen this afternoon?"

I looked at her, and gave her a half-smile. "Nah, everything's cool. I'm just not hungry. I ate a big lunch."

She seemed to accept that; either that, or she decided it would be best to change the subject. "Will was pretty freaked out about her date tonight." She giggled. "She and Tara look really cute together."


"Maybe we could all go out to dinner together some night? I'd like to get to know Tara better."


She cocked an eyebrow at me. "Are you sure you're ok? Do you even want to go on patrol tonight?"

I stiffened a little, and looked at her. "Yeah. I'm fine. Five by five."

"Okay." She grabbed her wallet, and left a twenty on the table. "Ready when you are."

We walked through the graveyard, the same one where I met Vinnie earlier. I suggested it.

Okay, Faith. Time to find out what you're made of.

"You hear something?" B asked, looking around at the shadows.

"Not sure," I said, feeling that prickling on the back of my neck, like there's a knife headed right for it.

"Well, well. If it isn't the Slayer twins." I recognized Vinnie's voice immediately. I should, by now. I looked around and three vampires came out of the shadows, surrounding us.

I measured up all three vamps. Besides Vinnie, there was some biker looking creep who dressed like a Hell's Angel wannabe, and a young punk who looked like he used to be on Sunnydale High's football team. Geez, they must really be scraping the bottom of vamp material since the boss left.

"Wow, that's really clever," Buffy said, sarcastically. "But if you wanted to fight us, you should have brought a few more guys. We won't even break a sweat with you."

Vinnie just laughed. "We don't need more guys. Not when we have these." He and the other two vampires pulled guns from their jackets, and leveled them at us.

Guns, hell. Those suckers were fuckin' hand cannons. At least, that's what it looked like from the barrel end.

Vinnie smiled, all smug and shit. "I don't care what Slayer powers you have, they won't stop a bullet."

He was right. I don't know why more vamps didn't think of it, to be honest.

"I have to thank you, Faith. You did a great job bringing the Slayer here. Guess you decided to be on the winning side after all."

Oh, shit.

Buffy just looked at me...hurt, confused, betrayed...I don't have enough words to describe that look. She stared at me, like she couldn't believe he was telling the truth, but also couldn't believe he was lying.

It almost killed me. That's when I knew.

"Guess again, asshole," I snarled, and launched myself at the nearest vamp, Mr. Hell's Angel. I led with my stake, which buried itself in his chest, turning him into dust in a second.

I have to give B credit; as soon as I moved, she ducked out of the way and shots fired wildly over her head. She aimed a leg sweep at Vinnie, and brought him to the turf.

I saw that Jock was trying to get a bead on her, and I was on him fast. I buried my stake in his back, grabbing his gun away from him with my right hand. He dissolved into dust, and I aimed the gun in Vinnie's direction.

"I think you'll want to drop that," he growled, holding Buffy in front of him, gun pressed against her temple. "One shot won't kill me, but it will most certainly kill her."

I glared at him, gun leveled at his face.

"You disappoint me. I thought for sure you knew which side to bet on this time. Guess you're just a big loser after all." He dug the gun hard into the side of B's face. "I said, drop it."

I looked into B's eyes; she was scared, but it was more for me than for her. I looked away; I had to, or else I'd never be able to do this. "Okay," I said, and ejected the clip. Time seemed to slow down in that weird way it does, right when you know you're gonna die; the clip tumbled down, end over end, until it landed on the grass with a dull thud.

Vinnie smiled at me, and pointed his gun right at my chest. "Like I said. Just a big, fuckin' loser."

"I'm not the one with a bullet in my brain," I said, and fired the one round I knew was still in the chamber.

Vinnie's head snapped back, and I heard the sharp crack of another gun firing. Buffy whipped a stake out of her sleeve, dodged around Vinnie and buried it in his back. A second later, he was dust.

What a relief, I thought, and then I wondered why my legs weren't holding me up anymore. I dropped down to the turf, noticing with a hell of a shock that my chest was covered with blood. B ran over to me, holding me. I knew she was saying something, but I couldn't figure out what. My ears didn't seem to be working, or some shit like that.

"I love you, Buffy," I heard myself say, my words echoing inside my head. I wanted her to know it, to know that I didn't betray her. Not really.

I got tired all of a sudden. After that, I don't remember a whole hell of a lot.

You didn't think the story ended here, did you? Fuck, I got knifed, fell two stories down to the bed of a junk truck and pulled out of it. Eventually.

The first thing I noticed was someone holding my hand. Buffy, definitely. I got to know those hands pretty well. She was talking to someone, from the sounds of it.

"No way. I am not leaving her."

"Buffy, be reasonable. You have to go home, get some sleep." That voice, I knew I heard it before...

"Forget it, mom." Oh yeah. "I need to be here when she wakes up."

"I know you feel responsible for her, honey, but you have to think of yourself now."

"You don't get it. She saved my life, mom, and she almost died doing it. Besides, I wouldn't leave her now anyway."

"I know she's a friend of yours, but--"

"We're more than friends, mom." Oh, this was getting good.

"Excuse me?"

"We love each other. We're in love with each other. If you can't deal with that right now, then it's probably best you leave. I'm not leaving her."

There was a long silence then. I can only imagine the looks. "We'll talk about this later." A couple seconds later, I heard the door close.

Now, if only I could get my voice to work. "Buffy?" It was hoarse, but not bad.

I heard a stifled sob, and I felt her hand brush across my face. I opened my eyes, just to have to shut them a second later from the brightness.

"I'm here, Faith. I'm here..." I felt her lips on the back of my hand, and I tried opening my eyes again. It worked a little better this time, and it only took me a few seconds to focus on Buffy.

God, she looked like hell. Dark circles under her eyes, tear stained cheeks, the whole bit. She was wearing the same clothes, too, which had big dried bloodstains all over. Crap. Those were actually my clothes that she had borrowed. Oh well.

"How many months was I out this time?" I asked, my voice still shaky.

B smiled at me, her eyes filling up with tears. "Two days. They had you in surgery for about four hours, from the time I brought you in."

"How bad is it?"

She licked her lips. "I don't know if--"

"Please, B, I want to know." I looked at her, hoping my eyes would tell her what I couldn't.

"The docs said the bullet ricocheted off your ribs and tore through your lung; it missed your heart by less than an inch. But they were able to get all the pieces out, and patched you up pretty good. With the amount of blood you lost, they didn't think you'd make it--" Her voice broke, and she took a deep breath before continuing. "I knew you would, though. Slayer chicks are just too tough to put down for long."

"Tell me about it," I said, giving her a weak grin. "So when can I get the hell out of here?"

Chapter 5

It wasn't long after that when B left, at my urging, to go tell the docs that I was awake and see when I could get the fuck out of here. She also left to go get some rest, a shower, and a clean change of clothes. That was at my urging, too.

The doc came in and checked me over; he was a short, pudgy guy who looked like he hadn't gotten laid in about a year. He called me "Ms. Summers" about four times before I actually got that he was talking to me. Smooth, Faith. Better not ever have to go into Witness Protection.

He seemed really happy at my progress; he was surprised, actually. I wasn't. Of course, I knew that I was a Slayer, and he didn't. He said I could be out in two days if I continued to improve and promised to do some lame-ass breathing exercises, to "extend the capacity of my damaged lung." Yeah, well, in a few days no one, including a doctor, would be able to tell that I had been shot.

Fuck, I got shot.

I almost died.

Oh well, not like it hadn't happened before.

I was sitting there, flipping channels on the TV trying to find something decent to watch. Figures, here I was again watching lame-ass Daytime TV, and I didn't even have my Playstation.

The door opened and Xander walked into the room, holding a stuffed bear.

Yeah, that's what I said. Surprised the hell out of me, too.

"Um, hi," he said, handing me the bear. I took it from him, wondering if it contained anything explosive, he was so nervous giving it to me.


"I heard about what happened, and I wanted to stop by... And you know what they say, 'Say it with a stuffed animal.'"

I raised an eyebrow. "And what is the stuffed animal trying to say?"

"Um, it's right there on his little t-shirt," he pointed, "'Get Well Soon.'"

I smiled, and set the little guy down on the side of the bed. "Thanks."

Things got pretty awkward after that; a few minutes passed, and neither of us said anything. Eventually, Xander mumbled, "I guess I'd better get going..."

As he was heading out the door, I said, "Hey, X-man?" He froze, and turned around to look at me. "I'm...sorry. For everything back then."

