By Kathy L
AUTHOR: Kathy L
FEEDBACK: Yes, please!!!!!
DISCLAIMER: All hail storymaster Joss, who owns all these characters. I'm just borrowing them for a bit.
RATING: PG (language)
SPOILERS: Through This Year's Girl, and probably Who Are You?
SUMMARY: My B/Gish take on a resolution to the dilemmas presented in This Year's Girl. In other words, how does Buffy get her body back???
DISTRIBUTION: Solo, I'd be honored. Anyone else, just let me know where it's going.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: For clarity's sake, the person being referred to throughout this story is the personality, not the body in which it happens to reside.
DEDICATION: A big thank you to all my chat buddies who were so great about reading this over before it went out. Tev, I really appreciate the sentiment!
"No word from Riley, I take it?" said Giles,
hopefully. He was as wary of the Initiative as any of them,
but he had to admit the organization did have a sizeable amount
of resources, and anything that could help them find Buffy was an
"No," said Xander. "I think he's too busy trying to round up Maggie Walsh's little pet killing machine. I gotta say, I don't think I've seen it get more interesting than this. As if Adam wasn't enough of a show-stopper, now we've got Psycho Slayer and the Watcher Goons. God, what a time for Buffy to go MIA..."
"I just wish she wouldn't have gone after Faith by herself," said Willow worriedly. "What if something happened to her? I mean, she'd kick Faith's ass on a normal day, but now..." she shivered remembering the acidic hatred in Faith's voice the last time they had met. "Why didn't she let the Watcher guys deal with it? It's their fault Faith escaped, anyway..."
"She'll be fine, Willow." said Giles, with a conviction that he hardly felt. "We must find her quickly, though, before things get even more out of hand. There is a good chance that the Council will have granted the authorization for extreme measures by now. Faith's only chance at survival may well hinge on whether Buffy can find her first."
"Okay, everybody out," said Xander, as he brought the Taurus to a halt in front of Angel's old residence. It was a long shot, but since they had had no luck in Sunnydale itself, they had decided to check every possibility.
As they approached the house they heard the sound of wood breaking within. Xander and Willow were about to rush in,when Giles stopped them cold.
"Not yet, we don't even know if its them." He motioned to one of the few windows on the first floor of the house which wasn't boarded up.
Buffy and Faith were, indeed, inside and going after each other with every ounce of their ability. They reached the window just in time to see Buffy flip Faith over her and into the wall beyond. Faith eased herself up against the wall.
"Payback's a bitch, isn't it, B?" whispered Faith, who had her back to the window. She had heard the car and had a pretty good idea who was peering into the window behind her.
"In here, Giles," she shouted.
"Just how long do you think you can keep this up?" spat Buffy. "They're going to know you're not me two seconds after they walk through the door."
"They'll see what they wanna see, B..." said Faith in a sing-song voice. "Stay behind me, you guys... " she said, as they entered the foyer, "Faith's a little unstable at the moment..."
Buffy looked over at her friends and the looks on their faces hit her with more force than any blow Faith had delivered in the last few minutes. They were looking at her as if she were the scum of the earth. With pity, with disgust...with a complete lack of trust. Even with all that had happened in the last several hours, she hadn't realized how truly alone she was until that moment.
"Giles-" she said, pleading, "It's not me. I'm Buffy... We switched, somehow..." She tried to form the words but somehow they weren't coming out right.
"Oh come on," said Faith. "Is that the best you can do?" Her tone switched to one of sweet invitation and understanding and she said, "Just come with us, Faith... We can help you, I promise." Out of sight of the people behind her, she drew a knife from her pocket and held it in front of her, mouthing the words "First you, then them..."
"Over my dead body," hissed Buffy as she flew into a spin and tried to kick the knife out of Faith's hand. She realized a split second too late that that was exactly what Faith had wanted her to do. The rogue slayer danced backwards, throwing the knife to her other hand, and with one stroke, sliced through a cord that was wrapped around a spike in the nearby wall. She felt rather than heard the chandelier as it fell on top of her, pinning her to the ground.
