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Proof of Life

by Kelly Smith




Rating: Well, it's for a mature adult, so I'll be aiming for mature.  
A/N: Today is Bobbi's birthday. Unfortunately for Bobbi, I am a sucky friend. This means instead of the huge gifts and cards which she'd probably desire, she is stuck instead with this little fic as my only token of affection. I hope she likes it. And yes, I did say little fic, so don't expect too much by way of plot or length.


Live long and prosper.

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Chapter One

The air hung hot and heavy in Ensenada on the day that Buffy Summers had first arrived in Mexico. The airplane cutting a path through the waves of heat that rose steadily from the tarmac, the humidity clinging with dampened desperation to her clothes in the very minute that the world weary Slayer had first set foot upon the foreign soil.

And she was getting used to foreign soil. Had visited so many various and far flung places in the past two years, that it was a task for her mind to even begin to remember any attempt at an itinerary. There was Rome, of course… those months immediately following the demise of  Sunnydale where she had lost her heroic notions in favour of the more hedonistic pastimes; but after that the destinations all became too much of a blur to really count for anything solid. A brief jaunt through the British Isles, a too short touch down in Southern Asia; a Slayer ready to go wherever it was that her Watcher insisted she was most urgently needed. Every corner of the Earth visited once Buffy had eventually regained her burning desire to fulfil her destiny.

It had been touch and go at first. So much she had wanted to call it a day after Sunnydale; had wanted to put her feet up on her Roman balcony and declare that the world had been saved enough times by her hand. She had given her all. She had given her life. What more, in reality, could she be expected to give?

And then they had started to die.

The new girls. The fresh meat. Not unexpectedly, not in any numbers greater than the law of averages dictated; yet still each death cut to the core of The Slayer residing on permanent hiatus. Fate hadn't given these girls their powers, they hadn't been summoned by a good  that was great, it had been Buffy who had called them, who had chosen them, and it was Buffy who lay awake night after night counting the cost of her call. Remembering the name of every girl she had condemned to early death, struggling to remember the faces that sat beside the names. Sleep eluding her more and more until she eventually suffered the blow that would signal finality.

Not an end to herself - that would be easy to live with, without the obvious pun - but an end to the one that she had never really considered having an ending.


Her opposite. Her often enemy. The one other girl in the all of the world who had gained her destiny the old fashioned way, by a hand other than Buffy's.

Sure, they had never quite made it as friends, there was still too much intensity behind every conversation to allow them the pleasure of easy friendship, but they had forged something that Buffy had learned enough to elevate. The infrequent meetings when Faith had been passing through Europe on some sort of undisclosed business, the furtive phone calls when one or the other of them had found themselves awake at some ungodly hour of the night, and needed a reminder that they weren't left alone. That there was someone else out there who understood how it felt. But that still hadn't made it easy. That something unsaid, that Buffy had always assumed would one day be said, sitting between them with the absolute power to pull them close in the one moment, and then repel them in the very next.

Repelling the last time that she had spoken to her.

Perhaps the hour which was way past midnight, yet still too far away from the hour of morning, inducing the harshness into Buffy's tone. She wasn't quite sure, she was only sure that she would never forget their final exchange. Would never forget the way that her eyes still stung now if she allowed herself the indulgence of remembering the details of the final phone call. Faith's easy opening. Her always opening:

"B, you're still awake. Wanna guess what's been eating me?"

Her own mumbled reply of actually being asleep. Hanging up. Cursing the cosmos when the phone continued to ring. Incessantly ring. Sparking the harshness. The heavy in the tone. "Find someone else to annoy, Faith. I'm sleeping."

"Got a sitch, B. Could really do with your help."

"Did you not hear me?"

"Not joking. There's some serious shit going down-"

"So call the sanitation department. I'm tired. I'm retired." And she had hung up again. For the last time.

The phone had continued to ring until she'd been forced to climb out of bed to pull out the plug, but other than that she had returned easily to her sleep. Had missed not only the further calls from Faith, but also the ones from Willow. The ones from Giles. The ones that wouldn't have given her the time to make any kind of difference, but would have at least given her the heads up on what was occurring in LA… would have prepared her for the possibility of losing Faith.

