A/N: Thanks to cookiesarefood for her beta skills. I’m sure it won’t surprise you if I say I wasn't motivated to work on this story for a long time. During the year and almost eight months this story wasn’t updated, there were still people asking me about it, reviewing my chapters, and well, nagging me about it. :) Chutes wouldn’t be finished now if it weren’t for those people. Thank you so much for your continued encouragement, and for caring enough about my little story to ask and/or demand more of it. The biggest thank you goes to Ms. Tina Topak, whose nagging skills are without competition. Topak, you are a big pain in my butt, and I thank you so much for that. I hope ya’ll enjoy the rest of the story.
Previously in Chutes...
The mayor looked at his watch then back at his henchman. “My goodness, it’s nearly time for the ribbon cutting ceremony! The zoo is finally done remodeling the hyena exhibit after all that nasty business…” He trailed off, noticing that neither Mr. Trick nor their captive had moved. “Well, never mind that. Mr. Trick, can you please escort Mr. Doyle back to his room?”
Licking his lips affirmatively, the vampire wrangled the frantically kicking Doyle up and out of the office.
Part 4, Chapter 1
“Are we ever going to talk about this?” Buffy tried to mask her frustration as she watched her girlfriend toying with a newly risen vampire. The newest undead resident of Sunnydale tripped over her funeral dress as she rushed at the brunette slayer.
Faith laughed as she kicked the vampire in the butt, further hindering its uncoordinated attempts to climb to its feet. “Talk about what?”
“I know you’re still mad at me.” From her perch on a nearby headstone, Buffy watched the fight without joining in.
“Why am I mad exactly?” Faith skipped out of reach as the vampire lumbered to its feet.
Buffy rolled her eyes. “Don’t pretend like you don’t know what I’m talking about.” The dead girl hissed in annoyance and managed to get a lucky tackle in.
“I don’t,” Faith insisted, rolling herself and her opponent so that she was on top.
The vampire frantically bucked, trying to dislodge the slayer.
“Sure you don’t want a turn with this one, B? She’s fun!” The slayer grinned at the infuriated newborn.
“Faith,” gritting her teeth, the blonde conveyed all her annoyance with that one word.
“Fine.” Faith rolled her eyes and cleanly brought her stake into the vampire’s heart. “Way to ruin all my fun.”
Buffy slid off the gravestone and approached the other slayer. “We haven’t talked about our argument in the library. I know you’re still upset.”
Shrugging, Faith pocketed her stake. “We’re five by five, baby.”
“No,” the smaller girl put her hand on her girlfriend’s arm. “We’re not.”
Sighing, Faith extricated herself from Buffy’s grip and ran a hand through her hair. “Fine, we’re not. What do you want me to say, Buffy? We’re both slayers, but when it’s serious ass kicking time, you don’t trust me to handle the job.”
“It just sucks, that’s all.” Without waiting for Buffy’s response, the brunette stalked further into the graveyard. There had to be something evil around that she could pound on.
“Damn it, Faith, wait up!” Charging after the quickly moving girl, Buffy tried to think of the right thing to say. She trusted Faith, of course she did! But Buffy had been the slayer all alone for a long time; letting someone else fight her battles didn’t come easily to her. Especially when that someone else was Faith.
The dark slayer paused to allow her girlfriend to catch up. “Vamps to stake; people to save. You know how it goes.”
“Girlfriends to avoid; grudges to hold,” Buffy snarked in response.
“Only had one girlfriend to avoid, last I checked.”
“Nice, Faith. Really nice.”
“Look,” the brunette sighed in exasperation, “I told you why I’m mad. Now can we just get done with patrol?”
“No!” Buffy shouted, her voice echoing through the empty cemetery. “We need to talk about this.”
With an angry huff, Faith folded her arms. “Fine, talk.”
“Thank you!” Buffy paused for a moment to collect her thoughts. “It’s not that I don’t trust you. It’s just that I…” Her eyes swept across Faith’s face as she struggled to find the right words. “I just found you. And we had so many misunderstandings and screw ups to get here. I finally have you. I don’t want anything to happen to you.”
“I couldn’t live with it if you got killed fighting a demon that was after me.” Buffy looked away, her eyes shining.
