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Wishing Changes Everything: Amends

by Declan
Rating: R

+1=2=3+

Amends (PART 1: Christmas Presence)

“I’m guessin’ this is where slayer strength comes in handy.” Faith said as she watched Buffy with amusement.

“Your guess would be right.” Buffy settled the heavy parcel down on the sidewalk as she adjusted her shopping bags over her shoulder. They were both standing out on Main Street, crowds of enthusiastic Christmas shoppers flowing around them. A few days before Christmas and people, including Buffy, were out looking for last minute gifts. To Buffy it gave Sunnydale that normal small town feeling for once, evil stopping out for the holidays.

The sky was cloudless and inky black, the air was warm, and from a nearby shop window a television weatherman blared out that still more warm weather was still to come.

Buffy sighed as she tried to get a good grip on the parcel. “You could help y’know; gain some Buffy-brownie points?”

Faith held up her hands. “Hey, I’ve done the whole trudging about with Christmas shopping last week. What were you doing then that was so important?”

“That would be school, Faith.”

Faith shrugged as she smiled. “Overrated.”

“Not for this girl. Anyway, I have to put a lot of thought into my presents; each one is carefully selected for my friends.” She pulled out her crumpled shopping list and looked at it.

“You ain’t seen what I’ve bought you yet. Very special.”

Buffy looked up. “Ooh, is it a pony!” she asked excitedly.

Faith made a face. “Or could be you’re gonna be disappointed.”

Buffy picked up her parcel again and managed to balance it as she considered the other slayer, “Uh, look, Faith, I don’t want you to feel you have to go all out to impress me or anything. I know you don’t have much in the way of...well, um, stuff...”

“Well, see, that’s were you’re wrong, B. I’ve got plenty of dough, Giles gave it to me. It’s like a slayer allowance or somethin’.”

Buffy furrowed her brow in scepticism. “Giles gave you money? For being the slayer? Seriously?” She pouted, “That’s so not fair! The only thing he’s ever given me is... the occasional lecture. Ooh, he and I are gonna have a long talk.”

“I dunno, he said it was a...dis-cretionary fund? Or somethin‘ like that anyway. Gives me enough to buy some gifts and give Joyce some ready cash for puttin’ me up.”

“And for putting up with you.” Buffy added before she realised what Faith had said, “And, since when is it ‘Joyce’? That’s totally weird.”

Faith shrugged uncomfortably. “Yeah, see, me and your Mom, we kinda did the bonding thing, and she said I should call her that. Is that cool?”

“Uh, yeah, of course, totally cool. Bonded when?”

“Hey, all those decorations didn’t just appear in your house, y’know.”

“I know that...the magic Christmas Elves put them there, right? You saw them?”

Faith grinned at that. “No, we, y’know, talked as we did stuff...Your Mom’s a good listener.”

Buffy frowned at the implication that she, therefore, wasn’t a good listener. She wondered what Faith and her Mom talked about together. Fashion? Politics? Maybe they talked about Faith’s life before Sunnydale.

The other slayer had mentioned it to Buffy only in the scantest of detail when Buffy brought up the subject. And while Faith was ready, way ready in fact, to get physically intimate with Buffy, she was hesitant to open up and be specific about her life pre-slaying.

But Buffy wanted to know more about Faith’s time in Boston, the good and, she suspected, the large amount of bad that the other girl had experienced.

‘Well, Christmas is the time for sharing, so here’s hoping Faith decides to.’

Faith reached over and grabbed the shopping bags, and lifted them off Buffy. “Here, I’ll be all charitable.”

Buffy was grateful. “Aw, look who’s got the Christmas spirit.”

“Nah, I’m just hoping to get a reward later.” Faith looked over Buffy’s shoulder, “So, what’s next?”

Buffy stared at her list as she started walking slowly along. “Okay, I’ve got Giles’ tie, Xander’s funny wall calendar and Mom’s burgundy sweater and this Greek statue-thing she wanted for the garden. I just need to stop at the Magic Box and get...”

Suddenly Angel was standing before them both. There was a pause as they all stared awkwardly at each other.

“Angel...” Buffy said. She hadn’t seen him since...he’d told her to leave him alone. This could be tense.

He glanced between the two of them. “Hi.”

Faith’s Christmas spirit was obviously still apparent. She smiled widely. “Hey there, big guy, whatcha doing out? Gonna get a big-ass tree for that mansion of yours? Some twinkly lights to put up?”

His eyes flicked between Buffy and Faith, he looked anxious. “Couldn’t sleep.”

“Know whatcha mean, December ain’t supposed to be this hot, huh?”

Angel nodded distractedly, still looking at Buffy.

Buffy smiled tentatively at him. “Are, um, are you okay?”

“I’m all right. You?"

Her smile widened. “Uh, good... all good.”

Faith nodded as she looked between them both. “I’m good too, ‘case you were wondering.”

Suddenly Angel was staring elsewhere, passed them both, his expression changed to one of disbelief, like he’d seen a ghost.

“Angel? Is something wrong?” Buffy asked, before realising that it was that time of year again. The time for The First, the evil ghost of Christmas past.

Faith looked to where Angel was looking. “Yeah, what’s the prob?”

Angel didn’t answer. Shaken, he simply turned and walked off away from them, pulling up the collar of his coat and merging with the crowds.

“Y’know, your ex just totally blanked me, B. Not cool.”

“Yeah, weird...”

*****

“So just like that he bailed? Maybe seeing you and Faith together got him all upset.” Willow said.

Buffy walked over to the lockers with her friend, Xander listening close behind. “I don’t think so, that was just all uncomfortable and then this happened. Maybe I’ll mention it to Giles; I’ve got to talk to him anyway.”

Xander chipped in as the two girls opened their lockers. “Are you sure he’ll care? Giles and Angel have a, well I was gonna be all euphemistic and say history, but really isn’t all that torture and murder stuff gonna cloud the issue.”

Buffy sighed. “I know that Xander, but we’ll all just have to be super-professional, that’s all. I mean, I’m doing what Angel wants, the whole distance-y thing. But this is slayer stuff, there’s no agenda or personal baggage.”

“Well, maybe Angel’s just got the holiday blues; everybody gets them, nobody wants to be lonely at Christmas.” Willow said thoughtfully.

Buffy fetched out some books from her locker before closing it. “I was kinda hoping for a nice quiet vacation, y’know. I want this Christmas to be special, and not just for me, for Faith. I’m not sure how many good experiences she’s had of this time of year.”

“Yeah, it’s probably really cold in Boston.” Willow said, then brightened, “So at least it’s gonna be all warm and cosy for her. Outside, that is.”

Xander walked next to Buffy as they moved towards the lounge. “So, do you and Faith have anything special planned? Just so you know I’m asking this as a friend, minimal panting.”

Buffy smiled as she shook her head slightly. “Tree. Nog. Roast beast. The usual stuff that I tend to take for granted. Plus an excess of gifts.” She turned to Willow, “What about you?”

“Well, being Jewish I see through the whole Santa smoke screen, to the true meaning of Christmas.”

“Good will to all mankind?” Xander asked.

“Spending time with my boyfriend!” Willow said giddily, “My parents are going away, so Christmas Eve he’s gonna come over and hang out, but in a romantic way."

“Rub it in why don’t you.” Xander remarked, shaking his head, “I finally get a chance to spend Christmas with my girlfriend, then she up and decides to jet off to Aspen. For skiing, because rich people have to invent new ways to kill themselves.”

Willow patted his arm sympathetically as they sat down in the lounge, before craning her neck to see any sign of Oz; while Xander looked across at Buffy thoughtfully as he hugged his bag. “So, have you, y’know, told your Mom about the whole you and Faith thing?”

“Nope, the way I figure it Christmas is a time of celebrating and togetherness and hiding truths from family members. Faith and I are gonna be all subtexty.” Buffy sighed, “It’s not like there’s anything really serious to tell, just yet. Just kissing and...are you sure you wanna here about this?”

“In lots of different ways and on all possible levels.” Xander nodded as he leaned forward, before pausing and glancing about, “Unless Cordelia’s around, then I’m so very indifferent, but in a friend way.”

“It’s just; she doesn’t really open up that much.”

“Open up what...I-I mean, in what way?” Xander stuttered.

Buffy shrugged. “Personally. She doesn’t talk about herself that much, just gives short, non-helpful answers about her past and stuff. But I think she’s opening up to my Mom...so maybe it’s just me, maybe she doesn’t feel she can trust...”

“Hey, wow, that’s not...I bet it’s not even like that.” Xander put up a hand to stop her before considering, “Listen, Faith is all about image, right? Acting all tough and sexy and cool and...” He paused as he seemed to drift off.

“Xander.” Buffy said pointedly.

“And I’m back.” Xander shrugged an apology, “The point is maybe she doesn’t want to say anything that might change things between you, like the way you see her. Maybe she thinks you’ll think badly of her or something.”

“But I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t ever think that. That’s...that’s crazy logic, I already told her I want to know stuff.”

Xander nodded in understanding. “There is some crazy in her thought process, but Faith isn’t really big with the vulnerability. You need to find a way to draw her out of that shell of hers; didn’t she say that she’s new at all this relationship stuff, right?”

Buffy nodded as she thought about it. “I guess.”

“So, go all ‘show and tell’ on her. And I don’t mean that in a pervy way.”

Buffy smirked. “What pervy way is that?”

“Any way my mind can make it. What I’m saying; push. Show her that you really want to know stuff about her, find common ground, then go for it.”

Buffy’s smirk blossomed into a smile. “How did you get all insightful?”

Xander gave her a lop-sided smile. “The thought of you and Faith together just naturally inspires me; I want you crazy kids to make a go of it.”

“Inspires you?” Cordelia spoke up after walking over, obviously overhearing, “Really. In what way?”

“The way...they, uh, fight all those,” Xander looked around, “Dark forces and stuff, really gets me here.” Xander softly thumped his chest.

“If I didn’t know better I’d think the idea of two slayers touched a bit lower.” Cordelia replied with false sweetness.

Buffy decided to come to her friend’s aid. “It’s my fault Cor, I asked for some advice. Xander was just helping and being a good friend.”

Cordelia shook her head in exasperation. “What a surprise, more ‘advice’. You never make it easy do you, Buffy? You can’t just date the normal boy, no; you have to date the tortured, angst-y vampire or the poor, damaged chick. It’s all about drama and getting attention with you.”

Buffy looked at her wide-eyed. “No, it’s really not.”

“Whatever. Seriously, if you have to try this hard all over again, do you really think it’s worth having?” With that Cordelia turned and walked off.

Buffy and Xander shared a ‘where the hell did that come from’ look before Xander gave her an apologetic grimace and went after his girlfriend.

Buffy folded her arms and scowled. “And she wonders why I didn’t buy her a present this year.”

Willow gave a sympathetic pout. “Oh, she’s just cranky and jealous because Xander’s being all attentive...not in a wrong way though, just friendly.”

Buffy blew out a breath. “I suppose I should try his advice, least I can do after getting him on the outs with Her Majesty. And that was very ‘Christmas spirity’ of you, seeing things from her point of view.”

Willow rolled her eyes good naturedly. “Hello, still Jewish. Chanukah spirit I think you’ll find. Not so much of the giving and receiving.”

Oz came and stood next to her. “That’s a shame, ‘cause I was gonna give you a hug.”

“Ooh, in that case I’m all about receiving.” She said as he put his arms about her and she sighed contentedly.

“Much as I’d like to linger and bask in a couple-y warm glow, I really need to go and see Giles.” Buffy stopped as she saw that Willow was oblivious at the moment, “So I will now go.”

Willow managed to wave a little lazily as Buffy left. “Bye-bye.”

*****

Giles looked up from the counter as she entered. “Ah, good morning, Buffy. Have you anything to report?”

Buffy nodded slyly as she wandered over. “Yes, Faith and I had a very interesting evening doing some last minute shopping.” Buffy said, “We chatted and all sorts of facts came up.”

“Good, good.” Giles nodded distractedly, leafing through a book, “You didn’t get me another dreadful tie, I hope?”

“No, I...” Buffy paused, “…You didn’t like the tie I got you last year?”

“Have you ever observed me wearing it?" He asked dryly.

“No, but you're old, it’s not like anybody actually notices what you wear. Also, I’m not that predictable. You’ll be really surprised at my, um, actual gift. And anyway, how come you’re giving Faith money?”

Giles looked up from what seemed to be a particularly fascinating page. “What? Oh, yes, I thought given Faith’s circumstances she could use a little discretionary money to aid in her living expenses.”

Buffy looked triumphant. “Ha, I knew you’d deny it, but Faith said…wait? What? What living expenses, she’s living with me, where’s my expense?”

Giles adjusted his glasses. “Since taking a more active role in Faith’s tutoring I therefore requested an additional sum for expenses, sundries and what have you from the council. It seems after the embarrassment with Mrs. Post they were only too happy to comply.” He looked at Buffy’s puzzled face, “Buffy, you have always had a stable home life, so I thought it best to channel your, ah, remuneration towards more practical things; weaponry, equipment, research materials and such…”

“You spent my money on books? But that money was clearly destined for…way more important things. The shoes alone… wait, how much are we talking here?”

“Well, the payments have varied over the years but given current living standards in the United States…about four hundred dollars a month.”

“Four hundred dollars?” Buffy tried to imagine her improved wardrobe, “Wait, why are you just getting the money now?”

“Well, it’s really only meant for a Watcher with a fully active slayer to invest in, so they can look after them. Plus there is an awful lot of paperwork to fill out. Actually, I was sure I’d be denied it. The council can be extraordinarily tight-fisted when the mood takes them.” Giles sighed as he explained, “Faith approached me about the possibility of getting a job and how it might possibly interfere with her instruction in future. She said she wished to contribute more meaningfully to the running of Joyce’s household. I thought this a more elegant solution, given how much ground Faith has to make up in regards to training.”

Buffy thought about it, it was sweet that Faith had wanted this just so she could give some money to her Mom, Faith hadn’t mentioned that part. “Oh, I mean, in that case I guess… it's okay. It was just a surprise that’s all, slayer wage. I didn’t even know.”

“I didn’t think it pertinent. Now to matters more occult in nature, I’ve discovered some insights into your,” Giles made a gesture to her neck, “marking.”

