liz_marcs (liz_marcs) wrote,
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Water Hold Me Down, Part 39

Character Question: Wow! Thank you everyone who posted about what fictional characters grab you. The responses have given me a ton to think about it, mostly because there are some angles I never considered before. If anyone hasn't responded yet, please do. I really do want to read what you think. Just because I'm sitting on my hands, doesn't mean I don't appreciate the thought people are putting into their responses, because I do. I really, really do. If your response is too long for a the LJ respond function, please post a link like lwbush.

 

Africander Soundtack: Thanks to everyone who took the chance to DL my Xander in Africa 2-CD set. I know the song choices are...unusual. Please drop me a line to let me know what you think. Just FYI, for anyone who was having a hard time DL from MegaUpload, I've added an alternate DL site called ShareBigFile. It seems to be working for people who can't get MegaUpload to work for them. There's some steps you have to go through to DL from ShareBigFile, so read the instructions in both posts, here and here.

 

More story: All the younger Scoobs get their "grown-up" moment in this story, the pressure point at which they realize something about themselves that they didn't realize before. It's the point of no return. I love points of no return. This one is Faith's and Buffy's. I've been looking forward to putting this conversation out there. Although, I admit, my biggest problem was making sure Faith and Buffy don't know what the audience (supposedly) knows to be true.

For all previous parts, go here.

For Part 38, go here.

 

I pulled a knife on myself today.
Don't know what I was thinking.
All of these words trapped inside my head,
Feel like I've been drinking.
And I know you don't want to see
Me this way.

 

 

The Orpheus situation had to be assessed, but asking nosy questions in the bad parts of town was a one-woman job. The last thing Buffy needed was a gang of baby Slayers following her around and messing up her primo intimidation tactics.

Granted this was more Faith’s bailiwick, but Faith was tied up with all things Xander, a situation that Buffy had to secretly admit still galled her. Yes, she’d accepted that Giles had a point about her being too close to the situation, but she’d always been her friends’ bacon-saver in the past, personal stake or not. Leaving it to Faith felt wrong, like she was shirking an important part of her job.

The situation was what it was, however, and Faith was doing a good job at keeping everyone on the case with minimum emotional drama and keeping the captive freak show in line. Much as Buffy would like to complain about the job Faith was doing, she couldn’t do it in good conscience.

And yes, she felt just a little petty wishing that Faith was little less competent so she could stick her Buffy-shaped nose into the sitch beyond being Willow’s support-o gal, worrying about Giles, and shelving books. At least she got to talk to Xander, even if what little she saw broke her heart. Anya was alive and Xander had married her and they had a daughter. It was everything Buffy had hoped for the two of them, if only because they did seem happy when they were together and because it gave her hope that she could find happiness like that one day.

The fact Xander had lost Anya just when they were finding each other again was something that Buffy didn’t even want to think about. She sometimes wished she had tried talking to him about it, but she just never had any idea what to say. It didn’t help she was tied up in emotional knots over losing Spike. They were confusing, messy, not easy-to-decipher knots, but real emotional knots just the same.

Maybe she was afraid that if she talked about Anya, she’d want to talk about Spike. She was afraid Xander wouldn’t understand, or maybe she was afraid he would. The losing Anya-and-Spike one-two punch was probably a divide they’d never be able to bridge. Given the wonderful reminder of the damage Anya did pre-Sunnydale, it was probably a bridge that was going to be left un-built.

Besides, what am I going to say seven months after I should’ve said something? Hey, Xand! Sorry about Anya! How you holding up? That’s too-little-too-late right there.

She couldn’t imagine the hell Xander must be going through; she didn’t even want to imagine it. Seeing the happy-ever-after that he’d never get must be tearing him apart. Bad enough to get ripped out of heaven, Buffy thought. How bad is it to get thrown into heaven and know you’ll never get it? Bet it’s just as bad. Maybe worse.

Thoughts, bad. Hitting something, better. Hitting something while actually doing something productive? Best of all.

So, Buffy decided she’d do some sleuthing on the Orpheus trade in town so they could come up with a plan to deal with it. While she highly doubted they could shut down every den in the city, they could probably cut down on the number. She hoped.

