Here Now

by Red Willow

Copyright © 2004

Disclaimer: All characters and reference to belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, and all them other peeps. I'm just using them to make my own fun.
Distribution: Um...ask.
The Mystic Muse
Spoilers: Post-Chosen.
Pairing: Faith/Dawn

Summary: All good relationships are full of angst.

She doesn't trust herself anymore. At times she doesn't think she ever really did trust herself. At least not as far as she could throw her weak, tired of all the bullshit, body.

Six fucking years since Sunnydale. Since standing on the edge of that huge crater, looking down, everyone asking Buffy what they were going to do. Yeah, Buffy. What are we gonna do now? All she wanted was sleep. A fresh pack of smokes. Maybe even go another round with the principal. No, hell with that. We're going again, baby. Slayers to find, and more demons and vamps to kill. There's always something else to kill.

Faith struggles every day with trying not to go off the deep end again. Wrestling with her demons, her ghosts; wishing she could just get over herself and deal. Mommy please! Clinging to the sweaty sheets in the dim, one bedroom apartment. Late for work. Up late with patrol. It never ends. Heartbreaking. Bags being packed and more screaming than she thinks she can deal with. Screaming rage and tears falling and she thinks this time, just maybe, maybe she'll strike out. She'll fall into that big, black abyss of insanity she fell into the first time she was in Sunnydale; the second time she was in Sunnydale. The same black pit of rage and hate her mother fell into back in Boston. If she could just take that last step, fall and be done with it. Stop the struggle. Stop the guilt.

She thinks maybe Willow would come back and toast her with magic. Burn her soul right out of her and send her to hell once and for all. Flay her like that Warren guy that stole her Tara from her. She wonders if Buffy could ever twist the knife into her gut again, and this time, do it right. Who would she have to hurt this time? She's already done the Angel thing, and besides…he'd talk her out of it before she got within ten feet of him. Him and his lessons about pain and suffering and dealing with your inner turmoil. How she can't give in. She can't just go all psycho again and expect someone to off her, put her down like a dog, stop the pain for her. Our time is never up, Faith. We pay for everything.

And Faith knows that. She can't jump off the balconies of tall buildings she finds herself housed in for months at a time. She can't use her slayer weapons to carve deep gashes into her wrists. She can't stake herself like the thousands of vamps she's dusted since feeling that wild surge of strength and power at fifteen years old. Back when she was still in Boston, trying so hard to forget her mother's screams and fists. You useless little bitch! Good for nothing slut! Trying so hard to make a new life with her Watcher. And now she tries so hard to forget about that time as well. Forget her weakness. Her cowardice.

She could no more off herself than take out anyone who's struggled through the fight with her, or as it was back in the day, against her. She's got too much respect for them now for that. And she couldn't imagine the pain and horror on Dawn's face when she opened the bathroom door and found Faith lifeless in the tub, bloody, steaming water just barely covering her breasts. I put up with all your bullshit for this? I loved you for this?!

B would hunt her dead ass down and kill her all over again for hurting her sister like that. It was hard enough for the older slayer to be okay with Faith and Dawn co-habiting together in some semblance of a relationship, and there's just no way Buffy would be able to forgive her for that.

Faith knows she's lost the fight with herself again. She knows that come morning, she'll call Dawn at Willow's place. Talk to her. Beg her to come back. I'm sorry, Dawn! Damn, I'm so sorry I fucked up again.

For now she'll go back into the apartment. Shut and lock the balcony door. Lock out the thoughts of her suicide. Lock out the screaming whores on the street below, and the honking of the cabs as they splash through the trash-strewn streets. She'll pour the rest of the Jack down the drain, and curl up on the couch. Thank God for cable TV. She should be out patrolling, killing things considered far more evil than her; only Faith knows she has to stay inside tonight. Stay inside and ride out all the insane thoughts and urges. Ride it out until the sun comes up and she can take a second look at her life, at what she's accomplished in six years. Beg for Dawn to come back, simply so she can break down and let out the tears that won't fall tonight. So she can pick her shit up and try to be okay for another few months.

Dawn hates it. She hates feeling scared and worrying about Faith so much. She hates packing her overnight bag and taking a cab to Willow and Kennedy's place, in order to leave the screaming behind. She hates the way they always take her in with those sympathetic looks, and pretend that everything about her leaving Faith for a couple of nights every few months is normal. She hates the way Kennedy disappears into the bedroom and talks in harsh but hushed tones, like Dawn doesn't know whom she called at 2am. Why the fuck do you keep doing this to her?