Buffy felt a nervous tremor at the change of subject. “You did.”

She had told Giles about her tattoo shortly after he returned from his aborted camping trip, making out that she’d only just noticed it, which was only a small lie, really. Giles, being more curious than concerned, had asked Buffy if she had any memory of receiving it, and she’d truthfully replied she hadn’t. Giles had then made a copy of it and said little more, just gone all research-y.

“What’s the what?” She asked.

“Well, as far as I can determine the markings in the symbol are a blend of Sumerian, Hebrew and some demonic symbols, perhaps all related to an older, common ancestral language.” Giles looked over his notes, “Most of the symbols seem to translate as ‘wish-granter‘ or ‘giver’. Only I can’t seem to find any more corroborative evidence in my research.”

Buffy looked at her Watcher wide-eyed. “Demonic language doesn’t sound overly comforting?”

“Oh, demonic symbols aren’t uncommon in some magics; they usually denote some specific purpose for a spell. In this instance it would be, uh, division or shift of self or the alteration of spirit or, as in your case, reality distortion.”

Buffy gestured with her hands. “Whoa, back up for a sec, be kind, rewind.”

“If this is some wish-granting entity… demon, then it would grant wishes in a variety of ways, depending on the wisher. Division or shift of self would be if you’d asked for eternal life or um, physical prowess perhaps, there would be a shifting, a balance would be struck. One thing for another.”

“Like, you wouldn’t get anything for free?”

Giles nodded. “Yes, magic is about balancing forces, about altering them in your favor. I’m a little…fuzzy on the specifics, but I am certainly thankful you didn’t ask for eternal life.”

Buffy nodded as she followed. “What was the other, um, ‘alteration of… spirit’?”

“Hmn, yes. That would be if you’d wished for…somebody to fall in love with you, or that you were irresistibly, charmingly charismatic so that individuals would do anything you say.”

“Which leaves..?”

“Reality distortion; affecting other people, time-travel, dimensional manipulation…bringing somebody back from a hell dimension.”

‘Time-travel…’ “That’s the one, so what’s the deal. I mean this demon wants something, right? It’s like you said, one thing for another.”

Giles shook his head. “I wouldn’t worry excessively, Buffy. All my research so far indicates reality distortion requires an awful lot of power, this demon wouldn’t be after your soul, or anything so…prosaic.” Giles regarded her kindly, “I haven’t finished my research yet, but it shouldn’t take long. Wish-granting demons are few and far between and they don’t usually operate this…secretly. I’ll have more answers before long.” Giles paused pensively.

“There’s a big but coming, right?”

“Well, demons, even harmless balancing ones, do everything for a reason. By expanding this much power I suspect that the focus of this ‘spell’ might not be on you…but on Angel.”

‘Or Faith.’ “Oh, interest is very bad, right?”

“Interest is…interest. But we should be prepared for the fact that it might not be a benevolent force that’s focused on Angel,” Giles paused as he took off his glasses to clean them, “You might, um, have to monitor him a little more closely.”

Buffy sighed. “Oh, Faith’s gonna love that.” She saw Giles somewhat confused look, “Um, she’s not thrilled about Angel…in general, nothing specific. She just follows the ‘vampire slayer’ byline pretty closely.”

Giles nodded. “I’ll talk to her…”

“No, that’s okay. I’ll explain the sitch to her, we’re good.” Buffy wasn’t going to worry about Angel, at least not like that. She could take out the First’s goons no sweat, and she was ‘monitoring’ Faith pretty closely anyway, so…

But why would a demon be interested in Faith? Because she was the slayer? Or maybe because she could turn and become…no, that wasn’t Faith anymore. She’d changed… actually she’d never done any of those things.

No, whatever caused this; it had to be a good thing. Things were better, her friends, Faith and her, everything that mattered. Whatever schemes this demon planned, it was going to fail.

Buffy nodded to herself determinedly before turning to Giles. “No problem, we’ll just keep an eye on Angel. Oh, and… my Mom and all of us, we’re having Christmas Eve dinner at my house, if you’d like to come, you’d be welcome.”

Giles smiled in surprise. “Oh, well, yes, I-I’d be happy to come. Please, um, do tell your mother I’ll bring a bottle of something appropriate.”

“Well, okay then.” Buffy was still a bit cautious about Giles and her Mom being around each other, but a bottle of wine wasn’t magic band candy, so she thought they’d both behave themselves. Probably.

*****

Buffy walked through the rows of Christmas trees while Faith raced on ahead, surprisingly giddy for, well, anyone really, never mind Faith.

“Do you want to get one with snow on it? It’d be very Christmassy.” Her Mom gestured to one of the fake-snow covered ones.

Buffy looked around. “I think those are just for display. And what’s with Faith, she’s acting all hyper? Has she been at the sugar again?”

Buffy’s Mom looked at where Faith had run to. “Just excited. I don’t think she’s shopped for a Christmas tree before.”

Buffy decided to press her Mom. “What, they don’t have them in Boston?”

“Yes, but I don’t think they had them in her house.” Her Mom sounded solemn, before turning to Buffy, “Listen, honey, we should make a real effort to make this Christmas special for her…give her some good memories…”

Faith called over. “Hey, we gotta get this one! It’s huge, it’ll look great with a whole shi- uh, ton o’ lights on it.” She waved at them, “Over here…”

Buffy glanced at her Mom’s saddened face as the two of them made their way slowly over to where Faith was. “Look Mom, I know you and Faith have been talking. What exactly did she say?” Buffy asked.

“Oh, Buffy, I don’t want to betray and confidences. It’s just…well, some people just aren’t meant to be parents, that’s all. And their children pay the price. But Faith, the way she talks about it…it’s as if growing up like that’s just one of those things that happens to everyone.” She looked at Buffy, “But now she’s with us we have to take good care of her, okay?”

She paused to put on a big smile as she got closer and looked at the tree Faith had chosen, she asked cheerily. “It’s a little big, isn’t it?”

Faith’s smiled as she looked back at the tree, tilting her head as she tried to judge whether it would fit. “Maybe a little, but it’s perfect. C’mon, it’s all bushy and…” Faith ran her hands across the tree fronds, “…feels real nice.”

“What do you think, Buffy?”

Buffy nodded. “Pretty much perfect…but, I’m gonna look over here, make sure we cover the whole grounds, y’know.” Buffy wandered through the tree yard towards the back of the lot to where a collection of dead, brown, skeletal trees huddled together against their lush surroundings. Yep, still very creepy.

One of the dealers came over to her. “Bunch of ‘em just up and died on us. Don’t know why. If you want one I can make you a hell of a deal.”

Buffy gave him a look. “No, thank you.”

Buffy heard her Mom call out. “Honey, over here, Faith’s found another perfect one.”

Buffy watched the guy shrug and wander off, pointing at the trees she warned, “I’m gonna get back to you.”

*****

Faith gave a last grunt as she adjusted the tree in the pot stand, “Is it straight yet?”

Buffy tilted her head as she watched Faith down on all fours; the girl was made for leather pants. “Huh? I...uh, I’m just checking to make sure…”

Even with her head getting poked by pine needles Faith still chuckled. “I know what’cha checking, blondie.”

Buffy coughed slightly as her Mom walked back into the room. “Okay girls, I’m popping out for some last minute groceries. Oh, Faith, that looks just perfect. It’s just the right size.”

“Is it tilting any?” Faith said, getting a little frustrated.

“Straight as an arrow, now you two can decorate while I’m out. Have fun.” With that she was gone before the shops closed.

Faith carefully backed up so as not to knock the tree and then got to her feet and turned. A little red-faced she blew out a breath. “Never can tell if anything’s totally straight these days.”

Buffy smiled innocently. “I don’t know what you mean. I’m just…a perfectionist, I want my tree to look its best.”

Faith smirked and crossed her arms. “Is that right? Oh, yeah, and since I picked it, that makes it my tree.”

Buffy gestured to the boxes of decorations piled next to the sofa. “Go ahead then, I’ll just sit right over here and watch you stretch…and reach…and bend as you decorate.” Buffy gave her a coy look as she went and sat on the couch, “Y’know, just to make sure you’re doing it right.”

Faith gave her a dimpled grin as she followed Buffy over. “Hey, I don’t wanna be selfish here; maybe we wait till your Mom gets back. Do it all together.”

Buffy gave an exaggerated thoughtful look. “But Faith, however will we pass the time until then.”

Faith didn’t answer, just fell onto the couch next to Buffy and pushed herself against the other girl. Her mouth met Buffy’s, her tongue pushing against the other girl’s lips. Her hands ran through blonde hair, teasing at the strands before she pulled back, breathless. “Damn, you are so…hot.”

Buffy blushed a little. “You’re pretty easy on the eyes yourself.”

Faith, in a very un-Faith-like way, stroked Buffy’s hair as she gazed at her. It seemed to Buffy like her eyes were trying to take in every detail and commit it to memory.

Buffy was a little unsure. “Hey…you okay? Weren’t we, um, about to do something?”

“Yeah…” Faith leaned in and kissed Buffy again, softly and sweetly, her hands curling down Buffy’s back, caressing the warmth of her lithe muscles as her hands descended.

Faith’s hands went to Buffy’s hips and with a deft roll she pulled Buffy up and around onto her lap, her mouth never leaving Buffy’s.

The blonde girl squeaked in surprise and pulled away slightly, “Oh, Faith, you’re so strong!” she giggled.

Faith seemed more content in this position, hands running over Buffy’s hips and butt, grasping as she shifted her hips upwards and stretched to kiss Buffy’s neck. Buffy wrapped her arms round Faith’s head, fingers tangling together, drawing the other girl as close as she could.

“Faith…” Buffy moaned as the other girl’s teeth softly nibbled at her skin, hot breath against flushed skin. Faith almost growled into Buffy’s throat as her hands cupped and massaged Buffy’s ass, causing delicious friction to build between Buffy’s legs, and spreading warmth to form across her abdomen, her stomach muscles rolling and clenching in response.

Faith’s mouth moved slowly up from nuzzling the nape of Buffy’s neck to her jaw, her tongue finding and again pushing against Buffy’s soft, yielding lips and tasting the warmth of her mouth.

Buffy never thought she could get used to kissing a girl, not as heatedly as this, but Faith’s mouth seemed to suck the breath from her, leaving her dizzy and light-headed. The brunette was intoxicating in a way different to anything Buffy had experienced before.

Faith’s tongue stroked against Buffy’s own as her hands came round between them, plucking against the material of Buffy’s shirt, her hands deftly finding the buttons and undoing them.

Faith pulled back again from the searing kiss, seeming as breathless as Buffy, her hands finished undoing Buffy’s shirt and parted it, pushing the fabric away and revealing Buffy’s bra-clad breasts. Faith’s heated gaze travelled across Buffy’s golden skin, causing a tremor to pass through the other girl. Faith leaned forward slowly, her warm hands gently gliding up and down Buffy’s quivering sides, her heated mouth kissed Buffy’s sternum before licking down her chest, into the valley between her breasts.

Buffy gasped as Faith’s warm, wet tongue glided across her skin, coating her with saliva before Faith’s mouth nudged against the lacy material of her bra. Teeth grazed against white gauzy fabric as Faith took a straining nipple into her mouth, closing her lips tightly and sucking hard through the material. Buffy gasped at the sensation as she arched her back, her hips unconsciously rolling and grinding down against Faith’s lap.

Faith’s hands reached round behind Buffy, fingers tracing up her spine before reaching her bra clasp.

“Wait!” Buffy froze on Faith’s lap before pushing the other girl away gently.

Faith groaned in frustration. “C’mon, B. I’m barely on second base here.”

“I know.” Buffy said breathlessly, “Just…could we move this upstairs. I don’t want to be scrambling for my bra when Mom comes back.”

Faith seemed to smile in relief. ”Oh, okay.”

She watched as Buffy rolled off her lap and stood up, not bothering to button up her top Buffy made her way to the foot of the stairs, before looking over her shoulder, “Coming?”

Even when slaying vamps, Buffy had never seen Faith move so fast.

*****

Buffy ground her head back into the pillow, arching her back slightly and groaning. What had she said to Angel that time? Spoiled like a princess? Now she knew what she’d meant.

Faith was hovering about her; face inches above Buffy’s breasts, one hand gently tracing and squeezing the outside curves as she slowly lave one with her tongue, unhurriedly exploring silken skin with lips, teeth and tongue. Slowly working her way upwards and around until the tip of her tongue grazed softly against Buffy’s aching aureole.

Buffy was moaning softly now, her arms curling back behind her so Faith could have full access. She never knew that you could feel this way just from...kissing and she’d never thought of her breasts as this sensitive. Faith’s tongue seemed tireless though and that thought alone made Buffy tremble slightly with arousal.

Buffy let out a small disappointed whine as Faith let her tongue miss Buffy’s aching tip and instead move to her other breast, her hand still kneading and caressing her abandoned mound. Faith started over, lips and teeth nibbling, stiff tongue lapping against sensitive flesh.

“...Faith, uh...”

Faith’s voice had never seemed sexier. “Yeah, B?”

“...please?”

“Hmn?” Buffy could see her cocky smirk without even looking.

“Could you, um..?”

Buffy felt Faith’s breath against her nipple and suddenly her mouth covered it at once, a hot wetness that made Buffy jerk stiff as her breath caught in her throat. Faith’s tongue lashing the little nubbin, while her other hand seized the girl’s other nipple and gently rolled it between her fingers. Buffy gasped, her hands roughly tangling in Faith’s hair, fingers running through luxuriant tresses as she tried to keep Faith’s mouth on her as long as possible.

But soon, too soon, Faith pulled away, moving up to kiss Buffy on her quivering lips, her tongue snaking into Buffy’s mouth to taste her before reluctantly withdrawing. She looked into Buffy’s eyes and, smirking, wiggled her eyebrows.

Buffy was wide-eyed. “That was...God...”

Faith chuckled huskily before flipping herself over and settling next to Buffy. “Close enough, told you B, I’ve got mad skills.”

Buffy’s skin was humming, her panties were…indecently wet and Faith hadn’t even touched anywhere near… there. ‘Okay, my mind is officially blown; I’m now…hetroflexible, definitely.’