He grinned, that goofy, lop-sided grin he has. "Better have 'em check you over for a concussion, Faith...cuz I don't remember any of that." He waved goodbye, and closed the door.

Well, shit. Buffy had some pretty wicked cool friends. I had some pretty wicked cool friends. I liked the sound of that, actually.

"Hey, was that Xander?" B came into the room, looking like she had showered and changed, but...

I made a point of looking at the clock on the wall. "There is no freakin' way you actually got some sleep."

She grinned, a little sheepishly. "Who needs to sleep when you have caffeine?" She asked, sitting down next to me. "Hey, cute bear."

I decided to let her off the hook, seeing as how I started missing her about five minutes after she left. "Yeah, Xander brought it."

"So that was cute!" She picked up the bear and waved one of its little arms at me. "Hi there, Faith," she said in a deep voice, "and how are you to-day?"

I just looked at her.

"I think someone's a little grumpy, Mr. Bear," she said, nodding the bear's head in agreement.

I just kept looking at her.

She grinned, and kept playing with the bear. "So what did Xander want?"

"He wanted to bring that by. Things look like they're going to be five by five."

"Great! Glad to know he's finally come to his senses. Now all we have to do is worry about telling him about us." She licked her lips, kinda nervous now. "Faith, kinda told my mom about us."

I nodded. "I thought that's what I heard, right when I was coming out of it. Things...ok between you two?"

Buffy shrugged; she was pretty sad, it was obvious even to me. "I haven't talked to her yet. She stormed out of here, pretty upset, just before you woke up."

God, what a piece of work I was, ruining Buffy and her mom's relationship. "I wish I was surprised, I really fucked up any chance I had of her liking me. I'm sorry."

B's eyes got all wide. "Faith, you don't have to be sorry. My mom will come around, she's got to learn that I'm happy, and the choices I make aren't always going to be the ones she wants me to make. But too damn bad, they're my choices.

"I love you. And if I had my way, I'd spend the rest of my life with you."

I stared at her. "You don't mean that."

"The hell I don't."

"Ah, c'mon B," I said, looking away to stare at the wall. "You don't want--"

"Faith, shut up," she said, leaning over and kissing me. And I did.

We sat and watched TV for a little while; B held my hand and wouldn't let go. Not like I was trying to get away, or anything.



"You never did ask...why I brought us to the graveyard that night."

She shrugged. "Is it important?"

I looked at her, confused. "Isn't it?"

"You saved my life. That's all I care about." She looked at me steadily the whole time.

I nodded, and didn't say anything for a long time. Finally, I said, "I...I kinda need to tell you."

"Okay," she said softly. She squeezed my hand and waited for me to start.

The whole time I talked to her, my voice was real quiet. I did things I regretted before, hell, I did things I regretted a lot. But now, it was different. I felt ashamed.

"That vamp who was talking to us...his name was Vinnie, and he used to work for the mayor, back when I was...working. He wanted to talk to me, said he worked for Adam now, and...and they wanted me to join them. He said he knew that I enjoyed being on the winning side. He told me Adam was the winning side, that he took you on and you were scared of him.

"He knew I hated the fact that I was always second you...and that I should be the only Slayer here. That Sunnydale should be my town, and I wouldn't have to be second best to you anymore. He told me he and Adam could make it so that..." God, I couldn't go on. I just thought about what would have happened if Vinnie hadn't turned the gun on me, if instead he had shot--

"Shh, it's ok," B said to me, smoothing my hair back. "What happened?"

I forced myself to take a deep breath. "I...I had to prove to myself, to everyone, that I wasn't like that anymore. When we got to the graveyard, I didn't know what I was going to do. But when I saw you there, with that look in your eyes like I betrayed you -- I knew I'd do anything to keep you safe. I'd die to keep you safe."

"Faith," Buffy said softly, still stroking my hair. "You're not second best to me. Some things I do better, but there are a heck of a lot of things you do better than me too. The two of us, we're partners. Equals. I wouldn't have it any other way. I don't think that you're second best, and neither do any of our friends. And if some dusted vampire and junk-yard Frankenstein do, then that's their mistake. Because they'll learn it the hard way.

"You know, this whole Adam incident has really taught me two things."

"What's that?" I asked, completely unable to believe my luck. She was right, what she was saying felt right to me. I don't know if it was wishful thinking or whatever, but I felt like I could believe it.

"First, that I am incredibly lucky that you love me, and that I love you."

Shit. I felt myself blush. I never blush.

"Second, that Adam is running scared."

"Huh?" I looked at her like she was nuts. "How do you figure?"

"Because, if we Slayers are so inconsequential to him, why did he bother having his flunkies try to get you to fight on his side? I'll tell you why, because when he was making his little plans, he didn't factor you in.

"One Slayer he figures he may be able to handle. Two Slayers... and now he's in a world of hurt."

I couldn't help grinning at her, and she returned it. I don't know if what she was saying was true, but I couldn't argue with her logic.

The Chosen Two. It meant a lot to me right then. It meant everything to me.

The next couple of days went by pretty fast, and with a couple of exceptions, pretty uneventfully. The doc was pretty astounded by how quick I was healing; he prescribed me some painkillers which I never took. It doesn't pay to be all fuzzy-headed when you're a sitting duck.

Along with Xander's stuffed bear, I also got a bunch of flowers from Giles, and some balloons from Red and Tara. Looks like things went pretty well on their date after all. Just like I predicted, they did make a very cute couple.

Anyway, like I was saying, there was a big exception to all that dull and boring-ness.

I finally made B go to class, since she had probably already missed way too many because of me anyway. I was sitting up, eating my lime jello when the door opened, and who should walk in except Buffy's mom. Ah, shit. And me without my bulletproof vest.

"Joyce," I said, nodding at her. She came in without a word and sat down right next to my bed. Way too close for comfort.


"Buffy's not here," I said, knowing that Joyce had probably planned it that way.

"I know. I came to talk to you."

I didn't say anything, but I knew my expression said, "I'm here, so talk."

"I'll be straight with you, Faith." Well, that makes one of us. "I think you need help. I'm willing to make allowances because of the rough time you've had, but you have some serious problems. You're bad for yourself, and you're bad for Buffy, and I don't want you to see her anymore. If you're honest with yourself about loving Buffy, you'll make the decision which is best for her."

I almost laughed. After what we just faced, did she really think she could get between us? "Sorry to be the one to break this to you, Joyce, but what you want and what you don't want is kinda irrelevant here. It's completely up to Buffy to decide what is bad for her, and to be perfectly honest, you don't know enough about the situation to make that kind of snap judgement.

"Now, if you want my advice, you'd better just accept what Buffy decides and hope she chooses to talk to you about it. Don't think that you can just come here and guilt me into breaking up with her, like you did with deadboy. Because it just ain't gonna happen." I went back to eating my jello, and I heard her get up and leave.

Well, that won't make the inevitable family dinner any easier. But it had to be said. Didn't it?

B came back later that afternoon, and helped me spring myself from that place. I kinda put off telling her about her mom; I wasn't gonna lie to her about it, but I figured we should be somewhere a little more private first.

And I learned that I really needed to practice signing 'Faith Summers.'

Giles drove us to my place in his crappy little car. It was an improvement over his old crappy little car, but only because this one was a few years newer.

B went around the side to get my spare key off the balcony; one of these days I suppose I needed to make a couple of spares. Giles and I were left waiting on the doorstep.

"Thanks for the flowers," I said, lifting the vase. "They're cool."

He smiled at me. "I'm glad you like them." You could tell he still wasn't really comfortable, but it was getting better. And hell, if he was willing to give it a try, I would too.

B opened the front door and we went inside. As soon as we did, though, she started with all the mothering crap.

"Thanks for your help, Giles. Faith, you need to sit or lay down; we're following doctors orders on this, I don't want you going all relapsy."

I rolled my eyes and laid down on the bed. I kinda liked the attention, as long as she didn't totally overdo it. "Only if you lay down here with me," I said, giving her my best smile.

She froze for a second and looked at Giles, who was suddenly very interested in one of my posters. He cleared his throat and said, "Well, I suppose I should leave you two to...recover..."

Buffy nodded. "Yeah, we'll call...later..." And shut the door behind him. She turned to look at me, and I just kept grinning at her.

"Was that really necessary," she said, in that long-suffering way of hers.

