Buffy has been at the hospital for only three hours and already she can't wait to leave. The smell of antiseptics and sickness lingers in the air and she feels like she's suffocating. She has no idea how Faith has spent over eight months there and not gone out of her mind. Granted she was asleep for ninety-nine percent of that time, but still.
As inconspicuously as possible, she steals a sideways glance at Faith who, for her part, has been silent this whole time. She's clearly anxious by the way she's drumming her fingers on the bed as she watches TV, but at least she seems to be in better spirits since the nurses let her change out of her hospital gown. Of course, that had been hours ago when Faith was supposed to be released. But with the typical snags that come with paperwork - namely paperwork for a girl who has been known as Jane Doe for the duration of her stay - they've been delayed for hours now. Luckily for Buffy, Giles has been dealing with that aspect.
Unfortunately, that means she's been left on Faith duty all by her lonesome. It's not like they haven't been left alone over the last couple of days, but Faith is even more anxious than usual because she can almost taste her freedom and Buffy is a ball of nerves as a result of what happened with her friends earlier in the day.
It isn't like she'd expected a Welcome Faith party but she'd hoped for at least a modicum of support. Even just a 'go Buffy!' would have been good. Xander might come around in time but Willow . . . god, what is she going to do about Willow? It's not like she's choosing Faith over her, but how is she supposed to make Willow realize that? This isn't about choosing sides; it's about doing what's right.
It is right, isn't it?
She warily takes another glance over at Faith only to have Faith catch her in the act this time. Buffy wildly averts her gaze, finding herself looking at some random brown water spot on the ceiling before realizing how stupid she must look. She takes a deep breath and moves her gaze back to Faith who's still looking over at her.
"Can't even make eye contact but you wanna play my super-slayer rehab specialist? How exactly is that gonna work ya think?" Faith asks.
"I can make eye contact," Buffy says and does just so to make a point.
After a few seconds, Faith shakes her head and looks away and back toward the television.
"Yeah, that ain't awkward," she mumbles.
"I never said it wasn't," Buffy replies easily, studying the side of Faith's face. "I don't expect this will be easy on any of us, Faith. I honestly don't know how we even begin this process. I'm hoping Giles is going to get really insightful super fast. There's a scary bad history here and we're supposed to figure out a way past it, but I can't even figure out what chapter my psychology midterm is on and that's a whole heck of a lot less difficult than this."
"So then why the hell are we doing this?" Faith asks, sounding miffed. She turns off the television and tosses the remote control onto the bed between her feet before looking angrily over to Buffy. "You don't trust me, I sure as hell don't trust you; why are we even gonna bother?"
Buffy's silent for several long moments before she responds quietly, "Because not everything worth having comes easily. Sometimes you have to fight for it."
"Yeah, bet we're gonna fight plenty," Faith scoffs.
Buffy opens her mouth to reply but stops when a nurse comes in pushing a creaky silver wheelchair. A wave of panic washes over her because she knows this is not going to go over well, but then just the tiniest bit of pleasure creeps up. It might be nice to watch Faith be the awkward and embarrassed one for once.
"Your guardian is just about finished up with the necessary paperwork to discharge you," the nurse says with way too cheery a smile on her face. She leans over and pats her hand on the worn vinyl seat of the wheelchair invitingly. "Hop on and I'll take you over to him so we can get you out of this place for good."
Buffy waits expectantly, as does the nurse. She can't help but glance back and forth from the chair to Faith who looks absolutely appalled at the idea. After several long and awkward moments, Faith crosses her arms over her chest and shakes her head.
"Not gonna happen."
"I'm sorry, dear, but it's hospital policy. There are certain liability issues we have to comply with."
"I don't care about liability," Faith says, clearly irritated. She runs a hand through her long hair, pushing it away from her pale face. "I'll make a deal with you. I get up and can't make it to the front door? You got my permission to put me outta my misery like a lame horse."
The nurse giggles, obviously taking Faith's words for a joke. Buffy knows they're anything but. The nurse isn't going to back down and neither is Faith, so Buffy tries to reach a compromise. She stands up from her chair, legs and back stiff from sitting so long, and steps between the nurse and Faith.
"You know, I already feel useless enough just sitting around here. Would it be okay if I take Faith to meet Mr. Giles? I promise I'll keep her sedentary and compliant until we reach the exit."
Though Buffy is focused on the nurse, she can see the way Faith glowers upon hearing that.
The nurse hesitates for a moment before her cheeriness returns.
"That sounds fine to me, hon. You took great care of her over all those long months. I guess we can count on you to get her out safely!"
The waves of tension coming from Faith ease at that but Buffy doesn't look over at her; she's not ready to deal with Faith asking her about why she's 'cared for' her so well, as the nurse so casually pointed out. In fact, if they never have to speak of it again, it will be too soon.
The nurse bids Faith a final farewell and hustles back out into the busy corridor, leaving Buffy and Faith alone. Buffy takes a deep breath and walks over to the wheelchair, stepping behind it. She pushes it alongside the bed and finally meets Faith's gaze.