Buffy turned slightly to Faith, her hand sliding across the other girl’s top. Faith had remained clothed whilst they’d been making out, but Buffy figured that after that she needed to do something in return. Besides, she was curious, it’d been a while since she’d seen another girls’ breast, and if Faith’s looked half as good as they’d felt…well, she hoped to match Faith with pure enthusiasm.

Faith’s hand stopped her as it roamed towards the bottom of her shirt.

“Hey, I just wanna return the favor…” Buffy said softly.

Faith turned so she was on her side and looked a little apologetic. “Sorry B, can’t let you.”

“But why, I mean, I don’t want to be someone who just, y’know, is all selfish. I want to…” Buffy reddened slightly, sex talk was still fairly new to her, “I mean, I want to try and make you, um, feel good.”

Faith seemed to smirk at Buffy’s slightly inept ‘sexy talk’. “Hey, we’re takin’ it slow, right? And that’s all good, but, y’see, if you start doin’ something to me…I’m probably gonna lose it completely and you’re gonna hav’ta fight me off.”

Buffy looked at the other girl searchingly. “But, y’know I want to, right?”

Faith smiled widely. “After all I did just then, you damn well better.” She poked the blonde girl’s stomach. “An’ just so you know I’m countin’ the days before I get to kiss you a lot lower down.” Her eyes drifted downward, before she returned her gaze to Buffy and, still grinning, touched her tongue to her top lip.

Buffy leaned forward and kissed Faith gently, reaching over to cup her cheek. “I know, I just want to wait until it’s…right.”

Faith nodded, her eyes amused. “I know, you don’t wanna round the bases all at once. I’m down with that.”

“Okay, good…hey, wait a sec. I know how it works with guys, the bases and everything. Kissing, groping, then…um, oral and then the ‘home run’. But how does it work with girls?”

“Like I’m the expert? I dunno, B. I just know what my version of a home run is.”

Buffy smiled a little shyly. “Which is?”

Faith gave Buffy a suggestive smile. “If ya real lucky, I’ll show you someday.” Then she leaned in to kiss her again.

*****

Buffy was dreaming, but everything seemed more vivid, the smell of cigar smoke, the clink of delicate glasses and distant music. Buffy remembered this place, a sumptuous Victorian house at Christmas, filled with the murmur of quiet conversations, gossiping and laughter, lit by muted gaslight. Buffy turned around seeing the scene just as before, in the dimness away from the gathering, under the stairs, Angel pulling a maid closer.

‘Cry out. Call for help. I’m sure mistress will believe your behavior beyond reproach.’

The maid pleading. ‘Please…’

Angelus smiles cruelly. ‘Come, make a scene! Shall I?’

‘No!’ She is close to tears.

‘No.’ Angelus repeats firmly, ‘We shall be as quiet as mice. No matter what.’

The maid looks horrified as Angelus’ demonic features are revealed. ‘Please…My son…’

‘Oh, he’ll make a fine dessert. ‘With that he draws he close and bites her, drinking deep. He pulls back as he finishes, and looks startled as a horrified Buffy looks on.

Buffy awoke with a gasp, sitting up in bed; the vision had been as vivid as before. To see Angel acting like that, so cruel and monstrous, still brought jagged reminders of her seventeenth birthday and all the horrors that followed.

Faith had awoken too, sitting up a little groggily; she frowned and put a hand on Buffy’s shoulder. “Buffy, hey, are you alright?”

Buffy and Faith had had a try at the whole snuggling thing that night, with Faith sleeping on top of the covers, the Boston girl saying she was used to a much cooler Christmas and could sleep better like this. This also led to less temptation for the both of them, making it more like a sleepover. With your hot girlfriend. Down the hallway from your Mom.

Buffy shook her head and got out of bed. “I had a dream. Angel’s in trouble.” She grabbed a pair of pants and stepped into them.

“Wha..? Where are you going? To his place? It’s like… two in the morning. Oh, yeah and how the hell d’ya know?”

Buffy pulled on her jacket. “I had a dream, Angel was there. Something’s after him.”

Faith frowned for a moment before rolling out of bed, “I’m comin’ too.”

They both dressed with quiet urgency, before sneaking down the stairs and out into the Sunnydale nighttime. Faith gave Buffy a few questioning looks but otherwise remained silent, just following the blonde as she walked determinedly across town to where they had bought their Christmas tree.

Finally Faith caught Buffy’s arm. “Hey, how ‘bout you tell me a little somethin’ about what’s goin’ on. What are we walkin’ into?”

“Okay, so I had this dream, with Angel in it. It was some time in his past, back when he was soulless, a killer. It was his memory, Faith, and I was there, a witness. I think someone is casting a spell on Angel, I saw robed, priesty guys with major scar tissue where there eyes should be, they were there too.”

“And they hang around a tree shop because, what? They love their evil pine-fresh?”

Buffy shook her head. “In the dream, things, living things died near them, plants withered to nothing, it reminded me of something I saw. I’ll show you.” Buffy turned and kicked out, breaking through the locked chain-linked gate, she then stormed inside. She moved purposefully through the trees to the grouping of dead undergrowth, grabbing an axe along the way.

Buffy waited as Faith caught up. “Whoa, wicked creepy.”

Buffy gestured to the trees. “Translation, evil guys are nearby, causing this to happen. Get ready to punch something.”

Faith wiggled her fingers and smiled. “You know me, B. Born ready.”

With that Buffy raised the axe above her head and brought it down hard against the dry, dead ground. Again and again the axe head chopped into the soil, dislodging dusty, caked earth that dropped away into a subsiding hole. Soon the hole was wide enough for the two girls to gain access, Buffy passed the axe to Faith as she dropped down into the musty cavern, pausing to let her eyes adjust to the gloom.

Buffy breathed softly and strained her ears, trying to pick up any sounds of chanting, or cheesy diabolical laughter, whatever. Faith dropped silently behind her but stayed quiet, letting Buffy take the lead.

The blonde slayer started forward, ducking to avoid the occasional dead root jutting from the ceiling and stepping over the odd rock that lay strewn on the floor. Buffy’s eyes adjusted as the passageway widened into a large cavern, a hefty flat rock lay at its centre and a few bones and candles lay scattered about. Other than that the area was empty, no chanting, stinky candles or evil priests.

‘What the hell…’

Buffy walked around the area; obviously people had been here and then left. Maybe she was too early, if she came back later…

“Did you really think it would be that easy?”

Buffy spun to see Miss Calendar step forward from the shadows, smiling coldly.

“You?”

“I’ll admit, I half expected this. You jumping the gun and trying to spoil my plans.”

Buffy frowned. “What are you..? What’s going on?”

Jenny walked around her, her ethereal form barely disturbing any dust in the chamber, but Buffy still felt her…it’s presence, like an oiliness in the air that seemed to cling to her skin, her nostrils, even her eyelashes, making her feel unpleasant. “I told you before, little girl. I am beyond anything you can begin to imagine,” The Calendar creature shook her head mockingly, “You thought you could just sweep in here and best me.”

Buffy took an uncertain step back. “You…remember? How is that possible?”

Faith spoke up from further back. “Uh, Buffy, who are you talkin’ too, there’s no one here.”

“I told you, I am everything, everywhere, in every thought. But you didn’t listen, too busy with your dumb little quips. Well, this time things are different.” Jenny looked at her in mock sympathy, “That’s what you wanted, right? You wanted things to be different, well, now you’ll get your wish. In spades. Bye, now.”

And with that, ‘Jenny’ vanished.

Buffy looked about, feeling a chill race up her as she realized she was facing The First again, but this time, on its terms.

Amends (PART 2: First Things...Secon)

Buffy and Faith stood in Giles office, the Watcher was sat at his desk as he looked at the two girls. “You had a dream about Angel?”

Faith gestured at Buffy. “Not me, her. Angel ain’t really my type.”

“And, for the record, I was IN Angel’s dream. There were things there, details I couldn’t possibly know about. It was Angel’s past, his memories. And I got sucked in.” Buffy had rarely felt this agitated; zero sleep and lots of caffeine had made her jittery.

Giles leaned back in his chair, his face doubtful. “I’m not sure how that’s feasible...”

“I saw other things in my...his dream. These people, creepy looking monk-priest guys.” Buffy handed Giles the crude sketch she’d made last night after coming back to the house, “They're the one’s working some kind of spell on him, he’s in trouble.”

Giles sighed. “I know. I’ve seen him.” He looked at Buffy, “He wanted to know why he was back.”

“Did you tell him, about the wish I mean? I know we don’t know for certain but it’s a possibility, right? It could give him some answers.”

He shook his head. “He ran off before we could discuss anything. I think his torments are no longer restricted to when he’s asleep.”

Buffy gestured to sketch of the bringers. “Then we find these guys, stop them. I mean, there has to be a way.”

Giles put down his glasses and gestured out to the library. “Well, I’ve already made a stab at looking. But this may give us a new direction.”

“Well, then let me help. You said maybe something had plans for him. That means this could be my fault. Faith can help too.”

Faith raised her eyebrows. “Hey, don’t drag me into this...”

Buffy frowned at the other girl. “Why not?”

“Hey, gals gotta know her strengths, right? The whole book thing...”

“Fine, then go home. Giles, we have work to do.” With that Buffy moved out of his office and went over to the desk.

Faith followed her. “Hey, B, where’s the fire, ‘kay. You have some freaky dream, went to some empty cave and now it’s all wicked tense. Am I missing somethin’?”

Buffy turned. “Look, I know you don’t really like Angel, I shouldn’t be surprised that you’re less than eager to spend Christmas vacation in a musty library.”

“That ain’t...yeah, I know I’m not Angel’s biggest pal, in fact I’ve got a few good reasons for not liking him. But, you explain to me why this is so important and I’m on board.”

“It’s important because he’s in trouble and I still care what happens to him, even if we aren’t together.” Buffy was too tired and worried for this, and she couldn’t even tell Faith the truth. “And while we’re at it, what exactly are these ‘few good reasons’, huh, Faith?”

Faith folded her arms defensively. “I dunno, how ‘bout; he’s a vampire?”

“Reformed.”

Faith snorted at that. “Fine, then how about this; he loved you, screwed you, broke your heart and then tried to kill you. There, that’s a whole bunch more.”

Buffy scowled. “Fine, you get to be President of The We-Hate-Angel fan club.”

“Actually, that would be me.” Xander answered as stood by the door, “I’ve got the pin and everything to prove it... So Angel’s in trouble? Uh, you need any help?” He walked in, shrugging at Buffy’s look. “Hey, I can all noble and self-sacrificing, ‘tis the season, after all.”

Buffy’s expression softened as she smiled at Xander. “Thank you.”

Giles exited the office with books in hand. “Excellent, let’s get started. Xander ‘The Black Chronicles’, Buffy, you take the ‘Diary of Lucious Temple’, an acolyte of Acathla and an expert on demons. You can skip the passages about his garden, unless you’re keen on growing hearty beets.” He handed the books out and paused to regard Faith. “Are you staying?”

Faith looked at Buffy for a long moment and then shrugged off her jacket. “Looks like.”

“Excellent. Here’s DuChamps’ ‘Treatises on Dimensional Vortices’, it goes into dimensional weak spots and such.”

Faith grimaced. “Got any pictures in it?” But she still took it and walked to the steps before sitting down.

Buffy turned to Xander. “Is everything okay between you and Cordelia?”

Xander smiled a long-suffering smile. “Put it this way, I kept up the Harris Christmas tradition of arguing and bitter recrimination, only without the alcohol.”

Buffy winced sympathetically. “I’m so sorry, Xander. It was my total bad.”

He shrugged. “Not your fault, Buff. We just need a little break, and by that I don’t mean Cordelia having an accident while skiing. We’ll make up when she gets back, so actually this is the most fun I’ve got planned. Hey, who else can claim that pathetic a social life?”

Willow came in, arms swinging. “Hey, guys! What are we doin’?”

*****

‘The First knows that this has all happened before? How is that possible? Did the First grant the wish? Or does it know what did?’

Buffy’s head had been tiredly whirling these questions around in her head for hours now and she still didn’t know what to do. She just stared helplessly at an open book written in Middle English, trying to work out how anybody thought it was helpful to talk about demons in flowery language and long verse. Stupid Middle English, she much preferred End English. Or American even.

Angel was in serious danger, hell, maybe they all were. Angel’s turning evil or even his death was what The First wanted before, but now?

Buffy had to tell Giles something, ask him questions about all the possibilities. But tell him what? That Faith had gone evil in some other timeline? Buffy just couldn’t bring herself to do that to her, Faith deserved the fresh start, another chance. Giles looking at her sideways all the time....would be a strain on their new relationship.

But Buffy had to tell Giles something about the time-travel/do-over aspect, that she’d done this before and knew it was the First. Or maybe she could fake a prophecy dream? They were always pretty vague though, no specifics. Maybe she could point Giles in the right direction...

Head feeling fuzzy from so many thoughts Buffy stood up and stretched her legs. Walking over to the steps, Buffy watched as Faith traced a line from a book with her finger, unconsciously mouthing out a particular word. “So, um, how are you doing?”

Faith looked up from her book. “Well, I learned that, before today, I didn’t really know what being ‘bored to death’ really meant. Guess I was just foolin’ myself.”

Buffy smiled slightly. “Oh, anything else?”

Faith blew out her cheeks. “Nothin’ useful.” She threw down the book, “Beets.” She said in disgust.

Buffy put a foot up on the steps and lowered her voice. “Um, Faith, I’m sorry about freaking out earlier...”

“B, you’ve been freakin’ out since last night at the cave, okay? Y’think I didn’t notice? Talking to thin air, getting all worked up, then coming home and wanting to sleep on your own, keeping me at a distance. I know you're not telling me everything.”

“Faith...” Buffy sagged as she moved forward and sat down next to the other girl, “You’re right, okay. I-I totally freaked. In the cave there was this thing, like a ghost, but I could see it. I don’t know why you couldn’t. This thing claimed it was behind what’s happening to Angel...it really scared me.”

Faith hesitantly put a hand up and stroked the back of Buffy’s head. “So you gotta tell Giles, right? Sounds like a lead.”

“This thing...spirit, whatever, it made itself look like somebody I knew, a woman who, uh, she died last year. Angelus killed her when he was on his rampage. This woman...Giles knew her; he was in love with her. I just don’t know what I should do. I don’t want to upset him...