Willow fixes her tea and doesn't complain or protest when all Dawn does is stare at it and asks for a beer. Kennedy stopped drinking pretty colored cocktails with umbrellas a long time ago. She picks up her beer on the way back from patrol with Faith and drinks a few at the kitchen table, studying the dark, slightly marred tabletop in front of her. She thinks of everyone they lost. Six years of loss. She thinks about Willow in their bed, and for the thousandth time, wonders if Willow will ever truly love her like she loved Tara.

Dawn swallows the last of the golden liquid and just as she's about to put the glass bottle down, a deep sob erupts from within her. Willow's there in an instant, though, just like she always is. Shh…Dawnie, it's okay. It'll be okay.

Dawn loves Faith. Loves her down to her bones. Loves her more than she could ever explain. She hated her once, but she's found she can't even stay mad at her for long now. Dawn longs to feel the silk of Faith's hair across her stomach, and those strong, weapon worn hands roaming her body, offering her something no one could ever come close to. She tells Willow she loves Faith and Willow nods that she knows, because Willow recognizes that kind of love, and even a bullet couldn't kill it.

It's different than Tara and me. Theirs is rough around the edges, and maybe a little dangerous, but it's real. It's white hot and passionate and they'll never be able to really leave each other.

Willow can't feel that now. She knew it existed once, and maybe in dreams it still lingers. But with Kennedy there's just a convenience. A comfort. She cares for her and maybe she can say she really does love her…but it'll never be the same thing. When Kennedy finally gets tired of doubting and Willow still can't find a way to reassure her, there won't be any coming back and trying to work things out. Can't we just skip it? Can't you just be kissing me now?

Dawn cries and wonders when she'll ever grow up and learn to deal with all this adult stuff on her own. Willow holds her and with a glance, asks Kennedy to make up the couch. For now, Dawn is content to just relax into Willow's side, but she wishes she had the strength to stay with Faith. Stick their fight out. Calm down and stop yelling, stop trying to push Faith into leaving her for good, because in Dawn's eyes, she's the bad guy, not Faith. She's the one that can't let anything go. She's the one that demands so much from someone she knows good and well is incapable of perfection.

Dawn is the one that keeps accusing Faith of still being in love with Buffy, and not really giving a shit about Dawn. She calls herself second string. Second best. Dawn yells at Faith, and accuses her of thinking about Buffy when she's on top of her, sliding into her. Dawn won't let herself believe that Faith could ever really just love her. She won't let herself live beyond her sister. Not good enough to be a real girl. Not good enough to be a potential slayer. Not good enough to be loved.

When Dawn finally falls asleep, Willow doesn't leave her side. She holds the girl close, pulls the blanket up over both of them, and continues to run her fingers through the short brown locks. She thinks about her own slayer, restless in their bed at night after patrol, beer on her breath. She thinks about Buffy taking off for Europe, for South America, for parts unknown, trying to live a life beyond Sunnydale, beyond the hellmouth. Somewhere it all went so wrong. We all grew up and became nothing like we ever imagined we would be. She thinks about Xander's Cyclops jokes and the way he finally broke down in her arms, crying for Anya, the way she finally broke down in his arms, crying for Tara; for all the pain in the world she wanted to end once and for all.

But what's life without pain? You can't have good without evil, and you can't have laughter without tears. That's just the way the cookie crumbles.

Buffy calls early in the morning looking for Dawn. Faith would love to lie to her. She would love to tell B that her younger sister is in the shower, or just stepped out to get the paper. Faith would love nothing more for that to be the truth. But Dawn isn't there, and Faith hasn't called her to beg for forgiveness, to beg her to come back.

The older slayer listens with a tight grip on the phone and a clenched jaw. She thinks she must have been insane when she trusted Faith to watch over Dawn. Doesn't matter that Dawn is 23. An adult. Doesn't matter because you can't trust Faith. Psycho. Killer. Convict. You can't trust Faith to actually love her.

Faith tells her about the 'misunderstanding' and assures Buffy that her sister is safe and sound at Willow's. She wants to say she's sorry for doing such a lousy job at being her sister's girlfriend. She wants to beg Buffy to forgive her for hurting Dawn. All you seem to be able to do is hurt her. Bitch. Whore. Good for nothing. She wants to tell Buffy that she'll leave them alone. That she was wrong to ever think she could be good for Dawn, and that she knows Dawn could do so much better.

Buffy doesn't let Faith say anything, though. She tells Faith that she knows her sister has a temper, and she's sure everything will work out. She wants to trust Faith after everything they've been through. She wants to believe that all the happy telephone calls, that all the smilies in Dawn's emails really did mean that the two women were happy together. She wants to believe that Dawn's light and Faith's darkness will balance them. She believes in love, and even if she'll never be able to find it again herself, she recognizes the kind that Dawn's found with Faith, despite all their fights and battle of wills.