"Willow, go call an ambulance," said Giles calmly, as he began to minister to the fallen slayer. He and Xander pulled the iron chandelier off of Buffy and he winced as he saw the damage it had done. The slayer was gasping for breath, and there was a trickle of blood coming out of her mouth.
"Faith? Can you hear me?" said Giles, trying to summon up his medic-training to at least get an idea of the extent of her injuries.
She opened her eyes and looked at him in a way Faith had never looked at him before. There was no spite, no bitterness, just an unfathomable sorrow and an even deeper regret. Though it seemed to take an enormous amount of will, she moved her hand and place it over his own. She took a few ragged breaths and then said in a near-whisper, "Whatever happens, don't you dare blame yourself."
He looked at her questioningly, still trying to make sense out of what she was saying. She started coughing and he told her to stay quiet, that the paramedics were on their way.
She took another deep breath, and, still gazing at him with those strange eyes, said, "I love you Giles...Watcher or not... remember that." The last word was not even half-spoken before the shock took her and she gladly succumbed to the oblivion that was pulling at her consciousness.
It was all in her eyes, and in the way she touched him. There was a compassion there, a compassion he knew, to the core of his being, that was never a part of Faith's emotional repertoire. He looked at the woman before him and suddenly everything that night began making sense. Buffy's vague answers throughout the evening, the uncharacteristic hatred (even for her) which she seemed to feel towards Faith, her desire to find Faith herself once she learned Faith had escaped from the Council's retrieval team.
"Dear God..." It couldn't be true. He wouldn't let it.
As they waited for the ambulance to arrive, Giles turned to Faith with hardened eyes, even though he would have sold his soul in an instant to ensure that the woman standing before him was exactly what she appeared to be.
"Giles, what's wrong?" said Willow.
It was in Faith's eyes as well. Game over. Time to make up some new rules. <What do you know> she thought, <the Watcher sees all>.
"Time we stopped the charade, don't you think?" he said.
She would have just ended it right then, but for that small part of her that envied Buffy's life and would have given anything to have it, even for the briefest of moments.
"I don't know what you mean. What's wrong, Giles?" she said, doing her best Concerned-Buffy imitation.
He stood up and faced her. He was teeming with rage and worry for the young woman unconscious on the floor, and what had been done to her in body as well as spirit. The question he asked would hurt more than any physical blow, and yet it was an insignificant punishment for what he had just witnessed.
"Do you remember what I said to you after you told me Faith had murdered the mayor's aide?"
"What? What does that have to do with anything?" Faith said, her mind reeling. She could feel the adrenaline building. It would be over, very very soon. She glanced around and subconsciously started planning her exit.
He gazed at her icily and said, "You were petrified that I would take Faith's side over yours. And I told you that as a slayer you would be required to question many things, but to never, under any circumstances, question my faith in you." He said with a conviction frozen over with hatred, "You are a good person, Buffy. Better than Faith could ever hope to be."
He knew how to push her buttons, she'd give him that. "Ahhhh that's the rub, now isn't it, Jeeves..." said Faith, dropping all pretense of imitation once and for all. "I don't get the Watcher, the mom, the little Scooby gang... Instead, I get 4 months in comaville. Your angelic little Buffy took away the only things that ever meant anything to me..." She thought a moment, glanced at Buffy and added, "If you ask me, payback is turning out to be a hell of a lot of fun. You see, we're renting these bodies right now, but if one of us goes, hey, put up the sold sign! No refunds, no returns." She glanced at Buffy again and said, "I think I'm gonna like this body. I think I'm gonna like it a *lot*." She had been backing up to a window that appeared to be boarded up, but when she reached it, she tore it off by the single remaining nail and was out of the room before anyone had a chance to move.
