Chapter Twenty Two

Everyone stood watching the two Slayers, wide-eyed and open-mouthed.

They were already confused by the fact that as a group, they were so openly and unselfishly willing to give up a part of themselves for Faith. They didn't question why they did it . . . they just knew that they were there to help, they wanted to help, and that it just felt like the right thing to do. The only thing to do.

But Buffy's little contribution to Faith had completely shocked them all. Actually, it wasn't really more of a surprise than anything. Willow had known about Faith's 'heart thing' for Buffy, but she wasn't aware that Buffy was feeling the exact same thing. Angel and Cordelia had heard Faith's confession of love in the car, and it wasn't hard to see over the course of the last few days that Buffy had some sort of feelings as well. After Spike's discussion with Faith, he knew that she loved the older Slayer, and he could also feel the sense of need and caring in Buffy towards Faith.

Xander, on the other hand, was completely in the dark. He had never been Mr. Perceptive, so he hadn't the vaguest idea of the extent of Buffy and Faith's feelings for one another. He stood there now in his own clueless little world, wondering what Buffy's offering meant exactly.

Faith, for her part, stood there holding both of Buffy's soft hands in her own, trying to contain her emotions. Part of her was ecstatic that the other girl might be feeling the same 'heart thing' that she was feeling. The other part of her was scared at what the implications of Buffy's surrender of her heart might be. She'd love nothing more than to have the love of the other girl, but not because she had to give something, and not at the cost of her having to lose something in the meanwhile.

Still, despite her reservations and conflicting thoughts, she couldn't help the small smile that escaped her. She nervously began to swing their interlaced hands, rubbing her thumb across the top of Buffy's hands.

The gang watched as she opened her mouth to say something to Buffy. However, no sound came out. She shook her head a little to regain her senses and tried again, only to have the same results.

Suddenly, she gasped aloud as her body went rigid and began to shake. Buffy caught the girl just as she was about to fall backward, cradling her in her arms as they hit the ground together.

"What's happening?!?" Buffy yelled up at Balthazor, Ilaya, and Magnus as her friends came running over to assist her.

The three robed figures looked at one another in confusion.

"This is not our doing," Magnus explained in an almost scared tone, looking to his brethren.

After a realization, Ilaya spoke up.

"It is the curse: it has been broken. An act of love has been displayed here. Several acts of love, in fact. This must be part of the devolution or revocation of the dark magic."

The gang watched nervously as Faith lay there shaking, far from consciousness but whimpering in pain nonetheless.

"This is wrong . . ." Buffy muttered as she stared intently at Faith, gently stroking her hair. "Something isn't right here."

As if on cue, a slight trickle of blood ran out of Faith's nose and eyes, leaving trails as they streamed down her face.

"Oh God!" Buffy exclaimed, beginning to sob. "Something's really wrong here. She's dying!" She lifted her gaze from Faith to the robed figures. "You have to help her! We – I can't lose her again!"

The three figures looked back and forth between one another, pained expressions on their faces.

"Child . . . the process has already begun," Ilaya stated sadly. "There is still a void where she lacks the part of her soul. The curse must have had some sort of unwritten clause or loophole . . . it looks as if it was meant to self-destruct all along. I'm afraid there is nothing we can do at this point."

Buffy exhaled sharply, tears now falling freely down her face. She looked to her group of friends, expecting them to have some sort of an answer.

Angel understood her look and he instantly turned towards the three figures.

"There has to be something we can do. Nothing is ever definite . . . we can stop this. Can't we?"

Magnus stepped forward, a contemplative look on his face.

"There may be one solution, but as you said, nothing is definite. Anything could happen. We can try to put something into the void; try to short-circuit the curse before it self-destructs. But we don't have much time. Take advantage while you still can."

"Therein lies a problem." Balthazor stepped forward, suddenly seeming concerned. "Though our powers are great, they take time to work. We won't be able to conjure up a soul in such a short amount of time."

Buffy sighed. She quieted her sobs, then stopped crying altogether, a determined look on her face. She calmly lifted her head and looked towards the figures.

"So take a part of mine. I can live with half a soul, Faith can't." She looked down at Faith and a loving smile appeared on her face. "Take mine."

"No Buffy, you can't!" Willow stated nervously, putting a comforting hand on Buffy's shoulder.

"I have to do this, Will. I have to," Buffy replied, laying her hand on top of Willow's.

Willow paused and stared intently at Buffy. It looked as if she was working something out in her head. Suddenly, she burst out, "No, Buff. You can't. It's too risky. We need to find another way."

