Hope is Vain
by Dafmeister (aka Dafydd)
Faith let out a groan as she came to. For a moment, she didn't try to open her eyes, she just concentrated on trying to hear past the pounding in her head. Wherever she was, it was almost eerily quiet. As her senses returned, she realised that she was sitting propped against some kind of stone pillar, with her arms bound behind it. She gave an experimental tug, but whatever chains or manacles were around her wrists weren't going to give. Her eyes opened, searching for some clue to what was happening.
She was in a mausoleum, one that looked vaguely familiar. A pale yellow light shone from one corner, casting more shadows than it pierced. Faith turned her head, seeking its source, and saw Buffy leaning against a sarcophagus, a cheap camping lamp on the floor beside her. She glanced around, but it seemed they were alone. “Where's your new vamp?”
“I sent Spike to meet Willow at the hospital.” Buffy's voice was cold and hard, as though she was speaking through the stone around her.
Faith began to nod, not even thinking about the response, but the movement sparked a surge of pain in the base of her skull. Trying to hold her head still, she pulled her legs beneath her and began forcing herself upwards. “Cheap shot, B. Two in one night. You sure know how to make a girl feel welcome.”
“What did you expect? Roses and candy?”
“A cheeseburger would've been nice. Prison food gets old fast.” Faith finally got herself upright, leaning against the pillar to fight off the wave of dizziness her movement had provoked. “So what's the deal with the bondage games? The way Red tells it, you guys need all the help you can get.”
Buffy left the sarcophagus and took a few steps toward her. “The deal is I want you to tell me something.”
“When you stole my body, how many guys did you fuck besides Riley?”
Faith laughed, she couldn't help herself. Buffy punched her, knocking her head back into the pillar and sending her senses reeling. “Shit, B, since when do you say fuck?”
“Things change. How many?”
“How do you know there were any?”
“I know. Same way I know you were too stupid to use anything.”
Dazed from the double impact, it took Faith a minute to understand. “Use anything, what… oh my God. You had a kid?”
Buffy didn't answer; she turned and walked away into the shadows.
“Buffy! Tell me! You kept it, right, you must have, you wouldn't have an abortion, not you.”
Buffy laughed, a harsh, bitter laugh that vanished into the darkness.
Faith's temper began to fray. “Damn it, Buffy, tell me!”
“You didn't leave me holding a baby, Faith.” Buffy turned on her, the laughter gone. She stepped forward into the light, and her face was a mask of cold rage. “You left me with HIV.”
If Faith hadn't been chained to the pillar she would have fallen. As it was, her legs nearly collapsed under her. For a moment she couldn't speak, could barely think. “When did… how long have you…?”
“I found out just before Mom died.” Buffy turned away again, behind Faith as though daring her to try and follow. She didn't. “After her surgery I decided to sign up as a blood donor. I thought Slayer blood had to be good for helping people heal. Guess I was wrong.”
“You…” Faith stopped to force the tremor out of her voice. “You're sure it was me?”
“Process of elimination. At first I thought it must've been Parker.” Buffy re-entered Faith's field of view, hardly looking at her. She seemed to be talking as much to herself as to Faith. “I was wrong. He showed me his last set of test results. He's an asshole, but he takes care of himself. I'd been so scared I'd given it to Riley, and now I started wondering if he'd given it to me. I spent a year focusing on that, blaming him, hating him. Then he came back. He's clean too, gets a full blood screening every month, same as the rest of his unit.”
Buffy returned to the sarcophagus, staring across at Faith and watching for every hint of reaction. “I didn't get it. It wasn't Parker, it wasn't Riley and it couldn't be Angel, `cause viruses can't survive on vampires. Then it clicked. The only time I couldn't be sure I hadn't caught it was the night I spent locked in a truck with three Watchers who wanted to kill me for looking like you.”
Faith's prediction of Buffy's chain of logic did nothing to cushion the blow at its end. She looked away, unable to face her accuser as she tried to free herself from the memory of a few minutes of sweat and fumbling in the alley behind the Bronze. “I'm sorry, I'm so sorry.”
“Remember what I said I'd do if you ever said that to me?”
“Yeah, I remember. That why I'm here? You going to finish me off?”
“Kill you for killing me? No,” replied Buffy. She looked down at her hand, forming it into a fist and releasing it again, over and over. “I thought about it, thought about it a lot, but no. I mean, if you look at it one way, it was kind of my fault. If I hadn't taken my body back, this'd be your problem, right? Besides, I've been a Slayer for seven years, I've died twice and I'm still here. More than most of us get. Who cares if my immune system's shot to hell?”
“It's that bad? You're a Slayer, you-”
“That's the problem, me being a Slayer. Something about my immune response sends the virus into overdrive, like it's an all-you-can-eat buffet.”
Faith was finally able to meet her gaze again. “You're getting help, right? Drugs, AZT?”
“No need.” Buffy's mouth twitched into what might have been a momentary smile. “I'm cured.”
“What, wait a sec, you're cured? How?”
“I died. The virus can't survive on a corpse.”
“And then Red brought you back…”
“Good as new.”
“Okay.” Faith said, her relief blending with confusion about what Buffy was doing. “So, you're okay, you're not going to kill me for infecting you, so how come I'm chained up?”
“You're not here because of me, Faith.” Buffy's eyes grew even colder. “You're here because of Dawn. She's infected too.”
“That's impossible, how could she be infected?”
“I keep forgetting people don't know.” A brief, savage smile crossed Buffy's lips. “You remember how she was, twelve years old, annoying as hell, always trying to sneak out after us on patrol?”
“It's all fake. You've never even met her.”
“B, you're starting to sound a little crazy here.” Faith pulled again on her chains, to no effect.
Buffy leaped away from the sarcophagus and screamed in her face, “You've never met her! She didn't exist, not as my sister!” Biting back her fury, she forced herself to step away. “She was something called the Key that opens the barriers between dimensions. It was guarded by a group of monks for centuries, but then this hell-god called Glory showed up. She wanted to use the Key to get home, never mind that she'd unleash hell on earth in the process. The monks sent the Key here, to me, but they wanted to hide it too, so they made it into a person. A girl. They created Dawn, and they changed all our memories so we'd take care of her without knowing what she was.”
Faith's head was spinning at the idea. “But how could she get infected?”
“They made her out of me.” Buffy's voice cracked, anger bleeding through even as tears began to glimmer in her eyes. “Me, Faith. They didn't just create a body for her, they didn't make another daughter Mom and Dad might have had. They used my flesh, my bone. My blood. That's why I could close Glory's portal. We're not just sisters. She's me.”
“And when they copied you…”
“They copied the virus. It's not their fault. They were desperate. They didn't know my body was a death sentence.” The first tear broke free, rolling down Buffy's cheek, and she turned away to hide it in shadow.
Faith couldn't look away as Buffy's shoulders began to tremble, almost imperceptibly. She tried to speak, a dozen apologies and platitudes created and discarded in the space of a few breaths. “What can I do?”
Buffy whirled with a flash of steel, and a shaft of pain exploded in Faith's chest.
“You killed my sister. You killed her before she was even born.”
“Buffy…” The word blended into an agonised gasp as Buffy twisted the knife free, and a wave of dark blood poured from the wound.
“You should be glad, Faith. This way's quick. A lot quicker than it'll be for Dawn.”