Faith nodded. “Hey, y’know me, not the best thinker, I’ll follow your lead. But, if it were me, I guess I’d trust my Watcher enough to let ‘em try and cope with the truth, y’know.” She gently leaned Buffy’s head against her shoulder, “This thing’s really got ya shakin’, huh?”

Buffy closed her eyes and sighed into Faith’s neck. “I’m just really glad you're here.”

Faith chuckled softly, her voice low and husky. “Better than tryin’ t’kill me right?”

Buffy froze, her eyes snapped open. “What?”

“I mean all this, actually taking the time, just t’get to know me, instead of just turning on me like that. You were my only friend, B.” Faith’s voice was light, but there was an edge to it, “Hey, that reminds me, I got your present.” Faith’s hand appeared as she twisted around next to Buffy; it was holding the knife Buffy had used on her, still bloody.

“Right here.” Faith buried the blade in Buffy’s stomach.

*****

Buffy jerked awake, gasping, a hand clutching at her tummy.

Willow, sat next to her, turned with a concerned look. “Buffy, are you alright? You dosed off for a moment.”

Buffy let out a shaky breath. That dream...it had been so vivid, so real. And the pain, the look in Faith’s eyes as she stabbed, had been so familiar.

“I’m fine, Will. Just a-a nightmare.”

Willow fiddled with her notepad. “Was it an Angel-y nightmare, with those priest-guys getting a guest spot?”

“Um, yeah, I-I really need to talk to Giles.” Buffy got up and quickly hurried over to his office, glancing at Faith as she passed. The dark-haired slayer was still sitting on the steps reading over a book, as Buffy passed she looked up and frowned at Buffy.

‘Maybe the First is sending me dreams now, or maybe...that was just a regular nightmare.’ Buffy shook her head, ‘But Faith does know I’m hiding something...’

Buffy entered Giles’ office and closed the door behind her; Giles looked up, his face tired. “Buffy, have you found something?”

Buffy paced back and forth in front of him, wringing her hands nervously. “Um, yeah. I-I think I have info...It might help, just...just don’t be angry, okay?”

“What?” Giles took off his glasses and scratched his forehead, smiling in his best ‘bemused father’ expression.

“This thing, the thing that’s doing this, it’s called the First. As in the First Evil. Like Original Coke only with more of the evil and less, um, soda.”

Giles, still confused, nodded. “Oh, well, I know of the theory. Not everyone has heard of this First, ah, even fewer believe it even exists. What makes you so sure?”

“I didn’t, um, tell you everything about the wish. It wasn’t really an ‘Angel coming back from hell’ wish exactly. It was more of a ‘repeat the last year of my life’ wish. I’ve kinda...” Buffy cringed, “Done all this before.”

Giles looked up, startled. “You’ve...You mean to tell me you’re reliving this last year, because of the wish you made?”

“Uh-huh. Like Groundhog Day, only it’s only the once so far. I-I mean I’m a little fuzzy on some of the details, but the main stuff I’m getting right...this time round.”

“Well, that’s...surprising.” Giles thought about it, and said flatly. “So that’s why you told all of us about Angel when he returned. You knew it was going to happen. And you knew about Ethan Rayne and the band candy. And about Mrs. Post...”

“Giles, I’m sorry I didn’t tell you, but I didn’t think I’d have to...I mean I probably would’ve eventually, y’know, but...Look, I’m in real trouble here.”

Giles, still trying to gather his thoughts, looked at her. “What kind of trouble?”

Buffy ran her hands through her hair. “The First totally knows about the repeating thing, I went to try and stop it like the last time and it knew I was there. It totally psyched me out and then left. Poof.”

Giles stood up. “Well, I, uh, I suppose that should be our priority then. The First may very well take a different tack, but we must assume for now that its focus will still be on Angel.” He looked levelly at Buffy, “What is...was the First’s plan for Angel?”

“It’s trying to convince him that it brought him back. It, um, wants him to turn evil again, give in and become Angelus.”

Giles digested this silently. “Then I think it's best that you stay away from him.” His next question was more pointed, “Why did you make this wish in the first place, Buffy? It’s very important you tell me the truth.”

Buffy hesitated for a moment, and then lied. “Angel. He, uh, he died. He was poisoned...and he, there was no cure to help him. It was very slow and painful...and when he was dying I just wished...that I did things differently. With him.”

“I see. And, ah, when was this exactly?” Giles asked, but Buffy knew what he was really asking.

Buffy couldn’t help but let some coldness creep into her voice. “Well, if you’re asking if I survived my surprise eighteenth birthday party, the answer is barely.”

Giles visibly flinched and looked away from her, shaken. “Oh, uh, um, yes, of course. You, ah, should go on home Buffy, it’s getting late. I need to digest the implications of what you’ve told me...and I’ll also look into the First’s practices; see if I can’t uncover some leads.” He put his glasses back on, “I-I trust you managed to best the First last time?”

“Yeah, but I only found it then because with those bringer guys, living things like plants don’t grow near them. Total dead zone. We might have to try something else.” Buffy thought about it, “Hey, these bringers have to cast a spell, so that the First can, uh, appear and mess with people’s heads and stuff, right?”

Giles nodded. “I believe so, from what I’ve read The First is incorporeal, it’s a force that transcends all realities and dimensions. It has to be focused to, ah, use a measure of its full power.”

Buffy nodded. “Right, so we don’t track the priests, we track the spell. I mean, it’s got to be powerful right? Condensing evil probably isn’t easy, and again I find myself thinking of Original coke.”

“It is an avenue I’ll explore.” Giles picked up a book and looked out the window, “Buffy, your advice to me about Faith...”

Buffy shook her head. “Is what I told you last time...sort of. Look, don’t worry about Faith. Angel’s the one in danger.”

Giles sighed. “Very well...Buffy, I-I am glad you decided to tell me.”

Buffy smiled at her Watcher. “I still trust you, Giles. That’s why I’m telling you, okay?”

Giles cleared his throat awkwardly as Buffy left. She walked carefully over to the steps, Faith was fighting sleep, eyelids flickering open and closed as she struggled with her book.

“Um, Faith?”

Faith jerked to attention. “Huh? What? I’m good, what’s up?”

Buffy smiled slightly. “Giles has found some answers about what’s doing this. He’s told us to go home; we’ll have some more stuff tomorrow. And I think our time can be better spent doing other things.”

Rubbing her eyes Faith smiled happily as she looked Buffy up and down. “Read my mind, B.”

“That’s so not what I meant.” Buffy replied as she blushed, “But tomorrow we can hit the streets, look up some old friends. Maybe find something.”

It was a long shot heading for Willie’s place, but who knows, the bringers had upped sticks and moved, maybe somebody had seen where they’d moved to. It was worth a try and Buffy liked the thought of doing something to take her mind off Angel troubles. Still, she did feel better, telling Giles had been the right thing, he knew what he needed to know and that was enough.

Xander wandered over. “Hey, what are you girls talking about? Anything naughty?”

Faith raised her eyebrows. “I wish.”

Buffy flapped a hand at Faith. “Actually, we were thinking of trying to find out info the old-fashioned way. If you’re not busy tomorrow you could join us.” Buffy ignored Faith’s annoyed look, it would be harder for her to try anything if she had an audience. At least Buffy hoped so.

Xander bobbed his head. “Sure, watching you and Faith hit people for fu...I mean, to find stuff out, sounds like a blast.”

“Cool, stop by our house around eleven and we’ll be ready.” Buffy reached over and took Faith’s hand, “Come on, take me home.”

Buffy and Faith left the library; Giles watched them go with a thoughtful look.

*****

Buffy lay in bed, covers pulled down, a hand gently stroked her skin. She opened hers eyes and Angel was sitting there, his fingers gently intertwined with hers. Then, without really knowing how, they were against each other, Buffy sat on his lap on the bed, tentative kisses turning to heated ones. She felt his strong arms around her, his fingers sliding across silky night clothes to gather in her hair.

His lips were just like she remembered, cool until she warmed them with her own, his mouth taking in her breath, his skin brushing against hers. Buffy found herself removing his clothing, her hands on firm marbled muscle, fingernails absently tracing patterns as their lips broke away.

Angel’s eyes lovingly swept over her, his mouth a soft smile of remembrance and longing. His hands removed her silken pyjamas so that they were skin against skin.

And then she was on top of him, moving against him, taking him into herself. Forgetting everything but the pleasure of being with Angel again, of fitting together perfectly, of knots of desire ebbing and building within herself. Her longing for him was still there, buried, perhaps fading but now it seemed as strong as ever.

They rolled so Angel was on top, his weight solid and firm on top of her, making her feel safe and protected. His waist moving against hers, hips sliding against the insides of her thighs so she didn’t know where she ended and he began, there was just heat and pleasure and tenderness building with increasing speed towards a precipice which would sweep her into blissful oblivion.

And then he bit her, teeth and sharp pain and then weakening, dizzying pleasure flowed from her neck as he drained her of life...

*****

Buffy’s eyes widened as she awoke to Faith shaking her. “Buffy, wake up, you were moaning.”

Buffy sat up blearily on her elbows, her face flushed. The dream had been so real, like a blend of crystal clear memory and an intense daydream fantasy. Her skin still tingled with the memory of Angel’s touch; the feel of him on top of her...If Angel was feeling anything like she was then they didn’t have much time.

Buffy blinked as sunshine lazily streamed through the windows, she looked at her bedside clock, which read seven o’clock. A whole day stretching out for them to find the First, she hoped it was enough.

Faith leaned over on the bed, concerned. “B, y’okay? You were kinda breathing heavy, bad dream?”

Buffy sat up and wiped at her face with both hands to hide the tinge of redness. “I’m fine...I just...the dream was a little intense.”

“Intense? As in not bad? As in...Oh.” Faith’s lips tightened into a hard line as she frowned.

Buffy swallowed nervously. “I think I was in another one of Angel’s dreams.”

“And he was dreamin’ about you?” Faith asked deadpan, before muttering, “Undead bastard.”

“Faith! It’s... not him doing it okay, it’s not his fault.”

Faith rolled off the bed, clad only in boxers and her white tee she stared down at Buffy. “Why are you always defending him, huh?”

Buffy sat up, still a little confused from the dream. “Because he hasn’t actually done anything wrong, Faith.”

Faith knelt down on the bed, gesturing helplessly. “Okay, so not now, but all those bad things he did back then...I mean that shit’s gotta still matter, right?”

Buffy nodded. “Of course it matters. What he did, it affected who he is now. He did bad things, and now, with the curse, he can make amends, y’know. Do good things.”

Faith looked down at the bed, shaking her head slightly. “S’ weird, hearing people talkin’ about a soul y’know, like it's some kind of magical cure-all, no more badness. I met plenty of people with souls who weren’t nice at all.”

Buffy looked sympathetic. “I guess... a soul doesn’t really mean ‘good’, but it does mean having the choice to do good or do evil. I mean I’ve seen Angel and I’ve seen Angelus... Angel without a soul. It’s like they're two different people. Angel has the ability to make that choice; I just want to give him the chance to do something with it.”

Faith didn’t say anything, just stared down at the bed.

Buffy reached over and took her hand. “Do you want to talk about the ‘not so nice people’?”

Faith, swallowing a little nervously, glanced at Buffy, her eyes guarded. “It’s no big.”

“Faith, if you don’t want to talk about it, that’s okay. But if something upsets you, well, I’d want to know. I care about you…and if you feel bad, then I feel bad for you.”

Faith frowned. “I don’t wanna upset you.”

Buffy’s other hand reached up and cupped Faith’s cheek. “If you’re fine, then I’m fine, we don’t have to talk about anything. I’ll go and make us some breakfast and you can go and have a shower, okay?”

Faith seemed to be internally wrestling with something before replying. “Y’know it’s funny. I usually hate Christmas…things always go wrong around Christmas.”

“Oh. Um, how is that funny?”

“It’s just…” Faith shrugged, “’Things change, last Christmas was the last time I spent any time with my Mom, and her boyfriend, Gable.” The way Faith spat out that name almost made Buffy wince. “The Christmas before that I broke up with Ronnie, really kinda badly. And the Christmas before that I lost my virginity.” Faith sighed bitterly, “Basically Christmas means brace yerself for a crappier year than the one that’s gone before and… I really shoulda just kept my mouth shut.”

“No, Faith, I’m glad that you’re…I mean not about the actual stuff that happened, it sounded pretty rough...” Buffy winced at her own words, could she sound any lamer? Maybe if she came out with some stupid clichéd advice or something. She paused, “All the stuff that happened to you, I’m sorry that it happened but I want to know about it. Because I guess... I want to know about you, why you’re the person I like so much. Do you get that at all?”

Faith looked at Buffy, her eyes searching her for any sign of insincerity or lying.

“Anyway, last Christmas was different, right? This year you became a slayer, a totally righteous killer of evil things; you ended up in California which is warm and sunny- all the year round apparently. And you met me, so think how much better next years gonna be.”

She squeezed Faith’s hand in reassurance; the brunette squeezed it back fiercely and smiled. “Pretty good.”

*****

“Man, I thought I knew about all the dives in Sunny D, how’d I miss this?” Faith wrinkled her nose as she looked round.

“Yeah, just get a load of that ambiance.” Xander paused as he felt something, “Oh, but on the plus side; air conditioning.”

Buffy walked over to the bar, Willy looked up from cleaning a glass and called out to her. “Hey, it’s the SLAYER! What brings THE SLAYER down here?”

Buffy watched as a couple of the bumpier headed clientele made a hasty exit through the back. Faith glowered and pulled a stake. Buffy shook here head slightly. “We’re not here for that.”

Buffy looked at Willy as he stood behind the bar. “How you been, Willy?”

Willy smiled genially at them. “Keeping out of trouble, as God is my witness. So, w-what can do ya for, couple of drinks?”

Faith nudged Xander’s shoulder and reached into her pocket. “You want anythin’, I’m buyin’.”

Xander nodded. “Thanks, I’ll get a...” Buffy looked pointedly at him, “A...nice cool glass of water. Heh, it’s hot outside.”

Willy nodded. “You got it.” He reached under the counter for a glass. “Anything else?”

“No.” Buffy said firmly, “We’re looking for three priests. Call themselves the bringers.”

