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we’re five by five over here, baby. 

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“So I’m thinking, we rush ‘em fast and hot—don’t give the fuckers time to think, even. Just classic slice and dice,” Faith’s telling the gang.

They’re all clustered around the singular desk of their shitty new Angel-free office, all of them standing. Except Cordy, who’s sitting, face grim, ice pack pressed to her head to cool down from her vision.

“What about giving us time to think about it?” Wesley says. “I’m all for striking while the iron is hot, but that does us no good if we burn ourselves in the process.”

Gunn says, “You could've just said ‘let’s slow down.’”

Faith jerks her head in Gunn’s direction. “I’m with Charlie Boy—you’re way over-verbal, Wes. Compensating for something?”

Wesley’s nostrils go all angry and flared. “This is not a time for jokes, Faith. These people are in danger.”

“Yeah, which is why we gotta move. If Cordy’s vision was right—”

Cordelia juts in: “—Okay, I so did not just have the mother of all migraines to get iffed.

“Roger that, Cor,” Faith says. “ Since Cordy’s vision was right, we got, what, half an hour till these things start the feeding frenzy? So why you wasting my time, Wes?”

Your time?” Wesley says. “I wasn’t aware this was a one-woman operation.”

“It’s not. But maybe you didn’t pick it up at Watcher school or wherever, but I’m kinda the Slayer? That means when it comes to a fight, we follow my lead.”

“Your lead is heedless and ill-planned. And if there’s one thing I honed at the Watcher’s Academy, it’s strategizing. I’m certain that if we simply took a moment to talk a plan before we rush in blind, we’d find ourselves all the better equipped to perform the necessary dismemberment of—”

“Again, way wordy, dude” Faith says. “And maybe you need all that strategy shit, but I don’t. I can handle myself in a fight.”

“And you’re saying I can’t? ” Wesley bristles.

“Well I wasn’t gonna say it, but since you got the ball rolling—”

Hey! ” Gunn interrupts. “Could we save the squabbling for when there’s not a person-eating demon horde on the loose?”

He throws open the weapons cabinet, grabs up the good axe.

Faith says: “Oh, c’mon, I was gonna take that one! I wanted to decapitate something!”

Gunn grins. “Nah, I got dibs this time.”

“Gotta respect dibs,” Faith says, and grabs her best knife, slipping it into the sheath inside her jacket. “It’s cool, I’m down to get a bit more up close and personal with them. Something kinda nice, you know, when you get ‘em right in the gut?”

“Right?” Gunn says. “And they look at you while you do it and you’re like, ‘ yeah , I did just do that. Deal with it, chump’. By, y’know, dying, I guess.”

The two of them move towards the door, then stop in the threshold. 

“Uh, Wes?” Gunn says. “You coming?”

Wesley’s still standing at the desk, looking at Cordelia with his best won’t anyone ever take my side face—but she’s pretending she doesn’t see it, positioning the ice pack to block him from view.

He sighs. “Very well. But when we return we are having a serious discussion about our tactics.”

“Yeah sure whatever!” Faith says, moving into the street and clambering into Gunn’s truck. “Oh! I call shotgun.”

She hears Wes grumbling under his breath as he crams himself into the truck’s little sliver of backseat.

“Y’know, might be more comfy just to ride in the truck bed, man,” Gunn tells him. 

Which is so obvious that Faith’s shocked anyone has to say it. But Wes would rather fuck up his knees cramming into a seat that can hardly fit him than sit where he’s not supposed to. 

“Just drive,” Wesley says, and Faith can hear the grit in his teeth without turning around.



***



The thing about when Angel was around is that … well, it’s not like everything was great, or perfect. 

But it was better.

And Faith’s fine with it. She’s fine. Sure, only person to ever believe in her kicks her out of his life and his home— their home—all so he can go crazy over another tiny fucking blonde girl.

But she’s dealing.

A year ago she’d have staked him for it.

Now she just wakes up gasping in her dingy little apartment that’s still not the dingiest place she ever lived, because for a second, while the sleep is still warm and sticking to her and her eyes are dark and fuzzed, she forgets he’s gone.

Used to happen in the other direction. Used to be she’d wake up in his apartment underground, and then in the hotel, and still for a second think that everything was wrong—She’s still in that shitty motel room in Sunnydale with nobody on her side. She’s still burying knives in whoever’s gut the Mayor tells her to because at least he loves her, or acts like it. She’s still waking up to find Mom passed out in the living room every weekend and getting backhanded if she dared wake her up. 

And then she’d hear Angel moving around, and he’d offer to make her breakfast even though he would never eat any of it himself, and she’d let him, make fun of him while he stirred instant pancake mix into water, grinning.

Now she wakes up she thinks she’s gonna see him, and then there’s nobody. 

And she’s okay with that.

She’s dealing.

Really.



***



When Faith doesn’t wake up to nobody, she wakes up to a girl. 

Ever since she was little, she gets so cold in the night. So shivering fucking cold. So cold it hurts her stomach, ices her feet stiff, and she doesn’t even realize. Not ‘till she wakes up, gasping and an ache in her chest and flesh is ice to the touch. 

When she’s alone, all she can do is burrow in her blankets ‘till the feeling comes back.

But, when there’s a girl in her bed, Faith can burrow into her.

(She does her best to make sure there’s always a girl in her bed.)

Faith’s still gasping awake, doesn’t know how to wake up any other way, except that sudden dose of fear. But then the shock is only for a second, ache vanishing when she feels the warmth next to her. Furnace-hot, and so soft, and Faith just nuzzles in. Her head on the girl’s chest, the girl will stir, look at her with these languid eyes. (Faith’s always making her girls give her these languid eyes.) And then Faith can’t help it, she’s gotta touch her, and the girl’s gotta touch Faith. 

And then it’s Faith’s lips wrapping around her girl’s nipple, gets hard in her mouth, and the girl shudders, (Faith’s so good at making them shudder). And she wants to go slow, wants to, wants to soak in the sweet spoil of it. But sunlight streams hard and sudden through the curtains, hits Faith’s eyes and it hurts, and even though Faith wants to keep the hurt going, wants to draw it out, so they’re both shuddering, all too much and too slow and not stopping—she can’t. 

Always been too hungry to make anything last.

So she starts to touch the girl in her bed, touch her how she wants. And she can’t stop, and neither can her girl. Both grasping for each other, and girl’s hands cupping Faith’s tits, drooling for it, and Faith’s fingers dipping down between her girl’s legs, so wet already, waiting for her, gasping and bucking against Faith’s hand, every time, every time. Makes Faith go insane inside, all words melt away inside her. And then it’s just that, just need, just watching someone shudder and shake and all from her own fingers, all from wanting Faith, all from begging her for more.

Always a different girl though. 

Not that the girls Faith brings home don’t want to stay, don’t want to come back, don’t want to let Faith make them gasp over and again ‘till they can’t feel their legs, can’t feel anything but Faith’s name in their mouth.

But it makes something itchy spread across the inside of her, in the mornings, after she’s fucked them silly for as many hours as her body can stand. 

When they gather themselves up and pull clothes across their skin, and then the girl is looking at her, so earnest. Faith can’t get them to stop looking at her, nowhere to hide when she can still taste how the girl felt dribbling down her chin. 

So she’ll shy her eyes and make some shitty excuse, scraping her nails along down the curve of her arms crossed in front of her, and feel so small while she does it. She doesn’t know how she can feel so big when they’re in her bed, so strong and vast and perfect when she’s making them come. And then so little, and silly and young and unknowing when the two of them are standing up and looking at each other and the girl says: 

So how about breakfast?

(Maybe it’s ‘cause she’s making up for lost time.) 

All those years, fucking guys who did nothing for her. Who could make her come, sure, sometimes, but couldn’t burn the ache out of her, couldn’t make a dent in the hunger in her belly. All those years, ignoring how the girls made her chest seize up, go cold and sweet and needy, made a dent in the hunger and made it spread too, and all in just the right way. 

Feels somehow like, if she lets one stay for more than a night, she’ll get swept up. She’ll lose more time. Feels like—okay, it doesn’t make sense, she gets that—but somewhere in her bones feels like if she doesn’t fuck every gay girl in LA by the time the year is up, she’ll just be hungry forever. And not in the good way anymore.

(Which, yeah, not possible.

But if anyone can do it, wouldn’t it be Faith?)

So she goes out. Every night. Doesn’t try to—she’ll just be laying in her bed, paging through a magazine, legs itching till dark falls full and she can get a good slay in. 

And then she’ll remember. 

Remember she could be at a bar right now, could be kissing someone, right now , shoving a girl against a wall, fingers through her hair all rough and knotting, could be drinking it in, forever, drunk and giddy and happy and open and it could all feel good, like it always should have been.

And then she’s out the door, for someone new to touch. 



***



When she told Angel, his eyes got all wide.

She wants to not think about him, but her dreams keep surfacing him back up, like a corpse too light for the river to swallow down. 

They were sitting in the Hyperion lobby, Angel reading one of his old boring little French books with the cover half fallen off. Faith drumming her fingers incessantly onto the table, feet jittering along the carpet, knuckles whitening, and finally Angel said, with the book slammed shut:

What, Faith?”

And she blinked at him, head snapping up whiplash-fast: “Nothing!”

“Clearly not nothing, or you’d be letting me read in peace.”

“Not everything’s about you, big guy,” Faith insisted, pulling her feet up under her on the couch to stop them from squirming so loud.

“Okay,” Angel said, with a side-eye and a sigh, and then went back to his book.

“...Except for this, which kinda is. Well, not directly!” Faith said, her voice sounding too loud in her mouth. “But before you get mad, I just wanna say that it was, uh—what’s that word? Unintentional. I tried not to, actually, real hard. And I’m just as mad about it as you’re gonna be. Probably for different reasons, though.”

“Faith. Just tell me,” Angel said, face all stony.

“Actually, maybe you won’t be mad, because it’s just something else we got in common, right?”

Angel sighed, slammed his book shut again. “ What is , Faith?”

Faith remembers wishing she hadn’t got him annoyed before she started, but she was in too deep now to back out.

“Look. I didn’t even know, until recently. Uh, everyone else seemed to know, apparently. Or, Gunn knew. But I went to Lorne, to work it out. So I guess Lorne knew too? But not ‘till just before I did, but um.”

Angel’s teeth are gritted. “Fucking knew what ?”

“ … That … You know … I’m, apparently, uh … in love with Buffy?”

Faith couldn’t look at him then, just buried her face in her hands, hair spilling around her palms, cheeks so hot they could warm a room.

And she didn’t hear anything from him, but then he was right beside her, and his hands were on her wrists, softly pulling them away from her face.

“Hey,” he said.

“Hey,” Faith said back, willing her eyes to open, and he was crouched in front of her, all the annoyance out of his face.

“Look. No worries. I’ve been there,” Angel told her, voice in that soft funny place most people don’t get out of him. “I get how somebody might, y’know, end up feeling that way about her.”

“Oh yeah?” Faith asked, sniffling back this little bit of mucus from the back of her throat now that the urge to cry had past.

“Yeah,” said Angel. “Little bit.”



***



Faith’s trying not to make it all about Buffy. Really. She is.

So, at first, she’s not hooking up with any blonde girls. Just as a rule. Can’t be looking like she’s got a type now, can she? 

Can’t be looking like she’s just begging out there for a stand-in ‘cause she can’t have the real thing.

But then she’s getting sushi with Cordy and telling Cordy about it as she dips her salmon roll in the soy sauce, and Cordy just starts laughing at her and says:

“So, to not make your love life all about Buffy, you’re … making an entire rule about a whole hair color you can’t date, that’s completely based around Buffy?”

Faith says, “Shut up!” And dunks her sushi way too hard in the sauce and spills it over the table, and Cor raises her eyebrows, and Faith says. “Fine!”

So then she does start hooking up with blonde girls, only she can’t stop, can’t stop waking up in the morning with their hair all light and fanned across her pillow and some silvery punch in her belly says hey, isn’t that what it would be like, if she was here, if you’d ever gotten her into your bed, if she ever loved you, wanted you, the way you want her, always. 

This is what it could look like, if you’d never tried to make her heart stop.

And then the girl will wake up, and she’ll say: “Hi there,” in a voice that’s nothing like Buffy’s, and Faith will exhale all the breath from he mouth and try to say something back.

On three separate occasions across a month, Gunn shows up at her apartment for their lunch plans, and catches another little blonde girl scurrying out the door past him with a blushy grin back at Faith and her shirt on backwards.

The third time it happens, he says: “You gotta be kidding me, Lehane.”

Faith says: “It’s not what it looks like.”

Gunn just gives her a look.

Faith says, “Okay, it’s exactly what it looks like, but shut up.”

“Long as you’re admitting it. Now, it’s your turn to pay for burritos.”

“Arm wrestle you for it?”

And Gunn falls for it, even though he’s never once beaten her. But he’s still can’t resist just giving it his all.



***



In her dream, Faith is remembering telling Angel: “Uh. I dunno if you wanna know this? But it feels weird not to tell you. Buffy and Riley broke up. She, uh, told me on the phone, last night.”

Angel looks like he swallowed his salvia in that way that chokes you. “Oh.”

“Yeah.”

Angel says: “You gonna do anything about it?”

Faith throws it back at him: “Are you?”

And then the phone rang, a client, and Angel picked it up, and then they had to rush out to kill something, and didn’t get a chance to talk about it anymore that day. And not after that either. ‘Cause the next night, that’s when the shit went down with Darla, with Wolfram and Hart, that’s when he told the three of them “ you’re fired ,” and looked Faith right in the eyes like she didn’t mean anything. 

 

*

 

Faith hasn’t been calling Buffy lately. Doesn’t wanna have to tell her Angel’s off the rails, ‘cause from the way B talks about it, they got enough going on out in Sunnydale—hellgods and troll gods and the usual vamp shit—without clouding her head up worrying about LA.

Plus, she doesn’t know how to talk to her. She barely ever did before, and now that Riley’s gone, it’s like there’s chalk in her mouth when she picks up the phone.

Was kind of like this leash, almost, when he was around. 

Faith knew she couldn’t say anything too stupid, because B was taken, and B would never look at her that way anyway, and it was safe, she could flirt a little, and know it would never hit B’s ears in the same way it came out of Faith’s mouth.

Probably still wouldn’t now, but Faith doesn’t wanna take the chance.

And when B calls Faith—some mornings, at Faith’s new place, just to talk—Faith always gets off the line in minutes.

This time, Buffy asks: “So how come you moved outta the hotel? I thought you and Angel were loving roomie-ing it up.”

Faith’s chest is so tight. 

“Uh. Just, wanted some more independence, I guess. Uh, and not like I don’t still see him every day. But anyway, I hate to do this, but I gotta go,” she lies. “Uh, Wes just paged me, and we got a big demon sitch going down.”

Which, okay, there’s always some big demon sitch going down. So it’s probably not a full lie.

“Far be it from me to keep you from the line of duty,” B says, and maybe there’s an extra bit of bite in her voice, or maybe Faith’s just imagining it, but Buffy hangs up before she can test the waters any more.

Every time she talks to B, nowadays, she’s got this throb in her, the rest of the day.

She can’t stop thinking about it, as she heads downtown to the office.

Cause what if she’s ruined it all, what if B had something real she wanted to talk about, what if, what if, what if she never calls again, ‘cause Faith was all short on the line, what if it makes B too gun-shy to ever talk to her ever again. And they’d had this easy thing going, for a minute, really, they did, almost. The whole trying to kill each other thing was barely ever coming up. But now Faith can’t even stay on the line with her for more than five minutes, and when she does it hurts, and— 

Faith pushes the door open to their offices with her neck hurting and her forehead sweating. 

“Faith!” Wes says, “Glad you could finally join us.”

“I’m here, aren’t I?” Faith grunts. “Lay off.”

Wesley narrows his eyes. “No, I wasn’t trying to be passive aggressive. I was being sincere. Glad you could join us.”

Faith blinks at him, shrugs her jacket off her shoulders. “Oh… okay. Whatever.”

Wesley’s spine stiffens ever so slightly, and turns back to his papers.

Faith says, gesturing at the files and books spread across every open surface “So what’s the rundown? We working a vision, or a client?”

“Vision,” Cordy confirms.

“What happened?” Faith asks.

“‘Oh, how are you feeling after your mind-splitting pain, Cordelia?’ Well, I’m fine, Faith, thanks for asking!”

Faith squeezes her lips together. “Sorry, Cor. Can I grab you anything?”

She holds up the ice pack she’s pressing to the pack of her neck and give a weak smile. “I’m covered. Just wanted to make you feel bad! But anyway, demon—the big, blue, spiny, out-in-broad daylight kind?”

Faith frowns. “We know what it’s after? Just looking to feed?”

“Didn’t seem hungry,” Cordy says. “More with the plan-having? I felt it like, smelling out the area. Looking for some kind of sacrifice—basic attempted apocalypse stuff. And it likes its sacrifices young, too. Was trying to sniff out teens.”

“Working alone?”

“Seems to be,” Cordy said. 

“Where?” Faith asks, grabbing her jacket back up, and throwing open the weapons cabinet. 

“Edge of Culver City last I saw, but headed southwest. And moving fast. Looks like it’s not too fond of city smells though—some kind of iron allergy? I’d look more in parks, hiking trails, that sort of deal,” Cordy tells her.

Faith’s got a foot out the door when Wesley says: “Faith, you should wait for Gunn, he’s on his way. You shouldn’t go after this thing without backup.”

Which is so brain-dead Faith doesn’t even wanna answer it—’cause she waits, and someone dies. And she’s the fucking Slayer, she can handle one demon. And she knows it isn’t about keeping her safe, or being reasonable.

It’s about Wes not trusting her. It’s about Wes wanting to punish her, for not being the dutiful little Slayer to his pathetic barely-a-Watcher ass. 

And if he really fucking wanted to back her up, he could come, nothing stopping him.

“I’m good,” is all she says, and then she’s gone.

 

*

 

Faith slashes the demon into hacks and bits on the sloping back edge of this sprawling public park, her dagger sharp and strong under the pull of her hand, the demon nothing to her, dissolving into this yellowy oil, sizzling as it sinks into the soil, makes everything else wet and gurgling and steaming.

“You okay?” Faith asks the kid she saved from it. He’s young—can’t be more than fifteen, skinny and shaking and crouched on the ground with the dirt smearing over his jeans. There’s a shiner—pale purple that’ll fade to a proper dark bruise shadow and then to yellow before the week is out—across his temple.  

“What the hell was that thing?” he asks as Faith helps him him. “What the hell are you?”

“First question? Demon. Second question? I’m what kept him from using your bones to end the world. Anything else?”

The kid blinks at his shoes, blinks back up at Faith. “Think that covers it.”

“Cool,” Faith says, sizing him up. Maybe even younger than she thought—could be fourteen, thirteen, even. Got that shiny, desperate look in his eye—runaway look.  Reminds Faith of herself, in this way that makes her shivery. She knows the kind of kids who get picked for this shit. Kids with no one to miss ‘em, when … if , they vanish down a dark hole to end the world.

Faith was so young when she was Called. She thinks about that, sometimes, early in the morning before she has the head to push the thought away.

“You got any place you’re staying?” Faith asks the boy. “Anybody looking after you?”

He shrugs. “Um. There’s this shelter? It’s alright. Lady who runs it, she’s nice. Not like the others.”

Faith knows the type of others he means. Sorts of ladies who open group homes so that they can fix kids, so they can shove word of Jesus in you and beat Satan out of you and grind you down to dust all just to pull you back up. And claim they saved you. 

Sort of ladies who can pick runaways out of a crowd and pick their bones clean in this way that makes you wish you never left your mom to start with. 

The devil you know, and all that.

“Can I take you there?”

Faith expects the boy to put up an argument, say he doesn’t need to be babysat, can look after himself just fine.

But he just nods, leads Faith out of the park and through a playground, onto the streets, walking so close by her side the whole time, like he’s trying to curl up into her shadow and stay there.

 

*

 

They’re not two steps through the door of the shelter when this willowy lady—pale blonde hair fanned across her shoulders, this long neck that makes Faith suddenly get why people get described as swanlike—hurries over, grabs the kid’s hands softly.

