Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry; JUNE 22, 1006
The sun was rising over the grounds of Hogwarts, but Dawn didn’t take any notice of the beautiful scenery, and neither did Faith or Snape or any of the three kids that had come with them. They were standing outside the infirmary with Professor Ravenclaw for company. Dawn got the impression that the two female Founders were just as close as the two guys, though all four seemed to be a pretty cohesive group.
“You’re sure you don’t know anything else about what happened to your friend?” Ravenclaw asked. “Any tiny bit of information, however seemingly insignificant, could be of use.”
Dawn tried to recall the incident where Xander had been split in two as best she could. “Toth,” she said at last. “The thing that used a similar tool once before on another friend, it was called a Toth, I think.”
Rowena arched an eyebrow in silence that seemed to say more than most people said with words. “Toth, you say? As in a Tothric Clan demon? I was under the impression that they were not particularly threatening unless seeking out a distinct challenge.”
“It wanted a go at one of our village’s best warriors,” Faith supplied. Dawn looked at her guardian and tried to hide how impressed she was at Faiths improvisation. “This warrior had an ally who stepped between her and the demon’s weapon and ended up split in two. The demon’s dead now, and our friend was put back together. I’m guessin’ that the thing he used to split him up was taken by the enemy, or else they made a new one.”
“That does put things into context,” Ravenclaw conceded. “One phrase you used is unfamiliar to me. What does to mean to ‘want a go at’ something?”
Dawn decided to interject before Faith accidentally made a mess of things. The Slayer was far smarter than Dawn usually gave her credit for – a mistake that she kept resolving not to make again – but intelligence did not always equal tact, and these people were not ones that Dawn wanted to insult. “It’s another phrase from home. When someone seeks out a challenge, we sometimes say that they are ‘having a go’ at that task. It can be anything from taking out a warrior to climbing a mountain, really.”
“I see,” the brunette Founder said as if humoring a group of children. “Well, if you will excuse me, I will begin scouring our library for any tomes that speak of either the Tothric Clan or else this tool used against your friend. Ah, Helga,” Ravenclaw said as the other female Founder emerged, her regal tone warming considerably towards the other woman. “How is she?”
Dawn looked to the matronly woman and looked for clues in her face. “Her body is in excellent health for a woman her age. Far better health, actually, than many others I have met. Her mind is similarly intact, and she does have a sharp intellect. It is her spirit that worries me. A part of her is missing, and it pains her in a way that will never fully heal until she is made whole again. But she is eager to see you all, and that eagerness gives me hope. It shows a strength of character that is not at all diminished. My hope is that the six of you will give your companion the support she needs to overcome this malady. Show her that she is not alone, that she is stronger than she thinks herself to be, and she will be able to function normally again.”
Dawn let out a sigh of relief. “May we see her?”
Professor Hufflepuff smiled in a way that reminded Dawn of her mother. “Of course, dear. But I don’t think you should all go in at once. Just a few at a time, I think Would you like to see her first, Dawn?”
Dawn looked to the three teens, then to Snape, and then to Faith. The kids and Snape made no move whatsoever, but Faith simply nodded. “I’ll wait near the door while you talk to Red. Just in case, right?”
“Right, Faith. Thanks,” Dawn said, taking a breath and mustering her courage. Buffy’s fear of hospitals had at some point rubbed off on her. Or maybe that came from seeing her mother’s dead body under the sheet in the hospital. She winced tears out of her eyes to try and fight off the bad imagery.
Rowena cleared her throat gently. “I’ll be going to see what I can find. I do hope your friend recovers swiftly. Listen to Helga and be strong for her: she knows her craft.” So saying, the Ravenclaw Founder excused herself from the infirmary.
Dawn took another deep breath and stepped over the threshold into the infirmary proper. It was well-lit with the sun shining in through open-air windows. The walls were made of white stone, but the texture lacked the sterile, unfeeling quality that hospitals back home had. And there were no machines with their little lights and sounds to make her worry.
