A Whole New Life: Bells For Her
by Surugan
Rating: PG-13

Disclaimer: I'm not Warner Music UK Ltd. or Joss Whedon.
Author's Notes: Tara, Anya, Gunn and Dawn are based completely on all the fan fiction I've read, because I haven't seen the 4th or the 5th seasons of BtVS, and I've only seen the first three episodes of Angel where Gunn was. I don't know if Tara has met Cordelia in the series, so I'm just going to assume she has. Spike has left Sunnydale, 'cause the blonde slayer never paid too much attention to him. But Giles is still in Sunnyhell. Two shlashes (//) indicate thinking. Please send me feedback.

"And through the lifeforce and there goes her friend / on her Nishiki it's out of time / and through the portal they can make amends" - Tori Amos, "Bells For Her"

*****

One step, two steps, three steps of freedom. It was raining, but Faith didn't care. Right now rain was the best thing that had ever happened to her. She couldn't believe it. She didn't think she deserved it. She wasn't ready for it. But she was free.

She stared at her feet. She was still too shocked by the realization that she had been let go, after all the things she had done, to know where to go or what to do. She was just thrown out, with no place where to sleep or where to work. At least she had some money.

Her feet started moving. She didn't even think about it --- they were taking her somewhere else.

*****

Two months had passed since Faith had been set free. If she had been in a college, the fall term would have started a week ago. She had a guitar now: Angel had bought it for her, as a 21st birthday present. She was working for him and sleeping in his hotel. She still spent time reading poetry, but music had also taken its place in her heart: she spent a big part of her salary in the record shop and already knew how to play her favourite songs with the guitar. She was as happy as she let herself be, but that's not much.

Her left arm hurt. The demon she had killed that night had managed biting her, tearing open a wide wound with one of its four fangs. The wound was bleeding, only it wasn't blood that was coming out of it: it was something yellow and sticky. The wound wasn't bad if you looked at it from the outside (if you don't count the yellow 'stuff' ), but inside it was radiating cold throughout her body. Faith was growing more and more tired every second, and she knew that it was caused by the wound. She took her cellphone and dialed Angel's number.

"Hey, it's Faith. I'm almost at the hotel. The bastard cut my arm, and now I'm bleeding this yellow sticky stuff. I -" Just then, she passed out.

*****

Wesley waited nervously, not sure of what to say. He just hoped that this would do some good. Finally, somebody answered the phone.

"Hello, this is the Magic Box, Rupert Giles speaking. How can I help you?"

"Hi, it's me, Wesley, whatever... We need your help."

"What's wrong?"

"I need you to search anything you can find on a demon that bites its victims, it has poisonous fangs, I think. Anyway, the wound bleeds some kind of thick, yellow, sticky... er... stuff. And radiates coldness throughout the body. I haven't managed to analyze what the yellow.. er.. stuff is, and we're running out of time, her body's ice-cold already." This all came out very fast, Wesley's worry evident in his voice.

"Her? The demon bit Cordelia?"

"No, Faith."

There was a long silence. Wesley decided to brake it.

"She's been out for two months already, working for Angel. She has changed, really. She's... she's my friend, and she's dying."

"I see."

Wesley didn't know what to say.

"We can't afford losing her again, and we thought you'd only worry for nothing, so we... Hell, please help us. I'm begging you."

The silence was shorter this time. Then the elder watcher made his decision.

"I think I remember something about biting demons.... I'll go through some books, but I can't promise anything."

"Thank you. Really. Thank you."

*****

Wesley cleaned the wound for the hundredth time in two hours. Faith was so cold, that he doubted if her heart beat at all... ever again. Cordelia was doing her best to make her warm, but the coldness came from inside her. Angel was going through his books for the third time already, and Gunn was trying to help him. Nobody said it aloud, but their only hope right now was in Sunnydale.

The phone rang, and three of them went to answer it. Cordelia reached it first.

"Angel Investigations - Giles, great!" ---- "WHAT?!?" ---- ---- "Ok, we'll bring her there." ---- "Yeah, thanks. See you soon."

She turned around to face Angel's, Gunn's and Wesley's blank looks.

"You heard me. We're leaving, now." She took her purse and headed for the door, but Angel stopped her.

"What did he say?"

"There are two possibilities, and he needs to test which one's this case. He's preparing the chemicals right now. If it's the less lethal one, the ritual that will stop her from staying dead-cold for fifty years will need nine participants. And if it's the more lethal one... well, let's just say that we're gonna have a hard time convincing Red ... I mean Willow or some other witch that Faith's life is worth saving. Now, come on!"

Angel nodded and lifted Faith in his arms. Wesley picked Faith's guitar from the corner of the room, knowing that it was Faith's most prized possession - the slayer didn't want to be away from it. Gunn went to get weapons and their overnight-bags. They had them packed for cases like this - they never knew when they'd have to leave the city. Soon they were all in the car, headed for the Hellmouth.

*****

They reached Sunnydale at midnight. Giles had told Cordelia to go straight to the mansion: that was one of the places where Buffy was most unlikely to go to. Faith had woken twice while in the car, only to mumble something about making amends through portals, and then fall back to unconsciousness. This worried Angel: apparently she was delirious. Cordelia just smiled heartily to the man who had walked on earth for two hundred years, without paying any attention to his less-dangerous surroundings.

Giles was waiting for them inside, and he had prepared Faith a bed. Angel lay her down, and Giles opened the bandages on the wound. There was a thick cover of something-yellow-and-sticky on the wound. He cleaned the wound and Wesley started changing the bandages.

Giles took a sample of Faith's blood and dropped one drop of it into two different bottles of weird-looking chemicals.

"Which one is it?" Angel asked, worried.

"I don't know yet. We must wait."

"For how long?"

"Maybe five minutes, maybe two hours. I don't know."

A short silence followed his words.

"If it's the more lethal one, how can we save her?" Wesley asked.

"Well, there are two possibilities. Both of them should somehow recover her lifeforce and heal her body. The first one, a ritual, requires 'Two witches to save the soul, two friends to heal the wound, two fighters to restore the warmth and one she loves to let her know'. I think that 'one she loves to let her know' means that someone she loves must give her thoughts -- so that she can think. The second possibility is a spell which will make an antidote, a dose of -- er -- lifeforce. I don't believe that it means blood, though. I believe there must be three *strong* well-wishers. One must give her back her body, the second will save her sanity, and the third shall recover her spirituality."

"So we'll need who?" Angel said.

"Willow and Tara would both be needed in the ritual. But we don't have much time and I don't believe that Willow is going to come here running as soon as she hears that Faith is dying. Unfortunately, the second possibility is a spell that requires its casters to *have* lifeforce: you can't give what you don't have. Me and Wesley could *probably* bring her the body and her sanity (which I believe can be translated as her mental capabilities), but her spirituality would need to be recovered by a third caster. And honestly, I can't think of a capable spell-caster who'd want Faith to live. No offense, Cordelia and ...er... Gunn?"

"So we'd need either Willow or Tara to bring her spirituality?" Cordelia asked. Giles nodded. "What if we'd recover only her body and her sanity?"

"She'd be a living, intelligent body with no soul." Nobody said anything for a while.

"We need nine people for the less-lethal poison to be undone, right?"

"Yes, but it's complex, and honestly, I don't know who fit the descriptions. Or who'd be willing to help her."

"There are only five of us here. We're gonna need Scoobies anyway." Cordelia said.

"You can count me out." Giles said coldly. Everybody looked at him. "I don't think we need another slayer, and when lying cold for fifty years she can't hurt anyone."

"Giles-" Angel started.

"Think rationally-" Wesley tried, but Cordelia's answer was louder than theirs:

"Fine. We'll find persons fit. That is, if we need to do this particular ritual." Everybody went silent after that. It wasn't broken for an hour.

*****

There were two potions on the table; both were changing their color. Giles opened his books to match the colors with the drawn pictures.

"This is strange..."

"What?"

"She has been bitten by the Kofferan demon. She's dying."

"Then what's so strange?"

"There's something mixed with the poison; infact I believe that something is what's waking her up every now and then."

"Can you analyze it?"

"Yes, but I thought our main priority right now was saving her life."

"So what's our best plan?" Cordelia asked.

"Right now I think we should sleep. In the morning we can either try the spell or start working on the ritual."

"I agree. Cordy, Gunn, Wesley... pick your rooms and go to sleep. I'll be here with Faith." His three employees left the room.

"Giles."

"Yes?"

"Don't tell Buffy anything yet. If Faith dies, Dawn doesn't have to know that she could have been saved." There was a brief pause.

"I understand."

*****

Angel woke Cordelia at seven o'clock. He made her coffee while she was showering and getting dressed. After quick breakfast, Angel sent her on a difficult quest: she had to go talk to Tara, and bring her to the mansion without Willow. Angel wished that Tara would be strong enough a well-wisher. He wasn't really sure if Giles or Wesley was.

*****

Cordelia had trouble finding Willow's and Tara's dorm room. (Un)luckily, she ran into someone familiar while wandering around the campus.

"Cordy!"

"B! No!" There was a brief moment of shocked silence from both sides.

"B, no?"

"Er...Bee, you know?"

"What?"

"About the bee. Quest. No. Vision! Pain - Tara - Vision. Pain. Sunnydale."

"So you're on a b-vision-quest? You had a vision - about a bee? and you're on a quest? Or did you have a painful vision about Tara and Sunnydale? Why are you here?"

"I... had a vision. Need Tara to help us. I'm the only one in Sunnydale -- others are in LA. I need to find Tara."

"Ok... so you're looking for their dorm room?"

"Yeah."

"I'll take you there."

"Thanks."