She wants to visit. Wants to see her sister, her friends, because it's been too long. Two years too long and all Buffy's really been able to do is wander the planet looking for a thrill or two, something, anything to keep reminding her that she's still alive. That she really did make it out of Sunnydale in one piece. She doesn't have a job to do anymore, and she's taken the money Willow gave her from The Council's accounts and finally had that long needed vacation. Yeah, you're not the one and only chosen anymore. Just gotta live like a person. Looking for the other slayers didn't seem like her job anymore, and besides, it hurt too much to not be needed.

When they hang up, Faith immediately dials Willow and Kennedy's number. She knows it's early still, and even though B can get away with calling at 6am 'cause fuck knows what time she thinks it is in the States, Faith knows that everyone at Casa de Denial is still asleep. One ring, then two and Kennedy's raspy voice, barely above a whisper, greets her. Faith. Fuck. It's early…Yeah, it's early, but Faith needs Dawn. She needs the younger girl back in their home, back in her arms. She needs to be forgiven and held. Desperate little girl. Beg me. Beg me for it. Beg for your next fix, your next meal.

Willow wakes before she hears Kennedy stumbling out of the bedroom with the cordless phone, and looks down at Dawn's upturned, sleeping peaceful face. A faint smile graces the red head's lips. This is so soon, so much quicker than the last few times Dawn's shown up on their doorstep during the middle of the night. It's only been one night – no, only a few hours really – and already Faith is calling.

Waking Dawn up is hard as ever, like when Willow and Tara were her surrogate parents, trying to keep the beasties of the hellmouth at bay with the Buffybot; getting Dawn up for school, shuttling her from one mundane but necessary thing to another while her sister lay cold and still in the earth. Dawn, wake up, Buffy's dead, Faith needs you, Faith is dead, come on, get up, you're all alone again.

In the kitchen, Willow and Kennedy stand a few feet apart, their eyes glancing over each other, stillness a comfortable barrier between questions and answers. They're trying not to hear Dawn crying. Trying not to hear the pain and love in her voice; the love Kennedy only guesses at, the love that draws Willow into a ball in the late evening as her slayer goes off to play hero, and the blonde with the deep eyes visits her. Earth Goddess. Tara. Beautiful memories and bloody shirts. Even after seven years, Tara claims her heart. Tara who would rub her belly and kiss her in all the right places. Tara who was soft and smelled like vanilla and patchouli. Tara who couldn't stay away, and died because of it.

Willow steps to Kennedy and pulls her into her arms, kisses her lips softly, tells her she loves her. Because she does. Because no matter how comforting having the slayer there is, no matter how convenient their relationship seems, and no matter how different this love is to what Willow had with Tara, there is still love here. You saved me. Please hold me forever. Don't let go. And Willow can't let go of Kennedy. It's not the same. It will never be the same, but the time for measuring, for hoping for more is over.

Dawn holds the phone against her in a death grip, tears spilling down her cheeks. She tells Faith she loves her and she's sorry. Faith says the same thing, a repeat of their last battle, unwilling to recognize the pattern - like statues of the same size and weight, pressing against each other, neither budging. Their fights are never really about what sets off the spark, and neither of them can push past their own inadequacies and insecurities to just deal. Dawn accuses. Faith bottles and walks out; comes home drunk and sends Dawn into a tantrum. It's the same story over and over again and Dawn can admit she's not even sure she remembers what started it this time.

Was it the smell of another woman's perfume? Rona wears that, Dawn! We all went out after patrol. It was nothing! Was it the liquor on Faith's breath and the slightly staggered way she walked through the kitchen? I just needed to cool off. Or was it Dawn's own fear that she's not good enough for Faith. That she's not Buffy. Not a slayer or a witch. Not even good enough to be a real girl. It's the same thing she always thinks, always fears, and no matter how much Faith reassures her, and no matter how many nights they lay in their bed after sweating and holding and moaning together, kissing and speaking of their love like it was some special thing handed down from the gods themselves - no matter what, Dawn can't make her brain wrap around the simple fact that Faith really does only love her.

Baby come home. Please come home. I need you and I can't do this without you. You're all I need. All I ever need. It's only ever been you, Dawn.

And Dawn does go home. She doesn't take the time to shower or drink juice or even brush her teeth. It's the shortest time it's ever taken them to reconcile enough for Dawn to run back home to Faith. And Willow and Kennedy will wonder if the two girls are finally learning to communicate and get over their insecurities so that they can just love each other and live their lives without the constant fights. But on the other hand, Kennedy reckons, at least they argue. At least they discuss all the shit their feeling and the shit between them. At least Faith doesn't swallow down her anger or pain and just pretend like being with Dawn is the best thing since sliced bread, when she's really wishing for something…for someone else.

