Faith lashed out with a brutal left hook that very nearly connected with Buffy's chin, but at the last moment, the blonde leaned backward and it sailed harmlessly by instead. Quickly following up, Faith threw her leg out, foot aiming for Buffy's legs to sweep them aside, but Buffy simply leaned further back and leapt into the air, tucking herself into a tight roll as she spun out of harm's way, landing solidly on the mat under her feet.
The training room was filled with wide-eyed attentive Slayers who had circled the sparring area in a wide berth and were watching with rapt interest as the two Senior Slayers battled in the center. The crowd buzzed with excitement but neither Buffy nor Faith paid it much mind; Faith was focused only on Buffy. As for Buffy, she was focused too, but on something much more troubling and much further removed than this fight.
Her distraction cost her, and Buffy reeled from a well-placed elbow in her stomach, earning her a groan of sympathy from the crowd.
Two of its members in particular had a vested interest in the fight's outcome. Hazel leaned over to her companion, speaking slightly louder than normal to be heard above the surrounding buzz. "Hey Dawn, you sure you don't wanna back out?"
Dawn's reply was a firm shake of her head. "Nope." Her arms were crossed and the fight clearly held every bit of her attention. "$10 on Buffy. In fact ..." She cocked her head to one side as Buffy stumbled backward, reeling from a kick Faith had landed in her face. "...if you're game, let's made it $20."
Several other nearby Slayers turned toward Dawn, their faces registering nothing but shock.
Hazel raised an eyebrow and regarded the other girl with complete disbelief. "You are watching the same fight as me, right?"
"Uh-huh," replied Dawn, unconcerned.
"I mean I know she's your sister and everything," Hazel continued, "and it's really admirable that you have so much ..." The Slayer winced at her own upcoming pun. "...faith in her and everything, but I'm not sure I woulda bet against Fiver on a good day."
Buffy tried to throw a punch at Faith, but the other Slayer grabbed her arm instead, jerking Buffy forward and smashing an elbow into the back of Buffy's head. Collectively, the spectators hissed in sympathetic pain.
Still flinching, Hazel added, "And this looks nothing like a good day."
But Dawn remained firm. "$20 on Buffy."
Shrugging, Hazel agreed, clearly feeling that she had done her best to be charitable. "Okay then. Thanks for contributing to my New Jacket fund."
Faith continued to press her attack relentlessly, but still Buffy only offered half-hearted attempts at blocking and rarely took the offensive, even when an ample opportunity presented itself. Finally Buffy stumbled backward after a solid punch and lost her footing, falling to the floor. The blonde glanced up as Faith swaggered over, a disappointed sneer on her lips.
"This is pathetic," Faith appraised disdainfully.
"Let's just get it over with," retorted Buffy, sounding bored with the whole affair.
Shaking her head, Faith gestured at Buffy's prone position. "Nah, this sucks. I've beat up four-year olds with more fight."
"Four-year olds?" the blonde repeated, sounding incredulous and more than a little disgusted.
"Took their candy too." Reaching out with her foot, Faith nudged Buffy's leg. "C'mon, B. Can't disappoint the folks at home," she smirked, jerking her head at the throng of Slayers surrounding them. "At least try a little."
With a resigned sigh, Buffy pulled to her feet and took a few token swings at the other Slayer, but it wasn't long before she was very easily knocked down once more.
Faith rolled her eyes. "Man, when you try a little, you really try a little." The brunette 'tsk'd condescendingly and shook her head. "Lookit you. Used to be all high and mighty ... Think y'lost somethin', B. Dunno where, dunno when, but lookin' at you like this, it all makes a kinda sense. No wonder Re—"
"Shut up," Buffy spat.
Holding up her hands in mock defense, Faith smirked, "Ooo, an' the kitten has claws. You thinkin' it too, huh? That it's somehow your fault. That maybe if you'd been just that tiny bit better, Red'd be—"
"I said shut up."
Leaning down to Buffy, Faith narrowed her eyes and grinned a challenge at the blonde. "Make me."
Without another word, Buffy threw herself at Faith, attacking with a spirit sorely lacking in her previous attempts. The blows rained sharp and fast, and for a while Faith gave as good as she got. But in the end the sheer tenacity in Buffy's assault gave her an edge and the brunette suddenly found herself flat on her back, staring up wide-eyed at the other Slayer.
For a moment, just the briefest of split seconds, it seemed as though Buffy wasn't going to stop, but then she pulled back, the clear victor. Extending her hand, Buffy hauled Faith to her feet accompanied by the sound of appreciative cheers and applause. An irritated Hazel grumpily handed over several bills to Dawn, who was trying only marginally to not gloat. Together, Faith and Buffy made their way to the corner of the training room, the crowd parting for them as though they were celebrities. Both Slayers grabbed a towel and Faith fished out two water bottles from the nearby ice chest, tossing one to Buffy, who caught it easily.
Catching her breath, Faith watched the Junior Slayers break into smaller groups and file out of the room, excitedly chattering amongst themselves, several pantomiming their favorite parts of the fight.
"They'll be talkin' 'bout this for weeks," commented Faith. "I'd say your rep is pretty well established now, B."
Pausing with the water bottle halfway to her lips, Buffy cast a sidelong glance at Faith. "You didn't let me—"
"Let you win?" she finished. "Nah. Got this whole new thing I'm tryin' out. S'called 'pride'. Lettin' you publicly kick my ass prob'ly woulda put a dent in it." Grinning, Faith patted her face dry and tossed the towel in the corner. "No, that was all you, girlfriend. All I did was push the right buttons, let that inner Slayer out." She rubbed her jaw tenderly, wincing as she hit a sore spot. "Maybe I pushed too hard, though. Remind me to get a safe word around you, B," she chuckled, clearly feeling no ill will from the fight.
Buffy threw her now-empty water bottle into the nearby recycling container. "Sorry about that," she apologized sheepishly.
Shrugging, Faith didn't seem to mind much. "No big. We heal quick. So, you off soon?" she asked, deftly changing topics.
"Yup. Willow's checking out of the hospital in a few hours. Just about enough time to get the house ready." Throwing her towel next to Faith's, Buffy headed for the exit. "Coming?"
"Free food?" Faith grinned, following close behind. "I'm there."
The room had mostly cleared, only a few Slayers remaining to work out on assorted weight machines, so the two Seniors were able to exit unmolested. "Be good to get her home," Faith decided as they moved into the corridor. Neither glanced at the new paint and plaster on the outside walls. "Then maybe you an' the X-Man can stop lookin' like someone tried t'kill your best friend." Considering her words, Faith frowned slightly. "Huh."
"Yeah, well, I'd feel a whole lot better if we knew anything about all this," Buffy replied grumpily. "Research has turned up squat. It doesn't help that I'm pretty much suspecting every last girl here has some secret agenda."
"Least now when you tell 'em you'll kick their ass if they don't talk, they'll believe you," joked Faith, grinning wider when she managed to get a laugh out of Buffy. "Seriously though, what's next?"
Buffy shrugged nonchalantly. "The plan's pretty simple: We find who's behind this, and I kill them."
That brought Faith up short, and she stopped, watching the blonde's retreating back as Buffy continued walking down the hall. "Damn, girl," she muttered, shaking her head. "Maybe lettin' that inner Slayer out ain't such a good idea after all."
Still Buffy didn't stop, and Faith jogged to catch up.