It was with some trepidation that Buffy turned leadership of the night’s patrol over to Kennedy. This concession to the fact that she couldn’t clone herself and be in two places at once was somewhat ruined by the half-hour chat she had with the younger Slayer in which she stressed that the girls were going to be under Kennedy’s care and that they were still green-ish and that Kennedy was to keep them to the cemeteries and watch their backs and make sure they didn’t accidentally stake each other instead of the bad guys and…

“Are you finished?” Kennedy finally interrupted.

“Well, I’m just letting you know that I’m really trusting you and that I want to make sure that everyone gets back in one piece. Oh! And one more thing—”

“Don’t do anything stupid?” Kennedy practically radiated innocence as she snotted the question. “I promise, no power trips and no push-ups in the middle of patrol. Can we go already? The clock’s ticking. I don’t want to be here until sunrise.”

Buffy bit her tongue and let Kennedy go.

She watched out the front window as Kennedy organized the gaggle on the sidewalk and told the girls which cemetery they’d be going to and the plan for the night. They then turned in unison and headed away, looking like a bunch of goslings wandering around in search of their mother goose.

Hope I’m not making a mistake, Buffy worried. She checked the clock and saw that she might as well wait an hour or two. Demon bars tended to get hopping a little later at night, so there was no point in braving Cleveland winter cold before she had to. Besides, she only knew of three bars in town so it wouldn’t take a whole lot of time, unless she hit the jackpot. While she wasn’t entirely sure anyone would tell her about Orpheus, she hoped to at least find the names and addresses of a few more demon bars or clubs, if only so the night wouldn’t be a complete waste.

This is better, she tried to convince herself as she headed for the kitchen for a coffee pick-me-up to keep her caffeinated for the night. Something constructive. I’m a regular construction girl. Go me!

Although the mental pep talk wasn’t doing much good, when the smell of cigarette smoke hit her nose, Buffy’s attempt to talk herself into a good mood crashed around her ears into a heap of worry. Buffy paused before stepping over the threshold into the dark kitchen. Only one person in the house smoked, but Faith had sworn she had quit.

She cautiously stuck her head into the kitchen’s gloom and spotted Faith sitting at the kitchen table. The dim cigarette ember seemed to hang in mid-air as the cigarette burned forgotten in Faith’s hand. The other the Slayer stared at the opposite wall and didn’t seem to notice that anyone was intruding on her alone time.

“Faith?” Buffy quietly asked.

Faith’s million-mile gaze swung in Buffy’s direction. She brought the cigarette to her lips and drew on it, but didn’t say anything back.

Buffy cautiously stepped into the kitchen. “Faith? What is it?”

“Been sitting here thinking.”

“About what?”

Faith watched her cigarette burn a bit before answering, “About you. And me.”

Buffy could feel her skin prickle. This can’t be at all good.

Faith’s gaze suddenly snapped to the kitchen window. “Feels like there’s a storm coming. Can feel the electricity on my skin, like something big’s about to break. Do they get tornadoes around here, you think?”

Bufy glanced out the window, but didn’t see anything but the usual mid-December dark. “I, unh, I don’t know. Probably. Don’t think it’s a winter thing. I think.”

“Maybe a blizzard then,” Faith tapped her ashes in a saucer as her head slowly swiveled forward. It seemed to take a moment for Faith’s eyes to find Buffy, even though the light in the hall was backlighting her. “What was Kendra like?”

“Hunh?” Buffy asked, completely thrown by the change in subject.

“Kendra. The Slayer before me,” Faith elaborated calmly. “My Watcher, my first one, told me about her. And you.”

“Why would she do that?” Buffy asked.

Faith’s left shoulder rose and dropped in a half-shrug.

“It’s just seems…I dunno…weird that she’d tell you about Kendra,” Buffy stumbled.

“Kendraaaaa,” Faith said thoughtfully. “Kennnn-draaaaaa. Sounds like a jungle cat. Smooth and deadly.”

Dead in a year, so not so much. Buffy knew better than to voice that thought as she carefully picked her way to a chair across the table from Faith and gingerly settled into it. Whatever was going on with Faith had the hairs on the back of her neck standing right up.

