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Where the Heart Is

by Kelly Smith

Most obviously to Mistress Martin. She finally gave it a title. She is SO clever. Also kinda hot. She gives me scorched panties.
Summary: Set post s7. Couple of years down the line. Everything's the same except the last series of Angel. Never happened. Just like that. Spike never came back. Fred never went funky. Everything's really hunky dory. Sweet like chocolate. Faith's settled in LA. Buffy's not settled. That's about it. Does it sound exciting..?

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Part 1

The sun was setting. Slowly it began. It's descent from the top of the sky down to the horizon almost lazy, as if there was no rush to give up it's place to the moon. Once it first touched the horizon though, then it sped up, almost like it was being tugged away, and no matter how beautiful it was... how many last rays it allowed to play across the sea, how many clouds it tinted with vibrant pink and reds, it still had to go. There was a natural order to things like this. Night always followed day, and in return, the sun would soon come back to reclaim it's place in the sky.

Faith loved watching this part of the day unfold. Once upon a time, a long while ago, she would have watched this knowing that now was her time. That the hour had come for her to become a hunter, to search out and destroy all the nasties that believed that the night belonged to them. It didn't. As long as there was a slayer there would always be someone to stand up and fight. And now there were lots of slayers. Too many to know all the names of, even though she tried hard to keep up with them all. It pleased her. Made her smile. There might have been a time when she was reluctant to give up her power to many, but she knew it had been the right thing to do. It was simply a case that there was just too much badness in the world for one girl to fight all alone. Too much for even two girls.

She loved this time of day now simply for it's beauty. For the peacefulness that stretched out as the sun bid farewell. It wouldn't last. Darkness bought noise and disruption. Parties of people looking for the fun, the secret joys that L.A. could offer them. There was plenty. Faith knew, she had found a good many fun times here herself. But she was different now. Life wasn't always about partying hard. Sometimes it was just about kicking back and relaxing, about enjoying the beauties of a perfect sunset.

She hopped down from her perch and felt her bare feet touch the cooling sand, she wiggled her toes, the tickles from the grains still making her giggle. She raised her fingers to her mouth and let out a large whistle, calling forth her companion, letting them know that the peaceful times were over. She still had to slay. Not always for the sake of protecting the world, but because she was a slayer. It didn't matter how many girls she shared this with now, SHE was still a slayer. And her blood still rushed quicker as darkness beckoned, her hands becoming twitchy as they longed to wrap around a solid piece of wood, the power of life and death in her hands.

She wouldn't do a big sweep tonight, she didn't feel like it. Tomorrow was coming and it played heavy on her mind. Not in a bad way. Just a heavy way. She hadn't thought about the other for a long time, hadn't needed to, her life was full, she had friends, she had purpose, she had a home. She was content. But now. Now that the time was here, the time to find a hello again, now it was a lot of all she could think about.

The ball of fluff which could otherwise have been called a puppy, came steaming towards her, yelping, jumping, chasing it's tail... obviously just happy, in the way that dogs can be. Faith loved this animal. It had been a housewarming gift from Angel. He wanted to give her something she had always wanted. She chuckled as she thought about that, he had given her a home, how could he think that there was still more she needed? But in his own way he had been right. The puppy gave her companionship when she may otherwise have sought to be alone, gave her someone to think about, to care about other then herself.

Naming the thing had been hard. To her it felt like a huge responsibility. She didn't wanna give it a dumb name, a girly name, but on the other hand she didn't want to call it something butch and scary... it was too cute to do scary. For a little while she even thought about naming it Buffy, not for sentimental reasons, not really... but just because she had always thought the name more suitable for a puppy then a fully grown woman. Angel had vetoed that idea though, he had just said that some time in the future that could be a decision she regretted. Whatever. Maybe he knew best, what with the arrival of tomorrow and all.

In the end she HAD gone with sentimental. She thought about all the things in her life which had happened to her, all the things she made happen, times she had been happy, times she had been a whole lot less than happy, and it was decided. Her puppy, her friend would be called Scoobs. She liked it, it sounded right. After all, was there any greater example of friendship then the crazy mixed up bunch of people she had met in Sunnydale? She didn't think so. And yes, that friendship hadn't always been extended to her, but in the end... when it had counted, they had been the people that fought by her side, who taught her about what it meant to belong. To be a part of something.