Faith does not look amused. In fact, she looks downright hostile.
"Please, let's just make this as simple as possible," Buffy begs. "It's the nurse or I, and at least with me you don't have to deal with cheerful tales of hope and recovery along the way."
Faith wants to argue, that much is apparent to Buffy, but instead of prolonging the inevitable she swings her legs over the side of the bed and plants her feet solidly on the floor. They look so out of place in a pair of white and black Nike sneakers - they're a far cry from her old black combat boots - and Buffy can't help but feel a pang of sadness. Faith takes one last withering look at the rickety wheelchair before shaking her head in disbelief and lowering herself into the seat.
"You breathe a word about this to anyone . . ."
"Really?" Buffy asks as she begins to turn the chair toward the doorway, amused. "You're going to threaten the person who's pushing you in a wheelchair?"
Faith ponders that for a moment before throwing her arms up in defeat.
"Know what? You're right, B. That's probably real stupid of me. I mean, for all intents and purposes, ya pretty much pushed me off a building. What's to stop you from wheelin' me down a flight of stairs, right? I . . ."
Faith's words are cut off by a thud and a groan as the wheelchair suddenly collides with the side of the doorway. She reaches down and rubs her shin through her pants, shooting a murderous glare at Buffy over her shoulder.
Buffy smiles unabashedly, looking smug as she wheels the chair back a few inches and corrects the course so it will clear the doorway this time.
"What? It slipped."
Buffy continues to smile all the way to the administration desk where Giles is finishing up the last of Faith's discharge papers. It's not a simple process - a previously unidentified Jane Doe is leaving the hospital against medical advice after an eight month coma - and Giles looks like he's about to run from the building in frustration. But like always, he pulls through with his usual decorum and steadfastness and signs the last of about fifty pages before standing from his chair and leading them out of the hospital. He has a large manila folder full of discharge and care instructions and he pores over them studiously as they walk, nearly bumping into several people along the way.
"We'll have to find you a general practitioner for follow-up care," Giles murmurs as he reads, though it's clear he's speaking to Faith. "Your patient caseworker has also suggested that, after such a traumatic series of events, it may be wise to find a counselor to help you work through it all."
"Great," Faith replies sarcastically. She slouches down even further in the rickety chair, her discontent clearly apparent.
Buffy isn't the only one to notice it. Giles clears his throat and closes the folder, stowing it safely under his arm. "It could prove a good opportunity for all of us to come to terms with the situation. A group setting might be helpful."
Buffy gives him a look of shock and betrayal with just a smidge of downright indignation. The only type of group therapy she needs is for her shopping habit, and really, she can stop that any time she wants!
Faith cuts in, beating Buffy to the punch. "You really think some run-of-the-mill shrink is gonna take kindly to a bunch of weirdoes talkin' about demons and slaying and whatever other baggage we wanna add to the already fucked-up table?"
"No, but a Council doctor could prove resourceful," Giles offers quietly.
He gauges Buffy and Faith's reactions and isn't surprised at all when they both reply in a similar fashion:
"Not a chance."
He sighs and continues walking, knowing it's a battle he's not likely to win. "Perhaps we can find a counselor who believes we're speaking of metaphorical demons."
"Or maybe we put the counseling on the backburner," Buffy chimes in. "You know, just for a few weeks. Or forever."
"Yeah, put my name down on that list," Faith chimes in.
One more thing they agree on? Hey, Buffy will take that.
Giles relents as they near the car and Buffy is grateful for that. She knows for a fact that it's not the last they'll hear from him on the matter, but for now he seems to be content with the fact that she and Faith seem to agree on something for a change. And at this point, even a tiny victory like this one counts.
Giles unlocks the door to his apartment and steps inside, standing back so the girls can enter. Buffy follows quickly behind him, her actions familiar and comfortable as she crosses the room and rests against the back of the sofa. She wraps her arms around her abdomen and gazes at the doorway, waiting for Faith to make her grand entrance.
Faith enters a moment later, though her entrance is anything but grand. Each step is slow, calculated; a series of messages over synapses that are still slow to fire after eight months of nothingness.
Buffy watches Faith as she takes in her new surroundings. Her gaze doesn't linger on any one place for too long, and when she meets Buffy's eyes, she looks away quickly.
Faith's never been a timid person so Buffy knows it's not nerves that Faith is dealing with.
Faith's hands are clenching and unclenching into fists and her jaw is tight; she's waiting for an attack. It's like she's expecting the council or the boogeyman or someone to come popping out of nowhere to take her out once and for all. Her eyes dart from doorway to doorway, room to room, and the tension is getting so thick that Buffy can practically feel it crackling in the air. She needs to do something before Faith snaps.
Fortunately, Giles is the one who finally breaks the silence.
"Joyce has been kind enough to purchase clothing and necessities for you. She spent half her morning at the mall picking out some lovely new items, but when she brought them here she decided they were all wrong and took everything back. She's fairly confident she got it correct the second time around."
Faith visibly relaxes at that and exhales deeply, running a thin hand through her hair.
"She didn't have to do that."