“Me and Willow had a chat tonight.” Faith once more switched to a new and unrelated subject. Faith held her burning cigarette up like a torch and stared it with some vaguely curious air, like she wasn’t entirely sure how it ended up in her hand. “Remember that Christmas I was in Sunnydale? And how your mother invited me over?”

“Yeah,” Buffy answered carefully.

“Know what I remember most about that night? I mean, aside from the snow. Can you believe it? I was in southern California and looking at snow. Thought I brought it from Boston with me, like I packed it my suitcase with Kakistos, y’know?”

“That was a First-related and Angel-related thing. The snow.”

Faith’s nose crinkled. “The First made it snow.”

“Unh, no. Something else did. To save Angel from sunrise. I think. I was never 100 percent sure what happened.”

“Real snow must be a kick in the teeth for you,” Faith remarked as she drew on her cigarette.

“I’ve seen snow,” Buffy protested. “In the mountains. I’ve skied, once or twice. Preferred ice skating back when I had time for it.” Buffy sighed as she looked down and tapped on the table. “Kind of miss ice skating. Been thinking that now I’m in a winter-ish place I should pick it up again, but it seems, I dunno. It just seems, y’know?”

“Yeah. I know how that is.”

Buffy looked up and could see that Faith did.

“Anyway, I remember your sister giving me this tube of lipstick. For Christmas. Really cheesy black lipstick,” Faith said with a tap of the cigarette. “Looked expensive and was in this silver container, but no way, no how, was I wearing something some squirt thought was cool, know what I’m saying?”

“Didn’t know Dawn got you a gift.” Buffy guiltily tried to remember what Dawn gave her that Christmas and couldn’t.

“Never wore it. Wasn’t my thing,” Faith said. Her gaze switched the cigarette in her hand. “Knew I shouldn’t have kept a pack in the house. That’s what I get for thinking I’m tougher than a Camel, right? Figured if I had no self-control with a pack in the house, then I’ve got nothing.”

“That’s not true,” Buffy said quietly.

Faith’s gaze switched to her. “Got that right.” She almost sounded like her normal self, key word being ‘almost.’ “So, first you die just long enough to get Kendra called up to the big leagues. Then Kendra buys it, which gives me the nod. How’d Kendra buy it?”

“Why are you asking this?” Buffy asked.

“Curious, is all,” Faith said.

“Drusilla. She was Spike’s girlfriend, and she turned him into a vampire. She was,” Buffy shivered, “scary. Crazy. You couldn’t guess what she’d do. Had some sort of psychic thing, too. She could hypnotize you. Spike claimed she could see the future.”

Faith snorted a little, a sign of her disbelief.

“Angel believed it, so it’s not just Spike,” Buffy said defensively.

“Anyway, when I woke up from my coma, I went back to the apartment the Boss rented for me, the one we trashed,” Faith said, seemingly forgetting about Kendra and Drusilla. “It was all fixed up, like the Boss was expecting me to move back in any time. I found this dress he got me, and a couple of other things. But I couldn’t find that stupid tube of lipstick Dawn got me. Tore the apartment apart looking for it. Never did find it.”

Buffy could feel her face scrunch with confusion. “Why?”

“Why what?”

“Why look for a tube of lipstick?”

“Because it was a present. Because it was real.” Faith drew on her cigarette in thought, before adding, “Except it wasn’t.”

Buffy’s heart froze in her chest while Faith watched with those strangely inscrutable eyes.

When it became clear that Buffy had lost the power of speech, Faith said, “I asked Willow a question. I got an answer. Got a lot of answers, actually. Explained a lot of things I’d been kind of wondering about. Well, not wondering, exactly. More like little things that had me curious. Nothing in particular, mind. A mystery comment here. An exchange of glances there. That kind of thing. Problem is, our chat left me with more questions than answers.” Faith suddenly waved a hand. “Hey, I asked. Can’t complain when I get what I want, even if it makes me feel twitchy.”

“What did Willow tell you?” Buffy finally asked.

“About Kingman’s Bluff. About you dying and getting resurrected. About Glory.” Faith paused. “About Dawn.”