Only Faith really does think Dawn is the best thing since sliced bread, the best thing in the world that's ever happened to her in fact. I can't explain it, Ken…She does things to me…makes my heart skip a beat, man she makes me smile like I can't get enough of it…Kennedy tries to swallow down the jealousy that rises in her, and then immediately feels bad for not being happy for them, despite their tumultuous relationship. She has to remind herself, also, that she's stayed with Willow for over six years, and it's no one's fault but her own if she's not the happiest she could be.

Faith tries not to give in to her feelings. Tries to hide them, even from Dawn, who in three years she's opened up to and shared with about her past, her time in prison, her demons. She fails though, even as she tries to convince herself that Dawn is just like everyone else in her life. They all abandon you. Die. Turn on you. Try to kill you. And most of the time she's still not sure if she deserves to have Dawn in her life. She tries so hard to be the kind of woman Dawn wants. Tries so hard to be the good little girl. If you're good I'll buy you a toy. If you're quiet I won't hit you this time. It's hard to listen to the sick little voice in the back of her head when Dawn shows her everyday how much she's worth loving. When that voice tells her to take the knife, to throw herself from the balcony, to kneel in submission at the first pack of vampires she comes across, she thinks about Dawn and her sweet, bright eyes and warm smile. She thinks about Dawn laughing at one of her jokes, about touching Dawn deep into the night. Please Faith. Please don't stop. Please don't ever stop. Faith reminds herself that Dawn isn't like everyone else. That when her Dawn sits atop her and stares down into her eyes, that it's with nothing more than pure love and devotion. See Mommy? Someone can love me.

Faith uses Dawn's whole name out of respect, as a way to differentiate between the nameless, the unimportant. The people she never wanted to let get to her. B. Red. Words and phrases and nicknames to take away their meaning and power. To mask her own pain and rage and weaknesses. It's different with Dawn, though, because everything is meaningful with her. There's a whole world out there waiting for us, Faith. Let me show you. Let me take some of that heavy weight you're always carrying around with you. I can handle it.

Maybe Dawn was wrong, though, because she can't always handle it. She can't always handle the late nights and the bad dreams and the bad moods. She can't always handle Faith's anger and doubts. But she wants to. She desperately clings to Faith, to the idea of them together. To their passion and those moments of understanding that pass between them. She wants to learn how to temper her anger. To believe in herself. To hold Faith, and keep her heart and mind safe from the things that torture her so, instead of fleeing every time it gets too hard. I'm here baby, I've got you. Dawn doesn't like to think about it, but she knows that one of these days she'll come back to find Faith gone for good, and that's something Dawn would never be able to live with. So she'll keep trying. Because in the end, all she can really do is try.

That's really all either of them can do. Neither of them are willing to turn their backs for good, or give an inch and learn to truly put their fears aside, to believe in themselves…but they'll keep trying.

Dawn comes home and Faith's tough façade is completely gone. No more the slayer. No more the tough city girl who can deal with anything. No more the rebel, convict, killer. One look at Dawn's tear soaked face and Faith is just a girl wanting desperately to keep love in her life. To keep Dawn and her safe from everything that would threaten to tear them apart.

I'm sorry. And I was so stupid. And why do you put up with me? And can you forgive me?

Dawn knows there's no staying away from Faith. But she still needs to hear all the reassuring words the older girl offers. She needs to hear that she's needed. That she's loved. In my entire life, there's never been anyone…not all those nameless…not B…no one I've loved more than you.

Dawn tells Faith how scared she was, because she lets her anger get the better of her, because sometimes she doesn't think she's good enough for Faith, that she can hold Faith down long enough for the demons to pass them by. She cries and tries to get her thoughts out in coherent sentences, trying to restrain the anger that boils up, the anger she feels for herself for never being able to just accept who and what she is; instead she is always trying to be something more, someone she thinks Faith wants, when it's so clear that Faith just wants Dawn the girl. The Dawn she's always known.

They finally hold each other and kiss and Faith breaks down and cries, because in the end, there aren't enough words and neither of them has the strength to find them anyway. She falls to her knees and presses her wet cheek into the soft fabric covering Dawn's stomach, sighing and trying not to snot all over her girlfriend. Dawn, silently crying, runs her fingers through the slayer's dark brown locks, wishing like she always does, that she could take away all the pain, all the anger – everything that causes her girl so much heartache.

They both realize that this isn't over. Far from it. They both know they'll be on their best behavior, scared to lose each other. Anger tamed momentarily, fears put on hold, and in the months to follow there will be more truth and understanding in their conversations. Until they relax again. Until things get hard again and they pull back into themselves. Until it all falls apart again. But right here, right now, everything's okay. They're back together, forgiving each other for the anger and jealousy and doubts and fear. Forgiving each other for not trusting themselves, for or not believing they're worth the love and the life they share. Right here, right now, they're as perfect as they'll ever be.

The End

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