Willy eyebrows went up. “Priests, huh? Well, we serve all denominations here, none of that prejudice stuff.”

Faith leaned against the bar. “Yeah, we saw the clientele on their way out. But these guys ain’t the pope; they got a no-eyes kinda deal.”

Willy shook his head. “Doesn’t ring a bell.”

“Well, how about I ring that bell for you?” Xander menaced before seeing Buffy’s look, “Does the, uh, threatening come now?”

“Maybe you shouldn’t play bad cop, Xand.” Faith said, putting a hand on his shoulder as she spoke to Willy, “Look, these dude woulda been holed up in town ‘til recent, then they woulda moved in a hurry.”

“Somewhere underground.” Buffy added, “They would be making a lot of scary people very nervous.”

Willy slid a glass of water over to Xander and thought about it. “I’m not sure...I don’t really want to say anything that would get me into trouble.”

Buffy smiled sweetly. “You realise I’m planning to skip the threatening portion of this exchange and get straight to the violence.”

Faith looked at Xander. “See that, that was a good threat.” She placed her hand on the bar, “That sure looks like a nice glass of water, Willy. What’s that gonna set me back? Fifty bucks?” Faith moved her hand slightly to reveal a few crumpled bills.

Willy’s eyes lit up; as snitches go he was pretty cheap. “Well, I might know somethin’...”

Faith slid her hand a little closer, and looked expectant.

“There’s been migration outta some of the hills to the south, there’s a lotta caves up there and it’s usually fairly quiet, ‘cept recently. That’s all I know.” Faith narrowed her eyes, “Hey, my ass is on the line for telling you that much. If I knew more, I’d say.”

Faith pulled her hand back, leaving the cash, which Willy quickly scooped up. “Pleasure doing business.”

“Thanks, Willy.” Buffy turned away to leave, at least they had information to start somewhere, just not much.

Willy looked at Xander. “Hey, you did great by the way. I was very intimidated by you.”

Xander gave a pleased smile. “Really? Thanks.”

“Come on.” Faith led him out the door.

Willy called after them. “Hey kid! Merry Christmas.”

The three of them stepped outside; the heat fell on them like a blanket. Xander turned to Faith. “You were awesome! That thing, the thing with the money, real noir stuff.”

“Yeah, back in my motel the only channel my box would play had non-stop, black and white gangster movies.” Faith shrugged, “Guess something stuck. Hey B, what’s up?”

“Just, as leads go it’s pretty thin. The caves in those hills go on for miles.” Buffy leaned against the wall, “We need more to go on and... I don’t know what to do.”

Faith scratched the back of her head. “Hey, Giles will come up with somethin’, it’s what he does.”

Xander agreed. “Caves are something, a kind of vague something but still...” Xander looked at his watch, “Look, I think the best plan is to deck the halls with boughs of holly. We’re getting towards the eve, might as well try and make something resembling merry.”

Faith squeezed Buffy’s shoulder. “C’mon, your Mom’ll be lookin for you.”

Xander looked into the middle-distance. “And Uncle Roary will be well into the sherry by now. Don’t wanna miss that.” He looked at Buffy. “We’ll find the bad guys, sooner or later.”

Faith took a couple of steps back. “Look, I’m gonna go and tell Giles, see if this helps with all that detectin’. You guys head home.”

Buffy took Faith’s arm before leaning in close and kissing her, and then she tilted her head back and smiled. “Thanks, I’ll see you later.”

Faith smirked before walking away, a bounce in her step. Xander watched her go, “Y’know I think if you two did that in front of me more often it might motivate my brain a bit more. I might be struck by inspiration.”

Buffy gave him a look. “Careful that’s all that ends up striking you, Xander.” She smiled slightly as they walked away from the bar together, “Seriously though, thanks.”

Xander gave a dismissive wave. “Don’t mention it. Well, actually, mention it as often as possible. In front of everyone. In fact, while you’re heaping me with praise, if you could also bring up my manly physique, that’d be a plus. Not compulsory, but...”

Buffy nodded. “I’ll talk to Faith, maybe we can work something out.”

*****

Buffy was trying to put the finishing touches to the tree, twinkling lights, baubles and ribbons decorated it. Buffy had taken her time so Faith could help but the other girl hadn’t shown up yet. Buffy tried not to worry, they had time yet. She just hoped Giles found something soon.

Buffy’s Mom walked into the living room. “So, that’s the turkey done, the nog prepared and...Oh.” She walked over a put another log into the fireplace.

“Oh, yes, nothing like a roaring fire to keep away the blistering heat.” Buffy commented.

“Oh, come on, it’s lovely.” She looked around, “Maybe I should turn the air conditioning on? And where is Faith, she hasn’t put any presents under the tree.”

Buffy shrugged. “She said she hid them somewhere in case we tried to sneak a peek.”

Her Mom smiled as she reminisced. “Well, honey, it’s not like you haven’t tried that before...”

“Oh, come on, I was like seven then. And it was Dad’s fault for saying he’d bought me the Barbie Dream Car plus accessories. What was I supposed to do?”

“He never could keep a secret...”

And then the front door opened and Faith stepped inside, her face smiling but a little apprehensive. “Um, hey. Sorry I’m late.”

Buffy smiled. “Hey back, but where were you? I ended up doing the tree, so if you don’t like it, tough.”

Faith was apologetic. “Sorry I’m late...just got caught up with G...uh, Mr. Giles. He’s gonna be a little late; he’s going over to Willow’s house to get her to help with some research stuff, mojo. But he said he’ll come by later.”

Buffy’s Mom nodded in understanding. “Well, that’s okay I suppose. More food for you girls, although I swear I don’t know where you put it all.” She turned to Faith, “Would you like some nog?”

“That’d be great, but just a sec, I’m gonna get yer gifts...They're in the basement.”

Buffy rolled her eyes playfully. “Y’know, there is such a thing as excessive hiding.” She looked at Mom, “I should get mine, they're just upstairs in my closet.”

Buffy moved cautiously up the stairs, if Giles was at Willow’s did that mean they were going to cast a spell? She should probably ask Faith a little later, all the normalcy of Christmas prep had dulled her nerves but she still expected something bad to happen. But, so far, no more dreams, either sexy or utterly terrifying. And no more appearances by the First, maybe it really was just all talk.

She walked into her bedroom and opened up her closet, and then the door to her room slammed shut, revealing Angel. He looked confused, like he was delirious, for a moment it seemed like he didn’t know where he was until his eyes fixated on her.

Buffy was startled. “Angel...”

Angel seemed unsteady; he was swallowing compulsively, his voice trembling. “Buffy...I...”

Buffy took a couple of cautious steps back, she raised her arms placating. “Angel, look it's okay, I know what’s happening. something’s doing this to you.”

Angel’s voice cracked slightly. “I had to see you...I keep on having...seeing things.”

Buffy nodded. “I know. But they're not real. It’s something evil, um, manipulating you. You just have to control yourself.”

Angel closed his eyes like his wrestling for control. “I saw you...with her.”

Buffy frowned. “Who? Angel you’re not...”

“Faith.” Angel’s voice was suddenly firm, with an edge to it, “You and her...she was on top of you. On the bed...I saw things...” His voice trailed off.

‘Oh, God...’ “Angel, please. You have to stay calm. The First is trying to confuse you.”

Angel moved forward, his expression suddenly predatory, like Angelus. “You’re the one who’s confused; fooling yourself with her...showing yourself to her...You should be with...” He stopped; unsure, looking off to right a little.

Buffy’s eyes widened in alarm. “Angel, please just let me help you.”

Angel grimaced and grabbed at his head like he was in pain. “Just leave me alone!” He dashed to the open window and threw himself out into the night.

Buffy’s door burst open and Faith came in. “What the hell?”

Buffy was shaken. “Angel was here, Faith. He’s slipping. We need Giles’ help now.”

“Fine, I’ll go.”

Buffy shook her head. “No, you...you go to the mansion, keep an eye on Angel. Don’t get near him. I’ll go to Giles and find out if he’s got any answers, ‘cause we need them now.”

“You want me to play watchdog with Angel? What about Joyce?”

Buffy thought for a second. “I’ll get Giles and Willow to come back here after and keep a lookout for my Mom. Now go.”

Faith nodded as she grabbed her jacket off of the door. “Watch your back.”

“You too.”

*****

Buffy got to Willow’s house to find smoke billowing out of the front window. Alarmed, she raced to the front door and hammered against it. The door opened and Oz stood there with a slightly bemused smile. “Sad to say this isn’t my weirdest Christmas.”

Buffy heard Willow wailing. “My Mom’s table cloth!”

Giles was busily trying to keep his head. “Oh, Willow do calm down...it’s only a small, um, fire.”

Buffy moved passed Oz into the Rosenberg living room to find Giles pouring a vase full of flowers and water over a small flickering fire on Willow’s coffee table that was covered with a crude map of Sunnydale. “What happened?”

Giles, looking a little red-faced, adjusted his glasses. “Hello, Buffy. Our, um, locator spell backfired.”

“Emphasis on fire.” Willow said glumly as she looked at the mess, “And that’s the azaleas gone too.”

Giles looked anxious as he waved away a little smoke. “Buffy, what are you doing here? Is, ah, everything alright?”

“It’s Angel, he’s slipping. The First has got him seeing...um, all sorts of things.” Buffy finished awkwardly.

“And we have nothing.” Willow replied helplessly before looking at Giles, “I told you locator spells are too tricky, I’m not that powerful.”

Giles tried to be patient. “And as I told you, Willow, this map is enchanted to aid in such clairsentient magics.”

Willow folded her arms as a reproof. “Well, you need a refund then, mister.”

“Guys,” Oz said leaning forward and pointing at the map, “Check it, ‘cause I’m thinking, ‘Here Be Dragons’.”

The map had seemed to resist most of the attentions of the fire, except for a small burnt spot the size of a match head on the southern part of town, in a crevasse between two hills.

Buffy examined the burn, tracing it with her finger. “That could be something...but it's miles from here.”

Oz spoke up. “Not for my van, I could get us there in under an hour.”

Buffy looked at him before nodding. “Okay, but you stay in the van and lock the doors, this thing is dangerous.” She looked at an apprehensive Willow, “I promise I’ll leave your boyfriend like I found him, but we have to move now.”

Buffy turned to Giles. “Could you look after my Mom? I’ve got Faith out keeping a close eye on Angel but I’d feel better if Mom wasn’t alone, if you could come too, Will.”

They both agreed as Buffy and Oz moved quickly out to his van, to Buffy sunrise had never seemed so imminent.

*****

Oz stopped the van and turned on the cab light. “I think we’re here. So, you bring any weapons?”

Buffy sighed. “I always forget that. Are there any back there?” She gestured over her shoulder to the shadowy depths of his van interior.

Oz thought about it. “Only a couple of kicking amps and a few e-strings, they can be pretty nasty.”

“I think I’ll stick to the ‘kick it to it stops making noises’ plan of attack.”

Oz nodded. “If it works.”

Buffy got out of the van, quietly closing the door and was grateful to the clunk sound as Oz locked it after her. Buffy glanced at the map in the half light of van’s interior glow. Oz had reckoned that it could be an old mine or maybe an Indian cave, whatever it was Buffy would know it when she saw it. Chanting, candle light, creepy, evil vibe, all that would give it away.

Buffy jogged away from the van, cutting through dry, crackling bushes that clung to the hillside, peering through the gloomy shadows caused by the ominous trees that stood sentinel –like. She searched, conscious of the minutes ticking away, of the night draining slowly into the ether. She didn’t truly know if the clouds and snow would arrive this time, if what had caused them the first time had been some higher power, or Angel’s willingness to want to change, to be better. She didn’t want to chance it, rely on a miracle at your peril was something...someone probably said one time. Someone famous? Jesus, maybe, and if he hadn’t then he definitely should have.

Buffy was beginning to despair of ever seeing any clue when she saw it, a large crack in the wall of the hillside, like an old dried up waterfall. Overhead, perched on top was a dying cankerous tree, wilting more than the winter chill...well winter, would account for.

‘Gotcha, “nothing shall grow, above or below”, maybe flowery verse isn’t so bad.’

Buffy quickened over to the opening and paused, letting her eyes adjust from the weak moonlight to the inky darkness of the underground. She should’ve really brought a torch. Maybe she should invest in a utility belt with a torch, a couple of stakes, a few snack bars, and a yo-yo for when she got bored waiting for vamps to wake...

Then she heard it, an echoing of chanting, sound funnelled up and towards her by the slopes of the passageway. Buffy hastened forward, fingertips grazing both walls as she made her way inside, shoes treading softly on powdered dirt. She saw flickers, small blades of light stabbing the dark as the cave widened out and dropped away. She found herself standing on a raised mound of smoothed stone; the ground surrounding it was soft, like the silt of a sandbank. Kneeling upon it, with patterns drawn around them in the dirt and candles and fetishes scattered about were three robed figures, still oblivious to her presence.

Buffy announced herself. “This is the crappiest self-help group I’ve ever seen. What happened, the rest of the cultists not show up?”

The three stopped and turned as one and Buffy jumped off of the raised stone at them, bringing her leg up to strike one in the chest as she did so. She felt something, a bone; give in his torso as he flew backwards without a sound, landing in a heap.

Another stood and swung a club at her, she caught it, twisted it from the priest’s grasp before backhanding him into a wall and bringing the club down hard on his head. She turned to see the third figure standing behind her at where the cave narrowed, his sightless eyes looking up as he suddenly swung his staff upwards in a high arc. It struck the passage with an echoing sound and Buffy heard the harsh sound of grating stone, and then thunderous noise as boulder sand rocks rained down all around them.

The priest was crushed in an instant, ground down into a wet paste by a stone that slammed across the opening, a few rocks bounced inward and struck Buffy as she quickly turned away, hitting her shoulder and the back of her legs as she dived for cover. Pebbles and billowing stone dust coated her as she buried herself as low as she could, hands over her ears.

Before long the rumbling thunder became deafening silence, Buffy blearily raised her head, feeling red patterns of pain across her back and down her left leg, she pushed herself up before realising that her leg was immovable, jammed under a large wedge shaped stone, and the only source of light now came from high above her in the cave’s ceiling, where weak beams of moonlight managed to dimly illuminate the cavern around her.

“Hmn, that looks like it might have to come off.”