She scooped up Scoobs into her arms, allowed him to take a long lick of her face, and then deposited him firmly within the safety of her house. Slaying was certainly no place for a ball of excitement as hyperactive as her little friend. Maybe one day, but definitely not this day.

Throwing on clothes more appropriate then the ones she had been wearing to kick back on the beach, she readied her mind and her body to take part in her nightly duties. She would swing by and see Angel, check if there was anything large and nasty which required attention or if this was just another normal nightly mission of dusting. She hoped for the latter. Just a distraction from tomorrow, nothing life and death. But if it was the former, so be it. She had found out that life had nothing to throw at her that she couldn't readily handle. A realisation that had come with maturity. She liked the realisation. She liked it a lot.

At that moment, halfway round the world, someone else was weighing up their life, their maturity, and for them they were finding it a lot harder to find fulfilment. Not that they were unhappy, far from it... they just hadn't found that niche. That certain place that is home, that place where you belong, the place that makes you smile because it's yours.

It was half the reason that she was heading to L.A. It had been over two years since she had last set foot on American soil, and maybe that was the problem. Maybe she had fled from the one place that WAS home. So quick to distance herself from everything that she had thought held her prisoner, when all the time it was the one place that she truly belonged. She didn't know. Answers were things she didn't always have. Lots of questions. But not always answers.

Contact with Angel had been kept up across the miles. She knew all abut his Wolfram and Hart business. Didn't really understand it, but it seemed from the outside at least, that he was managing to make it work. There were lots of slayers in L.A. and all of them in some way liased with Angel, he helped them equipment wise, and also with knowledge that he, as head of a great former evil empire was privy to.

At first she had wanted not to trust him, to not believe that he could be a part of something that ultimately bad, and still keep a semblance of good. But word had come from many that good indeed was being done, and her basic love of Angel had allowed her to give him her trust.

It was him now that was helping her with this 'visit'. As soon as she mentioned to him that she felt like coming home, he had pounced on the idea. He had sorted her out a nice place to stay on the coast. Apparently when you head up a huge place like W&H you also get lots of perks, like beachfront properties. She wasn't complaining. The thought of staying on the beach in her own place was a darn sight more appealing then staying in a hotel. He had even said that if she decided to stay on and make L.A. her home, then the place was hers to keep. Apparently it was in a rather upmarket part of town, private access and all that. Nice neighbours. And most importantly... not a local demon hangout!

Sitting on the plane, waiting for take off, she could feel her excitement building. This was a good idea. She was sure of it.

Leaving Dawn had been hard. Her last 'real' family. But Dawn was a woman now more then a girl, and she had made her place. London it seemed had everything she needed. Boys for a start, and lots more after. Giles was there, so she didn't feel as if she was abandoning her... she just felt... sad? Being alone had been something she had always felt, less so lately with the sharing of her burdens... but still her, aside from the slaying, aside from her calling. She still felt lonely.

She cast her mind over the few relationships she had in the last couple of years. None of them had been serious, none of them had given her the feeling of togetherness. And she wouldn't settle for less. Love was too important to her to play with it. Half of her suspected that until she had found a place that she could call home, she wouldn't find a person she could share her love with.

Now that she felt that life wasn't gonna end at some soon to be met point, she felt able to relax a little more. The words she had spoken to Angel before, about not being baked yet, not ready to make things work with someone, they had been true. But lately, watching people around her find happiness, she wondered if being baked wasn't something you achieved WITH someone, like a joint baking session. She didn't know. Another case of not having the answers. But maybe she was ready to learn?

Her ears popped as the plane raced through the clouds, heading into the dark night sky. She reached inside her jacket and fingered her stake, no matter where she was, darkness always made her think of slaying. A hazard of the job she guessed.