As the sirens approached in the distance, Giles could only kneel next to the broken figure on the ground and stare in shock.
Willow opened the door to her dorm room, steeled herself, and went in to collect her things. She almost made it out in one piece until she inadvertently glanced at a picture of her, Buffy and Xander that someone had taken at Buffy's last birthday party. A split second was all it took to shatter her self-control and her resolve to keep a cool head , and she ended up on Buffy's bed, holding Mr. Gordo and crying her eyes out one more time.
It wasn't fair. Between Giles' knowledge and her own wiccan practices, they should have been able to come up with something to switch Buffy and Faith back, but they had found nothing. She had hoped that Faith was wrong, that with the death of one of them, they would snap back to their original bodies, but their research only confirmed Faith was telling the truth. And they had no way to reverse it. Buffy was lying in a near-coma at Sunnydale memorial, and the doctors were certain there was no way she was going to walk again, even if she did survive the massive trauma to her already-damaged liver. What good were all of her arts, all of Giles' books, if they couldn't fix something so important? The bad guys weren't allowed to win. It just wasn't allowed.
She looked at the phone and considered calling Angel for the hundredth time, but she knew it was for selfish reasons. She had absolutely no right to call him back just to have someone else to grieve with. She didn't know how they were going to explain this to Buffy's mother. Joyce had left for a retreat in Big Bear the day before, thinking that everything was under control, and no one had been able to reach her.
She didn't hear the soft knock on the door at first, thinking she was imagining things. Then a voice called out, "Willow? Are you okay?"
She opened the door to find Tara looking at her with concern.
"Oh...Tara...I'm fine..." <liar> She knew she was an absolute mess, but she didn't care. "Um... now's not really a good time..."
"What is it? What's wrong? "
"It's- It's okay, really... i'm okay..." she said as the tears started to fall one more time. Tara came in, shut the door and led Willow over to one of the beds, giving her a hug.
"Willow, tell me. I can't help you if I don't know what's wrong." she said. She had never seen Willow like this, in spite of everything they had been through. Whatever it was, it was bad.
"There's nothing you can do. We tried... We can't find a spell, or an elemental, nothing..." she sobbed.
"Will, start at the beginning and tell me. All of it."
"You won't believe-"
"Don't you think that's for me to decide?" said Tara with a half-smile.
<It couldn't hurt,> thought Willow, who took a deep breath and began her tale, never realizing that Tara's usually shy demeanor had completely disappeared.
Giles alternated between pacing the floor and sitting in the chair near the hospital bed, wracking his brain for a way out of Buffy's current predicament. He could find none. He had been through every volume in his house looking for a spell to bring Buffy back to her body, and he could find none. There had to be a way. Faith had obviously found it, why was he failing so miserably?
He had prepared himself for Buffy's death. He knew that one of these days she may not make it back from one of her patrols. It killed him, however, that he had to sit here on her deathbed and stare at the physical representation of the person who occupied the blackest part of his heart. Even Angel had never garnered so much hatred. And worse yet, he had to overcome this blinding hatred to be able to feel all the love he should feel for the person within. She deserved at least that much. The doctors told him there was a good chance she would die before she ever regained consciousness, but he was prepared, nevertheless. He would see this through, no matter how it turned out.
A nurse came in and asked him to sign some paperwork. He wanted to stay in the room, but she knew he needed a break and insisted he do it at the nurse's station, offering to get him a cup of coffee as well. He gave her a thin smile, thanked her for her compassion, and headed down the hall.
"So that's it," said Willow, who had stopped crying somewhere between the revelation of Adam and Faith's return. "I told you it was wild."
Tara smiled at her with eyes that held no disbelief whatsoever. "And so, you need a way to get Faith back in Buffy's body and Buffy back in Faith's body... is that it?"
