Chapter Fifteen

When the two girls walked into the kitchen, they saw then entire gang gathered around. They received a few hellos and nods as they walked through, making their way to the island-countertop where Willow had several books and other supplies scattered around.

Buffy looked around and noticed Spike casually leaning against a doorway, trying to remain unseen in the background. She walked over to him with a confused look on her face.

"Spike? What are you doing here?" Her voice wasn't angry or sharp . . . she was just genuinely surprised to see him there.

"Peaches mentioned that the other bird -- Faith is it? -- is having some problems, that things might get a bit ugly. Figured you could use all the help you can muster, so, 'ere I am. No questions, yeah?"

Buffy gave him a small yet appreciative smile before turning back towards the others.

In the meanwhile, Cordelia gave Faith a funny look and pulled her aside by the elbow to have a chat with her.

"Geez . . . what the hell is it with people and the whole draggin-me-around-by-my-elbow thing? It's gettin' a little tired," Faith said, a little annoyed.

Cordelia just ignored her comment.

"Well, well, well . . . look who's up with the walking and the hopping and whatnot. Yesterday you were Miss Rubberlegs, and today you defy gravity and the expectations of everyone here. What gives? What kind of drugs did they give you?" She asked playfully.

A smirk appeared on Faith's face.

"Thanks for the keen observiness. But, for your info? No drugs. Just a nice little dose of Vitamin 'B'," she said with a hint of bravado.

Cordelia's jaw just about dropped to the floor when she realized the double entendre before her.

"GET OUT! Are you implying that Little Miss Tightly Wound was making with the sexual healing?" She asked in disbelief.

Faith burst out in a hoarse laugh, clutching her knees as she bent over in laughter.

"Nahh, nothin' like that. Trust me . . . after more than a year in jail, I'm definitely itchin' to get my naughty on, but not like this. I was afraid to sleep last night cos I dozed off for a few minutes and started to have a nightmare, but B swooped in and woke me up before it got bad. The aftereffects weren't killer like usual, and we thought it must've been cos of the Slayer-connection. So when I told her I didn't wanna go to sleep again, she fuckin' spooned me and we both fell asleep. Let me tell ya . . . I haven't slept that good my whole life."

Cordelia put on a big smile.

"Now THAT is just too frickin' cute. Tell me Faithy . . . are you guys gonna get monogrammed towels and matching bath robes next?" She winked.

Faith gave her a slight menacing glare before pulling her back to join the gang.

When they reentered the kitchen, the rest of the gang was at full attention as Willow was speaking.

"So, I'm gonna need all of you to form a circle around Faith, Tara, and me. Tara's going to be my anchor. She'll be able to pull me out if the dark magic is too strong. If she can't do it alone, she's going to have to draw on the energy from the circle, which is where all of you come in to play. Just keep an eye out for anything out of the norm. If I can't get out . . . well, Faith and I will have a whole new set of problems to deal with."

The entire group looked pretty nervous, including Buffy who decided to voice her opinion.

"Listen, I have an idea, but I don't think you guys are gonna like it. I think that I should be inside the circle with Faith too."

Willow interrupted.

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

"Will, just listen. Faith started having a nightmare last night, but I woke her up in time. Point is this: she was oka when I got to her . . . no sweats, no pain. And she was fine for the rest of the night when I was by her side. I think the Slayer-connection is so strong that the dark magics can't get through it."

Giles and Willow shot each other nervous glances.

"Buffy, you do realize that this could be extremely dangerous. Are you quite sure that it's a good idea to have both you and Faith susceptible to this type of threat simultaneously?" Giles asked, full of concern.

He finally had both of his slayers back. It was hard for him to think of losing Faith again, but it was almost too much for him to think of losing both of them at once.

Buffy glanced over at Faith, and then looked back to Giles.