A moment of silence passed. Xander timidly raised his hand.

"I have a really bad idea," he began and all eyes fell on him. "Why don't we all give up a little piece of our soul? Except for Spike, because he doesn't have one. Oh, and not Angel either, because he gave up the whole permanence thing and Angelus is all we need right now to make this day perfect. But, the rest of us: we give a little. It's like putting together a recipe: mix ¼ Xander, ¼ Cordy, ¼ Willow, and ¼ Buffy, stir vigorously and gently pour into Faith. Could that work?"

Everyone turned to face the three robed figures, anxiously awaiting a reply to the semi-crazy idea.

"It could," Magnus answered, intrigued. "Would you all be willing to make that sacrifice for her, knowing that it could very well be a lost cause?"

There was an awkward pause.

"Is it gonna hurt?" Cordelia asked.

Magnus chuckled.

"Not if we do it right."

The four Scoobies involved made eye contact and came upon a silent agreement, nodding their heads affirmatively.

"Fine then, let's do it. Just get it right!" Cordelia stated flatly.

Ilaya stepped down from the marble platform and neared the group.

"Quickly. Those who are involved, gather around Faith. Lay your hands on her and close your eyes. Make sure they remain shut until we say; the magic we use is strong and your entire soul may try to escape if given the opportunity."

Xander, Willow, Cordelia, and Buffy all took a step closer to Faith and lay their hands on her, closing their eyes. Spike and Angel stepped back, observing from a safe distance.

"Any last remnants of doubt?" Ilaya asked. No one responded, so she inferred that they were ready to begin.

Balthazor and Magnus joined their sister among the others. The three of them joined hands and began to chant, focusing all of their energies upon the group before them. After about a minute or so of chanting, a bright golden light began to emit from within Buffy, Willow, Xander, and Cordelia. They gasped slightly as the light escaped from their mouths and hovered just in front of them. They didn't need to open their eyes to see it . . . the brilliance of the color could be felt through closed eyes.

The three figures began a new chant as the four golden light sources hovered in the air. Suddenly, the four lights converged into one and it began to erratically fly around the room. Angel and Spike ducked as it charged at them, narrowly avoiding being hit by it.

"Bloody hell!" Spike yelled, trying to regain his bearings. He watched the golden light fly around the room and he yelled at it, "Not me you sodding poor excuse for a light bulb! The girl! Go into the girl!"

Just as the light began to head back in Faith's direction, it made a quick turn and crashed into Spike, going directly through him before taking off in yet another direction. It jolted him enough so that he stumbled forward, losing his balance.

Angel tried to stop Spike's fall, but it was too late. The blonde vampire crashed into the small marble pillar, knocking it over along with the glass orb that held their surrenders. He reached out to grab the orb before it hit the ground but he wasn't quick enough. The glass orb shattered into a million pieces, scattering the multi-colored array of lights into the surrounding air.

"Oh bollocks," Spike muttered, not moving to get up from his place on the ground. The three figures looked at him annoyed, but continued their chanting.

In a weird twist of events, the colored lights from the orb suddenly began to merge with the golden light. The newly combined light began to whip around the room even more erratically, whipping through each and every person before finally slamming into Faith.

The three figures ceased their chanting, and calm returned to the room.

"You may open your eyes," Ilaya stated.

The four Scoobies opened their eyes and anxiously looked down at Faith. She laid their limp, no longer whimpering nor doing much of anything.

"Did . . . did it work?" Buffy asked timidly, not taking her eyes from Faith.

"That is yet to be revealed, child," Magnus stated coyly. "We know not of what will happen once you return to your time and place."

Spike stood up awkwardly.

"Uh, yeah. I'm sorry about the orb thingy, but you should've bleedin' warned me about that!" He said, trying to defend himself.

Magnus chuckled.

"Yes, I suppose we should have. Of course, there may be some unexpected consequences now. Only time will reveal. On that note, our work is done here. We have done all that we can do for you." He, along with Ilaya and Balthazor, mounted the marble throne one last time. "This tribunal is therefore concluded. Go in peace, and take care of one another, for your destinies are now tied together."

Magnus and Ilaya gave warm smiles and Balthazor just looked on indifferently before they faded out into nothing.

The group of friends sat there only for a moment before being tugged out of the marble hall and back into the Summers' living room.