Breathing a little easier, Dawn walked forward towards the only occupied bed. A quick look back showed her Faith giving her a brief nod before resuming her vigil. Pulling a stool over to Willow’s bedside, Dawn sat down and looked at her friend.
She looked paler than usual, and her brow looked wet with perspiration. But her eyes were open and she was smiling. “Hey, Dawnie,” she said. Her voice was so soft, but still full of warmth.
Dawn sniffled at the sight of her friend in such a state. Scoobies never got sick like this. They got injured, sure, and then they got better. But this sickness, this mysterious thing inside of her… It was too much like her mother’s brain cancer, and Dawn felt tears welling up in her eyes.
Cool fingers wrapped themselves around her hand. “It’s okay, Dawnie. I’m actually feeling better than I was a bit earlier. And you’re here now, so there’s that. How’re you holding up?”
Working hard to keep the tears from bursting forth in a fit of crying, Dawn sniffled hard and wiped her eyes. “I’m holding in there, y’know? I’m worried about you. We all are. A-and… I miss Buffy. And Xander and Giles and everyone else. Even Kennedy,” she said with the tiniest of smirks.
Willow chuckled softly and closed her eyes, her face a picture of warm mirth. “She always meant well, even if she did come on strong. Part of me misses her, too. Probably always will. Another part of me thinks that I used her in a really bad way.”
“Willow! Don’t say that! You didn’t do anything-“
“You don’t understand, Dawnie,” Willow said softly, and she wasn’t smiling now. “After Tara – and after Warren – I was so afraid. So afraid of myself, so afraid that all of you would hate me. And then Kennedy came in wanting me, not knowing anything about my past, and I took what she offered without thinking. I was so desperate for approval, for love, that I didn’t really give what I should have in return. And after Sunnydale, when I had the courage to try… She just wasn’t for me, Dawn.”
“I’m sorry.” Really, what did one say to something like that? “I… I didn’t know it was like that.”
“It’s okay. Really, it is. But, before I forget this crucial question of mine, I have to ask you something, Dawn.”
“Sure thing,” she said, nodding her head. “What is it?”
“Oh, just wondering,” Willow said with an impish grin. “Life’s been rough for a while. We might be here for a while, and three of my students are only a few years younger than you. Any of them catch your eye?”
“What?! Willow! How can you be asking me something like that when you’re all sick and in bed and stuff?”
“Just humor me, okay? They say that glasses bring out a certain dignity in a man.”
“Giles had that going for him, I’ll give you that,” Dawn conceded. “And I suppose Harry’s kind of cute. But he has that whole ‘weight of the world on his shoulders’ thing that Buffy had. At least it seemed that way back in DC.”
“Uh huh. And what about Ron? We redheads do have a special appeal, after all, don’t we?”
“Oh. My. God! That’s… I can’t… Words! That’s like asking if I think Ron is as hot as you are, which is so not fair. You have different parts!”
“So?” Willow said, wiggling her eyebrows. “If I was a bit younger, I might go after Hermione myself. Smart, beautiful, vivacious. Not unlike you, actually.”
“I can’t be here listening to this, Willow.”
“Oh, hush, you. Humor the bedridden lady just a bit longer, okay?”
Dawn finally broke down and laughed, but managed to restrain herself before it became a full-blown fit. “Okay, okay. You’re not as bad as I was afraid of. That’s good. But seriously, how long do you think it’ll before you’re back up to speed?”
“I dunno. Depends on what Helga says. She’s really nice. She reminds me of Joyce in some ways.”
Dawn felt tears threatening to return again. “Yeah, I know. She has the whole mom thing down pretty good. And I’m glad we’re here where we are. This place feels good. I don’t know how to put it, really, but this land we’re on has some really good vibes coming off it. At least compared to DC and Cleveland and Sunnydale.”