*****

Cordelia knocked on the door. Buffy had showed her where Willow's and Tara's room was, and then left for classes. Cordelia was relieved, although Buffy had made her promise she'd come visit her and Dawn tonight. "I will, don't worry." Cordelia had said, but added in her mind //That is, if I'm not crying my eyes out.//

Willow opened the door, and her smile faded into surprised confusion as she saw who was behind it.

"Er.. Hi?" Cordelia said, desperately trying to think of a reason to talk to Tara alone.

"Hi... why are you here, I mean how did you find me, I mean - come in if that's what you want I mean if you're not a vampire - of course you're not, the sun is shining -"

"Stop babbling, Red. I mean Willow." //Shit. Definitely shouldn't have called her that.// Cordelia stepped in to the small room as Willow tried to think of logical answers to her questions. She didn't find any.

"So Cordy, why are you here?"

"To separate you and Tara."

"WHAT?" Willow shouted before she recognized the smirk on Cordelia's face.

"I was joking."

"Very funny."

Tara came from the bathroom to find her lover in an uncomfortable silence with Cordelia, having heard the short conversation through the thin walls.

"H-Hi." She said, nervous.

"Hi. Nice to see you again, Blondie. Er... I mean Tara." Cordelia looked like she meant what she said.

"So w-why are you here?"

"I had a vision. I need to talk to you. Alone."

"You can say whatever you have to while Willow's here."

"I don't think so. The vision was pretty scary." Tara didn't believe Cordelia was talking about visions; but she could see that Cordelia wasn't going to say what she had to say to Willow.

"Alright." Tara looked at Willow, hoping that she'd understand. The redhead looked at her and left the room, feeling a bit protective about Tara, but at the same time, sad that she couldn't stay and listen.

"So what did you want to talk to me about?"

"I have this friend whom I've known well for a year now, and she really means a lot to me. She's like - Buffy to Willow. That's what she means to me."

"R-right."

"She's been bitten by a Kofferan demon."

"R-right."

"She's dying fast." Tara was silent, confused but already caring for this friend. "There're two ways of recovering her: the other needs three *strong* well-wishers to cast a spell, the other requires two friends, two witches, two fighters and one she loves to accomplish a ritual."

"So why couldn't Willow stay?"

"It's Faith."

Tara was silent for a long time.

"Oh." She finally managed to say.

"So, are you a well-wisher, or do we have to find two witches?"

*****

Angel was pacing around the room. Faith had stirred for a moment, mentioned something about not being able to stop what's coming and then she had passed out again. She was paler than before, and strangely enough, her skin was glowing somewhat blue. Angel could barely hear her heartbeat: it had slowed down so much that he was afraid that it'd stop beating at any moment now. Gunn and Wesley sat on the couch near her, silent, as if afraid that talking could kill her. Needless to say, the atmosphere in the room was very grave. Giles sat in the kitchen, drinking tea. He was going through the spell, trying to learn his part by heart. The text said that the spell required three strong well-wishers. He wasn't sure if he fit that category at all; and he had his doubts about Wesley or Tara being strong enough. But this was their only chance - honestly, who could persuade Willow to save a murderer? And apart from herself, who did Faith love?

Finally, just as Angel was sure he'd run out to the sun to go look for Tara and Cordelia, they heard footsteps from the front door. Wesley was up in a second, hurrying to open it for the women. Cordelia and Tara rushed in, nodding their greetings to Wesley.

Angel hushed Gunn out of the room as Giles entered it with the book and the spell ingredients. He explained the spell to Tara and Wesley while Angel started preparing it. Finally, everything was ready. Angel left the room for his breakfast.

They started chanting, trying to concentrate only to the task in hand. But after three repeated attempts of finishing the spell they had to admit that their dose of lifeforce was nothing but a drop of something pink, while the book they had consulted said clearly that there should be a half tea-cup of blood-red liquid.

"So what do we do now? Pray for a miracle?" Cordelia asked, worried, angry and frustrated.

"Well, the ritual requires two fighters, two witches, two friends and someone she loves. I don't really know who of you qualify as fighters or friends. Or as someone she loves." Giles answered her, not quite sure what he should feel.

"Dawn." Angel said.

"What?"

"Faith cares for me, Wesley, Cordelia and Gunn... but she loves Dawn, like a sister."

"Are you sure?" Giles asked.

"Positive. Now, I'm a fighter, but I'm not exactly alive. Gunn's a fighter, so that's one. Cordelia and Wesley - I trust you both feel that you are Faith's friends?" The seer and the ex-Watcher nodded. "So we've got that covered. Giles, could you go and bring Dawn here? The sooner we get this done - well, the better chances we have." Giles nodded and left the room, trying to think of a good reason why Faith should be saved - apart from her being a human.

"So we've got one fighter, one witch, two friends and someone she loves, right?" Angel continued. Everybody nodded. "Tara?"

"Y-yes?" The witch asked, as she was addressed.

"Do you know any witches who could come and help us now?"

"A-apart from Willow, I - I don't know any, a-and she's not gonna be ha-happy ab-bout this."

"Well, then. Does she have a cellphone?"

"Yes..."

"Call her and ask her if she knows where Buffy is. We need them both here. Faith might die any second now. And I don't want her to go to Hell." Angel handed his cellphone to Tara.

Her hands shaking, Tara took it.

*****

Buffy sat on the couch of Angel's mansion's living room, next to Willow and Dawn. She looked around, worried and annoyed. The whole LA crew was here; so Cordelia had lied to her earlier. Nobody said anything, not even Tara or Giles, who were seated before her, concentratedly staring at the table. Tara glanced once in a while at Willow, who stared at her questioningly. But that wasn't the strangest thing. The strangest thing was the positions the L.A. crew had taken: Angel was standing in the corner, his back to the room, and he looked like he was listening through the wall. Cordelia stood perfectly still next to him. Wesley and Gunn stood in front of a door to one of the mansion's bed rooms, looking like security guards.

"You called us here because of an emergency, but you're not saying anything. Why?" Buffy asked, growing more annoyed every second. Angel turned to face her, then looked as though he heard something. Buffy heard something too: a croaky voice from the next room, saying: "can't stop what's coming, C... Angels come falling..."

"Who is there?" Buffy said, pointing at the door behind Gunn and Wesley, afraid of the answer she already knew. Angel whispered in Cordelia's ear and then left to see Faith.

"Angels come falling?" Cordelia said, confused. "Which song talks about angels falling?"

"Er.. I believe that is irrelevant." Giles managed, now looking at Dawn, Willow and Buffy.

"Why is she here?! When did she get out? Why are *we* here?" Buffy asked, now angry.

"Who?!" Willow asked, looking at Tara.

"Faith's here!" Dawn said, jumping up from the couch and running past Wesley and Gunn. Willow's eyes widened with shock as she understood who's in the next room. Buffy got up to leave, but before she could think of anything dramatic to say to Giles, she heard Dawn scream. Now certain that Faith had attacked her little sister, she ran to help her. Willow followed her. What they saw was very different from what they had expected: Faith was slightly blue and still unconscious. Angel was changing the bandages on her arm, and the amount of yellow-and-sticky-something leaving her body with blood mixed on it had increased. For a passing moment Buffy was sure she saw a tear on Angel's cheek. Dawn had gone to hold Faith's hand, desperately searching for a pulse. Angel nodded to her. Faith was still alive. Tara came to the room and whispered something in Willow's ear. Willow looked at her and they both left the room. Angel finished bandaging Faith's arm and turned to look at Buffy. Dawn kept staring at Faith.

"Is she dying?" she asked.

"Yes." Angel said, staring at Buffy in the eyes.

"What do you want me to do? Forgive her? Stab her, 'cause you can't?" She asked him, angry at her ex-lover and her sister. Just because they cared for Faith.

"There's this ritual -"

"You can't, tell me you don't think I'm gonna let you save her!"

"I don't. I believe that you are going to participate in the ritual."

"And why would I do that?"

"You don't want to be responsible for your sister's friend's death."

There was a short silence.

"I do, if the 'friend' is a psychopath." She said and looked at Faith, then at Dawn and Angel, and then left the room.

*****

Willow was sitting on the couch. She was staring at Tara, apparently dumbfounded. As Buffy stormed in to the room, the redhead found words to her thoughts.

"How can you be willing to help her? I mean I told you about Faith and what she did to me, to us, to Buffy and Riley and how she.. she killed a man! She killed men! She's violent, I mean she can't change, how could she have changed?"

Tara looked at her lover. She was afraid of the reaction her next words would cause, but she knew she had to say them.

"If you don't want to save her, I won't blame you and I'll love you still. It's your choice."

"Her choice! I will blame you! How could you not save her?" Cordelia burst out. Wesley remained silent and he gestured Gunn to do so as well. Willow ignored Cordelia and tried to make a decision. Buffy had stopped at the door, studying the faces of the people in the room. Cordelia was apparently almost crying. Wesley was stone-faced, and Buffy couldn't see Gunn's face. Tara was looking hopeful but sad. Giles walked past Buffy to Faith's room. Willow looked very uncertain.

"You don't need to decide, Willow." Her best friend raised her head to look at the blonde slayer at Faith's room's door. "If I understood right, they need me to participate in the ritual as well, and I'm *so* not going to do that."

Everybody was silent. Cordelia's eyes flooded with tears and she looked at Buffy disbelievingly. But Wesley's reaction was what changed the atmosphere in the room completely:

"Murderer." He said with loathing, staring at Buffy in her eyes. Then he walked past her, to go to Faith, muttering "This is the last day of our acquaintance." Gunn walked over to Cordelia to support her. He hugged her and she started crying hysterically against his shoulder.

Willow was now even more confused: she didn't want to have Buffy take all the blame for Faith's death, but she didn't want the L.A. crew to hate her for the rest of her life, either. And Tara looked extremely sad, when she looked at Buffy. In her heart she knew that she didn't want Faith to live, but she didn't want to be one responsible for a death, either.

