Chapter Twenty-Five

Buffy was resting back against a large headstone picking bits of dust and debris out from under her fingernails with a small metal nail file. She couldn't keep the smirk from her lips no matter how much she tried, but honestly, she wasn't trying much. Hiding her amusement at the current situation wasn't one of her top priorities.

"Oh shoot, I chipped a nail," she said, holding her hand out away from her body and studying it in the moonlight.

"Poor baby. Want me to call an ambulance?"

Buffy looked over to her side where Faith was sitting on a large rectangular tomb, her legs dangling off the edge and swaying gently. Even with the knit cap on her head that she'd put on to hide her identity as much as possible, Buffy could see that she was smirking at her.

"I don't think I'm the one who needs it," she replied.

Both grinning now, they turned their heads toward the direction where a soft groan was coming from. Dawn lay just about fifteen feet away from them, flat on her back and trying to catch her breath. She was covered in sweat, dirt, and fresh bruises and was wheezing every time she took a breath.

"That's okay . . . Continue ignoring me," Dawn wheezed. "I'll just lay here . . . until my ribs pop back out . . . and stop squeezing my lungs to death."

"You know that vamps don't usually allow for time-outs, right?" Buffy asked.

"No, they'd at least have the common courtesy to put me out of my misery after the first few rounds," Dawn replied. She grunted with effort as she moved into a sitting position, her hands planted firmly on the ground just behind her so she could rest back on them.

"Hey, if you can't hack it as a slayer, you may as well pack up your stuff and head back to England with your merry bunch of shady Council friends," Buffy said smugly.

"I can hack it," Dawn replied, plopping back onto the ground. "I just need some time to adjust."

"Time to adjust?" Faith asked incredulously and hopped down from the tomb to walk slowly toward Dawn. Buffy watched with a little grin. "Slayers don't get time to adjust. You get called and you're tossed right into the game. Lives depend on you."

"Well lucky for me they can depend on you and my abusive sister until I'm good and ready."

Faith stopped and looked at Dawn, then chuckled slightly as she continued to approach her. "I don't think you're quite understanding me."

She stopped just beside Dawn and smiled at her . . . then lifted her knee and drove her foot down so hard that it would have broken bones had Dawn not rolled out of the way just in time. Dawn groaned loudly as she came to rest on her stomach just two feet away, obviously in quite a bit of discomfort.

"What I was trying to say," Faith continued, "is eat some concrete and toughen the fuck up, princess. Your sister – or whatever the hell she is to you – is gonna teach you everything you need to survive and kick some ass. She might not trust you much right now – and honestly, my trust don't come easy either – but I sure as shit don't wanna see you end up as vamp chow your first week on the job."

Buffy watched as Dawn struggled to stand up, biting back her anger and pain as much as she could. She swayed once she got to her feet and stayed hunched over, her right arm hugging her ribs tight.

"She is my sister," Dawn ground out. "I don't know why the both of you are playing this game but it's so not funny anymore."

"It's not fun for me either," Buffy chimed in, pushing off of the headstone and slowly walking over. "When I left Sunnydale just over a week ago I was a single child. It was a good living situation. I was happy. Then I come back to find that suddenly I have a fifteen year old sister and that everyone remembers her but Faith and I. Don't you find that just a little bit weird, Dawn?"

As much as Buffy tried, she was unable to keep the contempt from her voice when she said Dawn's name.

"Why do you keep saying my name like that?" Dawn asked, her jaw clenched and fingers flexing into fists. "I'm sorry that you have some kind of weird travelers amnesia but that's your problem, Buffy. I've been here all along. Mom is my mom. You're my sister, even though you tried to put me up for adoption when I was four and seven. And ten. Faith plays video games with me when you're too busy to acknowledge my existence and I had a crush on Xander up until junior high."

"Eww," Buffy said, grimacing at that last bit of information. Eventually she was able to shake it off and continue. "All of that? Could've been fed to you by the Council. They know everything about my life. For all I know they plucked you out of somewhere, trained you in spying, and gave you a textbook to study about my life."

"I'm not a spy!" Dawn yelled, frustrated. "I'm your sister! You used to lock me in the closet and tell me that mom loved you more. I was there through every fight mom and dad had and I cried when we had to leave LA because YOU started the school gym on fire. I remember sitting on the couch with you and mom and eating ice cream until we thought we were going to burst, all because we missed dad. I remember it all, Buffy, so why don't you?"

Tears shone in her eyes and for just a split second Buffy felt an ounce of regret. Still . . .

"I remember all of that," Buffy said quietly. "Just without you."

They held each other's gaze for a few moments and then Dawn sighed and sat back down on the ground. She laid back and closed her eyes, her arm still clutching her ribs. Buffy figured she was done trying to argue the point with her – it was moot; they both saw things differently – but Dawn continued after a moment.

