"It's not a real big tree, is it?" Faith said for the dozenth time since they'd started to decorate it, making Buffy sigh again.
"But if you add it to last years and cut it in half, you'd have two normal sized trees."
"The tree's fine, Faith. It looks good."
"Never said it didn't look good." She wrapped a final length of red tinsel around it and stepped back. "But it needs something on top."
Buffy had come prepared and held both choices up. "Angel or star?"
Faith smirked, "What do you think?"
"Star it is." Buffy put the plastic angel back in the bag and went up on tiptoe to place the star on the uppermost branch. "How's that?"
"Good. Now let's see if the lights work."
Buffy saved Faith the effort, getting down on her hands and knees herself to plug them in. They all winked into life, not a single dead bulb, a Christmas miracle. She sat back on her heels, nodding appreciatively at the result of their hard work before popping back up to her feet.
"So, you like your surprise?"
"I do. Thanks." Faith's eyebrows twitched suggestively as she asked, "Any way I can pay you back?"
"Yes, more cocoa please."
Faith sighed, disappointed, as she turned to the kitchenette, but cheered up again when Buffy produced the tub of Andrew's Christmas cookies.
"I dunno what it is," Faith said as she chewed on one while dipping another into her cocoa, "but these cookies just make me really fuckin' happy to be alive."
"I think it's the cinnamon," Buffy said, nibbling on her second. "Or maybe he puts ecstasy in them."
Faith choked on her mouthful. "What?"
"I had a robot step-dad that did that once."
"You too, huh?" Buffy quirked an eyebrow and Faith shrugged. "Okay, mine wasn't a robot."
Buffy stared at her for a beat before drawling, "Anyway. So, the decorations are all up, the tree's all pretty, what did you want to do now?"
"You're sticking around?"
"Unless you're kicking me out."
"Nah, just don't know how I'm gonna entertain you is all. We could watch TV but Santa ain't brought me one yet."
When Faith had continued to insist on moving out of the house, Buffy had worried over it. She didn't want Faith gone, for one reason, but she also didn't want her having to cope with the pressure of fending for herself right now. She'd mentioned her fears to Giles one evening and he'd been one step ahead of her, although his fears were more professional. It just wasn't safe for Faith to be out on her own right now, not with the ever-present threat of Troy looming.
He'd already made several verbal threats to her over the phone, which she had very verbally told him to shove up his ass. Then there had been the kidnap attempt, six of the armoured red demons swooping on her when she was in town. Luckily she hadn't been alone. Kennedy had taken down two of them and held the rest off with Faith's help while waiting for Buffy and reinforcements to arrive.
After that Faith wasn't allowed to be alone, something she hated with a mad passion, so when Giles had suggested she move to their summer cabin by the lake it suited everyone. The cabin was on their own private land which meant they could police it as they saw fit, which in turn meant there were never less than ten slayers patrolling the area at a time but Faith got to live her own life, in her own place, without feeling like she was the one being constantly watched.
The place had been furnished already but left unused for so long it had needed a complete overhaul. With them all, and especially Xander, working all day every day, it had taken three weeks to get it up to scratch. They'd made it look really nice but aside from having a well-stocked fridge it didn't have many home comforts. The contents of Faith's bedroom had been transferred of course - but she hadn't had a TV in her room or much else besides a small stereo and a gameboy.
Buffy thought again about giving Faith the stuff from her bedroom. She had a portable TV for starters. . . but then what would she do when she was home alone? Other than watch TV downstairs, perhaps, but that wasn't really the point she was making. Bringing her stuff over - and she had thought about it more than once - felt like a commitment of the kind she wasn't ready to make.
"I'm sure you can find some way to entertain me," she said without thinking. Seeing Faith's eyes light up, she added, "Not that way."
Faith lowered herself down onto the two-seater futon. "We could take turns playing Super Mario."
"Pass. I always get killed by that mushroom bomb thingy on the first level." Buffy rummaged under a wild pool of green tinsel to find the stereo. It took a while to find a radio station that was more music than crackling static but eventually Mariah Carey was belting out 'All I Want For Christmas'. "See, you do have Christmas music!"
"Ya call that music?" Faith laughed. "Grab the deck of cards, we can play poker."
"You obviously missed the dubious note to my voice there." But she fetched the cards anyway and took a seat next to Faith. She handed them to her for shuffling. "So, a little bit of loneliness aside, how are you doing out here?"