She thought also about the other slayers. So many of them now, bound together, working together, maybe finally turning the tide against all things evil. She wondered finally at her sister slayer. That's how she always thought of her. It didn't matter how big the extended family was now, no-one could ever feel like part of her the way that Faith had. She wasn't sure why. It wasn't like they were unique anymore... but maybe it was just all those years when they were alone, the only two, the chosen two. Those years had made her value the bond in ways she could never hope to do with a 'new girl'.

Not that she had kept up the bond. Not that she had kept up anything. No words. No Christmas cards. Nothing.

She knew that she was in L.A. Angel had kept her informed as to her whereabouts. Her life. She knew for example that she made it her own duty to take the other slayers under her wing. To teach them the value of being a slayer. The things it did mean, but most importantly, the things it didn't mean. That made her smile. Faith all responsible. It sat well with her. Almost in a way made her proud of her.

When they had left Sunnydale, or destroyed Sunnydale, there had been a moment then when she had thought that they could build friendship, but the past is a heavy cross to bear, and at that time the past was still waiting to jump up and take a bite from her ass.

Besides, she had known. That at any point, anywhere, any time, she would only have to say the words and Faith would have been there. Not in a lap dog kind of way. She had made THAT most clear. But as her sister slayer. Her partner. Her equal.

She lay her head back against the uncomfortable head rest and mused the idea that perhaps she should of let Angel spring for first class, instead of insisting she travel under her own steam. She had a lot of hours to be wedged into the confined space of economy, with it's tin foil covered meals, and crappy little tv screens showing re-runs of old comedy shows.

Accepting help wasn't always her best feature though, so refusal it had been. Plus she could always just sleep her way across the miles. Allow her eyes to settle on closed, her mind to stop wandering across memories new and old.

Her breathing slowed along with her thoughts. But the seeds had already been planted. As she gave up control to peaceful slumber it was her sister slayer that sought to carry her off to her dreams. Memories old. Memories new. And memories just waiting to be made.

Part 2

Ten hours later the resounding bump of the wheels against the run way bought the oldest slayer fully to her senses. It hadn't been the most pleasant of journeys, far from it. Every time that she had sought some form of peaceful slumber, an escape from the horrors of economy travel, something or someone had equally sought to prevent it from happening. If it wasn't the nature of her dreams, it was the ever present stewardesses with offers of duty free or inedible meals, and when it wasn't them it was the annoying torment of the young family behind her. Sure she didn't have a problem with kids, but when those kids were kicking chunks out of the back of her chair it remained hard to find a smile.

But she was here now, and as long as she hadn't developed some case of deep vein thrombosis she vowed to be happy. Her legs were itching to move, and she was almost first off the plane such was the desire to be free.

She breezed through baggage collection and customs and before she knew it was stood in the arrivals lounge looking for a sign. Not a sign from the gods, just a cardboard variety proclaiming her name. Angel had said there would be someone there to meet her, and he did not disappoint. There it was 'Buffy Summers'. Her name. Her ride.

The luxury of the limo was welcome after her flight, and now she had to fight to keep sleep at bay. It would be easy to give in, but she wanted to some how seem refreshed for her meeting with Angel. Sure she didn't still want him in the way she did in her youth, but it didn't hurt to look good. Bright eyed and bushy tailed. So sleep was fought, and it was a very awake, if fading fast slayer that made the journey to the headquarters of W&H.

The sheer size of the building shocked her. She hadn't known what to expect but this level of grandeur was not it. And so many people. All of them buzzing around with a purpose. It frightened her a little, she felt quite small amongst so many, but she was a slayer, so she squared her shoulders, made her way to the reception desk and asked for an audience with the boss.

The private elevator carried her up and up and possibly higher. She had made it to heaven once before and this journey possibly felt like it was heading that way again. She would bet money that the views were to die for. If they weren't blocked by the clouds of course.

The doors finally opened and she was let out into Angel's private quarters, and there he was, looking exactly the same as the last time, waiting with open arms.


The hearing of her name on his lips bought many things to the forefront of her mind, but she was quick to note that desire was not there. No need to rush with a bursting heart into those arms spread wide, no need to seek solace from the world at large.

"Hey Angel, great to see you."

She did take the offered place in his embrace, but it was measured, it was friendship.