“Alejandro!” the woman calls, taking in the dirt on his clothes, the look on his face, the bruise. “What happened? Are you alright?”

“I’m okay, Anne,” he says. “I … I don’t wanna … can we not talk about … yet?”

Huh. Okay. Faith was picturing the lady who ran this place as a kindly eighty year old, who knits socks and bakes cookies.

Not young and hot and soft-voiced and, fuck, stop it, Lehane, gotta get away from the blonde girl thing. Just control yourself for once, she urges herself. Keep it together.

Anne shuts her eyes a second, thinking, then nods. “Okay. Go get cleaned up. I’m gonna check in with you later, okay? Just take it easy till then.”

Alejandro nods his agreement, then vanishes up the shelter stairs, and Anne turns to Faith.

“Thank you, for bringing him here,” she says. “Could you tell me what happened? And, do you know him? Are you a relative or…?”

Faith shakes her head. “No, just … I was out. Um. Taking a walk? Ran into him, looked like he needed some help.”

“Help with…?”

See, Faith should have spent the walk over thinking of an explanation that isn’t demon and doesn’t make her look like she was the one that slapped the kid around. “Um. Mugger.”

“Robbing a kid? Not a very tactical mugger.”

“Yeah, well he, uh—”

Anne eyes Faith, looks her up and down in a quick assessing sweep. “This mugger wouldn’t happen to have been a big blue, yelling, hulking demon, would it?”

Faith can’t help but give an impressed little grin. “Good guess.”

Anne sighs, turns to walk upstairs and Faith follows, because she’s not sure what else she’s supposed to do. 

They’re in what looks like an office except for the cot in the corner, and Anne shuts the door.

“This is the third time it’s tried to get one of my kids,” Anne explains. “Guess it goes for ones that—”

“—That don’t look like anybody’ll miss them, yeah,” Faith supplies. “Classic.”

“Will it come back for him?” Anne asks, running a nervous hand over her mouth. “Is it still in the area?

“If dismembered and dissolved into goo counts as in the area , then yeah. But your kids are gonna be fine. From that demon in particular, at least. Plenty of others with the same hunting pattern” Faith says, hands shrugged into pockets, looking bashful at the ground. She tilts her gaze back up at Anne, asks: “How’d you know that’s what it was, anyway? I mean, how’d you know I was lying?”

Anne raises her eyebrows. “I’ve been around. And demon hunters always have the same look—blood on the face, for one.”

Faith touches a subconscious hand to her cheek, and a dry dab of dark red comes away on her finger, that she didn’t know was there.

Anne says, “Plus, the leather jacket thing, and also I could see the knife inside your pocket. So, pretty easy deduction.”

“Hey, maybe I was just happy to see you,” Faith says, with an eyebrow raise, and Anne does this half-smile thing back, and there’s this low-down warm rumble rising up in Faith’s gut.

Anne drops into a seat. “Well, thank you, for bringing him back. If there’s anything I can do to thank—”

“Dinner tonight?” Faith cuts in. 

Anne glints her eyes upwards. 

“You okay with eating late? I doubt I’ll be done here till half past eight.”

“Late nights are kinda my whole deal.” 

Faith’s grinning way too wide. So, okay, so much for keeping it together. 

But also, she’s got what she’s pretty sure is a date in six hours, so she’s not beating herself up too bad about it.

 

*

 

Faith was planning to take it slow, but that was before Anne showed up at the door of the shelter in this dark purple sweater stretching low along her chest in this way that makes Faith’s mouth go watery, and with this berry lipstick smeared across her mouth. 

Faith led her to her car—well, Gunn’s truck, actually—and Anne was in these chunky brown heels that made her about half a head taller than Faith. Then this skitter of panic ran up Faith’s spine, ‘cause she couldn’t remember the last time she’d been on a real date, not just picking a girl up from a bar and taking her home to fuck her, and point is, was she supposed to open the car door? Would it be too much if she did? Rude if she didn’t?

Faith looked at Anne with the streetlights sweeping over her hair and her eyes sort of crinkled as she looked at Faith, and the panic settled in the base of her spine, and then she wasn’t even thinking, just pulled the car door open and it went fine, and the panic did this little sweet jolt, like sparklers going off in your hands in July.

Anne settled into the car and said: “This truck looks familiar.”

“Yeah, I uh, I, borrowed it from my buddy, Gunn? Not ‘cause I don’t have a car! I got a car,” Faith lies. “It’s just … in the shop, actually.” 

Anne said: “Oh, do you mean Charles Gunn? He is just such a sweetheart.”

Faith said: “So you just know all the demon fighters, huh?”

Anne grinned sidelong across the seat. “Not half as well as I’d like to.”

At dinner, Faith skittered her hands over the butterknife on the table, tilting it back to see the shine of her chin.

She dug her fork into her fettuccine and swirled the noodles up into her mouth, and Anne was telling Faith about her kids, and her face lit up at every one, so many kids Faith could never keep them all straight, but Anne did it easy, the endless stream of them spilling through her door and still, she knew them all, every one, down to the kind of cereal they like and how they ended up at Anne’s door and what movie to put on if they won’t stop crying and which of the other kids they’re not talking to, and all of it. 

At dinner, Anne looked at Faith like she was really listening, and Faith had thought she was gonna pull out her Slaying stories—that’s usually what she gives to girls, just watered down so she doesn’t sound crazy. 

Instead, Faith found herself talking about her mom. 

The stories just kept coming—summers down by the beach, carpooling over with a bunch of other families from the church and Faith crammed in the backseat gnawing on gum, with Mom not too many drinks in that she couldn’t still cheer Faith on as she crashed through the waves on a borrowed boogie board. Faith didn’t mean to talk about it, but she talked anyway, about how the first time she ran away, when she was twelve, she found herself in the church basement, and no one was there, and the rain was pouring, and Faith just piled heaps of catering chairs on top of each other, to pull herself up towards the high basement window, watch the rain shout down into the storm drains, at eye level. She told Anne it felt like the whole world was falling down, just for her, and it made her feel like a new quarter inside, shiny and pressed down hard into shape.

After dinner, Faith and Anne walked back to the truck, shoulders skimming against each other, hands finding hands, and then Faith drove them back to her place, and Anne reached across the truck’s center console as Faith put the car in park, soft warm hands sliding up the sides of Faith’s face. Faith kissed her back, the kind of kiss where you’re trying to drink the other person in, slow and quick all at once, pulling close. They both tasted like pasta and cheap wine and everything warm.

Now, they’re in Faith’s bed.

Anne’s head is curled up on Faith’s belly, fingers rolling again and again absentminded over Faith’s breasts, and their clothes are scattered somewhere on the floor around them, and they’re in one of those divots of time that Faith’s getting to know the more she fucks women, where you think you’re done having sex but actually it’s more like a time-out, rallying for round four while your hands rove slow over each other’s bodies, until suddenly the hands aren’t roving so slow anymore.

But their hands are still slow right now, just soft and gentle, Anne’s fingers start weaving up the sides of Faith’s hips and down again.

Anne says: “I’m not usually like this, with new people.”

Faith says: “Me neither.”

And then she’s so hungry.

She’s dragging Anne’s fingers up to her mouth to suck them in, and Anne’s sighing all sweet, moving her head down, arm still stretched up, and Faith gasps into Anne’s hand as Anne’s tongue starts to swirl around her.

 

*

 

It’s the morning, and Faith wakes up with a gasp, and there is blonde hair fanned across her pillow, dappled with sun. Her whole heart drops down to her guts.

And then she remembers, who it is. 

“Hi,” Anne says. “You not expecting to see me?”

She’s stretched languid across the bed, sheets wrapped up snug around her. As Faith gets her bearings back in her waking body, she realizes Anne’s arm is tight across her midsection, her fingers pressed all sweet and familiar into Faith’s back.

Faith’s throat feels tight, for some reason. All constricting and slick and it feels all wrong, in the spot where it meets the inside of her mouth.

She’s trying not to show it.

“Not that,” Faith says. “Sorry, I just, I wake up kinda … funny. Always have.”

“Funny how?” Anne asks. Her voice is soft. It’s always soft, in this way that should probably bother Faith, like she’s being patronized to. Only it doesn’t. On Anne, it just sounds soft and honest, nothing else in it.

Faith yanks her free hand, the one that’s not snaked under Anne’s shoulder, out from under her pillow, scrubs it roughly over her face. “Funny like … fuck. This is so dumb. I guess I just uh, I wake up kinda scared?”

“I don’t think that’s dumb,” Anne says. Like she actually means it. Shit. “Scared of what?”

Faith swallows. “You just never know what’s gonna be there, when you open your eyes.”

Anne gets this funny look on her face. And then her hand is smoothing over Faith’s brow, goading her eyelids shut all gentle.

“They all the way closed?” Anne asks.

“Can’t see a thing,” Faith confirms.

“Okay,” Anne says. “Open.”

Faith breathes in, flutters her eyelids open again. 

It’s Anne, still, same as before. Sun bursting across her face from through Faith’s blinds. Spiling into her eyes so she has to half-squint, this almost-green, like lakes when you see them in real life instead of pictures.

“Better now that you knew I was gonna be there?” Anne asks.

And it is. It actually is.

 

*

 

They’re at breakfast, this dive diner down the corner from Faith’s apartment, back booth. Going to town on pancakes, and sausage, and scrambled eggs, and berries, on Faith’s end. And on these weird poached eggs with toast on Anne’s end. The eggs mostly look like demon larvae to Faith.

“Those are wicked gross, dude,” Faith says, hooking her ankle around Anne’s under the table.

Anne says, “Alright, I get that they look kinda freaky.”

“They’re jiggling at me. The fuckers look alive.”

Anne gashes the side of her fork into one, and the yolk oozes out all too bright and too yellow over the rye. 

“They were always my secret fancy food. I uh, drifted around around a lot, growing up. Was in this cult for a while, with this preacher? And then, this … well, another cult, but not the preacher kind. And then I came here, living on the street, mostly? Almost died, actually. Well, a couple times I almost did, but there was this one really big time. Almost disappeared, really. And a lot of people I cared about, they … did. Disappear, I mean.”

“Jesus,” Faith says, soft as she can make her voice, but it still goes all raspy.

“Yeah,” Anne nods, her voice edging some place hard. “So, through all that, plenty of times I never really had money for food? But, you get an egg and a spoon and a stove and water, and you can make poached eggs. Made me feel like a lady on TV. Like, I was all elegant.”

Faith says: “There was a while I was eating all my meals on the floor? For like, a whole month when I was ten. Um, I couldn’t afford those, I forget what they’re called. Those like, hundred dollar history dolls?” 

“American Girl dolls? God, I wanted one of those so bad before I left home. I’d’ve killed someone to get my hands on Felicity—my friend down the street had the catalog. God, I looked at those dollhouses for hours.”

Faith says: “Yeah. I never knew anyone who had one. Um, But I guess someone donated one of the books though, to Goodwill, and my mom got it for me. About this rich girl, living with her grandma. Always having picnics and shit. And I mean, I guess I could’ve like, gone to a real park. Nothing stopping me? But it felt dumb, I guess. So I just ate a lot of PB & Js on the floor of my room.”

“Crust on or off?”

Faith stares out the window, trying to remember. “Depended on the day. Why?”

Anne says. “You can tell a lot about a person from their sandwich crust habits.”

“Yeah? What can you tell about me from mine?”

Anne grins. “Wouldn’t you like to know.”

Faith smiles back, stabs her fork into her pancakes again, downs a bite.

“So,” Anne says. “You always got this big of an appetite? Or did I just really tire you out?”

“You might be a contributing factor,” Faith gives an eyebrow raise. “But nah, this is just how I eat. I mean, I always kinda ate like this? Uh, blah blah, never enough food in the house, blah.”

“Been there,” Anne says.

“But got way crazier after I got Called. I mean, I’ve taken down whole fridges after a good night fighting.”

“Called?” Anne asks, eyes narrows.

“Yeah, that’s the word for it. When you, when they tell you you’re the Slayer.”

Anne eyes go as wide as Faith’s seen them yet.

Faith swallows hard, the uneasy feeling creeping back quick into her throat. “Did I not tell you? Thought I told you.”

Anne blinks something away from her eyes and says: “I mean, I figured you were … something.”

“Something?” Faith’s throat feels tight.

“I didn’t mean it like … just, you’re strong. The way you move, it’s—”

Faith feels a blush creeping into her cheeks, which would be nice, if she wasn’t so fucking uncomfortable right now.

 Anne continues: “I figured you were special. Just didn’t know what kind. But I, I knew a Slayer once. The Slayer, I guess. A few years ago? She sorta … she saved my life. Twice. Hell, more than that, in ways I never even told her. And, from how I understand how this thing works, um. If you’re the Slayer now, then that means she’s …”

“Gone.”

“Yeah. Gone.” Anne’s voice is all feathery.

Faith’s insides feel like that time the boys on her street set off illegal fireworks and didn’t run away from them in time after they lit the fuse. 

“When did you meet her? How long ago?”

Anne thinks a moment. “Three-ish years back, maybe? Summer of ‘98?”

Faith’s whole heart is in her throat. “She’s not dead.”

“Huh? But I thought—”

“Loophole. She’s not dead. She’s a couple hours up the coast. Actually, maybe less. Been a while since I did the drive.”

Anne says, realizing “You know her.”

Faith pushes up from the table: “I gotta get out of here.”

She digs in her pockets, pulls out some bills and tosses them on the table for the check.

She’s halfway out the door when Anne catches up to her, grabs Faith’s arm as they move out onto the stairs to the parking lot. 

“Faith?” Anne asks. “I don’t understand what I did wrong.”

Faith turns to look at her, and the sun’s in her eyes again, her green eyes. Fuck. Just another blonde girl with green eyes, and this is what Faith fucking gets, she guesses, for thinking she could just ever have once ounce of her life not revolve around Buffy, for fucking once. 

God, the shitty thing is it felt so good. Finally. Felt so easy, like everyone’s always talking about. 

But, of course, only way it could ever be easy for Faith with anybody is if they’re already soul-bonded to B three times over. Or whatever happens when you owe someone your life.

“I’m sorry,” Faith says. “I’m just, I’m really sorry.”

There’s these little baby tears biting at her eyes by the time she reaches the car. 

She wishes she thought to say anything else.



***



In Faith’s dream, she’s in the Hyperion lobby with Angel.

Usually when she dreams about Angel, it’s almost just a regular day. A memory surfacing back up, like the bucket from a well.

This time, it’s like that, except there’s dolphins everywhere, swimming through the air, which looks normal except when you look head-on at the dolphins, and then it looks like water.

Faith looks away from the dolphins, and back at Angel, on the couch opposite her, and he’s saying:

“That was the nice thing about losing all conscience when I got turned, finally killed the Catholic guilt.”

Faith says: “Hey, do you think if you vamp me it’d take care of mine? I mean it’s worth a shot, right?”

Angel says: “I think that’s why I got so good at brooding, when my soul came back. Was really practiced at beating myself up—It’s like how, when I was a boy, every time I had a sinful thought, I convinced myself that Mother Mary could hear me, and she was crying. Just because I wondered what would happen if I pulled the dog’s tail.”

“What’d you do about it?”

Angel flicks his gaze up at her: “I pulled the dog’s tail ... So then the guilt just got louder. And then I just pulled it harder.”

Faith says: “You’re wicked fucked up, I ever mention that?”

And then the dream shifts, and all the air is blue, and there’s no dolphins in it, and no Angel, and no hotel, and she feels small. 

In the dream, she’s in Buffy’s bed, and the air is water, only Buffy doesn’t know. Buffy’s asleep, and she won’t know the air is water until Faith wakes her up. Faith can breathe in the water. Faith’s always been so good at holding her breath. 

Buffy can’t afford to drown again, and Faith knows it. 

Buffy looks so beautiful when she sleeps, Faith knows that too. She looks how she did when Faith first met her—hair still short, straight, skimming her shoulders barely, curling in on itself at the bottom.

Faith shakes Buffy awake, and for a second, Buffy’s eyes flutter open, slow, and she sees Faith, and she smiles, and Faith wants to take it all back. 

She wants to take it all back, but it’s too late. 

Buffy’s mouth is open and the water is rushing in.



***

 

Anne walks into their offices one morning, and all Faith can think to do is hide under the desk, except everyone is there, and Anne already saw her.

Faith stands up instead, a gulp of saliva buried under her tongue, and says, sounding desperate and all squeaky: “You came to see me?”

Anne clears her throat. “I was hoping to speak to Gunn, actually. Uh, well, to both of you. It’s a … work matter.”

Gunn stands too, stretches his gaze back and forth between Faith and Anne, who are only looking at each other. “Hold up, y’all know each other? Small world, huh?”

Faith flicks her gaze to him and tries to tell him as much as she can with her eyes.

“Oh,” Gunn says, then blinks at them both.. “ Ohh .”

“Oh, what?” Wes asks him.

Cordy rolls her eyes. 

“You’re so slow on the uptake, Wes. Obviously they had some kind of lesbian fling that ended weirdly and now it’s awkward. Keep up,” and then turns her gaze to Anne, flashing a smile and extending a hand. “Hi! I’m Cordelia, it’s nice to meet you!”

“Um. Hello,” Anne says, sounding tentative, but taking Cordy’s hand nonetheless.

“You don’t have to say lesbian on top of fling , Cor,” Faith tells her. “It’s kinda implied.”

Cordy says: “Hey! Stop that, you should be proud of your lesbian flings. I’m just being supportive. Aren’t I being so supportive, Wesley?”

Wes says: “Er.”

Faith, to Anne, says: “Hi. Sorry about them. They’re … the worst. And also my closest friends, so, dunno what that tells you about me.”

Anne doesn’t take the smiley jokey bait though. Her face is all business.

Faith says: “Right. Let’s talk shop.”



*

 

Anne runs Faith and Gunn through the bloodthirsty trigger-happy brutalizing cops situation, which honestly just sounds like every cop Faith has ever met. 

Anne doesn’t look at Faith basically the whole time she’s giving the spiel, and when she does it’s just a glance, face as stony as possible, like she’s trying to give nothing away. 

Like Faith’s just anybody to her.

In the car ride over to the shelter, Faith tries as best she can to be still and silent and pretend she’s not there, and Anne and Gunn catch up, and it sounds stilted, but Faith’s pretty sure it’s just because she’s there.

 

*

 

Faith and Gunn are grilling the kids about the lowdown in the neighborhood, and Gunn asks Anne to leave the room, and he doesn’t tell Faith to go too, but she does, because she’s not sure when she’s gonna be able to talk to Anne otherwise, and she shouldn’t go, it’s a dick move, run out on a girl and then go where she can’t help but talk to you, just ‘cause you can’t stick to your guns. 

But she’s gotta.

Gunn gives her a side-eye as she goes. 

Which, yeah, he’s gonna want the gossip later, and now that he’s all involved she’s gonna have to give it to him. So be it.

Faith catches up to Anne in the kitchen, and she turns around, all her blonde hairs whipping wispy about her shoulders as she moves, and says:

“I was hoping you wouldn’t do that.”

Faith says: “I was hoping that too.” Or, she was hoping she’d have a plan for it, if she did. Some clue what to say, something going off in her head other than just wordless panic and walls closing in and no idea why. “You look good, by the way.”

“You too.”

It’s silence, for a long moment. Faith scraps her fingers against the linoleum. The counters are littered with cereal boxes and loaves of bread, canned beans and potato chips.

Anne says: “Look. I get that, that you don’t owe me anything. And I’m not trying to turn one date—alright, one very amazing date—into more than it has a right to be.”

Faith wants to say something, but her mouth feels so useless.

Anen says: “And I understand if, if you’re not in a place for … whatever this might be. But, I really think we might be something . That we could be, if we gave us a chance to be.”

It has the air of something you’d practice saying in the mirror, and Faith wants to touch her so bad, she really does, she wants to say anything . She wants— 

Anne says— 

Faith closes the gap between them, her fingers knotted in Anne’s hair, the kiss heating up quick and sudden and soft, everything around them just going dark, in the wake of this, this touch. 

Faith breaks away, steps back, touches her hand to her lip, without even thinking.

She tells Anne. “I’m sorry,” and hurries back into the main room. “I can’t.”