“Okay,” Faith stepped forward to draw the blonde into her arms, “I get that. I’m not going anywhere, okay? You don’t have to worry about this.” She gently rubbed her palms up and down Buffy’s upper arms.
“You can’t promise that,” Buffy mumbled against Faith’s hair.
The brunette sighed, squeezing Buffy to her gently. “You’re right, I can’t. Neither can you.”
Faith stepped a little backward, peering into Buffy’s eyes. “We both know the risks here. But, B, I’m a slayer, too. I’m not gonna sit on the sidelines when I could be fighting.” She cupped the blonde’s neck gently. “You’re my girl, right? I gotta throw down for you.”
Her words gained her a soft smile from Buffy. “Okay, you’re right.”
The older girl feigned a stagger, clutching her chest. “Come again?”
“I said you’re right!” Buffy laughed, smacking her arm. “Let’s finish this patrol, I wanna get home.”
“Got big plans?” Faith righted her stance and began trekking further into the cemetery.
“Not really. Maybe a nice, hot bath. Some body lotion that I’m gonna rub all over…” She let her words trail off suggestively.
Faith paused, staring dreamily into space.
With a bemused smile, Buffy sailed by her, rounding a mausoleum.
“Wait, you were inviting me, right?” Faith suddenly looked around for her girlfriend. “Buffy?” With visions of naked, soapy Buffy in her mind, Faith took off into the night.
Standing under the hot spray of the shower, Buffy let her head drop as the tension melted from her muscles. Behind her, Faith’s strong, soapy fingers moved across her back, massaging out the kinks she encountered. They’d opted to skip the bath and get right to the rubbing on of lotion, with smoochies hopefully to follow. It was a school night, and since Buffy liked to think she was a least somewhat responsible, they were trying to get to sleep early. Faith’s fingers started to get more exploratory, tracing over Buffy’s ribs and veering off into breast territory.
Smiling, the blonde turned in her girlfriend’s arms. “Behave,” she commanded sternly.
“Can’t,” the other slayer dipped her head to nibble at the collarbone currently on display in front of her. “You’re too distracting.”
Reaching behind Faith, the blonde delivered a stinging slap to her butt.
“Hey!” Faith practically yelped, pulling away in surprise.
“I told you to behave.”
Pouting, Faith shook her head. “It’s not my fault. You’re naked, B!”
“I know.” Buffy squirted a little body wash on her loofah and motioned for the other girl to turn around. “But if you behave now, you’ll be rewarded later.”
There was a tense stand off as Faith considered this proposal. Finally, she turned her back as instructed. “Rewarded how?”
Before Buffy could answer, a light knock sounded against the bathroom door. “Buffy?” Her mother called, as she cracked open the door.
The two slayers froze. Buffy gripped Faith’s waist in terror. Had Joyce heard Faith talking? Few things could petrify a slayer, but the idea of her mother finding the two of them in the shower together was one of them. Joyce didn’t even know they were dating, and Buffy couldn’t think of a worse way for her find out.
“Buffy?” Joyce asked again, slightly concerned now.
Faith’s elbow connected harshly with the blonde’s rib, knocking her out of her stupor. “Ow! Um, yeah?”
“How was patrol?”
“Good,” Buffy said, trying to will her voice to sound normal.
“Are you okay?” Her mom asked, sensing something amiss. “Did you get hurt?”
Faith silently turned toward Buffy shaking her head frantically. Why was the blonde such a terrible liar? She pulled a series of frantic faces, which were answered with frantic faces of Buffy’s.
“No, I’m fine,” the blonde managed to call out. “Just a little tired.”
“Well, okay,” Joyce said doubtfully, “if you’re sure.”
“Yep, definitely,” Buffy responded, “totally sure.”
Joyce lingered in the doorway for a moment, clearly suspecting something was up. Finally she said, “Well, goodnight then.”
Once the door closed behind her mother, Buffy sagged dramatically into Faith’s arms. “Oh my God,” she moaned quietly.
Faith gave her a bemused pat on the back. “It’s okay, we’re in the clear.”
“She so knew something was up!”
Chuckling, Faith kissed her girlfriend’s frowning mouth. “Trust me, she wasn’t suspecting this.”
