"I appreciate you taking time for this potion when you've been so busy lately," Riley said as he checked to make sure all his weapons were attached. Severus didn't answer, but Faith could have sworn he almost smiled. She sat on the desk behind him where she had a nice view every time he bent over, but right now he was standing to the side of a large black cauldron, and she was pretty sure he was watching her. She stretched, making sure her top rode up as she did.
"Student essays?" Albus asked with a smile. Severus made a disgusted sound without looking up from the ingredients he was mixing. Faith scratched her bare stomach, and the hand stirring the pot hesitated for just the briefest moment.
"I was a TA as part of a cover story once. I remember being buried under college papers, but some of those scrolls of his are just indecipherable," Riley said as he finished checking his weapons and leaned against one of the desks.
"Quite so. I do remember the years I spend grading scrolls." Dumbledore nodded with an amused expression. "And even if you were more versed in magical theory, I fear you'd find that their essays make no more sense. Students have only a passing acquaintance with logic, although Severus does enjoy pointing out their logical lapses more than most."
That got Severus talking. "If I must waste hours in the forced misery of reading their drivel, the least they deserve in return is five minutes of misery as they read their marks," he sniffed. "And this potion is entirely idiotic. Who suggests asking the higher power for divine intervention as one of the steps for brewing?"
"I think I'll handle the praying end of the spell," Riley said quickly.
Faith laughed. "I think the Big Cheese probably likes you better than the rest of us, anyway." Faith held up a hand as Riley got that concerned look on his face. "Boy, if you say one word on redemption and forgiveness, you're going to be praying through a headache that lasts until you and Sam are sending the last little Finn off to college, got it?"
"Fine." Riley clipped the word off short, but Faith just waited for the rest. "We all make mistakes. I got addicted to getting bitten by vampires, you know. Forgiveness is called forgiveness because it doesn't have to be earned."
Severus sighed as he stood up and crossed the room to a storage cabinet. "Mr. Finn," he said in a disappointed tone of voice. "Here I thought you could qualify for Ravenclaw with your ability to calmly think through situations that would have disabled others, but you must go and ruin my good opinion with this mystical claptrap."
"Now Severus," Albus interrupted. "It is true that the spell allowed us to circumvent some rather nasty problems using information discovered by Riley. I had never thought the senior Malfoy so petty."
"We would have discovered the plot when those two morons who follow Draco made some mistake or when young Weasley stepped into some trap left for Mr. Potter. Luck, both good and bad, follows that group like a cloud that's been charmed over someone's head."
"So, you aren't going to believe that God might have approved of a small intervention here?" Riley asked. Severus pulled out a large knife and started thinly slicing something that looked like hairy garlic.
"I rather think you have Miss Granger's idiocy to thank for your time as a snake and that visit to the dark lord."
Riley jumped right in there. "And a chance to read up on some magical enemies that might or might not exist in my own world. After all, we do have vampires and banshees, so if our world does have some quintaped or pogrebin, forewarned is forearmed."
"Spoken like a potential Ravenclaw," Severus said before dropping the new ingredient into the pot. Smoke started rising, and he backed away.
"Is it supposed to do that?" Faith asked.
"Must I defend my potions skills to you?" Severus asked as he crossed his arms and gave her a withering look. It might have been more effective if he weren't standing so close that his robes brushed against her knees.
"Oh babe, you don't need to defend any of your skills. You got the mad skills going in all sorts of ways," Faith said as she checked out his body, lustfully taking a long look before giving him a wink. He rolled his eyes. However, when he turned to face the others, his hip rested against her knee.
"I do believe I shall miss you, Faith," Dumbledore offered with a chuckle. "Severus is almost human with you around."
"And Faith is a lot less..." Riley paused.
"Psychotic?" Faith asked, making a wild guess about what the others might have told the soldier, especially since he had probably gotten most of his stories from years ago before she did her time in prison. These days, she was guessing the Scoobies were more likely to just call her sluttish or foul-mouthed or dangerous.
Riley looked at her. "I was going to say stressed," he pointed out. "Xander and I sometimes talk, and he said that since Wood died, you've been stressed."
"Oh." Faith scratched her stomach again, and Severus gave her an amused look.
"Shut up," she told him even though he hadn't said anything. He just looked more amused.
"So, without the spell, Faith would still be stressed and Snape would still be inhumanly mean." Riley had a perfectly calm tone, but he still somehow managed to imply that Severus' transformation into a human hadn't been nearly as successful. Severus turned to Riley and raised an eyebrow but didn't actually insult him back. Dumbledore laughed.
"As much as I enjoy being insulted by someone who is relying on my potion to send them back across a rip in reality, it appears to be time for you to leave," Severus pointed out as the smoke turned a soft yellow before fading away. "I hope you included some destination in your prayer because this spell has no way for me to fine tune where exactly I'm sending you."
Riley shook his head. "That's not the way belief works, Snape. You just pray for the right thing to happen and then understand that you probably won't even recognize the right thing when it shows up. Wherever I land, I land."
"Idiotic system. Notta Bellaificus' work truly should be burned to keep other idiots from trying this," Severus muttered angrily.
"Thanks, Snape. It's been a pleasure serving with you," Riley offered his hand and for a second Snape just looked at it. Slowly he held his own hand out and Riley shook it solemnly. "And if nothing else, I got a chance to see life from the perspective of a snake and an owl. I plan to avoid snakes for the rest of my life, but flying was one of the great joys I'll always remember, so in the end, I think this was all worth it."