 

*

 

Wesley is bleeding, bleeding hard, from a gunshot wound on the couch that Faith didn’t think fast enough to pull him back from, and there are zombie cops storming the shelter who won’t let the ambulance get through, and even through all of that, in the back of Faith’s mind is this giant alarm bell shouting Hey Anne’s right over there you should go talk to her no you shouldn’t you stupid bitch no just go to her you could all die and before you die wouldn’t it be nice to go kiss her again, kissing anybody else hasn’t felt quite right since you kissed her the first time, no don’t do anything, you’ve done enough, no, just—

Pretty much that, on repeat, as Cordy presses a cloth into Wes’ wound to keep pressure on and Faith is kicking in cops’ heads as they poke through the doors, shoving kids back from the onslaught as best she can.

There’s a shattering sound behind her: some of the zombie cops puncturing through a window pane. And Faith turns hard, bashes in the undead hand with a heavy book she grabs up from a side table, and more of the cops are coming, and that’s fine, Faith can work this, she can save these kids, she can hold off time until— 

All of the sudden the cops stop moving, dead bodies flopping to the ground like caught fish.

Faith spins around, takes in the scene, and Anne is staring at her for a moment, from across the room, squinting slightly, and Faith’s breath all catches back under her throat.

And then a kid is calling for Anne, because of course they are, and Cordy’s calling for Faith, because of course she is. 

They both run off, sprinting to where they’re needed.

 

*

 

At the hospital, Wes is on a morphine drip, slipping in and out of consciousness. The machines beeping out his heartbeat keep chirping into eternity, but Faith’s own heat keeps skipping anyway. She’s clutching his hand, hard, and Gunn’s clutching the other. And her whole stomach seized up, and heaving, and she can’t think, everything inside her is just hard and loud and red.

She know that if he dies, it’ll stay that way forever.

She tells Wes: “You’re gonna pull through man, okay? You’re gonna. You gotta. ‘Cause I’m not gonna lose you. I’m not. I’m fucking not, okay?”

Everything in her head is so loud, and she just wants to lie down.

See, this is why she never used to care about anybody on purpose. Just ends you up here. Begging out into the air, into the void, that the nothingness doesn’t take you again.

And, okay, she guesses she didn’t care about Wes on purpose. Kind of snuck up on her, against her will. But she’s here now, and her stomach hurts so much.

Out past the plexiglass of the room, she sees something, in the corner of her eye. Sees Cordy, talking to a figure in a long black coat.

Sees Angel, and she knows he can see her. 

Still, he doesn’t look at her. Doesn’t even care.

Faith’s fingers are so stiff, it feels like her blood has stopped, and then Angel’s gone, turning on his heel, and Faith’s standing, looking at Gunn, and Gunn gives her a nod, he’ll be here, go on.

Out in the hall, Faith asks Cordy: “What did you tell him?”

Cor says: “To get the hell out.”

Faith wonders when it’s all gonna stop hurting so much. 

When Faith says, “Good,” her whole body just aches.

 

***

 

When Angel comes back to them, for real this time, Cordy slaps him clean across the face. 

Gunn sets his jaw hard, like he’s physically holding his tongue with his teeth, shoulders pushed back like a promise to himself. Wesley just glares, looks like he might growl if he could. His voice has been getting wicked raspy since he got shot and popped a punch of stitches and got dumped—like, the sadder he gets, the more gravel gets poured down his throat.

Faith just grabs Angel by the hand and pulls him into a deep hug, slapping him on the back.

They’re not a half hour into moving all their shit back into the hotel when he offers to go on a coffee run, just to get out of everyone staring at him. Faith tags along.

“Thanks for that, back there,” Angel says as they push out the glass doors of the Dunkin Donuts. 

“Hey, I get it. We all gotta just go on a bender sometimes. Doesn’t matter, I still got you.”

Angel swallows hard, readjusts the iced coffees dripping condensation in his arms, all threatening to spill at once. He says again: “Thank you.”

Faith grabs her mocha out of the jumble and leaves him to carry the rest. She smashes the wrapping off her straw on her jeans and jabbing it through the plastic lid.

She says: “You just get this one pass, though. Next time I’m fucking decking you in your pretty boy face.”

Angel says: “I accept that.”

And is looking at her sidelong, this dopey grin threatening to press through, and—and he fucking trips over a ledge of uneven sidewalk like he’s not supposed to be a pretunaturally graceful creature of the night or something. And the iced coffees go flying.

Faith doesn’t bother to hold in her laugh as she helps him gather up the plastic cup carcasses from the pavement.

“Oh, so now you help?” Angel jokes.

Faith raises an eyebrow as she stands, shoves the stack of empty cups into the crevice of his crossed arms while she settles her own drink into a comfortable holding position. “What’s that they say about throwing stones, big guy?”

“Shutting up,” Angel says.

Faith grins, grabs the cups back out of his arms and tosses them in a garbage can as they walk. “Should we go get another round of drinks?”

Angel says, “I don’t have any more cash on me. Also, I don’t think anyone actually wanted coffee? I just didn’t wanna be in there.”

Faith takes a long slurping sip of her mocha, the only drink left intact. “Yeah, was wicked tense. Oh, wait, before we get back though—’cause they’re not gonna wanna hear shit about the Darla situation. And you shouldn’t talk about it either, unless you want Cordy to slap you again.”

Angel touches his jaw subconsciously.”Yeah. That hurt . Shouldn’t it not hurt?”

“Maybe you’re getting soft in your old age.” Faith shrugs. “But my point? Gimme the lowdown.”

Angel says, “You don’t want the lowdown.”

Faith scoffs. “You had freaky rock-bottom dark spiral sex with your hot five hundred year old ex. I deserve a lowdown. I’ve earned the lowdown.”

“Who said I had sex with Darla?” Angel balks, voice all sputtery. “And, and besides, I … I couldn’t. I can’t — with anyone.”

“Bitch was throwing herself at you. And again, hot as fuck. If you didn’t screw her, I’m a vampire,” Faith says, leering at him. “Besides, big guy I thought you were raised Catholic? We both know there’s plenty of sin in between nothing at all and the full monty.”

Angel just goes suspiciously quiet, looking like he’d blush if he had any bloodflow, which Faith takes as a yes

“So you did?” Faith says.

Angel looks at his shoes. “Uh. Well. We — it wasn’t in between. It was … the whole thing.”

“And you’re not—?” Faith taps his chest like she’s doing a mic check. “I mean, soul’s still in there, nice and tight?”

Angel gulps, grits his teeth.

“That bad, huh?” Faith says. “Is it ‘cause you’re rusty? ‘Cause, I mean, I wasn’t gonna say anything, but if your only experience in the last hundred years was boinking one virgin, you’re probably not gonna be at your full—”

“I hate every part of this conversation so much,” Angel says.  

“C’mon, dude!” Faith goads. They’re about half a block away from the hotel now. “Just gimme like, one detail.”

Angel says, “Okay, there was this one thing. Not about the sex. Not talking about that. But this was before I— before I left. Haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since.”

“Right, now we’re talking!” Faith clasps her hands together, rubs them like people on TV do at casinos. “Gimme the goods.”

“Well, we were at this underground abandoned convent? And she was all God doesn’t want you, but I still do .”

Faith stops walking in her tracks. “Jesus.”

“Right? It was a lot.”

“That’s a fucking line, man,” Faith says. “Fuck. If you didn’t fuck her after that, I would’ve.”

They pick back up walking, and Angel clears his throat, all delicate. “So .. I mean, does that mean you’ve … been seeing any uh, nice young ladies?”

Faith chokes on her drink. “... Nice young ladies?

“Yeah!” Angel says, flustered. “I mean, you know. Have you been …  courting anyone? I’m sorry, I’m really bad at this.”

Faith claps him on the back. “Yeah you are, big guy.”

Angel says: “That wasn’t a no .”

Faith sighs as they walk up the path to the Hyperion, pauses on the little garden bench. “Okay, I’m gonna go over this once and then I’m never talking about her again, okay?”

Angel drops down on the bench next to her. “I’m all ears.”

“So there’s this girl, Anne? Runs a teen shelter down in Crenshaw.”

“Oh yeah, I know her!”

Faith chucks her half-drunk mocha on the pavestones, brown liquid spilling everywhere. “How the fuck does fucking everyone know her?”

“...Sorry?”

“You should be,” Faith says, half serious. “Anyway, like I was saying—”



***



The next night, Xander gives the call, and they’re on the road.

Blazing up the coast, top of Angel’s convertible rolled all the way down, the ashy orangey night sky streaming over them, Faith says: “Are you sure it’s okay? That I’m coming?”

She twists around in her seat to turn to Cordy, who’s in the middle of the back row, wedged between her thousand pieces of luggage. 

Cordy says: “Why wouldn’t it be?”

Her voice is quiet. It’s been real quiet, since they heard.

“Last time I saw Joyce I held her hostage and snatched her daughter’s body,” Faith says. Her insides feel cold, like eating Italian Ices too quickly, and your body doesn’t have time to warm it up before it hits your throat, your stomach.

Cor says: “Yeah, but since then you and Buffy have gone all … what’s pen pals but on the phone?”

“Not for a while.” Faith’s chest feels tight. “But Xander, when he called, did he say I could come? Did he … what did he say exactly?”

Cordy exhales hard out of her mouth. “He said like, I don’t know, ‘ Joyce is dead, you guys should come .’ I wasn’t exactly writing down his every word, Faith.”

“Sorry, alright, I didn’t mean to—”

“Can we not? I knew her, okay? I knew her.”

Cordy looks at her lap, staring at her hands, and then she’s digging into this little plasticine case next to her, ripping open the zipper and yanking out a nail file, scrubbing it so hard into her nails that it gives Faith goosebumps.

Faith twists back forwards in her seat, glances at Angel.

He’s so quiet, brow heavy and furrowed, gaze hard and dark on the roll of the road. So, basically, he looks like normal. You’d think he was just normal, if you didn’t know.

But Faith knows.

She knows, and her stomach won’t stop lurching, and something in her is big and loud and wet and feels like it’s swallowing her up, gets bigger the closer they get to Sunnydale, like by the time they cross over town lines her insides are gonna be a cavern, a hungry mouth, dark and deep and going on forever, eating her whole, a Hellmouth in her belly, and she can’t claw out. 

Can’t claw out of what’s always been inside you. 

 

*

 

They arrive in Sunnydale when it’s still night, and Faith is so jittery—won’t be till the next morning that she sees anyone, and she’s not sure she can take that many hours, waiting, wondering, for sure won’t be able to sleep. 

She tries anyway. They’re all sharing a hotel room. A real one, with fluffy white sheets and generic abstract art on the wall and the kind of ceiling that looks like someone stuck a bunch of spitballs on there. All of it makes her stomach ache, thinking about her shitty old motel, on the other end of this shitty little town, with the mildewy sheets and the sink that hard started to tinge brown by the time she moved out, from all the blood she washed out in it.

There’s two single beds and a pull-out couch, which Cordy’s foisted on Angel, on the grounds that he doesn’t even really need to sleep anyway. And then Cor pulls out a purple satiny sleeping mask, shoves two squishy green earplugs her ears, and vanishes into unconsciousness.

When she starts snoring, Faith twists around in her sheets and asks Angel:

“How do these things usually work? Funerals? I mean am I gonna have to … what am I supposed to do?”

Angel blinks up at her from the thin book of poems he brought with him. “You’ve never been to one? I thought your mom …?”

“Yeah, she is. Uh, right before I got Called. But she uh, I dunno. Didn’t feel like anything close to a mom at the end so, didn’t go.”

“Do you regret it?” Angel asks.

Faith narrows her eyes at him. “Do you regret not going to your mom’s?”

“I did. I went,” Angel says, his voice tight. “Hid out in a carriage, away from the sun, at the edge of the graveyard. Listening. She had a joint funeral, with my father, and my sister. It was — I had fun.”

“Fuck.”

Angel swallows hard. “I wish I hadn’t gone. I wish I didn’t have that memory.”

Faith pulls her blankets tighter around her. “You don’t think they—Buffy, her friends. They’re not gonna think that I’m, um. Here for a something like that, do they? I mean, last time they all saw me … last time I saw Joyce, I … ”

Her hands hurt. Her throat hurts. The room feels really small and really big and Cordy’s snoring is making her insane, ripping through her skull, and Angel is starting at her, and she wishes this was the kind of overwhelmed that made her wanna hit something, because that’s easier, but it’s just the kind that makes her feel like she’s not gonna be able to move for days.

Angel says, “No one’s gonna be thinking about that. Everyone’s gonna be too wrapped up in their own grief.”

Faith nods, curls her toes in and out, tries to breathe. She feels so wired, she’s not sure she’s gonna be able to sleep a bit, and then mostly just feels like a piece of shit, because someone is dead, and all she can think about is how everyone’s gonna look at her when she walks into that funeral home tomorrow.

“I better turn in,” she tells Angel, and burrows into her blankets, and the A/C of the hotel room is blasting, and she feels so fucking cold. She stares half-conscious through her eyelids till morning, maybe dreaming, she can’t tell.

 

*

 

Come morning, Angel heads down to go lurk in the sewers or whatever just as Faith’s waking up—she guesses he felt homesick. 

Meantime, her and Cordy are pulling on their black clothes, bodies moving slow and stiff. Honestly, this is pretty much just Faith’s regular wardrobe. She made sure to pull a pair of pants with no bloodstains on them though, at Cordy’s insistence. But Cordy’s black dress is nice and clean and smooth, thick fabric and a thick zipper that Faith yanks into place for her and doesn’t even bust it beyond use like she did the last time.

“Way to not Slayer-strength my dress into garbage!” Cordy says, with a smile and a high five. “You ready?’

“No,” Faith says. “Let’s go.”

They mill at the hotel breakfast buffet for a bit—mostly dry scrambled eggs that make Faith’s mouth feel like fish food flakes so she leaves them cold on her plate, and a bunch of maple syrupy sausage that she crushes in record time.

Cordy is giving incredibly specific instructions to the guy at the omelet station, and then settles across the table from Faith.

“Fucking classic Sunnydale,” Cordy says. “They act like they’ve never heard of separating egg whites from the yolks before. Can you even stand it?”

“Um,” Faith says, a piece of toast hanging out of her mouth. “No?”

Cor says: “I never wanted to come back to this town. After Mommy and Daddy hightailed it to Miami, I figured I’d never have to.”

Faith chokes on the toast. “...You call your parents Mommy and Daddy?”

Cordy flicks her on the forehead and douses the omelet in hot sauce. 

Faith grins into her plate, and decides to roll with Cordy’s gripes—she can forget about her own worries as long as she’s loading up on Cor’s.

“So, what’s the deal with you and Sunndale? You think it’s gonna be awkward or something, seeing the gang?”

Cordy says: “Okay, as if. Like, I was the best thing that ever even happened to that friend group. Not that any of them even call unless they need something, and even then it’s always all can you put Angel on and never hi Cordy, so good to hear your sparkling voice , Cordy! Not like I even care! It’s more like, you know, this whole place feels so small, you know? I mean here I am, this elegant metropolitan woman with my cushy office job—”

“Yesterday we spent two hours disemboweling a troll corpse.”

“—With my cushy office job ,” Cor emphasizes, jabbing her fork into an broccoli bit that’s escaping the omelet. “And here they are, just living their same little lives in this stupid little Hellmouth town. I mean, I bet Xander’s still living at home. Like, I’d put money on it.”

“Actually, last time I talked to B, which was a while ago, but still, she said he’d moved out. Living in some nice apartment? Dating some … I think she’s maybe a demon? I wasn’t listening that hard.”

“Like, swamp monster demon or hot fuckable demon?”

Faith searches her memory. “Pretty fuckable.”

“Son of a bitch,” Cordy says. “Ugh, I’d way prefer it if he was miserable.”

“You still got feelings for him or something?”

Cordy barks out a short laugh. “Literally not one ounce. I’ve just never lost a breakup before, and I’m not about to start now.” 

And then Faith can’t think of what to say, and it’s quiet, and the last time she was paying any attention to Xander she was pinning him to a bed, choking him out, and all she can hear right now are forks hitting the plate.

Cordy says, voice coming up quieter: “Thanks. For the conversational detour? For a second I like, fully forgot why we’re actually here.”

Faith swallows a clump of spit down her throat, and asks: “Did you know her well? Joyce?”

“Kinda? She was always really nice to me though. And, oh my God, amazing skin. Like, you’d have thought she was five years younger than she ever was,” Cordy says, her shoulders slumping. “And it’s not like I ever, y’know, thought about her that much? Just my friend’s mom. It’s just weird, and, and bad, that you just see someone for the last time, and you think, yeah, I’ll see them again, at some point? You don’t even think about it. And then it’s like, nope. Nope, that was all you got.”

Faith’s knees and elbows and wrists all hurt, and she rips open a piece of French toast with her knife, just to have a way to move.

 

*

 

The funeral home is made of these lumpy brown stones and has got all these trees out front trying to make it shady and the parking lot is filling up fast with California license plates, but a few from out of state as well—mostly Illinois. Cordy whips Angel’s convertible into a spot at a dangerous speed, and slams the door shut, exhaling hard as she heads inside.

Faith mostly feels nauseous as she clambers out of the car after Cordy, and wishes she hadn’t gone for that last side plate of bacon.

Inside, it’s like a fucking mob. People milling around holding plastic cups of water and juice and tiny plastic plates of sad crackers from this dinky little table the funeral home set out, everyone in blacks and navies and talking in this quiet chatter that all together comes to a roar.

“Is there a fucking cocktail hour? Is that a thing that happens?” Faith asks quietly. “I’ve never been to a funeral before.”

“Oh, I’ve been to a bunch ,” Cor says. “Kinda the main social event at Sunnydale High.”

“There always snacks?”

She shrugs. “Gives us something to do while we wait for the service to start.”

Faith says, “So you have like, a strategy for these? Is there a way you’re supposed to do it that won’t feel just awful? ‘Cause we’ve only been in here two seconds, and I feel awful.”

Cordy almost laughs, then remembers where she is, and tamps it in. 

“Ha! No. I’m so bad at them. At Jason Thurston’s funeral I literally accidentally tripped Harmony into the body—open casket. She touched him and everything. Way rigor mortis. His skin felt like a fish apparently?”  

Faith is about to say something in reply, but then Cordy says: “Ugh, you’re kidding me. That’s Xander’s girlfriend? How the fuck does he keep doing this? I thought I was like, an out-of-his-league exception? Is he in a higher league than I thought?”

Faith follows her line of vision, and yup, there’s that blonde girl Faith met for like half a second when she was in Buffy’s body. Who’s like, yeah, is just as hot as she remembers.

Faith says, “I mean, I slept with him too, and I thought I was the out-of-his-league exception thing.”

Cordy shakes her head. “Ugh. Womankind needs to have a collective meeting about this, or something. Like, how many other mediocre guys is this out there happening to? We need like, a dibs system, or something.”

“People gotta respect a dibs,” Faith agrees.

And then Xander and his girl must notice the two pairs of eyes staring at them, because their heads shoot up. Xander gives this awkward little finger-waggly wave.

Cordy says: “Jesus fucking Christ. Ew, now I gotta go introduce myself or it’s gonna be weird.”

Cordy brushes off into the crowd, and then Faith’s just standing there, alone, which makes her feel pretty much naked, except she’d rather actually naked than this, because that, she knows how to handle.

In the corner by the juice table, she watches Cordy strong-arm Xander into an awkward hug, and sees the blonde girl—Anya? is that her name? Enya? Andy?— say, loudly, “I’m not at all threatened by this!”

Faith sighs, scans the crowd, either for someone to talk to or someone to avoid talking to, but it’s mostly people she’s never seen, middle aged folks who she guesses were friends of Joyce, or her relatives. Which, Faith guesses, also makes them relatives of Buffy.

Speaking of—she scans the crowd for a blonde head, or, failing that, any mops of long, shiny brown hair, since it figures B’s not leaving Dawn’s side for anything right now—but nothing. 