"If we don't help her, like Buffy's not going to help her, so we can't, Angel and Cordy and Gunn and Wesley are going to, going to treat us like, hate us like, blame us like we blame Faith.. And Dawn's not going to forget it either," she thought, not realising that she had said it aloud. Tara took her hand. Buffy stormed out of the mansion, angry and hurt.

*****

An hour later, Faith's heart stopped beating.

"Giles?"

"Yes?"

"Hand me the tea-cup with your drop of lifeforce."

"Here." He did as he was told, and Angel dropped the pink drop onto Faith's tongue.

"What?" Dawn asked. "What happened?"

"Her heart stopped beating." There was a brief moment of silence, and then: "There! It beat again."

Soon, Faith opened her eyes, looked at Dawn, Tara, Willow, all the LA crew and Giles who were in the room.

"I'm dying. I can feel it. The whatever you gave me, it wasn't enough. I'd guess I'm dead in an hour." There was silence everywhere. Nobody noticed that Buffy was at the door. "Could somebody bring me some mint-chocolate ice-cream?" Cordelia started crying.

*****

Willow didn't know what to do. She knew she hated the girl lying in her death-bed, but she also felt sorry for her. Suddenly she didn't want Faith to die. Not when five people in the room liked her, and possibly even loved her, for some.. *strange*.. reason. She couldn't let Faith cause so much more hurt and grieve. //If only I knew where Buffy was.// With that, she absent-mindedly headed for the door.

Buffy found herself walking towards the kitchen, wondering whether Angel had mint-chocolate ice-cream in the mansion. //No, probably not... and just why do I care if Faith gets enough to eat before her death?!// She stopped abruptly, as she heard Willow's footsteps from behind her. She turned around.

Willow walked straight into Buffy. She had been so deep in thought that she hadn't realised that she wasn't the only one heading for the kitchen.

"Buffy! Sorry, I didn't see you, I mean I didn't realise that you were there! I thought you were walking, or at the college or something, but not here in the mansion, d'you know what I mean when -"

"Calm down."

"Yeah, calm down, I am perfectly calm, nothing's wrong, Faith's dying. I mean, everything's alright, no reason to be worried, I mean... I'm not exactly calm, am I?"

"No, you're not." There was a short silence as the redhead regained her composure.

"Faith's awake you know, in the next room." Willow said, not sure what she was trying to do.

"I don't care." The blonde answered. It was a lie: she didn't want Faith to live, but she had seen Angel's and Wesley's faces when Faith had asked for ice-cream. And she kept hearing Wesley's loathing voice, saying: "Murderer." again and again. And then there was a small voice inside her head, which said that maybe, just maybe the other slayer had changed. What else could make these people love her so? But her emotions controlled her: she hated Faith, she'd hate her even more so after her death. Faith had tortured her mother, Faith had stolen her body, Faith had stolen her little sister, Faith had comforted her little sister when their mother had died. Faith had done so many things. //I will not save her. She never saved me.// How could she have? When had she needed Faith to save her? //That's irrelevant// she said to herself, not realising that if she had only saved the people who had in some way saved her, she'd have never saved more than two or three people. Somebody's got to start doing favors, so that others can return them.

"... know, Buffy, I don't know... Can you hear me?" Willow had spoken to her, but she had not listened, she hadn't heard the witch at all.

"What? What did you say?" The slayer said.

"Are you alright?"

"Yeah, I'm fine. I just need to.. think, I think." She turned around and walked to the kitchen. Angel, who had seen and heard the conversation from the door of Faith's room, smiled hopefully. //There's no way those women are going to ... no way.// Willow sat down to the couch. Giles, behind Angel, went to prepare the ritual. Faith was trying to comfort Cordelia and Dawn, who were both crying. Gunn stood by them, having overheard the conversation in the living room. //She hasn't died yet. She won't die.// A single teardrop found its way down Wesley's cheek.

*****

"Buffy?" Giles asked cautiously.

"Yeah?"

"I just thought you should know that.. Faith's lost consciousness. She's going to die at any moment now."

That caused an emotional storm inside Buffy's head. Her emotions were contradictory: she wanted Faith to die, but on the other hand, she wanted Faith to live and make amends. Just for a moment, she was uncertain of what to do. She felt horrible: she was sentencing a young girl to death. //No, I'm sentencing a murderer to death.// But that didn't change it. She still felt that Faith was important. At some level, she still cared for her friend Faith. And that realisation was just too much. She was now angry to herself, angry to Faith and angry to the world. But she couldn't let Faith die.

"Tell me about the ritual." She said. Giles smiled. //She couldn't do it. She couldn't kill in cold blood.//

"Well, we have prepared it. Everybody's ready, we just need you to step in to the circle..."

*****

Faith was floating in her dream. Falling down with angels and snowflakes. She didn't care, if she was going to die or not. Somebody was there to catch her, she was sure of it.

A blinding flash of white light hit her. She began to feel warmth again. It spread from her heart and found its way to every part of her body. Her arm had stopped hurting. She didn't feel like she was losing blood or anything. She felt strong, and almost alive. She had no toughts, however. She just felt.

And then, softly, something touched her fingertip. It brought power to her, made thoughts flow through her. //I'm alive.// She had never felt better. Then the pain hit her. Something was inside her, still, but it was slowly starting to grow less and less powerful. But it hurt like hell, and didn't let her wake up.

*****

Faith started screaming in her sleep, writhing from side to side. Her skin had regained its normal colour, her body its warmth, and Giles was sure the witches had succeeded. //So what's wrong?// He thought, and then it hit him. The other liquid. What was mixed with the yellow Kofferan-poison. Angel looked at him and saw the comprehension spreading to his face.

"Did you analyze it?"

"No. Not yet."

"I'll hold her down. Take a sample of her blood." Giles nodded and went to get a syringe.

"What's wrong?" Dawn asked.

"Something was mixed with the poison, but we thought it wasn't important." Angel answered her.

"Not important - she's in pain!"

"But she wasn't before. In fact, I believe it's what kept her alive this long. I'd say - I'd say it was fighting the poison." Wesley said.

"Where d'you think it came from?" Willow asked. The screaming was hurting her ears.

"We can only guess - but if it was fighting the poison, then I'd say the demon that bit her was sick."

"Is there anything I can do?" Dawn asked.

"No, unless you know what can harm a Kofferan demon."

"A-another demon?" Tara suggested.

"Probably."

"I'll go search the web." Willow said, glad for the excuse to leave the room. Tara followed her.

"I'll just go." Buffy said "I trust you'll bring Dawn safely home?"

"Sure." Angel said.

*****

"There! See: 'The Quatscheneareinia is a small demon which has no extraordinary strength... They fight Koffereans by sacrificing their own lives in order to kill their target' - it's magic! 'They also use poisons that cause extra pain and slowly neutralize the Koffereans' greatest weapon, its poison...' - the icky yellow poison that kills! That's it... But they don't say anything about how it affects humans or slayers. Or how to stop its effects." Willow said, proud of herself. She didn't mind a little bit of pain for Faith - the slayer deserved it for all the things she had done. But the screaming had gone on continuously for an hour already.

"D-do you think we should try to help her - do a spell or something?" Tara asked.

"To take the pain away, you mean?"

"Y-yeah."

"I don't know. But let's go tell the others what we've found."

*****

"So there's nothing we can do?" Angel asked Giles.

"No. The effects will wear off. And with her metabolism - I don't think it should take much longer."

Willow watched Faith. The slayer's voice was croaky after all the screaming, but her torment was still evident in the way her whole body was twisting. //She deserves this// Willow thought to herself, //no, nobody deserves this// said another voice.

"Isn't there some spell we could do?" She asked Tara. Tara smiled to her.

"Well, we could try..."

"Let's do it."

*****

Suddenly, Faith felt the pain go away. The 'whatever' she had in her body hadn't worn off completely yet, so she didn't wake up. But something prevented her from feeling the pain.

*****

Faith opened her eyes, just to find herself alone in the room. //I'm alive// she thought. She got up from the bed, and noticed that she still had the same clothes on - except for her tank top, which had been taken off her. No extra clothes were in the room. //I guess it's time to shock everyone with an I'm-only-wearing-a-black-bra-and-leather-pants entrance.// And with that, she opened the door to the living room.

Everybody was awake, in the living room. Tara and Willow had left when before the sun had gone down. They had offered to take Dawn with them, but the girl had refused to leave before she'd know that Faith would wake up. Giles had stayed, just to see for himself if Faith indeed had changed at all.

When the door opened, they abruptly stopped talking. Everyone's gaze was directed at the almost-topless slayer with the greasy dark hair and a long gut-scar.

"Hey." Faith said, trying to sound casual, which was impossible since her voice was barely audible. //I wonder if I screamed aloud?// She tried to walk over to the chouch, but didn't get that far - she was stopped by Dawn and Cordelia, who ran to hug her - the younger girl sobbing "You're alive, you're alive. We've succeeded" and her older friend saying "I thought that I'd have to find you a grave-site, F." Angel went to get Faith's overnight bag. He opened it and picked a blood-red tank top, which he then handed to the slayer.

"Thanks. I think I'll shower now." Faith said with her voice as croaky as ever. She took the tank top and her overnight bag, and then left the room, a bit embarrassed after all the hugging. //Damn.. I didn't know they cared for me that much.//

*****

"I won't go!" Dawn yelled at Angel. "I don't see why I can't stay here for this night. I haven't seen Faith for - for over four years! Or five! - And no, I don't care if Buffy gets worried. She didn't want to save her at all."

"Dawn - listen to me. I promised Buffy I'd take you safely home. And I'm gonna do that. Now, you can come and see Faith tomorrow after school - we won't leave before she's strong enough. She's got to rest now. And you've got to rest now."

Dawn was silent. "OK" she finally said "But you've got to promise me you won't leave within a week."

"We can't do that. You know that L.A.'s not a safe place to live in - we've got to go protect those who can't protect themselves."