Willow narrowed her eyes. “That’s funny. I don’t feel it. But I don’t think you’re wrong. Must have something to do with you… With your own magical abilities.”
Dawn was glad that Willow caught herself before mentioning her nature as the Key. “Yeah, Snape thinks we should stay here a while and get some magical training. I think he meant all of us, and it looks like you could use some help to get back in the game. No offense.”
“None taken. Help is good.”
“Yeah, well, I think some of the others want to talk to you as well, and I don’t to wear you out before they all have a chance to talk with you.”
“I’m not that bad, Dawnie. At least, I don’t think I am. Am I?”
Faith didn’t want to eavesdrop on Red and little D, but she was a Slayer, and enhanced hearing was part of the package. They both probably knew she could hear them, even if they weren’t thinking about it actively.
“Just rest, Willow. I’ll be close by, I promise.”
“Okay. Thanks for coming by, Dawn. I really do feel better with you here.”
“Just doing my part for family.”
Faith swore silently. Why did Dawn have to go and say something that made her feel all inadequate? Not in a sexual way or with regard to her fighting abilities; Faith knew she was far more than adequate there. But despite making constant amends with the Scoobies for over three years now after escaping from jail, she still didn’t feel nearly as close to them as they all felt to each other.
It ate at her, with an absent father and a drunken, drugged-up mother. It was funny how the first real family she’d ever had was her first Watcher, Diana. She’d been all proper and British, but she’d treated Faith well enough, and she’d actually cared for her. Faith hadn’t realized just how much she cared in turn for Diana until the master vampire, Kakistos, was doing horrible, unspeakable things to her.
So she’d run away, fleeing to the other Slayer in the hopes that she could keep her safe. But Buffy had done more than that: she’d given Faith the strength to fight back and kick Kakistos’s ass all the way to Hell. She’d never really paid Buffy back for that, unless you counted joining the Big Bad as payback.
She’d screwed up royally, totally missing everything that the Scoobs had offered her, and it wasn’t until she’d lived a few days in Buffy’s body that she realized just what she was missing.
So she’d run away again like the coward she was, and then she tried to take the coward’s way out by trying to get Angel to kill her. The stupid vampire, bless his real and very present soul, hadn’t let her take the easy way out, and she’d turned herself in to pay for her crimes.
She’d be there right now, in prison, serving her time, if she hadn’t been needed to fight off the First. After that, she thought she could atone by doing good in the real world instead of just sitting it out in prison.
Watching Dawn and Willow be so close together, call each other family, even… It made Faith realize that she still had a long way to go before she even came close to making up for her sins. But Dawn was looking at her now, and Faith walked over to take her place on the stool by Willow’s bedside.
“Stay with Snape, Little D. I’ll be back in a bit, ‘kay?”
“Right. You okay, Faith?”
“Five by five,” she replied automatically, not wanting to spill her guts just yet.
“Okay, then. Well, don’t get her too worked up. She has to rest. But you know that, and I’ll just shut up and wait outside, then.” Dawn scurried out the door, leaving Faith and Willow alone together.
Faith tapped her fingers on her knees, hoping that something would come to her. “So, Willow… You, uh, feeling better?”
“A bit, yeah. S’good to have company,” she said with a small smile.
“Well, I’m not sure I’m the best company. Not really a talker, y’know?”
“You have your moments, Faith,” Willow said in a reassuring voice.
“Thanks. I think,” Faith replied. “I guess I just don’t see those moments. Heh. There’s a lot I don’t see.”
“What do you mean?” Willow tried to prop herself up on her elbows before promptly falling onto her back.
“Whoa! Easy, Red. Don’t hurt yourself. I just meant that… I dunno. I don’t know why I’m here, I guess. B’s got her reasons for staying behind, I know that, and I’m not saying they’re bad reasons or anything. It’s just… Here you all are, all of you magical in some way. You’ve all cast a spell before, and you’re gonna be here getting trained to be uber-witches and wizards, and I’m just this useless, stupid thug who you’re all stuck with.”