There’s a flip of orange hair that might be Willow, but she’s blocked by a bunch of gray suit jacket shoulders, and anyhow, Faith would sooner chew glass than face Willow right now. At least not right out the gate. She should ease in with someone simpler, someone who’s probably never wished Faith dead, not even for a second. Someone like— 

“Faith!” says a voice behind her, and she twists around on her foot and there he is, all tall and British and in this dark smooth suit that Cordy would probably appreciate, and smiling at her, in this soft sad way.

“Giles, hey,” Faith says, and gives him this weird little squeeze above the elbow because she’s not sure how she’s supposed to greet the guy who was like, less than half her Watcher for five minutes, two years ago.

“I trust you’re well? You look well.”

“Five by five,” she says, and her hands feel awkward, and she wishes she had one of those little cups of juice, or something else to fidget with. “You?”

Giles bites his lip gently. “Yes, well, as well as can be expected, under the circumstances.”

“Right, yeah,” Faith says. “I’m uh, sorry for your loss.”

“And I yours,” Giles says, and Faith wishes she had to cough or sneeze or something, anything to break this up, and fuck, if it’s this hard with Giles, how’s it gonna be with the rest of them? He’s supposed to be the softball.

“Thanks,” Faith says.

There’s a little gulf of silence.

Giles asks, “Er, and Wesley, he’s been well?”

“I guess, yeah. Got shot, though.”

Giles’ eyes go way wide behind his glasses as he tugs the frames off, face going all ashy. 

“Oh! He’s fine,” Faith cuts back in. “Not, y’know, dead or anything. Just shot. Getting better.”

Giles puts his glasses back on. “Quite.”

Faith clears her throat. “So uh, I’m not totally crystal on what you’re supposed to say at these things? But I hope you’re … holding up okay?”

Giles nods, fiddles with his hands in his pockets. “I’m—yes. Joyce was a … remarkable woman. Truly.”

Faith’s thumbs feel heavy. 

“Huh. Was . Feels funny. Few days ago it was is .”

“Yes,” says Giles. 

Faith looks at her shoes. “When my mom went, the was didn’t feel funny. But Joyce, I guess, she uh … always so nice to me, you know? Nice to everybody. Fed me, if I came round. Had me over for Christmas too, like I really part of the family or something. And then B, you know, she had to rush out to help Angel. And Joyce and me, we just sat by the fire. Had cocoa. Watched that uh, that movie. One where Santa’s real?”

Faith watches a hard knot of saliva swallow down Giles’ neck, the bump swelling and dissolving under his skin. “She was so … so warm.”

Faith feels like now that she’s started talking, she can’t stop, the words spilling forward, or maybe that’s the nausea, and she’s sweating, and Giles is looking at her, and she looks back down at her shoes. 

“And I know, you know, she didn’t deserve it, how I was to her. When I woke up, I was just … everything was so messed up, GIles. Before the coma too, all of it, and all of me, it was just … I never meant for it to be like that. And I, I guess I shoulda, like, called, or, or wrote a letter? Apologized. To her. To all of you, you deserved an apology. But, but every time I meant to it felt like it had been too long, and then things with B, they seemed like they were good again, and I didn’t wanna bring up, how it was before, but I—”

“Faith,” Giles interrupts, a hand clapped soft on her shoulder, and she realizes she’s breathing so fast. She has to force a breath to slip in and out of her nose, and again, and again.

Her mouth is aching. “Yeah?” 

“Faith, you have nothing to apologize to me for. I can’t speak for the others. And I can’t give you peace, for wherever you and Joyce left things. But, as far as you and I are concerned, I — well, I’m very proud of you, Faith.”

“You’re—huh?”

Giles puts his other hand on her other shoulder, looks her in the eye, and somehow, it helps her breathing settle out back to regular. 

“The way you’ve committed yourself to your calling again? Pulling yourself back from the brink. Not very many people have that strength, Faith. Many have tried and failed. I hope you know that you’ve done something truly remarkable. You’re … you’re a testament to yourself.”

Faith can’t think of anything to say. She just blinks at him, and her eyes feel all wet and filmy, her chest heavy, in this way it hasn’t been in so long. 

“I’m … that’s …”

“I’m sorry,” Giles says. “I’ve overstepped.”

“No! No, you … thank you. I mean it, G-man, thank you.”

Giles gives her another sad little grin. “You can thank me by never calling me that again.”

Faith’s gonna say something else, and her chest finally feels sorta light, and then some guy from the funeral home is tapping on Giles’ shoulder, and murmuring something about a delay before the service.

“Of course, yes,” Giles tells him. To Faith, he says, “Terribly sorry, Faith, a few logistics I must see to. You’ll be alright here?”

Faith nods. “I’m five by five,” which sounds more like a parody every time she says it.

And then he’s gone, and Faith’s alone in the crowd, and her arms feel itchy. 

But the drink table is cleared of any Scoobies, so Faith heads over, downs a glass of what turns out to be sparkling apple juice, and then another. 

And then someone clears their throat behind her, all dainty. 

Faith’s stomach drops when she turns around. ‘Cause, fuck, there’s Willow. Her girl next to her. Both starting at Faith all goggle-eyed.

“Hey, Will,” Faith chokes out.

“Hi! Um, sorry, we were just, y’know, with the juice! And then here you are, also juicing it up. Which is good! Because, blood sugar dropping, that’s no fun for anybody,” Willow babbles. 

“Right, juice is good,” Faith says, and her mouth feels all dry and dusty. “Look, I can clear out, if you—”

“What? No, no! Stay! You should stay,” Willow says, her voice going all little and squeaky. “So, how’s things? You doing okay? Not, y’know … recreationally killing anymore?”

Faith wants to hit something so bad. 

“Just demons.”

“Good! That’s good. With the, demons being bad and killing them being good, and the kind of killing you were doing before being, um, bad, and hey, Tara, you’re supposed to stop me when I do that? Also, wow, hey, this is Tara, have you met Tara?”

Willow glances all wide-eyed at her girl, who’s got this shiny hair and nice lips and who Faith would probably hit on if Tara weren’t dating Willow and if they weren’t all at a funeral and if Faith hadn’t treated Tara like a chew toy when she was wearing B’s skin.

Tara says. “W-we’ve met, um, actually. Wh-when you, um—”

When Faith dug whatever claws she could into Tara, mimicked her stutter, cold and jeering and all to make the girl crawl in her skin for no reason other than that she could, that she had nothing better to do that minute, and fuck, fuck, she shouldn’t have come, she shouldn’t have, this town is nothing for her, this town is a dark pit that’s always gonna swallow her up and spit her out as the worst chewed up kernel of herself.

Faith says: “Look, I — I know when I was here, I — but I, you seem real nice. And I was real fucked up then, and—”

Tara cuts in. “It’s, um, it’s okay? I’m j-just g-gonna …”

Willow rubs Tara’s back, lip furrowed with concern, and Faith wants to hit something again, wants to hit something so fucking hard.

 Tara goes on. “I’m just gonna go check on Dawn? S-see if she needs anything.”

“Okay!” Willow says. “Give her a hug for me? Another one. And tell her next time I see her that the never-ending hug train is continuing, full steam ahead and no mercy.”

Tara, fully deadpan, goes: “Choo-Choo,” and Willow laughs, and Faith wants to hit something so bad, it makes her mouth hurt, the two of them with their inside jokes, and their back-touching, and all so soft, and all everything she’ll never have, and then Tara disappears into the crowd, and Faith is alone with Willow, staring her down, feeling like she’s in one of those bullfighting matches, only she’s not sure which of them’s the bull.

Faith scans the crowd behind Willow, and catches Cordy’s eye, and Cordy takes in Tara hurrying away all teary, and Faith’s eyes like a scared animal stuck in a driveway, and nods, hurries over.

“Willow!” Cor says, bustling up and elbowing a spot into their little huddle. “You look great. Are you great? You seem great. I mean, in general, life-wise. Not, you know …” She gestures around, at the general funeral of it all.

“Yeah,” Willow agrees. “Not …” and mimics the gesture. 

“Sorry,” Cor says, and adds, brightly: “I’m bad at funerals!”

“That’s okay!” Willow soothes.

Cor says: “So! How’s with you? You and Tara, you seem all going-strong-y?”

Willow glances through the crowd to where Tara left, smiles like she can’t help it. “Yeah, she’s my … my everything.”

Faith takes in a good look at her, finally. Her eyes are all red, from what looks like a day of crying. 

Willow says, “But, uh, how about you guys? What’s new?”

Cor says, “Oh, you know me! Busy busy, blah blah, same old same old, mind-splitting visions of people in peril, blah blah blah. But Faith ’s actually been up to some pretty exciting new life developments, as far as being a le—” 

Faith kicks her, super obviously.

Ow! ” Cordy yelps. “The fuck?”

Faith says, “I gotta, uh … bye,” and shoves away from the two of them, off into the crowd, and as she goes she hears Cor saying to Willow:

“So yeah, it’s been great . I mean, the job is just, well, great! Cushy, almost, you could say. And you might hear Faith saying something about how it’s mostly, oh, troll disemboweling, but that’s only some days , first of all, and second of all it was a very luxurious disembowelment when you consider industry standards, and—”   

Faith rolls her eyes all lovingly, keeps moving through the crowd, fingers tight around her plastic cup, and then there’s— 

And then there, there the sea of shoulders parts, and there, in the back of the room, sitting quiet, talking to Xander and Dawn and her face looking all puffy and tired and beautiful, and so beautiful, and Faith’s whole heart is lumped up in her chest, she feels like she’s exploding, her limbs are marshmallows, like that tire guy in the commercials, and she’s moving so slow, but she’s moving, she’s gonna— 

Giles clears his throat, loudly, at the other corner of the room, in front of these two double doors that the funeral home staff are pushing open and shoving doorstoppers under, and says:

“Alright, everyone. We’re going to get started with the service now in just a few moments, and then proceed to the burial. If we could all take our seats?”

Faith moves into the next room with the crowd, her heart still in her throat, her knuckles swelling and itching, and she doesn’t even wanna hit anything anymore. She just wants this feeling to change. 

 

*

 

Faith sits next to Cordy in the service, and the whole thing feels like a blur, her feet all tights in these pinching, shiny black shoes Cor made her borrow, because all of Faith’s shoes are permanently discolored with graveyard mud. She doesn’t take in most of the speeches, honestly. Joyce’s sisters do this joint eulogy that gets Cordy blowing her nose loudly into a Kleenex, and Dawn comes up, tiny wrists shaking, looking so small in her tiny black suit, and her voice is all high and wispy, like glass, and Faith wants to dig her nails into the flesh of her wrist, so she does, because the kid’s so fucking little, she shouldn’t have to make a speech about her dead mother.

She shouldn’t have to get up in front of all these people and say something that sounds like words. Who the fuck’s that for?

And then B comes out. Comes up from the little front row where the family’s sitting, and her voice is raspy and clear and she’s reading so close from this little handwritten sheet she brought with her, and then Faith can’t think.

The thing about the other speeches is she couldn’t listen to them because she was gearing up for this one—Words couldn’t reach her, slipped into her ears but didn’t finish the stretch to her brain, because she was just watching the back of B’s head, leaned tight against Giles’ shoulder, squeezing his arm. 

The thing about this speech is she can’t listen to it because—Fuck. Fuck, oh God. It’s B. 

B’s talking, and Faith hasn’t seen B talking in person since the night Faith almost turned herself into the cops and then didn’t. 

The thing about B’s voice is it’s been existing in this almost place. Their phone calls, which were so bright and girlish and open and maybe they could be because they weren’t really there. Just voices. Not bodies. Not them. And now none of those seem real, those afternoons, laughing into each other’s ears across miles. It’s dust and clouds, that. 

Now this is the only real thing. 

This, staring up at her as she talks about her dead mother.

Now, the only thing that’s real is B looking so lovely. Stately, in her thick gray sweater, her smooth white jacket, like she’s protesting the death, and her chin all sharp and resolute, and Faith hears her say, it’s not fair, none of it. and it’s not.

And this is maybe all they’ll ever be to each other. Just girls staring across the room because of somebody’s body with all the life suckered out.

Buffy’s eyes flick to Faith for half a second, as she looks up from her notes, and Faith’s whole heart skips, body pulled taut like a guitar string about to snap.

And then B looks back down, is shuffling off the stage, and Giles squeezes her shoulders tight as she sits back down, and Faith is crying, everything is hitting her so heavy, her chest is thundering and thick and wet and she wants to lie down, and Cordy is handing her a wad of tissues, rubbing her shoulders, and Faith breathes into the paper, tries to pull herself together, but it keeps coming. She does that embarrassing nose blow thing where it sounds like an elephant’s roar, and someone in the row before her turns to see where the sound is coming from. 

And then she blinks and the service is done, one of the funeral director guys up on the little brown stage saying please, if you’ll follow the procession of the family in their black car, we can lead you to the cemetery, or you can find pamphlets with directions at the front tables, and everyone is standing, a low chatter coming over the room again, people rushing B and Dawn, saying lovely service, beautiful speeches, such strong girls , and Faith’s hands need to hit something, the crowd is moving, and Cordy is tugging her along, her feet feel a little numb everywhere except for where the shoes are pinching her and— 

“Faith.”

Faith blinks up, and the crowd has pushed her here, or maybe Cordy, or maybe her own internal magnet that’s always leaping towards B, straining, begging. 

Point is, she blinks up, and B’s there, right there, looking at her. 

Saying her name.

“Buffy,” Faith says. “I’m—”

“I know,” Buffy says, and Faith’s looking at her, and Buffy’s hands are just laid out in front of her, like she wants Faith to take them.

Faith breathes hard, and tugs Buffy into a hug instead. She can’t bear to look at B’s face. It’s too much, she doesn’t have the callouses built up to bear it yet. And they’re tight and unspeaking and strong, squeezing each other so hard, how they can’t, for anyone else, because it would break anyone else, just giving it their all. 

And for this moment, Faith feels full. Buffy’s hands crushing into the bones of Faith’s back. For this moment, she feels like no parts of her are missing at all. And Buffy pulls away first, about to say something. 

Her mouth forms a syllable.

But she’s tapped on the shoulder—some lady, an aunt, maybe, and it’s happening in slow motion, she’s pulling Buffy away, another embrace, another thank you for coming met with you spoke so beautifully, such a tremendous loss , and Faith’s arms feel empty and shivery, and Cordy is behind her, tugging on her hand.

“C’mon,” Cor says, her mouth in this serious place. “We should head over to the cemetery. Gonna be a nightmare getting out of this lot.”

Faith nods. “Okay. Yeah.”

They weave their way out of the room, through the entryway, to the car.

Cor asks: “Are you okay?”

Faith chews her lip into her mouth and out again. “Five by five,”

 

*

 

At the burial, Faith watches Buffy. 

Her feet are inching forward, hands splaying, she is so tired and she is hungry, she looks at B and she’s hungry, the kind where she just wants to take B’s hand, she should have taken it when B offered it, she should have looked in her face, but it’s like looking in the sun sometimes, and Faith used to be good at that, when she was a kid she would stare right up at it and her mom said she’d go blind but all she did was come away with this squiggly purple blots in her vision, that faded. 

Now, she can’t even look Buffy in the eyes without feeling like it’s gonna burn her cheeks clean off.

Buffy stands all resolute, Dawn next to her, crying, chin burying into B’s shoulder. Buffy stands, gorgeous and not crying and Faith wants her to cry, Faith wants B to break down, she deserves to get to break down, doesn’t she? Can’t she just this once? If not now, then when? But B doesn’t, her eyes are glassy, watching, waiting, and the crowd trickles out, and Faith thought she was gonna talk to B again, she thought there’d be more time, she’d get to say something, but B’s standing so quiet and silent. The Scoobies come up, mutter something, and B nods, and then they’re leading Dawn away, and then it’s wrong. It’s wrong, Faith shouldn’t be the last one here. 

Faith is so hungry, and the hunger’s shape is B’s shoulder, she wants to clap B on the shoulder and say hey, hey, let me hold you, let me let you cry on me, c’mon, please, please, but Cordy is tugging her away, saying Faith, it’s getting late. It should just be the family now. We should go .

If Faith said Buffy’s name right now, B would turn around, and they’d say something to each other. Faith’s not sure what. But something.

Instead, Faith lets Cor lead her out of the cemetery and they sit silently in Angel’s car and Faith sobs against the dashboard, her forehead thudding, and Cordy rubs her back, and puts the convertible top back on, shuts the windows and turns up the radio, so no one will hear. 

Faith hates it when people hear.

 

*

 

It’s getting dark soon.

Cordy and Faith eat silent burgers from this spot at the edge of town that Faith only vaguely remembers, but Cordy raves about, gets all geared up and giddy and talks about how nobody does fries like them, she’s been dreaming about these fries since she left town, when she was little she used to dunk them in her milkshakes and it tastes like nothing else had ever tasted.

Faith bites into a fry as they sit on the hood of Angel’s car, and it tastes like, normal, but Cordy looks all rapturous as she takes down a carton. Faith guesses nothing beats the nostalgia factor. Nothing beats feeling like, for a flit of a second, you’re actually back home.

Faith thinks about clutching at Buffy’s back in the funeral parlor, and her whole body shudders.

 “So, should we go back to the hotel and watch whatever shitty movies their TVs get? Or go have an awkward post-funeral hangout with my high school friends?” Cordy poses. “I know they’re both like, such tempting options.”

“Was thinking I should patrol, actually,” Faith says. “I doubt anybody else is gonna be on it tonight. And honestly, vamps are gonna be wilding tonight, if they heard about B’s Mom. When the cat’s away, and all that shit.”

“Boo, you’re no fun.” Cordy frowns, chomps into a fry. “Fine, go be all responsible and leave me to go hang out with Xander and his stupidly hot girlfriend all by myself.”

“Hey, grief makes people all weird. Maybe you’ll snag an awkward threesome out of it,” Faith says.

Cordy’s gaze skitters off to the distance for a second, considering. 

“Maybe if there’s nothing good on TV? It’s a solid backup option.” She hops off the roof of the car and tells Faith: “Also, I demand you change back into your regular shoes first. ‘Cause if you get vamp dust on those, I’ll fight you. Don’t think I won’t.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Faith sighs, and yanks Cordy’s ballet flats off her feet in the back seat, pulling her socks and boots back on. 

“You want me to drop you at the cemetery?” Cor asks, as she pulls herself into the driver’s seat.

“Nah,” Faith says. “Could use the walk. I’m all …”

“Yeah,” Cordy says. “Figured.”

Faith watches Cordy shut the door and whip the car out of the burger joint parking lot, and then starts walking. She’d gotten worried, for a second, that she’d forgotten her way around, but turns out her feet still know Sunnydale just fine, even though her head’s gone foggy for the details. 

She passes a couple cemeteries on her walk back to the main part of town, and does a quick sweep, but they’re light on action. Only thing close to vamps she runs into are a raccoon, and one fledgling barely out of the ground before Faith sends it back to dust.

She knows where she’s headed, though—Restfield’s always where the real fight is.

Restfield, where Joyce is buried. Where, Faith keeps thinking, maybe Buffy’s still there. Maybe they’ll get a chance to talk, really talk. Maybe Faith will be able to look Buffy in the eyes and not flinch this time. Maybe she’ll get a memory to stick in her head, something solid, something that will make everything in her stop feeling like water vapor, like it’s just nothing, like she was never anybody.

She keeps feeling like if B looks at her, looks at her right, that she’ll be somebody. Finally.

She cuts through some alleys on the way, prowling out the streets surrounding the Bronze, and the music is streaming out hard and pumping same as any night, like they don’t know a woman is dead, but then a woman is dead almost any night in Sunnydale, corpses piling up for the morning sun to take them.

Faith stakes a vamp from behind who’s about to get cozy with his date’s neck, and the girl blinks shocked and wet-eyed at Faith as the guy vanishes into nothing, her collar a little bloody, but not gushing.

“You’re gonna be alright,” Faith says. “He can’t hurt you now.”

The girl’s face turns dark, glaring, and she shoves Faith away from her. 

“You bitch! He was gonna turn me! Eight months together and he was finally gonna turn me. And you fucking ruined it, and for what?”

She stalks off back into the club, letting the crowd and the sound of the bass swallow her up.

Faith runs a rough hand through her hair, yanking, and a few strands tug out, hard and satisfying and hurting. Fuck. Jesus.