"But Faith can stay."

"I don't think that's a good idea."

"Fine. Then I won't leave tonight. Or go to school tomorrow. Or ever again."

"Dawn -." Angel sighed. //What am I going to do?// "We won't leave for two days."

"Six."

"Two. And that's the maximum."

"You'll leave in two days, but Faith is going to stay, for - for a week."

"No. She came with us, she doesn't have a driving license - She will come with us."

"She can use the bus!" Angel considered this. //The kid loves her.. After all the things she did!//

"She'll stay as long as she wants to. Mind you, that might be less than a day." He said. A wicked grin spread on Dawn's face. //I really don't...// Angel thought, not being able to finish his sentence. The young girl obviously had something on her mind.

"I'll come to see you tomorrow after school. Now take me home."

*****

"Buffy, I'm home!" Dawn yelled happily. It was half past midnight, but she didn't believe the slayer was sleeping yet. Angel and Dawn headed for the kitchen, where the blonde was drinking coffee.

"So you decided to come home, anyway." The older girl said.

"Yeah - well I made Angel promise that Faith could stay for as long as she wants to!" Her little sister replied.

"Really." The slayer stated, evidently not too happy about this.

"You know - I think I'll just go." The vampire said, heading for the door. This was definitely not a good time to talk to Buffy about not attacking Faith in any way - physically or mentally.

"No, stay." His ex-lover commanded "you had a reason to come in - didn't you?"

"Well... yes" the undead man with the soul said "but I think you both need to rest now."

"Dawn. Bed. Now." Buffy said, and before her kid sister had time to protest, added: "Tomorrow's a school day. You don't want to get grounded, do you?"

Dawn left the room.

"Sit." Buffy said, motioning at a chair. Angel sat down. "So what did you want to talk to me about?"

"Faith." The vampire said.

"I knew that. Now, if you're going to tell me that bullshit about her changing, I - I -"

"I'm not. I just want you to promise me one thing."

"What?"

"Don't attack her, in any way."

"Excuse me?"

"Just leave her alone. She'll return to LA, and unless I can arrange her into UC Sunnydale, she's not coming back."

"You what?" Buffy asked "You're not telling me - you can't be - she can't - she can't come here! She can't come back!"

"UCLA won't take her. Sunnydale's the only place apart from LA where there is someone who cares for her and some people to support her if - if something should happen."

"Don't. Please don't try to make them take her."

"I will. She has a right for education. And I'll need someone well-educated to help us when Wesley or Giles can't. She could study medicine, for example. Or english literature. She's very intelligent."

"You must be out of your mind."

"So you're not going to attack her?"

*****

It was almost one o'clock already. Dawn was sitting in the biology class room, taking notes of what the teacher was saying. But she didn't know what his words meant: her mind was somewhere else. //It can't hurt to cut lessons today: Giles himself came to take me home too early yesterday.// She thought. As soon as the class was dismissed, she left for the mansion. She ignored the fact that yesterday the reason for going had been a matter of life and death.

*****

//I hate this. I hate you. I hate you. I hate them. I hate you. I don't deserve this.// Cordelia thought.

"I hate this. I hate them. I hate you. D'you hear me up there?! I hate you. I don't deserve this." She said aloud. The head-ache was growing less and less painful, but she didn't care. She hated visions. "Give me a pen and a paper. NOW!" She added.

Faith fetched them both for her. Cordelia started sketching a picture of what she had seen, swearing and cursing The Powers That Be. Faith left her alone as there was a knock on the door.

As soon as the door opened, Dawn rushed in and threw her bag in to a corner. "Hi." She said, smiling happily.

"Hi... " Faith replied, glancing at her watch. "I thought you'd be at school right now."

"I was. This is the time called after-school."

"Oh."

"Faith, where's Wesley?" Cordelia shouted from the living room.

"Soulboy sent him somewhere. Said it was really important. Wouldn't tell me why."

"Well then get your ass over here and start researching."

"Our books are in LA." Faith said as she and Dawn entered the living room.

"Then look at this picture and *please* tell me what does it look like!"

Faith walked over to her and looked at the picture.

"A tattoo?"

"Do you recognize it?"

"Nope. Did you see anything else?"

"Yeah... This demon guy with this tattoo was at Wolfram & Hart's offices, before the building, talking to our devil's-advocate-friend Lindsey... And there was this store I've been in before - it sells women's underwear. And then there was this place with no windows. And our LA office."

"So we're going back to LA?"

"*You* are not ready to -." Dawn started, but Cordelia answered the question:

"Probably."

"I'll take that picture with me and go to the Magic Box. Let Soulboy sleep a little."

"I'll come with you." Gunn said, entering the living room.

"Let's go."

*****

Faith stepped into the store, and was immediately shocked. The first thing she saw was Xander and Anya kissing passionately behind the counter. They stopped as Dawn, Gunn and Faith entered, but Faith's slayer hearing picked Anya whispering to Xander's ear "Let's go home and have orgasms." Xander turned to look at the three 'customers', and his smile faded quickly as all the colour drained from his face. Apparently nobody had told him that Faith was out of jail and in Sunnydale.

"G-Giles!" He called "There's a murdering psychopath in the store."

"She is not!" Dawn said.

"Nice to see you too, Xander." Faith said and walked over to the counter. With a quick motion of her hand, she threw the picture of the tattoo on to the counter. Xander took a step back. Giles came to watch. "This was in Queen C's vision. Something in LA - we'll be leaving soon."

"So you're feeling better?"

"Not much, but it will pass."

"I hope so. Let's see," Giles looked at the tattoo. "Anya, call Angel. He's at the mansion."

"What is it?" Faith asked.

"I believe it's a... slave tattoo..."

"That is a tattoo of Iakulaos." Anya stated.

"How'd you know?" Xander asked, amazed.

"I've met Iakulaos once."

"What is he? A vengeance demon?"

"One that works through hundreds of slaves - yes. He disguises himself as one of those hundreds - so that he's safe." Anya replied "fighting him or killing his minions is an almost-certain way of killing oneself."

"I'm glad I don't work for Angel." Xander said. Then he glanced at Faith and a malicious smile spread across his face. Faith ignored him.

"Giles, would you mind if I left early today? I mean now." Anya said, and then looked at Xander "I want him to give me orgasms." Giles looked a bit uncomfortable, but then nodded his head.

"Do you know which book we should check?" Giles asked as Anya and Xander headed for the door.

"Try 'Vengeance demons and how to kill them', by Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia." Anya said.

When they had gone, Giles muttered: "Very funny."

*****

"What do you mean I'm not coming with you?" Faith asked, very anxious.

"You've got to go see the president of the UCSD and you've just had a near-death experience." Angel replied.

"Hello. I'm a slayer. I have near-death experiences everyday."

"So it's about time you take a break."

"I took a break in jail."

"Well then call this a lay-off."

"Why? I can't understand why."

"I want you to get an education. And you could possibly start next week, if you can convince the president that Wesley is right about you."

"I don't need an education!"

"I want you to represent Angel Investigations in Sunnydale."

"You don't need anyone in Sunnydale! You know the Scoobies and Giles."

"But I don't know about their lives."

"Like you'd care - or they'd ever let me know anything."

"I want you to stay here. And meet that president."

"Why?"

"I have four mortal employees - and only Wesley is well-educated. I want you to learn about things that he doesn't know. We need more knowledge. And what if Gunn or Cordelia get seriously wounded in a battle, and Wesley can't help them? If you'd have studied medicine, you could possibly save them. - And you can take literature classes as well."

"You must be out of your mind."

"Funny - that's exactly what Buffy said."

"You talked to her about this?"

"Well, yeah. She objected at first, but in the end she agreed."

"What? D'you mean she has agreed that I need an education?"

"No. She didn't like the idea of you in Sunnydale, that's all. She suggested LA, but they said they won't take you even if I paid them. And I've paid Sunnydale a lot."

"So you're giving me an order to stay in this oh-so-lovely-Sunnyhell for the next four or five years?"

"Yes."

"I don't understand you."

"Look, Faith... Dawn needs someone to look after her, to be another big sister. You know, in case Buffy dies again or something..."

"I thought you were talking about my education."

"I am. But I have - other aims, as well."

"So you want me to stay in Sunnyhell?"

"Yeah."

"I'll go see that president tomorrow." Faith glanced at Angel "and yes - I'll behave myself."

"Good." Angel looked around "you could stay here, in the mansion, and you're going to have to take care of it while I'm away - I'll pay you for that - but I want you to live in a dorm room."

"Why?!"

"'Cause I want you to attend classes and behave like a normal - well, almost-normal - college-girl."

"This is *just* great." Faith sighed.

"And by the way-" Angel said, and then looked a bit uncertain "could you wear something more cheerful tomorrow - like pastels or something? You know - not the 'bad girl' look?"

"You mean something Buffy-like?"

"Er... yeah?"

"You're going to have to pay me."

"I'll give you a pastel-bonus."

"Good." Faith looked at him. "I suppose you've bought the clothes already for me?"

"Cordelia bought them, you'll find them in your closet. And Anya agreed to come and see that you'll wear them when you go to the meeting."

"So I'm not just gonna go all Buffy-like, but there's also going to be someone to witness the humiliation."

"But I'll pay you good."

"You'd better." Angel glanced as his watch.

"We're really just wasting time here - I've got to go save something."

"See you, then. And call me if you need me to do anything."

"You're my employee, remember? I'll call you every other day."

"Bye-bye."

"Bye."

*****

"Hurry up!" Anya yelled "They're waiting for us."

"Who?" Faith asked as she entered the room, dressed 'all Buffy-like'.

"The gang - you know, Buffy, Tara, Willow and my Xander."

"You called the whole gang to see me?"

"Well I did not. But Xander thought it was funny."

"You told them all?"