"How was your flight? Did you get picked up okay? Are you pleased to be home?"

"Crap, yes and we'll wait and see on the last one!"

"I offered you first class."

"And I'm a dope for not accepting. But it's a lesson learnt, next time feel free to pick up the tab for luxury travel... heck, a private jet might be called for!"

"That's not a problem."

Buffy looked up and into the eyes staring back at her and realised this was no joke.

"You certainly have landed on your feet here haven't you?"

"It's a job."

"With a private jet?"

"A man needs perks!"

Angel led her over to the comfy seating area and went about getting her a drink. There was much to catch up on. Sure they had been in contact, but nothing was the same as face to face interaction, and interacting with Buffy had been something he had mostly always enjoyed.

She filled him in on her travels around Europe, the demons she had come across, mostly the same dumb kind as found here in America. She told him about Dawn's wish to stay in England, about Gile's forming of a new council of watchers, and finally about her own inability to put down roots in any of the places she had been. And thus her feeling of needing to come home, to here.

In turn Angel told her of how his operations with W&H worked, how he helped the many slayers and co-ordinated efforts so as no demons were allowed to gain a stronghold in HIS city. He filled her in on Wes and Fred and their relationship, told her how she would no longer recognise the man that her former bumbling watcher had become. And lastly they spoke about Faith. About the woman she had grown into.

Buffy felt the familiar feelings of something as the talk turned to her slaying partner. It was almost the same as her buzz for slaying. The way electricity sought to find it's way along her nerve endings looking for a release.

Times had certainly changed over the last two and some years, and now it was mostly nothing but excitement she felt as she looked forward to renewing her ties with Faith. Maybe the tiniest amount of trepidation, AND she found it kinda funny that she also wanted to look good for their first meeting. As if Faith would care at all what she looked like.

It was tomorrow. Tomorrow was today. And Faith was buzzing.

She knew how this was gonna go, kind of. She knew that the house next to hers, just along the beach, the one that Angel kept for visiting friends, was gonna be home to Buffy for a while. And that made her happy, and nervous, and kinda scared, in a way which wasn't really scary but that made the hairs at the back of her neck all tingly. She also knew that Angel hadn't told Buffy exactly who her new neighbour was gonna be. She had asked him not to.

He hadn't been sure, thought that maybe keeping secrets from Buffy wasn't the best way to go, but she had assured him. Told him that her and Buffy were 'friends' now... and the fact that they had not been in contact at all since the hell mouth went bang..? Didn't mean shit to her. It would be a surprise, a pleasant surprise, and the tentative building of bridges that had begun in those last hours of Sunnydale would be built upon even more.

Faith didn't doubt that for a second. Sure she expected the odd bout of fireworks... this was her and Buffy, darkness and light, and where would be the fun if you couldn't have some fireworks? No fun, that's where.

And aside from the fact that they hadn't sent letters, made phone calls, she was absolutely sure that had there at any time during the last two years been a moment when she had needed her sister slayer, she would only have had to say the word. She KNEW that Buffy would have been there for her. It wasn't even a question. An unspoken agreement that stood for more then words.

Now though, waiting for her to arrive, she didn't know if not telling WAS the right thing to do. What if Buffy still had that stick up her ass, and took this as some kind of personal affront..? Wouldn't be the biggest shock ever. Sometimes the smallest of things could make her spurt the comical steam from the ears. She hoped that it wasn't like that. She felt it wasn't... but who really knew?

She decided to walk the puppy to get rid of some of her energy. There was nothing else to do. There was plenty of time until the sun went down, there was no big scary thing to research. Not that she did research, but she liked to hang with Fred and Wes and pretend she was researching. They knew the truth, she knew the truth, but they still kept up the illusion.

Faith picked up a shirt to cover her otherwise bikini only body and whistled for Scoobs to come join her. She slung open the door to the beach and headed on off into the distance. The beach was long and much walking could be done. Sometimes she would stop to swim in the ocean... but once, about a year ago, she had a rather not so nice run in with some demon who liked to live in the sea. It put her off a bit. It was the slime. She HATED the slime. So now she only occasionally, if she was feeling brave and hot, took the dive into the waves.