An unscripted apocalypse. A battle that she had missed, through her own choosing, that had seen the loss of life of Angel. Of Spike. Of so many on the job Slayers. An apocalypse that had finally, through all of the dreams of living out her life the easy way, called her back onto the path of destiny. Her destiny. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The girl who was fated to hold back the rising tide of the ever present evil.

Unless she was too tired to take a call. Too wrapped up in her own whims to give answer to that someone who she had always longed to answer. Vowing in that very moment that she would never ever turn her back on her duty again……

…….Even when that duty dictated that she currently find herself running through the unfamiliar streets of Ensenada, chasing down some brand of unfamiliar vampires. Not that all vampires weren't essentially the same. Buffy knew of course that as soon as they strayed too close to the scythe, they would no doubt be dust; but beyond that they were unfamiliar. They spoke a language that she didn't have any grasp on, and they didn't seem to have any grasp on  the language that she offered to them.

It certainly hindered the asking of questions that Giles had so steadily implored her to ask. Wanting to know what the sudden upsurge in demonic activity was all about. Wanting to know exactly who it was that the vampires did give answer to. And all that Buffy had managed to find out so far, was that none of them answered to her. The latest plan decided upon when she realised that simple interrogation was never going to work - she had to be smarter than that - had to chase them without ever quite catching them, had to find out where it was they went to when the sun began to rise.

Rising now.

The smell of the harbour invading her senses as her feet cut quick through the maze of streets that would lead her down towards the sea. Trusting her instincts to pull her in the right direction. Trusting the distracting hum of her senses that had always alerted her to the presence of something not quite human. Her feet creeping stealthily towards the building where she'd last seen the vampires entering… A window surveyed… Numbers counted. Satisfying herself that four against one was really no odds, when she held the power of the scythe so firm in her grasp.

And there had been a time, a long time ago, when Buffy would have been more careful. When she would have at least waited until the sun sat firm in the sky before she made her grand entrance. When she would have double checked the odds with a healthy dose of recon before she had decided to enter the fray.

Those were the times before Faith though. Before the moment when she'd made her vow.

These days, Buffy counted every moment that she hung back, as a moment that some other person could die due to her complete lack of action. And she was no longer willing to accept that as an outcome. Time was of the essence. Time was life or death. Time was considered immaterial as she smashed her way noisily through one of the windows that lined the back of the building where she had counted the odds as four to one. Where the odds had been so severely miscalculated.

For where Buffy had seen four vampires, she had missed the three more that were following close behind her. In the space where she had made out one level without any stairs, she had missed the trapdoor that opened up to the cavern that sat down below. The centre of demonic activity. Realising her mistake in an instant as so many eyes that glowed feral in the dusty gloom of the abandoned building turned to greet her with hungry glares. Their mouths dripping with words she still didn't understand:

"Gozaremos el matar de usted lentamente." Growled out. Their intentions made clear by the accompanying snarls.

"Uh, Americano - anyone?" Making Buffy determined that she wouldn't reward them with fear. Not when she still held the scythe. Her voice not wavering as she swung a graceful arc through the air to turn the first of her waiting prey to the more desired dimension of  dust. "Okay. I think that's called uno… who's gonna volunteer to be my numero dos?"

And there really were too many volunteers.

Buffy's numbers held out fine until she reached past seven; until her arms began to tire from the too many vampires to count, and her body began to ache from all of the hits that were managing to break through the boundaries of her ever crumbling defences. That was when  she began to show fear. When she forgot to care about the pretence of bravado, and began to actually realise that today was the day she would get to meet her maker.


Not so sure of her place in heaven this time. Not so sure that abandoning her post for over a year, to lay languorously in the arms of another un-dead lover, was really the way to gain favour with the PTB.

She was more than sure though, that wondering about it, wouldn't make the blindest bit of difference. What was done, was done, and what happened, happened. All that Buffy had left to do was to ensure that she went out the way that destiny had always meant for her to go. Fighting the good fight. Dying the death of a hero. Her knuckles grazing the floor as she was forced down upon her knees in front of the meatiest of the vampires; not even feeling the rips in her skin as claws swiped aside the flesh that she had always taken such great care to moisturise. Eyes closing. The sounds of breaking.