"I'm fine. Haven't heard nothing from him. I don't think he even knows I moved."
"I wouldn't bet on that. He has friends in omnipotent places."
"Well, he hasn't given me any trouble and the girls stop by with regular updates and they haven't seen anything suspicious."
Buffy knew this because she spoke to them regularly too, but she said, "Good" anyway. "How did your, uh, last appointment go?"
Faith had been a couple of times to see a Council appointed doctor. The initial scans had shown a perfectly healthy 'human' baby growing inside her but Buffy was still waiting for the scan that would show the horns and tail starting to sprout . . .
"Good. Doc thinks I'll be ready to pop half way through January. Got a real good picture this time too. Wanna see it?" Faith was already reaching towards the table for her wallet.
"Uh, no . . . maybe later."
Faith looked disappointed but didn't push it. "He gave me this oil too, to rub on my stomach. I'm supposed to do it like five times a day to prevent stretch marks, yunno?"
"Stretch marks?" Buffy said weakly and then shook herself out of it. She knew this was to be expected, she'd read the books, albeit secretly. "Five times a day? That's a lot."
"Well, the little fucker grew kinda quick," Faith said fondly. Buffy tried not to pull a face. "So I'm way behind on the moisturizing thing. But the Doc thinks, 'cause I'm a Slayer, if I do it a lot now I'll be okay."
"That's good. Um, I've been here a few hours already, does that mean you should have, um, yunno, already?"
"Moisturized, B," Faith said with a laugh. "It's not a dirty word, you can say it."
Buffy gave her look that obviously wasn't as playful as she'd intended.
Faith looked down at her lap that was obscured by her bump. "Nah, it's cool. I guess it won't hurt to wait 'til you're gone."
"I'm sorry, Faith."
"It's fine, whatever." Faith shuffled the cards some more. "So what did you wanna play?"
"Poker's fine. But look, I am sorry. I know I'm not making things easy."
"Not your job to make this easy. You're being a friend, that's enough."
"But I know you want more."
Faith looked her dead in the eye but kept her voice soft. "And I know you do too, just not like this."
Buffy nodded gently and then had to look away.
"So, maybe when the brat goes to college we can try again," Faith said lightly. She got no response. "B?"
She didn't want to have to wait eighteen years. She didn't want to wait another five minutes! Why couldn't this be different? Why couldn't she have told Faith about Troy's plan before he had time to carry it out? Why couldn't she just get over her fears and insecurities? It was only a damn baby! So what if it turned out to be the antichrist? Wasn't being with Faith worth the evil baby drama?
Holding tight to that train of thought she turned back and seeing the concern all over Faith's face just made her all the more determined to push past the baby-block. She leaned in to kiss her gently on the mouth. It was the first time there had been lip-on-lip contact since the night Faith had returned from Hades -- she'd been doing her best not to send mixed messages -- and her eyes slipped closed now in bliss.
Faith sat back just enough to look her in the eyes but she twirled some of Buffy's hair around her finger as if trying to keep her tethered close. "Are you sure?"
"No," she admitted. "Can you handle that?"
"Depends what you want me to handle. Is this just a friends-with-kissing-benefits deal, or is it more?"
Buffy still didn't know and, desperate not to lead Faith on in any way, she shrugged slightly. "Maybe just the first one, I don't know." Faith's frustration was palpable. "Sorry, again, I shouldn't have. . ."
"No, I can handle that," Faith decided quickly and kissed her again, a slow slide of lips and curl of tongue that was over too fast. Buffy followed her lips forward as Faith leaned back again, making her chuckle as she continued, "Besides, never gonna get you past this if I don't show you what you're missing every once in a while."
Buffy smiled and very deliberately pulled Faith close again. "I'm gonna need to see more than that."
"I can handle that too," Faith murmured, her warm breath on Buffy's lips making her shiver and close the distance between them.
She did her best to relax into the kiss, trying to banish thoughts of anything not directly connected to Faith's mouth right now out of her head. It wasn't that hard, this was Faith after all. Kissing her was all she ever wanted to do. There was no pressure here, except their lips against one another's and that was all good. They were just two friends making out. Happened all the time . . . probably, somewhere.
Faith leaned back once more and Buffy wanted to smack her in the head so she'd think twice about doing it again. Didn't she realize that every time kissing wasn't actively happening her inner-Buffy started asking awkward questions about what she was doing and how sane doing such a thing might be?