Part 3

Almost as if it was planned, Faith's departure brought about Buffy's arrival. She had taken ownership of a nice little jeep for the length of her stay, and with all her skills as a driver was now reversing it into the parking space in front of her new abode. So far only one flower pot had been sent to the flower pot heaven in the sky, but technically that was the fault of a wonky mirror, rather then the fault of a very competent Buffy. She was sure of it. And if the car was new, and the mirrors in all the right places..? Well then, maybe Angel needed to lodge a complaint with the people who supplied him with vehicles. Because something caused her to hit the pot. And it WASN'T bad driving!

She effortlessly grabbed her bags from the trunk and made her way up to the front door. It was beautiful. Not the front door, that was just red, but the place as a whole, THAT was beautiful. It was all white and wooden and small and inviting. And she could hear the waves from the ocean, her own backyard.

She let herself in with the key that Angel had supplied and took a tour of the place. It had one main bedroom, a smaller bedroom, a bathroom, a kitchen and a front room. Everything she needed and not too much space to rattle around alone in. It was all tastefully decorated too, seemingly quite airy without too much clutter, but at the same time offering a comforting feel most welcome to the weary slayer.

Finally Buffy made her way out of the large glass doors at the back. There it was. The beach, the ocean... vacation!!! She was tempted to run for the waves now, fully clothed, just to remind herself of how inviting it could be. But she didn't. Not only was she feeling exhausted, but also she had a neighbour. A very nice neighbour from what Angel had said. And she didn't want to embarrass herself straight away with crazy shows of exuberance.

Angel hadn't mentioned a name, but from what she could make out, it was a girl of similar age to her, someone who worked with Angel and was fully aware of the things that go bump in the night. Buffy wondered if it was a slayer, one of the many, but hadn't gotten round to asking... there had been way too much other stuff to get caught up on. Now she wondered again though, it would be nice to make a friend. And she would never need to be lonely if her and her new neighbour could get along.

Deciding to be brave she crossed the length of sand that separated the two properties, it wasn't far, just far enough so as not to be on top of each other, and made her way up the little steps to the door at the back. She knocked lightly, and when no answer came, a little more firmly. Still no-one answered and she cupped her hands against the glass and peered in. It was mostly nice and tidy and looked well lived in. There was a bowl on the floor for feeding an animal and a few clothes thrown hap-hazardly across the furniture. Not in a slob way, just in a home kind of way. It made Buffy smile.

She decided to go back across to her own house and write a note for her new neighbour. Just to say hi, and suggest meeting later on. She supposed maybe the girl was at work, it was after all still a short while before evening came.

The note was brief and to the point, friendly without being freaky. Just a 'Hello, I'm your new neighbour, feel free to pop over and say hi.' Perfect.

With that she returned to her new home and went about unpacking, she also kind of fancied snoozing, and the large double bed, decorated all in crisp fresh white sheets was just calling to her to fall upon it.

She fell. And she slept.


'Hello, I'm your new neighbour, just wanted to say hi, feel free to pop over when you're home, looking forward to meeting you... Buffy.'

Well that was nice. Faith peeled the note from the glass of the door and made her way inside. She wondered what time Buffy had gotten there, she had walked for miles and played with Scoobs, even taken a dip in the ocean. Today was not a day for feeling scared. It was about bravery and being brave and... 'feel free to pop over?'

Did that mean now..? Should she get washed up..? Maybe put on some fresh clothes..? Perhaps she should take a shower, she didn't wanna smell all salty and sweaty, not that Buffy would care, the shock of meeting her neighbour would probably be enough for her to take in.

She decided to get a beer first. And then that was drained and she decided to get another. She wasn't so much a big drinker nowadays, but a cold beer always helped to focus the mind.

But what was she focusing on..? This was Buffy for gods sake, not a stranger. They'd met a thousand times before, there was certainly no need to be feeling the steady stream of butterflies that were fluttering around in her stomach. But feel them she did. It almost felt the same as when you were going on a date, and just waiting at the door for their car to pull up in the drive. Not that she did much dating. After Robin had left town, she'd been happy to be alone. A couple of dates here and there, but nothing ever really serious.

