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Previous Chapter: Confliction

It wasn’t that big of a deal, right? All she had to do was take the key from Spike, unlock the cuffs, and then use the Katra to switch them back. Give Faith enough time to slip out the window and give her a good head start before the others came knocking on the door to discover what she’d done. No doubt they’d all have that look on their faces, like she’d made the wrong call. But it wasn’t up to them what happened to Faith. 

If they wanted her dragged off to be murdered by the Council, or to be caged like an animal for the rest of her life, she’d have no part of it. They’d have to all grow slayer strength and get the job done themselves. And since there was pretty much no chance of that happening, they’d all just have to deal with it.

If Faith squandered her freedom, that was on her, and solely up to Buffy to handle whatever fallout came of it. If Faith had to be taken out, it would have to be by Buffy’s own hand. There wasn’t another person on the planet who truly knew what a Slayer was capable of, and nobody else even remotely matched. But it wouldn’t come to that. Because Faith was going to be okay, someday, and the way she’d get there wasn’t by sitting in a prison cell. 

Buffy could hear them already. How could you do something so stupid and naive? I’m beginning to worry about your judgement. You let a clinically insane super villain go? This is going to blow up in your face. Whatever she does is on your shoulders. The blood will be on your hands. Blah, blah, blah. 

She was over it. Over being treated like… like a child and a saint at the same time, when she was neither. Tired of the judgment. The hypocrisy. When they started dying to stop an apocalypse, they could make the decisions. Until then, it was her choice to make. And there was no way she was setting Faith up to be failed yet again. She was going to get something she’d never had before. 

A chance.

Having Spike there with her made things a little easier. He wasn’t crowding her, or getting impatient and undoing the locks himself, or making unnecessary noise. He just existed, a shield between her and the door, the people she didn’t want interrupting. Stoic and unmoving, simply watching her. With the never ending trembling, and the emotions threatening to boil over, and the walls trying to close in on her with every shaky breath she took, he was an anchor. Solid. Something she could focus her mind on while she did the task at hand, which was taking so much more time than it should have been, but it was awfully difficult to shove a key into a hole when your fingers were tingling and numb and you could barely see straight.

She took another breath and let it out slowly, practicing the calm breathing that was supposed to go along with meditation. Clear the mind, calm the body, right? That was the idea, but it was barely helping her hold it together. She just wanted to be right again. Back in her own body, and her body back to health. 

She hadn’t even noticed how bad of shape she was in until she was looking down at her unconscious self, chained in a bathtub, looking like she was on death’s doorstep. So thin that her bones jutted out in stark relief and stretched the skin taut over what was left of her muscles. She looked sick. Cancer patient sick. Emaciated child sick. And that visual had sent her spiraling.

Her body, Faith’s body, had betrayed her.

Every muscle trembled, rattling her so painfully that she had to curl up on the floor just to feel like she wasn’t going to explode. She couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t think of how to make herself breathe. Her heart pounded so hard that it made her chest ache and she was sick to her stomach. 

And then Faith had woken up, and… shown compassion. Empathy. Stretched a chained hand out to gently stroke Buffy’s back. Helped with the breathing, and the overwhelming fear, and the urge to either run or kill something. She’d helped her fight an invisible enemy that existed only in her mind. 

They’d made peace, or something close to it. As close as they were going to get, for the time being. So much was still unspoken between them, so much that they didn’t have the words to express. So much to process, and healing to do on both sides, but… they were going to be just fine. Individually, and with each other.

As soon as she got that last lock undone.

She couldn’t help the sigh of relief when the damn thing finally clicked and fell open. She’d been trying for what felt like an eternity. Faith didn’t need to be helped up, they both knew that. But when Buffy reached a hand out to her, Faith took it and raised herself up before stepping over the edge of the tub and steadying herself. Spike had never said where exactly Faith had been when he found her, but judging from the alcohol smell, it wasn’t hard to guess. It was going to be a very long, stumbly walk home when they were done.

Spike cleared his throat quietly, and offered Willow’s little conjure box over with a slight nod. She offered him a smile in return, marvelling a bit at their ability to communicate without words, still. She’d figured, the stuff that happened between them inside the Initiative, the unspoken communication, the bond… all of that would have gone away once they were out. In all honesty it was… kind of nice that they still had that.

That she had that with two people now.

She opened the box and stared down at the little green orb. The Katra. Such a small thing, to make such a huge difference. Faith said it had been from the Mayor. He wanted to give her a chance at a new life. A better life. That’s what I want to give you, too. But you can’t just take mine and… think it’s going to make everything okay for you. She was ready to be back in her own skin, and then scrub that skin clean of everything before going to sleep. She knew Faith had to be just as eager to be done with her life as Buffy. 

