The entire gang had gathered in the living room and now sat waiting for the meeting to start. Willow, Giles, and Wesley seemed to be conversing among themselves in the corner, trying to clear up their ideas before they started.
Finally Giles stepped forward and cleared his throat, getting the attention of everyone in the room.
"Yes, erm, I believe that we're ready to begin. Has everyone been brought up to speed with the new information regarding the witch-Princess Enid and the spell that saved her?"
Everyone either nodded their head or said yes, indicating for Giles to continue.
"Right. Then you understand that we have somewhat of a dilemma here."
"I don't understand what the problem is," Cordelia announced. "We do the ritual, Faith goes before the tribunal, and she comes back with a new and improved soul. Case closed, right?"
"Wait . . . she has to go before a tribunal?" Angel responded. "That's normally a really big deal. If it's anything like what I've seen in the past, she'll be there to answer for herself, but she'll need a warrior; someone willing to battle for her. One of us will have to be her warrior."
All eyes began darting around the room. Right away, everyone began seeking out the warriors. Buffy was a sure-fire answer. Then again, both Angel and Spike could also be considered.
Willow broke everyone out of their thoughts.
"It's great and all that she only has to choose one of us to be her warrior, but that's not all that she needs. The ritual requires representations of the five elements to make it work. It uses the energy from the five sources almost like a battery to power-up a mystical gateway. The gateway then transports Faith, her warrior, and the five sources to the location of the tribunal on a higher plane . . ."
". . . and therein lies the problem," Giles continued. "We don't know what happens on that plane. Even more, we have no idea what toll the ritual will take on the five sources or the warrior chosen. History revealed only that Enid came back with a complete soul and a new sense of strength and power, but it mentions nothing of the five sources or of her warrior."
"Another problem is that we can't be sure that this ritual will solve Faith's problem. It's a curse, after all, that is doing this to her. We can try and go around the curse, but we can't be sure that our efforts won't be entirely fruitless," Wesley added.
"So what you're saying is that we're pretty much goin' into this completely blind?" Faith asked.
"Exactly," Willow answered.
"Then we're not doin' it, end of story. Not after what happened last time. No offense, Red. I don't want nothin' like what happened to me to happen to any of you."
"Listen, this is what we've come down to: We're out of options and we're obviously running out of time. I believe the only reason Faith is still alive is related somehow to the Slayer-connection that she shares with Buffy; it's keeping the darkness at bay. But, it won't be able to hold it off forever, as displayed by the incident this morning. The ritual is risky, but sitting here and doing nothing is even riskier."
The entire group remained quiet, each person lost in their own thoughts.
Suddenly, Buffy spoke up.
"When do we do this?" She asked, taking charge.
"Buffy," Willow began, "we still haven't determined that we're going to do it. Faith said that . . ."
"I don't care what Faith said," Buffy interrupted, standing up from her spot on the couch next to the brunette slayer. "We are doing this because I, for one, am not willing to stand by and watch her die. Guys . . ."
She took a few deep breaths to organize her thoughts and continued.
". . . one thing that we've learned in the last few days is that Faith is an innocent in all of this. All of the bad things that happened in the past? Not her fault. And now the same thing that took away her free will is trying to kill her. I don't know if you guys are forgetting this, but we help innocent people. Do we ever decline to help because it's too risky? No, we don't. I understand that some of you may be scared, and I understand that some of you may not want to be part of the ritual. But we have a pretty big group of people here. I'm sure that we can come up with a few volunteers to help."
She looked around the room, waiting for a response. Everyone remained quiet, simply taking in what she had just laid out before them. Finally, she spoke again.
"Me? I'm the warrior." She turned to Faith who was just about to voice her opinion. "Faith, don't. I'm doing this because I want to help you, because I'm not willing to sit back and watch you die and do nothing about it. Like I said before, we just got you back, the real you, and I'm not willing to let you leave us again so quickly."
Everyone watched the display before them. Buffy's eyes had welled up with tears and she probably would have broken down sobbing had she not been trying so hard to get the words out.