"Completely. We've got nothing to hide, B; they'll find out anyway, and if they see how happy we are they won't second-guess it." I patted the bed next to me.

She walked over and laid down, putting her head on my shoulder. "I guess you're right. I just hope my mom sees it the same way."

Uh oh. "I wouldn't bet on it..."

She sat up and looked at me. "Why? What happened?"

"Your mom came to see me this morning, after you left," I sighed. "She wanted me to stop seeing you."

"Damn it!" B swore. She looked really pissed. "When is she going to learn that I'm an adult?" She jumped up and grabbed her jacket.

"Wait a minute," I interrupted, getting up with a small amount of pain and walking over to her. "Far be it from me to keep someone from going off 'half-cocked.' I am, after all, the queen of half-cocked. But do you really want to talk to her right now, now that you're pissed off?"

"Guess not," she said, and dropped her jacket back on the chair. "Guess I should give it a couple of days, huh?" She pulled me back to the bed.

"Now this is more like it," I said, climbing on top of her and kissing her.

I felt her laugh. "Are you sure we should be doing this?"

"Fuck," I said, pulling off her t-shirt. "I'll be six feet under before I stop doing this."

From the sounds she was making, I'll assume she agreed.

Chapter 6

"Gotcha," I said, feinting with a kick, and then at the last minute dropping into a leg sweep which dumped B right on her butt. "You ain't goin' easy on me or anything, are ya?"

B got up, rubbing her tailbone. "Trust me, I'm not going easy on you. You're just getting better. A lot better."

I grinned to myself, bouncing up and down on the balls of my feet. B and I were sparring in my -- our? -- loft; it was nice, and a hell of a lot less lethal than the last time we fought here.

B was right, though; I was getting better. I didn't feel that weird, stretchy feeling in my chest anymore, and my breathing was back to normal. Gotta love Slayer healing; less than two days since I got out of the hospital, and I'm already almost one hundred goddamn percent.

Maybe once I healed up, all those doubts I had about myself and B would disappear too?

Who the hell was I trying to bullshit.

"Guess we should call it a morning... We have that meeting at Giles' to go to, and I'd kinda like to shower. I'd rather not have our friends smell me before they see me." B gave me a quick kiss and went into the bathroom.

Our friends. B was saying stuff like that more often. Our friends, our place, us, we. I'd never really been a part of anything before, unless you count the Watcher's Council, and that was a major clusterfuck. But she always included me, I don't even know if she did it on purpose or not.

When I came back here after getting out of the hospital, we both kinda agreed it would be better for B to move in here, unofficially at least. She wanted to be near me, in case I needed anything, and I wanted to be near her. What a laugh -- big, bad Faith didn't even like sleeping alone anymore. But can you blame me? When you've got B sleeping next to you, anything else is a wicked letdown.

What I tried to tell her was, "Buffy, I think things between us are better than they've ever been. I love you, and I need you. I would be happy beyond words to have you move in here with me. I know it's not much, but it would mean a lot to me." What I actually said was, "You know, you should bring over some of your stuff. That way it won't be such a pain in the ass if you spend the night over here."

She got it -- at least, I think she did. B just smiled at me and said, "I think that's a great idea. I'd love to." And so she dragged over a bunch of her clothes and stuff. Red gave her a little bit of a hard time, but it wasn't like she was spending a whole bunch of her nights at the dorm room, either. The little witch was keeping her plenty busy.

I listened to the sound of the shower running for a couple of minutes before it really sunk in, and then I began to wonder what I was doing out here when she was in there.

This is California after all; gotta do what I can to save water. And if that means showering together, I guess I'll just have to make that sacrifice.

"Okay, so what do we know about Adam?" Buffy asked, looking around the room. The whole Super Friends group was there, sitting around the G-man's living room: Willow and Tara together on the couch, just itching to hold each other's hand, but trying to play it cool in front of everyone; Giles, all business now that he had something demonic to focus on; Anya, sitting near Xander and glaring daggers at me; and Xander, sitting in one of Giles' chairs, uncomfortably aware of Anya and me in the same room. Guess he told her what was what, and now that we were talking again, she was pulling a jealous routine.

As if she had to worry. I sighed. Guess I'd have to straighten that out, too.

"I've got a list of several of the different demon types from which he was constructed," Giles said, holding up a piece of paper. "He has been given extraordinary strength, and above-average speed. He has, of course, the skewers in his arms from the Polgara demon, but that seems to be his primary weapon."

"Aside from his fists," I said, rubbing my arm. Giles nodded at me.

"So he likes to get in close," B said, pacing around now. "Problem is, so do we. But we can't inflict the same damage on him that he can on us."

I shrugged. "Piece of cake, then." They all looked at me like crazy, so I explained. "I seem to remember hearing about the great Slayer Buffy Summers, who once pulled out a fuckin' rocket launcher to finish off some demon or other who couldn't be killed with normal weapons."

B thought about that for a second. "Yeah, but unlike the Judge, Adam knows what a rocket launcher is, and he probably won't stand still for it."

Xander spoke up. "He's got some computer thing in his chest...can't we use that to attack him?"

Everyone looked at Red now. "Maybe...but we'd have to give him a disk and trick him into reading it," Willow said. "But I can't write a virus unless I know a lot more about his hardware and operating system."

"Can you get that information from the Initiative's computers?" Buffy asked.

"Probably...but the Initiative probably uses C2 security, at a minimum." Red got blank looks from everyone. "That means their network is isolated." More blank looks. "It means I can't just break into their system from outside."

"Can Riley help us get in to their system?" Xander asked.

B and I exchanged looks. "I don't think we can count on Riley's help with this one," Buffy said evenly. "He and the Initiative will be hunting Adam separately."

"Which leaves us with the massive brute force approach," I said, jumping off the breakfast bar I was sitting on. "All we have to do is make sure Adam doesn't see it. He can't see it, he can't dodge it, right?"

"Only one problem," Xander said. "Rocket launchers make a big noise and a big flash before they make the big boom. There's no way you'd be able to keep that a secret."

"So we can't use a rocket launcher," B said, looking around. "Is there anything else we can use?"

I grinned at her. "I think I have an idea."

After a few more minutes of hashing things out, B and Giles left to go stock up on a few weapons, and Xander left with his own laundry list of stuff to rip off from the dupes at the military base. It was only so obvious that Anya didn't want to see him go, and she never stopped glaring daggers at me the whole time. Well, since Red and Tara were researching some spell or other, I figured this would be a good time to get some things straightened out.

I walked over and sat down next to her, watching with some smugness as she moved over to try to get some of her personal space back. I knew all the intimidation tricks, and getting in someone's face is definitely one of them.

"You got a problem with me?" I asked, wicked casual.

"You're after Xander." Direct and to the point. I could get to like this girl, if she stops being such a bitch.

"He told you we slept together, didn't he?"

She nodded, still glaring.

"Well, trust me, I'm not looking for a repeat performance. It was just a quickie, I'm-horny-you're-horny thing, ok? Didn't mean anything, and if I knew how B and her friends felt about casual sex, it wouldn't have happened in the first place. Got it?"

The chick looked confused. "How can anyone have sex with Xander, and not want to have sex with him again?"

Now, see, this is a conversation I like to have; no BS, no beating around the bush. "All I can say is that he must have practiced before boinking you, because when we did it, he was ok, but not great. I've had better."

"Really? Who?"

I shrugged. "Plenty of people. I mean, if Xander is ringing all your bells, that's great, stick with that. He just doesn't do it for me, ya know?"

"Because you have Buffy, right?"

My eyebrows shot up. Two points for perception. "Yeah." No reason to deny it.

"You two are orgasm friends?"

That's an interesting way to put it. "At least. I..." Shit, Faith, you can do this. "I love Buffy. I wouldn't do anything to hurt her, including cheating on her with Xander. Okay?"

She thought about that for a minute before she nodded. "Good," I said, and glanced up just in time to see two pairs of eyes look down wicked fast at a book. I grinned to myself and got up, walking around behind Red and Tara. Leaning down, I said, "See anything interesting?"

Two heads shook.

I just smiled and went over to turn on the TV.

"Ohh yeah, baby, it's been too long." I ran my hand over the smooth surface, feeling the lethal tension just waiting to be released. She fit in my hand perfectly, like we were made for each other. Hell, who knows? We probably were.

"Faith, if you're done having a religious experience with your new toy..." Buffy said, smiling.

