"No two snowflakes are ever exactly the same, but they all have sixfold symmetry."
Buffy's life is about death.
She's lost herself in it. She's hardened herself to it. She's raged against it. She's prayed for it. She's fought against it. She's fought for it. She's laughed in its face. She's begged for its mercy. She's cried for its victims. She's kept people from it. She's led people to it. She's been there and done that--twice.
There is nothing of death she hasn't touched, that hasn't touched her. There is nothing about it that she doesn't know, nothing about her that it doesn't know.
Death is her darkened reflection, and in her dreams it always wears Faith's face.
Death is power, and it runs through Faith's veins. She can feel it in her skin and her muscles, and she can even feel it in her fucking hair. It's everywhere in her and there's no escape.
It has hunted her down in her sleep, and chased her through clubs as she danced and danced and danced. It has followed her into dark corners and cars and motels as she fucked and fucked and fucked.
It's caught her and she's run with it, and when she got cut down it slid away from her in horror and disgust. It's hid from her and avoided her, only to slam on home in some shithole alley in Los Angeles.
Her power is death and it hums under the surface of her skin with its mission, its purpose, and sometimes it's so bright that it makes her skin look all sun-kissed and golden, like a Southern California girl's.
It's been twelve hours since Buffy and Dawn got out of that hole in the cemetery, and Buffy is still crying. Silent tears that run down her face even as she lies curled around Dawn's sleeping form on Dawn's bed.
Everything in her is twisted in agony and full to bursting, and she welcomes it. Welcomes the loss of the numbness and the emptiness. She pokes at it, like a tongue on a pained tooth, and smiles through the tears when it flares even brighter.
It's beautiful. It's wonderful. It's been too damn long.
She kisses Dawn's hair, tightens her arm around Dawn's waist.
Xander comes in a while later and she makes room for him on the small bed. It's another burst of agony when he slides in without hesitation, when his arm reaches across both her and Dawn to hold them tightly.
He kisses her hair and she starts talking, babbling incoherent and incomplete sentences. They don't make sense even to her, but she can feel Xander nod his head behind her, and he doesn't tell her everything is all right, and he doesn't say it'll all be okay.
Dawn wakes up and turns to face her, and she wipes Buffy's tears and says that she loves her, that they all love her. And it's like her ribs are getting crushed under the painful pressure of it all and she laughs.
Angel is holding her tight, and Faith is crying. Sobbing. Screaming. Cursing. Praying. Wishing. Apologizing. She's doing everything all at once, and it fucking hurts like nothing else ever has. Not getting that knife to her gut; not taking a dive off that roof. It hurts every goddamn thing in her, and she just wants it to stop.
Something went wrong. That's got to be it. Because this shitass feeling can't be what everyone's been trying to convince her she needs. No way. There's no way people live their lives feeling like this.
It isn't happy. It isn't fun. It isn't nice.
It's a fire, and she feels it burning in her bones, in her head, in her gut and in all these other places that aren't really places. There's something wrapped tight around her chest, and no matter how loud she screams, no matter how hard she lashes out at Angel, it doesn't loosen.
Buffy wonders how she kept herself blinded to it all this time. How she never realized that Giles always bowed to her decisions because he knew she wouldn't be argued with, and how he was just waiting for her to get to his level.
Like with Dawn. He's right, and she knows it. She would make a different decision now. Just like she knows that he was ready to go ahead with the decision at the time. There's a coldness to him that she's never allowed herself to see, and it's like the coldness that's come into her lately.
This life is a farce, the one she's lived up until now. The life that was about keeping everyone alive, no matter the cost. The life that was about hope. Reality is harsher than that, and she can't always outrun or outmaneuver it. Sometimes she has to allow it to run its course, harsh as it might be.
Giles has always known it, but he let her figure it out on her own because she wouldn't have heard it from him. But she knows it now. She really does.
Faith doesn't know what the hell happened to Wesley after she was carted off to jail, but it doesn't matter. She knows him. She knows the shadows in his eyes, and the taint on his soul. She knows that he hates both, but he'll keep them. Use them. Because they're necessary.
Faith used to know that, only she had it wrong. She thought that the shadows got rid of all the light. That the taint covered everything. Then she got it wrong again in jail. She thought that the light cast out all the shadows, and the untainted parts made the tainted parts inconsequential. But it's a little of both, actually.