They watched as Buffy, defeated by her tears and emotion, fell back onto the couch and covered her face, crying softly into her hands. They continued to watch as Faith leaned over and wrapped her arms around Buffy, trying to provide some comfort to the girl.
"Shh, B. It's okay. Please, don't let this mess get to you like this. I'm happy just to be here, to have made some peace and amends with all of you. I don't expect everyone to lay down their lives for me, but don't worry cos I'm gonna be as strong as I can. I'm not goin' down without a fight."
She seemed to have forgotten the presence of the people in the room as she held the other girl and spoke to her, placing small kisses on her forehead.
The group was pretty much in shock at the display of affection before them between the two slayers. Not a single person spoke or moved; they just watched in earnest and waited for their feet to hit the ground again.
Finally, Willow spoke up.
"I'm in. You need five elements to make this work: earth, air, fire, water, and spirit. I'm earth. Being a Wicca and in touch with the earth, I think it suits me best. I'm in, Buffy," she explained in a gentle voice.
Buffy looked up with red eyes and gave Willow a smile while mouthing the words 'thank you'.
"So, where does that leave us?" Giles asked. "Buffy is our warrior and Willow is earth. Do we have any other volunteers?"
At that point, everyone in the room raised up their hands. Between hearing Buffy's speech and seeing the display between the two slayers, they all decided that they wanted to do their part to help.
Buffy chuckled through her tears when she saw everyone's hands in the air. Faith smiled, holding back the tears of happiness that were threatening to fall from her eyes. Neither girl moved from the others' embrace.
"Well then," Giles began, "seeing as that everyone has volunteered, I think it may be best if we assign the other elements to those who best suit them. Are we all agreed on that?"
The group nodded.
"Right then. How shall we divvy this up?" He asked, looking around the room for suggestions.
"I think that Angel would be a good choice for spirit," Willow suggested. "Being a vampire, he's not supposed to have a soul. Still, he does, and he uses it to help so many people. Plus, it's anchored now . . . his forever."
"Oh goody," Spike quipped. "That leaves fire for me." He turned towards Faith and gave her an endearing smile. "I'm in, pet."
Willow looked to Giles, giving him a concerned look at Spike's offer.
Giles just shook his head.
"I suppose it makes sense. Spike is dark, a demon, born of hell and all that rubbish. He seems to be our best candidate for fire."
"What?!?" Xander yelled. "Well if he's fire, then I'm the water that puts his pale un-dead ass out. Count me in."
Once again, Giles nodded his head.
"Yes, that makes sense as well. If Spike as a vampire represents fire, then Xander as a human would represent everything opposite of that: water. Brilliant. So, that leaves us . . . air?"
He looked around the room for affirmation.
"Oh, I've got that one covered," Cordelia noted casually.
A few doubtful glances were passed around the room.
"What?" She asked with a tone of incredulity to her voice. "Hello? Seer here, direct link to the Powers-that-Be. You know . . . those guys that we look up to the sky to . . . on a higher plane and all?"
A look of understanding came across the faces of the people in the room, finally getting her air connection.
"Geez," she mumbled under her breath, "feel like I'm talking to a Kindergarten class here."
"So, we have it settled then." Giles concluded. "Buffy is the warrior, Willow is Earth, Cordelia is Air, Spike is Fire, Xander is Water, and Angel is Spirit. Are we all in agreement?"
"Excellent. As for Wesley, Dawn, Anya, Tara and myself, we'll serve as anchors for the elemental sources. Buffy and Faith . . . the two of you will be in the middle and will be responsible for one another. Can you handle that?" Giles asked.
The two girls looked from Giles to one another, both with shy smiles on their faces.
"Yeah, I think I can handle that." Buffy stated, not taking her eyes from Faith's.
"I bled from the eyes, G-man. I think I can handle a little one-on-one time with the Buff," she stated, causing the group to laugh quietly.
Finally, Buffy turned her eyes away from Faith and looked towards Willow.
"So, Will . . . when do we do this?"