Of entering.

Not knowing in that instant if the cavalry had somehow miraculously arrived with the crash and the bang, or if she'd in fact already died the death, and was simply making her way now towards both heaven and hell. Maybe hanging in limbo. The voice so familiar. So everything unexpected.

"Wanna scoot out the way, B, so I can toast myself these fuckers?"

Enough to have her eyes opening up again even through the pain she was feeling from the scrape of the too long finger nails. Because this hurt too much to feel like death, and that voice sounded way too much like Faith to have ever come from anyone else. Urging Buffy to ask. To know: "Faith?"

"The one and only. Now shift it. I'm getting an itch in my trigger finger, and ya know how much I love scratching itches."

The confirmation of a miracle providing Buffy with a strength that just a second ago she had been willing to bet was entirely depleted. Lifting herself back to her feet. Diving to the side just in time to miss the trail of flame that licked its way hungrily along the floor to chase away the remaining hoard of vampires. And since when had Faith begun using a flamethrower?

And more importantly - beyond any pain that Buffy was feeling from the beating that she had just so savagely taken - since when had Faith been looking so darn healthy with the being dead?

That was the question that spun the room solidly as she tried to rise to her feet once again. That had her mouth opening to try and form words, even though her throat was filling with the ashes that permeated the air from the recent cremations. Choking once. Her eyes streaming tears from the singed smell of smoke. "What are you doing here? We thought… They said… I thought you were dead."

"Stay here any longer and we'll both be dead. Come on, I've got wheels waiting outside."

The only explanation offered. The only explanation that was going to be offered under the present set of circumstances.

The growing growls and snarls of anger and animosity that rose eagerly up from beneath the trapdoor, took care of that. Had Buffy remembering the fear she had felt only moments before when she'd been so heavily outnumbered by the bloodthirsty beasts. Glad to accept the hand up from Faith. The arm that felt so strong as it encompassed her waist to hold her body somewhere closer to steady. So completely unsteady.

Because Buffy was spinning. Freefalling. Never in any place beyond her wildest dreams, had she expected that she would ever again encounter Faith. Sure as heck not in this lifetime. That forever, and perhaps for all of eternity, she would be forced to endure the torment of knowing that their final words had been the ones that she had always regretted saying. The ones where she had hung up on a desperate and possibly dying Faith.

Only Faith was so not dead. Not if Buffy still understood the correct definition of dead.

For a start she was warm to the touch. There was definitely a pulse pumping warm blood through the hand that was holding Buffy upright. There was also, and as equally pleasant, the warm air that was being  breathed across Buffy's neck as Faith ushered her as gently as she could into the back seat of the waiting car. Completely real sensations. Complete proof of life.

Feeling the seat compress as Faith climbed into the space beside her. More of the warmth encountered as she leant over to speak to whoever it was that was sitting in the driver's seat.

"Take us back to my place. Make it fast."

"Who's the broad, Faith? I didn't think you dealt in strays."

"So drive and don't think. We'll all be happy."

And Buffy was only happy that she didn't have to drive, or think. Too confused to fight through the fog to ask the questions that she was so desperate to ask. Just taking some comfort from the throaty chuckle that emanated from Faith as she sat herself back into the seat beside her. Their sides touching. Questions lost beneath the continued warmth that was proving beyond all possibility of doubt, that sometimes there were things in life that could make all of the pain feel completely worthwhile.

And Faith was one of those things.



Chapter Two

When Buffy had first regained use of her senses, they were still ushering that silent hum of something not quite human steadily through her veins. Her blood still pumping vigorously with the fragmented thoughts of fighting. Her mind still on quick alert as she waited to encounter another of the blows that would rain down hard upon her blackening bruises. Only the fight had already ended; Faith had seen to that. Riding into the rescue, carrying her gently up the stairs of her apartment to lay her softly down upon her bed.