Not a full day back in this fucking town and she already can’t even slay right.

That’s what she gets, she guesses, trying to take over B’s territory. The Hellmouth’s not right for her. She’s not right for it. It looks into her body and X-Ray visions her cells and sees that the makeup’s all wrong, she’s just a little broken, just a little off.

For a second, her stomach panging, she wonders if she should blow off patrol, swing by the Mayor’s old offices, swing by the high school, where his carcass is still blasted to decaying bits inside. Just something to make the hurt swell. Something to make her feel worse, in a way where at least she’s the one deciding what that hurt is.

She swallows, hard, and turns back towards the cemetery. 

B’s still there, she’d put money on it.

B needs her. Faith’s sure of it.

A pair of vamps pick a fight with her as soon as she walks through the Restfield gates, and they’re good, really know how to swing, actually. One of the bastards decks her in the face so hard her cheek is still stinging after she’s turned him to dust.

But, doesn’t matter. He’s still dust, and Faith’s hands don’t feel shaky, for a second, being in the thick of the scuffle.

She does a halfhearted scan of the rest of the place, weaving through graves, really just making a roundabout trail back to the fresh earth over Joyce’s coffin.

And she spots B in the distance, a ways off from Joyce’s grave, shiny golden hair poking out from the side of the tree she’s sitting up against, and Faith’s stomach twinges, twinges hard, her heart catches in her throat, she feels sharp and pinpricked and urgent, and she quickens her stride, moving to get a better look, and— 

And there’s Angel. Sitting next to her. Dark sleeves wrapped around Buffy’s shoulders, talking low to her, and Faith can’t hear, and Buffy is pulling Angel into a kiss, her features smoothed and soothed for just a second.

And Faiths should be glad. She should be glad someone is taking care of B, someone is making her feel good. 

Instead, her stomach falls like an elevator with the cord cut.

She turns, quick as she can, back anywhere else, something to fight, there’s gotta be, gotta be, gotta be.

She’s moving past an old crypt, sounds coming from inside, a low rumble, like a TV is playing. Vamp must’ve nested in there, and she grins, grips her stake. She listens closer, crouching in towards the door. And the TV sounds like soap reruns, honestly, which is disappointing. Some pathetic no-life vamp, probably, barely gonna give her any fight.

She grabs for the door handle, but it swings open first, and it’s Spike’s glaring at her, fangs out, electric white hair all glowy in the moonlight.

“Oh,” she says, sighing, lowering the stake. “It’s you. Damn, was looking for some real fun.”

Spike raises his bumpy forehead. “We’ve met?”

Faith nods. “Was kind of wearing a different body, but yeah. Still a Slayer, but a bit more … blonde.”

Spike exhales, realizing, his face morphing back down to human. “So you’d be Faith.”

He moves fully out of the crypt, shutting the door behind him, TV still humming behind the stone. 

“You heard of me then?”

Spike grins, leans up against the wall, pulls a cigarette out of his pocket, and lights it up

“I believe the phrase ‘criminally insane,’ was floated around. You sound like a good time, frankly.”

Faith’s stomach twists up. “That, uh, tracks. With how they’d talk about me.”

Spike puffs out a breath of smoke, raises an eyebrow at her. “What, you gone all straight and narrow?”

“Can I bum one of those?” Faith asks instead of answering his question, and Spike nods, hands over the cigarette out of his mouth.

She takes a hit, and he gestures towards the stake in her hand. “You patrolling? You want a hand?”

Faith scoffs. “What, you gone all straight and narrow, now?”

Spike shrugs in this way that make his shoulders look all tiny in his big stupid coat.

“Gotta get my violence in somewhere.” 

But his gaze is drifting past her, over her shoulder, where Buffy is still curled up against the tree in the distance.

Faith shrugs back. “Sure, fucking go for it, why not.”

They start to walk, Faith handing the cigarette back to Spike, pulling her stake into position.

A few paces south, he nudges her in the side. “So, last I saw you, you uh, said some things.”

Faith searches her memory. “I say a lotta things.”

Spike gives her this sideways half smile, that probably woulda worked on her if she was still riding stick. “Said you could ride me at a gallop till my knees buckled. Squeeze me till I popped like warm champagne. Not the sorta thing a man forgets.”

Right, yeah. Coming back to her now. Honestly, was mostly about wanting to see what it felt like, to be B, turning someone one, feeling B’s body react to it, than it was anything remotely about him.

Fuck. The more she thinks about it, every time, the more she feels like a fucking idiot, not realizing she was gay till she did.

Faith says, “Yeah, but you’re not a man, now are you? Though, actually, if you really weren’t, would probably work out better for us, far as that’s concerned.”

Spike gives her a searching look.

“Gay now,” Faith explains.

Spike takes it in, nodding. “Going around, innit? You and Red could start a club.”

Faith gives a hollow half laugh. “Will doesn’t really wanna be anywhere near me. Something about, trying to kill her best friend. Put a sour taste in her mouth.”

Spike says, “But you still came back?”

She shrugs. “For B. She needed … I needed to be here.”

He nods. “Yeah. Get that.”

They walk a few more paces, scanning the paths, and Faith says, “Y’know, from how B’s talked about you, thought you’d be more of dick. But you’re alright. Y’know, for the evil undead.”

Spike’s face lights up crazy weird and twinged. 

“Oh. So uh, Buffy’s mentioned me, then?”

Faith sighs into the dark. Fucking hell. There any supernatural ex-murderer in Southern California currently not in love with Buffy Summers?

She tells Spike: “Mostly just that you’re a pain in the ass she’d love an excuse to stake.”

He nods, jaw going all tight. “Yeah. That tracks too.”

They keep walking, and Spike stakes a fledgling right quick, grabbing Faith’s stake out of his hand. Pretty solid reflexes. She wonders if he’s been practicing. Racking up his patrols just in case he runs into B on one of them, so she’ll see his moves.

Faith used to do that, when she came to town. Would do extra trainings, alone in her motel room, while B was at school. Just wanted to keep up with her. Shadowboxing into the night, till when she could go find B, go move with her.

Faith says, “So, B know you got the hots for her, or what?”

Spike puffs up his cheeks all angry, glares inhaling at the sky. “Bloody hell,” he says to Faith. “Am I that sodding obvious?”

Faith says, “Well—”

But Spike puts a hand up to shush her, his gaze catching on something in the distance, eyes all narrows.

“Demon?” Faith says. 

She follows his gaze, and it’s just Dawn. Kneeling in the dirt next to Joyce’ grave.

“No big,” Faith says. “Kid can handle herself. Swept this place of vamps, she’ll be fine.”

Spike shakes his head, face as serious as Faith’s seen it. “No. We should go over, check on her.”

“Why?” Faith asks, shoving her hands in her jacket pockets. “You don’t even know what she’s doing.”

Spike’s eyes are still watching Dawn tight. “Girl’s mum just died. Whatever she’s doing, ‘m not letting her do it alone. You coming?”

He doesn’t even wait for Faith to answer, just starts walking fast towards Dawn in the distance.

Faith hurries up to him, explains: “Shouldn’t. Kid hates me. Not gonna step in that, ‘specially not now. You should go though. If … I mean, you sure she’ll want you there? Tends to hold a grudge against people who try to kill her sister, I got that on personal experience. And you’re sorta a leading expert in that field.”

Not stopping, Spike says. “Yeah, ‘m sure. Me and the Nibblet, we got an understanding.”

Faith snorts. “What, that your route to Buffy? Play the good babysitter and maybe B’ll throw you a fuck?”

Spike does stop in his tracks now, though one eye is still trained on Dawn.

He tells Faith, voice all serious. “‘S not about that, the Little Bit’s just a good sort. Better than the lot of them. And, look, I gotta go. She’s got some book open. Big, thick, old looking one. ‘M guessing that means she’s going all dark forces. And she’s not getting eaten by some magic beastie, not if I can help it.”

And then he’s sprinting off, not looking back, and Faith doesn’t wanna watch any more. 

Every fucking corner of this cemetery, it’s just lovestruck defanged vampires and grieving Summers girls and there’s nowhere safe for Faith to look, nowhere that doesn’t remind her what she’s missing, right at the core of her.

She sprints out of the cemetery.

 

*

 

Catches a late bus over to the edge of town back to her hotel room.

It’s empty. Just the made beds and Cordy’s stacks of fancy luggage and Angel’s stack of books by his couch bed.

A note on her bed on the little pad of hotel stationery, in Cor’s big, round handwriting, says:

 

Hi Faith! 

If you’re seeing this note, it means I’ve gone off to attempt an ill-advised threesome with my lame ex and his demon girlfriend! In my defense, the hotel is only showing shitty action movies, and I haven’t gotten laid in a really long time.

Toodles,

Queen C.

 

A grin tugs at Faith’s mouth. She rips the note off the pad and folds it up into her backpack because she figures it’ll be funny to find later. Kicks up onto the bed without taking her shoes off, flicks on the TV, and reaches down to grab some tiny bottles of jack from the minibar between their two beds.

She falls asleep like that, little empty bottles littered around her, Kiefer Sutherland and Charlie Sheen riding on horseback and shooting up folks in their cowboy hats, and she’s trying not to think about anything except the sound of imaginary gunshots.

 

*

 

She’s woken up somewhere in the middle of the night by Cordy and Angel shaking her awake.

“Hey,” Cor says. “We gotta hit the road if we wanna make it back before Angel’s all dusty.”

Faith nods, rubs her blearing eyes, but she’s still mostly seeing double. “Okay, but you’re driving, ‘cause if it’s me I’m for sure gonna crash us off the side of the highway.”

“I’m driving,” Angel says. “You just sleep when we get to the car.”

Faith shoves her clothes back into her backpack without looking, follows them both stumbling down the elevator and to the convertible, still in the sweatpants and tank top she went to bed in, her feet shoved in some flip flops

Faith sprawls across the back seat, then taps Cordy on the shoulder. “Hey, wait, before I fall back asleep. You really fuck Xander and Anya?”

Angel says, “What?” and twists his whole body around.

“Eyes on the road, Angel!” Cordy commands, and he does, though his eyebrows are still doing something crazy.

“They were only off it for a second,” Angel grumbles, all petulant.

Cordy turns back to lean in towards Faith. “Okay, yes, and don’t judge me, but it was actually nice? Like, yes, Xander is still way below my league, and yes I did remind him of that, so he doesn’t get cocky? But he has gotten stronger since we used to go out. So that’s nice. His arms are like, such arms , y’know? And Anya like, really knows her way around a body. Like, really. Apparently she’s like, a thousand? I hear that helps. ‘Cause, all the practice?”

Faith leers at her. “That mean you’re coming over to my side of the aisle, Cor? ‘Cause I got some really hot exes I could set you up with.”

Cordy rolls her eyes. “No. Obviously it doesn’t count if there’s also a guy there.”

“Sure, whatever you wanna tell yourself,” Faith says.

“Oh! Okay, and she did this thing with her tongue, that was like, sucking and licking at the same time—”

“Cordy, I am begging you to stop talking,” Angel says.

Faith tells him: “C’mon, big guy. Just ‘cause you can’t get any and are all worked up from making out with B, doesn’t mean we can’t talk about Cordy getting laid.”

“Actually yes it does,” Angel says, flipping the radio onto some droning talk channel. “That’s exactly what it means.”

“You kissed Buffy? Jesus fucking Christ,” Cordy scolds, smacking Angel hard on the arm. “And know what? If you go evil again I’m gonna kill you so hard. Like, you just got done being evil over a blonde girl. You have to give us at least two weeks’ notice before you do it again.”

“I’m not going evil!” Angel says. “And ow . Why does it always hurt when you hit me? It’s not supposed to hurt when you hit me.”

“That totally sounds like something someone who’s about to go evil would say,” Cordy says. “God, don’t you ever take a night off?”

Angel scowls into the dark of the road. “Okay, trade. You guys can keep talking about Cordy’s evening if we stop talking about mine.”

“Deal,” Cor says, and holds her hand up for a high five. 

Faith smacks her palm into Cor’s. “Okay so? I need details, dude.”

“Well, first of all, I was so subtle and casual. Just like, knocking on Xander’s apartment door all oh, are you guys here alone? Willow said maybe everyone was gonna come here tonight, but I guess if it’s just little old me, I could still come on in .”

“You said little old me?

Cordy slaps Faith’s hand. “Ugh, no , that was just the vibe. Keep up! Anyway, blah blah, everyone got naked—was surprisingly easy to get them both naked. Like, Xander was always really horny when we were going out, to begin with? But collectively the two of them are like, a machine of horniness. Which is good, I guess! Means he found a good fit.”

Angel cuts in: “I take it back. We really, really need to stop talking about this.”

Cordy frowns. “You’re literally no fun ever.”

Faith grins, leans back against the backpack she’s using as a pillow, and shuts her eyes. “Not his fault, Cor! He was raised Catholic.”

“So were you,” Cordy says. “I don’t think that excuse holds up.”

Faith says, “Yeah, but I used my repression to get extra slutty. Angel used his just to get like, more repressed.”

Angel grits through his teeth. “ Good night , Faith. Sweet dreams, Faith.” 

“Aw, thanks, big guy,” she jibes, and curls up in on herself. Lets the roll of the road wash over her.

And everything in her stomach still feels all gaping and empty and hungry and wrong, yeah. But it gets more right, closer they get to LA. 

Faith drifts into sleep, and in her dreams, she sees all the vamp dust of Sunnydale rushing off her body, wind ripping over the open convertible and summoning it up all rough and quick, like a sandstorm. Ripping it off, a gray ash cloud surging back north to where it can’t touch her. 

Back to where all the wrong parts of her can stay buried, and dead, and dark, and away.



***



Faith can’t sleep, since she got back to LA.

It’s like B’s haunting her, or something. She’s patrolling all night, just to burn off the feeling, try to tire herself out, but nothing. It’s just clawing at her, won’t let up, nails dug in deep.

Gets worse when she sees Anne from afar.

Sees her by accident—well, sort of accident. 

Truth is she picked the shelter’s neighborhood to patrol on purpose. Just, made her itchy, not knowing what shit might be lurking out there. Around Anne. Around Anne’s kids. But she was gonna give the shelter itself like, three blocks of berth at least. But, funny enough, Anne isn’t bound to that three block radius, and Faith sees her pushing her way out of a pet store, streetlights glowing her up, tins of cat food pressing against the thin plastic bag.

Figures. She’s the type to pick up strays.

Faith ducks behind a dumpster until she’s gone. And it smells filthy, and Faith feels so stupid, crouching in garbage, hiding from a girl that’s got nothing wrong with her, a girl who’d have Faith, if Faith was ready to be had, and yet this pang in her chest won’t stop, this seizing fear that grips her limbs, freezes her hands up every time she tries to reach for the phone.

And every night, still, she dreams about drowning B. Her pale head pushing up to surface and Faith’s hands shoving her back down, till the air bubbles stop. And every morning she wakes up gasping, thinking: I didn’t mean to!



***



She meant to go to Caritas alone. 

But then Cordy wormed it out of her by sheer force of will, and then immediately told Gunn, and Wes tagged along because he didn’t want to be left out. Just Angel wasn’t gonna go, but then Cordy dragged him up by the elbows, insisting that he has to leave the house and socialize for at least an hour before he can huddle back up with his books and his sins.

So now the five of them are crammed into Angel’s car, driving over, and everyone keeps badgering her with their questions.

“So, you’re going about Anne?” Cor says next to her. “Or is this about Buffy?”

“I’m going ‘cause I’m going,” Faith says. 

Gunn chimes in from the driver’s seat: “All I know is, still weirds me out that of all the girlfriends you coulda picked, you went for my friend.”

“She’s not my girlfriend,” Faith insists, and kicks the back of his seat. “We just, had a weird, romantic … thing.”

“Hey, hey!” Angel says from his shotgun spot. “Can we not kick the leather?”

Gunn says, “Fine. I think it’s weird that of all the people you coulda had a weird romantic thing with, you pick one of my friends.

Faith tells him: “Honestly, it’s just odds—only so many women swinging my way in this city. Don’t get me wrong, I’m doing my best to convert the uninitiated. But the bar scene’s pretty much a game of musical chairs. Only, y’know, instead of sitting on chairs, we’re all sitting on—”

Wes says, “Yes, that’s quite enough, Faith. Thank you.”

Faith scowls at him from across the back seat. “You’ve been such a dick since you got shot, man.”

“Hey!” Cordy chimes in. “Come on, Faith, try a little tact.”

“Well thank you, Cordelia,” Wes says.

“I mean, obviously Wes has been way obnoxious,” Cor continues. “But you would too if you got shot, and then dumped for getting shot! Plus it’s only fair to wait until he’s like, ten percent more recovered to say so. It’s called compassion? Duh.”

Wesley just sighs, really, really loudly. 

He looks like he’s about to run his mouth about something else, but then they’re there, and Gunn pulls up in front of the karaoke bar, 

The lot of them stream down the steps, and the demons collectively flinch at the sight of them, and then make like they didn’t.

“Well if it isn’t my very favorite detectives!” Lorne cries, hopping off his barstool somehow without even sloshing his cocktail, and coming up to greet them. He does air kisses on each of Angel’s cheeks, makes Angel go all stiff and stilted.

“So, strudel, to what do I owe the pleasure? You come to sing your little heart out about a certain sire of yours again?”

Angel shakes his head. “I’m just here for Faith.”

Lorne turns his gaze on her. “Faithy, my darling, of course, of course. Now, this business or pleasure?”

Faith shakes her head. “Uh. Neither? Look, can I just sing?”

“Always straight to it with you. I admire that quality in a Slayer. Yes , you can just sing. You’re up next, right after Nandor the Relentless finishes this round of Miss Mariah.”

Lorne slinks off back into the crowd, and the gang stays clustered at the bar, ordering their drinks.

“There was no need to be so short with the Host, Faith,” Wes tells her. “He’s only trying to help.”

“Jesus, Wes, you wanna give me five minutes between telling me how to run my life?” she scowls, orders a whiskey sour from the tentacled bartender.

“It was merely a constructive suggestion,” he insists.

“I got a suggestion for you, babe. How ‘bout you get a life, and stop shitting on mine?”

Cordy steps between them, grabbing her fizzy pink cocktail from the bartender. “Wow! You guys sure are tense. Do you wanna, maybe, not?”

“I’m with her,” Gunn says, sipping on his G&T. “You guys gotta chill the fuck down.”

“We’re fine, you guys,” Faith says. “Lay off. Angel, aren’t we fine?”

Angel says, “I’m not getting involved in this unless you pay me a lot of money,” and slinks off to the other end of the bar, nursing his glass of O-Neg. 

“What makes you so certain we’re fine , Faith?” Wes prods. “Since you seem insistent on taking offense with every little thing I say?”

Faith inhales deep and hard, presses off from the bar. Her head is all swirling and rotten and rough and there’s enough in there already, Buffy and Anne and Sunnydale and the lot of it, and she doesn’t need him mucking around on top of it. “Fucking forget it,” Faith tells him. “Who cares?”

She grabs her drink from the bar, shoves into the crowd and steals a seat at this little cocktail table full of burly Nitobe demons, who scoot their chairs a few inches away from her, respectful-like. Giving her room. She knocks back half her glass in one solid chug, wiping the wet from her mouth on the back of her hand. The guy on stage—this long haired vamp in like, full leather armor—finishes up the last few chords of “All I Want For Christmas is You,” and then Lorne’s summoning her up.

“Hey, give it up for Nandor, wouldja? Here’s hoping you and Gail patch things up, huh buddy? Now, everybody please give a warm Caritas welcome to our very own Faith, the Vampire Slayer! Who’s gonna wow us with, uh, who are you singing again, sugar?”

Faith makes her way up to stage, whispers the name in Lorne’s ear.

His mouth stretches into a smile.

“You always know how to pick ‘em, huh kid?” Lorne tells her, patting her on the back. 

Faith swallows, hard, as he moves off the stage, grips the microphone so hard she worries she’s gonna bust it, and loosens up.

The lights on stage shift, flooding her in purple, and Lorne winks at her from the bar as the first chords stream through the karaoke machine.