Buffy turned as best she could to see Miss Calendar, the First standing by the cave-in, looking at her trapped leg in mock sympathy.

Buffy grunted as she pulled on her leg, she didn’t feel pain, a slight numbness, maybe, but she was able to move her knee backwards and forwards a little. She would be able to free herself.

“In a few hours.” The First said, “And it will certainly help when the sun comes up so you can see better...” The First crossed over to her, her arms folded. “I think I just spotted a flaw in that plan, since after sunrise, things...won’t be so urgent now, will they?”

Buffy managed to push herself to her hands and knees and looked at the First. “This? This is your plan? Which particular Saturday Morning Show did you rip this one off of?” Although in reality she could feel the cold sweat of panic seeping in. Even if Oz came running and somehow found a way to her, she didn’t have that much time...

The First ‘sat’ down on a nearby rock, seemingly oblivious to her two dead priests lying around. “In fairness, the Lone Ranger used dynamite. My bringers lack that sort of finesse. Still, effective enough, don’t you think?”

“The snow...”

“That’s right, the magical fairy-tale snow that appeared. Hmn, that is a factor.” The First pretended to think, “But let’s suppose for a moment that somebody, say, a certain Boston girl was on hand to...speed up the process.”

Buffy’s face twisted. “No, she wouldn’t.”

The First looked incredulous. “Oh, wouldn’t she? Angel wants to die, and Faith loves killing things, we both know all about that. If Angel were to attack Faith in some sort of...well, gosh, maybe a jealous rage? Then she would defend herself without question, and I don’t know if it’s escaped your notice but she doesn’t really like the guy. As positive qualities go you don’t really value ‘stable’ very highly, do you?”

“Screw you!” Buffy said, using her anger to pull hard at her leg, she felt stones rattle and dislodge but she didn’t break free.

The First stood and stepped closer. “Angel will be dead by sunrise. Your Christmas will be his wake. But don’t take my word for it. Watch.” With that it reached out and pressed a single intangible finger against Buffy’s forehead.

*****

She found herself standing on the familiar hillside, looking out over to the town. Angel was standing there, his broad back to her. Buffy felt an immediate wave of relief. She could explain and tell him what was happening. “Angel!”

He didn’t move, didn’t tilt his head, he stayed standing with his hands in his pockets, waiting to die.

Buffy moved over, her hand reaching out to grasp him, shake him, but, predictably her fingers went right through him with no resistance. Buffy stepped back, her hand to her mouth. The First was going to make her watch him die.

“Angel.”

Angel stiffened before turning slightly, his features set in a frown. “Faith, what are you doing here?”

“Faith, please, help him!” No luck, Faith ignored her too.

Faith shrugged as she stepped closer, though still keeping her distance. “B wanted me t’keep an eye on you. Make sure you ain’t gonna do anything stupid, pretty sure this qualifies...”

Angel dismissed her. “Go, leave me alone. You don’t want to be here for this.”

Faith seemed amused. “I don’t, huh? I dunno, maybe I shoulda brought some popcorn.”

Buffy looked at Faith. “Faith, this isn’t the time for stupid jokes. Get him inside!” ‘If she is joking...’

Angel should his head in defeat. “Do what you want. I don’t care.”

Faith stuffed her hands in her pockets and looked down at the town. “Doncha wanna say goodbye to Buffy first? Seems kind of rude not to.”

“I shouldn’t go near Buffy, not again.”

“Because that’s what that First thing wants right? Smart plan. I’m thinkin’ this is a bit extreme though, y’know? Weren’t you gonna just leave town?”

Angel’s voice was filled with sorrow. “The...First, whatever it was, it wasn’t haunting me. It was showing me the truth, what I am. Leaving town won’t change that.”

Faith sounded unsure. “You mean what you used to be?”

“And forever shall be.” He said, before tilting his head, “I can smell the sunrise, it won’t be long now.”

Faith sighed as she grabbed his shoulder and pulled. “We ain’t got time for this martyr crap, just come on already.”

Angel shrugged her off angrily, knocking her arm aside. “Don’t interfere!”

“Screw you!” Faith wound up and punched Angel hard in the side of the face. He grunted, took it and swung a fierce backhand that swatted Faith away. The brunette tumbled in the grass before rising up and drawing a stake.

Angel gave a harsh laugh. “Good plan, Faith. Stake the vampire who wants to die.” He shook his head and turned his back to her. “Idiot.”

Buffy watched as Faith’s face turned angry, she weighed the stake in her hand and looked at Angel’s back, clearly tempted.

Buffy begged the other slayer as she saw what was coming. “No, Faith, please. Just don’t, please.”

Faith looked at her stake one last time before, reluctantly tossing it through the air, down over the hill to disappear into the grass.

Buffy almost gasped in relief, her hands were trembling so she clasped them together. She watched Faith step closer to Angel, saw the vampire tense up.

“You missed.” Angel said dryly.

“Yeah, well, might as well try the talkin’ thing that Buffy loves so much.”

“Don’t bother. We don’t have anything to say to each other.”

“Buffy’s the reason you’re back ya know. She made some ditzy wish and you came back from hell.”

Angel turned to her, his face unreadable. “And now she’s with you.” His voice was rough with bitterness.

“Only ‘cause she can’t be with you. You know that, I know that and so does she.”

Angel shook his head in frustration. “And that makes it better how exactly.”

“Man, and you call me the idiot. Look at you, ever since I arrived in this burg Buffy been real broken up that you were gone. She wants you to live, man. She thinks you’re worth it.”

“Then she’s wrong.” Angel snarled.

“Why, cause some evil thing wants you to join its team. Who d’ya think is giving it to you straight?”

Angel’s face contorted in anguish. “It wants the killer in me, I can’t do that. I won’t. And I can’t fight it anymore.”

“Why, ‘cause you think you’re weak? Buffy sent you t’hell, dude.”

Angel jabbed a finger angrily at Faith. “And I should’ve stayed there. I’ve always been a weak man, that’s the truth the First showed me.”

Faith sighed in frustration and ran a hand over her face. “You don’t get it, do you? Buffy sent you to hell. Hundred years of hell and you came back...and you shoulda been crazy or psycho or somethin’. Hey, I thought you would be, but Buffy never did, she knew, just knew, that you’d be the same guy. Even Giles said it’d hav’ta be somebody pretty badass to survive somethin’ like that.”

Angel stayed silent, just shook his head.

“Well, not those exact words...but pretty much the same meanin’. Y’know you’re looking at this all wrong right? But I think I get it. This curse you got, it’s like when I got called. It gives us a choice, gives us the power to kick-ass, beat the bad guy, make a difference, however it works. But it’s tough too, I get that. Choice can be...like a burden, tryin’ t’do the right thing. And Buffy makes that so much easier, don’t she.”

“She does.” Angel said softly.

“She makes you forget about all the bad stuff in your life. Like there’s just you and her. Makes it clearer.”

Angel looked at Faith as if seeing her for the first time. “You love her.”

Faith shrugged. “’S not the point, the point is punching your own ticket is pussying out anyway you look at it. Nobody is gonna remember you doing this as being all brave. This is just giving up, being afraid of making choices. Even bad ones.” Faith looked at Angel, “You came back for a reason, so you could make choice. Between what you are and what you can be. You do this, no more choices. Ever.”

“I’m not a good man, Faith.” Angel said softly.

“Then, I dunno, try t’be.” Faiths smirked, “Or go out and save somebody who is a good guy. Apparently B thinks they exist, I’m not so...sure.”

It was snowing, soft, gentle flakes floating around them both, stark against dark clothing and hair. They both looked up, astonished as the sun failed to appear, the clouds stayed dark and the Sunnydale residents had their flurries of snow.

Buffy felt like crying, Faith had done it, she’d done the ‘talking thing’, being more heartfelt than Buffy knew she could be, and maybe somebody other than Buffy had been listening.

Angel smiled as he continued to look around, slightly dumbfounded. He looked searchingly at Faith. “Why did you...I mean, you didn’t have to help me.”

Faith snorted and lightly punched his arm. “Don’t mention it. Hey, you’re all noble and stuff; you probably woulda done the same for me, right?” Faith held up her hands to catch snowflakes. “Man, enough of this cheesy hallmark stuff, ya wanna get a beer?”

Angel looked surprised. “I don’t know, Faith. Buffy could be...”

“B’s kicking ass, trust me, and I ain’t waiting around. Come on, we totally bonded. And I know a place that serves vamps and underage girls...”

And just like that Buffy was back in the cave, no snow, no lights of the town. Just her and the First.

The Calendar-thing folded her arms and sighed. “Well, that was disappointing.” She seemed mildly put out.

Buffy grunted as she pulled her leg free with a groan of pain, hesitantly standing and putting her weight tenderly on one foot to look the First right in the eye. “You lose. Again. Now get the hell out of my town.”

The First shrugged. “This, with Angel? It’s just a game, something to pass the time. What I saw there was far more interesting.”

Buffy glowered at her. “You leave Faith alone!”

The First smiled and Buffy felt a small shiver down her spine. “I’m all about balance, sweetie. And two slayers just...rankles me. But I think it’s all going to work itself out. After all, you did exactly what I wanted.”

Buffy frowned. “What are you talking about?”

The First didn’t answer directly. “It’s strange, don’t you think that the most powerful hate is born out of love. All that jealousy and passion. Not to mention betrayal. It all burns so fierce.”

Buffy shook her head. “Faith...that’s not her anymore, she wouldn’t betray me.”

The First nodded thoughtfully. “Interesting. You thought I was talking about her...Well; this has been good, catching up and all. But we’re done here.” The First turned away, walking over to the centre of the cave before adding, “Oh, and before I forget, I am looking forward to seeing what happens to you, how you’ll end up. Because, sweetie, it won’t be pretty. He has a hook in your soul now and soon he’s going to start tugging. Then the fun begins. Because the last time he got free, kingdoms fell, thousands died, including slayers. You won’t last long, not alone. And that’s the slayers lot, always...”

And like that it was gone, and Buffy was alone.

Buffy suddenly felt cold and hugged her arms to her sides, shaking her head she began looking around for a way out. But the First’s voice lingered in her head; it knew what had made that wish. A ‘He’. Not much to go on, and some other stuff, fairly apocalyptic sounding. Of course maybe it was lying, trying to scare Buffy as revenge for sucking at the whole manipulation thing. Both Angel and Faith were better than that, both finer people than either of them knew. But Buffy knew that, she had seen it in both of them, even after seeing them at their worst. And she was going to tell Faith what she thought of her, tell her what she’d seen just then on that hillside. Thank her for saving a good man from his own guilt.

When she got out of this stinking cave, that is.

“Buffy!” Oz’s voice echoed down from above.

Buffy stopped, moved to the centre of the cavern before calling upwards. “Oz! Oz! Um, I’m sort of trapped here!”

“Yeah... I’ve been calling down there forever, and nothing. But then I heard you moving. Are you alright?”

“Yeah, I was out of it for a while...but I’m good. But, even with slayer legs, I can’t jump that high.”

“Hang on...” Suddenly a black cord descended and landed in a coiled heap near Buffy. “Climb on up.”

Buffy took hold of the rope, it felt like electrical cord. “Is this...if I tug on this hard is an amp gonna fall on my head?”

Oz’s voice sounded dryly amused. “Slapstick’s out of season, Buffy...Do you know it’s snowing up here? It’s...a little bizarre.”

Buffy wrapped the cord around her hands and began to haul herself towards the top of the cavern. “Yeah, well you’re not gonna believe what caused it...”

Amends (PART 3: The Gift That Keeps On Giving)

Buffy stepped out of the bathroom to see Faith walking out of her Mom’s room, Faith smiled as she closed the door behind her, “Your Mom’s totally out of it, tucked her in no prob.”

“You could’ve just left her; she would’ve just woken up on the sofa eventually, no big.” Buffy rolled her eyes kindly, “I’ve haven’t actually seen her get like that since we lived in L.A. Back then she and Dad used to come home in a cab all tipsy and sleepy almost every Saturday. I think she’s lost her tolerance.”

“Yeah, she pretty much finished off all the red stuff that G left behind. Not surprised she’s a little out of it.” Faith padded down the hallway towards Buffy, wrinkling her nose at the other girl, “’Sides, I‘ve had to do it plenty of times with my Mom, and your Mom swears way less.”

Buffy nodded a little uneasily, when Faith mentioned her home life in that way she often wondered how to react. To act all sympathetic might be seen as patronizing or pitying, Faith didn’t like that. Should she smile and laugh maybe? That just seemed snotty and unpleasant. Instead Buffy gestured vaguely to the bathroom. “Um, I’m all done, if you wanna...”

Faith’s face broke into a wide smile as she slid her arms around Buffy’s waist and pressed up against her, leaning in to kiss her, pouty lips capturing and languidly tasting Buffy’s mouth before the brunette leaned back. “Just checkin’ you cleaned your teeth like a good girl.” She said smirking as she nodded, “Minty fresh.”

“You know that’s not usually how it’s done, right?” Buffy said lightly, “Anyway, you still taste like cookie dough fudge ice cream, so stop tempting me and get brushing.”

“You got it.” Faith’s hands gave Buffy’s butt a quick squeeze before she broke away to give Buffy an appraising look, “And, y’know, since your Mom’s out of it we can...”

Buffy made a shooing motion. “Go on, quick. I have another present to give you.” Off of Faith’s look, “An actual present, not a ‘code-word’ present.”

With that she walked across and into her bedroom, made her way over to the dresser and started giving her hair the obligatory fifty brushes before bed that, in her opinion, left it nice and shiny.

Buffy smiled contently, she couldn’t have asked for a better Christmas holiday, after Oz had driven her back into Sunnydale they’d arrived home to find a relieved Mom, Giles and Willow. Buffy had delivered the good news; that the First was gone and that Faith had managed to save Angel. Then they’d all stepped outside to enjoy the falling snow, which seemed like a gift to the entire town, most people were stood out in their front yards all pleased and bewildered by the changed weather.

Mom had invited Willow and Oz to stay for dinner since there was plenty of food to go around, and an hour or so later Faith had arrived back home to join them. After dinner they’d relaxed and exchanged a few small gifts. Buffy had forgotten to get Giles anything other than the tie she’d already chosen, but he didn’t seem to mind. Then Buffy had wished her friends a happy holidays before they all had headed out home.