"Well, from what I read, on the eve of the new moon . . . which, conveniently enough, is tomorrow night."
"Great," Cordelia replied casually once again. "The sooner we do this, the sooner we can all go back to our normal lives, and hallelujah to that."
She received a few menacing glances and after a moment realized why she was getting them.
"Oh. Well, it's not that I don't like being here . . . in Sunnydale . . . and making big with the help, but . . . you know. It's Sunnydale: big with the creepiness, not so big with the fun," she defended herself.
"Hey!" Willow protested. "We have fun. We have lots of fun. In fact, living on top of a Hellmouth is a fun-a-palooza. Fun-ness abounds."
Cordelia rolled her eyes.
"Yeah, sure. Lots of fun. Remind me to plan a return visit in the near future . . . you know, for pleasure, not business," she said sarcastically.
"Speaking if fun," Xander interrupted, "what say we head over to the Bronze and partake in a little bit of it, seeing as that tomorrow is looking like a big fat unknown to all of us."
"I second that notion," Anya stated. "I could use a drink and this house is beginning to smell like corn-chips." Buffy shot her an annoyed glare. "What? It is. Too many sweaty people in a cramped environment seem to be causing the corn-chip effect. I'm not being rude, I'm being honest. Some people say that honesty is a virtue, you know."
"Yeah, well, some people say that silence is golden, and some other people say that you shouldn't say anything if you can't say something nice," Willow pointed out.
Anya snickered, "Yes, well those people are idiots."
Once again, the room broke out into laughter at the comment. Anya smiled in return and nodded her head proudly.
After a minute passed, Giles called for the attention of everyone in the room yet again.
"I think that's actually a good idea. A night of fun and relaxation might help you to focus more tomorrow on the chore at hand. Go out, be young and have fun. Just be sure to get a good night's sleep. We'll meet back here tomorrow afternoon to prepare and we'll begin the ritual just after dusk. Are we clear on this?"
"Clear as mud," Spike commented with a smirk.
"Wait, Giles . . . does this mean that you won't be joining us? I promise we won't make you dance or pretend to be a former member of the Beatles this time," Xander asked with a goofy grin.
Giles smiled, ceremoniously removing his glasses to wipe them with his shirt.
"As much as I appreciate the thought, I won't be joining you. There are a few books at my apartment that I'd like to consult before tomorrow, so I'll be making my way there tonight."
"I'm not going either," Angel quickly added. "I'm not really into the club scene, I'm . . ."
"Oh yes you are going, Mister. You're gonna go, you're gonna smile, you're going to drink a non-blood related beverage, and you're gonna dance with me too. Are we clear on that?" Cordelia cut in, giving him a death glare.
"Crystal clear. Guess I'm in," Angel responded, defeat filling his voice. "But I'm not dancing."
As the rest of the group began to get up to go, Faith coughed to get their attention.
"Guys, I hope you don't think I'm a party-pooper, but I'm gonna have to sit this one out. I'm havin' enough trouble with the walkin' and the standin'. There ain't no way that I gonna be able to drink and shake my money-maker all night long. But by all means, go. Have fun for me."
"That means I'm out too," Buffy commented. "I'm not leaving her here alone."
"Buffy!" Dawn squealed. "You have to go! I know that you're not gonna let me go without you and I don't want to miss out on the fun again."
"B, you can go. I'll be fine here. I'll just catch a movie on TV or somethin'. No big," Faith stated casually.
"No, I'm staying here. I told you before, I'm not leaving your side." She then turned to Dawn. "Dawnie, you can go. Xander, do you mind taking her with you and Anya?"
"Sure. I don't mind taking the Dawnster off your hands for awhile. If it looks like we're gonna be real late, I'll take her, Willow, and Tara back to my place, that way we don't have to disturb your beauty sleep."
"Thanks Xander," Buffy gave him a warm smile.
Everyone began to slowly file out of the living room. After about ten minutes, the house was empty except for the two slayers still seated side-by-side on the couch.
Both girls felt a little uncomfortable with the newfound silence in the house. That, along with their sudden alone-ness.
