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i've been cold, i've been merciless

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A few hours since they left the Hyperion Faith had gotten a basic rundown on the latest impending apocalypse and they weren’t too far from the town limits of Sunnydale. Willow had filled her in on the main players, on the potential slayers, The First but it didn’t go unnoticed to Faith that she’d essentially avoided talking about anything personal or specific about the lives of the Scoobies.

She and Willow had settled into a surprisingly comfortable silence, letting the soft static of the car radio fill the atmosphere, but there was an underlying tension in the air. She recalled something Angel had said to her before she had left, it had done little to quell her nerves but he was right, it was important to remember that she’d been gone for a long time and as much as she had changed so had everyone else. The world spins madly on and the Sunnydale she left, the people she remembered weren’t necessarily the same ones she left behind.

She knew Joyce had died, Angel had mentioned that much before his visits became fewer and fewer and Faith couldn’t even begin to wrap her head around the sitch with Dawn. As far as she was concerned she remembered little sis and that was that.

The closer they drew to Sunny D Faith could practically feel the Hellmouth drawing closer and she was totally on edge at the thought of seeing Buffy again but the way Willow relayed it, things were so dire that they could take all the help they could get. Bygones being bygones and all that jazz. If the way Willow had received her was anything to go by, Faith couldn’t help but believe her. Now that Faith was out of lockup, this was her fight too, if she wanted it.

Even though Faith played her own feelings close to the vest she wasn’t one to shy away from getting to the pointy end of things. As bold and brazen as ever she suddenly broke the silence in the sedan. Willow quietly startled by the sudden conversation.  “I don’t know if it’s some weird Wiccan-zen thing or whatever, Red but I gotta say you’re kinda the last person I expected to welcome me back without so much as a word.”

Willow glances over at Faith and seems to fumble through her thoughts, as if she’s going to respond defensive, before turning her eyes back to focus on the road. “I mean even before the killing and the hostage-taking and shit went to hell, we weren’t exactly besties, ya know?” The slayer looks over at Willow expectantly and notices as she begins to reply but stops herself. Gathering her thoughts for a minute longer. “I’m just saying if you’ve got anything to say, I can take it. Grenades and all.”

Willow flushes at the reminder of her attitude towards Faith during the body swap fiasco, ashamed at the neatly wrapped psycho box she’d placed the slayer into.

“Listen, Faith, a lot has happened while you were... away.” Willow hesitates, having never really explained what had happened last spring to anyone. The jokes and wisecracks she’d offered Cordy and Wes weren’t gonna cut it with Faith. She had been so callous and unforgiving, so jealous that Faith deserved more than that. She’s not sure she’s ready to now but her only hope is that Faith won’t demand more from her.

“I guess, let’s just say that out of everyone I’m probably the last person who should be pointing fingers and leave it at that, ‘kay?”

Faith is thrown, shifts back into her seat and counters, “Sure Will, we can leave it at that but maybe you forgot I’m now a wanted fugitive. I killed people. I tried to kill B, and you and pretty much everyone so unless—“ Willow shoots her a sharp glance, “Oh.”

“Yeah.”

“What happened?” Faith shocks herself with the genuine concern in her voice but she can’t imagine that Willow of all people has been down that path, is on the same path now that she is, that Angel is on. “I mean, you don’t gotta…”

“No, it’s--” The fact that Faith isn’t pushing makes it easier somehow. As easy as this will ever be. But she knows Faith will give her something no one else can, not Buffy or Xander or Kennedy. Something no one but Ange was able to offer Faith all that time ago. (Goddess, it feels like a lifetime.)

Understanding.

“It’s hard to— I had, have a problem with magic. I was abusing it and I couldn’t stop, I didn’t want to stop.” Faith looks skeptical, obviously they had been a learning curve from floating pencils to dust vamps that she’d missed. Figures. “Buffy died, let’s bring her back with magic,” In Faith’s eyes that’s not looking to bad but Willow continues, “There’s a mess, clean it up with a spell, just little things and then--” Then then shame floods Willows features again and she swallows roughly before she can continue. “And then not so little things, Tara and I have a fight, make her forget it. I was changing the natural order of things, to suit me. Altering people’s reality for my benefit... my amusement.” The disgust in her voice, Faith recognizes that like the back of her hand. That’s dark, She thinks. It’s the most honest Willow’s ever been about -- before , sure your friends can be awfully forgiving about what grief can do to a person but Tara understood what was happening before that. And Giles maybe. The control, the power. The lure of it.

Faith speaks up, “Tara, that shy bird you were with at the Bronze when B and I went all Freaky Friday on each other?” Willow nods.

“Yeah,” she smiles weakly.

“I knew it!”

Despite the patience, she's shown listening to Willow explains things Faith however evidently impressed with her observational skills. Willow to look over at her, Faith immediately putting her hands up, body turned slightly toward the witch as a form of surrender. “Hey, I’m not judging. Trust me, I didn’t care much either way even before the big house, whatever gets the job done, ya know? Then when the only stick around is some sleazy guard wanting to play out some fucked up fantasy it’s not even a question about what team I’m gonna walk up to the pitch for.”

Willow feels her cheeks flush at the scenario that Faith has just put forward, “Anyway,” she continues, “I went too far, Tara left and one night I was so high on the magics I crashed a car with Dawn inside and she got hurt.”

“Jesus, B must’ve freaking lost it.” Willow chuckles at Faith’s exclamation but it’s more like a self-inflicted scolding.

“I stopped and It got better, for a while. Tara and I, we worked things out but then, uh, she died.”

“So, murderer: check. Tried to kill Buffy and pretty much everyone else: check and to top it all off, tried to destroy the world single-handedly. I think that puts me over the top. The Mayor was kinda the brains of the operation, no offense, plus you were in a coma when it all actually went down.” Faith’s eyebrows shoot up and the former wallflower’s bluntness and Willow offers a small apologetic smile.

Taking this “new” Willow in stride Faith replies, “None taken, fair enough,” but waits a few moments before addressing the more intense parts of what Willow has just confessed.

“Listen Red, I might be outta line here and I mean, hey: pot, kettle.” She gestures between them. “Who would have thought, but you’re not a bad person, I mean that’s what Angel’s always telling me. It was just easier to be what everyone expected me to be rather than actually try and do better. But we’re doing that now, and it’s fucking hard as hell. Road to redemption my ass, it’s the motherfucking Swiss Alps.”

Somethings don’t change and Faith delivery draws a soft smile from Willow’s lips and they both chuckle, letting some of the seriousness dissipate.

“I don’t know about good or bad, I think the lines are a bit more blurry these days or I don’t know like you said, they just made it easier to deal with everything when we were in high school but we’re not in high school anymore. Everything is different, and I can’t speak for everyone but whatever’s coming, it’s big Faith and we need you. We can’t afford past hangups getting the way of things, the mission is what matters and I don’t know how many of us are gonna make it.” Willow’s voice is rich with worry and for the first time, Faith acknowledges how futile the situation might actually be. She feels the pull of the Hellmouth. It’s fucked up but it’s almost like it’s calling out to her. It lights a fire in her veins and she’s ready for whatever is coming their way. She can’t help but feel that an unexpected kinship has sparked between herself and Willow.

Like she and Angel, the mistakes and the fuck-ups that got them here are so vastly different but the path they were on now was all the same. To atone, to be good again. To die trying but honestly, hearing Willow tell her about all that had happened?

“I gotta be honest, Red. I gotta feeling I’ll see you on the other side.”