I looked up, tearing my eyes away from the gorgeous, black compound bow that Giles and Buffy picked up as part of their shopping trip. "Sure, sorry B. But the experience I was having wasn't religious."

That got a grin from B, but Giles cleared his throat. "Well, we're all familiar with the plan of attack. The only question that remains is, how do we implement it?"

"We have to lure out Adam, right?" Red asked. "How do we do that?"

"By giving him something that he wants," I said. "Me."

B shook her head. "No way. Besides, Faith, if the plan is going to work, you've got to be hiding when Adam comes out. I'll need to be the one out there."

"He'll know it's a trick," Red pointed out. "He's not stupid."

"But he thinks we are..." I thought for a sec, twirling a broadhead arrow between my fingers. "When you're trying to pull a con, the best thing to do is to feint, let the mark catch you goofing up on a smaller con, so the big one doesn't get noticed. It's a great way to get someone to underestimate you."

"Do I even want to know how you know all this?" B shook her head, smiling. "So he's going to assume it's an ambush, unless we give him another trick to figure out."

I grinned and nodded. I was juiced now, all the pieces were clicking into place. "You know, B, you'd look good as a brunette."

"She should have been back by now," I mumbled, pacing the floor.

Red looked up from the book she was reading. She and Tara were sitting a little closer together, getting a little more daring with the whole PDA thing. "It takes a little while to get to Willy's and back. I'm sure she's ok."

I grunted and kept pacing. I should have gone with her, but we didn't want to make it too obvious. The trick is in making it just obvious enough.

Seconds later, the door opened, and B walked in. Goddamn, looking at her, I could hardly breathe. She was wearing stuff that I would normally wear: boots, tight black leather pants, black tube top and black denim jacket. The only difference was that she had a brown-haired wig covering her hair; a wig which she took off as soon as she got through the door.

I was gonna keep my cool, but I couldn't help it. I jumped into her arms as soon as the door closed, and gave her a nice, long kiss.

"I should be greeted like this more often," she whispered to me after breaking the kiss.

"I missed you," I told her, huskily. We heard a small cough, and looked over to where Red was clearing her throat. Not that she gave a rat's ass what we were doing, but she pointed at Giles and Xander, whose eyebrows had reached their hairlines.

"Uh oh," Buffy said to me, in a low voice. "Now we've done it."

"I couldn't help myself," I told her. "In that outfit, you're wicked sexy."

"Guess I should hang onto it, then." She grinned at me, and winked. Turning to the two guys, she said, "I guess it's kinda obvious that Faith and I are a little bit more than friends."

Giles seemed to snap out of the haze he was in. "Ah, yes. Well, I'm sure everything is...good. Can I get anyone a drink?" And he beat a hasty exit to the kitchen.

Xander just stared at us. B frowned, all worried for the guy. "Are you ok, Xander? Does this bother you?" I snickered. I coulda told her he was ok, considering all the blood left his brain in a rush.

His jaw worked for a minute before any sound came out. "Two beautiful, leather-wearing, strong, gorgeous -- did I mention leather-wearing? -- Slayers french kissing right in front of me. You know, I can't tell if it's bothering me or not. Could you do it again, so I can make sure?"

I shrugged. "Sure," I said, and put my arms around B.

B, in turn, almost jumped out of her skin. "Xander! Faith!" She gave us both a glare that was completely unconvincing.

I just shrugged again. "Shit, wouldn't be the first time I let a guy watch," I said. That got a whole hell of a lot of shocked looks from everyone, Xander included.

"Ok, that's enough," Anya said, dropping the magazine she was reading. "C'mon Xander, let's go back to your basement."

"Yeah, that's a good idea, Anya," Xander said, still in a daze. "We need to go stuff. You stuff."

Anya looked pleasantly surprised. "That's the second time today. I should let him watch you guys kiss more often," she said, and dragged him out of the house.

"So," I said, casual as all hell. "How did it go over at Willy's?"

B looked at me, and blinked a couple of times. "Oh, it went fine; I found one of Adam's vamp goons, told him I was Faith and that I was sorry our last meeting went bad. Told him to let Adam know that I could deliver him Buffy, and to meet me tomorrow night at the cemetery."

"Great." I grinned. "Did he fall for it?"

"Not really," B said. "He kept looking at me, like he recognized me as Buffy. But he didn't say anything."

"So Adam will think the trick is an ambush by Buffy?" Tara asked, her voice so quiet it barely carried to the other side of the room. Gonna have to work on loosening that girl up.

I nodded. "That's the plan."

"You know," Buffy began, facing the group, "no one should feel like they have to come with us. This is going to be pretty dangerous, and if anyone feels like they shouldn't risk their lives, that's cool."

Red looked at Tara, and the witch girl just slid her hand into Red's. Guess that was her answer. Red looked at B and said, "We're with you, Buffy. We want to help fight the big, nasty evil. You'll need our help."

"She's right, Buffy." Giles nodded. "Not helping you is not an option worth considering."

B grinned; I smiled, too. It was nice having friends to watch your back. "I love you guys," B said, getting all misty-eyed and shit.

"Ah hell," I said, blinking. "If this is turning into the caring circle, I'm going home."

Red and Tara got up from the couch. "Guess we'd better go back, before it gets late. Big day tomorrow." They said their goodbyes, and took off.

B looked at me, sliding her arms around my waist. "Tomorrow's going to be pretty dangerous, huh?"

I shrugged, holding her close. "Could be."

She was going to say something, and stopped to lick her lips; I barely held back from doing it for her. "It's not too late; I'd kinda like for us to visit with my mom. Try to get things straightened out before tomorrow."

Woah. Didn't see that coming. "Now, I don't want you to be all getting your affairs in order here, B. Cuz you ain't going anywhere tomorrow, ya know?"

"I know." B nodded. "But I want to get past that. Go into the fight tomorrow with a clear head."

I couldn't argue with that, but I didn't know how much would actually get resolved. "Okay, I'm game."

Chapter 7

"So," Joyce said, breaking the five-minute silence. It felt more like five hours, but the clock on the living room wall said differently. I was starting to wonder if it was broken.

I kept my mouth shut, and watched the looks that B and her mom were giving each other. Every so often Joyce would get that look in her eyes when she was watching B, that "oh, my poor baby" kinda look. And then she'd glance at me, and she was all ice queen again.

"So," B echoed back. "I'd kinda like to talk this out, mom. Maybe get things resolved."

"What makes you think they can be resolved?" Joyce asked, her voice quiet.

I winced; damn, this wasn't going to be pretty.

It seemed to hurt B, too. "What is this about? Is this about Faith, or the fact that I'm dating a girl?"

"Both," Joyce shot back immediately. "I could probably get used to the lesbian thing--"

"I'm not a lesbian, mom--"

"--god knows I've had to get used to some pretty strange things in your life. But why her?" Okay, I'm still here, in the room. "Why someone who has done so much to hurt you, to hurt all of us?"

"First of all, dating a girl is nothing compared to some of the weirdness that has come in and out of my life since we moved here, since before we moved here," Buffy said, her voice calm. Yeah, her voice was calm, but I saw the way she was gripping the arms of that chair. Any minute she was going to turn them into toothpicks. "Second, I trust Faith. I trust her with my life."

Joyce glanced at me. "Do you trust her with all our lives?"

"Yes." B didn't even hesitate. I loved her for it.

"Well, that makes one of us," Joyce said.

"Two of us, actually." I couldn't help it, I just had to say something.

"Since I've been told the decision really isn't up to me," Joyce gave me a pointed look again, "I don't know what else there is to talk about."

She was pulling out the trump card, now. Motherly guilt. Bet she still thought she could get between us, if she showed B all that strict disapproval.

B was quiet for a long time, long enough for my heart to stop beating, I think. Finally, she looked up. "I'm sorry you feel that way, mom." She got up, letting go of the chair's arms, which had developed small cracks. B held out her hand to me, and I reached out and took it. I was no dummy.

Then we left.

I guess I won; I mean, B chose me over her mom, right? So why didn't winning jazz me like it usually did?

It only took one look at B to answer that question.

"She'll come around," I said, with a hell of a lot more confidence than I felt. "She loves you. She won't stay mad at you for long." Me, on the other hand, she could stay mad at. But I didn't say that out loud.

She didn't look convinced. "My mom has a long memory. You don't know how long it took her to trust me again after I ran away."

