Chapter Seventeen

"There's a shadow just behind me
Shrouding every step I take
Making every promise empty
Pointing every finger at me"
Tool, "Sober"

All heads in the room turned when they saw Buffy leading Faith down the stairs.

"Hey hey hey," Xander said, "if it isn't the Buffster and Living Dead Girl. Ladies and Gentlemen, not even bleeding from the eyeballs can stop this girl."

A few stray giggles were heard throughout the room. Meanwhile, Buffy walked Faith over to the living room couch, which had since been moved back into its proper place.

"I did the cleaning," Dawn beamed. "Oh, and by the way, I think we need a new vacuum cleaner. As it turns out, you're not supposed to vacuum up sand in large quantities, much like you're probably not supped to try to vacuum at the beach."

Buffy just sent her a glare before lightening up and saying, "Well, I guess it makes things kind of even. We suck your energy to bring Faith and Willow back and you kill the vacuum cleaner. Guess it could've been worse . . . at least you didn't pierce something in a big act of retaliation."

When she finished her little encounter with Dawn, she gently placed Faith down on the couch and sat next to her. Seeing Faith shift uncomfortably under the staring eyes of the Scoobs, Buffy grabbed Faith's hand and gave it a little squeeze.

Just then, Wesley, Giles, and Willow walked into the living room from the kitchen, a few books and notebooks in their hands.

"If everyone is here I suppose that we can begin," Wesley stated, looking around the room to ensure that everyone was there.

Seeing as that everyone was accounted for, he continued.

"Right, let's begin. While the both of you were upstairs, we had the opportunity to question Willow on what happened during the ritual. She mentioned that the Mayor seemed to have placed a spell of some sort on Faith, and we've managed to translate the words. Basically, the spell translates as follows: 'My soul, your soul; make dark the space and void good will; my will be done; True friendship will help; only love will cure'."

"It's a rough translation," Willow interrupted, "I think I may have gotten some words jumbled. Still, we think it's some derivative of a Trivudian Control Spell."

"What does the spell do? It sounds pretty cryptic." Buffy asked.

"We've had to make a few assumptions here, but we're not through with our research yet. As far as we can tell, the Mayor removed a part of Faith's soul and put it in himself. In turn, he placed a part of his own dark soul in her to fill up the void. By doing this, he essentially filled her with his own darkness and was therefore able to use her to do his bidding," Wesley explained. "I suppose when I told you before that something crawled into the place where your soul was supposed to be, I wasn't that far off."

"So I was a puppet then, right? That wasn't really me?" Faith asked hopefully.

"Yes, we believe that was the case," Giles answered.

"But . . ." Buffy began, "if he was using her as a puppet, why was she still all woman scorned even after he died? Wouldn't the spell have stopped working after his death?"

Willow answered the question.

"The dark magic that he used was so strong that when he died, it continued to work."

Faith's eyes grew wide as she came across a realization.

"Holy shit . . . does this mean that I still have part of the Mayor's soul in me? We gotta get it out . . . shit, I feel gross . . . oh god, we gotta get it out . . ."

She began to panic, clawing at her clothes and skin in the process. Buffy quickly grabbed her flailing arms and tried to calm her down.

Willow quickly spoke up again.

"No, Faith, it's not in you anymore." When she saw Faith calm down a bit, she continued. "Part of the spell said, 'true friendship will help.' When Angel tried to save you in the alley, risking his own life in the process, he showed a true act of friendship and caring. That's why we saw your eyes glow in the dream. The spell was broken . . . the Mayor's soul and the darkness it carried fled you body, and you passed out from the loss of that energy. It's not in you anymore, Faith."

Faith visibly relaxed after hearing Willow's explanation but she still had other questions in her mind.

"Okay: his soul isn't in me anymore. So, what's goin' on in here then," she pointed up at her head, "what's tryin' to take me out?"

"That's the tricky part, Faith," Giles answered. "The darkness was a part of you for so long that your body became accustomed to it. One might even call it a dependence of sorts, similar to a drug addiction. It appears that the sudden disappearance of the darkness has caused you to go through a sort of mystical withdrawal, hence the hot and cold sweats, the tremors, the fatigue, the restlessness, and the pain."

"Holy shit," Faith said in wonderment. "Man, that explains a lot! When I was in prison, I was always binging on mad amounts of candy and sugary foods. It kinda took the edge off, made things more bearable. It's like when my mom would be comin' down off of a week-long heroin bender, she'd eat candy-bars and cookies by the dozen."

"It gets even worse, Faith," Wesley interrupted. "When the darkness was suddenly forced to flee by Angel's act of true friendship, you were left with a void . . . an empty space where the part of your soul was missing. It appears now that the darkness is trying to reclaim you, find its way back into the void, hence your nightmares and dreams. It's trying to make you see your dark side and succumb to it, but you're fighting, trying to stay on the right path. Therefore, it's going to try to get back in by any means necessary."

Buffy shook her head in disbelief.

"Wait . . . I thought you said that the darkness or whatever was forced to flee when Angel showed that he cared. Even if it wanted to come back, how could it if it doesn't have a driving force behind it?" She asked, sounding very frustrated.