"Giles and Willow gave you and Faith those bracelets to protect you from magic. Maybe they messed with your head instead."

"Or maybe they protected us from the magic that affected everyone else," Buffy offered.

Dawn shrugged as much as she could while lying down and winced in pain. "Only way to figure that out is to take them off. Besides, they totally clash with your outfits."

Shaking her head slightly, Buffy looked down at the bracelet on her wrist – Dawn was right, it did clash – and began idly playing with it.

"Sorry, no can do. Until I'm sure that everything is safe, it's staying on. I can't drink from the well and be one of the loons when the Mayor is about to turn Sunnydale into a Chernobyl of evilness and the council is looming so close by."

Dawn cracked one of her eyes open and looked up at Buffy. "I didn't even understand half of that. God, you're so weird."

"Yeah, I'm the weird one," Buffy commented, crossing her arms over her chest. "Says the girl voluntarily lying on the freshly filled-in grave with earthworms in her hair."

And if they hadn't scared Dawn with extreme training, that had certainly put a good scare into her. The girl practically leapt up from the ground and began running around and shaking her head with more enthusiasm than she'd shown while training. Buffy and Faith grinned as they watched her run around bellowing in horror and disgust.

"Now that was a big sister move if I ever saw one," Faith laughed.

Buffy smiled, "Magic or not, I might learn to like this whole sibling deal after all."

It was nearly an hour later when Buffy and Faith walked into the back door of the house, followed shortly thereafter by a limping Dawn. Joyce was still awake and sitting at the breakfast bar with a book in one hand and a mug of tea steaming away just in front of her. She looked up and smiled at Buffy and Faith but her smile instantly fell away when she saw the state that Dawn was in.

"Oh Dawn, what happened? Did you have to slay on your very first night of training?" she asked as she jumped up from her stool and hurried over to check her out.

Dawn hissed with pain when Joyce laid her hand on her shoulder and Joyce quickly pulled away, wincing in sympathy. Buffy rolled her eyes at that; she never got that much sympathy when she came home dirty and bruised and battered. In fact, she was usually told to get undressed on the back porch so that she wouldn't track the dirt inside!

Just great. Her mother was already favoring her fake-sister and it had only been one day!

Magic was so unfair.

"Buffy happened," Dawn said, crossing her arms gingerly over her chest and staring defiantly at Buffy now that she had her motherly bodyguard.

Joyce looked disapprovingly at Buffy, then went back to fussing over Dawn.

"Buffy Anne, I expected you to look after your sister."

"I would have, if she was my sister," Buffy replied easily, snacking on a carrot stick that she'd taken from the refrigerator.

"Had I known you were going to be so difficult and cruel I would have let her go with her watcher. I called Mr. Giles for advice and he said that I should let you work through this on your own time but I don't think I can handle much more sibling rivalry."

"It's not sibling rivalry," Buffy said, slightly taken aback by her mother's anger. "Mom, you don't understand."

"Then help me understand, Buffy," Joyce said pleadingly, turning to face Buffy.

Buffy opened her mouth to speak but quickly closed it, shaking her head as she tried to make some sense of things. Nothing made sense though; no one could see things her way except for Faith. It was them against the world. They were the only ones who hadn't drank from the well and now everyone thought they were the crazy ones.

"I can't," Buffy said, looking up to meet Joyce's gaze. "Something happened while Faith and I were gone. No one knows what we know and there's no way to convince any of you otherwise. I think maybe . . ." she paused, "maybe I need to go and speak with Giles and Willow. They can help me look into this."

"It's after midnight. Can it wait until morning, honey? I think we all need a good night's sleep; a fresh start in the morning. I'll call Mr. Giles and ask him to stop by first thing with Willow."

"Fine," Buffy said quietly. "Faith can't go back to her place, though. It's not safe."

Joyce looked over to Faith and smiled. "You're welcome to stay here as long as you'd like, Faith. You'll have to share a room with Buffy or Dawn until we can set up something more permanent but I don't think that's a prob--"

"She's not staying with me!" Dawn said quickly. When everyone looked over at her, she huffed and limped over to the freezer. Rather than grabbing a snack, she grabbed an ice pack and hobbled out of the room before anyone could stop her.

"I feel so welcome," Faith joked and Joyce put her hand on her arm, patting it reassuringly.

"You are. Dawn's just upset."

"I'd be too if I had worms in my hair," Faith replied, smirking at Buffy. "Mind if I grab a shower before bed? I feel wicked grimy."

Joyce happily welcomed Faith to do so and Buffy nodded, "I'll meet you upstairs."

Faith headed for the stairs, leaving Joyce and Buffy alone in the kitchen. Buffy felt famished and quickly began working on her second carrot stick but it just didn't seem to be cutting it. Joyce must have noticed because she smiled despite her earlier frustration and opened the refrigerator.