It wasn’t all sunshine and daisies like she thought it would be.

Buffy lifted the orb from the box carefully and held it in her palm. It only took a moment for it to absorb into her skin. She didn’t know what to expect from it, but making her feel like she’d been sitting next to a campfire wasn’t on the list. She was warm. Toasty, even. She could feel the energy all throughout her body, buzzing just beneath the surface of her skin.

Well, all that’s left to do is do the Freaky Friday High Five.

She offered a tight lipped smile to her counterpart as she raised her hand up. “Take care of yourself, Faith.”

“You too, B. Don’t be a stranger.”

She winked, then grasped Buffy’s hand with her own, and the sickening vortex feeling started as her consciousness was sucked out of one body and crammed back into her own. Maybe it was the alcohol, or the whole switching of bodies, or the stress from the day. Maybe all of the above, but either way, her knees ended up slamming down painfully on the ceramic tiles while the contents of her stomach started crawling up her throat. 

She let Spike and Faith guide her to the toilet, carrying most of her weight between the two of them. Her hair was pulled back from her face, held clear from the bile. One hand doing soothing strokes up and down her back. Water running, and a cool washcloth offered to her. Two people, their outer shells so hard, taking care of her. Two people she once called enemies. Two people she now considered to be her only true friends. There to support her when she really needed it, and knowing when to step back and let her handle things herself. 

“Thanks, guys,” she whispered, her throat raw. “Faith, you better dip. I don’t want them… tipping anybody off before you get some distance.”

“You sure?”

“I’ve got her. I’ll get her home, don’t worry.”

Faith didn’t argue. She climbed into the back of the toilet, shoved the window open, and she was gone. Buffy didn’t even hear her land.

“Slayer… Buffy. Look, I know it’s only a few blocks… And not exactly in the direction of my crypt, but…”

***

Willow sighed as she put her book down on the desk, going over everything in her head yet again. It was a fiasco. Debacle. Absolute, complete and utter catastrophe of a night. It should have been all easy peasy lemon squeezy, and it was none of those things. It had started off well enough. Burst in just in time, all ready to save the day, Katra in hand. All they needed to switch Buffy and Faith back, and then the Council could come and actually do their damn job for once, and Buffy could get back to being Buffy. But is that what happened? No, of course not. Because the world was turned on its head and everything was wrong now. Everything had been wrong since… Well, it was good that Buffy was back home. It was. But… 

She was so different now. So distant. It wasn’t like the other times, like Xander had said. You know, she’s done this before after something really traumatic. Remember with the Master? She just needs to work out her issues, that’s all. She’ll come around, Wil, we just have to be patient. Yeah, sure. Patient. But how long were they expected to keep waiting for her to get over whatever she’d been through? And what about everything that was happening in the meantime? This was more than what had happened after the Master. More than running away after killing Angel. And Willow didn’t know how to help her friend, or if she even really wanted to at this point. Were they even friends any more? It didn’t seem like it. There was this huge rift between them, and it was all just a big miscommunication. A misunderstanding. If Buffy would just sit down and listen, and tell them what really happened in there, then maybe… Maybe they could figure a way to make it better. But instead of taking comfort and solace in her friends, she was… necking with a vampire, literally. 

And who the hell did Spike think he was, slamming her against the wall and threatening her like that? And the stuff he’d said, about… her, and everybody else, just dismissing what Buffy had gone through. How he wasn’t going to do anything to hurt her, which was just about the most ridiculous thing she’d ever heard in her entire life, right next to him comparing himself to Oz. Something about that whole conversation didn’t sit right. The tone he’d used maybe, or… She couldn’t quite put her finger on it, but she knew he was definitely hiding something. Probably another stupid plot that would have to be foiled. Trying to gain Buffy’s trust so he could kill her nice and easy. 

As if that hadn’t been enough, Giles sided with Spike, after what he’d just watched him do. Spared her life? No, he’d threatened it. And what did it matter if he had? How many lives hadn’t he spared in the last century? How many had he destroyed just for the fun of it? Apparently, it didn’t matter to Giles. No, they had to ‘respect’ Buffy’s choice, no matter what it was, because they’d all been in ‘unconventional relationships’ and had no room to judge. 

Last time she’d checked, nobody had dated a brutal killer. 