Willow looked at her friend in wonderment. Tara never ceased to amaze her, the things she accepted almost without question. "Yeah...yeah that's it. But we've tried..." she felt herself about to choke up again and she fought the urge. "We've been through every chronicle in Giles' library, there's nothing."
Tara kept smiling at her.
"What? What do you know that I don't?"
"I know I can help you."
"That's really nice, Tara, really, but I-"
"No, I mean I can help you. Get Buffy back in her own body." Willow finally noticed that the Tara sitting in front of her was not the person she usually hung out with. There was a confidence she had never seen before.
"How?" Willow was glad but she was starting to get a little uneasy about her friend's newfound display of self-assurance.
"I need to ask you a question first. Do you trust me?"
"What kind of a question is that?" said Willow, who's wig-o-meter was now going off the scale.
"Do you?" said Tara, serious but still kind.
"Yeah, of course I do." said Willow. "Why do you want to know?"
"Cause if we're going to do this, there's something you should know." Tara shook her head and morphed into a being that was a little taller than the old Tara, with a ridge along her brow reminiscent of a vampires but less pronounced.
"You're a demon!" exclaimed Willow, chiding herself for being so gullible yet again, and gauging the distance to the door.
"It's okay, Will, I won't hurt you," said Tara, who had changed back into her college-going self. "I can't maintain my facade and do the spell at the same time. Otherwise I wouldn't have even told you."
"Why not?" said Willow, now hurt.
"Well, most humans don't really accept demonhood very easily. And you- you fight them on a regular basis," said Tara, with a slight nervousness.
"Just the bad ones!" said Will. "You're not bad...are you?... what *are* you?"
"I'm a vengeance demon, like your friend Anya. I think we might have crossed paths once or twice."
"You grant wishes to scorned women?" said Willow wondering why she always ended up with the weird ones.
"No, nothing like that," said Tara with a laugh. "I don't have the stomach for it. I'm a balance demon." She tried to think of some easy way to explain her duties. " I guess you could say I bully the bullies..."
It all fell into place for Willow with a click that was almost audible. "That's why you're always-... shy..." she stammered, trying to think of a better word.
"Best way to reel them in, I've found," said Tara with a wink.
"What do you do to them?" asked Willow, dreading the answer and wondering if even asking the question was a bad idea.
"Nothing too terrible, I promise. Usually just give them a taste of their own medicine." Tara sobered up, looked at Willow and said, "Sometimes that includes making them trade places with the people they're trying to hurt..."
"The spell... you really can do it, can't you?" said Willow, with new hope in her voice.
"Yeah, but this wasn't my casting to begin with so we're going to need extra supplies this time, and I'm going to need your help."
"Okay...well first we need to figure out where in L.A. we can get an Orb of Thesulah..."
* * *
Faith was amazed at how easy it was to not only gain entrance
to the hospital but to find her way to Buffy's room as well. All
she needed was 5 minutes of the half-tearful "I have to see
my friend" routine at reception and the world was
hers. She saw Giles standing at the reception desk filling
out a bunch of forms, and as a couple of orderlies went by with a
patient, she used them as a shield to hide her as she made her
way down the hall to Buffy's room.
She couldn't believe how bad she looked, with all those tubes and wires all over her. She shook off the eerieness by reminding herself that it was someone else's body now. For the next few minutes anyway. She was about to make her way over to the respirator when she heard Giles and another man's voice right outside the door. The only place to hide was a free-standing clothes closet in the far corner of the room, but it was better than nothing.
"I'm sorry, Mister Giles. That's the best I can do," said Dr. McMurty as he once again examined Buffy's eyes with a pen-light. He checked her chart, noted the vital statistics from the last several nurses rounds, and shook his head. "It's just a matter of time. I'm truly sorry."
"Thank you, Doctor. I'm sure you've done all you can," said Giles, who was numb.
They exchanged a few more pat phrases and then the doctor left, leaving Giles alone with his thoughts. He pulled the chair over until it was parallel with Buffy's bed, so he could look at her face while she slept.