“Faith—”

“It’s cool,” Faith cut her off. Her head tilted in thought. “Actually, it’s not cool, but I understand why I didn’t hear any of this before. I wasn’t exactly on the speed dial for any of you, and for good reason. Angel, on the other hand, you’d think he’d say something, right? Then again, Angel’s visits weren’t exactly regular. He’d visit. Then he’d disappear for months. Then he’d show up again. You were a subject we didn’t talk about. A big ol’ elephant in the corner.”

“About Dawn—” Buffy tried again.

“So, how’d you die the first time?” Faith interrupted.

“Wait, let’s get back to—”

“Dawn,” Faith finished for her. “Don’t know how I feel about that yet.”

“There’s nothing to feel one way or the other,” Buffy stated flatly. “She’s my sister.”

Faith leaned forward. “But don’t you wonder? Don’t you wonder just a little bit?”

“About what?” Buffy stubbornly asked.

Faith stubbed out her cigarette and reached for another, all without taking her yes off Buffy. “I could swear up and down, left and right, that the lipstick was real. It feels real. I can remember how it felt in the palm of my hand. I can remember every detail so clear that all I got to do is close my eyes and I can see it like a movie. ’Cept one small problem. Memories don’t work like that. I know they don’t work like that. I know that from sessions with the prison shrink. But until Willow told me about Dawn, I never thought twice about why one memory would be so clear when other memories can get a little fuzzy.”

Buffy uneasily waited as Faith’s brow again crunched in thought.

“So I’ve been making a list. What feels real? What doesn’t feel real? Can’t untangle it one bit. It all feels real, which makes me wonder what’s real and what’s not. So all I can figure is that I better act as if it’s all real, even if it’s not.” Faith paused as she struck a match to light her cigarette. After a quick puff to get the cigarette going, she added, “But you still gotta wonder.”

“No I don’t,” Buffy said.

“Yes you do,” Faith corrected. “If you got your old memories back, would you be the same person?”

“Yes,” Buffy insisted.

Faith’s mouth quirked. “Maybe.”

Buffy bristled. “There’s no—”

“What was the name of the Slayer before you?” Faith interrupted.

“About Dawn—” Buffy began.

“You ever think you’re all so protective of Dawn because you’ve been programmed that way?” Faith asked.

Buffy’s mouth snapped shut as, despite everything, she actually replayed what Faith had asked. Faith didn’t sound accusing or aggressive. If anything, she sounded genuinely curious. Buffy looked down at the tabletop and began tracing patterns on the surface. Faith was digging at things Buffy never considered. That’s not true. She just didn’t want to consider any of it.

Just how different would a Buffy be if a Buffy was an only lonely instead of a big sister? Probably a lot different. Probably married-Xander vs. not-married-Xander different. Scary different.

And if she would be different, how different would everyone around her be? What would Willow be like without a fellow nerd-in-the-making who looked up to her? What would Xander be like if he didn’t teach Dawn how to give the perfect noogie or the ultimate Indian rug burn, skills Dawn had used on Buffy more than once after Xander taught her. What would Giles be like if he didn’t have to deal with a little sister who found out her big sister was a Slayer because Buffy went ballistic when Ted slapped Dawn across the face?

And her mother...how different would her mother be? Would her parents have sent her to a mental hospital if they weren’t worried that Buffy would accidentally hurt Dawn? Would her mother have told her not to come back after Buffy told her that she was a Slayer? Probably no and no; or maybe yes and yes. No way to ever know.

While every question and every doubt slithered through her mind, she could feel Faith’s eyes boring into the top of her head, as if Faith knew she didn’t have an answer.

“Like I said,” Faith’s voice floated out of the darkness. “Lots of questions I got, but I don’t see any way to answer them. So, you deal with what you got and this is what we got.”

Buffy fixed her gaze on Faith and said firmly. “What we’ve got isn’t bad. Once we get Xander it back, it won’t be bad at all.”

Faith drew on her cigarette and let out a thoughtful stream of smoke. “No, it’s really not. Once we get past this thing with Xander,” Buffy startled a little to hear Faith actually use Xander’s name instead of her usual nickname for him, “it’ll get better. All and all, what we got is probably a lot better than I deserve. But then again, maybe I’ve been programmed to believe that’s true, even if it’s not. I believe it enough that I don’t wanna find out for sure, which was probably the whole point of your monks’ little spell.”