"Yeah."

"That's it." Faith said "I'm not going."

"Good. I'm still gonna get paid, you know."

"Did you have to tell them?"

"No.. Xander did." Anya said "Which reminds me - keep your hands off him."

"No problem." Faith replied "the X-man's really not that good..."

"EXCUSE ME?" The ex-vengeance-demon yelled.

"I.." Faith said, uncertain of how to continue "I thought he'd have told you."

"What?"

"It was years ago, it doesn't matter."

"You had orgasms with MY Xander?"

"Years ago - once or twice, I can't remember."

"I'm gonna kill you."

"There's no reason for that. In fact - as I was saying - I won't touch him. Anyway, he wouldn't touch me, would he?"

"No way..."

"So it's all right, then? You know - the past is the past - there's nothing to change that."

"I..." Anya said "I think you're - you're right -"

"I am - see, I killed people" Faith cringed - it hurt to even think about it "and so did you - but here we are, both, trying to help people, by protecting their 'innocent' little lives."

"I see your point..."

"So let's just forget about it - or even better, you ask Xander 'bout it -" Faith smiled wickedly - she could picture Xander fidgeting when Anya asked him about it "and now, let's just go to the college."

"Right." Anya said, and they left for the campus. //I'm so gonna ask him about it...//

*****

Xander was silent. The two witches and the blonde slayer were talking about what they thought Faith might be wearing, but Xander wasn't interested in that. In fact, he was shivering. He hadn't succeeded in convincing his girlfriend to not to go see if Faith wore the 'nice girl' clothes, so he had decided to summon the whole gang to the campus - they were talking about the psycho, after all, and he didn't want to let Faith alone with his girlfriend. Or with himself. He was glad Buffy was here - she got angry whenever anyone even mentioned Faith, and her deep distrust towards the other slayer caused her to feel it her duty to be there to protect her friends. At that moment, Buffy was talking about Faith probably not showing up at all, or showing up dressed in leatherpants and an all-too-sexy tank top. Those weren't the exact words the slayer used, but that's how Xander put it.

If Xander was very frightened for his girlfriend and himself, and Buffy convinced, that she would see the leather-clad psycho she hated so deeply, it was nothing compared to the confusion Willow was feeling. Willow had started thinking that Faith had suffered enough, and that maybe the slayer had changed. However, her other emotions were dominant at the moment: she could not forgive Faith yet, she would not forgive her. That's what she kept telling herself. And then came the tiny voice, asking the question //I've already betrayed Buffy, I've already forgiven Faith, haven't I?// And it was true: she had heard the hours of screaming, the immense pain. And she had heard what Cordelia had told her about her friendship with the dark slayer, and about the very first letters that Angel had received a few years ago. And Willow hadn't shut her ears, but listened to Cordelia, for once in her life, telling about Faith. She had already forgiven Faith, although she didn't let herself acknowledge it.

Tara was a bit frightened. //This is stupid// she thought //what a perfect way of telling her, 'we hate you' 'we don't want you here' ' we won't trust you'. We should give her a chance. If she really is changed, then... In any case, she'll probably stay here for another four or five years. She could be a powerful ally. Buffy, Xander and Willow know what kind of an enemy she is.// She glanced at Willow, who looked confused. She reached for Willow's hand and squeezed it. Willow looked up. "Let's go somewhere else." Tara said softly.

"Why?" Willow asked.

"What good could we possibly accomplish by staying here and, if she should arrive, sneering at her?" Willow gazed into her lover's eyes.

"Fun?" Tara looked at her. Willow nodded. "How about lunch?" she then added.

"A good idea." Tara responded, and they left.

Buffy and Xander were dumbfounded. Minutes passed and they didn't say anything.

"Xander! Buffy!" Anya called from somewhere behind them. They were both startled, and when they saw Faith, very surprised. She was wearing something very unFaithish. Jeans, a white blouse, not-so-heavy make-up... everything about her appearance seemed to suggest that she was a completely normal girl, and that she had never killed anybody, etc. Buffy 'knew' that this was just a part of a brilliant plan, a role the other slayer was acting. And she 'knew' that the other slayer did a marvellous job. Anya appeared to be talking with her - what a better proof was needed anymore? But every criminal made mistakes, and when Faith would make one, it would reveal her whole plan. And Buffy would send her back to jail.

The two part-time-employees of Angel Investigations reached them at last. There was a nervous silence at first, then Faith raised her eyes from the ground to look at Buffy, who was staring at her with utmost loathing. Her memories revived: she was looking at the girl who had stabbed her in the gut, although for a good reason, but still - Buffy had tried to kill her. It had been her sole purpose at that time, and she had almost succeeded. Faith felt anger inside her, but controlled it. This girl, this defender of 'good' had been ready to take a life. She had *decided* to end Faith's life before she had learned to live it. She had had a choice, and she had thought that she could - and would - do it. It would have been worse than taking a life accidentally - in a way it was, although Faith survived it.

Faith merely acknowledged that Anya dragged Xander away with her. The chosen two were now looking at each other like they were going to fight to death - again. Buffy reminded herself of the promise she had made to Angel - and that it would have been useless to save Faith's life in the first place, just to try and kill her again. Faith thought about herself, and the emotions she had gone through - Buffy was not worth destroying her own life again. //And,// she reminded herself, //I've still got to sit down every once in a while, just to stay conscious - I wouldn't be much of a match, really.// She glanced at her watch.

"Look, I think we're gonna have lots of time to exchange hostile looks, but now I've got to run. You know, I really want to get an education, and if I don't get into UC Sunnydale - well, I won't get my pastel-bonus. So see you around."

Faith left Buffy there to struggle with her anger. //You won't fool me.// Buffy thought. She didn't realise that she was standing there alone - in fact, when Faith returned, after an hour, she saw Buffy standing there still, deep in thought, but thought it was better not to let the other slayer know she was here. Instead, she took her cellphone and dialed Cordelia's number.

"Cordy here."

"Faith."

"Were you at the meeting?"

"Yeah."

"How did it go?"

"I'll move in to a dorm room on Saturday."

"I'll tell Angel the good news."

"Thanks... Listen, have you got B's cellphone number? Or Red's?"

"Yeah..."

"Give me both."

"Why?"

"Please..."

"I'll call you back, soon, OK?"

"Thanks."

As soon as Cordelia called her and she had them written down on a piece of paper, she dialed Buffy's number. She looked at the blonde, who started rummaging her bag, and then pressed 'no' before Buffy could answer her. Soon, Buffy was calling her number, but she chose 'no' again.

*****

Dawn and Faith spent the next day shopping. Faith was almost completely recovered after her little 'incident', but that didn't stop her from having fun with her almost-kid-sister. She felt a pang of guilt, however - this was at least the third, maybe fourth time this week that Dawn was not at school when she was supposed to. //But who cares? It's Friday!// she said to herself. When she took Dawn home at half past eleven, she found herself in a difficult situation. Buffy was waiting for them, and after telling Dawn to go upstairs, she motioned Faith to follow her.

"Sit down." Buffy said, when they entered the kitchen. Faith did as she was told. "I got a call from her school today."

"Really?" Faith said.

"Stay away from *my* little sister. She doesn't need you." Buffy continued "They said she hasn't been there at all, this week. And that can only be explained by your presence in this town."

"I'll tell her not to cut classes."

"Stay away from her. You are what they call 'bad influence'."

"You mean a 'murdering psychopath'?" Faith said. There was a moment of uncomfortable silence.

"Exactly." Buffy said coldly.

"Are we finished? Only, I thought I'd go for a Late-night-slay-with-Faith-O'Brien."

"We're finished."

"Good. Bye." Faith said and got up to leave.

"Faith." Buffy called after her. "How long are you going to stay?" she asked, meaning 'are you a college girl now?'

"Years." Buffy let out a sigh. //I guess we're just gonna have to learn how to get along.//

*****

Two days later, the Scoobies and Faith were gathered in the Magic Box. Willow, who had spent hours talking to Cordelia, was now certain that she had every reason to forgive Faith. And that she had forgiven her. It was now merely a matter of saying it aloud and trying to gain the trust and friendship of the dark-haired slayer. Tara didn't think she had anything to forgive Faith for - well, except for hurting her girlfriend. And that she had already done. Anya remained indifferent when it came to Faith. Xander hated Faith, still, and Buffy was trying to convince herself that she should learn how to get along with her. Giles trusted Faith, for he saw how much she had changed. But he hadn't forgiven her for anything.

But they weren't gathered to ponder over Faith's presence in Sunnydale. At the moment they were researching, trying to find something on the matter of a new demon called 'Lapikan', failing miserably. Buffy had returned from patrol last night, with her left foot severely hurt. It had healed during the night, but the problem was that she had only fought a minion of Lapikan. She didn't want to think about fighting the presumably big, ugly demon itself.

"Fuck this." Faith said impatiently "I have better books to read."

"Like what?" Giles asked.

"I... I.." Faith didn't know what to say. It didn't fit her 'bad girl' image to admit that she read a lot, but on the other hand, she was supposed to have changed. "T.S. Eliot. William Shakespeare. J.K. Rowling. George Orwell" she finally muttered, so silently that only Buffy heard her. She almost choked on her coffee.

"What did you say?" Giles asked. Faith glanced at Buffy.

"I said I think it would do more good for me and B - now that I'm here to stay - to start training together." Giles considered this for a moment, while Buffy was still trying to catch her breath.

"Yes... I think that would be a good idea. Buffy, go train with Faith."

Faith left for the training room and Buffy followed her.

"Shakespeare? Orwell? You're not serious, are you? I mean, you don't really read that kind of books?" Buffy asked her as soon as the door to the room was closed. Faith flashed her a grin.

"Of course not. You know me." She said, but Buffy got the impression that she was lying. Soon they were engaged in a sweaty practice session, during which both of them tried to hurt - and at the same time - not to hurt the other.