Actually, I did. I was around during that time. Out loud, though, I said, "She's still your mom. She stuck with you through the Slayer thing, even though it had to be pretty wicked strange for her. She just needs time to deal."

B gave me a weird look. "How come you're defending her, after what she said about you?"

I didn't even look at her, I just kept walking. "Personally, I don't give a rat's ass about her. But she's important to you. That's all that counts."

I felt Buffy's hand on my arm, and I stopped and looked at her. She didn't say anything, she just pulled me in for a hug. Her skin was cold, way colder than the night air; that confrontation with her mom really cost her.

"I guess I need to put this behind me, and focus on tomorrow," she said, her voice muffled against my leather jacket. I nodded, my cheek rubbing against the top of her head. The smell surrounded me, some expensive conditioner she used that was like twenty bucks a bottle or some shit. It was my second favorite smell in the world.

"C'mon," I said, breaking the hug but leaving an arm wrapped around her waist. "Big day tomorrow. We'd better go home and get some sleep."

"Home," she whispered, so quiet I wasn't even sure if she said it, slayer hearing and all. Louder, she said, "That sounds like a good idea."

Ah, the life of a Slayer. Twelve hours ago I was laying in a nice, comfortable bed, the most beautiful woman in the world wrapped around me, sleeping peacefully.

Now, I'm hiding under some really thorny bushes, flat against the cold, wet dirt. I looked out across the moonlit graveyard and saw B standing there out in the open by the graves, dressed like me with the brown-haired wig and everything.

It was showtime.

We'd been in our positions for about an hour already, since a little before sunset. I glanced up into the tree which hung above the bushes I was hiding in, and I could just barely see where I'd left my bow. Damn California trees, way too bare for me to be hiding up there in the branches; I'd have been spotted in a flat second. That's why I was down here, laying face first in the dirt and mud. Scratched, and cold, and grimy.

I was pissed.

I had just felt some mud ooze into the waistband of my black jeans -- good call avoiding the leather pants tonight -- and I was starting to get seriously icked out when I spotted a tall figure stride out of the shadows, heading right for Buffy.


He looked as bad-ass as ever, walking up until he stood about 10 feet away from B. He cocked his head to the side, and his voice carried easily to where I was laying.

"You are not Faith." He didn't sound at all surprised.

B stripped off the brown wig and sneered at him. "Figure that out on your own, huh? Good boy."

"It was an obvious ruse," Adam replied in that same dull, monotone voice of his. "You tried to use my interest in Faith to bring me here alone, so you could fight me. I had hoped that you would be smarter. More of a challenge."

"What makes you think I won't be?" Buffy asked, still putting on the arrogant act. At least, I think it was an act.

"Because you will not live through the night," he said. And right when he said this, the ground started to erupt all around her. Dirt and grass went flyin' into the air, as these huge, goddamn holes appeared everywhere. I was so freakin' surprised I couldn't move, and I could see that B was pretty surprised too.

Vampires. Goddamn vampires were bursting out of every grave in the area; must've been about thirty of 'em. They surrounded B almost instantly, and I could see Adam standing there, totally calm and shit, just waiting for her to die.

A pretty wicked smart little trap, I'll give him that.

Too bad for him we had our own wicked smart little trap, too.

"Now, guys!" B yelled, and she shoulder-rolled behind a gravestone, coming up with a fierce double-headed axe that she had stashed there out of sight. It only took a couple of seconds after B gave the signal before the troops put phase one into action.

Holy water balloons. Ohhhh yeah.

I saw Giles, Red, Xander, Tara, and even Anya jump up from the various bushes and shit they were hiding behind. They chucked those goddamn water balloons for everything they were worth, plastering vamp after vamp with holy water. I could feel a wicked grin break out on my face when I saw at least a dozen vamps smoking and sizzling like bacon.

Man, the looks on their faces -- not to mention Adam's face -- were fucking priceless.

Didn't take long for the vamps to dive for cover, and they totally forgot about B. They were too busy going after Giles and the rest. I heard Xander yell something, and the last water balloons were chucked, and the holy water-filled super soakers came out. I could feel my hands clenching into fists; I was just itching to get into the action, but I knew if I moved at the wrong time, the plan was blown. Still, this lying-in-wait thing was really just not my speed.

Meanwhile, B was circling Adam carefully, trying to get him into position while the gang cleaned up on the vamps. The vamps were trying to close, trying to get near enough to take some of 'em out, but those damn super soakers have a pretty wicked range. Red and Tara clasped hands, and I could hear 'em chanting something just seconds before a beam of what looked like sunlight streaked out of their palms, setting any vamps it touched on fire. Giles picked up a crossbow and was busy dusting any vamps that the holy water and sunlight didn't burn to death. I would've helped, but I had my own shit to do.

B was having a hell of a time getting Adam into position; he didn't look too happy that we were polishing off his army, and he was taking swipes at B any chance he got. He had his skewer thing out, and B was dodging like crazy. He lunged at her, and B threw herself to the side. It caught her jacket and tore it; if she'd been a half-second later, it would have torn her. I almost leapt out of the bushes right then and there, headed for his throat. I didn't, though. Adam's last lunge had taken him further into the clearing, and now he had his back to me. There was only one thing I could do that would make a difference, and it was time for me to be doing it. It was time for me to make like a sniper.

I scrambled back out from under the bushes and stood up, my heart hammering hard inside my chest. I was ready to climb the tree and get to my bow, but something stopped me. Someone, actually.

Riley "Beefstick" Finn.

He stood a few feet away, dressed in those commando fatigues that he and all of his repressed homosexual buddies loved so much. But what stopped me wasn't really Beefstick, it was the blaster rifle he was holding, pointed right at me.

Damn, I was really starting to hate people who point guns at me.

"Faith," he hissed at me. Don't ask me how, it's not like 'Faith' has any s'es or anything. He managed, though. "Looks like the odds are a little more even now, doesn't it?"

"Look," I said. "I do not have time for this. You want to throw down, we can do it whenever you want. But for now, get the fuck outta here." I took a step toward the tree, and he raised his rifle.

"You think I'm letting you go? Forget it. I'm taking you down. Now."

"Shit! Would you listen to me?" I said, getting really kinda nervous now. "B is out there facing down Adam. Now if I don't do what I gotta do, she's in a world of hurt. Do you get that?"

Nothing. He still just kept looking at me like I was slime, his Clark Kent jaw set like it was wired shut. Hell, I knew he hated me, but this was really not the time or the place. I could hear a couple of blows being exchanged out there, where B and Adam were. We were running out of time; she couldn't dodge forever, and nothing she could possibly do was going to put the hurt on him.

I heard a faint crackling sound coming from Corn-fed's headset. After a second, he said, "This is Alpha 4, this sector is clear. Repeat, this sector is clear. No sign of hostiles." What the hell?

He just sneered at me, and said, "Guess I should take you out first. And then I can go out there, and Buffy and I can take down Adam. Like a team. Like we were supposed to be, before you came along."

Yeah, like Beefstick would last even a second against Adam. Stubborn fucking son of a bitch, why couldn't he just leave us the hell alone?

Just then I heard B's voice, strained, almost frightened. "Faith! Come on..."

"Screw this," I said, and jumped up to grab the lowest branch on the tree. Of course, right after I did, Beefstick lit me up.

All that goddamn electricity hit me, and it felt like every nerve in my body was on fire, all at once. I totally lost my grip on the tree branch, and dimly felt my body hit the ground. Soldier-boy was really gonna pay for that.

He tried to blast me again, but I rolled and got to my feet. Sorta. I mean, my knees weren't holding me up too well, and my legs felt all tingly like they were asleep. I just hoped it wore off quick, because I knew he wasn't gonna give me a breather.

"Okay, fun's over," I snarled, and half jumped, half lunged at the asshole, doubling him over with a quick punch to the solar plexus. I grabbed the rifle out of his hand and hit him upside the head with it, feeling his cheekbone crunch beautifully.

"Not so tough without your toy now, are ya!" I yelled, and kicked at his face. He dodged, my kick just glancing off his arm. He turned and swung at me with some black, baton-looking thing that he pulled out of nowhere. I ducked, but I still felt it smack into the side of my head. I blinked, and felt blood -- my blood, goddammit! -- trickling down my face.

He struck at me again, and I grabbed his arm, stopping it dead in mid-swing. I bent his arm back, wrenching away his baton. I punched it into his stomach, doubling him over, and brought it down across the back of his shoulders. He dropped to the ground like a pole-axed ox.