Buffy had no idea what to say to that, mostly because something in her rebelled against the very thing Faith was saying.

“You haven’t answered my question yet,” Faith said.

Buffy shook her head to clear it. Something more was on Faith’s mind than just Dawn. Whatever Willow told Faith must’ve knocked the other Slayer for a loop. “Which one?”

“What was the name of the Slayer before you?” Faith slowly annunciated.

Buffy squirmed. “I don’t know.”

Faith nodded. “Not surprised.”

“I didn’t want to think about it,” Buffy snapped. “Hello? Need a dead Slayer before you get a new one?”

“No. That’s wrong,” Faith said. “You didn’t think about it because you didn’t have to, not like me and not like the others. That’s a big difference.” She frowned and added, “Maybe it’s the difference.”

“Hunh? Followed by another hunh?”

Faith’s eyes never left her face. “I know you Buffy,” again Buffy felt rattled that Faith wasn’t using her usual nickname scheme, “I know you better than anyone I ever known in my life. Happens when you get obsessed, I guess.”

“Obsessed?” Buffy asked uneasily.

Faith slowly blinked. “All the way back to Boston when I first heard about you. I was curious. Felt that big ol’ pull to California to find you, even before circumstances drove me to it. Then I see that life of yours and…” Faith’s voice trailed off.

Buffy held herself very still. She didn’t know this. She didn’t want to know this. Sure, she was fascinated with Faith in a way she wasn’t fascinated with Kendra. Kendra irked her because she was supposed to be the perfect Slayer where Buffy wasn’t. She thought she could at least understand Faith. Sort of.

She suddenly realized that she didn’t understand Faith any more than she understood Kendra.

“The thing is, much as I get you, there’s some part of you I don’t get and I don’t think I’ll ever get,” Faith said. “Used to bug me to no end. It was like some piece of you was out of reach, no matter what I did to you, no matter what I tried to take away from you, that piece of you was just untouchable. The more I thought about it, the more pissed I’d get about it.” Faith drew on her cigarette and tapped the ashes into the saucer. “Now I’m really grateful.”

Shivers danced up and down her spine. This was not the Faith she knew. Faith didn’t share. Faith didn’t talk. Faith was Faith, for lack of a better definition. What the hell did Willow say to her? Buffy wondered. “Grateful?” she whispered

“That I don’t get it,” Faith said simply, as if it explained everything. “So, where’s the third Slayer?”

“Third Slayer?” Buffy asked.

“You know, the one that got called up when you died time two,” Faith asked.

“I didn’t…I don’t…I…”

“Did you even think about it?” Faith sharply asked.

“I don’t know what I thought,” Buffy said as her heart began to race. “I guess I didn’t.”

Faith unexpectedly relaxed. “Because you didn’t have to. We should find out.”

Buffy felt an unexpected burst of anger. “About what? Why I didn’t think about it?”

“About the third Slayer. There’s gotta be one, I figure,” Faith said reasonably. “Wonder why she didn’t show in the SunnyD when we were fighting the First. Wonder if she’s even still alive now. Maybe she’s not and that’s why we haven’t heard of her.”

Oh, Faith wasn’t being judge-y on me. “I guess we should,” Buffy said cautiously. “Giles probably knows something.” Buffy suddenly frowned. “Now that I think about it, if there was a third Slayer, why didn’t Giles say something? And why didn’t he take her to Sunnydale to help us out?”

“Question for the ages,” Faith mildly agreed as she once more stared at her cigarette. “So how’d you die the first time?”

“What is this?” Buffy demanded. “What’s going on with you? You’re being all nosy and asking all these weird questions. It’s like you’re obsessed. Again.”

Faith slowly blinked as if she were actually considering what Buffy said. “You’ve never had to think about this.”

“About what?” Buffy sharply asked.

“I’m just mulling,” Faith said as she stubbed out her cigarette, even though it was only half-smoked. “I’m thinking about how it lays out. Didn’t know Kendra, didn’t know much about her. Just a name and that’s it. Can’t ask her nothing, but I can ask you. You came first, well, not first, but before Kendra. Then we have Kendra. Then we have me. We probably got someone else, but we don’t know who or where. Then,” Faith waved a hand toward the kitchen door, “we have all of them out there.”