"Giles, I appreciate your concern, really, but you have to realize something: we're Slayers. We put our lives on the line every time we walk out the door, and we're always susceptible to some type of threat. I'm trying to make sure that none of you have to put your lives on the line this time because it's not your job. It's mine."

Giles realized that Buffy was trying to look out for the best interests of everyone involved. He also realized that she had made up her mind already, and that it was useless to oppose her any further.

Reluctantly, he nodded in assent, though he still didn't like the idea of both of his slayers going under the proverbial knife.

Feeling that everyone knew their part, Willow began gathering the articles scattered around the counter, indicating that it was time to get things started.

"Well, it looks like it's time to get this freak-show on the road," Faith said as she grabbed a couple of the items out of Willow's hands, making her way toward the living room.

"Let's do this," Buffy said, making eye contact with each and every person in the room before following Faith into the living room.

The rest of the gang slowly followed into the living room. When they entered, they noticed that Buffy and Faith had moved all of the furniture to the outskirts of the room, leaving a large empty space in the center.

Willow got to work as well, grabbing a glass bowl and placing an assortment of various herbs and powders in it. Tara had lit a few incense sticks and walked around the room, letting the scented smoke fill the atmosphere.

When Willow had finished with the contents of the glass bowl, she placed it on the floor and picked up a different container filled with white-colored sand. She carefully poured the sand into a large circle, big enough to enclose herself, Tara, Faith and Buffy within it.

Finally, she grabbed a couple of crystals out of a velvet satchel she had brought in with her and placed them at five points within the circle, signifying earth, air, fire, water, and spirit.

As she finished, she looked up to meet the anxious eyes of everyone in the gang. It was almost time and she needed to give the final instructions.

"Okay, so we have everything set up now. Myself, Tara, Faith and Buffy will be within the inner circle. The sand is there for a purpose, as you'll see in a few minutes. No matter what happens, once I start the ritual, NO ONE can cross the inner circle. It won't be able to stand the excess energy and we'll all be put at risk. Are we clear on that?"

The entire gang nodded their heads affirmatively.

By this point, Faith had become extremely nervous. All of the energy that she had felt that morning seemed to be completely drained from her. As she stood, her legs started to tremble beneath her. She felt as if she was about to tumble over when she felt a small hand slip into her own.

Buffy had noticed the nervous expression on Faith's face and saw her start to tremble. To assure and comfort the uneasy girl in front of her, she quickly slipped her hand into hers and gave her a quick smile before turning her attention to Willow.

Faith's legs stopped trembling as she realized that Buffy was going to be there for her. All of these people in front of her were there to help. It seemed almost unfathomable to her, being a part of a group of people this large who actually cared enough about her to help. She had never felt anything like it before.

She shook her head slightly and turned her attention back to Willow.

"There's one more thing that I think I should bring up. It involves Angel and Spike."

The group collectively turned their heads towards the two vampires who were standing near the staircase, staying as far away from the windows as possible.

Willow continued.

"As much as we all appreciate the help you're willing to give, I think that you both need to keep back from this." She received annoyed looks from the two men, so she tried to explain herself. "Let me explain. Angel . . . as we've all seen in the past, your soul seems to be a temperamental thing; it's not tied on as tight as all of ours. I don't know exactly what's going to happen during this ritual. The last thing we need is for the dark magic to get to you and take your soul. It's too risky right now."

Angel took in what Willow had said, and couldn't argue with her entirely valid point. He nodded his head and then stepped back, indicating his assent.

Willow then turned to Spike.

"And Spike . . . I know you mean the best and all, but we have to face the facts: you don't have a soul. You are still evil though you may not seem that way to us. I know you want to help us, and we really appreciate that, but this dark magic may try to harness you and use you as a tool for its own purpose. Once again, it just seems too risky at this point."

Spike nodded, also understanding Willow's point.

"Yeah, I get it, luv, no need to worry. But I'm not going anywhere just yet . . . you might need me down the road and I should be 'ere when that time comes."

"Thank you, Spike," Buffy said from across the room.