It had turned all of Buffy's thoughts back in the direction of her earlier questions. Eyes barely opened before she'd begun interrogating the woman who appeared on the one hand to be entirely familiar to her, yet at the same time seemed completely impossible to her. Because Buffy had cried all the tears, had tormented herself so frequently with the grief of losing, that to be faced again with a living and breathing Faith had been almost too much for her to comprehend. Too much at first for her to honestly believe in.

"This isn't real. This can't be real. You can't be her."

"Broke the mould when they made me. I know there's not two."

"But how? I don't understand, Faith… How?"

Wondering at resurrections. At reincarnations. At any situation that could've explained what the heck was happening. Holding her tongue to hear the truth as Faith found a spot at the base of the bed and began to tell her tale. Not mystical. Not magical. Just a web of lies that had first been spun in a moment when the world had sat desperate for Faith…

…She had been entrenched in the apocalypse, had fought with unshakable fortitude to save the inhabitants of the city that had been threatened by the war with Wolfram and Hart. Fighting at Angel's side when the first of the demons had broken through the portal; kneeling by the side that had vanished when one of the escaping dragons had so easily torn through his body and reduced him to dust. Fighting on. Watching the others fall. Witnessing the arrival of the warlocks who had harnessed enough power to call an end to the battle, and repair the widening tear in the fabric of the universe.

And Buffy had known about the warlocks. Had heard after the event, once her phone had been re-plugged, about the warriors that Willow had summoned forth from far flung dimensions to save an earth that wasn't yet destined to be destroyed. It still hadn't explained Faith though, hadn't even begun to touch upon an explanation for why she had masqueraded as dead, when Buffy had only wished that she'd remained alive. Her eyes wanting to burn with accusation. Staying silent to hear the answers that Faith was willing to offer up.

"…The shit was still heavy, B. The big boys at Wolfram and Hart were never gonna give up that easy. Sure, they got Angel an' the others, but there were still scores to settle. Heads to roll. Asshole's put a price on mine that was just begging to be cashed. It was hide or die, and I weren't in no mood for-"

"Wait. That's it?"

"Whaddya mean, that's it? Shit B, dying's your party trick. I don't want no part of it."

Too much to take in. Way too much to understand.

Buffy could accept the truth behind all of Faith's words - she knew herself that she would also look to lay down low if one of the world's largest forces of evil had placed a price tag on her head - but she'd had a whole lot harder time trying to accept that she'd been cut so easily from the loop. That Faith, the person who'd meant so much in her own unique and special kind of way, could play dead without thought to call her. Could put her through the pain that she had suffered so harshly through the last few months of mourning. It carried the accusation from her eyes to her mouth. To her words.

"You didn't think to call me? I didn't deserve to know that you were okay?"

"I tried that. You fucked me off. Remember?"

The accusation returned.

Like those same old forces that could attract and repel with equal abandon, were already looking to regain firm footing in the relationship between the two Slayers. The sparks shooting out in every direction as their eyes became locked. The glare intensifying as the silence of the thousand unsaid words retook their place between them. Ticking off the minutes. Echoing out the seconds.

And Buffy the one who looked to break it.

Perhaps the weight of the all the months mourning somehow softening a resolve that she'd always managed to hold so strong to. She wasn't sure. Didn't care enough to examine her motives; she only spoke the things that she felt inside. The things that she'd prayed a million times she would have the chance to take back.

"I'm sorry for that night… For cutting you off. I've had to live the last eleven months with losing you… I've never regretted anything more."

Softening the return glare. Easing the tone.


The eyebrow that cocked in a way that Buffy had so long dreamed she would see again, making her attempt her own cock of brow in readiness for a reply. Made her wince as she was reminded of the open clawed strike she had taken down the side of her face in the moment when she'd been expecting death.

"I'm beginning to regret picking a fight with the un-manicured meathead, but other than that, no. I've missed you, Faith. I really missed you." The space at the end of the bed becoming unoccupied as Faith had removed herself swiftly from the line of fire that had heralded Buffy's intimate admission.

"Should probably get some sleep now, B. You've taken one hell of a shit kicking there."