Buffy silently worried for several more minutes, as Faith finished washing up. Not even the sight of Faith rubbing soap all over herself could break her out of her funk. “I think I have to tell her,” she finally declared.
Turning off the faucet, Faith stepped out of the shower. “Are you sure you’re ready?”
“No,” the blonde admitted, accepting the towel held out to her. “But it doesn’t feel good sneaking around like this.”
Faith was skeptical. In her mind, the less Mrs. S knew about their relationship the better. For sure she was going to curtail their frequent sleepovers. Plus Faith sincerely doubted any parent would want their daughter dating her. It wasn’t like she had a lot going for her. The more she thought about it, the more she thought this was definitely a bad idea.
The two dressed in silence after sneaking down the hall to Buffy’s room. The playful mood of earlier was gone as both girls were lost in their own thoughts.
In the bedroom, they each pulled back a side of the bed covers and slipped in. Buffy smiled when she noticed it. They hadn’t been together for very long yet, and already they were so domestic together. Under the covers, she wiggled toward the center of the bed, expecting to bump into her girlfriend’s warm side. But Faith was still on her side of the small bed, showing no signs of moving.
“What’s wrong?” Buffy asked.
“Nothing,” Faith said. She was clearly lying. For all her tough girl bravado, Faith didn’t miss an opportunity to snuggle.
Propping herself up on her elbow, Buffy looked down at the other slayer. “I know you too well to believe that.”
Faith merely shrugged in response.
Knowing the brunette would elaborate if given the space to collect her thoughts, Buffy ran her fingers lightly through Faith’s hair. The other girl’s eyes slid closed, her head turning to accommodate more touching. Buffy snuggled in closer, pressing a kiss to her girlfriend’s temple as she let her hand roam down to Faith’s belly. She loved the softness of Faith’s skin, so smooth and feminine in spite of the raw strength hiding within her slim form.
As Buffy ran light fingertips over her stomach, Faith finally admitted, “Just a little nervous about your mom finding out, is all.” As if to cut off further discussion, she turned her face against Buffy’s neck, pressing light kisses there.
The blonde made a faint hmm sound in her throat, trying to stay on point and not be distracted by Faith’s lips. “I’m sure it’ll be okay,” she said, as much to convince herself as to convince Faith. “My mom’s not one of those people.”
“What people?” The dark slayer removed her mouth from Buffy’s skin long enough to ask. “Homophobes?”
Faith’s chuckle was strained. “I was more nervous about her finding out about the you dating me part.”
Buffy wrapped strong arms around Faith, turning her so they were pressed belly to belly. Giving her girlfriend a tender look, she assured her, “My mom likes you. She’s gonna be cool about it.”
Faith was still uncertain. Some days she was surprised Buffy liked her. Joyce’s seal of approval didn’t seem to be in the bag quite yet. “Can we wait like a couple days at least?”
“Sure,” Buffy agreed reluctantly. She ran her hands up and down Faith’s back, trying to give her the reassurance that wasn’t coming across with words. The brunette settled against her, head tucked into her shoulder, and allowed herself to be cuddled. Buffy held her, wondering why Faith was so nervous about this. Her mom had always tried her best to make the other slayer feel welcome in their house. She was going to take the news just fine. Wasn’t she?
“I don’t get it,” Cordelia lay on the couch, flipping through the magazine she had brought with her. “What’s the problem?”
“I don’t know,” Faith shrugged. She was busy rearranging her living room to maximize viewing pleasure on the slightly used TV she’d acquired. The little apartment was beginning to feel more homey, thanks in large part to gifts that kept turning up. Joyce had given her a print from the gallery, a watercolor snow scene. It reminded her of one of the few things she liked about Boston. Although Wesley had already more than done his part by getting the apartment for her, he’d shown up with a small charcoal grill he’d deposited on her patio. Faith had watched him carefully arranging all the grill utensils, really more than one needed for such a small grill. It seemed he had purchased it for himself but discovered grilling was not his forte. His singed left eyebrow was a testament to that fact.