He nodded at her, then joined Angel in the dining room area, anxiously watching what was happening in the next room.

"Okay then," Willow began, "I think we're ready to start."

She walked into the circle of sand and was immediately joined by Tara, then by Buffy and Faith who were still holding hands. Buffy gave Faith's hand a quick squeeze before letting go so that they could move to their respective spaces.

Meanwhile, Cordelia, Wes, Dawn, Giles, Xander, and Anya had formed themselves into a large circle around the sand-circle. They didn't link hands, but they were close enough to do so if the need to became an issue. They anxiously sat and watched on.

When Willow saw that everyone and everything was situated, she turned one last time to look at the group.

"Okay, here goes nothing."

She lowered her head and closed eyes, then mumbled an incantation slowly and quietly. As soon as she stopped speaking, the white sand around them turned into a brilliant orange color. To the four girls inside the circle, it looked almost as if nothing had happened around them. The only effect they had noticed was that they couldn't hear anything outside of the circle.

However the rest of the gang saw something completely different. After the sand began to glow orange, a large flash of light emitted from it. Suddenly, it seemed as if the sand was on fire. There were no flames, but it distorted the atmosphere around it into a blurry, wavy view, almost as if trying to look through a campfire. Inside the circle, they could make out the figures of their friends, but they couldn't tell exactly what was going on.

Xander called out to Willow, trying to make sure that they were all okay. However, he got no response.

"Does anyone else find that just a little bit weird?" He asked as he addressed his peers.

"Hush now, Xander. We don't want to interrupt the ritual," Giles whispered, not taking his eyes off of the sight before him.

Back inside the circle, Willow grasped Faith's hand. She closed her eyes and mumbled another incantation. In a flash, they had both gasped and fallen back seemingly unconscious, Willow into Tara's lap and Faith into Buffy's lap.

Both Tara and Buffy gave each other a nervous look as the girls lying in their laps began to tremble a bit.

Tara closed her eyes and concentrated, trying to feel any indication from Willow that she needed help.

Feeling no sense of harm, she kept her eyes closed and continued waiting, unconsciously stroking Willow's hair all the while.

Willow opened her eyes to find that she wasn't inside the Summers' living room any longer. She glanced around and found herself in a dark alleyway, undoubtedly somewhere in Sunnydale. She glanced up when she heard a sound.

"Welcome to my mind. Please keep your hands and feet inside the car at all times, sit back, and enjoy the ride," Faith said, a small smirk playing on her lips.

"Faith? Umm . . . where are we? Is this one of your memories?" Willow asked as she got up off of the damp ground.

"Kinda looks that way, doesn't it?"

"So, where is this? What am I looking at?" Willow asked, trying to figure out the significance of the location they were in.

Faith paused for a moment, looking kind of nervous.

"This is the night it all changed. If you direct your attention that way," she pointed towards the entrance of the alley, "I think we'll be startin' the show any minute now."

No sooner than Faith had said the words did two people come running down the alley.

Willow's eyes widened a bit when she realized it was Faith and Buffy. She looked on as a vamp jumped out from behind a pile of trash. Buffy grabbed the vamp and tossed him to Faith, who staked him on contact. They began running forward again, only to have another vamp jump out.

"Oh . . . this is the night when . . ." Willow trailed off, realizing that she was watching a replay of the night Faith killed Allen Finch.

"Shh, don't wanna miss the show," Faith pointed out.

Willow watched as memory-Faith grabbed the vamp and tossed him to Buffy, who dusted him just like Faith had the previous vamp. Willow couldn't help but notice how in-step the two Slayers were with each other, how fluid their motions were and how well they anticipated one another.

As the two girls ran on, Willow watched as another figure jumped out of the darkness. She watched as Faith immediately went in for the kill, much like she had with the other vamp. Only when it was too late did she hear Buffy yell, "Faith, no!" as Faith's stake descended into the figures' chest.