She'd even given up on the cheap sex. It wasn't that she'd suddenly found a great reserve of morals she hadn't had before, she just couldn't be bothered. And this was her home. She didn't want any old person just wandering through her home.

She didn't know if she missed it. Didn't really think about it. She took care of her own needs, and for company she had her friends and Scoobs. It did. For now at least.

But Faith couldn't deny the flutters she was feeling at the moment. So another beer made it's way to her lips. And then the sun was starting to set, and she made her way out to her perch on the railings of her back porch.

As she relaxed herself back and allowed the days last warmth to wash over her, she stole a glance across the way to her neighbouring property. She couldn't see any signs of life, no evidence of Buffy bustling around, making herself comfy in her new home. She wondered if perhaps she had gone out. Had maybe dumped her belongings and searched out food. She knew that if she had just travelled halfway round the world eating crappy plane food she'd be searching out something more substantial.

Half of her was just dying to make the trip across the sand, to raise her hand and knock on the door, but the other half..? That was nervous in the way that Buffy had always made her nervous. It was excitement and fear and need and longing. She pushed them thoughts down though. She was a woman now, not a girl. Not governed by wasted desire, the need to be held and made to feel whole. She would be to Buffy the friend that she always could have been. And if desire was still there, far away in the back of her mind... well she would deal with that. She would swallow it down and put it to bed.

She wasn't stupid. Unrequited had been a word she had to learn a good many years ago, and now she was old enough and mature enough to cope with it. Time had taught her that sometimes it was best to just accept friendship. To make the most of what was on offer and to treasure it. So she would. Being Buffy's friend was what she wanted most.

As lost as she was in her deep thoughts, Faith didn't really see the sunset, wasn't totally aware that the day had indeed passed and evening was upon them. It was Scoobs with all his pent up energy that finally roused her from her musings, barking away happily, looking for a playmate. She sighed an introspective sigh and made her body come to life again.

She didn't feel like slaying. For the first time in ages the darkness didn't pull at her like a slayer, it only made her think about slaying with Buffy. Nothing had ever compared. Even the last battle they had fought together, the one that had finally put to rest the hell hole that was Sunnydale had left her buzzing with the something that only shoulder to shoulder with Buffy could provide. There was a kinship between them that even her fellow slayer could not deny. Hell, even when they were at each others throats they had been bonded through dreams. Faith had never truly understood that. But then in her life there was so much she had never understood that to question everything would have driven her crazy. So she just accepted it. At times she had wondered if maybe this link meant 'something'. More then just a slayer something. But she didn't have the answers, so she just stopped asking the question.

She decided she would swing by and see Angel, pick up some food, maybe pop down to the lab and amuse herself with Fred's insane form of conversation, and then she would come back and search out Buffy. It was a plan.

Faith picked up the pup, wandered through the house and out the front door. She couldn't help but let out a chuckle as she noticed the broken flower pot in the neighbouring drive. Same old Buffy. Same old feelings.

Part 4

"Every fucking time! It has to be the slime, right?"

Faith was stood in Angel's office dripping with the gooey innards of some form of non-life form, staring at an equally gooed up Angel and Wes. She had known when she had arrived that sewer meant trouble. But why now? Why today when she had so much other shit to be thinking about.

"Well technically Faith, this is the first slime incident in the last two months, and not meaning to be pedantic, but that is not EVERYTIME."

"Bite me, Wes."

"Shower first?"

"Ha-freaking-ha! I tell ya, I don't know what that sweet cheeks downstairs sees in you..."

"Charm, good looks, a dashing sense of humour..."

"An over extended ego..?"

They all turned to look at the new comer. Fred was dressed in her usual lab coat, but she still managed to make it look good. In her hand was a tube carrying the same slime that the rest of the room was wearing.

"So what have we got Fred? Just the usual sewer dweller, or something more substantial?"

"Not sure Angel, I thought it was usual, wasn't even gonna go with the tests, but the smell was just..."

She looked around the room, noticed the murderous looks being pointed in her direction...

