Chapter Twenty

The kiss between the two slayers was soft and gentle, both girls exploring and simply getting used to the feel of one another's lips.

Buffy's moved her hand from the back of Faith's neck and was now tangled in her dark tresses. She thought that she should be feeling hesitant or scared even, but she wasn't. She felt strangely comfortable and at ease in the brunette's arms, enjoying the velvet-soft feel of her warm lips and silky hair. It felt like home.

The soft buzz that she usually felt through her body from the Slayer-connection had turned into something much more intense, almost as if an electric current was running through her. It wasn't unpleasant in the least sense. Instead, it was almost . . . euphoric.

Faith was feeling the exact same thing. It was hard to contain her happiness at that point. She hadn't even realized that she'd begun to smile into the kiss, drawing Buffy's attention.

The two girls finally broke apart, both being left a little breathless.

Buffy changed positions so that she was now sitting on the couch facing Faith rather than laying across her lap.

Faith noticed Buffy's change in position and quickly started feeling self-conscious. She thought that Buffy was going to be mad that she had kissed her. She lowered her head, waiting nervously for some sort of response.

Buffy saw how nervous Faith looked. The once big big Bad Faith was now acting like a shy schoolgirl and Buffy couldn't help but smile. Without hesitation, she put her fingers underneath Faith's chin and made her look up. She cupped her face with both hands and leaned in, placing a small kiss on the tip of her nose.

"Eww," Faith replied, trying to hide her smile, once again completely relieved that the blonde hadn't knocked her out.

"Eww?" Buffy asked incredulously, unable to hide the way she giggled "That was hardly the response I was hoping for."

"Well, ya kissed my nose, B. The very same nose that I was bleedin' from earlier. Hence, the eww. I think that maybe ya been hangin' around too much with the vamps that you're supposed to be dustin'."

"Yeah? Well, maybe I won't have to anymore now that you're here," Buffy replied, taking Faith's hand in her own.

Faith smiled at first, but her smile soon faded into a nervous frown and she looked down at her lap.

"Faith? What is it?"

"I'm sorry, B," Faith replied, keeping her eyes lowered.

"Sorry for what?"

"I'm sorry I kissed you like that . . ."

Buffy instantly froze. She wasn't regretting the kiss . . . so why was Faith?

". . . I shoulda had a little more control. You told me earlier that you wanted to just stay like this," she held up their intertwined fingers, "you know, be close without being too close. And here I am, mackin' on ya just an hour later."

Buffy smiled and relaxed a little.

"Faith, I wouldn't have let you kiss me if I didn't want it. It may have been a heat of the moment type of thing, but I don't regret it. In fact, I wouldn't be totally against doing it again," she replied shyly.

Faith's immediately looked up and she turned her head to look at Buffy. She put on her patented smirk and cocked her head to the side.

"Oh really? Guess I haven't lost my touch," she said cockily but in a joking manner. "I wouldn't mind a little instant replay either."

Buffy's shy smile quickly turned into a mischievous one. "So . . ."

"So . . ." Faith copied, her smirk still firmly in place. She made the first move the last time so she was going to wait for Buffy to initiate this time.

Without another word, Buffy leaned in and met Faith's lips in another kiss. Like the first time, electric-like currents traveled throughout their bodies.

The kiss quickly turned from soft and gentle into something more. Faith ran her tongue along Buffy's bottom lip and was surprised to find that the blonde had parted her lips in response, silently granting her entrance into her mouth.

Minutes passed as their tongues danced and desire rose. They pulled one another closer and closer, relishing the close contact that they had denied themselves for so long. Instinctively, Faith's arms wrapped around Buffy's back. Growing bolder, she ran her hands underneath her shirt and indulged in the soft feel of her skin.

Buffy, for her part, was also growing bolder. Her hands wandered from Faith's hair, down along her sides, and finally ended up near the hem of her shirt. Craving even more contact, she decided to push even further.

Hesitantly at first, she slipped her hand under the hem of Faith's shirt and placed her palms on the taut skin of her stomach. The simple gesture had elicited a small moan from Faith, which in turn caused Buffy to grow even bolder. She moved her previously immobile hands so that they were gently caressing and stroking Faith's stomach.

By this point, the two slayers were completely wrapped up in one another. Neither girl was pushing too far, yet neither seemed to be backing off in the least bit.

