Chapter Twenty-Three

Buffy picked her brain, trying to figure out who her mother could be talking about. There was a girl at school named Dawn but Joyce had never met her. The real estate agent who'd sold them their house was named Dawn, but she was like sixty and way too geriatric to be a slayer.

"Buffy, don't be silly. This is a very scary time for me! First you're the slayer and now your sister is? I don't think I can handle this."

Suddenly Buffy froze, her brow furrowing impossibly more. Someone had to be playing some kind of a trick on her. A terrible, confusing trick that would result in asses getting kicked, for sure.

"What are you talking about?" she asked.

"Your sister! The council showed up here with her watcher today and told me that they need to begin her training immediately."

"I don't have a sister," Buffy replied slowly.

"Ha ha, Buffy. That was endearing when you were three and we brought her home from the hospital but the novelty has worn off."

Buffy's eyes were filled with both concern and anger and when she looked over at Faith, she could see that the girl was paying keen attention to what was going on. She put her mouth over the mouthpiece and spoke quietly to her.

"Something weird is going on. The council showed up at my house and tried to tell my mom that my little sister is the new slayer."

"Damn. Guess I really did die then," Faith said, shaking her head slightly. Suddenly her brow furrowed as she realized something and she did a double-take. "Wait, you have a sister?"

"No!" Buffy replied, frustrated. "Hence the ‘something weird is going on' part. They're up to something."

"The council?" Faith asked and Buffy nodded.

"The one and only. They couldn't find you so they did something. A spell, something; I don't know. But whatever they did, they messed up because you're still alive."

"But now your mom thinks you have a baby sis and she let the enemy come prancing right into the middle of your living room," Faith stated rather than asked.

Buffy could hear her mother calling her name down the phone line but she couldn't reply; not when she knew Joyce would just refute anything she had to say about the subject matter. Biting nervously on her lower lip, she made a decision.

"I can't ask you to go back with me . . ."

"You don't have to," Faith interrupted. "They killed me once already yet I live to see another day. We need to get back there and figure out what's goin' on, make sure your mom's safe."

"It'll be risky. The mayor's still there and we're not sure what's going on with the council and whatever they're up to."

While she wanted to get home as soon as possible, she didn't want to put Faith at risk in doing so. Especially after what they'd shared the night before.

"If your mom's tellin' the truth, the council already has a new slayer so I shouldn't be their number one priority right now. Let's just get back. I'll deal with whatever shit gets thrown at me once we get there."

Buffy held her gaze for a few moments and then nodded; they didn't really have much of a choice right now. Faith might not be entirely safe going back to Sunnydale but it was better than her staying in Montana alone; if another mystical attack occurred, no one would be able to save her if they were all in California.

She moved her hand from the mouthpiece and interrupted her mother's frantic ramblings.

"Mom, we're coming back. Please, just . . . call Giles. Tell him that something weird is going on and to start sniffing around. Don't let any council people in the house. In fact, close and lock the doors and windows. If you can get this Dawn person to stay on the other side of them, even better."

"Buffy Anne . . ." Joyce began warningly but Buffy cut her off.

"Just be careful. I'll see you soon."

She closed the small phone and took a deep breath, gazing out across the vast expanse before them. Faith's right hand clasped over her shoulder from behind but she could barely feel it; her entire body was going numb at the thought of some interloper squatting in her house and pretending to be her sister.

Giles wasn't kidding; the council really did seem to have some serious mojo up its sleeve, and they would need it when she got back there and figured out exactly what was going on. No way would she let them get away with nearly killing Faith and with using magic against her mother. It was time that they learned that they couldn't just do that to people.

After several tense minutes, Faith finally spoke.

"You just gonna stand there and do the angry staring thing all day or are we gonna head back and pack our shit up so that we can get gone?"