Buffy sat up with a start. She immediately looked down to see that she and Faith were still holding hands. The simple gesture brought a smile to her face. She noticed that everyone was slowly beginning to get up from their spots along the circle, still a little dazed, but fine nonetheless.

However, her smile faded when she looked down to greet Faith and found that the girl was not waking from the ritual. Her eyes remained closed, blood-red stains on her cheeks and under her nose.

"Faith?" Buffy asked, placing her free hand on her shoulder and giving her a little shake.

No response.

"Faith?" She asked a little louder, shaking Faith's shoulder more vigorously.

Again, no response.

Buffy immediately looked up towards Giles and those who had stayed behind as anchors.

"Did anything happen to her while we were gone? Has she been like this, so unresponsive, the whole time?" She asked nervously.

Giles frowned, choosing his words.

"The entire lot of you were unresponsive. However, as you all remained motionless, she started taking ragged breaths and whimpered a bit. We thought the worst when we saw the blood from her eyes and nose again. Just before you all returned, her breathing became shallow and she quieted. There was nothing we could do . . . we had to stay where we—"

"It's okay, Giles, I know," Buffy stated understandingly. She turned back towards Faith, and the room fell incredibly silent.

Buffy re-positioned herself so that she was kneeling next to the brunette, slightly hovering over her. In a gentle and loving gesture, she took Faith's hand in her own again and began to run her other free hand through her dark tresses. She spoke in a tone just above a whisper.

"Faith? Faith, baby? Listen to my voice. Don't give up. You can't. You're so close to coming home." A tear fell from her eyes and ran down her face. "They fixed you, Faith. We fixed you. It was a close call, but we came together and we fought. For you. We did it for you, Faith. So you need to wake up and you need to open your eyes."

The brunette lay there, motionless.

Buffy seemed to lose her cool just a little. Her emotions began to run over, beginning to cry just a little harder.

"Dammit, Faith, wake up! Open your eyes!" Her words were louder and somewhat strangled as she choked back the sobs that were trying to break forth. "You can't die! I – we gave up pieces of ourselves for you. I know you're not dead yet because if you were, I would feel that little piece of me die too. And trust me, if you die, a part of me will die too. You can't leave me, Faith. We only just found each other."

The others in the room remained completely silent. Willow turned into Tara's embrace, silent tears running down her face. Angel held Cordelia who had also begun to shed tears at witnessing the exchange between the two Slayers. A few others sniffled, definitely feeling the pain that Buffy was going through.

Buffy paused for a moment, waiting to see if her words were having any response on the girl. Still, nothing. She made a noise; sort of a half-chuckle, half-sob.

"God, Faith. I know you're still in there somewhere. Just open your eyes. There is no more void; there are no more places for the darkness to trap you. Let me be your light. Just . . . open your eyes and see me. You have to get through this, because if you don't, I don't know if I'll be able to get through this. This moment. This day. This year. This life."

She paused, trying to figure out what to say that the girl in front of her needed to hear. Suddenly, it became perfectly clear to her. It was all becoming clear to her. She smiled through her tears and moved her hands to cup Faith's face.

"I need you, Faith." She leaned in so that she was just an inch away from her face and she whispered, "I love you." She smiled whole-heartedly before closing the remaining distance and placing a loving kiss on the girls' lips.

It was all clear to her now. She didn't care what her friends thought. She didn't care what anyone thought. She had always felt inexplicably close to Faith but she never understood why. Now, she knew. They were two sides of the same coin. Their Slayer-bond made them cosmic soul-mates, and now, Buffy's soul contribution made them actual soul-mates. And she loved her. It was that simple.

The entire group watched on in amazement. They thought that they should have felt shock or surprise or even anger at Buffy's admission. But they didn't. They only felt the warmth and love that Buffy was pouring into Faith and that was enough to stave off any other feeling in the room.

Suddenly, the group gasped collectively as they saw Faith's eyelids begin to flutter.

Buffy immediately sat back, watching intently as Faith finally began to open her eyes. Upon seeing the chocolate-brown eyes gazing up at her, she finally let her emotions get the best of her.

She began to cry for joy with a big smile on her face. She leaned in and gave Faith a long, passionate kiss, so overwhelmed by her emotions and feelings for the girl.

When she finally pulled back, she saw a smirking Faith looking back at her.

"Mmm. That was kinda nice, B. I wake up and you're goin' all Romeo on me, and with an audience no less," Faith joked, her voice a little hoarse.

Buffy laughed, but suddenly stopped and put on her best version of Willow's resolve face.