They were so distracted that neither girl heard the sound of footsteps coming up the porch or the sound of the front door opening. They were only brought out of their reverie when they heard a gasp.

"Ahh! Oh my goddess!" Willow gasped, quickly covering up her eyes with her hands. "I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I didn't mean to . . . I didn't know! I didn't see anything . . . except kissing . . . and hands up shirts . . . and, oh my goddess!" She stammered, trying to find her way out of the room with her eyes closed.

Buffy and Faith had jumped at the sudden intrusion, but neither had made any large-scale efforts to cover up what they were doing.

"Will, it's okay," Buffy said calmly. "What are you doing here anyway?"

"I, uh . . . I forgot my jacket . . . I, we turned around halfway there to come back and get it, but I don't think I need it anymore. Suddenly feeling very warm. Oh goddess! I'm just gonna go. Back to the car. And not talk to anyone. Going is good!"

"Willow, it's no big deal. You can open your eyes," Buffy said, smiling at the obvious embarrassment of her friend. She was wondering why she wasn't feeling embarrassed as well, but she couldn't come up with anything so she shrugged it off.

"No, that's okay . . . denial suits me fine, thank you. I'm just gonna go. So, umm . . . enjoy your evening. Bye!" She said as she made a mad-dash towards the exit, running into the door on the way. "Ow!"

The two slayers laughed as they heard the door open and close and listened to her footsteps quickly retreating from the house. Silence filled the room once again.

Both girls suddenly felt a bit shy.

"Well, I guess it's not gonna be a secret much longer," Faith hinted, looking anxiously at Buffy. She wanted to know how the older girl felt about the whole situation.

"I guess not," Buffy stated indifferently. It just didn't seem to bother her.

As if nothing had happened, Buffy casually threw a pillow onto Faith's lap and curled up next to her, resting her head on the pillow.

"So . . ." Buffy started as she smiled endearingly up at Faith, ". . . infomercials or movie-of-the-week?"

Faith chuckled and mussed up the girl's hair.

"Your choice, Easy-B."

They turned on the TV and spent the rest of the evening like that: Buffy curled up on Faith's lap with Faith stroking her hair.

None of the gang returned to the Summers' Residence that night. Giles stayed at his own apartment, Spike returned to his crypt, Angel, Cordelia and Wesley had gone back to the mansion, and Xander took the rest of the ladies back to his place, not wanting to take them home to Buffy's so late.

They'd all enjoyed their carefree evening but never forgot the task that they would be put up to the next day. The lack of Buffy and Faith from their little gathering was a sure reminder of that fact. They had all returned to their respective homes by midnight, wanting to get a good nights rest to save up their strength for the next day.

Buffy awoke to the sound of her friends in the lower-level of her house. She hadn't heard them come in; in fact, she hadn't heard much of anything the whole morning. As she began to move around a little, she realized that she had nestled herself nicely into Faith's embrace.

She opened up her eyes and glanced up to find a pair of chocolate-brown eyes gazing down at her.

She smiled.


"Hey," Faith answered back, her voice raspy with sleep.

"Were you watching me sleep?" Buffy asked playfully.

"Yeah, I was. But I kinda had no choice in the matter. I tried to get up about couple of hours ago but you had this death-grip on my waist. Figured I could think of worse ways to spend my time so I just kept my ass planted here."

"You could've woken me up, I . . . wait a minute. Did you say a couple hours?" Buffy asked, trying to sit up. Faith just nodded. "What time is it?"

Faith turned her head and glanced at the alarm clock.

"It's almost noon, B."

"What?!? I can't believe I slept that long! I'm normally an early riser. You must've rubbed off on me," Buffy added playfully.

"Is that an invitation?" Faith asked with a smirk, unable to ignore the perfect set-up that Buffy had innocently given her.

Buffy smacked her arm and giggled.

"Maybe another time. Will you settle for a good-morning kiss?"

Faith waggled her eyebrows.

"For now," she joked.

She pulled Buffy up to her and gave her a gentle but passionate kiss. Just like the night before, the kiss slowly started to build, distracting them just the same.

They were suddenly broken from the kiss when they heard yet another gasp.

"Aah!" They looked up to see Willow standing there once again, hands over her eyes. "You guys need to get a do not disturb sign or something."

"And to think that a simple knock coulda avoided this whole situation," Faith joked.