Faith opens her mouth, and the sound rushes out:

Once I had a love, and it was a gas,

Soon turned out, had a heart of glass.

Seemed like the real thing, only to find

Mucho mistrust, love’s gone behind.”

 

She’s singing it rougher and lower than it’s meant to be sung. She wants to swallow the microphone. She wants the sound to burst out of her, shatter her teeth with the force of it. She wants to be knocked unconscious, dragged off the stage, her flopping limbs all leaden.

 

Once I had a love, and it was divine,

Soon found out, I was losing my mind.

It seemed like the real thing, oh, but I was so blind,

Mucho mistrust, love’s gone behind.”

 

She’s singing, and inside her head it’s all Buffy, Buffy’s eyes floating up out of every dream she drowned them, Buffy rising from the water soaked wet to the skin and green-eyed and hungry, hungry, hungry. Faith wraps her arms tight around herself as she sings because she thinks if no one touches her right this second she will burst into nothing, skin splatting out her bleeding insides across the stage, the demons, the whole fucking world.

 

“In between, what I find is pleasing, and I’m feeling fine,

Love is so confusing, please don’t push me aside. 

If I fear I’m losing you, it’s just no good,

You teasing like you do.”

 

The instrumental break slips in, and Faith wants to rip all her hair out. She shuts her eyes, so she doesn’t have to see the crowd starting up at her. Keeps them shut as the lyrics pick back in:

 

Once I had a love, and it was a gas,

Soon turned out, had a heart of glass.

Seemed like the real thing, only to find

Mucho mistrust, love’s gone behind.”

 

She finishes out the rest of the song the same way, eyes screwed so tight she’s seeing spots, swaying off-kilter to the song, hair thrashing a little on the choruses, tickling around her face. She shouts out:

 

“We could’ve made it cruising, yeah.”

 

And back through another bridge, and into the chorus, and her throat hurts, her head hurts. And she wishes she felt like the hurt meant something. Wishes it had anything else inside of it. But she peels back the hurt and there’s just more hurt, gaping up at her. Ready to swallow her down with all teeth.

Faith croons out a last few bars, and then Lorne’s beside her, clapping her on the back, ushering her off stage, and her eyes are wet, fuck.

Fuck, she knew this would happen. Knew she’d cry. It’s why she didn’t want the whole fucking gang tagging along to see her get humiliated. But, doesn’t matter. She’ll just smack any of them who say anything about it. She’ll just avoid their gaze until something else has happened, that can shove it away from the top of their minds. She’ll just hide out in this bar until everything stops spinning inside.

“Bit on the nose, don’t you think?” Lorne comments once she’s done, as they settle into his usual table. “I mean, Blondie? For your blonde girl problem? You gotta love the poetry of it, though.”

Faith shrugs. “Didn’t really think about it.”

“Not thinking of much right now. Baby girl, your insides are like a soapmaker’s workshop at the moment, you know that? Just pulpy and stinging.”

Faith wrings her knuckles across her forehead. “Huh?”

Lorne grins at her, takes a long sip of his fruity cocktail. “Lemme break it down for you, darling. You already know what to do.”

“I don’t! I’m all … pulpy! Like you said. Or whatever.”

Lorne rolls his eyes. “So you got girl drama, big whoop. Doesn’t mean you don’t know what to do about it. So it hurts. Big whoop. Doesn’t mean you just gotta wallow around in the hurt waiting for it to get worse. You got a real chance at happiness right now, Faithy. So go for it, babycakes.”

She sighs at him, thunks her elbows onto the table. “You get paid by the word or something?”

“The blonde girls, Faith. Buffy and Anne. One you got, one you don’t, simple as that.”

Faith’s chest hurts so much all of the sudden. “It’s not …  it’s, it’s not. Simple.”

“Darling, it is. I get it. You’re scared. You’re terrified, pumpkin, but who isn’t? Because you know that Buffy, however much you love her, crave her, however much she awakened this shimmering little light in you that just won’t shut off? She’s not your girl.”

“But she could be . She, she could—”

“Look, not trying to single you out here. Hell, I could give this same speech to Tall, Dark, and Brooding over there,” Lorne gestures with his thumb at Angel, over his shoulder. “She’s important to you. Always will be. And the story between you two? Well, you got a damn few more bricks to mortar down on that yellow brick road. But right now? Far as the eye can see? Let her go. Live your life. She doesn’t need to be part of it.”

Faith inhales, exhales. Drops her chin in her hands. Her head feels heavy, her hands feel soft. “So that’s it? That’s all? I just … move on? End of lecture?”

Lorne smiles. “No. See, that’s why you think you came here. But something else floated up in that reading of yours. I mean, by Ostara, you’re so tense I could bounce a quarter off you. And do you happen to know why?”

“...Because this conversation’s been going on for so long?”

Lorne says, “ Because you and your fatherish figure over there seem real intent on eating each other alive, more and more every day. Now, what’s that about, Faith?”

Faith blinks up, follow’s Lorne’s gaze. To Wesley, sitting at the bar. Looking at them. And looking away, the second he realizes they’re looking back, pretending he’d been examining the bar mirror this whole time.

“What, Wes? You’re off your mind, dude. He’s not my … he’s just some guy.”

Lorne reaches into his pocket, produces a little pad of paper—thick creamy cardstock with gold leaf, and a ballpoint pen. Scribbles a name and number down on it and slides it across the table to Faith like they’re in a mob movie.

“Look, you decide to wise up and look at the facts, you call my friend. He can help you out.”

Faith stares at the page, goggle eyed. “Fucking right. I’m sure we will. Right after I finish my high school degree and go back to fucking guys.”

“Think it over, pumpkin,” Lorne says, with this knowing, smarmy grin that makes Faith certain she never will.



***



The door is thick and dark wood and has got this expensive-looking gold placard nailed into it. Etched in, it says: Glergabreth of the Blood Moors. Empath Demon. Licensed Family Therapist. 

“Well,” Wesley says. “Er, are we meant to knock? Does he know we’re here?”

“Fuckin’ beats me,” Faith says, and drops into one of the little fabric covered seats in this waiting room. She glances around—standard waiting room fodder. Celebrity gossip rags on the table, and some glossy periodical called Slugs Monthly . Other office doors have the same gold plaques announcing them: a vampire dentist, some guy called Ulrich The Soul Gnawer, Esq., and a wedding planner’s office. 

Wesley lowers himself into the chair opposite her, running his thumbs over the sewn ridges of the seat. 

He stares at Faith, and Faith stares at her feet. 

It takes like, hours, for the therapist guy to open his office door and summon them inside. 

Well, five minutes. But same difference.

 But eventually the door does push open, and this demon who’s mostly pale blue dangling skin flaps and too many eyes and surprisingly small hands steps out into the waiting area:

“You must be Faith,” he says to her. “C’mon in, both of you.”

He’s got a pretty thick east coast accent hanging out over his vowels—somewhere down by Jersey, or maybe New York, if Faith had to guess, and it makes some little notch in her feel just a bit at ease. 

Except that he’s wearing a faded Yankees t-shirt poking out under his tweedy blazer, so fuck this guy, actually. 

 Faith and Wes settle into his office, which has got little sailboat pictures on the wall, and and a long shiny brown leather couch on one end, a lilac armchair in the other. 

The pair of them take seats on opposite ends of the sofa, arms crossed.

“So, it’s like I told you on the phone, uh … Glergabreth,” Faith starts.

“Please,” he waves a hand, arm skin flapping. “Call me Glerg.”

“Okay... Glerg. It’s like I said, we’re not really, uh. We’re not really doing this. Just here ‘cause a friend of ours gave us your number. But we don’t, uh. We don’t need this.”

Glerg turns to Wes. “That true? You don’t need it?”

Wesley clears his throat. “Er, I should say I’m not entirely, erm … I’m undecided, on the matter. While I am, er, not entirely comfortable, with the prospect, it does feel sensible to give it a shot, as they say. As long as we’re all the way over here already.”

Glerg turns back to Faith. “What do you say about that, Faith? You willing to give this a shot?”

Faith scoffs. “Nothing to give a shot to. I got nothing to say to him. Me and Wes, we’re five by five.”

 

*

“Well maybe,” Faith is snarling out at Wesley about fifteen minutes later. “It’s ‘cause you always treat me like I’m some shit you stepped in. Some job the Council pawned off on you that you keep trying to shake back off, but no luck.”

Wesley sputters incredulously. “If I had been trying to, to” — he throws up air quotes— “To ‘pawn you off,’ would I have helped you get your record expunged? Would I have worked by your side for the last year?”

Faith digs her nails into the couch leather. “Of fucking course, you just love to throw the murder record thing back in my face. Bet it was so hard for you to tell those lawyers I was a rabid dog that needed to be shot in the street. Bet it just eats you up at night,”

Wes flings back: “Well that is just a spurious, idiotic misinterpretation of —” 

“Alright, folks, I’m noticing things are getting pretty heated,” Glerg says. “And heated isn’t bad. Means we got a lot of passion here, and a lot of hurt, and a lot for us to work through, together, in this space. And that means a lot. I’m proud of you both, for bringing your all here. But, maybe we can reel that heat in a little, just for right now? Ground ourselves in why we’re here.”

Faith twists in her seat so she’s facing Glerg. “We’re here because he sucks. Not that complicated.”

Glerg twiddles his pen around in his hand. “Has he always sucked? It always been like this, with you two?”

Faith shrugs. “Dunno. Was shitty, when he was my Watcher. And then I tried to torture him, and that was pretty shitty too, I guess. But, been fine, since then.”

“Didn’t try to ,” Wes corrects. “You did torture me. With relish.”

“Right,” Faith says. “What he said. Uh, but then, like I said, I guess things were alright for a while? And then, just been building up, I guess.”

Wes grumbles, talking into his chest: “I’d’ve thought you’d be gentler on me, after I was shot. But you’ve only gotten harsher.”

There’s a thick bubble of saliva lodged in Faith’s throat. “Didn’t mean to. Just … it fucked me up, you getting shot. Don’t get it twisted. I was a mess. But then, uh, all the stuff, going up to Sunnydale, just, got me fucked back up, in the other direction.”

Glerg hums thoughtfully under his breath. “Sunnydale? Tell me what happened there?”

“Dunno,” Faith says. “Saw everybody. Buffy—she’s uh, the other Slayer? You probably know that though. Saw her friends. Saw, um. Saw Giles.”

Her hands hurt, all of the sudden. She wants to punch her fists through the sofa’s upholstery, except Angel said she’s gotta stop doing that because the agency can’t afford to keep paying people to repair their furniture, and next time it’s out of her pay. 

So she just digs her nails into her thigh through her tights, wonders if it would take a long while to draw blood.

“What about him?” Glerg asks. “This Giles?”

“Just, talked to him, I dunno. I was, he was — fuck it,” she turns to Wes, anger bubbling up under her tongue, frothing. “You know what he said to me? You wanna fucking know? Said he was proud of me. Ran into him at the funeral, and he said he was proud of me. Fucking Giles. Not even my goddamn Watcher, run into him for not even five minutes and he can’t run outta shit to say, ‘bout how I’m doing. How I’m a testament, or whatever.”

“And what about it, Faith?” Wes says, voice louder than she’s ever heard it, eyes meeting hers and not flinching away. 

“What about it? Fuck, I see you every goddamn day Wes. You never had a fucking thing to say to me like that. No, everything I say is all wrong. Way I fight is wrong. Way I lead my personal life is wrong. Way I fucking walk is wrong, far as you’re concerned.”

Wes practically spits: “Is that what you want, Faith? You want me to tell you I’m proud of you? You want me to give you a gold star on your homework, tuck you into your bed at night? Is that it?”

“Fuck you, Wes.”

Glerg says, “Right, so I see we’re using some very heated language again, and we might want to—”

Wes cuts in: “We are fighting a war here, Faith. We are—you want to know the truth?”

Faith insists: ‘No. I don’t. I don’t care about a goddamn thing you got to say.”

Wes goes on, “The truth is, you are a damn fine Slayer. Your instincts. Your commitment in battle, the way you put your body on the line. No hesitation. Always ready to do what must be done. So yes, you’re good. You’re better than good. And you don’t need to hear that from me.”

Faith’s eyes feel wet, but she won’t, she won’t give him the satisfaction. She blinks the sting away, and demands, throat raw: 

“Who said? Who said I don’t have to hear it from you?”

Glerg clears his throat. “I’m real sorry, folks, but we’ve actually come to the end of our time here. Initial sessions are limited to about thirty minutes. But I’d be happy to pick this thread up with you both next week, same time.”

Faith’s voice feels all wet and pitchy. “What?”

Wesley says, “But we were … only getting started.”

Glerg gives them both this quizzical look that makes Faith want to deck him right in his squishy blue blob face. “Yeah. You are.”

 

*

 

They’re in Wes’ car, jammed in traffic on the way back to the Hyperion.

“So,” Wes says. “That was…”

“Interesting,” Faith supplies.

“Yes. Interesting, that’s the word.”

A long stretching moment of silence, car horns, faint radio.

“So, Cor and I are gonna order a pizza tonight, if you want in?” Faith says, grinding her knuckles against the glass window.

Wes perks up. “Oh! Could we get anchovies?” 

“Dream on,” Faith says. “Pepperoni, full stop.”




***



Faith’s leaning against a lamppost in the park. It’s three minutes after they said they’d meet, so obviously she’s not coming. She rips the cell phone Cordy made her buy out of her pocket, flips it open and shut so many times she’s sure the hinge is gonna bust or the screen shatter. But it’s fine. Just keeps telling her the same thing—another minute gone by. And no missed calls.

She feels like she’s gonna scream. Feels like she should leave. It’s almost nightfall, though, under an hour, so gotta be something she can kill lurking out here. She curls up her fists, scanning the area, poising herself.

“Hey there,” says a voice behind her, and Faith’s fists fall limp. She twists, hair swishing.

And there’s Anne.

“Hey yourself,” Faith says. 

Her voice feels squeaky. 

Anne is walking towards her, in this pale green button up shirt, her long arms swinging, this long, soft brown skirt Faith wants to run her fingers over. This cherry colored lip balm that makes Faith wonder if she put it on on purpose, because she was gonna see Faith.

Faith clears her throat, stands up straight, tries to shove her hands in her pockets as nonchalant as she can. 

She tells Anne, “I’m, I’m glad you came. Wasn’t sure you were gonna.”

“I said I was,” Anne says. She’s just a few feet away now.

“I know, just … wasn’t sure.”

And then Anne’s right there, and Faith’s throat feels all constricting, her chest tight. Anne’s eyes are dark in this light—it’s near to dusk out. But when she walks under the streetlamp Faith’s stood against, the flecks of green all come through. 

Faith wants to tell her about it. The flecks of green. But that’s not what you should say, girl you skipped out on, first thing. But she wants to say it so bad, her tongue feels swollen.

“So,” Anne says, and there’s a nervous edge to her voice too, that puts some part of Faith at ease, but just jitters the rest of her up. “What did you want to talk about?”

Faith exhales. “I, uh. Look. I know I sorta freaked. Last time. And, and I had a good reason for it. Or, felt like a good reason. But it doesn’t seem like such a good reason now. And I guess I wanted to, to ask you, or, to talk to you, about…”  

Anne inches forward a step closer, takes Faith’s hand, gentle. Like she knew Faith needed it.

“It’s okay. You can say it, whatever it is. Um, do you wanna sit down maybe?”

Faith does. She really does. They walk over to the bench a few paces back. 

Still hand in hand, Faith realizes. Just neither of them thought to let go.

Faith curls her legs under her, twisting on the bench to look at Anne, whose skirt is all fanned out over the wooden slats.

“So?” Anne asks, voice soft, not pressing.

“So. I know I freaked on you. And um, I don’t expect you’ve just been like, sitting around, waiting for me. But I think things are a bit clearer now? And I just wanted to, to explain to you.”

Anne gives Faith’s palm a gentle squeeze. “I’m all yours.” 

Faith feels her eyes go wide.

“I mean, you know, attention-wise. All ears. Whatever they say.”

“Right, yeah. Ears,” Faith scrubs her free hand over the side of her hair. “Um. So I panicked. Well, you know that. You were there. But it was when, when you brought up Buffy? Just, sorta made me realize I wasn’t over some stuff.”

Anne nods, taking it in. “So you and her. I’m guessing it’s… intense?”

There’s a dry bark of a laugh that Faith has to hold in. 

“Yeah. You could say that.”

Anne looks down, swallows hard enough Faith can see. “Mind telling me what kind?”

Faith inhales.

“Well. Um. I came to town. And, and it was weird, off the bat. I mean. She didn’t really want me there. Pretended like she did but, but always thought she was too good for me. I could tell. But we were doing okay. But then there was this glove thing? And it’s kind of complicated, but basically I tried to kill her boyfriend. And then she hit me a bunch. And I hit her a bunch. And then lightning hit this lady, which isn’t relevant except it was ‘cause of the glove? And then things were weird for a while, but then they were alright, and we … we got close. I guess, you could call it that. Almost. But then we got arrested, and escaped, but then, I … there was this … someone got hurt. Killed. It was my fault. And I tried to, um … frame her for murder? Which isn’t as bad as it sounds!” she adds, off Anne’s expression.

“Oh?”

“Well, it is as bad as it sounds, but you looked real freaked out, so I just wanted to … but anyway! Then I joined up with this guy. The mayor. ‘Cept our town was on a Hellmouth so he was uh, you can imagine the kind of mayor. I was just, I was so scared. and I thought it would be safe? And it was. Felt safe. And this mayor guy, he, he was like a dad to me, almost? Got to be that way. And he was trying to kill her. Kill Buffy. And so was I. And then we tried to get her boyfriend’s soul out again—uh, Angel, that’s the boyfriend. Ex boyfriend, now. Not ‘cause of the soul stuff. I mean, not mostly. Yes mostly? Who the fuck knows with those two. But I think you know him?”

“That guy you work with? Aren’t you guys close?”

Faith nods. “Very! So anyway, tried to get his soul out, couple of ways, but then, other stuff happened, and he chained me to a wall, and then I got kidnapped for a minute there, by Wesley—”

“—The other guy you work with?”

“... Yeah. But, he’s kinda sidelines, far as this is concerned. Um, so then I tried to kill Angel again , and Buffy tried to kill me to save him, and then she stabbed me with my own knife, and I fell off a building? And then there was this whole sorta … coma situation? And then I woke up, and swapped our bodies, and fucked with her life? Uh. And now,  we talk on the phone, sometimes? Or we did, used to. Kinda fell off. And then I just saw her, at her mom’s funeral. And that was weird. And um. Yeah. That’s the gist, anyway.”

Anne’s head is bobbed back, eyes wide, nodding, intaking.

“So. Complicated relationship,” Anne sums up.

Faith swallows a lump down her throat. “Little bit.”

Anne takes in a deep breath. “And you love her?”

Faith’s turn to take a deep breath now. 

“Been trying not to. She’s uh … no good lies that way, not for me. And maybe I’ve known that. For years, I’ve known it. But, didn’t know I loved her, like that, til even recently. And everything’s been so … it just took me a while, to feel through everything. First time in my life that, that things are quiet? And they’re good. And I can really think . And thinking about her, it … I didn’t know how to.”

Anne looks off in the distance over Faith’s shoulder. Their hands are still clasped, but it feels a little more wrong than before. Faith’s palm is all clammy. She keeps thinking Anne’s gonna flinch away. Wipe her hand on the wood and inch backwards.

Anne says: “I’m glad you told me. It’s … it’s not good to hold all that in. You don’t deserve to.”

Her thumb slowly moves, starts circling over the back of Faith’s palm, the side of her nail on that edge of sharp and soft. That place where it feels safe.

“But still,” Faith says. “I shouldn’t’ve just bailed on you, how I did. I guess I got scared? Which I know is a dick thing to say, and it’s a cop-out people use when they just don’t wanna be with somebody. But I’m not doing it like that. I really got scared. ‘Cause I really … you really ... but, I know it’s been a while. And like you said, it was one date. One really, really good date. But if you … if there’s somebody else? I’d get it. No hard feelings. None, at all.”

Sometimes it feels like hard feelings are the only kind Faith knows how to have. But she wants to mean what she said. She really does.