"...the smell was, uh... different. So I ran it through the normal range of analysis and I don't know, it isn't registering as anything we've seen before. Perhaps maybe Wes could get a team together to research..?"

"There goes dinner."

"Dude, you could eat after that? You English types freak me out."

"Faith, don't even pretend that you're not already thinking about which flavour sauce you're gonna have on your ribs tonight."

"Yeah, but I'm from Boston... that's normal, plus... slayer! I NEED to eat after a good slay. There's no excuse for you, except perhaps plain old abnormalities?"

Angel ignored the banter going on around him and put the word out to Harmony to have the head of one of the research divisions sent up to his office. He wouldn't make Wes research tonight. As his friends they were always willing to keep at it, to put in the extra miles when they had already done enough. But sometimes he relented. They were human, they were alive, they had life. He would keep at it, and tomorrow they would reconvene at normal office hours.

"Guys, go home. You too Fred. We're not gonna find out anything tonight that can't wait until tomorrow. Go have fun, who knows where this slime thing is going to take us?"

Wesley smiled at his boss, at his friend, and made to leave the room. As the door closed behind him and his Texan beauty, the words 'no' and 'shower first' were heard ringing out in Fred's firm tones. It made Angel and Faith smile. That Wes and Fred could exist in this world and make a relationship work..? It gave them hope.

"So why are you still here, Faith? I thought you'd be first out the door."

Faith knew why she was here. Angel was her sounding board. Had been since he had saved her. More so since she had taken that little trip through his mind with him. Aside from Buffy, the bond she felt with him was the one she treasured the most.

"Ya know big guy, things on my mind."


"Yeah. Things."

"Buffy things?"

She thought for a moment. What exactly was on her mind? Ever since she had known that Buffy was coming here she had been plagued with memories of her. Not in a 'bubonic plague, everyone's gonna die' kind of way... but in a 'just can't think about anything else' kind of way.

"Yeah I guess. Buffy things."

Angel looked at her, studied her, and took a moment. He had a question to ask, a hard question, and he decided that blunt was the only way to go.

"Are you still in love with her?"


"Don't act so shocked Faith. I may be old but my faculties are all still working."

"Or not."

She wiggled her eyebrows in a typical Faith way. It was still hard for her to talk about things which mattered. Which meant something to her. Didn't matter that Angel knew her maybe better then anyone. It was still hard.

"No need to go below the belt, Faith."

"But below the belt was exactly what I was talking about!"

Angel shook his head, maybe gave a sigh close to exasperated.

"I know how you feel, Faith. It's ok. I've felt the same remember? I know how special Buffy is, I know the feelings she invokes in people. You don't have to play coy with me. If anyone understands, then I'm your guy."

She considered that. It held truth in it.

"Okay. Lets say for a moment that Buffy coming back is making me think about things I don't wanna think about... what do I do? Cos I don't wanna mess this up, ya know? I did that before, and yeah I was dumb, and young and a whole lot of stupid, but I'm scared. Scared that I won't be able to ignore it."

"Who said you have to ignore it?"

"Oh for fucks sake! Of course I have to ignore it. This is Buffy we're talking about, not some two dollar whore I can pick up and play with for five minutes... and hello? GIRL. You may not have the working faculties down there man, but at least you have the right bits! Aside from stopping at the sex shop on the corner and stocking up on silicone extras, I am NEVER gonna have the bits that she needs!"

Angel allowed his gaze to travel over the girl in front of him. The woman in front of him. Aside from the slime she was beautiful. But apart from that... she was special. More special then she ever gave herself credit for. It amazed him sometimes that people could ever make a go of things in this world. They looked at everything wrong, considered everything from the wrong angles. Sure he had the advantage of two hundred plus years of voyeurism, but still... he was often amazed at the shallow way people viewed the world.

"Do you really think it's just about sex, Faith? Everything you've been through, everything you've seen... you really believe in your heart that this just comes down to sex?"

"NO! But... argh! This is stupid! You can't tell me that it doesn't matter. Of course it matters! Buffy likes guys. Just guys! Even dead guys!..."

She made a motion with her hand to acknowledge Angel, that Buffy had once been his did not escape her memory.