Christmas Day had, in some ways, been even better, waking up to pancakes and orange juice before sitting down for the opening of presents by the tree. Mom and Buffy pretty much knew what they were getting each other. Mom had bought Buffy a very cute pink top she’d been wanting for about forever and also ‘gifted her’ a gorgeous pair of earrings from her own collection.

But it was Faith that made it all special. Buffy had seen the delight the other girl had had as she’d torn into her presents. Smiling widely at the new plush leather jacket that Buffy’s Mom had bought her, the one that Buffy had helpfully pointed it out a few weeks ago, and she had also been touched by the drawing kit Buffy had gotten her, complete with a book about how to hone your artistic abilities.

Faith in return had bought Buffy’s Mom a gorgeous amber necklace which she’d loved, before presented Buffy with a small shoulder bag, crammed with stuff. Faith explained that it was a ‘late night slay kit’, for patrolling with. Inside there was a thermos for hot chocolate (or Irish coffee, Faith said...), a chunky pink flashlight with easy grip handle, a pair of binoculars that looked like army surplus, a side pocket filled with strawberry flavoured chewing gum, which was a sometimes habit Buffy had had ever since her Hemery days, plus a few little bags of cookies.

Buffy didn’t know how expensive the whole lot was, but it didn’t matter. It was so thoughtful that she’d fought the urge to kiss Faith right there and then. But wisely she’d held off and just given her a hug and a heartfelt thank you. The kissing could wait until... well now, actually.

Buffy finished off brushing and quickly changed into her powder blue silken pj’s before removing the wrapped box from under the bed and propping it up against its edge. She was a little nervous, not because she wondered if Faith would like her gift, she knew she would, but the gift still made her a little uneasy. Buffy had bought it a conscious effort to begin to erase all the ‘bad Faith’ memories and replace them with good ones; hopefully this would be a good start.

Faith walked back in the room as she was undoing her jeans, she turned from shutting the door and stared in surprise at the present. “Jeez, B, that’s huge! What didja get me?”

Buffy smiled shyly and patted the bed next to her. “Open it and find out.”

Faith eagerly made her way over and sat down next to Buffy, picking up the present and putting it on her lap. She ran her hands over the shiny wrapping paper, savouring the anticipation as she did so. Buffy could see Faith’s mind ticking over, tryin to work what it was, and enjoying the expectation and excitement that came with something simple like opening a present.

“I don’t think it's clothes or anythin’...and it’s not some big-ass book. It’s like...something in a box?”

Buffy smirked at Faith’s deductions. “Yes, Faith, it’s a box. How did you know?”

Faith was too happy to respond, too busy fingering one of the corners of paper. “Y’didn’t hav’ta get me anything else, B. This’s already been...” She paused and swallowed before looking at Buffy, “This has been really great, I mean...the best.”

Buffy nodded and put her hand on Faith’s shoulder. “Mine too. Just perfect.”

Faith nodded a little shyly before tearing into the package, tossing away handfuls of shiny paper before staring at it wide-eyed.

“Um, d’you like it?”

Faith stared at the compound bow Buffy had bought from the sporting goods store that the two of them had broken into last ‘year’. She’d remembered how Faith had loved it, enjoyed playing around with it...and how she’d used it to hurt Buffy.

“This is awesome...this is the kick!” Faith flipped the box open and brought out the bow, her eyes running admiringly over it as she grinned widely. “Sweet! I’m so gonna kill somethin’ with this!”

Buffy felt her tummy flop a little uneasily but ignored it. “Well, I was thinking that you’re a pretty good shot and, um, you could give me some pointers sometime.”

Faith looked at Buffy and nodded. “No sweat. This is so cool, B. Thanks.” She leaned across and gave Buffy a quick kiss before standing up and fiddling with the bow.

Buffy stared at the other girl before tucking her hair back nervously. “Uh, Faith, I, uh, I wanted to tell you something.”

Faith nodded distractedly as she closed one eye and looked down along the bow sight. “Un-huh, cool. What?”

“It’s about what happened with the First, when I was, um, in the cave.”

Faith stopped what she was doing and looked at Buffy. “Did somethin’ happen? Are y’okay?” She sat down again and put the bow gently to one side, “Look, if the First said somethin’ to you, that’s what it does. It lies. I told Angel that.”

Buffy shook her head at the other girls concern. “No, that’s not...In the cave it, The First, it used its power somehow...it showed me what happened on the hillside. I heard, saw everything.”

Faith frowned, unsure, before looking away. “Oh, uh, right...Look, I wasn’t really gonna stake the guy, I mean, I was tempted. And I know I hit him, but...”

Buffy interrupted. “I don’t care about that, Faith. But what you said to Angel, all of it...It was so genuine and really beautiful. I realised that... you’re beautiful, inside. That whatever happened to you in the past doesn’t matter to me.” Buffy touched Faith’s cheek, stroking it softly, “And I want you to know that whatever you say, whatever you want to tell me, you’ll always be special to me. Okay?”

Faith seemed not to know what to say for a moment, before shrugging “...He was just being a dumbass.” Faith said awkwardly, but she glanced at Buffy’s face, her eyes open and soft. “And I remember what you told me, ‘bout choices. So, it was like you were helpin’ too, y’know?”

Buffy nodded and smiled before laying her head on Faith’s shoulder. “Tell me something about you that I don’t know.”

Faith still seemed a little wary. “Like what?”

“Like...Ooh, I know, what was it like when you got called? Where were you, what were you doing?”

Faith seemed to think about it for a long time before shrugging. “Uh, right. Well, it was last May, early, I’m damn sure of that. I was having dinner with Diana; I was staying at her place by then...”

“Hey, so your Watcher found you before you got called? I didn’t know that.”

“Yeah, I’d been stayin’ with her for a couple of months; she kinda pulled some strings and got me outta...” Buffy felt Faith tense a little, “...uh, well it was kinda like a hospital, nut house...care home for wayward kids called the Belmont Centre.”

Buffy straightened up and looked at Faith. “You were in a care home?”

Faith sighed. “Yeah... I guess I had kind of a temper and...blackouts and stuff. Listen, can we save that for another time?”

Buffy nodded. “When I was first called...I told my parents everything, about slaying, vampires, the whole deal. And they completely freaked and...I ended up in a mental institution.” Buffy saw the other girl’s surprise, “It was only for about a week and then I stopped talking about it all, so they let me go. Mom did the repression thing and never said another word about it”.

Faith looked pained. “Jesus...I didn’t know.”

Buffy shook her head. “My friends don’t even know, I never told them. It’s something I like to pretend never happened, but I get it, your situation.” Buffy smiled and poked Faith lightly in the ribs, “Anyway, this is supposed to be your story, so what happened when you got called.”

“Uh, okay, so we were sitting there talkin, or she was talkin’ and I was off in my own head. And then I felt different...like charged up or... flooded all of a sudden, I guess. Miss Dormer had laid out the whole deal, how I was a ‘potential’ or whatever, but I didn’t get it till then, I didn’t think I had a shot at being the ‘one’.

“And then I suddenly had all this power, my blood was rushin’ and my head was all crowded and noisy...it was real intense.” Faith paused, before adding softly, “I got really scared, like I was gonna have a panic attack, but I remembered these breathing techniques this guy I trained with had showed me...and I guess I calmed down some after that.”

“It was for me too. Intense and scary, I mean.” Replied Buffy, “But I just thought it was some puberty thing. Becoming ‘a woman’ or something, it’s not like my parents gave me the facts of life speech.”

Faith chuckled softly before continuing. “Anyways, that night I had the dreams. Seeing girls dying over and over again, some getting bit or stabbed or munched on by demons...Then I saw you.”

“You saw me? Really?”

“Yeah, you were in this crappy old church or crypt or somethin’, wearing a real pretty white dress that showed off your rack.” Faith laughed as Buffy lightly elbowed her, “Anyway, this butt-ugly guy bit you and dumped you in this pool of water.”

Buffy shivered at the memory. “That was the Master. The first time we fought, well, it wasn’t much of a fight.”

“Then I saw the library, y’know, fighting going on all around, and this black chick’s fighting with this ‘porcelain doll’ type vamp, and she does this weird stare-y thing and every thing faded to black. Then I woke up...realised what I was.”

Buffy smiled at the other girl. “Faith the Vampire Slayer.”

Faith grinned a little proudly. “Yeah, that’s my story, been kickin’ ass ever since.”

Buffy gave her a sceptical look. “Okay, well then what about the first vamp you ever dusted. Didn’t you fall on your butt just a little?”

Faith made a face. “Well, okay, first vamp got lucky and Miss Dormer had to save my ass...But then I went on and dusted two that night, no sweat. It was a blast, and Miss Dormer said I was a natural. It was like I was born for it, the way it made me feel.” Faith thought about it, “But, really that wasn’t the first vamp I killed. The first one I killed was before I even got my powers, so...”

Buffy raised her eyebrows playfully. “Okay, how did that happen?”

“It was back a few months before I’d met Miss Dormer, I was stayin’ with this crappy foster family, the Jones. Real religious types. Me and a whole bunch of other kids were in their care, they had us doin’ chores, workin’ on church flyers, that kinda thing. They weren’t bad, exactly, kinda stern, but really not as bad as most people, or so I thought.” Faith shifted a little as she remembered, “Anyways I got close to this other girl there, Jess, and she says that they have a lotta turn over, kids moving on all the time, to other places, ‘cause the Jones are just that giving, y’know. And Mrs Jones is all sulky and sad ‘cause she lost her son a while ago. But...well, I read some people pretty well, and this chick’s definitely hidin’ something, so one night I creep outta my room and see her sneakin’ about round the door to the attic. Their locked attic, see?”

Buffy felt a sinking feeling in her stomach. “Oh, no...”

Faith’s voice got a little colder and a tremor ran through it as she continued. “And the next day I manage to nab her keys while she’s in the garden, and I go snooping upstairs with a flashlight, with Jess keeping watch. And what do I find? They got their friggin’ kid chained up like an animal, and he sees me and starts beggin’ and pleadin’ for me to help him escape, to get the keys and get him outta here. And I almost do it, but the keys are on this ring that has a cross on it and the kid freaks and hisses when it gets near him.” Faith paused to let out a shaky breath, “So, anyway, I figure he’s not telling me everything, and that there’s somethin’ up, when Jess comes bursting in saying Mrs Jones is coming. That’s when all hell breaks loose and this kid...this vamp jumps me and nearly chokes me t’death, takes a nibble outta me as well. But I manage to kick him away while Jess and Mrs Jones are freakin’ out, and I’m tryin’ to pull myself up to get away. But instead I pull this tarp away from the window, sunlight comes in, kids face gets twisted all demonic-like and he...just bursts into flames.”

Buffy was looking at Faith now, seeing her sorrow and anger as she recalled the events.

“Turns out Mrs Jones had been feeding troublemakers to her son t’keep him alive, and covering it up with her hubby. They thought he was some sort of...zombie, like damned or somethin’. But they still loved him.” Faith shrugged, “After that, I was outta there, took Jess with me. We dropped out of the system, I guess, just crashed on people’s sofas for a while. Couldn’t go to the cops, could we? Who’s gonna believe us, a couple o’ kids talkin’ about demons...so we just ran.”

Buffy reached over and stroked the other girl’s hair. “Faith, I’m so sorry for what happened to you.”

Faith forced a smile. “Hey, I’m five-by-five, here. I survived, and bagged my first vamp.”

Buffy caught the other girl’s gaze and held it. “So, you’ve always been fearless, huh? I can’t imagine going through anything like that.”

“Yeah, least I learned that people can be just as bad as vamps. Worse even. A good lesson t’have.”

“Just some people. Most people aren’t like that, Faith. Those...Jones were just scared, crazy people, they did terrible horrible things, but it’s complicated.”

“Hey, I get that some people aren’t like that, maybe. But most...I dunno, B. Most people, you’ve gotta be wary. Y’can’t go trusting blindly.”

Buffy sighed and nodded. “Okay, how about this. I won’t trust blindly and you don’t think the worst of everyone. Deal?”

Faith smirked and shook her head. “Fine, B. Just so you know I’ll always watch yer back.”

Buffy smiled at that. “So, um, your friend Jess, what happened to her?” Buffy asked.

“Lost touch with her after I broke up with Steve. I kinda left his place, where we were staying at, without sayin’ goodbye t’her. A while later I ended up in Belmont and that’s all she wrote.”

Buffy thought for a second. “Steve...that’s the Klepto, right?”

Faith nodded distractedly. “Hey, that reminds me, I gotta present for you, too. Kinda too personal to give you in front o’ your mom, y’know.”

Buffy smiled in surprise. “Cool, it’s better to receive than to give, that’s my motto.”

Faith got up and left the room, Buffy heard her voice. “Well, this present ain’t exactly gonna change your mind.” Buffy heard her laugh.

‘Too personal? This has got to be jewellery then, right? Like a bracelet or necklace or something...hope it’s not too expensive, then I might not be able to wear it. Mom might notice...’

Faith came back in holding something behind her back, a sly smirk on her face, before sitting down next to Buffy and handing her a box. If it was jewellery it was probably a necklace or something because the box was the wrong shape, maybe seven inches long and a few inches wide. It wasn’t wrapped, just a simple box with a lid, and not too heavy. Buffy wasn’t one for savouring the suspense so she immediately took the lid off and peeked inside.

And frowned.

The box was mainly stuffed with tissue paper, but lying nestled in the centre was a metallic cylinder about five inches long and one inch around, like a marker pen. It was black, with quite pretty bright pink stencilling across its surface in the form of flowers. Still frowning Buffy reached in a picked it up, and held it lightly, looking for a cap you could remove or middle part you could twist, like a lipstick or a mascara stick or some other sort of make-up...

She paused as she noticed near the base there was what looked like a button sticking out, but nothing else to indict what it did. Buffy glanced at Faith who was biting her bottom lip and smiling in excitement. “Y’like it?”

Buffy gave an unsure smile. “Uh, sure...it’s very, um, pretty. What is it?”

Faith rolled her eyes in amusement. “Gee, B. You really are vanilla. It’s a vibe.”

“A vibe..? A...as in a..?” Buffy’s eyes widened in shock and she quickly dropped the object onto the bed, “You bought me a...sex toy for Christmas?” She hissed.