Signaling the pull back; those soft spots that Faith had always had a hard time exposing, being ushered away with words unimportant. Not a hint of, `I missed you too'. Not a hint of anything that could keep Buffy's pain at bay. Just phrases that cared without caring too much and touches that had never strayed beyond the boundaries of the zone called comfort. Innocent fingers rising to outline the scrape that tore harsh across her blackened eye. "Looks wicked painful, but it'll heal in no time. Just get yourself that rest. I'll check back on you later."

Leaving the room to leave Buffy alone with her thoughts.

And there had been so many of them.

All of the words that she'd said had been true with their sentiment, yet they hadn't been one hundred percent honest when it came to the examination. Because Buffy had a whole case load of regrets when it came to Faith, and the regret of hanging up the phone was fading fast to last place as she begun to realise how that slice of past could be so easily rewritten. That their last exchange was no longer their last exchange.

Clearing the way for all of the unexplored exchanges; the only ones left that offered her regrets.

There had always been something discomforting for Buffy when she had found herself placed in Faith's presence, and lying there then in the soft comfort of her arch-everything's bed, she allowed herself to finally question what it was that had always driven them deep into a denial that had sparked each and every one of their awkward encounters. All of the innuendo that had gone left unanswered. All of the places that had remained untouched.

No easy answer. No easy self admission of cowardice for the one who had always prided herself on the strength of her courage. Yet what else could it be called? It certainly wasn't a question of desire. Buffy knew desires well enough to know that when it came to Faith, she had always desired in herself something that she had never quite desired with such intensity before. Knew by the throb of long wanted longing just how badly she had always ached to exist inside of Faith. Deep inside of Faith. How often she'd wanted to tame the wild curls of brown hair around fingertips as she tasted lips that had always shined so moist and full for the taking.

Yet she had never tasted. Had never taken. Had clenched as tight as she could to the feeling to prevent it from breaking free.

And then she had paid the price. Had lost the chance.

Except, of course, that all of the chances were now being rewritten.

Something that slid the smile onto Buffy's lips as she drifted down into a sleep of recovery. The dreams of possibilities. A new resolve finding the place to grow in the space that before had been so completely drenched in the misery of losing Faith.



It was no wonder that when Buffy finally woke up, she did so feeling completely refreshed, reinvigorated, and on top of the world. She had managed to pass through the whole of a day whilst her body recuperated, and now she awoke to witness the soft sparkle of a starlit sky peeping in through the curtains that blew slowly open with the gentle rhythm of a constant breeze. Bringing in the smell of the ocean. Warming her skin with the hot humid air of a Mexico night.

Warming her more when she remembered that she was waking up in Faith's bed. Was in fact, for the first time in the whole of her life, alone for a moment in Faith's inner sanctuary. Her bedroom. Her most private of places…

…And she was sorely tempted.

Wanted to ignore the soreness that still lightly stung her limbs, and rise from the bed to take a closer look. Already her eyes had scanned quickly over the on view items - she had seen the lack of personality on show with each of the walls that sat so bare  – and she wanted to dig down deeper. Wishing perhaps that she'd uncover a dog-eared photo of herself, maybe a diary whose pages she could scour to learn of the thoughts that passed unsaid through Faith's mind.

Buffy wasn't a snoop though. Wasn't yet ready to believe that she had no other chance with Faith other than the one that would begin with a deed of deception. No. She actually clung tight to the belief that if she finally had the balls big enough to make a stand and speak of what it was with Faith that she truly wanted, then Faith would surely follow suit and find the way clear to outlay what it was that she herself had always desired. It would be a simple case of quid pro quo. Something for something. Buffy would give, Faith would give, and then both of them would take.

At least that's how the scenario sat within the confines of Buffy's mind. Provoked by the miracle of seeing Faith alive to place trust in the instincts that were flashing the green lights for go. It wasn't as if she had anything to lose - Faith had been dead to her only the night before - in fact, it seemed perfectly reasonable to Buffy to consider that she only had the option of winning. It felt like she was already winning.

Rising slowly from the bed to search out her prize. Unable not to allow a soft laugh to break free when her eyes settled upon the strangely contorted form of Faith; sleeping sound on the sofa with the ease of a baby. Trying to stifle the noise. Creeping close enough to touch, yet observing the peace without lifting her hand.