"Just so I don't overstep any lines here, friends kiss with tongue, right?"
Okay, Faith's interruption had been directly connected to her mouth so maybe she wouldn't hit her in the head after all. Instead Buffy slipped her arms tighter around the back of Faith's neck and pulled her closer again.
"Yes, tongues are very much encouraged."
Faith made a sound, like a happy moan, as Buffy led with example, sliding her tongue deeply into Faith's mouth and she'd swear that somehow she felt that little noise vibrate all through her body, as if it was traveling through her bloodstream, making her skin tingle as it passed through before settling between her legs. She'd forgotten how dangerous kissing Faith could be, how it made all rational thought fade away, how it made even the most valid of questions seem stupid and not worth the breath of asking them; how it certainly didn't give a shit about her best intentions or the perils of mixed messages.
She pressed closer, hands sinking into Faith's hair as she reveled in the taste and feel of her for the first time in too long. This was how their future together was supposed to go. This feeling, like she would walk through a burning forest and back again just for the chance to be this close to her, to look upon her beautiful face, hear her excited breathing as they refused to part lips long enough for new oxygen, to feel her heart . . . Ow!
Okay, heartbeats were supposed to be all soft and romantic, they weren't supposed to hurt! Buffy had to pull back to rub her stinging sternum, wondering what she'd done wrong. She'd been having a moment, dammit!
"Sorry." Faith was chuckling but she looked anxious, like she was worried Buffy was about to start yelling at her.
"Why did you punch me?" she asked, more confused than anything else. "Did you change your mind?"
"I didn't punch you."
"Well, poke me then."
"I didn't do that either, my hands were on your shoulders."
"But I felt it! So either you're lying or. . ." her eyes trailed slowly, fearfully, down to Faith's stomach as the answer sunk in. Instinctively, she shot a few inches further away on the futon to put space between her and the bump. "He punched me?"
"Nah, he probably just kicked you," Faith said as if that made it all better.
"Great, he's not even born and he hates me!"
"B, don't take it personally for fuck's sake. He's a fetus, they kick. Just ignore it."
"That's easy for you to say, you're not the one he's trying to drop kick across the room."
"Are you kidding me? Every time he kicks you, I'm in the way."
"I never asked you to be." Faith gave her a look, letting her know how stupid that sounded, like she didn't already know. She took a deep breath, tried to be a grown up, and whispered. "I can't do this with him down there."
"Why? It's not like he can see us."
"I know, but I feel like he's judging me, from in there, yunno?"
"No, I really don't know." Faith leant back against the futon, crossing her arms. "If you're freakin' out, fine, we can work through it, ain't like we don't have practice at this shit. But it's all you, okay? Don't put your hang-ups on him; he's just a baby."
It was kind of insulting but Buffy still grinned at the way Faith defended her bump. Seeing Faith's eyes narrow she fake-coughed the grin away.
"I think it's a little bit him, he's the one doing the kicking. He obviously doesn't like me kissing his Mommy."
"That's just because he doesn't know you yet."
"Well, it's not like I can crawl inside and introduce myself, is it."
Faith laughed, "I mean he doesn't really know the sound of your voice or anything."
"I'm always talking to you."
"Yeah, but not to him. And that's the first time you've felt him kick because that's the first time you've been close enough to let him feel you. Maybe he can sense you don't like him, or maybe that was just his way of trying to get your attention."
Buffy sighed, "I can't believe he's already exactly like you." Faith prodded her hard in the side and she slapped her hand away, laughing, "See?"
"What I 'see' is that you better make this right." Faith put a hand on her stomach, rubbing it gently. "'Cause he's still gunning for you down there."
Buffy stared at the bump, imagining that she could see freaky ripples under the surface of Faith's baggy t-shirt as the supernatural fetus kicked and writhed within. But she couldn't really, it was almost disappointing. She tried to picture lifting her hand from the futon and placing it gently on Faith's rounded belly, to say hello, to begin the bonding process with this child that all the books said was so important for the father to do.
Her fingers twitched and her heartbeat sped up a ridiculous amount as she willed herself to feel that strong, healthy kick on the palm of her hand. She felt quietly crazed, torn between going ahead and accepting her role in this tiny little beings life, or running away and turning her back on this huge, un-asked for responsibility. Either way it was going to change her life forever; the question was: just how much change could she handle?