"A curse . . ." Willow muttered under her breath, not even aware that she had said the words aloud.

"What?!?" came from the mouths of several people in the room.

Willow shook her head as if she was startled out of a daydream, and then a look came across her face as if she had realized something.

"It's a curse!! It's a Trivudian Control Spell laced with a curse . . . it's no wonder that I couldn't figure it out, it's two things combined into one. I was only able to see one side of it. It's like trying to see half of an equation: it doesn't make sense unless you can see both sides. But," she paused and a grim look crossed her face, "oh boy, I think things just took another turn for the worse."

"Oh joy," Faith said as she sighed and sunk even lower on the couch.

"So, okay, it's a curse. What does that mean for us, Will?" Buffy asked.

"Buff . . . it's a curse, meaning . . . no one can remove it, save for the person who put it on her in the first place. The Mayor was really smart when he used that spell. He made it so that it would keep working even if he wasn't there to control it. Basically, the dark magic is going to keep working until it wins out," Willow explained, a hint of defeat in her voice.

Faith sighed even louder.

"I repeat: Oh joy. Can't the convicted felon catch a break here?" She let go of Buffy's hand and put her hands behind her head, resting back against the couch. She turned her eyes up towards the center of the ceiling and kept them focused there, hoping to stop the tears that were threatening to spill.

"Willow, I d-don't think that's entirely true," Tara said shyly from the other side of the room. All eyes turned in her direction. "There are two things that c-could happen here. The first one . . . well, there's no happy ending: the darkness finds a way back inside or it kills her trying. Second . . . the curse is broken. As it said, 'only love can cure.' There's still hope," she explained with an encouraging smile.

Giles took off his glasses and rubbed them with his shirt, a look of concentration on his face.

"Perhaps it requires a declaration of love."

"Well, let's put that little theory of yours into motion," Xander said. He hopped up from his seat and walked to the middle of the room. With his arms raised up into a 'V' shape, he loudly boasted, "I love you, Faith" with a goofy smile on his face. He spun around a little as if to announce it to everyone in the room.

"Hey!" Anya pouted from the corner.

The rest of the room remained quiet, everyone looking around to see if his words had caused any effect. After a few moments passed and nothing happened, Xander threw up his arms in defeat.

"Guess we can rule that out. Sorry Faith. Can't say I didn't try." He shot her an apologetic smile before walking back over to his seat near Anya, who was doing her best to ignore him.

"Thanks, Xan-man. The gesture didn't go unappreciated," Faith replied.

The group went silent again, pondering what else 'only love can cure' could mean. A few people mumbled under their breath, trying unsuccessfully to work things out in their heads.

"Perhaps it requires an act of love rather than a declaration of it. Just like what Angel did in the alley; he could have simply said 'I'm your friend,' but he knew that wasn't enough. Instead, he tried to show her. He wouldn't fight back; he talked her down and then he just held her," Wesley explained.

The room lit up and everyone began speaking at once, trying to make sense of what Wesley had just said.

"So . . . what then? Faith and someone need to make with the lovin'?" Cordelia asked. "Talk about sexual healing. Literally."

"Oh sure," Angel muttered under his breath, a pout on his face. "Sex cures Faith, but it turns me all grrr and argh. Why couldn't all curses be cured like that?"

"Wait a soddin' minute here . . . are you saying that a little bit of the rough 'n tumble is the answer to your girls' problems?" Spike asked. "Well then sign me up. I'll take the bird out for a spin if it'll help, 'cause the lot of you know that I'm all about the helping these days." A wicked grin was spread across his face.

"Aha! So, the next time that Xander tells me that sex is not the answer, I can tell him that he's wrong, right?" Anya asked.

"No, Ahn, sex isn't the answer. It's the question. The answer is yes," Xander goofed.

"Spike, you are not having sex with Faith. Get that idea out of your head before I kick it out for you," Buffy said while giving Spike a death glare.

"Hey! If I'm getting' my nasty on, I'm choosin' my own dance partner." Faith said from the couch with a hint of both excitement and annoyance in her voice.

"Yuck. If any of you start having sex in this house, I'm turning myself in to social services," Dawn complained.

"I guess my mom was wrong when she said that sex wasn't the answer to life's problems," Willow commented.

They all began talking over one another, their words getting louder and more jumbled as the moments passed.

Finally, Giles had enough.

"Children, please!!"

The room once again turned silent, leaving most of the group feeling a little embarrassed about their little outburst.

Giles continued.

"I believe that in this case, sex is not the answer, thank you very much." Anya once again pouted from the corner. He paused for a moment, then continued. "As most of you are aware, sex does not always equal love. If an act of love is required for this, it would have to be something extreme, monumental. Perhaps a heroic act, perhaps the giving of mind, body, and soul. In either case, we still don't know enough about it to make such assumptions."

"I agree," Wesley spoke up again. "I believe that more research is in order. Angel, perhaps you and Spike can look for any remaining associates of the Mayor tonight and try to dig up some more information. We'll take anything at this point."