"Stay down!" I snarled, and ran to the tree, jumping up to catch a branch. B was counting on me to be up there, and there was no way I was gonna let her down.

I pulled myself up about halfway when I felt a couple of big hands wrap themselves around my boot, pulling me out of the tree. I scrambled to hold on to the tree branch, but the goddamn mud was everywhere now, keeping me from getting a good grip. I hit the ground hard, and felt Beefstick's hands wrap around my throat.

His weight pressed down on me hard, but I'd fought off bigger than him. I smacked him hard, right in the broken cheek, and he rolled off me, making nice little retching sounds. I yelled something -- hell, I don't even know what it was -- and picked him up by his commando vest, throwing him as hard as I could. He flew for a good ten, fifteen feet before he touched ground, and that was only because a tree trunk got in the way. He smacked right into it, and I heard a crunching sound which was probably a rib or two.

I took a step toward him, and he scrambled back, groaning from the pain. He threw me a look that would have killed me on the spot, if that were possible; blood ran down his face, and I could see one of his eyes swelling shut pretty nicely.

"Bitch," he mumbled, and stumbled into a run. I so wished I could go after him, but I had taken way too long on him already, and the thought of B out there alone with Adam scared the hell out of me.

I dropped the blaster, and scrambled up the tree lightning fast, grabbing my bow. I had a really sweet view of the clearing where B and Adam were fighting, and I could see that she was definitely getting the worst of it.

She was trying to hold him at bay by swinging the axe, but it was just way too slow. Every so often he'd close and land a punch on her and she'd go flying, hitting dirt and stone with bone-crushing force. Every time she got up, she got up a little slower, too. She had avoided his skewer-thingy for the most part; she had blood running down her arm from what looked like a pretty wicked puncture, but at least it was only her arm. For the moment, anyway.

Okay, time to even those odds.

I grabbed one of the special arrows that Xander made for me, and pushed the button on the timer to activate the ten-second delay.

I nocked the arrow, drew, and held it there, fully knowing that I'd be dead if I held it just a little too long. I had to wait, I had to get the best shot possible, because I was only getting one chance with this. And if I fucked it up, B was dead. And there was no way in hell I was gonna let that happen.

Buffy swung the axe at him, and Adam grabbed it, ripping the axe out of Buffy's hands and throwing it to the side. It threw her off-balance, and Adam pulled his left arm back to use his skewer. Never gonna be a better time.

I let the arrow fly, and it buried itself deep into his lower back. A lot lower than I was aiming for, but the modified arrow flew like shit. Adam stopped his thrust, like he was surprised that someone had shot him. He turned to look at me, all puzzled and shit; B saw the arrow sticking out of his back and she took that moment to dive over some headstones.

The arrow in Adam's back exploded, mainly due to the half pound of plastique Xander had packed into the aluminum shaft. The shockwave damn near knocked me out of the tree, and I almost fell out again a second later when one of Adam's arms crashed through the branches next to me. Luckily, Adam wasn't attached to it.

I poked my head out, looking out over the remains of Adam and several nearby headstones which had been pounded flat. Dropping down to the ground, I walked out into the clearing pretty damn carefully. My ears were still ringing a little bit from the explosion.

Adam was laying face-up on the ground, and all that was left was half his torso, one arm, and his head. His legs were laying a few feet away, and several feet away, respectively.

B poked her head up from behind the gravestone where she took cover, and she walked over to pick up her axe. Adam tried to reach for her when she walked up, but it was a pretty fuckin' weak attempt. B just looked at him grimly, and clutched up on that axe of hers. She swung and brought the axe down right on his arm, taking it off the body with one clean slice. Her next shot was for his neck.

I walked up behind her and put my hands on her shoulders, kinda letting her know it was me before I wrapped my arms around her and held her against me. Doesn't pay to startle a Slayer, I know that as well as anyone. I felt her relax, and she dropped the axe.

"'Bout time you showed up," she said with a little smile, leaning back into me. "I was starting to get a little worried about you." She was shaking a little, and I tightened my grip, holding her close.

"Yeah, well, there was a distraction. I'll tell ya about it later." I kinda nuzzled her neck and inhaled deeply. She smelled like sweat, and a little bit of dirt, but mostly she smelled like Buffy. Definitely my favorite smell in the world.

We were alive.

G-man and the crew walked up right then; Red and Tara were kinda leaning on each other, and Xander was limping, one arm thrown across Anya's shoulders for balance. Bet he tried to go hand-to-hand at some point and almost got his butt kicked.

"Well, it would appear that the danger has been neutralized," G-man said in that wicked obvious way of his.

"For now, but he's still got his power source," B replied. "Unless someone knows how to dispose of uranium?" She looked around, but no one seemed like they knew, and they were too tired for smart-ass remarks. "Ok, then, we've just got to take the pieces that are left, and scatter them."

I walked over and grabbed one certain piece by the hair, lifting it up. Pretty gruesome looking, actually; he still had this wide-eyed, puzzled look on his face. Betcha didn't think it would turn out this way, did ya, you cyber-demon asshole. "So we all take a part and meet back at G-man's?" I asked. I already knew exactly what I was going to do with this one.

Chapter 8

I crouched there for a minute, just watching. Straw-blond hair fell down across his forehead, giving him a kind of tousled, little-boy look; he was pretty cute. If you ignored the huge bandage covering half his face, that is.

Broken cheekbones are nasty. An injury like that you have to be careful about; could ruin a person's looks if it doesn't set right.

It hadn't taken me very long to figure out which room belonged to Beefstick, and even less time than that to jimmy the window open. No obvious alarms, so it was all good. They had him so high on painkillers that he never heard me.

I eyed him with appreciation, noting his smooth chest and hard muscles. But that view was ruined too, by the large bandage they used to wrap his ribs.

I wonder how he had explained it to them. Did he say, "Oh, I know I told you guys it was all clear, but then I decided to jump this chick"? Or maybe he told them he ran into a door by accident. A door which then jumped up and pounded the crap out of him. Maybe he just went with the classic, "I fell down the stairs."

Bastard. I could kill him in a flat second. Just snap his neck. Or maybe suffocate him; that wouldn't leave any marks. Buffy'd never know, no one would know. And he'd be off our backs, for good.

At times like this, I always remember those cool "Choose Your Own Adventure" books they had when I was a kid. You know, where they would give you a story and then ask you to choose what you did next, like "Do you talk to the dragon?" or "Do you attack the dragon?"

So guess which one I always chose?

Thing was, whenever I did that it almost always meant a quick and painful end to the story. And this story was just getting to the point where it really meant a whole hell of a lot to me.

So I just shook my head, and climbed out the window. I hope Beefstick appreciated how close to death he came just now; but no, he'd never know, cuz he was just laying there, doped up and sleeping peacefully.

Of course, he'll be a damned sight less peaceful when he rolls over in the morning and sees Adam's severed head in bed with him. I chuckled; I'd give anything to be able to see that. But no, places to go and all that.

You didn't think I was going to let him go without even a warning, did you?

So I ran my "errand", and hustled it back over to G-man's to meet with the others. They were all there, and in various stages of exhaustion, but B still jumped up to meet me when I came in.

"What took you so long?" She asked, kissing me soundly. I noticed Xander trying to do the "look but don't look" thing, so I kept the kiss going for a couple extra minutes. Hell, he had been a real trooper tonight, he deserved a thrill.

Finally, I broke for air. "Sorry, took me longer than I thought to get rid of that thing. We got anything to drink around here?"

"Yeah, we kicked demon butt. I say it's Miller time," Xander said, looking around.

Giles answered from the living room where he was slumped in a chair. "There's soda in the refrigerator."

"Hardly the drink of choice for brave warriors returning from battle," Xander complained. Giles just shot him a look. "Soda it is." He grabbed a few sodas from the fridge and began passing them out.

"How awful..." Red's voice was pretty quiet; she and the little witch were sacked out on the couch looking pretty frayed and worn. They looked like B and I did when we'd gone fifteen rounds with the undead; those spells must really be a bitch to cast.

"Ok, I'm not a big fan of Tab either, but it's all Mr. I-Don't-Know-Anything- About-American-Culture has in the fridge," Xander answered, looking at the can with disgust.

"No, I mean, yeah that's gross, but I was talking about Adam."