A loud jangling crashed into their uncomfortable silence, making them both jump.
"Saved by the bells, huh?" Faith said bleakly as she struggled off of the futon. Buffy was up before her, way before her, and pushed her back down. "B! I was almost halfway up!"
"You stay there. I'll go and see what it is."
"I can take care of myself, you know."
"I know, but I want to take care of you, so humor me . . . and shut up."
"Fine. At least don't leave me a sitting duck."
Buffy lightly threw Faith's crossbow to her and grabbed a sword from the small crate of weapons by the door.
The sun was setting as she left the cozy cabin for the bitter cold, snow covered beach. The jangling of cow bells inside had come from one of the many physical trip-lines set up around Faith's new home. As well as mystical protections and glamors and the ever-present presence of the slayer scouts, Xander had gone to town using every military tactic he could think of to defend Faith's perimeter. The reinforced metal string - flexible but impossible to cut through - crisscrossed the countryside at knee height for a mile around the cabin. It was designed to detect human intruders; anything else wouldn't be enough weight to ring the cow bells. So far all it had caught was a succession of clumsy or forgetful Slayers. And Andrew . . . twice.
With that in mind, Buffy opened her cellphone, dialing the command post they'd set up when Faith had first moved out to the lake. "Catch anything good?"
Leah was in charge down there tonight. "No idea yet, Ma'am. Disturbance on the west string. But judging by the radios Shona and Ellie are fighting something big!"
Buffy ran for the west string without hanging up, she needed to hear any updates as they came through. If Troy had sent someone to the cabin, or had come himself, she needed to know right away so that she could get Willow and Kennedy over there to protect Faith.
The deep snow slowed her down but a new moon was already high in the sky and the way it lit up the white hills meant that Buffy could see where she was going just fine. Within minutes she could see the commotion and then she could hear it too.
"Get that way, ya big galumph!"
"I'm not a galumph, you're a galumph!"
"I was talking to him!"
The him in question looked like a reindeer. She hadn't even known they had reindeer around here but she knew her Christmas cartoons and, minus the red nose, this guy looked a lot like Rudolf. Buffy slowed to a walk and stopped a few feet away from the bickering slayers and their captive. She put her hands on her hips and waited for one of them to notice her.
When they did so they both looked startled to find her there.
"Girls, what do we do when we've ascertained and neutralized the threat in the strings?"
"Call in to the CP," Shona said sheepishly.
Buffy nodded and held the phone back to her ear. "Everything's okay, Leah. The girls just caught a reindeer."
"That's our Christmas dinner set then," Leah said before hanging up. Buffy did the same.
"In our defense," Ellie began. "The threat's not exactly neutralized yet. We can't get the beast to move one way or another to get it off the string!"
Buffy stuck the sword point down in the snow and metaphorically rolled up her sleeves with a sigh.
The deer really hadn't wanted to move. Hooves set deep in the snow, it had locked its knees until Buffy and the junior slayers were sweating and panting with the effort. Just as she was about to give up and leave the stupid animal there, the reindeer, bored with being pushed and pulled at, walked off, catching the trip wire again and starting another round of urgent radio contact. Buffy left the girls to it, eager to get back to Faith.
Although not that eager, she decided, and once she was out of sight she slowed her ungainly sprint through the deep drifts to a walk. What did she have to race back for? More awkward silence? More decisions she didn't feel equipped to make? More kissing - that brought a smile at least, but it faded - only to be kicked in the gut by Troy's spawn?
That was her main problem. She could probably persuade herself to get on board with Faith being pregnant. She loved her, wanted to spend the rest of her life with her, and babies occasionally had their good points. But this wasn't just any baby. This was his baby, and if that alone wasn't bad enough it was also the baby that was going to grow up and try to take over the world. How could she play happy families with him if one day she might have to . . .
She couldn't even finish the thought, but even worse than imagining that fateful day in her future was the idea of having this conversation with Faith. The other slayer was already uber protective of her unborn child. How was she going to react when Buffy told her that one day it would be her job to. . .to. . . stop him, whatever it took?
But if it really was more than she could deal with why was she even spending all this time with Faith? Why was she buying trees, decorating her tiny home and generally just hanging out almost every day? It couldn't be just for the casual kissing because she hadn't actually planned to do that today. It would be kinder to both of them if she kept her distance, but all the good intentions and terrified feelings in the world couldn't seem to make her do that.