"There are eggs and fresh veggies. I can make you an omelet if you'd like."

Buffy smiled and shook her head. "I appreciate the offer but it's late. You should go to bed. I'll just . . ." she indicated the carrot and continued to munch.

Nodding, Joyce leaned in and gave her a short hug before heading for the stairs as well. Buffy stood and watched her go, then leaned against the breakfast bar and relaxed once she was all alone. Her body was tired, her mind was tired, but she was still charged up from their night of training. Usually she was able to repress her more primal urges that resulted from slaying. She'd have some carrots, a bath, and sleep it off.

But when she heard the shower turn on above her and realized that Faith was probably in it right now – and very naked – she couldn't help but grin a little. Having Faith around like this could be very beneficial to the both of them.

Grabbing one more carrot stick for the way up, she turned off the kitchen light and headed up the stairs, a sneaky smile on her face the entire way. When she reached the second floor she saw that all of the doors were closed which was a good sign; they'd have to be quiet, but with her mother and Dawn sleeping, the chances of them getting caught were slim to none.

A risk she suddenly found herself willing to take.

Yep, Faith was definitely having a bad effect on her.

Ignoring the fact that she still didn't know what was going on between them or where exactly they stood, she tiptoed down the hall until she stood in front of the closed bathroom door. She thought about knocking but didn't want to alert her mom and Dawn to her presence. Instead, she quietly turned the doorknob and sneaked inside, closing it gently behind her. She could make out Faith's silhouette behind the shower curtain and began stripping down so that she could join her.

When she was completely naked she crept over to the curtain and pulled it back, only to find a very naked Dawn staring back at her in horror.

"Get out of here, you creeper!" Dawn yelled, pulling the shower curtain immediately over her naked body.

Buffy was left completely exposed though and had to run around the room picking up her scattered pieces of clothing to hold over herself. Dawn continued to yell at her and Buffy continued to turn red, unable to believe that had happened to her. Dawn probably wasn't her sister but that still didn't mean it was okay to see her nipples!

Quickly leaving the bathroom and hurrying down the hall, Buffy let herself into her room and rested back against the door, feeling her cheeks burn with embarrassment. They only reddened further though when she opened her eyes to find Faith laying back on her bed with her arms folded under her head and an amused look upon her face.

"Not the worst way to greet someone, I'll tell ya that," Faith said with a grin as Buffy scrabbled to get her shirt on.

"Why aren't you in the shower?" Buffy whispered harshly.

"Cos the brat beat me to it," Faith replied with a shrug.

"You're older, faster and stronger! There was no reason for her to beat you!"

"It ain't my house, B." Faith furrowed her brow. "What the hell got your panties in such a twist?"

"I saw my fake-sister's nipples!"

"What?" Faith asked loudly, sitting up with a huge smile on her face.

"I saw Dawn in the shower. Naked!"

"Creeper," Faith taunted.

"I'm not a creeper!" Buffy replied indignantly. "I thought you were in there!"

Faith thought about it for a second and smiled even more. "And you were gonna join me?" When Buffy didn't say anything, Faith continued. "Ain't no thing, B. We can go in there when she's done. I'll even let you creep up on me if you want."

"Ugh," Buffy grunted distastefully. "The moment is over. I'm never gonna be able to get the image of her . . ."

Her voice trailed off when Faith took a step back and casually lifted up her shirt and bra, revealing her full breasts to Buffy. Buffy couldn't seem to look away but forced herself to anyhow, finally managing to glance up to Faith's eyes despite the gravitational pull of her . . . globes.

"Better?" Faith asked, slowly lowering her shirt after a few moments.

She didn't get very far though because Buffy's hands were suddenly on the hem of her shirt, keeping it right where it was mid-way down her stomach. Faith looked questioningly at her and Buffy leaned in, chasing all of her questions away with the soft touch of her lips. It didn't take long for the soft touch to turn into a raging fire, burning brightly as hands started to wander and bodies moved closer together.

Buffy took the lead even though she was sure Faith would turn that around at the first given opportunity. She decided not to give Faith that opportunity though and when she pulled Faith's shirt up and over her head, she trapped her arms in the cotton tee and kept them behind her back so that Faith couldn't use her hands.

Faith grinned against her lips and pulled back to look into Buffy's eyes.

"Not that I mind a little bit of kink but it ain't fun for me if you don't get naked too, B."

Buffy put her hand on Faith's chest and gave her a little push so that the brunette fell back onto the bed. She was about to join her but suddenly remembered something. Before removing her own shirt, Buffy made her way over to her door and placed her desk chair in front of it. It wasn't exactly a lock but at least they'd have a few extra seconds to scramble if someone tried to barge in on them.