Taking a few breaths to steady herself after her little rant, Faith looked to Willow, not sure what to expect. She wasn’t quite sure how she wanted Willow to react.
“Is that how you see yourself, Faith?” she asked softly. “A stupid, useless thug?”
“It’s what I am, right?”
“Faith, don’t. Don’t do this to yourself. Just don’t. Just… Do you think Buffy would be here if she could be?”
“’Course she would. That’s a no-brainer.”
“And why would she be here if she could?”
Faith sighed dramatically. This wasn’t how she wanted this talk to go. “Little D’s her world now that her mom’s gone. I mean, there’s you and Xander and Giles, but Dawn’s her only family left. Most important thing in the world to her.”
“Exactly,” Willow said with steel in her eyes. Faith could only guess, but she thought that she might be witnessing Red’s infamous Resolve Face. “Dawn is the most important person in Buffy’s life. Losing Dawn would ruin her forever. She needed to be sure that her precious sister would be as safe as she could possibly be, and she chose you
, Faith Lehane, to guard and protect the most precious thing to Buffy in the whole world.”
Faith couldn’t argue with that logic. Buffy trusted her, yeah, but that didn’t change much. “I guess I just don’t see the Faith Lehane that you all do. Hell, I’m an escaped murderer, Red! What does that say about me?”
“It says you’re a better, stronger woman than I am,” Willow said coolly. “Well, maybe not the escaped murderer part, but hear me out, okay? I killed two people myself, and because they were hidden away in our little bubble that the rest of the world blissfully ignored, I got away with it. By all rights, I should be rotting in jail right now.
“You messed up, just like I did, Faith. But as much as you fooled yourself at the time, you didn’t like what you’d done, and you turned yourself in to make sure that you kept your soul intact. You committed yourself to atoning for what you did, and you can do far more good here, protecting Dawn from the bad guys, than you could do just sitting alone in a prison cell.
“And before you say you’re not worth it,” Willow continued, interrupting Faith’s protest before she could get it out of her mouth, “I’ve got news for you, missy. You stood with us in Sunnydale. You helped train our army. You’ve guided young girls who would have otherwise been lost and alone and helped them find their own path.”
Willow blushed. “And, you did kinda help take down a big ol’ conspiracy a couple of months ago. I don’t know if you read the papers after it all went down, but there were a lot of people wondering about the mystery guards from Cerberus Securities who were personally present when everything was exposed. You and Kennedy were the point men – well, point women, I guess – when Cerberus stormed the castle and took down the SS. You have to give yourself credit for saving all those kids and their families from the threat of torture.”
Faith felt her face flushing hot, which was totally unlike her. She was the tough one: the hot chick with superpowers. Nothing was supposed to rattle her, dammit! “I don’t think I can do this, Red.”
“You can, Faith. You are, and you have been.”
“No, you don’t get it, Willow!” Faith shouted. “I’m supposed to be all big and strong and protector-like and stuff, but I can’t protect you from this,” she said, waving her hand around the infirmary. “The last time I was in charge of keeping kids safe, I led them into a trap and got people killed. How can any of you trust me with Buffy’s kid sister? I get people killed, Willow, and I can’t take it anymore, okay?”
Faith got up from the stool and looked out a window, holding the wall with her arm and resting her head on her elbow. The rolling green hills were nothing like the cities of home. There were no electric lights, nor any smoke or exhaust from oil-fueled machines. “This place isn’t anything I’m used to, Will. I don’t know what’s out there. What good am I if I can’t even beat up vamps that aren’t around?”
Willow sighed. “Okay, Faith. I’m going to say this as many times as I have to: stop trying to be Buffy.”
“You heard me. You’re trying to fill Buffy’s shoes by taking all the responsibility for yourself. You’re trying to be the fearless leader that never wavers or doubts, who always knows what she’s doing and who can always handle whatever comes her way, no matter what. That sound about right to you?”