Not for the first time in the past month she grew angry at Toni. If she hadn't left none of this would matter. She could have just stayed true to her original plan of only being Faith's friend. But Toni had gone and now Buffy felt as if she'd dumped her in this mess as punishment for loving Faith more. Oh, she knew it was selfish to think like that. After all, Toni had sacrificed her own happiness once again to give Buffy what she thought she wanted - a way out, a chance to be with Faith - and if Buffy couldn't handle that it was hardly Toni's fault.
It did not curb Buffy's irrational anger at her though. Toni had been her security blanket, through all of it, and when she needed that security the most Toni wasn't there. Literally! Buffy didn't have a clue where her ex was right now.
She'd visited the house Toni had wanted them to move into a few days after Thanksgiving to see her. Just to make sure she was okay. Toni had walked out into that snowy night newly human and more alone than she had ever been in two and half thousand years with only a suitcase of Buffy's clothes to her name. Buffy didn't even know if she'd had any cash on her at the time, her departure had been so sudden.
Toni hadn't been at the house but the real estate agent had been, showing an elderly couple around the small but pleasant property. After an initial burst of silly resentment at the thought of old people living in her house, she'd asked the agent why Toni hadn't taken it only to be told that Miss Mancini had never turned up for the viewing.
Not to worried yet, Buffy had called the local motels, then widened her search to every hotel, inn, bed and breakfast and youth hostel in the area. Still nothing. A frantic check of all the hospitals and police stations in the district proved unfruitful too.
She finally had to choose between putting 'Girl Missing' flyers up and calling the milk company to find out how to get someone's face on a carton, or accepting the fact that Toni just didn't want to be found. Faith, unsurprisingly, encouraged her to do the latter and reluctantly Buffy agreed. It had been three weeks and she still had no clue of Toni's whereabouts and the Italian's cell phone rang until it went to voicemail every time.
Lost in her thoughts, she'd trudged all the way back to the beach cabin. She knocked lightly while kicking the snow from her boots and then let herself in.
Faith was wrapped in a blanket, asleep on the futon, but she stirred when she heard the door shut. "Hey, you came back."
"Of course I came back. It was a false alarm."
"Yeah, Leah called a while ago. I thought after the weirdness before the bells ya might have gone straight home."
Buffy shook her head, the idea hadn't even occurred to her. That had to mean something, right? She grinned. "You look so snuggly right now."
"Oh yeah?" Faith waggled her eyebrows. "Wanna snuggle then?"
Buffy hesitated; she did and she didn't.
Faith rolled her eyes and, groaning, pulled herself into more of a sitting position. "No worries, B, my bladder's letting you off the hook anyway."
As she waddled off to the bathroom Buffy stood awkwardly in the centre of the room. Why had she come back in if she was just going to make Faith feel bad? Not that she'd meant to. She'd been very clear on not knowing what the hell she wanted to do.
She sat on the edge of the futon and stared at the tree. It might not be half the tree they'd had last year but it was pretty with the tinsel and the baubles and the twinkling lights. It looked a little bare around the bottom though with no presents. All of the gifts were at the main house.
The toilet flushed and, what felt like an hour later, Faith came back out. "Pissing like a freakin' race horse these days," she grumbled.
Buffy's nose wrinkled. "Nice."
Faith laughed at her reaction and sat on one of the straight-backed chairs by the entrance to the kitchenette instead of coming back to the futon. Was she keeping her distance to put Buffy at ease? Or because she was mad at her? She didn't look or sound mad though. Her eyes went back to the tree.
Faith looked at it too and came to the same conclusion. "Needs presents around it, yunno, to make it properly Christmassy." When Buffy just nodded, she asked, "So what did you ask Santa for this year, B?"
There was no edge to her voice but Buffy had the distinct impression that Faith wasn't expecting an answer like a cute sweater or a new set of nunchucks.
She shrugged, "Peace on Earth and good will to all men. . .and women."
"Sure. What about you?"
The way Faith smiled at her, Buffy was sure she was about to say something really corny again and readied herself not to shy away. "Baby shit."
"Oh." Buffy blinked in surprise, smiled at her wrongness and then grinned. "Well you might not get it for Christmas but I expect you'll have all the baby shit you can handle four weeks from now."
Faith laughed, "I didn't mean actual shit, besides I'm planning on hiring Andy to take care of that kinda crap. I meant, you know, stuff for the baby."