<It's now or never, B> thought Faith, as she made her way out of the closet.
"Thank you, Miss Rosenberg. It's a pleasure to serve you," said the bank representative as the two girls walked out of the building.
Her parents thought she was insane for wanting to keep such a bizarre item in a safety deposit box, but it had given Willow immeasurable peace of mind over the last few months. She knew that Angel and Buffy had gone their separate ways, but she had taken steps to ensure that if Angel should ever lose his soul again, she would damn well have the means to restore it. In her wildest nightmares, she never imagined that she would be using it on Buffy instead.
"Now what?" she asked Tara.
"Magic shop, then back to my apartment. It's going to take a little while to set everything up."
They picked up their supplies and once at Tara's began marking out the sigils they would need for the ritual. It suddenly occurred to Willow that she was expected back at the hospital, and that she hadn't called. And then something else occurred to her.
"When you did this spell... did you ever do it on someone who was near death? What's going to happen to Faith? What's going to happen to Buffy if this doesn't work?" Willow herself had no such experience with putting souls into living bodies. It had never occurred to her that it might be dangerous.
Tara stopped what she was doing and came over to Willow, looking at her with concern. "I won't lie to you, Will. The spell is incredibly draining, for everyone, at least initially. If Faith is as injured as you say she is, the shock will probably kill her. But you said that the doctors don't have much hope, right?" Her heart broke as she saw the tears begin to well up in Willow's eyes.
She took her friends hand in her own, and squeezing it tightly said, "Well, then let's give Buffy some."
Faith was about to step out of closet when a shock ripped through her body and she collapsed on the floor.
The noise might have been noticed by Giles if he wasn't suddenly distracted by the symphony of alarms which had erupted around Buffy's bed. A doctor and several nurses burst into the room, shoved Giles out of the way, and began working on trying to restore Buffy's heartbeat. Giles looked at the monitor, willing the smooth line to begin to show some deviation in its pattern, but there was none. After several minutes of frenzied activity, the doctors realized there was nothing more they could do, and they pronounced Faith Mancini dead at 2:02 p.m.
The nurse that had given Giles the cup of coffee earlier shooed everyone out of the room and told him to take as much time as he needed. The Watcher merely looked at her uncomprehending and walked over to the bed, this time willing himself to wake from the nightmare.
Buffy felt like a freight train had decided to take up residence in her head. She panicked because she couldn't see, but then she realized that there was a slip of light at her feet, and that she was in some sort of small room. She wobbled a little as she stood up but then gained her footing and she felt around for a doorknob. Not knowing where she was, or who she was, or what she would find, she eased the door open only a crack. She saw Giles standing over Faith's body, holding her hand and weeping like she'd never seen him. Realizing she was no longer in Faith's body, she pulled her hair in front of her face and found that she had never been so happy to be a blonde in all her life. The relief was short-lived, however, as she took in the sight of her Watcher grieving over what he obviously thought was her.
"Oh look at me," said Giles derisively. "You wouldn't approve, I know. The Council taught me how to deal with everything, but dear Lord, Buffy, how am I supposed to deal with this?" He wiped away the tears that were streaming down his cheeks and said "I'm ill-equipped, I'm afraid. I always knew you might not come back to me one of these days, but I always thought I would be there at the end, and I would watch your beautiful face as you slipped away." He wiped a wisp of hair out of her face and added softly, " I suppose, in a sense, she's cheated us both. Now it falls to me, and the Watchers, I suppose, to go after her. But truly, I don't know if I can look into your eyes even one more time and do what must be done."
She couldn't take one more second. She opened the door to the closet and came out, wincing at the brutal hatred in Giles' eyes. "Giles- It's okay- It's me-" she stammered, using the last of her self-control to keep from flinging herself into his arms.
"Get the bloody hell away from me. How dare you-" said Giles venomously, as he backed up towards the nurse call button.