Anne squeezes her eyes shut, this brief moment. “I mean, my job doesn’t leave me a lot of time to date.”

Faith’s chest goes all fluttering for a second.

“But I did try seeing a few people,” Anne explains. “Didn’t wanna get stuck.”

And Faith’s stomach clenches, drops, tightens.

“So,” Faith says. “You … you’re with someone.”

“Tried.” Anne’s thumb stops circling Faith’s hand. “Just, none of them felt like, like how it was. Kept thinking, well, this is alright, sure. But I knew it could be better.”

Faith chokes on her own saliva, trying to say: “You—uh. When was it better?” 

And her voice feels all mangled and too bright, needy. 

“I’ve felt it. I’ve … I’ve been in love before. The real thing. And, I’m not saying that’s what it is with you.”

Faith lets out a puff of air. “Right.”

“But, I’m saying … the way it feels, in the beginning, before you realize it’s love? When you’re feeling it out, and it’s just easy, and good, way too good? That’s how it felt. With you. Feels, still, even right now.”

Faith’s insides feel almost numb, all the buzzing going on inside her. She can’t think straight. She can’t do anything. She can just— “So … you wanna try? With me. Feeling it out?”

Anne moves her hand finally, out of Faith’s. 

Slides it across the back of Faith’s neck, fingers cupping, and her skin is so soft, her hands so soft, her face edging closer, Faith can see all the skim of her eyelashes, the down hairs lining the edge of her cheeks, the crease of her lips.

“I really, really do.”

And Faith moves her hands to match Anne’s, running over the back of Anne’s neck, except harder, needier, pulls her in close, and Anne’s kissing her then, or Faith’s kissing Anne. The order doesn’t matter, though. Mattering is that Anne’s lips are plush and soft and needful, her mouth opening, Faith’s tongue finding its way in. Anne’s arms moving around Faith, tugging her in, legs nuzzling into each other, and gasping away these brief moments, to take breath, and plunging back in. 

It’s like they’re trying to swallow each other. It’s like, it shouldn’t be this good, but it is. It’s like, even gulping down enough air to keep going, is too much of a break, because they should never stop touching.

It’s right, is what it is. It makes all of Faith’s insides feel golden and bright and gleaming and pulsed.

She breaks away, half a second, breath ragged. “You’re—”

“God,” Anne says. “We’re so good at this. How are we so good at this?”

Faith grins into her mouth. “Fucking right?” 

And then they’re back at it, aching into each other, laughing through the kiss and pulling deeper.  



***



Faith and Anne are all spilled across Faith’s bed at the Hyperion, how they always are. Legs so tangled in the bedsheets that every time they move, they yowl, limbs suckered to the bedding like crabs caught in a fishnet.

They laugh into the crooks of each other’s elbows, their armpit hollows, into each other’s mouths, and the bedside table is a graveyard of water glasses all stagnant and flattened soda cans, their tin tops all pushed in wrong, and they’re so happy, the two of them, they think it could push their teeth out from smiling. And they don’t care.

And the TV is playing gently in the background behind them, old quiz show reruns, because Anne loves them, loves to shout the answers out into the air, her voice like a bell, says it was the first time she ever felt smart, watching these shows in the windows of electronics shops after she ran away, and Faith doesn’t know any of the answers, so Anne gets to win every round, and Faith loves to let Anne win, so she tries not to listen to any of the answers, so she won’t know them, if they ever watch this episode again.

On the floor is a half-eaten pizza pie that Faith thinks is pretty much shit—all West Coast pizza is pretty much shit—but Anne thought was wonderful, and a few lettuce shreds in a plastic tin left over from the side salad Anne insisted they get and Faith ate none of.

Right now, Faith is yanking the paper white bag from the pizza box, pushing a garlic knot into Anne’s mouth, and Anne laughs as she eats it, and Faith does too, at how Anne’s cheeks go all moon round like a chipmunk, and they’re laughing so hard, their ears are numb to anything else, and Anne’s breasts move as she laughs, the fat shifting and rippling, and then Faith needs Anne’s breast in her mouth, needs it like she needs sleep and breath and food, and her lips are so busy wrapping around the pink knot of Anne’s nipple that neither of them hear the door creak open.

“Hey, Faith, I was just gonna run to the drugstore if you need any—oh!”

Their heads whip up, and Angel is in the doorway, palm slapped over his eyes. 

“We could use some more lube actually, big guy.” Faith says. “Do they sell that at drugstores?”

Anne giggles hard and silent, smacks Faith with a light scold on the arm. “Faith! Stop.”

Faith pouts. “But making Angel uncomfortable’s my favorite hobby. You can’t take it away from me—besides! It’s good for the world. Keeps him from getting too happy, y’know?” 

Angel’s hand is still clapped across the top half of his face. 

His voice comes out almost squeaky: “I’m, I’m sorry. I heard laughing, and TV and assumed you guys were—uh, I’ll come back later! Uh. Good to see you again, Anne. I mean, not see you. I didn’t see anything! No seeing. I’m … I’m very, very sorry.”

He gropes for the door handle behind him, eyes still covered, misses it about two times, and then sprints down the hall, feet clomping, door clamping shut behind him.

“Good to see you too, Angel!” Anne yells back.

Laughing, Faith drops back, head plopping onto a clump of comforter at the headboard, feet splaying out on the pillows all thrown to the foot of the bed.

“I’m happy,” Faith tells Anne. “Did you know?”

Anne bites her lip. “I had a suspicion—and, also, you were sort of in the middle of something before he came in. Was thinking you might wanna get back to it?”

Faith grins, reaches and grabs Anne to yank her over to Faith’s side of the bed, and Anne yelps, smiling and loving and soft and then moans, aches out with her mouth as Faith’s lips wrap around her nipple again, and then the other, and then circle the soft skin of her breasts, spit pooling, both women crying out from the back of their throats, humming it all out in an unending sigh, one breath bleeding over the next.



***



Faith and Anne are walking one late morning down from Faith’s room, arms swinging. Anne’s head dipping again and again to kiss Faith’s neck, the only reason they don’t topple over down the steps is Faith’s superhuman Slayer balance.

“So, they emerge for air!” Gunn calls up at them from his pile of work. “Nice hickie, Annie.”

Hickies ,” Faith correct. “Gimme the plural, I worked hard for it.”

“You’re the worst,” Anne says, and bites Faith lightly on the ear, perfect teeth pressing in on the cartilage.

“Yeah, and you like me that way,” Faith says, twisting Anne into her by the waist, so they’re facing each other, and Faith can plunge in for a kiss, the quick, sudden, deep kind, that makes Anne yelp a little into her mouth, every time, like she wasn’t ready for it, like she didn’t know Faith was coming, and then sinks deeper into her. 

Every time, every fucking time, it gives this warm low-down rumble, molten and sticky and gold, honey, in the pit of Faith’s belly.

She’s about to say screw work, tell Anne to have her co-director get lunch started at the shelter, tell Cordy to fill Faith in on the latest creature feature later tonight, once Faith’s made Anne come at least two more times. She’s about to, in essence, yank Anne back up the stairs, and possibly rip her dress to shreds in the process, when a throat clears at the bottom of the steps, loudly. 

“Faith! Anne! Lovely to see you both this morning. Faith, we’ll be starting our debrief in a moment for our ongoing cases. I think you’ll want to be present and attentive for it.”

Faith swallows a bead of saliva down her throat, whines a little from the back of her mouth, under her breath, as she pulls back from Anne’s mouth.

“Wouldn’t miss it, Wes,” she says, with a scrape of her teeth, fist balled up in the flesh of her own arm.

“Quite,” he says, and putters off, straightening his glasses, heads to his massive stack of leather books.

Anne hums a little from the back of her throat, a different kind than she did a minute ago. Faith twists to look at her, and she’s got the thin, soft arches of her eyebrows pitched high.

“So,” she murmurs, low, so only Faith can hear. “How’s therapy going?”

Faith rolls her eyes, grins into Anne’s shoulder, and tugs her by the arm down the steps, and out through the front vestibule of the hotel. 

Outside, Faith says:

“It’s … going. Had a couple sessions so far. Bit like pulling teeth? Only difference is, when you scream during this, everyone looks at you funny. Pulling teeth, it’s expected.”

Anne runs a hand down Faith’s shoulder, her arm, brushing the skin until she meets Faith’s hand, and takes it.

Pulling the hand up to her mouth, Anne gives a slow, soft kiss to Faith’s knuckles. “It’ll get easier. You’re doing everything right. Just takes time, to move through it.”

Faith tugs Anne in close, soft, free hand pulling in the nape of her girl’s neck. “But what if I kill him before we can ‘move through it?’ Would that be allowed? D’you think the therapist would understand?”

Anne laughs, a gentle breath tickling Faith’s ear, a perfect little shudder. “Yeah, I think therapists are usually pretty chill about that.”

Faith grins. “Oh, good.”

Anne leans in, head pressing, foreheads pushed together, and she’s so hot, so warm, so soft pushing against Faith, shoving her into the little stucco wall, knees pinning Faith’s legs to the stone.

And Faith usually forgets, that Anne is taller than her, because usually they’re horizontal, usually Faith’s strength is pressing Anne into the bed and Anne is begging for more, whimpering for it, both of them so breathless and needy and hopelessly panting into the night. 

But Faith remembers it now, tilting her chin up at Anne, Anne’s fingers rough and pressing along Faith’s jaw, grabbing into her, fists in Faith’s hair, unrelenting.

“Fuck,” Faith moans. “Don’t go to work,” and plunges right back into the kiss, moves her hands, aching for as much of Anne’s skin she can get, but she’s got this whole jacket situation on, so Faith just plays with her breasts over Anne’s shirt, relentless, Anne’s nipple turning hard and bright beneath the fabric.

Anne runs her tongue over Faith’s, flicking it, and pulling backwards, teeth scraping over Faith’s bottom lip as she moves back enough to speak.

“Gotta,” Anne says, almost a whine. “The kids have been so on my case. All Anne has a girlfriend! Anne’s coming in late! Anne and Faith sitting in a tree ! That whole deal. Also, if I pawn lunch rush off on Roberta one more time this month she’s gonna kill me. And I’d deserve it.”

Faith pouts, sticking her lip out. “But I’m so pretty. And so hot. Is Roberta considering that? That I’m so pretty and hot? ‘Cause if she was, I feel like she’d totally get it.”

Anne takes the bait, kisses Faith again, pulling her swollen lip into her mouth, relentless. They’re grappling another moment, drinking in the taste of each other’s spit, and then Anne pulls away, meaning it this time.

“I’ll bring it up to her at next staff meeting.”

“Thanks babe,” Faith says, and kisses Anne’s temple, her cheek, her nose, her mouth.

“I really have to go, actually!” Anne says, smiling, not trying to move.

“And I really have to keep kissing you,” Faith says. “Why don’t we just see which wins out!” 

Before she can kiss her again though, there’s steps up the walkway behind them, heels clacking pavement.

“Hi Cordy!” Anne waves.

Faith sighs, turns.

“Anne, hey! Nice hickies,” Cordy compliments.

Anne grins. “You should see the other guy.”

Cordy smiles at them, “You coming or going?”

Faith says, “Well last night, and this morning, she was definitely co—”

“Thank you, Miss Innuendo,” Cordy says, with the too-bright smile she brings out for obnoxious clients. 

“Going,” Anne explains. “Work.”

“Bad work,” Faith insists. “Evil, no good, wicked useless work. Play hooky with me.”

Anne leaves one, two, three more kisses lightly on Faith’s mouth. When she pulls away fully, Faith realizes her whole face almost is smeared mauve, from Faith’s lipstick, in this way that makes her chest flutter, stomach leap. Like, I was there .

“I’ll see you tonight, hon,” Anne says. 

“Tonight,” Faith agrees, keeping hold of Anne’s hand lightly, arms stretched out, until she’s too far away, and finally their hands split. Faith watches her move down the walk, and get into her car, following the curve of her jeans around her ass as she walks.

Cordy grabs Faith by the elbow, leads her back inside. “C’mon, Casanova. Give it a rest.”

Faith nudges Cor. “She’s so cool. Isn’t she so cool?”

Cordy rolls her eyes, fake-annoyed, but the smile comes through. “Okay, this whole love-struck puppy thing is only gonna be endearing for like, two more weeks, max. And then you two have gotta chill the fuck out.”

“Not a chance,” Faith says, dropping onto the couch with her legs tossed up. “We’re gonna be as gross as possible all the time forever. Deal with it.”

Gunn drops in the seat next to her. “I’m with Cordy. You guys gotta tone it down.”

Faith leers at them both. “You’re just saying that ‘cause you’re both single.”

Gunn says: “Yeah.”

Cor says, at the same moment, “Obviously!”

“See, thing about PDA is it’s only allowed when I’m dating someone. And then it’s fine for anyone to do. Like, good for you, get some love in. But if I’m not dating someone? Then that shit’s disguting. Get it out of my face and also show some common decency, people. Who raised you?” Gunn explains.

“Yeah!” Cordy says, all mock-offended. “What he said!”

“Fuck your decency,” Faith says, sticking her tongue out at them both. “My girlfriend’s hot as fuck, and I’m gonna be so obnoxious about it, forever.”

Cordy rolls her eyes. “It’s like, very weird, and very good, to see you this happy. You should do it more often.”

 Faith grins, so hard her cheeks hurt. “That’s the plan!”



***



“I just think this is stupid,” Faith’s telling Glerg and Wes, sprawled across the whole couch with her feet kicked up on the back of it, against the wall, so Wes is crammed sitting ramrod straight on the whole other end, knees pressed together.

“Tell me more about that, Faith,” Glerg urges.

“Look, we been at this for, what, a month? More? Four plus hours of sitting here and nothing’s changing, and know what, nothing needs to change. We’re fine, me and Wes, I keep telling you. We just we got shoved together, all ...  circumstance-y.”

“Oh?” Glerg prods.

“Yeah. Oh. So we can just pack all this in. He’s not worth it—uh, no offense, Wes.”

“Much taken,” Wesley tells her, gritted teeth.

Glerg nods, finishes jotting something down on his yellow legal pad. “Okay. Fine. Then get out of each other’s lives.”

Faith says: “Huh?”

Wes says: “Pardon?”

Glerg leans back in his chair, pencil twiddled between two floppy blue digits. “Obviously, you don’t trust each other. Don’t even necessarily seem to like each other. So fine. Go then. Get out of each other’s way.”

Wes clears his throat, sits up even straighter, somehow, adjusts his collar. “But there’s … the work. The agency. The good fight.”

Glerg gives him this expression that reminds Faith of how teachers used to look at her in high school, the kind who made her glad to drop out, wish she’d done it even sooner. 

“Plenty of people are just colleagues, Wesley. Can’t you be that? And, besides, Faith’s the Slayer. Works alone, sacred birthright, yada yada yada. Doesn’t exactly need your help.”

Wesley’s nose is going all scrunched and offended. “No. No, she needs a Watcher.”

Faith feels her jaw tighten. “Oh, so you’re my Watcher now? Is that it?”

Wesley purses his lips. “That’s not what I meant.”

“Then what did you mean, Wes? What have you meant this whole fucking time?” 

She sits up straight, legs swinging down wide so Wes has to dodge his shoulder from her boot.

“Faith, stop,” Wes demands.

Faith turns to Glerg. “Know what, yeah, maybe you’re right. Maybe we just bring each other misery. Maybe we should just stop being around each other altogether.”

Wes’ voice comes out faint, a wound in it. “That’s all it is? Only misery?”

Faith tries to keep herself from rolling her eyes, but fuck it, why should she? Why should she try to spare his fucking feelings? 

She turns to him, tongue harsh and lashing: “Don’t know what else you’d call having me shackled and kidnapped by Council.”

Wes’ nose goes all incredulous and haughty. “You had killed a man.”

“I know that!” Faith says, a roar, surprising herself even, how loud it comes out. Then, quieter, soft, almost: “I know that. You think I don’t? Don’t think about it every fucking day?”

Glerg chimes in. “You seem very passionate about this point, Faith. Do you want to tell us more about it?”

Faith blinks up to the ceiling, but her eyes still feel wetter than she’d like. Her hands still feel ready to claw through the upholstery. 

Voice shooting out raw, knife’s edge: 

“Yeah, yeah I do. ‘Cause I been doing some thinking. And, thing is, I’m happy now. More grown that I ever been, ever thought I’d get to be. Hell, I’m getting fucking geriatric, far as Slayers go. Me and B both. And it’s giving me some perspective. ‘Cause you know what else, Wes?”

“Faith,” Wes breathes out, hand up flat like a crossing guard. “This isn’t necessary.”

“I said, you know what else, Wes?”

Wes breathes in. “What, Faith?”

Faith’s stomach hurts. Her whole everything hurts.

She’s so tired of it all hurting so much, forever. Never used to notice. That’s just how having a body felt. But then it stopped, sometimes. Then she got happy, sometimes, for a second. And now when the hurt comes, she can’t take it. It’s so heavy. Fuck, how did she ever even used to move, it being so heavy?

Faith tells her old Watcher: “I was just a kid. You ever think about that? All you fucking Watchers in your ivory tower throwing little girls at the fire. I was a kid, and, and I hurt someone— killed someone. But it was an accident. And then yeah, I freaked. Tried to blame B, I tried to—I didn't handle it right. I know that . You don’t have to tell me. But nobody’d ever … I was a kid. Fucking kid. And I didn’t have anybody.”

She’s crying now, full crying, snotty and gross and pink-faced, kind she only does in front of Angel. Once, in front of Cordy and Gunn. 

Not even yet in front of Anne.

And now fucking Wes is seeing it. Goddamn Wes. And she feels so small, and wet, like that one time she saw a crab molting on the beach. Just pink and crushable.

Wes insists: “You did. You had me. You had Mr. Giles. You had Buffy, and, and her friends—”

“Yeah,” Faith says, rubbing at her eyes. Echoes: “ Her friends. And if I fucking had all of you, how come I was staying at that shitty motel? Huh, Wes? Seventeen—fucking seventeen , and I had to scrape up enough money each week just for a shitty ass place to sleep.”

Wes clears his throat. “I hardly see how that’s—”

“What? How it’s your responsibility? ‘Cause lemme ask you. Council, they paid you, right?”  

Wes looks up at the ceiling. “Well, of course, er, for the position. It … it was like any other job. Such things, they’re … they’re expected.”

“I didn’t get paid though,” Faith says, grabbing a wad of tissues from the side table to mop up the mess on her face.

“Well, traditionally … no, you, you’d—”

“How come?” Faith asks. “How come Slayers don’t get paid and Watchers do? ‘Cause I’m real curious, Wes. You’re always trying to teach me, explain to me how the world works. So go. Explain. I’m finally all ears.”

Wesley sighs. Talks into his hands. Won’t look at Faith.

Faith wants so bad, for him just to look at her. And she wishes she didn’t. It makes the bottom of her mouth ache, like she bit down on a fork by mistake.

He says: “A Slayer is a sacred birthright. And, and a Watcher is a profession. And, Slayers and Watchers, they go together. Always have. From time immemorial. If anything a, a Watcher’s salary is meant to, er. Well, what I mean to say is, should a Slayer have any needs, urgently of course, her Watcher sh-should be able to—” 

“And I didn’t have any needs ?” Faith is talking so loud, doesn't know how not to. “Didn’t need a place to sleep that didn’t have bed bugs? Place with more than a hot plate to cook on? Place didn’t have me sleeping surrounded by mildew that, according to Cordy, is gonna sit in my lungs for fucking ever?”

“I didn’t think you’d want it!” Wes flings back. “You, you’ve always been so … independent. You don’t need me. You’ve never needed me.”

Faith says. “Independent.”

Her hands are shaking, tissue crumbles to wet shreds in her fist.

Glerg says, “Faith, if you need to take a moment to—”

Independent ,” Faith says again. “Yeah. I was. Am. Maybe, though, that’s ‘cause my whole life I’ve been around fuckers like you, who I couldn’t trust for shit. I was a kid , Wes. Was a scared, fucked up kid who’d only ever been slapped around and shit on by everybody who was supposed to take care of me. And then, and then I get to Sunnydale, right? And it’s the same old shit. And you—  

She reaches over, slaps him on the chest, hard enough for it to sting.