Faith let out a humorless chuckle. “Sounds like B to me.”
“Well, that’s why you have to stop trying to be Buffy, because you’re totally and completely wrong.”
“Say that again, Red?”
“Look, Faith: Buffy’s got issues. She doesn’t always have the answers, and she can’t always protect us. Sure, she usually comes through, but she doesn’t do it by standing alone and focusing only on herself and what’s so great about her. She had all of us to help her out. We helped give her the strength and the power to find the right answers and to take the right actions. And you better believe I’m including you in that group, missy. You and Buffy have more in common than you’ll probably ever believe. Just stop trying to be someone you’re not and just do what you can.”
Faith made sure to keep her mouth closed as Willow went on her rant. Was she really trying to be like Buffy? And was she really as deluded as Red seemed to think?
“And more than that,” Willow said quietly, her eyes closing as her chest rose and fell with heavier breaths, “I need you, Faith.”
“Huh? What do you mean?”
Red sighed, and Faith felt bad now that she seemed to be causing the witch to become short of breath. “I mean that Dawn’s not the only one that needs protecting. We all do, but the others don’t really know you that well. I don’t know too much about Snape, and the kids are just, well, they’re kids. But you and I have been through things that a lot of people haven’t.”
Faith snorted. “You mean we killed people?”
“There’s that,” Willow said, and Faith thought she saw a tear roll down Red’s cheek, “but we’ve also seen things – been through things – that no one else has. Not here, anyway, except for maybe Dawn when Buffy wasn’t trying to shield her from everything. I need you, Faith, to keep myself sane. You understand me more than anyone else here. Even more than Dawnie. I need you to stop me if it looks like I’m going to do something… Y’know? Evil, I guess?”
Faith sat down again and leaned forward. “You really trust me with something like that, Red?”
Willow smiled gently. “I do.”
Faith felt the sun beating down on her face, or at least it felt that way. The infirmary was a bit too warm for her tastes all of a sudden. “All right, then. But you gotta do the same for me, got it?”
To her immense relief, Red nodded emphatically. “Got it.”
Faith let out a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. “I think I’ve run you a bit ragged. I’ll let you get some sleep. The others want to see you, too, but I think you need some rest first. I’ll talk to Helga. She seems cool.”
“She is,” Willow said as Faith got to her feet again. “One more question.”
“Yeah, what is it?” Faith asked over her shoulder.
“Why is it so important to protect Dawn? I know what you said earlier, but I just want to hear it again.”
Faith shrugged. “She’s Buffy’s sister. That’s all there is to it, but it’s more’n I need to keep me on my toes.”
Willow closed her eyes again and let out what Faith thought might have been a sigh of relief. “Okay, then. Say ‘hi’ to everyone for me, okay? And could you maybe send Helga in again?”
“Yeah, no sweat. Just concentrate on the whole gettin’ better thing.”
Chuckling softly at Red’s upbeat attitude, Faith exited the infirmary and tapped Helga on the shoulder on her way out. “She wants to see you.”
Nodding without a word, the Hufflepuff matron moved back inside to check on her charge.
“How is she?” the red-haired boy asked.
Faith sighed. “She’s tired, but doing better than I thought she’d be doing. She’s gonna rest for a bit if Helga say she has to, and then you can see her a bit later.”
The kid she’d met over the summer, Harry, let out a long breath. “Then I guess we wait until a bit later.”
Hey, everyone. This chapter was originally going to be about twice as long as it currently is, but I've decided to split it into two chapters instead. The next chapter isn't finished yet, but I'll get it done as soon as I can.
Also, my original concept for this sequel has changed a bit since I started it, so I changed the title to match, along with the description. It's still the same story, just going by a different moniker. I apologize for the confusion
Still looking for a beta-reader. Any help would be tremendously appreciated.
Did you know that every time you leave a review for a fanfic, an angel gets its wings? True story.
Thank you all for reading! I hope you enjoy this latest chapter!