"Argh! I did knock, but you two Love-birds must have been distracted by something."

"Oops, sorry Will," Buffy laughed, finding the whole situation incredibly funny. "We'll have to get you a blindfold, or maybe some bells to tie on your ankles so we can hear you coming next time."

"Or maybe you should just have your hearing checked. Slayer senses? My hiney!" Willow responded, eliciting a laugh from the two slayers.

After a moment, she peeked through her hands to make sure that the girls were decent. She then removed her hands form her face and inched closer.

"Giles said to let you guys sleep until noon to get some extra-strength. He was about to send Dawnie up to get you guys but I jumped in, just in case I ran into something like this again."

"Thanks," Buffy said.

Silence ensued as Willow was clearly trying to figure something out in her head. She finally spoke up after a moment had passed.

"So . . . with all of the vicarious smoochies that I've been interrupting, I'm gonna go ahead and assume that the two of you have made up then?" She asked with a sly little smile.

"Yep," both slayers said simultaneously. Buffy continued, "We've come across a few realizations over the last couple of days. Faith has some kind of feelings for me . . ."

"It's a heart thing," Faith interrupted, nodding her head and saying it very nonchalantly while keeping eye contact with Willow. She didn't want to come right out and say love because she didn't want to freak Buffy or Willow out just yet.

". . . and," Buffy cut back in, "I can't stand the thought of being without her again."

"Meaning?" Willow hedged.

"Meaning I have feelings for her too. It took me almost losing her to realize that, I guess," Buffy replied shyly, a small blush creeping on her face. "Willow . . . are you okay with this? You're not gonna freak out, are you?"

"I'm five-by-five, Buff." Willow replied, earning a wink and a proud nod from Faith. "I think we've all accepted the fact that the past is the past and that Faith was simply a cute little leather-clad puppet, in the exact words of Cordelia. Plus, warm and cozy feelings? May give us an even better chance of winning this battle. I say rock on with your girl-loving selves."

Buffy and Faith laughed.

"Red ,I've gotta say . . . I like ya more and more every day."

"Thanks, Faith. And I definitely like the new and improved you: full of wit, smirks and innuendos, and lacking in the 'I want to kill my friends' area. Definitely a change for the better. Anyways, I'm gonna go back downstairs, make up some kind of cover story for why I was gone so long. I'll see you both in a while."

With that, Willow headed out of the room. The two slayers immediately got up from bed and got dressed before following her down to see the rest of the Scoobies.

The gang had spent most of the afternoon just talking and goofing around. Giles knew that they should have been preparing and reading further into the ritual, but he didn't want to deprive them of what could very well have been their last time together as a group.

The entire group was easily able to tell that there was something up between Buffy and Faith. They two girls didn't leave one another's side at any point during the day, excluding trips to the bathroom.

In any case, the light mood in the room started becoming more and more somber as dusk was quickly approaching. Awkward silences and strained glares began to fill the room, making just about everyone uncomfortable.

When dusk approached and the tension became just about unbearable, Faith finally decided to ease everyone's misery.

"Alrighty boys and girls . . . time to get our hands dirty. Who's with me?"

About ten minutes had passed and the gang had managed to move just about all of the furniture out of the living room. Willow and Tara had brought their supplies in the room, ranging from herbs and oils to crystals and books.

They began their preparations by pouring another ring of white sand, though larger than the one they had made last time. At five equally spaced points along the circle, they placed a crystal and a small satchel of blended herbs and roots. The crystals were to act as filters for the energy sources, and the herb-satchels were carefully concocted blends that made up a strong form of a protection spell for each of the five energy sources.

As Willow and Tara finished their work upon the circle, Giles began another task. He pulled out a glass vial with amber-colored oil in it. He called over the five sources, the warrior, and Faith and dabbed a small amount of oil on each of their foreheads.

"The members of the tribunal will only allow you in their presence if you have been anointed with this oil by a High Priest of the Radev Order. They would consider it blasphemous for you to go there without this."

"Umm, Giles," Xander interrupted, "I hate to burst your bubble, but I think they might know that you're not a High Priest of the Radish Order."

"It's Radev, and I am in fact a High Priest among its ranks."

"Since when?" Willow asked doubtfully.

The librarian stammered for a moment before finally telling the truth.