Riley stepped back and offered Dumbledore his hand.
"One of the advantages of being old is knowing what people will do before they do it, but you have surprised me. Had you any inherent magical abilities I would be quite insistent about recruiting you, my boy."
"I have my own war to fight. Good luck in yours," Riley offered. "So, how do we do this?"
"Numen!" Snape announced, and Riley was simply gone.
"Numen?" Dumbledore asked, turning a confused look to Severus.
"I had pointed out that this is a ludicrous spell," Severus defended himself with a sour expression. Faith noticed that at some point his hand had landed on her leg.
"Well, I supposed it's time for me then," Faith said. Severus didn't answer, but she took some comfort in the way his fingers tightened on her knee. She'd have some bruises there.
"You are certainly very welcome to stay," Dumbledore said as he stepped forward. "Your presence is already easily explained."
"And my absence won't even make a ripple," Faith pointed out. She looked at Severus to see if he was going to rescue her from this conversation, but he was staring at the cauldron as if he could find the meaning of life in it. Faith turned to Dumbledore and had the same conversation she'd had with Severus a day earlier. "I don't belong in this world and sooner or later, I'm going to do something to out myself. I don't want to find out what Voldemort could do with slayer parts, especially considering that I'm fond of all my parts exactly where they are." She didn't mention her fear that Voldemort would expect his potions master to be the one experimenting with slayer parts.
Severus' hand on her knee jerked a little and then he carefully loosened his fingers. He was a remarkably gentle man, so she was guessing he had just figured out how hard he was holding her.
"The danger is considerable, both to you and to others if your blood is as powerful as you suggest," Dumbledore admitted softly.
"Hey, we all have our battles to fight, but this isn't where I need to fight mine, and you two have your own demons to slay."
"One demon, certainly," Dumbledore admitted after a long silence. "Is this some variation on Riley's belief?"
"Nah." Faith jumped off the table and let her hand rest for just a second on Severus' arm before she moved next to the cauldron. "People who fuck up have to try and clean up their own messes, not someone else's. It screws with your head if you don't," she shrugged.
"You're a wise woman," Dumbledore offered her.
"Yeah, just don't go telling people because that is one reputation I don't want to live up to." Faith moved forward and gave the old man a kiss on the cheek. "You should find yourself another nice old man and find some happiness of your own," she told him. His eyebrows rose.
"I'm afraid the nice old man I would choose is neither nice nor available," he said, shaking his head a bit. "You and Mr. Finn both, always managing to catch me quite unaware."
"It's part of my charm," Faith shrugged as she turned back toward Severus. She pulled a small green amulet out of her pocket. Severus glanced down at it before looking at her with a confused expression. "If you ever need help…."
"You think I would rely on Ms. Rosenberg's unstable and untested attempt to cross the realities?" Severus sniffed.
"No, but I think it works pretty good if you want to contact her, and she'll always know how to reach me. And if you ever finish with your battles here…." Faith stopped and shook her head in disgust at herself. "Yeah, I know it's no good living in a future that might not ever happen, but you hang on to this anyway," she said as she reached out and slipped the amulet into Severus' pocket, catching a quick grope before pulling her hand back out.
"Faith," Severus said, reaching out for the hand that had just groped him. He didn't say anything else, and Faith could slowly see his mask slip back in place as he let go of her hand.
"Hey, five by five. I figure I'll probably end up back in Willow's kitchen. I can torture her with stories of broom riding, hooked-nosed ugly old witches for the next five years. And I got to kick Bellatrix. You just make sure she ends up dead for me because that is one crazy bitch."
"Believe me, she shall be one I will personally delight in seeing dead," Severus agreed. "Be safe."
Faith opened her mouth, but before she could say any more, he gave a curt "Numen!"
"See ya around," she found herself saying to Willow's white kitchen cabinets.
"See who around?" a voice asked from around the corner. Willow stuck her head into the kitchen. "Faith! Faith, you're back! Why didn't you tell me you were coming back tonight?!"
"I'm coming back tonight," Faith said sarcastically with a shrug. Willow gave her a frown for a half second before smiling and yelling to the rest of the house. "Faith's back! Buffy! Faith's here." Two weeks of quiet and Faith had gotten used to it. Willow caught her by the arm and started dragging her into the living room. "Faith's back!"
Faith could hear the pounding of footsteps on stairs. Vacation was over and it was time to get back to reality. Glancing over at Willow and the matching green amulet lying against her skin, Faith could only hope. Severus knew where she was, and maybe one day he'd touch that amulet and call. Maybe he'd finally do enough to feel like he'd made up for his past or have his cover so blown that he couldn't do any good there or maybe he'd just kill his snake. Maybe the day would come that he would touch that amulet and either tell her she could safely go back or ask for safe harbor in her world. Maybe.
And then Buffy and Kennedy were there, and Andrew making inappropriate science fiction comments until Kennedy slapped him upside the back of the head, and Faith focused on putting all that hope into a safe corner of her mind as she got back to the business of living her own life.
Thank you so much for all your support as I wandered away from my safe zone and did something different. Your comments and and corrections and recs and encouragement certainly have made this a better story. Thank you.