Willow and Oz had shown up with an older model stereo Oz promised was still in great working condition. Music was essential for the soul, he assured her. Willow had pressed an herb packet into her hand, telling her to hang it above her doorway for protection and chakra cleansing, whatever that was. Xander had given her dirty magnets, which were currently spelling out a variety of colorful phrases on her fridge. Cordelia had provided quite a lot of things, including throw pillows, curtains, a tablecloth, and several sets of bedding. Apparently, there were more textiles than Faith would have imagined. She didn’t really need all this stuff, but it she knew it made Cordy happy to give it to her. Even Giles had sent a gift, although it had been dropped off by Buffy. The book of slayer diaries was clearly old and well-loved. It came with a small house plant in a bright container, which was seated on her window sill at the moment.
Buffy had brought candles and bubble bath, which they’d promptly used together. She’d also brought some of her own clothes and toiletries, which were laying around Faith’s bedroom and bathroom now. This was actually the best gift, as far as Faith was concerned. Some people would be freaked out by their girlfriend nesting in their place, but Faith loved it. The more Buffy, the better, as far as she’s concerned.
Cordelia’s voice broke her out of her thoughts. “You really think Joyce would mind you guys dating? Hello, Buffy’s last boyfriend was like 400 years old.” She shook her head at Faith’s mental deficiency. “Total beefcake though.”
Faith shot Cordelia her most dangerous look. She did not want to hear anyone lusting after Angel.
“What?” Cordy shrugged. “Just because you’ve entered the land of Birkenstocks and flannel doesn’t mean I have.” She flipped through her pages, illustrating her heterosexuality by lingering longest on the topless men she found.
“I sure hope B’s mom has as enlightened ideas about gay people as you do,” the slayer replied, with exaggerated pep.
Rolling her eyes, the cheerleader tossed her magazine on the couch beside her and sat up. “Look, what’s not to like about you?”
Faith gave her a look as if to say it was obvious, still fiddling with the TV.
“Okay,” Cordy admitted, “so your makeup tends toward hooker chic. And who knows when the last time you were in a school for actual learning? And okay, fine, your table manners are on par with someone raised by wolves. But so what?” She raised her eyebrows expectantly.
“So what?” Faith repeated, incredulously. “You can’t even find something nice to say about me. You really think Mrs. S is going to be down for me dating her daughter?”
“My point is that none of that matters. You’re crazy about Buffy. Anyone can see that. Plus, you have a job now. You’re almost brushing respectability.”
Faith rolled her eyes. “Thanks, Cordelia.”
The other girl beamed widely. “You’re welcome.”
Faith stepped back to admire her handiwork in the living room. It looked really nice, like a place you would want to come home to. Faith couldn’t say that about anywhere else she’d ever lived. It was safe, and clean, and hers. She loved walking into her apartment every night, just knowing that. “What do you think?” She asked.
Her friend gave an approving nod. “Better than my place these days.”
Making some final, unnecessary movements to her coffee table, Faith asked, “Your mom doing any better?”
“No,” Cordelia said wearily. “She’s been in a Prozac haze for the last week.”
“Nah, it’s great. No one to bug me about curfew anymore.”
They both knew it wasn’t great, but Faith also knew Cordelia wasn’t the type of person who would accept sympathy, so she let it drop. “Cool. So you wanna get a couple movies and break curfew then? I gotta try this bad boy out.” She tapped the TV top demonstratively.
“Yeah,” the cheerleader agreed.
Sometimes Faith wondered why the two of them were friends. She was sure other people did too. They made an odd couple—the dethroned queen of Sunnydale High and the juvenile delinquent who hung around the library for no apparent reason. The fact was that the two of them just got each other. Faith knew what it was like to have the adults in your life check out, and she knew Cordelia didn’t want her pity. For her part, Cordy had latched on to the only person in Sunnydale who felt like more of an outcast than she did. They teased a lot, but there was real understanding underneath it.
“Alright,” the slayer said, “but no action movies this time.”
The other girl’s eyes narrowed dangerously, as she stood up. “The Die Hard franchise is classic. You have no taste.”
“My life is an action movie,” Faith protested. “I can see every trick they do to avoid doing the real thing.” She opened the door to the apartment, waiting until Cordelia stomped through to close it.
“You are such a killjoy.”
“And you’re a bitch.” Faith patted her shoulder. “Get the car, princess.”
The mayor stood in his office, gazing out the window into the bright afternoon sun. “What do you have for me?” He asked, without turning.