*****

"Er.. Faith?" Willow asked, when the slayer returned from the training room.

"Yes?" Faith asked, tired.

"We were wondering, Tara and I, if you'd like to come with us someday... to have... to have lunch."

"Is this a peace offering?"

"Sort of." Faith smiled at Willow. The redhead had just surprised her more than she had surprised the Scoobies during her stay in Sunnydale. And that was a lot.

"I'd love to come."

"Good." Willow said and started researching again.

"How 'bout tomorrow?" Tara asked Faith.

"Sure. I'm starting classes tomorrow."

"Great."

*****

Three weeks passed, and Lapikan kept silent. Faith had two more friends now: the wiccan witches Willow and Tara enjoyed her company and did their best to make her feel comfortable around the other Scoobies. Buffy had agreed to slay with her, but that was just torture. They did their duty in silence, killing the vampires as quickly as they could. They didn't speak to each other, unless it was necessary. Buffy didn't believe the other slayer was acting out anymore, but neither did she let the other slayer show how much she had changed. She was bitter, and Faith was as bitter as her counterpart. Xander didn't hate Faith anymore, but avoided her whenever he could. That suited Faith just fine: she knew she deserved his scorn.

*****

Faith and Buffy were slaying again. The night had been silent - they hadn't seen so much as one vampire rising, but then again, Lapikan was still at large. Both slayers were frustrated: they didn't want to talk to each other, but they both knew that no good could be done by this endless silence. There were no vampires to slay, and therefore there was nothing to keep their minds off their problems.

"Buffy -" Faith started but then shut her mouth. //What can I say? Pleeeaase talk to me?// Buffy turned to look at her.

"What?" She asked.

"I..." Faith started again. She glanced at Buffy. That was enough //No way I'm gonna talk to that bitch - she'd try and kill me again// "I think we should call it a night."

"I agree. Let's go home." Buffy said, although she knew that Faith had been trying to say something else. //Why should I care?// Ever since Faith had recovered from her near-death state, Buffy's old emotions had taken control again. Although she believed that Faith had changed, she didn't care. In fact, now that Faith was back, good and all, she thought she had more reason to hate her. And she thought she did hate Faith. It wasn't the same Faith she had cared for as a friend, it was someone all different. And that frightened Buffy, and made her angrier - in her opinion, Faith had no right to change. She had lost a good enemy.

For ten minutes, or more, they just stood there. Both slayers had forgotten that they should be going home - they were too busy thinking about each other and what they should do now. They were both startled, when they heard screaming from the edge of the cemetery. Without thinking, they both ran to help. Faith was the first to reach the edge of the cemetery.

What she saw was both unsurprising and very nasty. A big, ugly, grey demon had already killed several high school kids - there were at least three bodies on the ground, and two more pinned up against a tree. And the demon, presumably Lapikan himself, was just playing with two girls.

"Hey! Mister!" Faith yelled to the demon, thinking //How come didn't I hear this?// The demon turned around to face the slayers. Faith threw a stake towards it, but the demon seized it mid-flight.

"Slayer." It said, and let the high school girls run.

"Damn right I am." //I just love cliches...// Buffy had stopped running as soon as she had heard Faith's distraction-attempt. She was now trying to figure out a way to get behind Lapikan's back. She had seen its minions, and she knew that this really was the big thing itself.

Faith threw herself at the big, bad monster. They both threw and received punches, blocking some, dodging some. Faith was trying to hurt the demon, but the demon was trying to kill her. //Come on, Buffy..... come and cut its head off. Please...// But the other slayer wasn't there.

Buffy was staring at the fight. Faith was going to lose, eventually. She could just stand here and watch and say that she couldn't do anything. She could just let the brunette die. And face the demon alone. //To let her die, or not to let her die? That's the question. More like... to kill her or not to kill her? Hell, I've been here before.//

She took her stake and ran into the fight. Just as the demon managed to stab Faith with its knife-like fingernails and got on top of her, Buffy drove her stake through its neck and throat, letting it bleed on Faith, who was apparently unconscious - and uncapable of moving and (probably) breathing under the demons massive body.

Buffy started kicking and pushing the demon off Faith. After full two minutes of that, she finally had managed to get Faith from under it. She checked her pulse, but didn't find one. Faith didn't seem to breath. //Oh no, I've killed her... I've finally killed her..// she thought, and then started thinking of trying to revive Faith.

After a few attempts of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, Faith started coughing blood. Buffy sighed with relief and took her cellphone, dialing Giles' number.

"Hey, it's Buffy, you gotta get here fast... I'm before the cemetery.. Restfield cemetery. Faith's coughing blood, she almost died again... just come here, will you... And take your first aid kit with you, she's got a... a .. gut wound." //Again.//

*****

Faith opened her eyes, and found herself lying on a couch, apparently in the mansion's living room. She looked around and saw Giles sitting on a chair next to her, fast asleep. There were three other chairs near her too, but they were currently unoccupied. She glanced at a clock on the wall. It was half past four in the morning.

Her slayer hearing picked some noise from the direction of the kitchen. She tried to move, but a sudden sting of pain in her gut prevented her from doing that. She let out a quiet groan. //Not again.// She closed her eyes. //Sleep. I've got to sleep.//

Someone entered the room. Faith could smell the strong (and sweet) aroma of coffee sneaking up to her. She was suddenly *very* hungry and thirsty. She opened her eyes.

"Couldn't bring me a cup as well?" She asked, surprising Buffy, who had just put her cup down to the table. As Faith spoke, Giles woke with a start.

"You're awake." He said.

"Funny. That's exactly what Angel said the last time I woke up after almost starving myself to death." Nobody said anything. "I guess I've lost my ability to make fun of things?" Faith added.

"I'll go get some more coffee." Buffy said "Giles, you should go sleep somewhere else. I don't think she's gonna die today."

"You might be right." Giles replied, got up and left for a bed room. "Oh and Faith - call Angel."

"Sure."

Buffy returned after five minutes - with at least twenty sandwiches and lots of coffee. She started feeding Faith, who couldn't get into an upright position. After eating, there was silence.

"Er... B-uffy?"

"Yeah?"

"What made you change your mind?" She asked, not sure if this was a wise topic to start with.

"About what?" Buffy asked, buying herself time to think of an answer.

"Coming to kill Lapikan?"

"I guess I just.. didn't want to kill you after all."

"Good." Faith smiled. //That's good to know.// There was silence for a while, during which Faith realised that she was still hungry.

"How long was I out this time?" Faith asked.

"Two days." Faith thought about this for a while.

"I'm glad it was Friday... Could you hand me my cell?"

"Where is it?"

" It was in my pocket, but since somebody's changed my leatherpants..."

"I'll go get it."

"Is there anything else you need?"

"More sandwiches?"

Buffy smiled and left the room. When she returned, she brought Faith the cellphone, and then left for the kitchen again. Faith dialed Angel's number.

"Angel."

"Hi, it's me."

"You're awake."

"Is that all you could come up with? 'Cause, you know, you're not the only one to react in that way.."

"I'm sorry."

"Don't be."

"How's the wound?"

"I don't know... I'm just glad I'm not in the hospital. It was horrible to wake up there, you know, after the coma..."

"Yeah, I know."

"So... you're probably in a hurry.. I'll call you later, OK? You know, the weekly report or whatever you call it."

"OK."

"Well, bye."

"Yeah... bye."

Faith put her cellphone away as Buffy re-entered the room with sandwiches. The blonde started feeding her.

*****

Killing a massive, bloodthirsty demon together and Faith almost dying in the process (again) brought the slayers closer to each other. Buffy now knew that she didn't want Faith to die, and Faith knew that Buffy wouldn't let her die. Buffy also realised, that Faith had shown her that she trusted her by putting her own life in danger. And that Faith had changed a lot - she didn't slay for the pleasure of slaying, but to protect the 'innocent'. And still, Faith enjoyed it at the same time.

Faith couldn't get up for two weeks, and even after that, she was very weak and tired. Buffy patrolled almost every night, and spent all her leisure time sitting next to Faith. She felt really guilty about letting Faith almost die, and slowly the slayers started building up a friendship and forgetting their past mistakes. Dawn was there everyday as well - when her sister went slaying, she took care of Faith. Both Summers' girls slept at the mansion for those two weeks. Willow and Tara had done a spell to help Faith heal, but it didn't help much more than her slayer healing. They too came to see her almost everyday. Anya and Xander visited her four times - Xander enjoyed seeing Faith in pain, and wanted to see Buffy once in a while.

*****

Christmas time arrived. Faith had been planning to go to LA, but an extremely dangerous demon kept her in Sunnydale until the 23rd night. And the morning before she had received presents from Angel, Cordelia and Wesley - together with a letter that told her that Angel Investigations was currently working on some case in Sacramento.

It was the morning of 24th December. The sun was shining, birds were singing, there was peace on earth... No snow would fall this year. It never snowed in California. Faith was taking a walk to the town. She had moved in to the mansion for the holidays - she could train there and in any case, she preferred it to her dorm room. She had bought herself some new books for christmas. //It's stupid, really// she thought - but she wanted to receive at least six presents this year, and she had gotten only three so far. So she rewarded herself for spiritual growth and hard studying.

She had bought her friends presents as well - she had sent Cordy's, Wesley's and Angel's already to LA. She had bought CDs for Dawn, a crossbow for Buffy, poetry for Willow, spellbooks for Tara, CDs for Giles and two pairs of handcuffs for Xander and Anya. She was planning on making a from-door-to-door tour to take this all to them.

She tried not to think about the books she had bought. But that was hard, as she was looking forward to thinking about something else than her solitude. //I wonder how it would feel to have a real family?// She thought. //Not a good idea. Think about something else...// She tried hard, but her mood wasn't really cheery.