Willow watched in horror as memory-Faith looked at her blood-covered hands in shock, trying to figure out what had happened

Then, she looked up to the real Faith who had her eyes closed and was shaking.

"Faith . . . it was an accident. I can see that. It could've happened to anyone, it could've been Buffy," Willow softly reasoned.

Faith's eyes remained clenched shut.

"Yeah . . . but it still fuckin' hurts to see it. Every fuckin' time I close my eyes. It won't stop hauntin' me," Faith said through clenched teeth, fighting back her emotions.

Willow turned her attention from Faith back to the scene in front of her when she realized that they were somewhere totally different now.

She looked around, trying to place herself.

"Uh, Faith? Where are we now?" Willow asked, confused.

Faith unclenched her eyes only long enough take in her surroundings.

"We're in my motel room. Yeah, I guess you wouldn't know where we are, seeing as that ya never were actually here to visit or nothing," Faith said, unable to help the small amount of bitterness that escaped with her words.

Willow had no response; she simply looked down at her feet. She kept here eyes glued down until she heard the door open. She saw memory-Buffy and Faith walk into the room.

She watched as Buffy offered to help and as Faith tried to push her away. That caught her as odd.

She looked over to the real Faith, who still had her eyes clenched shut.

"Faith, why wouldn't you accept Buffy's help? She was trying to be there for you and you pushed her away. Why?" Willow asked, almost pleading.

"Because I knew I was in some deep shit. I woulda loved to let B help me but I didn't wanna pull her into my mess. I had nothin' to lose, and she had everything . . . family, friends, school, a perfect fuckin' life. I didn't wanna poison her life like I did my own. So, I pushed her away. Seemed easier that way."

Willow just shook her head. She watched as memory-Buffy pulled Faith into a hug, placing a kiss on her head while trying to comfort her. It struck Willow as kind of strange, Buffy showing affection to Faith like that and all. Still, she watched on as Faith pushed Buffy away one last time, and as memory-Faith fell to her knees sobbing as the other girl left.

Willow blinked her eyes and found that she was in another place again.

"Oh my goddess . . . this is the Mayor's Office. Faith . . . why did you come here? Were you that anxious to turn on us that quickly?" Willow asked, trying not to show her anger.

Faith opened her eyes to see the all-too-familiar office in front of her. She began pacing, trying to distract herself from the scene that was about to play out.

"It wasn't like that, Red. I came here to turn myself in cos it was closer than the Police Station and I wanted to get it over with as quick as I could."

Both girls turned their heads when they heard familiar voices . . . those of memory-Faith and the Mayor.

They listened as the Mayor told Faith that he had set her up with Finch, how he had other plans for her, and how he knew she'd turn to him.

A particular bit of the conversation that really caught Willow's attention was when memory-Faith had mumbled, "I'm tired of not being wanted."

Willow shifted her gaze over to the real Faith, who had stopped pacing and cringed as she heard herself say the words. She knew that Faith had felt lonely back in the day . . . the Scoobies never really had included her all that much, being as young and ignorant as they were. But she never knew that Faith felt unwanted so much so that she would run to the open arms of the first person who came along.

When she heard memory-Faith agree to the job with the condition that Buffy and her friends were not to be harmed, she came upon a realization. Faith hadn't switched sides to harm them; she'd done it to protect them from herself.

She watched as the Mayor held out his hand for Faith to shake, and how she reciprocated the gesture. Then, she watched as memory-Faith's eyes turned black, her body turned rigid, and she shrieked out in pain.

The shriek was enough to stop the real Faith from pacing and to bring her attention to the scene in front of her.

Willow looked on with a disturbed look on her face.

"Faith . . . what's happening? I don't . . ."

"Fucked if I know," Faith interrupted as she walked over to Willow, getting closer to the scene. "This is all new to me."

"Shh . . . what's he saying?" Willow asked, straining her ears to listen to his slow mumble.