It was so confusing. It was hard to tell where one lie ended and the other started any more. What was really Buffy, and what wasn’t. Had it really been Buffy who’d said all those awful things to them, when they’d found her letting Spike– or had that been Faith? Was it Buffy the next night, or was that Faith, too? Was it really Buffy now? None of it made sense.

Buffy wouldn’t have let Faith walk free like that. Not the Buffy she knew. And she wouldn’t have… This just couldn’t be her. The Initiative probably did some weird mind altering stuff to her. Brainwashing. They had to be it. If they could put a chip in a vampire to make them not bite, they could definitely do the same kind of thing to Buffy. Or maybe it was something like Stockholm syndrome? Spike being even remotely civil to her in a place like that could probably do something similar. Either way, there had to be a way to fix it. 

It made Willow sick to her stomach, thinking back on how Buffy had been when she and Spike came out of the bathroom together. Like they were best friends, or he was her great protector like he’d claimed to be. Him leading the way, and her refusing to make eye contact with them as they walked toward the front door. But Faith was gone without a trace. Released on the unsuspecting public, putting people in danger. Buffy had let a loose canon … loose. For whatever reason, Faith deserved a second chance in this Buffy’s eyes. After, you know, committing murder, siding with the Mayor, working against them, almost killing Xander, almost killing Angel, almost killing Buffy… Yeah, sure. A second…. Seventh chance. Why not, right? She was already letting an unchipped Spike roam town freely, why not add to that potential body count?

Apparently, those were the wrong things to say though, because Buffy had come unglued on her, and started screaming all kinds of… awful, cruel things.

You LEFT me there to rot, because you didn’t like that it was Spike bringing you the information! I could have died. I almost did. You have no idea what I went through in there, and you don’t want to know. You want this to just be all better and rainbows and sunshine now, and it isn’t. So you want to question my judgement? Fine. Question it all you want. But don’t come crying to me next time there’s an apocalypse coming and you need somebody to make the hard decisions, and act like you trust my judgement then. One or the other. You don’t get to have it both ways.

That wasn’t what had happened though! They didn’t leave her in there. They had to do research, and find her, and figure out what they were up against, and who was involved. They couldn’t just charge in there. So yeah, it had taken them a little time to launch a rescue, but… it wasn’t like they hadn’t all been worried sick about her that entire time. Taking on a military operation wasn’t the kind of thing you just did. Unless you were stupid, like Spike, because that had obviously gone very well for him. 

She just wanted her friend back. The real Buffy. Not this angry, bitter version. 

Well, at least there was one good thing that had come from everything. She and Tara had done that spell together, and that was really… intense, in all kinds of ways. She was so amazing, and couldn’t even see it. She had no idea how powerful she was. If it hadn’t been for her, they might never have even known what had happened. Faith could’ve taken off in Buffy’s body, and Buffy could’ve been killed by the Council, and…  

It was good Tara had been there. Great, even. And Willow really wanted her around like that all the time. She wanted her to feel included, welcome. Like she belonged. She couldn’t keep her all to herself any more, but… maybe she could, in a way? 

There had to be something special between them. She couldn’t be the only one feeling it. But after what happened with Oz… jumping headfirst into something was really scary. Putting it out there, and not knowing for sure what the response would be… even though she really wanted to, Willow couldn’t bring herself to do it. She couldn’t just sit Tara down and confess that she had more than typical friend feelings for her.

Her whole life, she’d only felt really romantic about Oz. She’d had a crush on Xander. She’d had those typical daydreams growing up. The happy house and a picket fence, the big wedding and the fancy dress. A bride, and a groom. Until she’d met Tara, and then…

It was so new, and… Willow had never felt that way about another woman before. She didn’t even know what it meant. She was – gay. It still sounded weird to hear herself say that. She couldn’t imagine how the others would feel about it. How Tara would feel. About her.

Willow sighed again. She had everything put together so perfectly. Wine, honey cakes, roses… oh, and the incense, of course. What could be more romantic? After all, if you wanted a love confession, you had to go right to the source. Nobody but Tara could tell her what feelings she had, and… Well, she’d just have to ask. And maybe, hopefully, they could finally be something more. 

It would work. It had to. She didn’t know what she was going to do if it didn’t. Put on the super scary big girl pants? Risk a friendship that she valued, for the possibility of a romantic relationship? She’d just have to cross that bridge when – if – she came to it. Because Tara was going to tell her how she really felt after this.


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Table of Contents
Previous Chapter: Confliction

Reviews ( 1 )

mother_of_unicorns
September 19, 2021 07:54

You know I love this chapter! This feels more true to Faith than anything they ever did on the show.

Ugh, Willow...