She ran into someone. She didn't even look up, but the 'someone' did notice her.

"Faith!" It was Willow. Faith looked up. She was surrounded by the whole Scooby gang, Giles and Dawn, apparently on their way... //to the mansion?//

"Uh... hi?"

"Hi." The Scoobies echoed. Faith had made friends with all the women in the group, and even Xander had started to like her, in his own, strange way - but he wasn't going to tell her that.

"We were just coming to see you." Willow said.

"Is something wrong? You looked quite miserable." Tara asked.

"What? No." Faith replied, too quickly to be convincing. Everybody looked at her. "I just miss my buddies from LA, you know - Soulboy, Wes and Queen C... and even Gunn, although I'm not exactly a buddy of his."

"But we're here." Dawn said.

"You weren't just five minutes ago."

"Yeah..." Dawn said "let's go to the mansion!"

"Why?" Faith asked.

"So we can sit down, stupid." Dawn said and then glanced at Willow "and Red can cook."

"OK." Faith said, and turned around.

The Scoobies kept talking until they reached the mansion, but Faith, whose mood was just slightly better than ten minutes ago, didn't say anything. She couldn't help but notice that the wiccans were carrying two separate bags, the other obviously full of groceries, and the other full of little boxes. //Presents... I wonder if they got one for me..// Faith thought, feeling hopeful. //Maybe this christmas is better than the last.// Christmas in prison was pure torment. You couldn't spend time with family, if you had any, and being locked up when others were sharing and caring, talking about peace, love and understanding, giving presents to each other, drinking, eating turkey or ham - well, it was hard. And her first christmas in prison had been worse than hard - she had only received a card from Angel. She had felt very lonely. The next one had been slightly better - even Cordy had sent her a card. Two friends, she had had two friends at that time. Now she had more.

"...I've never eaten one... I'm gonna try.. so I'd appreciate help of any kind..." Willow was talking.

"What? What did you say?" Faith asked.

"She said that we're gonna work like Scoobies and make a christmas lunch - without turkey. So let's get working - we're gonna eat pizza for dinner, Dawn and I." Buffy said.

"And Faith." Dawn added.

"What?" Faith asked.

"Buffy agrees with me - if you want to come, you could spend this christmas with us." Dawn explained.

"I was gonna ask you a little later, but -" Buffy added.

"You know, there's this party I'm gonna crash..." Faith replied, smirking.

"Liar." Buffy said.

"Of course I'll come." Faith said.

"Good. Now let's get working."

After cooking for two hours and then eating for one more, they were all finally satiated - even Faith. They sat in the living room, talking about christmas traditions. They gave each other presents, and yes, even Faith got presents from the Scoobies.

*****

"You know, I really don't feel like sleeping yet.." Faith said when Dawn had left upstairs to sleep. They had had a pleasant Christmas Eve, eating pizza and just talking.

"Neither do I." Her blonde counterpart said. They were sitting in different ends of a sofa, facing each other.

"What time is it?" Faith asked. She didn't want to stay silent with the blonde - silence hadn't done anything good before.. well, at least when she was free.

"About... half past eleven."

"Dawn must really love Christmas."

"She does."

They didn't talk for ten minutes. Faith started smiling inwardly to a funny thought that she got.

"You know, we could do two things..." she said.

"Here we go again..."

"We could get real drunk and tomorrow morning we would have terrible hang overs - opening presents with a hangover really feels great, you know, when you have to smile and be oh-so-happy when you're about to throw up and your head hurts like hell."

"You're not serious, are you?"

"Or... we could, once again, put our lives in danger and go slay those who have died just before Christmas - and did not commit suicides."

"I'm *so* not gonna do that."

"Then... then our options are: a) get drunk, b) go to sleep, c) watch Christmas TV, d) talk, etc. etc..."

"How 'bout drinking a little, watching Christmas TV, talking and then going to sleep?"

"Sounds good - except for watching TV. I don't wanna do that. But talking's OK if it doesn't end with fighting."

"Let's hope not." Buffy got up to go to the kitchen, but stopped "You know, we could go slaying, and come back to eat and drink before going to sleep."

"A brilliant suggestion, B."

*****

//Punch, kick and stake through the heart. One dead, nine to go. Two dead, eight to go.// Faith thought as she killed one and saw Buffy kill another. "Lefty - righty - Mr. - Pointy." Buffy said aloud as she killed her second.

"Stake him - stake her - I'm a fucking - slayeer!" //OK, five more to go.// Four. //Take this!// Three. //Doublekill. And one to go... they run for the ball - kick it - hit it - aaand - stake it!// Both slayers struck their stakes through the last one's heart.

"'Stake him - stake her - I'm a fucking - slayeer??'" Buffy asked, mimicking Faith's rhymes.

"It had more attitude than 'Lefty - righty - Mr. - Pointy'. Really. We suck as poets."

"But that was fun."

"Yeah, that was fun.."

"Let's go home."

"I'm with you."

*****

"God am I hungry!" Faith said as they got in. She could have added 'and horny', but didn't want to embarrass Buffy.

"You know, we could order pizza - again. We'd have time to shower before eating."

"Let's do that." Faith said and headed for the shower.

After showering and eating six pizzas (Faith ate four and Buffy two), they were satiated, but still not tired. They had returned to the sofa, and turned the TV on. Neither of them watched it.

"It's one o'clock." Faith said.

"Merry Christmas." Buffy replied. Faith started laughing, almost crying. "What?"

"It's really strange - I haven't heard that from you for, for - why, it must be at least four or five years.."

"Well then: Merry Christmas, Faith."

"Merry Christmas, B."

There was a comfortable silence as they both looked at each other, thinking about things that they had come through together. Each slayer was proud to call the other a friend.

"B, you know... I'm not exactly tired yet."

"Neither am I."

"So we've only managed to spend an hour and a half, but haven't lost too much energy."

"Yep."

"I think I brought beer and wine with me... I'll go get some."

"I'll get glasses."

Two hours later, they were both drunk and much more tired. They had had an argument about what would be the place of the slayer in a world which approves of monsters like vampires. Faith claimed that generally they'd be considered murderers, whereas Buffy thought that vampires would be murderers even though they'd be acknowledged and approved of - and therefore, slayers would be as appreciated as they would be in this world, if people knew that slayers existed. They had not found any conclusion at all, and had decided to ask Giles. Wisely they had agreed to call him in the morning, if they'd remember the argument anymore.

Buffy was staring at Faith. She was very tired, but she knew what the morning would be like, and didn't want to wake up to live it. Therefore, she decided not to go to sleep yet. She picked several different sized bottles from the table and carried them to the kitchen. She hid them under the sink, hoping that Dawn wouldn't try and wash the dishes in the morning. Faith followed her, brought glasses with her, and put them in the sink. She then went back to the sofa, staring empty-mindedly at the TV. Buffy came to sit on the sofa as well.

"Whatcha thinking 'bout?" Buffy asked.

"Huh?"

"What are you thinking about?"

"Nothing..." Faith switched the channel. Lesbian porn. "I didn't know you had this kind of channels."

"Neither did I." Buffy replied. Faith switched the channel. "But isn't it strange that they show that on Christmas?"

"I don't know, B.. there're lots of lonely guys out there... wanking in front of the TV." They both visualised this on their minds, and Buffy started giggling hysterically. "It's not funny, really." Faith said.

"I know, I know... but getting turned on by that - that's funny."

"I'd guess it has something to do with time, sexuality and gender."

"What? Watching lesbian porn for hours will make you horny?"

"It might... and probably would if I was a man."

"I didn't mean *you* - but let's try it out."

"What?"

"Switch to that channel."

"So you want to watch it?"

"I want to know if I can get turned on by watching two women... doing whatever they do.."

"It's porn. They have sex."

"Switch the channel already." Faith did as she was told.

After ten minutes of watching, they were both feeling very uncomfortable - and very aware of each other. Once in a while, Buffy glanced at Faith, trying to figure if the other slayer was as flushed as she was, but she didn't dare to look at Faith long enough to know. Faith was doing exactly the same thing. Neither of them dared to speak a word. Buffy started wondering what Faith was thinking, and Faith was wondering what Buffy was thinking. Neither of them was concentrating on the porn anymore.

//Shy// Faith thought, after ten more minutes //why am I feeling shy when watching lesbian porn?//

Buffy wanted to know if Faith was feeling horny. She knew she was. And she also knew she was tired - and in an awkward situation. She couldn't leave the room without telling the results of her 'test', and she didn't want to admit to Faith what she was feeling. The reason was simple - Faith was a woman. Soon, Buffy closed her eyes and pretended to have fallen asleep. In less than two minutes, Faith shut the TV and let out a long sigh. She looked at Buffy. The other girl was pretending to have fallen asleep. Faith didn't care, she was feeling awkward and hot - she must have sweated more during the last half an hour than while slaying earlier. She was tired, and tomorrow was Christmas. //It's Christmas already.// Remembering Dawn, Faith closed her eyes. //It's gonna be an early morning.//

*****

Ten thousand little men seemed to be dancing inside her brain. She could hear Dawn nudging Faith to wake up, explaining something about opening their presents together. //I didn't drink last night, did I?// she thought //I did.// And she remembered everything else, too. Calling Giles wasn't important, but thinking about the half an hour of watching porn.... Buffy blushed, embarrassed. She opened her eyes and quickly got off the sofa. She muttered something to Dawn about washing the dishes and making breakfast. Dawn followed her, and when they entered the kitchen, she saw that Dawn had done all this already. She had washed the dishes. And made breakfast. //Shit.// Buffy thought.

"When did you go to sleep last night?" Dawn asked. "'Cause I heard you leaving and coming back, showering and then I fell asleep."

"I don't know... I fell asleep when we were watching.. TV."

"Faith! Get your ass over here!" Dawn yelled. Buffy's head hurt. "I want coffee." She said aloud.