“Why are you thinking about this?” Buffy asked.

“It’s about the family tree,” Faith said. “I have to think about it because, between the two of us, I think I’m the only one who can.”

“We are done with this conversation.” Buffy moved to stand up, but Faith suddenly reached across the table and grabbed Buffy’s wrist in a vise-like grip.

“Please, Buffy,” Faith whispered. “I gotta know.”

It was the “please” that got to Buffy. Faith saying please was just not something that was done. She could count the number of times Faith had said please on one hand and have fingers left over. Despite everything, Buffy settled once more in her chair.

Faith let go and settled back into her own seat. She reached for yet a third cigarette and went about the business of lighting it.

“I drowned,” Buffy said without preamble.

Faith’s eyebrows shot up. She obviously expected something a little more bloody.

Buffy steeled herself and gave Faith the basics. “A really old vampire called the Master did it. I had to go kill him to stop some prophecy, except the prophecy said I was going to die, but I had to try anyway. Giles tried to stop me, so I knocked him out, and went off to go kill the Master. He got me before I got him. He bit me, took a drink, which was what he needed to break out, then dropped me face first into a puddle.”

“So how’d you come back from the dead?” Faith seemed enraptured by what little Buffy was willing to say. “The first time. Already heard about the second time.”

“Xander and Angel showed up right after the Master took off and Xander did some CPR,” Buffy said.

“Xander,” Faith said in a low voice as her eyes narrowed. “For someone I pegged as a scared-straight stoner, he sure shows up in some mighty interesting places and does some mighty interesting things.”

Buffy fought back the hysterical laughter bubbling at the back of her brain. “Xander? A stoner?”

“Mighty interesting places,” Faith repeated almost to herself. Her eyes snapped to Buffy and her expression telegraphed that Faith had an ‘ah-hah!’ moment. A smile spread across her face as she said with wonder, “It’s his fault.”

The threat of laughing winked off as Buffy sat up. “What’s Xander’s fault?”

Faith shook her head, like she was fighting back her own nervous laughter. “Because he pulled a CPR thing on you, we got ourselves the Chosen Two. Even I know that’s never happened before. My Watcher told me.”

“Whoa. Hold on,” Buffy waved her hands. “How does this come down to fault?”

Faith drew on her cigarette. “Fault is the wrong word. Don’t know the right word, really. But I gotta wonder, if there was no me and no Kendra, would anyone even think spreading the Slay around was possible?”

“Probably.” Buffy was firm. The whole idea of giving every Potential the power wasn’t an obvious thing, at least not the way Faith was saying it. The idea actually came up because Caleb was taunting her about being alone, not because Faith was hanging around Sunnydale as a reminder that more than one Slayer was possible. “I’m pretty sure, yeah, I think so,” Buffy decided.

“I’m not as sure, and let’s leave it at that,” Faith leaned back. “Well, well, well. Xander, hunh? Maybe I’ll keep him.”

“Keep him?” Buffy asked with disbelief. “What is he? A puppy?”

Faith’s half-grin was unnerving. “He’s a Watcher, ain’t he?”

“Xander can’t be your Watcher,” Buffy stated.

“Why not?” Faith shrugged.

“You two have a sort of, ummm, history,” Buffy pointed out.

“He don’t have a problem with it,” Faith said. “So you shouldn’t.”

“But…but…Xander’s not that much older than you are,” Buffy protested.

“So? I’m not saying he’ll be the boss of me, I’m just saying that I think I like being on Team Cock-Eyed Optimist.” Faith nodded as if the matter was settled. “Be a shame to break up the band because you don’t like the idea of us making it official. Besides, when all those Tweeds start descending on our little garden spot, we’re going to have to do it anyway. Better to do it before they get here. You already got Giles, so you got no worries. I need a Watcher who’ll watch my back instead of just watch, if you get my meaning.”

Buffy snapped her fingers and pointed at Faith. “Have you asked Xander? He might have issues.”

Faith paused and pursed her lips. “Got me there. Issues there’ll be, just not the ones you think.” She tapped her ashes into the saucer. “Yeah, there are issues and I can guarantee he’ll argue that it’s a bad idea. He’ll say yes in the end, though, ’cause I think he gets it.”