Standing in the shadows, Mr. Trick held a piece of paper. “The seer’s been spitting out visions all morning, and we’ve got Franklin working overtime interpreting them.” He stepped forward, offering the sheet of paper to his boss.
Mayor Wilkins closed the blinds with a flick of his wrist. It wouldn’t do to have his employees bursting into flames in his office. Especially not ones as valuable as Mr. Trick had been so far. He accepted the paper, taking a seat at his desk.
“This one looks promising,” the vampire said. “Franklin identified the demon depicted.”
The Mayor glanced up from the crude drawing on the sheet. “And?”
“It’s an Althesia. Nasty little suckers.”
Studying the drawing again, the Mayor was not very impressed. The demon was diminutive, even pictured next to the dark haired slayer. “What do they do?”
Mr. Trick grinned broadly. “They fixate on a host to feed off that person’s paranoia.”
Now the Mayor was starting to understand. “This has potential.”
“That’s what I thought.”
“Make sure the other one doesn’t interfere,” he ordered, still studying the drawing.
“Will do,” the vampire assured him. He thought he might take care of this job himself.
Wesley couldn’t exactly pinpoint when he’d lost all feeling in the palms of his hands. He truly did appreciate his slayer’s enthusiasm for her training. It was the training with him that he found slightly less enjoyable. “Did Buffy say she was coming right after school?” He tried to sound nonchalant.
Faith gave him a shrug as she delivered a spinning kick in his direction.
The watcher blocked it with one numb hand.
“Hey,” Buffy entered their workout room, waving a greeting.
“Oh, thank God,” Wesley muttered, immediately dropping his padded hands to his sides. He’d never been so happy to see the other slayer in his life.
The two slayers exchanged a smirk. “You okay, Wesley?” Buffy asked.
“Hmm?” He was pulling the mitts from his hands. “Oh, yes. Yes, I’m fine. Faith and I were just doing some training.”
“Mind if I cut in for a bit?” The younger girl asked.
“No,” Wesley assured her. “Not at all! Not unless, Faith, you wanted to continue?” He prayed the answer was no.
“Thanks, Wes,” Faith threw her arm around his shoulders, “but somebody’s gotta hand B’s ass to her.”
“Of course,” the relieved watcher said, scurrying from the room as soon as she released him. He was in dire need of some ice. Maybe some co-codamol.
As the door closed behind the watcher, Buffy bridged the gap between them. Smirk firmly in place she asked, “So you think you can take me?”
“Taken you before,” Faith replied, raising one eyebrow. Her hand trailed suggestively down her girlfriend’s hip.
“That’s true,” Buffy admitted, leaning in closer.
Faith didn’t move as the blonde leaned into her space. Buffy tilted her chin up, parting her lips for a kiss. As always, the older slayer found herself mesmerized by the other girl. Not only was Buffy beautiful, the way she looked at Faith made her practically melt. Forgetting all about her threats of winning their spar, the brunette closed her eyes, leaning in to capture her kiss.
Abruptly, she felt herself losing balance, landing butt first on the mat.
Buffy stood over her surprised form, not even attempting to stifle a smile. “Hmm,” she said gleefully, “my ass seems to be firmly attached. Yours however, has been handed to you.”
Faith’s hand shot out, gripping the blonde’s ankle and flipping her into the air.
Buffy came down with a squeal, landing on her back. Instantly, Faith was on top of her. Leaning down, she gave Buffy a bruising kiss. When Buffy was panting for air beneath her, she pulled back and said, “You’re such a smart ass.”
“You love it,” the blonde challenged.
Faith considered this for a moment, looking at the happy, squirming girl beneath her. “Yeah,” she responded finally, “I do.”
Buffy was tired. Patrol had been heavy on the vamps and they’d sparred really hard before coming out. She was ready to head home, get a yogurt and a shower, then pass out.
Seeing that Buffy was worn out, Faith suggested, “Let’s do Shady Hill and then head home.”
“Sounds good,” the blonde agreed.
The two walked through the graveyard, hand in hand, alert for threats but not expecting much.
They were heading for the exit when Faith started to get the uncomfortable feeling that she was being watched. “B,” she said quietly, and Buffy nodded in response. She felt it too.