“You. Were supposed,” she hits him again. “To protect me! And instead, you tried to lock me up.”

“Faith,” Wes says. “Faith, I never…”

“You never what, asshole?”

“I never knew how … hard it was, for you.”

“Yeah,” Faith says. “Then you weren’t looking nearly hard enough.” 

It’s quiet for a long moment. Even Glerg doesn’t butt in, just lets the cold nip in the air hang there, all of them clutching their arms, staring.

Wes finally says, sputters: “Faith. I … I want to make this better. Between us.”

She twists up the corners of her mouth, in this way that makes her teeth feel cruel. “Yeah. You’ve said that before.”

Wesley blinks up at the ceiling, back at her. “I could … if you have any … anything that you need. Anything material, that I could provide …”

“Fucking—I got money now, Wes. Not the issue at hand, but thanks for playing!”   

“Then what is the issue, Faith? Please, let me know. Let me know the reason you’re the one who gets to be self-righteous and angry with me. When I’m the one who was tortured. By you. For hours. Or don’t you remember?”

His chin is wobbling, lips pulled tight across his face.

“I’ve said I was sorry,” Faith says into the floor. 

“So sorry just makes it better, then?” Wes asks. “The glass? The shallow cuts? So I’d stay conscious.”

“I know it doesn’t! I fucking know, Wes. I … I’m trying to be different though. To be better. Mission of redemption, helping the helpless, ringing any fucking bells for you?”

Wes says, “So, what, you get to help everyone else, in penance for hurting me? And where’s my hurt supposed to go, Faith? Where am I meant to put it?”

And then it’s silent again.

  Glerg chimes in this time. “You two are very heated about this. About each other.”

Faith rolls her eyes. “Yeah. Who wouldn’t be? Dunno if you’ve noticed, doc, but we’ve sorta got a checkered little past between us.”

Glerg says: “I’m not doubting that. Far from it. But, if I could make an observation?”

Wes sighs, nearly a groan runs a hand over his forehead, eyes, mouth. “Yes, fine. Have at it.”

Glerg tells them: “I don’t think you’d be this incensed with each other if you didn’t also care about one another. And care deeply.”

Faith says: “... Uh?”

“If you just detested and resented each other, with nothing else there, I don’t think you’d be here right now. Don’t think you’d have been coming in for the last month. I don’t think you’d have spent the last ten minutes screaming bloody murder at each other.”

Wesley says, so quiet Faith can barely hear: “Well, of course I care about her.”

“And why’s that?” Glerg asks. 

Wes opens his mouth, but Glerg cuts in.

“No. Don’t tell me. Tell her.”

Wes looks around the room, thinking. 

“...Well. I … she …,” he turns to Faith. “You …”

Faith says: “Don’t start all at once now, Wes. You’ll make me blush.”

 “Truth is,” Wes finally spits out. “You remind me of myself.”

Faith would do a spit take if she had anything in her mouth. “Well ...  that’s not where I thought that’d go.”

“Have I ever told you about my father?” Wes asks, jaw so tight you could strike a match on it.”

“Here we go,” Faith says, a goading joke in her voice, and then she looks at Wes’ face, all tensed and ashen, looks like his cheeks have fallen in, even though he’s barely moved. “Uh. No. You haven’t. But, go for it, man. I’m listening.”

“He—” Wes starts. There’s a hunch in his shoulders. Like his spine’s nervous. “He’s a very proud man. Always wanted the best for me. In his … own way. Wanted us to be the best. We’re, we’re a very old family, in Watcher circles. He’s very … respected. Rightfully so. He’s done … tremendous work.”

Whole thing comes out canned and grating teeth and like the kind of thing he’s worked himself up into believing.

“It’s okay, Wes,” Faith says. “He’s not here. You don’t have to give me the stump speech.”

Wes flashes his eyes up at her, and she notices the purple bags under them, first time, bruises ringing the thin flesh. 

“He used to lock me in the cupboard. Beneath the stairwell. When I … when I was small. If I failed an exam. If my room wasn’t just so. If my knees were dirty. For hours, he’d keep me in there. Told my mother, and the nanny, not to let me out. Even if I begged. Even if I wept. Even if I threw my body against the door, trying to break it, because I was afraid, because I’d, I’d convinced myself there wasn’t enough oxygen in there. And I’d run out. …. And they listened. They didn’t let me out. Because, well, everyone always listens to him.”

Faith’s throat hurts. “Fucking bastard.”

“He’s always got a way things can be better. He always—it’s never enough. Never right. My mother says that’s how he shows his love. And, and when I was fired from the Council, after you—when I fired. He called me. He never calls me. But he did then. Told me I was a an embarrassment to the family name. Told me I was …nothing, to him. That he didn’t know how long it would be, after that, until he’d be able to speak to me again. To bear it.”

“I’ll kill him, if you want?” Faith offers, only half joking. “You and me, we hitch a plane to the Mother Country. Get him while he’s sleeping. He’ll never see it coming.”

Wes goes on, looking at his knees, like he didn’t even hear her: “When he told me that, on that call, my first emotion, after the tears stopped, was relief. That maybe, I’d really never have to speak with him again. Maybe I could be free.”

“Again, we swipe Angel’s credit card, head for LAX. Probably can’t get my weapons through security, but we can always buy new ones there,” Faith says. Her chest feels sharp.

Wes exhales hard. “When I was a little boy, I used to fantasize about just that. What you said. Fighting him. Hurting him. Locking him away. And I thought, after he called me, well, I’ve got my wish. Haven’t I? In a manner of speaking. But, it didn’t last. And, and when he did call me again, or rather, when my mother did and he consented to be put on the line, I felt relief. Again. Of a different sort. A shameful sort.”

His hands are shaking. Knuckles protruding harsh against the skin.

Faith says: “So. Never good enough. Resident fuck-up. Parent’s a piece of shit. Yeah. I get that.”

Wesley takes a drink of water, raises his eyebrows, tries to steady his voice. “Er. Thought you might.”

Glerg says, “I’m really proud of you, Wesley, for sharing all that. Those are clearly very meaningful and painful memories for you. You’ve done something significant today.”

Wes says, to Faith: “After you turned. When you went to the Mayor. In that same call with my father, he said, he said you were an embarrassment. Said you were a fitting Slayer, for a failure of a Watcher. But if I’d been tougher on you, more decisive, that, that we both could have …” 

Faith says: “Coulda what? Stayed in the Council, miserable and hating each other, till we both got killed?”

Wes blinks up at her, eyes wet, mouth in this wry almost grin. “Well, yes. But think how successful we’d’ve been at it. They might’ve even had a moment of silence for us at their summer retreat.”

“Lucky us,” Faith grins.

Wesley’s till looking at her, fixed on her this way that makes her wanna flinch away, but she’s got a feeling Glerg would be disappointed in her if she did, so she holds the eye contact.

He tells her: “I think … perhaps … I am so hard on you. So critical. So … relentless, at times. Because it’s the only way I know how to show someone I care about them. The way I learned to show it. The way a parent should … not that I’m your pa—I mean, I didn’t mean to suggest that…”

Glerg chimes in, “Guys, this is literally family therapy. Jig’s a little up there.”

They both turn to look at him.

“I’m just saying!” Glerg says. “But anyway, big epiphany moment, let’s swing back to that, huh?”

Faith rolls her eyes. She tells Wes: “I get that. The … not knowing how to show love, thing. But, and this is just a wild suggestion, but, maybe instead, we could try like, being nice to each other, or something?”

Wesley gives a hard little laugh. “Alright. But you first.”

Faith says: “Arm wrestle you for it?”



***



As they’re leaving for Pylea, there’s not enough time to go see Anne, because Cordy needs them. So Faith leaves a message on her answering machine. She tells her, at the end:

“Baby, when I get back, I’m coming straight to your place and climbing into bed with you. Jesus, I miss you already, and I saw you like, twelve hours ago. Always miss you.”

She wants to say something else, something like, Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine . But that sounds weird and too dramatic, and this is the kind of shit she does all the time. Okay, not jumping into mystic portals. But life on the line, plunge in, don’t know where it’s taking you, but you just gotta go. 

That’s just Slayer shit. 

She slams the phone shut, and tucks it in the glove compartment of the car as she hops into the front seat.

“Okay boys,” she tells them. “Let’s do this.”

 

*

 

Faith watches Angel frolic in the sun and she just feels giddy. 

“You’re not getting too happy are you there, big guy? ‘Cause I can ruin this experience for you a little if you want!”

“Shut up, Faith!” Angel calls back, grinning, flitting around in the sun, like Faith used to, when she was little.

“Nuh uh, that smile’s way too big. Okay, lemme think, uh … oh! When you were gone on your Darla bender, we used to sit around and have what we hate about Angel nights, where we just shit talked you. And shit talked Barry Manilow, just for the extra punch! Also, I stole your black silk shirt to go out clubbing with Anne and I did ruin it. Not gonna tell you how I got the stains because I think it’ll be more upsetting if you use your imagination? And um, oh! When I was trying to seduce your soul out of you that time, in Sunnydale? Like, honestly, your kissing technique could use work. Very by the book. Also—”

Angel frowns at her, looking all Muppet-y. “Thanks, Faith! I think we’re covered!”

“Just doing it ‘cause I love you!” Faith says. 

 

*

 

When they’re spat out at Cordy’s feet by the guards, her all sequiny and crowned and beaming down at them, Faith’s not surprised. Everything in her just feels light, actually, and shining, and precise. ‘Cause no one’s fucking with Cordy, that much is clear.

But still. That’s her friend. That’s her best friend, vanished where no one could find her, and Faith’s stomach got twisty just thinking about it.

But maybe sometimes things end up okay. Maybe sometimes they do.

More often than not, these days. Keeps happening. Like someone up where they make these kind of decisions flipped the wrong switch, and no one’s noticed the mixup yet.

She tells Cordy: “Loving the crown.”

Cor grins. “Ooh, do you want me to get you one too and then we can match? Oh, but smaller than mine, obviously.”

 

*

 

At Lorne’s family house, everyone is beaming at Faith, shaking her hands, offering her plates of fucked up looking demon food that she’s trying real hard not to gag at.

“This one!” his cousin Landok says, clapping Faith on the back. “She is a mighty warrior. Valiant and courageous. Faith! The brave and noble drokken killer!”

Angel says, “I mean, I helped. I was actually a big help.”

“She is victory incarnate! No beast can match her prowess!” Landok continues, hiking Faith’s hands in the air.

“Aw, you guys, stop!” Faith says. “Oh, wait, I dunno if sarcasm is a thing here? What I meant was, really, keep it going. And details!”

Angel says, “Really, it was a team effort. The whole drokken thing.”

Faith says, “Angel, cut it out. You’re getting in the way of my details.”

Landok says, “Yes, Faith and her helpful squire cow Angel. They did slay the mighty drokken. Though it was Faith who plunged the killing blow in the beast’s gut. All hail Faith!”

Angel says, “Did I mention I’m actually a champion? I don’t love to throw that around because, aah, bragging, you know how that is. But anyway—”

“Faith!” Landok says, leading her by the hand towards the house. “You must come with us, and let us array you in the vestments of a most cherished warrior! We have the finest raiments to bestow upon your hallowed form!”

Some other green-skinned dudes drop a beaded necklace around her neck, swing this sweeping leather cape about her shoulders.

Faith tells Landok: “I dunno what the fuck anything you just said was, but this is wicked cool! Hey, this cape thing come in black, any chance?”

 

*

 

Faith grabs the grubby human girl that Lorne’s cousins want them to roast alive like a pig, grabs her and runs, Angel behind her, knocking down anyone who comes near them, Lorne still in the thick of it, singing into the air, all his relatives shuttering their ears in pain.

In the cave they end up in, the girl is rambling crazy, and Faith just nods. 

Nods and listens, and the crazy girl looks at Faith with this wide welling fervor in her eyes.

Faith wonders when the last time was, that she had anybody to listen to her.

“You’re so strong,” girl says. “Didn’t know anybody could be so strong, and me, I’m nothing, I’m, I’m dead, probably, actually, if you were wondering! But you’re very strong and that’s very good for you! Oh, oh hey there. Hey, y’all! Strong lady and handsome man saved me from the monsters! How ‘bout that!”

“You don’t get out much, do you?” 

Crazy chick just starts giggling so hard she snorts.

“Alright then!” Faith says.

 

*

 

Crazy girl is called Fred, turns out. Girl from Cordy’s vision.

Angel works it out. He’s always detective-ing and shit. Makes Faith grin every time. Dude can’t enter a desolate alien cave without scanning the ground for clues.

Angel talks Fred into leaving the cave with them. He’s good at that shit too. Always saving crazy fucked up girls from themselves. Or, as long as their names start with F , Faith guesses. As long as they’d rather huddle in the dark where it’s safe, where they know the kind of hurt, than try for anything else.

Faith rubs Angel’s back appreciatively as they move out of the cave. Thinks about that night in the alleyway. 

Thinks about how she almost can’t remember what that feeling is. Asking him to end her. 

Her body feels like such a good place to be now.

Angel gives her a quick little grin back, and they continue trekking out.

The three of them head towards the castle, where the others are. And when the guards come, Faith shifts into battle mode. She can take them down easy. She can take anyone, anything down, always so easy. Her fists just know how to move.

But Angel’s ahead of her. He’s got this I-gotta-prove-something glint in his eye, this let’s-see-who-Lorne’s-cousins-think-is-a-mighty-warrior -now look. 

Faith’s rolling her eyes at it. 

And then he turns, shifting vamp face, but it doesn’t stop with his face. 

Turns him this green beast, growling and gnarling and cruel and thicker browed than usual, and all wrong, all wrong, all fucking wrong.

But it’s still Angel. In there, she knows. Still Angel. Still her guy.

Fred’s about to turn and run, and Angel’s snarling, teeth snapping. And Faith grabs Fred’s wrist. “Hey! No. Stay right here.”

Angel, the monster of him, circles Faith and lunges. And the guards have run off, from the snarl of him.

Faith’s not running, she’s not, she’s gotta think, she’s gotta—

She’s got a belt, a thick strong one, but that’s not enough. She scans the area though, and Fred’s got this thin leather strap wrapped around the middle of her tunic.

“Fred! The leather strap thing, gimme!” she tells her, grappling Angel into the ground.

“What?”

Angel nearly takes a chunk out of Faith’s shoulder with the long sting of his teeth.

“Leather thing! Fucking now!” Faith commands, clocking Angel in the nose, hard enough to break it, break it twice, if he’d been human.

As it is now, just slows him down for a second.

Fred gets with it this time though, hurriedly rips the leather strap off her tunic, tosses it in a little ball on the ground near Faith, and Faith gets a solid jab in the elbow to Angel’s face again, a knee in the gut, enough to keep him still. Pinning him down with her knees, she rips her belt off, fixes a loop around Angel’s neck. Ties Fred’s strap onto that, and manages to fashion it into a decent leash before Angel gets his sense back, starts thrashing again.

“Easy there, big guy,” she tells him, yanking him up to standing. “Remember who buys the kibble around here.”

They keep moving towards the castle, Angel leashed and snarling and ready to snap Faith’s neck and suck the marrow out of it if he can. But kept at bay. And it’s not a long-term solution, but Wes, someone, somebody, they’ll have an idea, for how to get him back. She’s just got to keep her cool. She’s just gotta— 

“Damn it, Fred!” she shouts. “Stop it. Stop trying to run. You wanna go back to that cave? Nothing for you there. I’m gonna keep you safe.”

Fred nods, frowns, marches back the paces she’d sprinted up the scrabbly hill.

Angel tugs on the leash. Jerking around. Limbs hungry.

Fuck. Fuck. Faith can do this. Really. Honest.

Fred tries to run again, a few paces onwards, and Faith stops her, grabs her by the hand, shortens Angel’s leash so he can’t grab anything of his own. 

“Hey. Look. You gotta believe me, that I got you. That I got this . It’s what I do. I’m … I’m called the Slayer. What that means is, I help people. Keep them safe. Plus, I’m real good at it.”

Fred nods, bites her lip. 

“Strong lady saves me from the monsters.”

“Now you’re getting it.”

 

*

 

Outside the castle, Angel is still green and snarling.

“Hey, big guy. Big guy, you in there?”

He snaps his teeth at the air between them.

Fred says: “Think he’s broken. Easy, being broken! Easy, really, ‘cause, when you fall, and then nobody can catch you, and it’s so dark, when you fall, and once I broke my leg in the woods and I was screaming for days and they found me and said, well, cow doesn’t need a leg, but mended me anyway and—”

“Fred,” Faith says. “When I get you back to Earth, I got a real nice therapist who’s gonna have a fucking field day with you. But right now, you gotta let me work.”

Fred crosses her arms all huffy, but shuts up.

Faith tightens her fists around Angel’s leash, as taut as it can go. The other hand, she grabs him by the chin, rough and not playing around and voice as hard as her throat can push it.

“Hey, hey big guy. Look. I’m not playing around right now. Lost you once this year, and I’m not fucking doing it again. You wanna get stuck like this? You wanna be no help? That’s not you, man. You fight. You’re always fighting. You and me. Every fucking day. Fighting. That’s our fucking deal.”

Angel grunts at her.

Faith says: "You’re not cheaping out on me now. Alright? Not doing this by myself.”

The demon furrows its brow, and the skin ripples, takes a long moment, like he’s not sure how to get back out. Like he forgot how.

But then it’s Angel. Angel, blinking at her.

For a second, he’s got his head in his hands. Unmoving. Mouth shaking, Faith can see the quiver. Then:

“Did I — did I try to bite you?” he asks.

“Buncha times, but now’s really not when we need to get into it.”

Angel frowns. “Can you take the leash off me?”

Faith’s weighing which snarky answer to give him, but then there’s footsteps scurrying through the the piles of dead leaves. Back into the hills.

“Fuck,” Faith says, rushing after Fred. “She’s running.”

Ow! ” Angel says. “I mean it, let go of the leash before you move!”

 

*

 

In the cave, turns out, Fred knows just how to go home.

Which is as much of a surprise to Fred as anyone, but hey, it’s kind of a day for that sort of thing.

 

*

 

Faith beats the Groosalugg into the dust. But not before he gives her a real fucking good run for her money.

She can see how the fight sings off him though, like it sings off her. They move, and it’s like a dance. Like a conversation. Like, yeah, this is her art, isn’t it?

She’s caught up in the poetry of it for a second, and then catches herself, slams her fist down on his back and knocks him into the mud, both their limbs twitching, but different kinds.

“Wait!” Cordy calls, running up into the pit. “Stop! Don’t kill him. I love him!”

Faith rolls her eyes, stops her fist midblow. “Jesus, Cor. Wasn’t gonna kill him. Probably. Just, y’know, rough him up a bit.”

Cor exhales. “Oh, good! Didn’t think you would just, you know.  Well, not mostly! I got caught up in the moment.”

Faith grabs Groo by the fist, yanks him up to standing.

“You love this guy?” she asks Cor.

Cordy nods. “He helped me to save Lorne! And he’s so pretty and sweet and dumb! I mean, look at him!”

Groo, wiping mud off his face, blood coming away on the hand, grins at her. “I am glad my bearing is pleasing to you, my princess!”

Faith smiles, claps Cor on the back. “Oh, yeah, I see what you mean. Plus, wicked strong. That’s gotta be fun in the sack, right?”

Cordy grins back at her. “Literally just what I was thinking!”

 

*

 

As they head back through the portal, Faith can’t stop smiling. 

Why shouldn’t she be? Friends all surrounding her.  Her girl waiting for her back home. Sting of a good fight still clinging to her muscles, making the aches in them shine. She’s— 

Fuck it. 

She’s five by five. 

 

***



In the Hyperion, Willow’s there.

Willow’s sitting on the steps, crying, deflating, and Faith’s heart stops because no, no, no, fucking—

Angel says: “It’s Buffy.”

Which Faith already knew. Knew it, knew it, knew it, knew, no, no, no, it’s, it’s not, it, she can’t. 

‘Cause it’s B. 

It’s B. So she can’t.

“Buffy’s gone,” Willow says. “She’s … she’s dead.”

Faith notices her legs feeling numb about half a second before she hits the floor.