Faith just looked so… so…

……Not able to think of the word. It wasn't serene, that sounded like something that belonged in a funeral home. But something close to serene. But prettier. An aura of sensual still tracing the lips that breathed the steady in and out.

It left Buffy standing without knowing which of her wants she most wanted to give answer to. There was the one that demanded she leave Faith lying exactly as she was in that moment; that she just take her own place on the opposite sofa and obverse with quiet thirst the image of perfection. Or the other want that demanded with equal intent that she lean forward now and trace Faith's face into waking with a gentle touch of hello.

Her indecision snatching both options away as Faith began to wake of her own accord.

Perhaps feeling the weight of the stares. Maybe sensing the crackle in the air from the thousand possibilities that Buffy had carried with her into the room. Her voice sounding hoarse from sleeping. Tickling Buffy's ears all the same.

"Sorry. Got tired. You been up long?"

"No, not long. And you shouldn't have let me take your bed; I could have crashed on the sofa, Faith. You didn't need to do that."

"Yeah, I'm a regular heroine that way. You were busted up, you got the bed. Don't worry about it."

And she wasn't worrying. She was inching. Closer and closer to the sofa until she was near enough to take a seat. Almost upon Faith's feet. Having to lift them and bring them down into her lap, to have the space to sit. "You know, you could've got in next to me. I wouldn't have minded."

"No? What's this? Back five minutes an' already trying to get me in the sack? Damn girl, reckon you really did miss me."

"I already said I did."

Reengaging the earlier stares. Raising her eyebrows again to try and imitate Faith. And it didn't hurt so much anymore; not only the pain in her face receding, but also the pain she had always felt in those moments when she'd wanted to make admissions. Not feeling it now. Just feeling the need.

"Ya know, I think it's made me realise something, Faith, this whole little not really dead thing."


"Definitely, yeah. I'm not so scared anymore."

"You, scared? Didn't think anything could give Buffy Summers the shakes."

Allowing Faith to share in the sound of her laughter this time, as more of it tinkled out to fill the room. "Now you're the one that's kidding. There's lots of thing that scare me."

"No way. Not buying it, Blondie. Name one."

The stares dipping down to tantalise those places named intense as the laughter died away to be replaced by silence. And it felt to Buffy as if Faith could actually read in that moment all of the thoughts that were flying fast through her mind. Her fear of touching. Of tasting. Of taking and not knowing what to do with the having. Compressing every instance into the just one word.


And letting it speak for itself.

Because Faith would have to be blind, deaf and dumb to miss the meaning that was being paraded with the weight of that one tiny word. Would perhaps, maybe, possibly have to truly be dead to avoid the obviousness of what Buffy was trying to convey. Words still coming out throaty. Still confused by sleep. "Don't have to be scared of me, B. Stopped trying to kill ya a whole lotta years-"

"That's not what I meant."

Realisation dawning.

Buffy could see it as it made the slow pass across Faith's features. The widening of the eyes that lasted only as long as it took for her brow to close in on confusion. The lips that opened. That closed. That formed the perfect O.

"Say something, Faith."

"I… I think I need a beer."

Not the something wanted, but at least it was something Buffy could cling to for as long as it took Faith to gather the courage needed from the steadying influence of alcohol. Letting go of her feet to let her rise. Eyes following her path. Ears hearing the words:

"You want one, B?"

"No. I'm good."

Because Buffy had already found her courage. She didn't need alcohol. She didn't need outside influences. All that Buffy needed now was the faith to follow through.



Chapter Three

When Buffy awoke the following morning, it wasn't with the same feeling of refreshed and rejuvenated that she'd had the previous evening, upon waking in Faith's bed. But then, of course, sleeping on a sofa had never held the same allure or comfort as sleeping on a mattress with a matching duvet and pillow… and last night Buffy had scored the sofa. Had first had to endure the not so courageous words from Faith; but after that it had been nothing but a bad night's sleep all the way.

Because Buffy had been wrong.