She made her way back over to the bed and was about to undress when she felt suddenly self-conscious. Sure they'd done this before but it was only once. Wait, that wasn't exactly true. One night; many, many times. And besides, Faith was a girl and . . . god, what they hell were they doing? This was so socially unacceptable, but . . . it didn't feel wrong. Everything they'd done the night before had felt . . . right.

Feeling a familiar warmth creep up on her cheeks, Buffy moved to turn the lamp off first but Faith stopped her, struggling free from her t-shirt restraint to grab Buffy's wrist.

"Don't turn it off," Faith said quietly.

Buffy wanted to ask why but when her eyes caught a glimpse of Faith's nakedness, well . . . she understood why.

Feeling her confidence grow, Buffy hesitated for only a moment before pulling her own t-shirt up and off. It didn't make it quite all of the way off though as Faith surged forward and captured her hands behind her back just as Buffy had done to her just a few minutes before.

They fell back onto the bed together and Buffy settled onto her back, looking up at Faith who was hovering just a few inches above her. Faith leaned down to kiss her but Buffy pulled back as much as she could, getting Faith's attention.

"What are we doing?" Buffy asked.

Faith pressed her lips together as she stared into Buffy's eyes. "I dunno," she admitted. "Kinda figured I'd just go with it before we beat the bad guys and things go back to how they've always been."

Deciding that was answer enough – she hadn't sorted out her own feelings yet so how could she expect Faith to have done so? – she leaned up and brought their lips together, sighing when Faith pressed her back into the mattress.

‘Physical' was good. They could deal with ‘emotional' later.

It was just after eight-thirty the next morning when Buffy walked into the kitchen to find Joyce and Faith sitting at the breakfast bar, chatting quietly while sipping from steaming mugs of coffee. Joyce smiled pleasantly and the corners of Faith's lips curved up playfully; she obviously knew the reason why Buffy had a scarf tied around her neck.

"Mmm, coffee," Buffy cooed, filling a ceramic mug with the dark liquid. She was about to take a sip when she turned the mug and saw a picture of Dawn on the side of it which instantly made her groan.

Damn the council was good at this whole planting-a-stranger-into-her-life thing.

Setting the mug down, she opted to pull the container of orange juice from the fridge and poured some of it in a tall glass. She rested back against the counter and took a long sip, grinning against the glass when Dawn walked in looking very much like a zombie.

"Why haven't her bruises healed yet, Buffy?" Joyce asked, concerned.

"Because slayer healing takes a while to kick in," Buffy said happily. "She's just going to have to suffer."

"Like you care, creeper" Dawn grumbled as she drank from the mug that Buffy had abandoned. "Speaking of suffering, explain to me again why you woke me up at the buttcrack of dawn?"

"Uh, because the Mayor is planning mayhem and terror and all sorts of evil fun in just three days and not only do I have to deal with finding a way to stop him while keeping the council out of my business, but now I also have to worry about training you so that you don't get eaten by a monster?" Buffy replied.

Dawn seemed to think about it for a moment and then took another sip of coffee and shrugged. "Well when you put it like that . . ."

Faith chuckled and stood up from her stool, stretching her back and making her t-shirt ride up. Buffy glanced over and found she couldn't look away, at least until she heard Dawn clear her throat. When she looked over she saw that Dawn was smirking knowingly and it took all of Buffy's strength not to reach over and smack her around.

God, maybe they were sisters.

She needed to talk to Giles and Willow, stat.

"Mom, what did Giles say about meeting me?" she asked suddenly.

"He said he'd be at the library early this morning and for you and Faith to join him once you were awake. I filled him in on a few of the details you shared; he said you should bring Dawn, too."

"Wonderful," Buffy said with false enthusiasm. "Research and quality time with the interloping sister-type person."

"Buffy . . ." Joyce began seriously but Buffy cut her off.

"I know, I know. She's my . . . sister. Whatever. I can smack her around at the library just as easily as I can in the basement," Buffy replied, suddenly chipper again. "Dawn? Get your bag. Oh, and a change of clothes or two. The school frowns upon students walking around with bloodstains."

Whistling a happy tune, she placed her now empty glass in the sink and left out the back door, leaving Faith, Dawn, and Joyce sitting there. After a moment, Joyce cleared her throat nervously.

"Honey, I think you better pack a first aid kit," she suggested to Dawn.

Dawn huffed but wandered off to do as she was told. Faith finished her coffee and then put the empty mug in the sink before heading for the back door. She stopped just before stepping out and looked back at Joyce, smiling apologetically.

"B gets pretty enthusiastic and well . . . Dawn's a kid. She's stubborn. Trust me when I say you're gonna need some extra ice packs when we get back later."

She disappeared out the door without another word and Joyce knew for sure that Faith was right. If things weren't already weird enough in her house, they was about to get a whole lot more interesting. She only hoped her health insurance would cover all of the medical costs sure to be incurred.

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