"Since last night. Internet certification is a wonderful thing, yes?"

He ignored the few stifled giggles that he received and finished up with the anointing.

"The last thing we need to arrange are the anchors. Perhaps the sources should take their seats among the circle."

At that point, Angel, Cordelia, Spike, Xander, and Willow made their way to the sand-circle and took their respective seats.

Buffy and Faith stood hand-in-hand in the corner of the room, neither wanting to step into the circle yet. To them, it almost felt as if they were stepping into doom. Even worse, they knew that anything they were going to say at that point would sound needy and desperate and possibly depressing, so they just watched on in silence.

"I'm going to be Xander's anchor," Anya stated. "Behind every good man is a good woman, and that's me."

"Fine, fine," Giles commented. "Wesley, would you pair with Cordelia?"

"Of course." He made his was over to a nervous-looking Cordelia and placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder.

"I'll pair with Willow," Tara commented, "I think I'll be the m-most useful to her."

"I agree," Giles stated. "That leaves Spike and Angel, and Dawn and myself."

"I'll take the 'lil bit," Spike quickly cut in, receiving a few glares. "What? Can I help it if I don't want a Tweed wearing middle-aged bloke over my back? No. The niblet is with me."

"Fine," Giles conceded. "That leaves Angel and I. Right then. I believe that we're just about ready to begin."

"Wait . . . that's all?" Buffy asked, sounding scared.

"Erm . . . yes, I believe so," Giles answered truthfully.

"But . . . what are we supposed to do? What is Faith supposed to do? Are you telling me that we're walking into this completely blind?"

"Buffy, I thought that we had pretty much established that fact yesterday. Willow knows what she has to say to begin the spell and the magic will lead us from there. The gateway will be activated and you will all be sent to the tribunal. I'm sure that they will help to guide Faith in her journey while she's there. Just . . . be prepared for anything. That's all I can tell you," Giles answered, trying to calm her a bit before they continued.

Still holding Buffy's hand, Faith began to step towards the circle, only to be jerked back.

"Faith, wait. I just want to tell you . . ."

"Buffy, stop," Faith interrupted as gently as she could. "Anything you're gonna say is gonna sound like goodbye, so . . . just hold on to it till we finish this, 'kay?" She squeezed Buffy's hand, trying to put on a brave face, but she was terrified inside; she thought that this was her end, for sure.

Buffy gave her a small smile, blinking back her unshed tears. After a moment, she let Faith lead her to the circle and they stepped into it together, hand in hand. Willow had arranged two pillows in the center so that the slayers could lay back onto them. The two girls immediately laid down next to one another, hands clasped in a death-grip.

As the anchors stepped up and took their positions, they were finally ready to begin.

"Well . . . this is it. After I begin the first incantation, there's no going back. Is anyone having any second thoughts?" Willow asked.

"Yes!" Several people yelled out jokingly, trying to lighten up the mood a little.

"Okay, that's normal, but totally unacceptable. We're in this together now, right?"

Everyone nodded in agreement.

"Alright, let's begin then." She glanced around the room one more time, making sure to make eye contact with every last person there. Finally, she closed her eyes and began the incantation.

Upon completing the words, the sand began to glow a fierce red color, enveloping everyone in the room this time.

"Here goes nothing," Willow added before starting the second part of the spell. She uttered some words in Latin and suddenly, bright white light began to emit from the five power sources.

"Excellent," Xander commented, "I'm a flashlight!"

Willow muttered a few more words, finally finishing the spell. In an instant, the five sources fell back into the arms of their respective anchors, seemingly passed out. Buffy and Faith, who had been anxiously looking around from the middle of the circle, also seemed to pass out a moment later.

Faith had been nervous when she had entered the circle. She became even more nervous as she watched the five sources pass out just moments before she followed suit. She didn't remember what had happened during the time that she was passed out, but now she felt herself lying on a floor, her eyes still closed.

She heard a sound, similar to an echo of something dropping in a large hall. Realizing that she was no longer in the Summers' living room, she slowly opened one eye, then the other.

Quickly scrambling up from the floor, Faith took in her surroundings.

She felt really disturbed. Not because of the large void of a room that she seemed to be standing in. Not because of the three robed figures who stood staring at her on marble-laden throne. Not because a small trickle of blood had worked its way down from her nose.

She was disturbed because she was standing there . . . alone.

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