Faith grin got wider. “Yeah, B. I got it L.A from this high-end kinda shop, full of kinky stuff. I asked the assistant for one that a beginner could use easily. Y’see, it’s only really got one button, it’s small, quiet, waterproof and...very powerful.” Faith’s eyebrows rose, “What’s the problem?”

Buffy was staring at the toy like it was a snake. “I just...it’s not what I was expecting, when you said personal I thought you meant... romantic.”

Faith’s smile faltered a little. “Hey, this can be plenty romantic, okay? Just depends on what you do with it.”

Buffy shook her head. “Okay, not romantic exactly, but maybe more...thoughtful.” She knew she was being silly and maybe even a little insensitive, but really, what had Faith been thinking?

Faith gestured to the vibe. “I was thinkin’ of you when I bought it. It’s got flowers on it.”

Buffy almost snorted at that. “That’s not exactly what I...”

Faith gestured. “I’m not finished, ‘kay. It’s just... like every time we make out and get a little physical, y’know,” Faith wiggled her eyebrows a little before her face got more serious, “You get really worked up, like the other day. And I don’t want you gettin’ all, y’know, frustrated and stuff and then rushin’ into somethin’ if you’re not ready to. This way you can take the edge off, without me being there, so we can...take our time or whatever. However you want it.” Faith stared awkwardly down at the bed.

Buffy blinked. “Oh.” That was actually...kind of sweet, in a very Faith way, “Well, um, thanks, I guess.”

She picked up the toy and looked at it. It was very pretty, and not at all intimidating. When Buffy thought of things like this, which wasn’t often, she usually pictured silly giant rubber things in a variety of stupid colours. Not exactly a turn-on...but this looked like it had been designed by somebody who understood that things had to look sexy if you weren’t going to feel silly using them. It was even sort of stylish. She could probably keep this in her purse when she, actually no, bad thoughts. Bad, bad thoughts.

Faith, who’d been quiet as Buffy had been examining her gift, shifted off of the bed. Obviously disappointed she gestured over her shoulder. “Anyway, I’m gonna get some sleep. Do what y’want.”

Buffy sighed. She didn’t understand how a girl could be so tough and confident and yet still very fragile, even after what Buffy had told her, and then what Faith had shared with her, opening up just a little bit. Yes, there was darkness there; she’d obviously led a tough life...childhood. But Faith was also strong and fearless and so genuine in the things she did that all it did was make Buffy like her more. Maybe she needed another sign, something else to indicate that things had changed between them, had become more special, more intimate.

Buffy spoke up as the other girl turned to leave. “Wait, Faith. Uh, how does this thing even work anyhow?”

Buffy didn’t realise Faith even had an exasperated look until that moment; she could teach Giles a thing or two. “There’s just the one button, B. I’m pretty sure you can figure it out.”

Buffy shifted a little apprehensively, her face already feeling a little red, she wasn’t usually the kind of girl to do this. “Well, uh, maybe if you, um, stayed to watch? That’d be okay, so you could be sure that I liked, uh, my present. ”

Faith turned to look at Buffy, her face unreadable. “You serious?”

Buffy laughed a little nervously. “Hey, it’s not like I’ve done this before...I mean, I’ve done it before, but not with, um, an aid-thing.” Buffy’s blush deepened as she babbled, “...Not that I do it all the time, obviously, like some big freak.”

Faith’s smile returned as she sat back down next to Buffy and leaned over to kiss her. Buffy sighed into Faith’s mouth as the other girl’s lips worked against hers. Faith’s hand reached up to cup Buffy’s chin, before pulling back slightly. “You really like it, huh?”

Buffy caught her breath. “It was just a surprise, that’s all. And I’m, uh, a little nervous.”

Faith gave her a sultry look. “Just relax and take your pants off.” Her hand brushed a golden lock of hair away from Buffy’s face as eyes swept down Buffy’s form. Buffy felt a not unpleasant nervous tremor travel through her as she stood up and, after placing the vibe on the bed, reached and hooked her fingers into her waist band. Buffy bit her bottom lip as she slowly drew her pyjama pants and her panties down her legs and kicked them to one side.

She let out a nervous breath, feeling the air against her legs and the bottom of her nightshirt brushing against the top of her thighs. She looked to see Faith had also gotten up and was removing her jeans.

“Uh, Faith, what’re you..?”

Faith gave her a heated look, before smiling. “Just gettin’ more comfy, figured you wouldn’t want to be the only one half naked.”

Buffy swallowed. “But, just to watch, right?”

Faith tilted her head slightly. “Well, you’re still gonna be doin’ all the naughty touchin’, I’m just gonna help out a little.”

Buffy wasn’t sure about that. “Faith...”

“Trust me, B. I’ve done somethin’ like this before. You’re gonna love it.”

Despite her nervousness Buffy found her curiosity perked. “Done something like this before? When?”

Now, wearing nothing but her white tee and black panties Faith made her way over to the bed. “Tell ya later.” Faith settled onto the mattress, back up against the head of the bed, she spread her legs a little and patted the space between them. “You sit here.” Her eyes were such a mixture of mischief and hunger, for a moment Buffy wondered if she’d made a mistake, if Faith was going to push for something that she wasn’t ready for. But Buffy decided to trust her, after all, Faith had been all set to leave her alone a few moments ago, Buffy had asked for this.

Before she lost her nerve Buffy moved closer and crawled onto the bed on her hands and knees, feeling her top drift up over her butt to leave it bare as she did so. She just managed to remember to grab the vibrator on her way passed, clutching it in one fist as she move closer. Feeling more than a little vulnerable Buffy awkwardly knelt between Faith’s legs, in the spot the other girl had indicated. “Um, so now what?”

‘I really have to work on my sexy, bedroom talk.’

Faith gave her a slow, easy smile before leaning forward and giving her a soft reassuring kiss, her tongue gently grazing Buffy’s lips like a silken promise. “Just relax, turn around and lean back against me, okay?” Her voice, still husky with arousal was soft and comforting, Buffy felt her nerves settle.

Buffy sat back on her haunches before quickly scooting around so her back was to Faith. Shifting backwards a little she felt Faith’s arms on her shoulders as they gently stopped her and then pulled her back slightly. Buffy felt her shoulder blades press against Faith’s chest, the other girl’s breathing against her right ear. The outside of her thighs pressing against the inside of Faith’s, and most of all Buffy was very aware that her butt was lightly pushed up against Faith’s abdomen, Buffy relaxed a little and tried to stop clamping her legs together.

Buffy felt Faith’s arms wrap around her middle and pull her tighter as the brunette propped her chin on Buffy’s shoulder. “’Kay, now lift your knees so that your feet are flat on the bed.”

Buffy did as she was instructed, lifting and spreading her legs slightly so her feet were flat on the mattress, her knees pointing upwards. Her nightshirt had ridden up and spread as well, Buffy felt her bare butt flat against the cool bed covers. Looking down she could see a wisp of blonde hair visible between her legs, she felt Faith’s breath hitch. “Jesus...you are so sexy.”

Buffy’s breathing was warm and shivery; she brought the vibe up for both of them to see and then paused. “So...I just click the button?”

“Yep, click it once for setting one, then again for the next, and again for the strongest. Fourth click turns it off. Easy as pie.”

Buffy gave a nervous huff. “And what kind of pie would that be...actually forget I said that.”

Faith reached out her hand to gently grasp the wrist with which Buffy was holding the toy. She deftly clicked the button at its base and the vibe suddenly came to life, not making a sound, just pulsing slightly, not even as powerful as an electric toothbrush. Buffy adjusted her grip so she was holding the toy by its base; experimentally she pressed the tip against the top of her thigh. Pleasant ticklish ripples leapt across her skin, she squirmed a little and moved the tip away.

Buffy felt Faith’s husky burr close to her ear as she still kept a light hold of Buffy’s wrist. “See, setting one’s just ticklish.”

“So I see.” Buffy replied, having never done anything like this before she was wondering what to do next. Should she just...plunge in? God, but that sounded inappropriate. Maybe she should...

Just then Faith took a firmer grip of Buffy’s wrist and quickly moved both their hands down to run the vibe across the top of Buffy’s thigh, from just below the knee in a quick downwards sweep. Buffy gasped a little in surprise.

Without stopping Faith brought the vibe down between Buffy’s thighs before slowly and gently trailing it up her leg, Buffy watched her skin shimmer slightly as Faith drew a couple of lazy patterns on her tanned thigh, then took the vibe away and held it up in front of them both. “So, you wanna try setting two?”

Only a little hesitantly this time Buffy clicked the bottom button with her thumb, the pulsing became a low hum, similar to those hand-held electric fans some people carried in the summer. Buffy felt Faith’s lips against her neck as she gently guided Buffy’s hand down again, pressing the toy against Buffy’s soft inner thigh. The buzzing sensation was more powerful, less ticklish this time. Buffy felt warmth gather between her legs not just at the feeling but at the building anticipation. She watched as Faith gently guided her wrist down, turning so the nose of the toy disappeared out of sight beneath her shirt.

Buffy gasped as the mild sound seemed to transform in an instant to powerful jolts of pleasure, the tip traced downwards along the outside of her pussy, before teasingly pulling away. Buffy bit her lip to try and stifle the groan of disappointment, she could feel sweat on her forehead and between her breasts. Faith’s left arm was still on her waist, hand stroking her stomach in small circles, shifting the material around and across sensitive skin. Buffy was aware of her buttocks slick against the bed, her nipples straining against her silken top, the gentle tremors of pleasure as Faith’s mouth nipped and kissed behind her ear.

“You okay?” Faith’s voice seemed rich with arousal and more than a little mischief.

Buffy was breathless. “Uh-huh, more please.”

This time, more by Buffy’s own impetus than Faith’s she moved her wrist back, her left hand drawing the bottom of her shirt away so she could she what she was doing. Her eyes took in the dampness of her curls, the way her pussy glistened with dampness. Gently she ran the vibe around the outside of her opening, the light buzzing sending pleasant tingles to her centre, up her spine to wrap her brain in pink fog.

When she had touched herself in the past, it hadn’t been like this; she never really lingered or took her time. It was always tinged with a little guilt, now she was enjoying it, taking in each new sensation as it happened.

Faith’s breath shuddered against Buffy’s neck as she drew the slick vibe upwards and pressed it firmly against the top of Buffy’s opening. The small jolts of pleasure came faster now and quickly grew more intense; tremors that had mildly pulsed through her now became more jagged. Buffy felt her body coiling and tightening with tension, all the while as pulses of pleasure rippled through her being. She felt her toes curl, Faith’s left hand strayed up to grab her breast and roughly massage it, her lips moving to kiss Buffy’s ear as the blonde girl’s head rolled back.

And just as the tension seemed to become unbearable, as it seemed that she would break the bed her muscles were tensing that much, she unwound. Blast after blast of feeling rolled over her, assaulting her senses. Starbursts exploded in brilliant colours behind her eyes as her body twitched and jerked against Faith. Dimly she realised she was moaning into Faith’s mouth, the other girl’s lips clamped over hers, she gasped against the other girl, her legs clamping together on both their hands.

The vibe continued to buzz incessantly against Buffy’s centre and almost without warning a second orgasm washed over Buffy, rippling over her raw nerves, weaker than the first but no less beautiful for it. Buffy found herself murmuring Faith’s name against her mouth, her tongue pushing against the other girl, her body twisting around for more contact, her free hand coiling into Faith’s mane of hair. Buffy found herself giggling breathlessly with euphoria as she kissed Faith, her body seemed wrung out and alive at the same time, her senses seemed magnified as she took in the smell and taste of Faith.

For her part Faith was kissing Buffy back just as fiercely, her breath coming in ragged pants as she nuzzled down Buffy’s neck, her hands gliding and caressing over Buffy’s quivering form. Buffy pushed the other girl back firmly against the headboard, her mouth kissing Faith’s throat as she adjusted herself, getting one knee under her and swinging her other trembling leg off of the bed.

“Faith...Faith...God, that was...incredible.” She raised her head to look the other girl in the eye, “That was beautiful.”

Faith stared back, her brown eyes wide and vibrant. “That was...wicked intense, B. You were...that was perfect.”

Buffy nodded a little sleepily and snuggled against the other girl, marvelling not for the first time how natural it felt to have another soft, feminine body to lie against. She felt Faith run her fingers through her, very mussed, hair. And even those gentle touches were setting little sparks of inside her brain.

‘And we didn’t even try setting number three...we...’ Buffy shifted a little, “Faith, you didn’t even...I mean that was all me, and...”

Faith gave a lop-sided smile. “Hey, I had a pretty good time too, the way you were grindin’ back against me; I had me a moment, okay?”

Buffy smiled shyly. “Oh, okay.” She wanted to say more; in the after glow her mind seemed to be realising that her feelings for Faith were...really intense. That fact was more than a little scary, things seemed to have happened so fast but at the same time they had progressed perfectly naturally.

‘Who knew that orgasms interfered with deep, intelligent thought?’

Faith nudged her gently. “Hey, you gotta scrunch over; I’m half off the bed here, and my legs goin’ numb.”

“Sorry.” Buffy adjusted herself so Faith burrow down next to her and put her arms around her, soon they were in the ‘spoons’ position. “Uh, and thanks again. Y’know, for the gift.”

Faith murmured. “Yeah, Merry Christmas, B. Hey, maybe next time, you’ll get t’see me use it.”

With that she gave Buffy a quick kiss and settled against her, Buffy feeling the other girl’s breathing settle into a rhythm. Listened to the soft thrum of her heart, and the occasional murmur from her lips, and she knew, just knew that she was falling in love with her. This wasn’t just passion, or sex, or a slayer thing. It didn’t matter that Faith was a girl. All those things were swirling round in Buffy’s head but they didn’t disguise the fact that she’d felt like this only once before, the feeling like two people were just meant to be.

And to think, if not for this wish she would never have known, she just would’ve carried on with her life, alone. The First was wrong, had to be wrong, or had been lying. Anything that caused this wasn’t evil, it didn’t make any sense.

But still its voice, cruel and twisted, stayed with her. Reverberating inside her.

‘I’m looking forward to seeing what happens to you, how you’ll end up. Because, sweetie, it won’t be pretty...’

...continued in Helpless...

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