"B, you coulda went with them. I don't mind bein' alone," Faith stated shyly.
"I know. But, I do mind being alone."
"B . . . you woulda been surrounded by your friends, dancin' circles around each other, havin' a good time. That's not exactly what I call alone."
"To the average joe it isn't. But . . . I'm not anywhere near your normal everyday girl. For me, even when I'm with them, it's kinda lonely. Not that I don't appreciate and love each and every one of them because I really do, but they can sit back and have fun and just . . . let go. I'm always peering into the dark corner or alley, making sure that my friends are safe around me. Don't get me wrong; I like to have fun just as much as the next person, but it's hard when you're constantly looking over your shoulder, you know?"
"Yeah, I get it. Or, at least I think I do. See, it was always different for me. When I would go out, I'd have fun and just totally let go. Didn't have any friends to look after, yunno? Mighta been dangerous for me, but I could always handle myself. I guess that sometimes alone isn't so bad," Faith said with a shrug.
Once again, Buffy blew Faith away with what she was about to do.
"I have to disagree with you there, Faith . . ." Buffy began with a smile.
As if it was nothing, she swung her legs up onto the couch and laid back, placing her head and shoulders on the brunette's lap. ". . . I think that alone is completely overrated," she said with a smile and a laugh.
Faith just sat there frozen, her arms sticking out from her sides rigidly like a robot.
Buffy laughed at her response, or lack there of one.
"Geez, Faith, loosen up a little. Here, let me help you out there, Mrs. Roboto." She grabbed one of Faith's arms and rested it on the arm of the couch. She grabbed her other arm and draped if over her own stomach so that Faith was essentially holding onto her.
"See?" Buffy asked, smiling up at her. "This isn't so bad, is it?"
Faith took a deep breath and exhaled, relaxing a bit. She looked down at the girl in her lap and smiled.
"Nah, B. It's not so bad at all. In fact . . . 'not alone' seems to be pretty fuckin' awesome."
For a few minutes the two slayers engaged in small talk. Faith absentmindedly began to play with the blonde hair sprawled out on her lap. Buffy was playing with Faith's hand that lay across her stomach.
"So . . . TV. Are we going for infomercials or movie-of-the-week?" Buffy asked.
"Umm . . . you pick," Faith replied, not really caring what she put on, as long as she stayed in her current position.
"No, you pick. I don't know what you like. I'm easy," Buffy replied innocently, not realizing that Faith was taking the 'I'm easy' part in a different sense.
Faith chuckled, catching Buffy's attention. When the blonde looked up, she saw Faith waggling her eyebrows.
"You're easy, B? That's the best fuckin news that I've heard all week," she joked.
"Faith!" Buffy yelled between her laughs. "You know that's not what I meant." She went to give Faith a small punch on the arm, only to have her hand caught in mid-air.
"Now now, B, that's not very nice. You're not supposed to rough-up the handicapped girl. I'm afraid that I'm gonna have to teach you a lesson, little girl."
"Hey! I'm not little!" Buffy stated, starting to struggle half-heartedly against Faith's grip, trying to hold back her laughter. "I'm just vertically challenged. I still kick ass!"
A small play-struggle began between the two girls, both trying to gain the upper-hand. At some point during the battle, Buffy arched up, bringing her face dangerously close to Faith's.
They both froze when they noticed the intimate position that they were in. Here they were, Faith holding onto both of Buffy's wrists, both girls' lips parted, breathing heavy and gazing into one another's eyes, mere inches separating their faces.
Faith blinked hard trying to fight back her urge to close the small distance and kiss the girl beneath her.
Somehow, her urges were winning over. With the last ounce of restraint that she had left, she managed to utter a few hoarse words.
"B . . . I'm gonna kiss you."
She lightly loosened her grip on Buffy's wrists, giving her an ample opportunity to pull away.
Between rough breaths, Buffy quietly responded,
She broke one of her hands free from Faith's loose grip and placed it on the back of her head, pulling her down into a soft but scorching kiss.
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