The slayers strolled on, pretending not to have noticed anything. They were waiting for whatever was lurking in the dark to make its move. They didn’t have to wait long. A small form stepped onto the path ahead of them. It wore a hooded robe, obscuring its face. The only skin showing were pale hands with disturbingly long fingers. It didn’t move to engage them.
“Well, this is new,” Buffy remarked.
Faith nodded. The feeling of unease was intensifying within her. She was sure the little demon was doing something.
“We don’t have all night,” Buffy called out, oblivious to the nervousness the other slayer was feeling. “Wanna skip to the part where I kill you?”
As she finished speaking, Buffy was roughly tackled from behind. Faith glanced down, startled to see the other slayer grappling with a vampire in a suit.
“Go,” Buffy said, before head butting the vampire viciously. “I’ve got this.”
Confident Buffy could handle things, Faith moved toward the short demon.
The blonde slayer followed her head butt with an elbow to the temple, knocking the vampire askew. He rolled away, climbing to his feet.
Buffy executed a rising handspring, landing neatly on her feet. When the vampire made no move to attack her, she rushed toward him.
He ducked her first punch. The slayer blocked his return cross, while shooting a clenched fist toward his abdomen.
He caught her arm, spinning them both around. Buffy went sprawling away from the vampire as he released her arm.
Buffy saw he had torn her sleeve and glared at him. “This was new,” she complained.
“It wasn’t a good look for you,” the vamp replied with disdain. He leapt forward, and his scissor kick forced her to back up.
“Neither is that mustache,” Buffy retorted. As she threw another punch, the slayer looked for Faith over the vamp’s shoulder. The distance between them was greater than she expected. The vampire blocked her hit, scoring one of his own.
As she doubled over from the pain, he bowled her over. Another few feet appeared between Faith and her.
Buffy was starting to suspect this was intentional, and that didn’t add up to anything good. Deciding to abandon the vamp, Buffy feigned a right hook, passing the vamp as he moved to dodge her fist. Faith was moving cautiously, almost at the small demon now.
Before she could call out a warning to her girlfriend, a tie was tightly wrapped around her neck. The vampire stood behind her, pulling the fabric tightly.
Buffy struggled frantically, watching as Faith drifted closer to the small demon. The other slayer seemed to be almost in a trance. She stopped moving right in front of the small form, falling clumsily to her knees.
The blonde tried desperately to get her fingers under the tie around her neck. Black spots swam in her vision and her lungs burned.
Thrilled with the way this situation was playing out, Mr. Trick pulled tighter.
The hooded demon extended its long white fingers, placing one hand on each side of Faith’s head. The slayer’s back arched, going rigid.
Buffy felt her limbs growing heavy. The noises around her became indistinct.
The demon released Faith, who sank forward onto her palms. It disappeared into the shadows before she sat fully up. She blinked dazedly, trying to remember what she had been doing.
Seeing the other slayer getting her bearings back, Mr. Trick released Buffy. He wasn’t about to get staked to see the Mayor’s plan through. He’d gotten what he’d come for anyway.
Faith remembered Buffy had been with her, and looked frantically around for her. The blonde was crumpled to the ground many yards away. Racing over to her side, Faith dropped to the ground beside her.
“B?” She called frantically.
The smaller girl coughed weakly, her hand going to her raw, damaged throat.
Faith pulled her into her arms, relieved she was conscious and breathing. “You’re okay, baby.”
Buffy shook her head, unable to speak and reveal what she had seen. She pulled free from Faith, climbing unsteadily to her feet.
“B, take a minute,” Faith protested. An angry bruise was forming across the skin of Buffy’s throat. She swayed unsteadily on her feet. “Where are you going?”
Buffy tried to speak, managing to rasp a name, “Giles…”
“Okay,” Faith said, beginning to think she was missing out on some pretty big details, “we’ll go get G.”
Buffy nodded, leaning against her girlfriend when she pulled her close. She didn’t know what the hell that demon was, but she knew it couldn’t be anything good. And it hadn’t been working alone. This added up to one vague, but definitely scary picture. She just hoped Giles would have the answers she needed.
Thanks to all of you long time readers who’ve come back. :) Please leave a comment and let me know what you thought!