Angel nodded, as did Spike. Although the two had a hard time getting along, they knew that they had to put aside their differences yet again for the greater good.

"I have to make a few phone calls to LA and make sure things are in order there before I go out tonight. Do you guys mind if I take over the basement as my workspace for a while?" Angel asked.

"Not at all Angel, you know that my house is your house," Buffy answered.

"Great, thanks Buffy." He turned to Cordelia. "Do you want to help me out? If Gunn is having any trouble with your filing system, maybe you can talk him through, make some sense of it."

Cordelia nodded her head and headed with Angel to the basement.

Willow, Tara, Wesley and Giles headed into the dining room where the majority of their books and research material were laid out. They dove right back into their research without another word.

Xander and Anya decided to take Dawn to the movies and to dinner just to get her out of the house for awhile. They agreed to be back before dark, just to be on the safe side.

After all was said and done, Buffy and Faith were the only two people left in the living room. A semi-awkward silence filled the air as the two girls sat next to one another, neither knowing exactly what to say or do next.

"So . . . ." Buffy hedged.

"So . . . . yeah," Faith replied.

"Do you wanna go sit out on the back porch? Get some sun on that pasty hide of yours?" Buffy asked as she stood up from the couch and held her arm out to the other girl.

"Yeah, sure," Faith responded as she lifted herself off of the couch. She interlocked her arm with Buffy's and the two girls made their way out the kitchen door and onto two chairs that were on the back porch.

A few moments of silence passed. Both girls remained sitting next to one other on the porch but they avoided making eye contact.

Faith sighed.

"Why is this so fuckin' awkward? I was kinda hopin' that we were past the whole awkward silences and mixed signals part of our relationship."

Buffy drew in a deep breath.

"I don't know why. I thought we left all of that in the past too. I guess I just don't know what to say right now. There's so much to take in."

"Yeah," Faith exhaled. A smirk crept over her face. "But hey, at least I might get a little bit of lovin' outta the whole deal. I can think of worse things."

Buffy laughed.

"I guess that part of you will never change, Faith. Just the thought of getting a little action puts a smile on your face."

The two girls giggled a bit before settling back down to a more comfortable silence.

Suddenly, and ever-so-subtly, Buffy leaned over towards Faith and began to speak in a quiet voice, almost as if she were telling a secret.

"So, speaking of getting a little action, what are you gonna do if that's actually what it takes? I mean, I know Giles said that probably wasn't the answer, but still . . . I know we're all probably thinking about it a little." She had a shy smile on her face as she spoke.

Faith just shook her head a little, feeling somewhat uncomfortable with where the conversation seemed to be heading.

"I don't know, B. Guess I really don't wanna think about it unless that's what it comes down to." She lied. Of course she was thinking about it. She was sitting right next to the only person that she'd ever loved. Sex was definitely on her mind.

And now Buffy was looking at her strangely. She needed to stop thinking about sex. Of course, now it was all she could think about. Sex. Sex with Buffy. Naked sex with Buffy.

Buffy just watched in amusement as Faith seemed to be having some sort of internal struggle. She finally let out a chuckle, which brought Faith out of her thoughts.

"What was that all about? You can't tell me that you're not thinking about it. I can tell that you are. You look . . . guilty. So, come on. Give it up."

"What?" Faith asked, not sure what Buffy was asking.

"Give it up, Faith. I know you're thinking about sex. Now, I wanna know who's on the top of your list if that's what it comes down to. So come on, no holding back. Oh . . . and no lying, I can tell when you lie. Your left eyebrow twitches."

"Again, I repeat: what?" Faith asked, subconsciously raising her hand to touch her left eyebrow.

Buffy laughed again.

"Okay Miss Attention Span, I'll break it down for you again. If it comes down to the having of the sex, who are you gonna pick? There's a fine buffet of gentlemen here for you to pick from."

Faith hesitated.

"Uh, B, I don't think I wanna answer that."

"Why not? I thought we agreed to start over with each other. That means no secrets, no lies, and no holding back. I won't get mad, I promise." She smiled as to encourage Faith.

"B, it's a little awkward for me to talk about this with you. I know we started over, but this might introduce a whole new awkward aspect into the scheme of things that I don't think any of us are ready to deal with."

Buffy remained silent for a minute as she stared at Faith, trying to figure out what she was trying to hide. Finally, she broke her silence.

"I've got it figured out. You'd pick Angel."

"No, B, that's . . ."

"It's okay, Faith. I'm not mad. Angel and I are only friends. I can deal." She turned her eyes away from the other girl.

"B, listen to me. It's not . . ."

"Faith, I told you not to lie, and I respect that. I just have to wonder . . . I don't know if Angel can do it or not, with the whole perfect happiness clause of the soul thing. We might have to check into . . ."

"Buffy!" Faith interrupted, finally having enough. "I'm trying to be honest here with you, just like you asked. If you really wanna know who I'd pick, I'll tell ya. It's not Angel."

She paused and took a deep breath before continuing.

"It's you, Buffy. It's you."

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