" And so do I" said Faith, entering the kitchen. Their eyes met. Buffy turned her eyes away and sat quickly down to the table.

"Merry Christmas, Dawnie, B." Faith said and sat down next to Buffy.

"Happy Christmas, Faith." Dawn answered. Buffy poured herself coffee. //Don't ask about the test. Not today.//

"What a way of celebrating Christmas, B, isn't it?"

"Yeah... There's nothing like a ready-made breakfast and lots of coffee." Buffy agreed, although she knew what Faith meant.

"And opening presents. It's a lovely tradition." Dawn said.

"Yeah..." Faith agreed. "So - reckon we should call Giles about the hypothetic question?"

"No. It really isn't important."

"You're right." Faith said.

"What're you talking about?"

"Our late night conversation." Buffy answered.

"Which really wasn't anything important." Faith added.

Dawn was looking from one slayer to another. The slayers were talking about last night, but they were talking about not-important things. //Which means that they're avoiding something. Something important must have happened. Why else would they be talking about last night at all?//

Buffy finished her coffee and poured herself some more. Faith, to everyone's surprise, was the first one to feel satiated and leave the table.

"I'll go get your presents, OK?"

"OK." Dawn said, and Buffy nodded.

*****

It was a long day for each and everyone of them. Although the Christmas morning had been *horrible*, Faith was glad she had spent the day with the Summers'. She was sitting on the sofa, watching TV again. It was half past nine, but she was very tired. Buffy sat in the other end of the sofa, just like the day before. Dawn was sitting in an armchair, watching TV.

Buffy was thinking about the other slayer in the other end of the sofa. For the first time in her life, she was thinking about Faith in a sexual way. She shot a glance at her fellow slayer. //Beautiful. Sexy.// was the thought that came to her. //Did I just think that?// came right after. She turned her gaze from the TV to get a good look at Faith.

//She's looking at me. Why is she looking at me?// Faith thought, but kept looking at the TV. She hadn't concentrated on the show at all. She didn't know what it was about. But she knew that Buffy was looking at her.

//I wonder what she's thinking 'bout - probably about the TV show.... she's sexy... and beautiful... And I *definitely* need to talk to Willow.// Buffy thought and turned her gaze back at the TV. She kept glancing at Faith, who was staring concentratedly at the TV. Buffy noticed that Faith hadn't blinked even once during the last fifteen minutes.

//This is just wonderful. They're both nervous.. because of each other. Buffy's practically staring at Faith. And Faith won't turn to look at Buffy at all... This is getting really interesting....// Dawn thought. For a moment she considered asking the slayers about it, but then thought better of it. //It's Christmas.. I don't want to make them feel unpleasant on Christmas.//

*****

Christmas time passed. Buffy got over her embarrasment, but didn't talk to Willow about anything. Everything went back to normal - or as normal as they could be in Sunnydale. Angel Investigations visited Sunnydale, demons were killed, vampires slain and the 'innocent' were protected. Everything was *just* fine.

*****

They were Bronzing after slaying. Anya and Xander had already left and the two wiccans were sitting on a couch, looking at the crowd, where Faith was dancing. Buffy was sitting on an armchair, staring before her. //Why am I sitting here alone, again? I haven't met anyone interesting since... since Riley died... Maybe I should just try and do like Faith, just 'get some and get gone'... I wouldn't do that. Why not?// In truth, she hadn't even looked at men for months. The whole idea felt strange to her. //It's almost like I was dating someone... but I'm not.//

"Buffy?" Willow asked.

"Yeah?"

"What's wrong?"

"Huh? Oh.. nothing's wrong."

"You sure?"

"Yeah.. I am." The witches looked at her. She felt like an explanation was required. "It's just that... I'm really lonely, I guess." She looked at the witches, who were looking sympathetic. "I haven't even looked at guys for months. I guess I'm still not over his death... I don't know. Let's not talk about this."

"If you want to talk about it later or something.. you know you can call me, right? Like, whenever you want to?" Willow said.

"Yeah, I know, Red." Buffy answered. Her eyes widened. "I didn't say that, did I?"

"You did.. Like Cordy did when she was worried about Faith - she came to our dorm and called me Red and Tara Blondie." Willow said, smiling. Tara stared at Buffy.

"But I'm not worried about Faith."

"That's good, 'cause there's no reason to be, B." Faith said and sat down on a chair. "So what were you talking about?" She looked at the wiccans and Buffy, who blushed slightly and looked at the witches. Buffy praised the darkness around them, asking herself //Why am I blushing?//

"Nothing." Buffy managed to say.

"Really?" The other slayer asked.

"Yeah." Buffy said, and then looked at Willow. //I need to talk to you.// She thought. "I think I'm going home... I'm really tired." She got up to go.

"See you tomorrow, then." Faith said.

"What?!" Buffy asked.

"You know - training, tea, Magic Box?"

"Oh... yeah." She left before the witches had a chance to say 'bye'.

"Did I imagine things, or was she a bit jumpy?" Faith said.

"And she forgot to say 'bye' or anything." Willow mentioned.

"I think she's got some other things on her mind." Tara said, looking speculatively at Faith. "Has anything strange happened during patrol or training, lately?"

"Er... not that I'd know."

"How about anything strange or special during the last few months?" Faith thought about this for a while.

"Not except for Christmas..." She heard herself say. When she realised what she had said, she blushed so deeply that even the wiccans could see it.

"What happened on Christmas?" Willow asked.

"Oh, it was nothing really... We went slaying and got drunk on Christmas Eve, that's all..." That was a half-truth. The witches were sure about it, but decided to ignore it and let the slayers keep their secret.

*****

"I don't really know... It's just that I seem to be thinking about Faith awfully lot when I'm not with her... And then I'm behaving like I was dating someone.. But I'm not." Buffy explained, pacing around the room. It was week after the night at Bronze, and she was having a heart-to-heart with the redheaded witch.

"So you think you've got a crush on Faith?" Willow asked.

"No!" Buffy almost-yelled. "What made you think that?"

"Well, you talked about Faith and dating..."

"I didn't... did I?" Buffy said. "Now I'm even more confused.. thanks, really, Red, now I've got this strange picture in my head of me and Faith doing those things those two women did on Christmas Eve on TV." When she realised what she had just said, she sat down and blushed so deeply that even strawberries and red apples would have been jealous. //Stupid, stupid, stupid.//

Willow thought about this and then blushed as well.

"So.. on Christmas Eve you and Faith went slaying, got drunk and watched porn?" The redhead said, blushing furiously. She really was shy.

"Er.. eh.. Y-yeah.. There were two women there, and then we got into talking about if watching it would make us horny.. and Faith said that if she'd watch it long enough, she might.. and I said that let's try it out and then we were there, watching and I started feeling shy and.. and.. am I babbling?" This all came out *very* fast. Willow didn't know what to say. They were silent for at least three minutes.

"And after that night you've been feeling.. odd... when around Faith?"

"Not actually... after Christmas Day would be more like it... See, I got these thoughts.. like 'Faith looks sexy and beautiful'.. and I couldn't keep my eyes off her that day. I got over it, or at least I thought so.." They fell silent again.

"Buffy. I can't know what you feel - only you do. Try to think about your feelings in different situations and then compare them to what you've felt before.. Like what you felt when around Angel, and what you feel when with Faith. That's the only advice I can give you right now."

Buffy thought about this, and then nodded her head.

"Thanks, Red. That's got to help."

"Did you notice that you've called me 'Red' twice already during this conversation?"

"Er... no?"

*****

Months passed. Buffy was feeling better now - she was sure of what she was feeling towards Faith. It was now just a matter of making Faith feel the same way about her. She had started looking forward to every moment she spent with the brunette. She arrived to train half an hour earlier, and sometimes came to Faith's dorm even before dusk, so that they'd have time to talk before slaying. She wanted to be close to Faith, where ever they went. When nobody else was present but the two wiccans and Buffy, the redhead teased her by playing 'Head over feet' on repeat.

It was wonderful, but it was torment as well. She wasn't really used to her 'lesbian side' as she thought about it, but she couldn't help what she was feeling. And when with Faith, she forgot to feel that she wasn't sure about her feelings.

*****

Faith was silent. She hadn't talked to Buffy at all, which was alarming. They were slaying, but neither of them was joking about killing vampires. Neither of them knew what to say to each other. Buffy was trying to find words to what she wanted to say, but it was hard. She just wished this night would pass and be forgotten. But that wouldn't happen.

"It's over. I won't do anything like that to you - ever again." She said. "I promise." It was the anniversary of Buffy-putting-Faith-into-a-coma.

"I know." Faith replied, not looking at the other slayer. Neither of them was sure of how to act around each other. Faith was going through memories in her head. The mayor, the gut wound, the coma, the gut wound, Riley, the gut wound, prison, the gut wound... Buffy realised what she had to do.

"Faith." She said, and took Faith's hand. "Look at me." The brunette turned her head slowly. They were standing at a gate to a cemetery. "I'm sorry for what I did."

"Me too."

"I forgive you." Buffy said. Faith couldn't and didn't believe it. Tears flooded her eyes.

"You don't need to."

"But I do." She hugged the other slayer. They stayed that way for a long time. "Will you forgive me?" the blonde finally asked, when they parted.

"I have nothing to forgive." Faith answered, truthfully. It was only Buffy who felt guilty for trying to kill her. Both of them had seen nightmares about that night, and both had blamed themselves.

"I need you to forgive me." The blonde said.

"Then you are forgiven. By me." They hugged again. Both were crying silently, but neither of them knew how to comfort each other. They didn't go to the cemetery that night, but headed for their homes. Both slayers cried themselves to sleep that night, confused but happy, both for the same reason. //She forgave me - she forgave me!// they both thought. And neither of them was sure if that day had just been a happy dream.

...continued in Exceptionally Strong...

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