“Gets what?” Buffy asked with frustration.

Faith’s momentary animation disappeared. “The thing you don’t get. The thing you can’t get. The thing I don’t understand about you. The thing I’ll never understand about you,” Faith said thoughtfully. “He gets it. He maybe doesn’t know he gets it, but he gets it on a fundamental level. Team Cock-Eyed Optimist wouldn’t be what it is if he didn’t get it.”

“That’s not answering my question,” Buffy said.

“When I heard you died again and no one told me, I gotta admit that I was really pissed,” Faith said, apropos of nothing. “Yet, this little thing in the back of brain kept saying, ‘Thank god,’ you know? Thank god I didn’t know. Thank god no one told me.”

“That’s not answering the question,” Buffy said tightly.

“I am, you’re just not hearing it,” Faith said before she drew on her cigarette. She added, “If someone told me, I would’ve had to bust out of prison. I would’ve had to take responsibility, and I wasn’t ready then. Not by a long shot. I would’ve had to choose between looking for our new little sister or going back to Sunnydale and doing my bit. I would’ve had to be the big sister, and I don’t think I could do it. Couldn’t do it then.” Faith’s eyes locked meaningfully on Buffy. “I don’t think I could do it now, because I don’t know what it’s like.”

“You’re not making any sense,” Buffy said. “You don’t know what something is like? What something are you talking about?”

Faith studied her and a frown line appeared between her eyes. Buffy could see that Faith didn’t understand why Buffy couldn’t de-riddle the riddle. Faith suddenly winced and shook her head.

“Faith? Please? You’re not making any sense,” Buffy prompted. “None of this conversation is making any sense. You’re all over the place.”

Faith’s eyes snapped to the kitchen window again. “I’m telling you there’s a storm coming. I can feel it. It’s driving me nuts, like I should go out there and tell Mother Nature to cut it out. Like I should go out there and fight it, but there isn’t nothing to fight and I know it. I think.” Faith suddenly stubbed out her cigarette and stood. “I better double-check how Willow’s doing on researching that alternative spell. See if she needs me to do something.”

As Faith walked by, Buffy reached out to stop her. “I’m sorry no one told you about what happened with me and Glory, but all this crazy talk…are you all right in there?”

Faith looked down at her. “When I was talking to Willow, it kind of suddenly hit me that you’re the last.”

Buffy’s hand dropped. “The last,” she deadpanned.

“I’ve always been a Slayer,” Faith said quietly. “I’ve never been the Slayer. I thought I wanted to be the Slayer, but hearing what I heard tonight, I finally figured out that I don’t want to be the Slayer. Maybe I never really did. Maybe I just wanted your stuff and your life, which is something different from wanting to be the Slayer.”

Buffy shook her head because what Faith said didn’t make a bit of sense. “We’re all Slayers, Faith, so I don’t under—”

“No, you still don’t,” Faith interrupted. “The Slayer is different from a Slayer. There’s a big difference. An ocean of difference. And I just figured that out.” She suddenly shook her head. “Maybe I always knew it, ’cause I’m always on you for forgetting that you’re not the one and only any more. But you’ve been the one and only, and I’ve never been. I never will be. And none of those girls out there? They never will be either. No more ‘the Slayer.’ Now it’s a Slayer. It’ll always be a Slayer. Not one. Not only. Plural. Multiple.”

Buffy got it. She didn’t want to, but she got it.

Then Faith did the most unexpected thing. She reached out a hand, rested it on Buffy’s shoulder, and said, “Thank you.”

Buffy couldn’t help but stare.

Faith’s hand dropped, and without another word, she left the kitchen and Buffy to sit alone in the dark.

Orpheus was forgotten. Worry was forgotten. Even Xander and his hellish situation was forgotten. Buffy didn’t know what to think about her conversation with Faith, so not thinking at all seemed to be the way to go.

Buffy wasn’t sure how long she sat and stared straight ahead before she replied in a very tiny voice, “You’re welcome.”

 

 

Continued in Part 40.

 

 

Download: Sea of a Million Faces (Live) by Allison Crowe

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