Still sure that she wasn't wrong on the underlying issue of awkward moments and denied desires, yet forced to face that it was gonna take a little bit more than a few eager words to have Faith reading from a new set of rules. There had been that pause where Buffy had thought maybe; the moments spent preparing whilst Faith had been ensconced in the kitchen with her can of cold beer. Yet when she had returned to the fray, it hadn't been welcoming eyes that had searched out Buffy's own. They had been darker. Harder. A tough tone to match:

"I want ya to forget that you've found me."

Just like that. No speeches to pave the way with preparations, just nine words delivered with the force of a death blow. Winding Buffy for the moment. Taking the wind from her sails.

"You what?"

"Ya heard me. I'm dead for a reason, B. Nothing's changed that."

The end of the conversation. Within moments Faith had disappeared behind the closed door of her bedroom, and for all of the remaining hours of darkness, she hadn't seen fit to reappear. It had certainly shocked, and served to take some of Buffy's new found confidence away, yet it sure as hell w asn't gonna be enough to destroy the deep well of courage that re-finding Faith had opened up in her.

There really had always been something so unsavoury for Buffy when she tasted the sour sensation of being wrong and, even faced with the uncertainty of the closed bedroom door; she refused to believe that she was wrong on Faith. There was too much evidence to the contrary. Too many memories that still burned so bright.

That very first spark. Their very first moment. The smile that had greeted Buffy when their eyes had first met… "It's okay, I got it. You're, uh, Buffy, right?"

No. She was poleaxed. Pretty much from that moment onwards, until she'd arrived in the now, and even now she was still wrapped up in the same sense of shock that had greeted her in the instant when she had first felt Faith. Maybe double-shocked when she considered that Faith had, to all intents and purposes, just risen from the dead. It certainly made the closed door seem not so locked and bolted. Made it impossible for Buffy to even attempt to pay heed to Faith's sullen words of forget.

It was too much fun to remember.

Even the bad times featuring a side dish of desire for someone who had always ached with a longing to touch things slayer hard. Every punch, passion filled. Every hate heavy look burning with the intensity that had paved the way towards war. And Buffy would never admit it out loud, yet she couldn't deny to herself, that sometimes - just a few tiny moments of sometimes - she had longed to be warring with Faith again just to provoke those same old hungry eyes. Those same lust filled levels of heightened arousal.

A timid truce had been brokered instead, though. They had chosen to fight side by side instead of face to face, and had then found the road too rocky for friendship. Happier to pretend that they were both better off with maximum distance, and with the bare minimum of contact.

And Buffy was sick to pretend death of the minimum contact.

It inspired her to unfold herself from the discomfort of the sofa and set to making a noise that would hopefully rouse Faith from her self-enforced solitude. Banging cupboard doors. Crashing around as she searched out some solid form of sustenance. Her hopes being realised as Faith did indeed arise from the safe haven of her bedroom, to arrive in the claustrophobic confines of the too small kitchen. Eyes averted. Voice down turned. "Whatcha doing?" No sunny morning greeting to welcome a brand new day.

"I'm making breakfast. There's toast, some dry cereal. You're out of milk."

"I take my coffee black. Rarely eat in…… This isn't gonna work."

Not a hundred percent sure what Faith was referring to, but knowing enough to guess. To offer an answer: "Me forgetting you're alive and well is the only thing not working, Faith. Getting breakfast is gonna be easy. You can show me where's good to eat and I'll pick up the check."

"There's a bus leaves town around ten. Save the cash and grab yourself a seat."

"Nice idea, but not very likely. I flew in, courtesy of Council funds. I've got a job to do, vamps to kill; I couldn't even think about leaving town till that's done."

Words that invited Faith the desired distance closer. Definitely something in the room feeling heightened as Buffy was forced to take the step back, to feel the rounded edge of the countertop as it rubbed hard against flesh. Not scared of the flash in Faith's eyes though, more like… invigorated by the flash. Urged to push that little inch further: "Giles won't give me my gold star if the mission's not accomplished."

Seeing the seething. Feeling the proximity to danger as the tension was twisted a few more degrees: "Not playing here, B. Don't need your help, didn't ask for your help. I saved your ass yesterday; kinda spoils the moment if I have to kick it today."

"Sounds like fighting talk."

"Is what it is. Pretty sure I can take ya."