"What about him, Will?" B asked. I sat down on one of the kitchen stools and pulled her back against me, wrapping my hands around her waist. I didn't really feel like being away from her, right then.

"Well, according to the information that Riley got to us, um, before," she looked over at us in apology, "Adam's brain wasn't really in his head. It was a processor chip in his chest, between his power source and spinal cord."

"Oooookay," B said. She wasn't alone; I didn't know what the hell Red was getting at, either.

"What did happen to Adam's chest?" I asked B quietly.

"Will and Tara sent it to a pocket dimension, or something," B said, shrugging.

"So...?" Xander asked.

"So, we've just gone all 'Johnny Got His Gun' with him," Red answered sadly.

Blank stares all 'round.

"I think you need to reach a little lower for the pop culture references there, Will," Xander said, all puzzled and shit.

"I think what Willow is saying is that Adam remains fully awake and aware, yet he cannot move, cannot feel, cannot hear, or see, or speak. He is trapped," the G-man explained.

"Wow. Heavy," I said. Everyone nodded, serious looks on their faces. "So, who's up for microwave popcorn?"

Ah, the life of a Slayer. Twelve hours ago I was lying in dirt and mud under a bunch of thorny bushes, not knowing whether we would survive the night.

Now, I'm lying in bed, all warm and clean and comfortable, with the most beautiful woman in the world wrapped around me.

What did B call it? Oh yeah, "symmetry."

Adam was dead. With any luck, Beefstick and the Commando Boys would be laying off. So that just left the normal assortment of demons and vampires who were almost constantly trying to kill us.

And it left me. Who was, at one time, Buffy's biggest enemy of all.

I looked down at B's face, so peaceful. Open. Honest. We had been through so much together the past couple of weeks. I'll have to hand it to her, she took all my doubts, all my self-loathing and self-pity, and she weathered all of it. She not only put up with it, she tried to reassure me as much as possible.

Just how did a fucked-up, murdering bitch like me get to have someone like her in my life?

"Whatcha thinkin'?" She murmured, looking up at me sleepily. I didn't realize until right then that I had been staring at her the whole time.

Lie to her, I thought. Lie to her and tell her, 'I was just thinking you're the most gorgeous, sexy woman on Earth.'

"He told me my days were numbered."

B blinked, and drew herself up, looking at me all alarmed and shit. "What? Who?"

I never changed expression, I just kept talking in that same dull voice. "The Mayor. Had a videotape delivered to me not long after I woke up. Told me that once he was dead, there was nothing for me anymore. That I wouldn't have a place in the world...not without him."

B took one of my hands in hers, and kissed it. "I hope you know that's not true."

"I thought it was true at the time. Now..." I shrugged. "I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, B. It's hard."

She didn't jump to reassure me or anything, she just looked at me, kinda sad. "What can I do to make you believe it?"

"I don't know. Maybe nothing. Maybe I'll get it eventually, maybe it'll get through this thick skull of mine. I just don't know."

We sat there for a while, B looking at me, and me just staring off across the room.

"Do you love me?"

What? The question came totally out of left field, catching me off guard. "Yeah, I mean, of course I love you." What was she thinking, wasn't I telling her that enough? Isn't she happy? God, if I've done something to make her unhappy...

"You know I love you," she said. "And you know that when you wanted to pull away from me, I didn't let you go. Don't you trust me?"

I looked away, avoiding her eyes. "Of course I trust you. It's me I don't trust."

"I don't know why not. You saved my life. Twice."

I grimaced. "It's not that kind of trust. I always make the wrong choices, especially when it comes to relationships."

"Why do you think that?"

"Just look at my track record--"

B cut me off. "Your track record tells me one thing: you are looking for someone to love you, to understand you. Completely and totally. And most everyone has fallen short. Family, boyfriends, girlfriends, the Mayor...most of them loved you, or pretended to love you, for what you could give them."

She sat up, looking me straight in the eyes, no bullshit, no pretense. "I love you for who you are. Completely and totally. I know the best about you, and I know the worst about you, too. I've seen it all, first hand.

"I understand you, Faith. And you understand me. You're the first person who really has." She leaned over and kissed me tenderly. I never really knew what that felt like before I was with B. She broke the kiss and went into the bathroom, cutting off any argument I was about to make.

I leaned back and stared up at the ceiling. She was right. Damn, she had a way of looking straight into my soul. I used to look there, too, before I started hating the thing that was looking back at me. Maybe it was time for me to start looking again, and trusting what I found.

B took off shortly after that to catch a couple of study sessions on campus. She was gonna invite Red and Tara to dinner with us, too; I know she wanted to get to know Tara better now that she was Red's girl.

So I kissed her goodbye, already having decided on what I was going to be doing this afternoon.

The door chimed a little when I walked into the gallery. I wandered around for a couple of minutes, just looking at all the crap they had up on the walls, and how much cash people were willing to drop for it.

"Hello, may I help--" Joyce cut herself off when she rounded the corner and saw me standing here. "Faith."

"Mrs. Summers." I looked around a little and said, "There somewhere around here we can talk?"

She nodded, and led me back to an office. "What do you want to talk about?"

"Buffy. Look Jo--" I corrected myself immediately. "Mrs. Summers. It's tearing her up that you won't accept us. I know a lot of stuff has happened in the past, and I'm sorry for it. All of it. But I'm not sorry, I won't ever be sorry that I'm in love with your daughter."

I saw her wince a little at that. Tough; she had to get used to hearing it. "It's not that I really mind that Buffy is involved with a girl..."

"I know, it's me," I said, finishing her thought. "If it's any consolation, I didn't believe it either. And I tried not to accept it, I really tried my best to run away from her. But she didn't let me. She knew everything I'd done, everything I was, and she still didn't let me."

I looked Joyce in the eyes, hoping that she saw something there that would let her believe me. "I understand if you don't trust me; shit, most of the time I don't trust me. But I have learned to trust your daughter. I hope you can too."

She stood there, quiet. Thinking. That was good enough for me.

I turned around with a mumbled, "See ya," and walked out of the gallery.

I didn't do it for Joyce, and I sure as hell didn't do it for me. I did it for Buffy. I just hope I got through to her, cuz I hate having these little heart-to-hearts. I know B's mom can be stubborn, but goddammit, so can I.

I sighed. Sometimes I missed the old days. Things were so much simpler when I just beat the crap out of people if they didn't give me what I wanted.

Chapter 9

"Wow, that was so amazing!" Red exclaimed. "You're really good at this!"

Don't get your hopes up, it wasn't even half as much fun as it sounded. Miniature Golf. It was boring as shit when the boss used to drag me out here, and even with the current company it really hadn't gotten all that much more exciting.

"Yeah, nice shot Tara," Buffy said, smiling at the shy witch.

B had asked Red and Tara out to dinner with us, and somehow that morphed into a night of hamburgers -- except Tara, who was a vegetarian; go fig --, frosty chocolate milkshakes, and miniature golf. How I had gotten sucked into this Pleasantville nightmare, I had no idea.

Thing was though, I knew exactly how. I looked over at Buffy, who was lining up to take a shot, her face scrunched up in that look she always got when she was in deep concentration mode. I caught Red giving me this knowing glance, and I realized that I was grinning like a total goof for everyone to see. I shot Red a pretty fierce glare and she just smiled, and pretended she was looking somewhere else.

This 'love' crap was really ruining my rep.

"We need something to make this more interesting," I said smoothly. At B's arched eyebrow, I continued. "Like a wager."

Red's eyebrows came together worriedly. "Um, what kind of wager?"

I leaned against my putter as casually as possible, and said, "Like if I get a hole in one on this next shot, I get to pick the next activity for the evening."

B and Red exchanged glances, but Tara just shrugged. "S-sure, I mean, that sounds fine." Red gave Tara a kind of worried look, like she didn't trust Tara to be able to handle whatever I had planned. Couldn't say I blamed her.

B was a little harder to convince, though. "What do we get if you miss?"

I gave her a winning smile. "If I miss, you get to drag me anywhere you want tonight."

"We're already doing that," B shot back with a grin.

"And, I won't bitch about it," I finished.

"Done," B replied almost instantly.

"Good." I swaggered, yeah swaggered, up to the tee and dropped my ball. I lined up and took a couple practice swings, even going so far as to sight down my putter to see if the shaft curved. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw B roll her eyes and I smiled.