Wesley has it right, and she knows it takes some badass shit for someone to get that right. But not for her, because Wesley led her right to it without her having to go through any of it. Brought it home loud and clear in that fucked up drug den with his words, and his actions, and the hard edge in his eyes that didn't entirely cover up the softness.
She almost does hug him for that before she leaves Los Angeles.
In the darkened basement, on a creaky uncomfortable cot, Buffy looks down at Spike. His eyes are full of soft things, and someone else might see them and think about small animals, offering their bellies up and trusting that she wouldn't hurt them.
But she's not someone else, and she sees them for what they really are.
Those soft things are two hands wrapped around a stake that's held to Spike's chest. Hers grips it confidently, the pointed end pressed over his heart. His sits over hers, all that strength noticeably gone, his fingers not tensed to make a move.
There'd be no betrayal in Spike's eyes if she were to send him to hell to save the world. There'd be no guilt in her for having done it. There'd be no awkward relearning of each other if he came back.
There'd just be the stripped down bare knowledge of how things really are, and how things really go, and how neither of those things are the tragedies that star-crossed lovers think they are.
But for now there's just the knowledge that they are connected, even if only for this instant, and that they are more than just their roles, their species.
Vi hurries off to another of the group that needs to be patched up, and Faith sits next to Robin. He holds out his hand and she takes it. A little slowly, and unsurely, but she does.
His hand is so warm and sure, and she feels like she's clinging to it for dear life, even though there's no reason she should be. They've won, and they'll lick their wounds, mourn their losses, and go on.
So maybe she's clinging to his hand because he's taught her something, and she thought that she was done learning new and exciting things about herself at this point.
She isn't just a body. She isn't just made for fucking and Slaying. There are other things to her, things that aren't as unimportant as a lot of people made her think over the years. Robin sees those parts. Sees more to her than just the tits and sex appeal that other men have seen, more than just the ancient power that the Watchers have always seen.
This guy, he's got it. He's got heart, and fight, and a tough as nails, no-bullshit way about him. She thinks it probably won't last for the long haul, or even for all that long. Because there's a learning process that comes with new things, isn't there? And she'll fuck things up before she gets the hang of it, and Robin being the first...well, he'll be the one she fucks up with. And he knows it, too, because he's smart--book, street and people smart.
So, for now, it's him and her. For now, it's pretty damn great.
Buffy doesn't want company, and she knows it shows. She needs to process, and people have been leaving her be in the back of the bus. All except Faith, who plops down next to her without saying anything.
She and Faith have made their peace. Or, about as much peace as they'll ever make, all things considered. For the first time since they met in the alley behind the Bronze, they understand each other. It's the first time anyone's really understood Buffy entirely, and it's kind of nice. It'd be better if it wasn't Faith, but she's learned to take what she can get.
She understands things a little better, too. Faith isn't her darkened reflection. They're the same. Maybe it took them a little while to line up properly, but here they are. A petty part of her wants to say that Faith finally caught up to her, but that's not how it was. They met in the middle, somewhere in between who they each used to be.
None of it came without a price. The mistakes Faith made may have been worse, but Buffy's made her own mistakes. They've both hit rock bottom. They've both wanted to stay there and let go. They've both clawed their way back up. They've both struggled with being Slayers in a way that the hordes of girls Willow activated will never have to struggle--alone.
So, here they are. Buffy reaches out without looking and takes Faith's hand.
Faith knows she and Buffy will never be friends. No matter what's happened recently, or what will happen. But they'll always be something to each other. Something that no one else can be to them.
There are hundreds of Slayers now, but she and Buffy are the last of the old regime. None of the other Slayers will know what it used to be like. These new Slayers, they'll be people, and it almost makes Faith bitter. Almost, but not really. She had to go through all the shit to get where she is now, just like Buffy did. And maybe they both wish things were different, but they also both know how stupid it is to wish for things that can't be. They know how to work the hand they've been dealt.
Death is power, but it doesn't run through her veins. Not the way she used to think it did. Buffy runs through her veins, because it was Buffy who made her. Buffy's death Called her as a Slayer. Buffy's morals crashed against her and confused everything for a while. Buffy's body around her soul called everything into question. Buffy's morals sank in and made everything clear.
But Buffy died for a while, and Faith thinks that she runs through Buffy's veins now, too. They're in each other's blood, or maybe they are each other's blood. Maybe there's no separation between them now, in a way. Maybe they're themselves and each other at the same time.
Things come and go, situations change, but that will always be the same. She sees Buffy's hand coming towards her, and she reaches out to take it.