"What do you have so far?" She genuinely didn't know, she'd been staying away from too much baby talk with Faith, what with it being an instant panic trigger.
"Absolutely nothing. Don't even know where to start. Willow brought me a bunch of baby books from the library but I ain't looked at them yet. You know what I'm like with the studying."
Buffy sighed silently; yep, she was always the one that had to do the homework. "What about clothes?"
"Well," Faith shrugged sheepishly as if she suddenly felt shy talking about it. "I was looking at some in this store the other day but I don't know how big he's gonna be . . . so I figured I'd wait 'til he's here so I don't waste money buying the wrong size."
She chuckled, "And so what are you planning to dress him in when he first pops out?"
She shrugged again, "I read something somewhere about swaddling clothes."
"Yes, Faith, you read that in the bible, but as your baby is going to be born in the twenty-first century you might want to look into getting a few newborn onesies."
"Okay. Ooh, I got one thing under control. Xander's coming by after New Year to baby-proof the place."
"That's nice of him." He was also making her a beautiful crib for Christmas but Buffy wasn't going to ruin the surprise. "What about diapers?"
Faith pulled a face. "Trying not to think about them."
"Faith, you have to! Even if Andrew agrees to be your nursemaid he's not gonna be here all the time. Plus someone will have to teach him how to do it."
"Well I can't, I've never done it before."
"How do you know? Did you ever change Dawn's diapers?"
"Heck no, I wouldn't go near her when she was stinky."
"Then how do you know? Looks like rocket science to me, all them tabs and shit."
"Well, you just stick it under the baby's butt and, like, fold it together." The pictures Buffy had looked at had been a little confusing to be honest but she was sure that was the gist of it. "What about bottles?"
Faith raised an eyebrow. "Bottles?"
"To feed him."
"Ain't that what my tits are for?" she asked nonplussed.
Buffy chuckled, "Well, I like to think they're for more than that, but even if you're breast-feeding you're going to want to be able to express sometimes, right?"
"Express what?" Faith was looking more and more freaked out, at least on a par with how freaked out she had been the days before the wedding. "You know I ain't good at expressing myself, B."
She laughed again, she couldn't help it, she liked Faith freaked out. "You don't express yourself, doofus, you express your milk. You know, so the baby can drink it later."
"How the fuck do I do that?" Faith asked, horrified. "Milk myself into a pail?"
As an inappropriate and extremely disturbing fantasy popped into her head, Buffy went red and stood up abruptly to dispel it. "No, you use a breast-pump!"
"Huh, sounds kinky."
She shook her head fast. "It's not. Definitely not kinky. But you can use it to make up bottles for when it's not convenient for the baby to get it, uh, straight from the source."
"Okay," Faith was eying her still pink cheeks but obviously didn't know why she was blushing - oh, it was good to not be dating a love goddess anymore! "So how come you know all this?"
"Um, I saw a program on TV once."
"Okay. So this TV program, did it tell you how the baby's supposed to sleep 'cause I heard bad things could happen if . . ."
"On his back," Buffy said automatically. "And you should get one of those tiny sleeping bag things for him to sleep in so he can't hurt himself, and place him at the bottom of the crib so he can't slip down and get covered by his covers."
Faith nodded and again said, "Okay. And what about the birth; did it tell you exactly how something the size of a baby can come out of down there? I mean, I've had an active and interesting sex life, until recently anyway, but nothing the size of a baby head has . . ."
"Stop!" Buffy begged with her hands up. "Your body is preparing for it, Faith. It's still gonna hurt, which I think is an appropriate punishment for sleeping with that asshole in the first place, but your body can handle it. When you go into labor you'll start dilating - down there - and the baby will come out when you're . . . dilated enough."
"Dilating? Are you kidding me? How fuckin' much?"
"Ten centimeters, that's all!"
"Busted!" Faith yelled, pointing at her.
"You've been studying this! No other way you could answer every single question I asked like a freakin' midwife."
Buffy looked down at her feet, embarrassed. "I'm sorry."
"What the hell for?"
"This isn't my business. I had no right to . . ."
"Fuck that! Far as I'm concerned this is your business, B, and I think you think so too, or else why would you have bothered?"
Buffy met her eyes but couldn't answer, she didn't know the answer.
"Would being with me, with us, really be so bad?" Faith asked softly.
"It's Troy's baby, Faith," she whispered.