What they all didn't know, what they couldn't know, was that I always got a hole-in-one here. The Boss was a lot of things -- psychotic, devil-worshipping, power-hungry, homicidal -- but the man knew his miniature golf.

I took my shot, and seconds later three pairs of eyes turned toward me in surprise. I blew on my putter like it was a smoking gun.

"I believe that's game," I said, grinning widely.

"Where are we going?" Red asked, all worried and shit. You'd almost think she didn't trust my noble intentions.

"Don't worry, it's only a club," I answered. "Just some music, some dancing, some hangin' out...stuff like that."

"Oh. Like the Bronze?" Red asked hopefully.

I flashed her a grin. "Something like that."

Didn't look like I reassured her much; she still kept picking at the sleeve of her jacket. I had made Red, B, and Tara stop by the dorms to change into something a little more rave-appropriate. But even with the new outfits, Red and Tara still had that air of wholesomeness that a real predator could spot a mile away. You just couldn't cover up that kind of thing with black Docs and eyeshadow.

A couple blocks from the club the two of them shot each other alarmed glances at the fact that you could feel the bass of the music in the sidewalk. A block or so from the club, and they caught their first glimpse of it: the unassuming steel door, the scraggly, tattooed bouncer, the goths and hardcore ravers stumbling in and out.

Their eyes wide, they stared up at the big piece of spray-painted steel over the door which read, "The Succubus."

B leaned close and whispered to me, "Are you sure this is a good idea?"

I flashed her a wicked grin. "This is sure to get those two loosened up. It worked on you, didn't it?"

"Good point," she mumbled.

I tossed a bill at the doorman, herding everyone inside the lion's den.

Red and Tara immediately wigged, their eyes nearly popping out of their heads from the sight of the dancers and various other people in the club. I don't know if it was because of all the leather, or the fact that they had never seen so many nipple piercings in one place before.

The Succubus was just about the same as usual. Hell, a place like this was never really different, it just rotated people and music every so often, like a full blood change. Dirty halogens lighting up the dance floor, dark shadows everywhere else; music which pounded the air, leaking from the club at the seams; and people who had a tendency to wear their fetishes for everyone to see. Kinda like me.

"C'mon," I said, steering them toward a table on the edge of the dance floor. They stumbled over and sat down; Red couldn't stop staring at everyone, and Tara couldn't stop blushing. I swear, if that girl pulled into herself any more, she'd implode.

I grabbed B by the elbow and leaned in close so she could hear me above the music. "I'm going to grab some drinks, see if you can keep Red's girl from having a heart attack, k?"

She smiled and sat next to Tara, using that wanna-be Homecoming Queen charm to start a conversation. Or try to, anyway, considering some Marilyn Manson remix was blasting through the speakers at a volume level roughly equivalent to a jet engine at full throttle.

I got the drinks from the bar, and when I came back I noticed that B had done a bang-up job; she had actually gotten the two witches to start smiling a little. I set down the drinks and dropped into the chair next to B, draping my arm across the back of her seat. The Wiccan Two drank up, either not really noticing the added taste of JD to the Coke, or not caring.

The music switched to a remix of Rob Zombie's "Living Dead Girl", and I jumped to my feet. "I love this song!" I said, looking around the table. "Who wants to dance?"

"Dance?" Red squeaked. "You mean dance, dance-in-public dance? Of course you mean dance-in-public dance, I mean, there's no place around here to dance-in-private dance, at least not that I've seen, but..."

I rolled my eyes and went over to stand behind Tara's chair. Leaning down close, I said in her ear, "You want to dance, don't you? C'mon..." I got her out to the dance floor without any trouble, but it wasn't because she wanted to dance, it was more because she was almost paralyzed with nervousness.

I started moving to the beat, but the blonde witch just kinda stood there, head bowed and her hair covering her face. Apparently more drastic measures were needed, so I got up right behind her and put my hands on her hips. She stiffened, ready to bolt as soon as she could figure out where to run. "Relax," I said in her ear, guiding her with my hands. "Just loosen up and have fun."

I don't know if my words had an effect or if it was the alcohol, but she started swaying under my touch, and after a minute or so she was moving without any prompting from me whatsoever. She even tossed her hair back, and I could see a small smile forming. I glanced over at Red who had such a look of raw need on her face that it would have almost put my best to shame. She had it bad for the little Wiccan, and at that point she didn't care who knew it.

I pointed an index finger at her and gave her a 'come here' gesture. She came over to us and I slid out of the way so Red could take my place behind her blonde witch. I turned around -- and came face-to-face with B, who slid her arms around my waist and began to dance.

There was a little bit of a rocky start at the beginning, but this evening was turning out damn near perfect. Kind of like the whole big, crazy thing that was my life lately.

B and I were just standing there on the beach, looking out over the ocean. The moon was real low against the horizon, it made the water look like there was a road cutting across it that anyone could walk long as they wanted it bad enough.

By the time we left the club, the two witches had been three sheets, not to mention all over each other, so we had walked 'em home. Rather than head back to my apartment right away, though, we had decided to take a walk on the beach; work out some of the alcohol before we hit the sack. B really didn't want a repeat performance of her last hangover.

"I had a really great time tonight," B said, leaning back against me. My arms were wrapped around her waist, to shield her from the cold wind. Whoever came up with the term "ocean breezes" obviously never came to Sunnydale beach at 3 o'clock in the morning.

"Yeah, me too."

B chuckled. "I think Willow and Tara had a pretty good time, too."

"I knew we could loosen them up," I said, feeling a smug grin coming on.

"You know what I love most about you?" She asked.

I raised an eyebrow. "What's that?"

"The way you walk into a room and change everyone's lives," B replied, smiling. "No one's ever prepared for it, but it happens anyway. Kinda like a..."

"Natural disaster?" I supplied helpfully.

She smirked at me. "I was going to say 'force of nature'."

"And is this a good force of nature, or bad force of nature?"

"Good, of course. Usually it happens to people whose lives really need shaking up. Like mine."

I smiled slightly. "Well, I did such a bang-up job with my own life, why not turn my talent to someone else's?"

"You did a great job with your life. I wouldn't have you any other way," she said quietly.

I bowed my head, resting my cheek against the top of her head. We stood there for a few minutes, just listening to the surf.



"Would you marry me?"

I froze, like I always do whenever I'm scared of fucking things up. Sure, my body wasn't moving, but my heart and mind both were racing around a hundred miles a minute. "I don't think that's legal," I chuckled weakly.

B turned around, her arms slipping around my waist. She looked up at me, her eyes dark in the moonlight. "Yeah, you're probably right." She sounded disappointed, and it hurt. "But would you want to?"

I reached up to stroke her face; my hand was trembling just a little bit, and I think she noticed. "Buffy. You know I'm not that good with the whole caring and sharing thing," I said, smiling sarcastically at myself. "But I do love you. I've loved you since the minute I saw you, since before I saw you, even. Hell, probably ever since I heard the stories about a chick who had such a pair on her that she pulled out a rocket launcher to waste some demon twice her size.

"You saved me. And I don't mean 'saved my life', cuz we've done that plenty of times for each other. I mean you saved me. My soul. Shit, if it weren't for you, I'd probably be dead or in jail by now." I took her hands in mine and kissed them; as someone who up until recently fought and fucked with pretty wild abandon, it was the most gentle thing I've ever done.

I bared my soul to her, and I never meant anything as seriously as I did right then. "B, we are forever. As far as I'm concerned, there is no place I'd rather be, and no one I'd rather be with. And not in a till-death-do-you-part way either. Because after I'm gone, hell won't be able to hold me. I will fight to be by your side no matter where I am, and no one, no one is going to keep me away. I love you, Buffy Summers."

Her eyes filled with tears and she buried her face in my jacket, holding me tightly.

"I love you, Faith Summers."

Buffy and Faith Summers. Now that's a love-hate relationship for the ages. Not everyone can say they've stabbed their girlfriend in the gut and put her into a coma, or stole her body and took it on a joyride, or tried to kill each other time after time and still had it come out a happy ending. Cinder-fuckin'-ella this was not.

Yeah, we'd had a pretty turbulent past, you could say. It was amazing to think that we were together at all, and a goddamn miracle that the two of us could stay together for months, much less years.

But that's a whole other story, isn't it?

Don't make any mistake about it, there are more stories. When it comes down to it, nothing and no one could stand against the Chosen Two. Because what I told her that night was absolutely true.

We are forever.

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