Buffy turned and looked at her, holding her gaze for a few seconds. She was angry, she was confused, and most of all, she was scared. If something bad happened to her mom . . . she didn't think she'd ever be able to forgive herself. The council had once again gone one step too far . . . and she wasn't going to stand for it anymore.

"Let's go."

Their flight back to California was just as tense as their first plane ride together but that had less to do with Faith's nerves and more with their combined concern for what was going on back in Sunnydale. They'd packed up only what they'd come with and left the rest behind for Charlie and Sue, thanking them for their kindness – and for the ride to the airport.

The drink cart approached and Buffy looked up at the flight attendant, startled out of her thoughts.

"Beverage, ladies?"

Faith and Buffy looked at one another and then back to the flight attendant.

"Whiskey," Faith replied.

"Make that two," Buffy said.

"Sure," the flight attendant said pleasantly. "ID, please?"

Faith sighed and looked out the window. "Pepsi."

"Make that two," Buffy repeated dejectedly, following Faith's gaze out the window.

The flight attendant filled two clear plastic glasses for them and left them on their trays before moving on to the next row of people. Buffy took a sip from the cup and then set it down on the tray table so she could rest her head back and close her weary eyes. It wasn't long before she could feel someone looking at her and when she opened her eyes, Faith was doing just that.

"I can feel the tension coming offa you in waves," Faith said.

"Nothing like a nice cold Pepsi to settle ones nerves," Buffy said sarcastically and took another sip from her cup.

Faith frowned and did the same, then began to look around the small plane cabin. After a few seconds her eyes lit up and she grinned a little. "Think I found a way I can help with the tension."

"If you ask me to meet you in the bathroom in two minutes to join the mile high club, the answer is no," Buffy preempted her and Faith instantly deflated.

Sinking down lower into her seat, Faith took another sip of her Pepsi and sighed. "Then I'm outta ideas."

Buffy couldn't help but chuckle at Faith's sudden downheartedness. She reached over and put her hand on Faith's thigh, squeezing gently. "It's not that I don't want to. There's . . . a whole lot of want there, in fact," she explained, choosing her words carefully.

"I get it," Faith said with a slight nod. "Not the right time."

"Not really, no," Buffy replied, smiling sadly. "Settle for a rain check?"

Faith thought about it for a moment and shrugged. "Sure, whatever. If you really think Giles'll spring for airfare again just so we can get our naughty on, I'm down."

Buffy opened her mouth to reply but the sound of the Captain on the speaker announcing their descent was enough to make Faith sit up straight in a panic. While the brunette fiddled with her seatbelt and pulled it tighter than was possibly comfortable, Buffy made sure her own belt was fastened and gathered Faith's nearly-empty plastic glass up together with hers.

"I'll tell you everything'll be fine if you tell me everything's gonna be fine," Faith said, resting her head back against the headrest as the flight attendant leaned over to take away their glasses.

"But do you mean it?" Buffy asked, making Faith open her eyes and look over with an eyebrow raised. "Do you really think everything's going to be okay?"

Faith reached over and interlaced her fingers through Buffy's, giving her hand a reassuring squeeze.

"Gonna be five by five, B. You and me on the same team again? Nothin' or nobody can stop us."

"And this supposed ‘sister' of mine that's the new slayer?"

This time Faith grinned. "If she's as green as I was when I met ya, you'll be able to kick her ass no problem."

Buffy couldn't help but smile a little despite her remaining unease. "Thanks, Faith."

"No problem," Faith replied. "Now tell me we ain't gonna crash or I'm takin' it all back."

Shaking her head, Buffy squeezed Faith's hand and chuckled. "We're gonna be just fine."

The taxi driver pulled over on Revello Drive just in front of Buffy's house and came to a slow stop. He put the car in park and hopped out to help Faith with the bags from the trunk but Buffy stayed where she was in the back seat, staring at her house through the closed window. It looked exactly the same with the exception of a bike that was definitely not hers resting against the front porch and a new pair of curtains on the spare bedroom window upstairs. She could vaguely make out the shape of someone standing just beyond the window and watching her; it made her skin crawl.