"And you hate him so much you can't love this little thing?"
"No, it's not about that."
"My mom was a drunken ho-bag and my dad was . . ." Faith shook her head ". . . he was just a coward, I guess. Does that mean I'm not worth loving?"
"Of course not!"
"Then what's the difference?"
Okay, apparently they were having this conversation. If Faith hated her by the end of it, or just changed her mind about wanting her in her life, at least that would make her decision for her. Buffy walked across the room, not wanting to be standing awkwardly in front of Faith while she talked, and stared into the slowly dying log fire.
"Giles has been through the prophecies with you?"
"Uh huh. I didn't understand all of it, he was kinda intense and I didn't wanna provoke that by asking questions, yunno? But I got as much as Troy's son grows up to be some great leader. Like Alexander the Great maybe."
"Do you know how Alexander became great?"
"Something to do with elephants?"
"He crushed and conquered hundreds of people."
"Huh. But he did it for a good cause, right?"
"Maybe, in his own head, but mostly he probably did it because he wanted their land and their power."
"And you think my kid's going to do the same thing?"
"I think Troy's kid is."
"Hard to tell them apart when they're the same damn kid! Buffy, what are you saying exactly?"
Buffy placed a couple of chopped logs in the low flames and watched them catch on fire. "I'm saying this baby is destined to grow up and take over the world, not just a few countries in Europe like the Nazis, but the whole world, and nobody conquers anywhere without a lot of bloodshed. Think how much blood you'd need to shed to conquer every country on Earth?"
There was a long pause before Faith answered. "I don't really wanna think about that."
"And that's why I didn't want to have this conversation."
"So you think my boy's doomed to be an asshole before he's even born?"
Buffy turned to her, "No!"
"Then what are you saying?"
She hesitated, "That one of us should stay objective just in case he is."
"I understand why you're angry."
"You do? Thanks!" Faith pushed herself up from the chair. "Yunno, I'm starting to think you're just as chicken as my dad was."
"My mom was too much for him to handle so he left, without me."
"How is this the same thing?"
"You think Troy's prophecies are too much to handle so you're leaving me too."
"I'm not leaving you, I'm just not . . . Look, whatever your mom was like is not the same as Troy's prophecies. These are real, and nasty."
"So was my mom."
"I mean, the first four prophecies have all come true, that means this last one is probably going to as well. You're too close to do anything about it, everyone gets that, but one of us has to . . ."
Faith interrupted her, "I think I'm the only one who is doing something about it."
"We're Slayers, B! We stop these prophecies from coming true all the time. That Master bastard was supposed to kill you and take over Sunnydale but you didn't let him. The First was supposed to kill us all and take over the world and we stopped it from happening. And we did it all not by bowing to the fuckin' demons, but your way! Are you really telling me you don't think we can beat Troy's prophecy by doing things our way now?"
Buffy's mind was racing but one prominent thought stuck out. "Mapanos said the same sort of thing."
"Who? Nevermind, what did he say?"
"That the baby would start off just a baby. Nurture over nature."
"Well, he's a nature spirit so he was more for it the other way around, but he said something about how the way the baby was raised could affect how potent the prophecy turned out to be."
"And that all means?"
Buffy shrugged. "Good parenting outweighs bad parenting?"
"So we just gotta raise this bean right and we're all good."
She shook her head. "I . . . I don't know about we."
"B, come on! If you really wanna put the skids on Troy's plans then what better way than by being a real part of this kid's life? There ain't no one better at being good and putting people first than you. Plus," Faith added gently, "I know you're already invested."
"But I shouldn't be!"
"But you are."
She couldn't deny it. Loving Faith, which she did passionately, meant loving all of her. And all of her included her bump.
"It's too dangerous."
"No it's not, I already did the dangerous part by kicking Troy to the curb. And I know he ain't gonna stop trying to get this kid, which is just more reason for you to be on our side . . . by our side."
Faith was right on that front at least. If Buffy wanted to stop Troy getting his hands on the boy, and therefore at least have a shot at preventing the child from becoming an evil overlord when he hit his mid-teens, she should be there, as close as possible.
"It's not going to be as easy as that," she said, answering her own thoughts as much as what Faith had said. "He'll do anything to get his son."
"I know. It's gonna be hell, but I think we can take him . . . together . . . don't you?"
Buffy looked down at her hands, shrugging with uncertainty.
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