"I-It's me." Buffy looked down at herself and seeing her current outfit, added, "Okay, so its me a little slutty, but still me..."
She died a little at the pain she knew she was causing him. He still didn't believe her. And why should he? When she was standing in the middle of the room babbling like an idiot? <Time for a new strategy, Buff...> She had to make him understand that she was okay. He didn't deserve even the smallest fraction of the agony she now saw in his face.
"You promised you wouldn't leave me, remember? And you didn't," she said, knowing the tears were falling but not caring. "Not when you went after Angel...not when they fired you... not when I broke with the council..not even when I left you to go be super Army girl...she looked at him pleadingly, her voice breaking. "Don't tell me after all that, you're gonna start now?"
He sagged and nearly fell on the bed. "Oh my God...Buffy?" through reddened eyes.
She ran to him and threw herself in his arms, sobbing with the relief that she was back in her own body and the far-greater relief of knowing that it entitled her to the arms that were now tightly wrapped around her shaking frame. She could feel Giles sobbing and felt his breath in her hair. They stayed there, safe in each other's embrace for an eternity, and she felt the most tender of kisses on her forehead. She looked up and saw nothing but raw emotion in his eyes, the intensity of his love for her unmasked and unrestrained for the first time. And to think how close she might have come to never knowing what being the recipient of that gaze felt like... She felt herself about to start crying again when he touched her face and with a knowing look said, "Don't. It's alright." and then his own voice broke and in a choked voice he said, "You're here..."
She held his gaze for a moment and in a soft voice whispered, "I wouldn't be anywhere else." He kissed her then, a soft kiss on the lips that developed into something infinitely more passionate in a split second of contact. He pulled away suddenly, panicked that he had somehow misread her intentions, but the familiar, sly smile she gave him dispelled all doubts.
"You're okay?" he said, meaning more than just physically.
She smiled and said, "Yeah, just a little shaky." He wondered whether she meant from her ordeal or from this new direction in their relationship, but she made no move to leave the comfort of his embrace. He relaxed, but his eyes still questioned.
"You know me better than anyone, Giles. Trust your feelings... trust me..." she said, as she ran her hands along his long-past five o'clock shadow.
Suddenly it was clear to him. The eyes that held his own were void of the usual pain and confusion that he had always seen accompany her love before. She was resolved, and miracle of all miracles, she was so happy she was almost glowing. Not wanting to break eye contact he lifted her hand to his lips and placed a soft kiss on her palm. Still going slowly, wanting to prolong this precious moment, he traced the side of her face with trembling fingers.
Leaning into his hand, Buffy answered by tracing his mouth with her fingers. Moving as though they were one person, their lips met in a kiss that held no doubts, no trepidation. Pulling away once again, Buffy rested her cheek against his chest. "What do you see? Giles?" She whispered.
He smiled and said, "I see a young woman I daresay I've never truly seen before." Wrapping his arms around her, he pulled her close and just held her. As he held her, her eyes began to refocus on the room, to where Faith lay, still and unmoving on the bed. He felt her stiffen as the magnitude of what had just happened to both slayers hit home.
She pulled away from him and said "Giles-"
"Her body couldn't handle the stress of her soul reuniting with it, Buffy. It wasn't your fault." He looked into her eyes, expecting to see self-recrimination, and was relieved when all he saw was sorrow. "She is at peace, at long last."
He put an arm around her and said, "Come on. I'm not the only one who was worried sick about you. We have some phone calls to make."
She stopped him as he opened the door and said, "But you'll still worry, right?" She wanted this change in their relationship, but she couldn't let go of what they already had, not quickly and not easily. It was his job to worry about her. It defined the both of them more thoroughly than any description ever set down in the lengthiest tome of the Watcher chronicles. Without that, she was adrift.
He gave her a loving smile, kissed her softly on the lips, and with a twinkle in his eye, said "Always."