"Nonetheless," Giles continues, offering Faith a soft smile. "She wanted to be here today but her supervisor needed her at the gallery to set up an important display. I have very strict instructions to return whatever you don't like and replace it with what you do."
Faith nods, then goes back to checking out the apartment from her spot near the door.
"Nice digs," she says after a minute, her gaze settling on Giles. "You keeping me in the basement or in a cage in the kitchen?"
And just like that, things start leaning toward the uncomfortable again. One step forward, two steps back; Buffy's pretty sure that if Faith takes any more steps back, she's going to be out the door and in the courtyard. Possibly in the pool in the neighboring apartment complex.
"Erm," Giles replies a bit awkwardly, adjusting his glasses. "We've set up a room for you on the second floor. First door on the right, across from the bathroom. I've been assured by the salespeople that the new mattress is leaps and bounds above a cage."
Faith nods but doesn't smile. Her posture is tense; Buffy can see just how badly she's fighting her instinct to run - not that she'd get very far before running out of steam. Giles must sense it too because he steps back and holds his arm out, indicating the tiled staircase.
"Shall I show you to your quarters?"
"Um," Buffy says, stepping away from the couch as casually as she can, "I'll do that. Mom told me where she put everything. It's the least I can do."
Giles thanks her politely and Buffy nods before making a straight line for the stairs and taking them two at a time, not waiting to see if Faith is following. She gets to the second floor and pauses in the hallway long enough to hear Faith's slow but steady steps following. When Faith finally makes it to the landing, Buffy gives her a quick smile before stepping into the room. She turns to see Faith enter behind her, checking out the plainly decorated space.
There's a full-sized bed, a desk with a lamp and a swivel chair, a dresser with four drawers and a mirror, and a small closet. It's not exactly the cheeriest of places on Earth but it's safe and warm and comfortable, and most importantly, free.
"Spartan," Faith says more to herself than anything, but it makes Buffy do a double-take anyway.
"Nothing," Faith replies, shaking her head. "Just something I heard a while back." She steps over to the bed and sits on the edge, letting out a soft groan as she does so. "So, uh, can't help but notice a surprising lack of the superfriends."
Buffy wants to choose her words carefully, but really, what's the point? She can't sugarcoat things forever to keep Faith from running. Their past is fucked up. Why try to pretend it's not? If they want the future to be better, they need to confront the fucked up parts head on, as awkward as that might be.
"Surprising? Really?" she asks, her eyebrows raised.
Faith thinks about it for a second and shrugs one shoulder. "Maybe not. They even know I ain't dead?"
"They know," Buffy replies. "And they know the plan."
"Let me guess: there were angry words, unshed tears, dire warnings; a general feel of unease and ickiness."
"Let's just say they weren't waving flags with your picture on them," Buffy answers as evasively as possible. Faith does not need to know who the biggest dissenters are. If things don't work out, she doesn't need her friends at the top of some warped hit list. "It doesn't matter. This is slayer business. They don't get a say."
"Slayer business," Faith repeats, nodding as if in sudden understanding. It's not about friendship and repairing the damaged done to theirs; it's about fixing the slayer and getting her back on track so she can be a superhero again. A kickass superhero all alone. "Right. So we'll train and slay, and then I'm on my own."
Buffy swallows, her throat suddenly dry and feeling like it's full of glass.
"You're not on your own," she answers quietly. But with her friends clearly on the non-Faith side of the equation and her own time being divvied up in so many different directions, it's hard for her to even believe her own words.
And apparently, neither does Faith.
"Always have been. Don't worry, I'm used to it, B," Faith replies, Buffy's nickname like poison on her tongue.
And just like that, the conversation is over. Faith kicks her feet up and scooches back on the bed, unlacing her new sneakers before dropping them to the floor beside her. It's like Buffy isn't even standing there, which at this point, Buffy wishes she wasn't. She knows she should say something more; assure Faith she's wrong, or at least try to make her feel at home in her new room. But she doesn't. She stands there awkwardly for a few moments before eventually making her way toward the door.
Faith's voice stops her before she can make it safely through.
"At the hospital," Faith begins, her voice wavering. Buffy stops, lingering with her back to the room and her hands on the wooden door frame. Faith clears her throat and tries again. "At the hospital, Giles said that the mayor was gone. What's 'gone'?"
Buffy takes a deep breath and steels herself before turning back to meet Faith's gaze.
"We had to stop the ascension. There was only one way to do it once it was started."
The silence that follows is tense, and Buffy can hear Faith swallow loudly as she tries to find her voice.
"Dead?" Faith asks, the single word thick with emotion.
Buffy nods, feeling her own eyes momentarily well up. "Dead."
Faith doesn't say anything more. Buffy watches as she reclines back against the pillows, staring up at the ceiling while her fingers clutch tightly at the blankets. The fabric strains and her knuckles go white, and then, just like that, they relax at her side. Faith swallows her grief and lets it go.
Buffy only wishes it was as easy for her to do the same with her own.
Turning away silently, Buffy leaves the room, not sure if there's anything else she can do or say to make the situation any better.
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