'Animus mei Animus vestri,
Infusco lacuna Infectum voluntas
Mei postulatio fieri.
Amicitia fidelis adiuvo
Tantum amor curo. . . . . .
Oh, don't worry, I won't hurt your friends. You will.'

"Red, what's that mean? What'd he do to me? How come I never fuckin saw that part before?" Faith spat out, in disbelief of what she had just saw happen.

"I don't know Faith . . . I think it's time we get back to our plane so we can figure this out."

Willow closed her eyes and uttered a few words, trying to break her and Faith out of the ritual. She opened her eyes, expecting to be back in Buffy's living room, but instead she found that she was in another alleyway with Faith.

"Red? What's going on? I thought you said we were goin' back?" Faith asked as she looked around, recognizing the alley she was in.

"Yeah, well, I thought so too. Let me try again."

She closed her eyes and uttered the same words but to no avail. She looked up to the sky and concentrated . . . "Tara . . . get us out of here. Please."

"Wait," Faith said, looking around. "I know this place. We aren't finished yet. We can't go back 'til we see how this ends."

"I don't get it. What do you mean 'how it ends'?" Willow asked.

Faith shuttered as she looked around.

"This is the night that Angel saved me. I was either going to kill him or let him kill me. He didn't like either option, so he chose to save me," Faith uttered as she looked at Willow with pain on her face.

The girls were shaken out of their conversation when the heard the sound of breaking glass, followed by a loud thud.

They watched as Faith began to attack Angel and as he tried to calm her.

"I already told you Angel . . . I'm poison. There is NOTHING good about me! I'm dirty. No one can help me."

"I can help you Faith. I've been almost exactly where you are now. I can help you. We need you. We . . . I care about you, Faith.

She struggled a little, but then fell against Angel, sobbing.

Angel wrapped his arms around the shaking girl in a protective embrace.

"Shhh, it's okay, Faith. I'm here. I care. I'm going to help you. I care, Faith. I won't let anyone hurt you," Angel repeated over and over.

A small smile appeared on real Faith's face as she watched Angel comfort the fragile girl in his arms.

"He really did care, Red. Maybe the first person to ever care about me. I think we can high-tail it outta here now, that's the end of the show."

Willow gave Faith a sympathetic look before closing her eyes and trying the incantation again.

"Nope. Nothing. I think we need Tara to pull us out," Willow stated after her incantation failed yet again. She looked back to the scene in front of her after something caught her attention. "Hey . . . what's going on over there?" She pointed at the people in the memory scene.

Faith followed Willow's hand. She watched as memory-Faith's eyes turned black again, and then shone a bright white color before she went limp in Angel's arms.

"Beats the shit outta me," Faith said as she watched with great interest. "Looks like Angel didn't notice it either, cos he's just carryin' me away like nothin' happened."

"Yeah, I guess not," Willow said as she watched the memory fade. "Boy, I can't wait to get back and tell everyone about this. We'll hit the books and find out what's going on in no time. You should be in ship-shape before long, right Faith?"

Willow waited for an answer from the girl who was standing behind her.

"Right, Faith?" she asked again, turning around slowly to face the other girl.

When she fully turned, she saw Faith lying on the ground in a fetal position, her eyes clenched shut as she grabbed on to her head.

"Faith!" Willow screamed as she rushed over to the huddled mass and knelt down next to her. "Faith, what's wrong? Come on! Talk to me here!"

Faith couldn't respond. The pain in her head was so hard and loud that it blocked out everything around her.

Willow gasped as she saw blood start to trickle out of Faith's nose and clenched eyes.

"Oh, god. No!"

Before she could try the incantation again or call out to Tara, a large gust filled the alley that forced her to close her eyes.

When she opened her eyes again, she was back in the Summers' living room. She quickly rolled on her side to see Faith lying in Buffy's arms, curled up in a fetal position, bleeding from her nose and still-clenched eyes.

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