"Don't you EVER do anything like that to me again! I thought you were dead! I thought you left me again!" Buffy said in her best stern voice, but she couldn't contain the smile that was itching to get out.

Faith's smirk turned into a genuine loving smile. She laid her hands on Buffy's, which were still cupping her face. "Nahh, B. I'm not going anywhere. I'll never leave ya . . . that is, unless you want me to."

Buffy scoffed.

"I don't think so. I'm not letting you out of my sight any time soon! Besides . . . you owe me. And Willow. And Cordy. And Xander. Oh! And let's not forget Spike and Angel. It seems that you've got a little of all of us in you now. Entangled destinies, according to the tribunal. Guess that means you're stuck with us for good," she stated with a smile.

Faith beamed.

"I wouldn't have it any other way." She pulled Buffy down to her for another passionate kiss, the two girls completely ignoring the cheering and whooping from within the room.

"I love you," Faith whispered against Buffy's mouth, just barely loud enough for the other girl to her.

Buffy smiled into the kiss.

"I love you, too," she said just as softly.

After about an hour, the buzz in the room had slowly begun to die down.

Angel, Wesley, and Cordelia were already planning on leaving for LA a little later that evening. They figured that things needed to get back to normal around Sunnydale, and that they were needed in LA.

The entire group now lay sluggishly around the living room, enjoying the last of one another's company.

Those that had gone before the tribunal began to talk about what they had given up and about the events that had gone on there in general.

"I can't believe I gave up my power for you," Willow said jokingly to Faith.

Faith laughed.

"Yeah, well, I can't believe you did either, Red," she playfully tossed a pillow at the red-head.

The entire gang jumped back in shock when Willow put out her hand to block the pillow and it stopped dead in mid-air.

"What the hell?" Faith asked, quickly sitting forward to examine the situation. "I thought you said you gave up your power, Red. You holdin' back on us?"

Willow looked confused.

"No . . . I DID give up my powers. What . . . what's going on?" She responded blankly.

Tara sat forward and looked intently at Willow as if she was trying to read her. Then she turned and looked among the others who had also given up something. A smile appeared on her face.

"D-did something happen to the container that held your surrenders?" Tara asked shyly.

Spiked shifted uncomfortably.

"Yeah . . . well, the bleedin' thing shattered, but it wasn't my fault! There was a golden light-ball chasing after me, and I tripped and fell. It just tipped right on over."

Tara giggled at the realization.

"You guys didn't lose your surrenders. They returned to you, but . . . new and improved. They'd intermingled with one another, so, you got back what you surrendered, along with a little bit of what everyone else surrendered."

The five sources all looked on a little excitedly, happy that they perhaps didn't lose any part of themselves.

Giles stood up.

"Might I ask what you all chose to forfeit?"

Willow answered for the group.

"Well, me and Cordy gave up our power, Xander gave up his innocence, Spike gave up his immortality, and Angel gave up the permanence of his soul."

"Whoa! Does that mean that we're all immortal now?" Xander asked excitedly.

"I rather think not," Giles answered. "We'll have to look further into it. Did anything else interesting happen?"

Spike answered.

"The golden soul light mixed with our surrenders, and they zinged through all of us before jumpin' into the rogue over there." He pointed towards Faith.

Tara's eyes got wide, and she smiled.

"Wait . . . are you saying that the soul light passed through each and every one of you?"

Spike nodded mockingly.

Tara laughed. "Well, that w-would make you all soul-mates, then."

Spike scoffed.

"'Cept for me, love. Can't be a soul-mate without a soul. No soul here, case dismissed." A triumphant look came across his face.

Tara smiled sweetly at the blonde vampire.

"No, you're wrong, Spike."

"Hey, Glinda, I think I know what I'm talking 'bout here. No soul equals no soul-mate. It's not that hard to figure out. 'Sides . . . there's no way that I'd ever be Peaches' soul-mate." He cast a disgruntled glance towards Angel, earning one in return.

Tara smiled again.

"No, Spike, you're right about that part."

"Then what are you bloody goin' on about, pet?" He asked impatiently.

Now, it was Tara's turn to put on the triumphant face.

"Case not dismissed. You have a soul, Spike. Or, at least you do now," she said matter-of-factly.

Spike blinked hard, paused, then scoffed.

"What? That's bloody ridiculous, I . . . it's not . . . I . . ." he paused again, cocking his head to the side as he drew in and held a deep breath, finally conceding, "Oh, bloody hell."

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