"...but she has never, and that bears repeating, NEVER had a thing for a girl. Not even a little thing that she could put down to a teenage crush. She's straight. And that's cool. This isn't about her, this is about how to stop me from wanting what I can't have. Could never have!"

Faith threw herself onto the sofa, at the last minute remembering the pints of slime covering her body.

"Ah shit! Sorry bout that dude."

"Nothing that dry cleaning can't sort out."

Angel made his way to the sofa as well. He had words to say that he thought Faith needed to hear, and comfortable would be the best way to deliver them. Slime or no slime.

"Listen to me Faith, and listen good. Buffy isn't an open book, there has never been a clear way of knowing what she was thinking, what she was feeling... but I KNOW her, not in the same way I used to know her, but enough to know that what you felt, what you feel... it isn't all just you. Back then, when she was my girl, and you were all new and exciting and strutting through town with an air of invincibility, I felt it. I saw it. I recognised her need for you... because it felt like my need for her. Maybe I should have stepped back then. Maybe if I had, then some things that happened wouldn't have happened, and we wouldn't even be having this conversation now. But don't ever think that she didn't feel for you. I'm not saying it was love, I'm no-one to tell you that she loved you. But it WAS something. It was need."

Faith was floored. Forever and longer she had considered what she felt for Buffy all one way. And now..? Now Angel of all people was telling her it wasn't so. That maybe the glances she thought she had seen, the touches she imagined she had felt... the fire that she was sure had raged in Buffy's eyes was real..? Could it be?

"I don't know Angel. I just don't know."

He chuckled. So young. So innocent.

"You're not supposed to know. If you knew then where would be the fun? Just take it easy Faith. Get to know the girl again. Maybe you won't even feel the same for her anymore?"

The look that Faith gave him assured him that she had never felt different, and wasn't going to start now.

"There was this moment ya know? In the Dale, before we shut up that shit pit... I was fucked, totally led the girls into a trap, nearly wasted myself... and she came to see me, on the bed, in the bed..."

She raised her eyebrows at the memory.

"...in HER bed, and I just... I don't know, it was like I felt connected to her again, like I could say anything and she wouldn't kill me, and I nearly said it, I nearly told her... all the times, looking at her, wanting her, needing her... but I couldn't do it. And then it was gone. And there was Spike, and Robin. And the fight. And then she was gone, and I was here. Just... what if it isn't meant to be? Maybe I missed the chance, if I had said then, maybe... argh! I just don't know."

She felt kind of melancholy. A whole lot of it.

"Forget sorry for yourself, Faith. Buffy doesn't hold all the cards no matter what you think. You're her equal, not just in slaying... but as a woman. You have as much to offer her as she has to offer you. And don't forget that. Just talk to her, get to know her, catch up, have fun. You don't need her to make you happy, you certainly don't need her to validate you..."

"I didn't say I needed her to 'validate' me!"

"Calm down. I didn't mean that in a bad way, but you've always looked for some kind of acceptance from her. You don't need it. You are important. You have friends. You have a life. When you think about it... it's Buffy that's come searching for something. Maybe you're that something?"

"And maybe I'm not."

Faith lifted herself from the sofa. All this talk was just helping to dredge up memories and feelings she had long put to rest. A lot of it still hurt. Still left her longing.

"I'm out of here big guy. I need to chill, get showered. Get sleep. I appreciate the chat, really... I just, I need time to think. Which scares me... cos thinking? Ouch!"

Angel laughed at the joke which was always there to cover feelings. To cover her pain.

"You take it easy. I might need you for the slime thing, ok?"

"Sure thing. But I want new clothes, I'm sick of my shit getting ruined for you!"

"You're supposed to be doing this as a calling, Faith. Not for a new wardrobe."

"Yeah, yeah... I got the memo."

She made her way to the door and went to leave. He called her back again though and she steeled herself for one last piece of advice, one last nugget of knowledge.



"What sauce you getting on the ribs?"

She had to laugh. He wasn't always the stuffy guy. Just most of the time.

"Hot and spicy baby! You know me!"She winked at him as she left his office. He did know her. That was a given.


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