There was some stranger in there pretending to be her little sister. Just the very thought of it made her shudder and she took a deep breath, finally making her way out of the car. Faith already had all of the bags in her arms and was waiting for Buffy to lead the way.

"Think it's wise for me to go in there?" Faith asked, her gaze locked on the figure in the upstairs window.

"It's probably not wise for either of us to be in there without knowing who that is or what she thinks she's doing," Buffy said, staring up at the window as well. "But my mom is even less safe, so . . . into the belly of the beast we go."

Buffy moved to take a step down the concrete walkway but stopped when she felt Faith's hand on her arm.

"Not exactly what I meant," Faith said quietly. "Your ma . . . you really think she wants me here?"

"She's always liked you Faith. When I told her I was off to find and help you, I had her support. When I told her we were off to the middle of nowhere together, I had her support. That room up there?" Buffy pointed to the spare room and when they looked up, the figure standing there quickly stepped back and out of sight, "It's supposed to be yours now. She's always wanted you there."

"And you?" Faith asked.

Buffy took a deep breath and met Faith's gaze, holding it through the several seconds of silence that fell between them as Faith waited for her answer.

"I want you in there too," Buffy finally admitted. What that meant for the two of them she wasn't sure, and honestly, it wasn't really the time to get into it.

"Then I guess we better get in there and evict the impostor, huh."

Giving Faith a thankful look for not pushing it any further, she nodded and led the way up the short walkway, her gaze fixed on the front door the entire time. When it swung open as she reached the top of the porch steps, she fell into fighting stance and waited for the attack to come.

The only thing that came, however, was a huge hug from her mother which nearly sent them flying backwards off of the porch. If not for Faith standing behind her, she would have been horizontal on the ground below.

"Oh Buffy, I'm so happy you're home!" Joyce said, her arms still wrapped tightly around her daughter. "We've been so worried about you."

"I'm happy to be home, Mom," Buffy said, patting Joyce's back gently while simultaneously trying to peek over her shoulder and into the house. "We both are."

As if suddenly remembering the reason for Buffy's absence, Joyce pulled back and looked at Faith, then pulled her into a hug as well. Faith couldn't quite hug back with the bags still in her arms but she let herself be hugged, her eyes wide as she looked at Buffy over Joyce's shoulder.

"Faith, honey, I'm so glad that you're okay. Buffy told me what happened; I can't believe the council would do something like that to you! I know Buffy has had some problems with them in the past but they've been nothing but pleasant since they arrived."

"Imagine that," Faith said, still looking at Buffy. When Joyce pulled back, Faith put on a fake smile and tried to be pleasant. "I'm just happy B was there to save me."

"We all are," Joyce replied with a nod. "Dawn knew something bad had happened before anyone else did. I don't know how this slayer stuff works and I'm not sure I want the insider details, but she felt something come over her. Then the council showed up and she knew exactly what had happened to her and that something terrible must have happened to you for that to happen. Lots of happening; too much for just one mother to handle, I think."

Buffy reached out and put her hand on Joyce's shoulder, grasping it gently. Joyce looked over at her and gave her a tired smile.

"I'm sorry you had to go through all of that on your own," Buffy said.

"Luckily I wasn't completely alone," Joyce admitted. "Giles has been wonderful, trying to be a liaison for us with the council while counseling Dawn on her new . . . slayerness, I guess. He just left a little while ago. Willow and Xander have been great, too. They're upstairs with her now. They've been here since you called this morning."

"They're alone with her?" Buffy asked incredulously, a wave of fear hitting her. If Willow and Xander were alone with that thing upstairs and they weren't frightened out of their pants, that had to mean that they were under some kind of a spell as well. Giles too, for that matter.

And that thing could be doing all kinds of evil things to them in the absence of prying eyes!

When Joyce furrowed her brow in confusion and nodded, Buffy charged past her and ran up the stairs, heading toward what she knew was supposed to be the spare bedroom. Her footsteps echoed loudly through the halls – along with Faith and Joyce's as they ran up after her – and Willow and Xander were already standing alert when Buffy reached the doorway. They looked slightly panicked which threw Buffy into a complete protective rage. She blew past them, ignoring their protests, and grabbed the unfamiliar brunette by her shirt, tossing her against the wall. The young girl looked both surprised and angry and Buffy stepped in close, keeping her trapped there with her forearm against her chest.

"Who are you and what are you doing in my house?" Buffy asked, slowly enunciating each word.

"You are seriously violating my territorial bubble," the girl grunted as she tried to wriggle free. Buffy pressed harder against her, slamming her back into the wall once again.

"Buffy!" Joyce and Willow cried aloud when they heard the impact of the brunette's body smashing against the wall again.

"I asked you a question," Buffy said through clenched teeth.

"Hey Buff," Xander tried, awkwardly stepping up to her side despite his obvious fear. "Maybe you can let up on the angry slayer routine and put your sister down for a bit. You're scaring everyone."

Buffy looked down and saw that she was indeed holding the girl up about an inch off the floor. The drywall behind her creaked with the pressure with which Buffy was holding her against it.

"She's not my sister!" she yelled, staring into the girl's eyes once again. "And you guys are obviously under the spell too!"

"Spell? Buffy, there's no spell!" Joyce tried, panic in her voice despite her attempt at being calm. "Dawn is your sister. She always has been and always will be. The two of you may not always get along but you love each other and you have to stop acting like this! You might hurt her."

"Everyone seems to be forgetting something," Dawn grunted. "I'm a slayer now too."

A dangerous look crossed her face and the corner of her lips tugged up in a little smirk. Suddenly she leaned to the side and when she straightened up, she brought her elbow back hard and slammed Buffy against the side of the head.

Buffy dropped Dawn and staggered back, her hand instantly clutching her temple where a bruise was sure to form. Her head was swimming and she shook it lightly, trying to get her bearings once again. That hadn't been a hit by some punk teenage girl.

That was a hit from a slayer.

Maybe Dawn was indeed the new slayer, but Buffy still knew one thing for certain: she sure as hell wasn't her sister, and she sure as hell didn't belong in her house with her mother and her friends. Growling deep in her throat, she reared back and prepared to pounce. Dawn dropped into a fighting stance – sloppy and untrained – and Buffy couldn't wait to see just how hard she could kick her ass before she caved and told the truth about what was going on.

She never got the chance though; a pair of strong arms grabbed her from behind and lifted her back and out of the room. She squirmed and struggled as she watched her mother and Willow run to the stranger's side, making sure that she was okay. Xander stepped out into the hall and followed along as Faith dragged Buffy back to her bedroom, kicking and screaming the entire time. His eyes were wide as he watched Buffy, obviously unaccustomed to seeing her this way.

Faith tossed Buffy into the room and when Buffy tried to run out, Faith blocked her way and looked into her eyes.

"B, stop! Chill the fuck out for a minute." When Xander tried to step inside, Faith stopped him as well, acting as a door between him and Buffy. "Give us a few minutes, Xan. B needs some time to calm down."

He looked at her warily and then over to Buffy, concern written across his face. "Are you sure she's okay?"

"She will be," Faith answered for Buffy who was still huffing away and trying to get past her. "Think ya can grab her a glass of water and leave it outside the door while I have a little discussion with her?"

Xander nodded, his gaze still focused on Buffy until he turned around and disappeared down the hall. Buffy heard Faith exhale loudly and then close the door when he was finally out of sight. The look that Faith gave her made Buffy back off and step back until she'd reached the edge of her bed.

"I think we've got us an official problem here, B," Faith said wearily, running a hand through her hair.

Buffy slowly sat down on the edge of her bed and sighed. "And that might be the understatement of the year."

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