Temperatures soaring as Buffy let the words dance enticingly across her ears. Because really, it wouldn't even be called a fair fight. Not a fight at all when she considered just how easily she was willing to let herself be taken.

Her reply reflecting her thoughts. Baring her bravery. "I know you could, Faith," her voice sounding husky even to her own ears, "only question is, are you brave enough to try?" The growl that emanated in return from the region of Faith's throat, sounding even huskier still.

It was a stalemate that wasn't very stale. That sucked the air from the room to leave both of the slayers hanging in some kind of uneasy suspension. Dangling above an abyss. The tension reflected in the gaze that was going unwavered between both pair of eyes.

Right there to be taken. Dying to be taken.

And yet nothing took except the deep breath from Faith that signalled an end to yet another of their awkward moments and unanswered innuendos. Pushing herself away from the countertop. Away from Buffy. "We'll eat at the diner down the street. We take care of the vamp nest, and then you get gone."

"And if I don't?"

"I will."

More of the just like that.



It was during the breaks in the strained silence of breakfast that Buffy began piecing together a vague picture of how Faith had managed to play dead so convincingly. Hearing of the moment when the last dying minion of Wolfram and Hart had warned her of the bloodshed that would forever shadow her future footsteps, and how that had led the way to the easy decision that had seen Faith rip off her bloodied and torn tank top, to leave it lying in testament next to her downed and desolate battleaxe. No body to be found. Not there or anywhere. Just laying low and working as some sort of demon killing mercenary to earn the dollars needed to pay for all of the protection spells. For the cloaking spells. For anything and
everything that would seek to keep her hidden.

It was the first moment of no sense for Buffy. Choking on the bacon that stuck fast in her throat. Needing to take a sip of water before she posed the obvious question. "Did you forget about Willow? You know she would've helped… She probably wouldn't have charged for it

"I didn't want Willow's help."

The second moment of no sense.

Because sure, things had sat on some level of self-enforced strain between Buffy and Faith since the fall of Sunnydale, but those levels hadn't applied to everyone else. Buffy knew for herself that Faith had kept in frequent touch with Willow, with Kennedy, with all of the other easy acquaintances she'd made in the first few weeks outside of incarceration, and it made no sense that she hadn't fallen back on them when the situation had demanded it. Had practically begged for it. No idea why Faith would rather disappear into obscurity than rely upon the ties that she had formed with the extended Scooby family.

Insisting that Buffy prod. That she poke for the answers.

"But that's crazy. Why pretend at being dead, when you could've been living large? That doesn't sound like the Faith I know, she'd relish every opportunity she got to stand up and fi-"

"Maybe the relish let her down. Life's a bitch, B. I opted out. Any chance we can talk about the vamps now?"

And then finally it began to make sense.

Buffy had sat through the rest of breakfast just silently biding her time. Putting together all of the pieces of the puzzle that Faith hadn't offered up so easily, as she followed along with the plan of exterminating the vampires. Because Faith may have been a woman of not so many words, but the words that she did offer up were often weighted down with meanings beyond the obvious. Making the obvious plain to Buffy. Letting her know that within Faith's mind, she had played the part of relish.

The one who had let her down.

Examining emotion as she allowed herself to honestly imagine how it would have gone if the shoe had sat on the other foot. If in a moment of complete desperation she had turned to find Faith and been left facing nothing except death and destruction. Buffy may've also opted to disappear. Didn't know how exactly she would've dealt, if it had been Faith who had turned her back so easily in her direction.

So easy to unplug a ringing phone. Not so easy to regain a connection.

The easiest thing possible to feel more regret.

It left the breakfast in Buffy's belly tasting bitter with the realisation of just how deeply she had managed to wound Faith…

Spending the afternoon in silent contemplation. Hours exhausted just shining the blade on the scythe and imagining ways that she'd be able to undo the misdeed. A stronger sense of determination settling down across her shoulders as she again sought out Faith and attempted to clear the air before they headed their way into uncertain battle. Knocking at the door to the bedroom. Hearing the grunt that offered permission to enter.

"Can we talk, Faith?"

"Rather we didn't."

"Will you listen then, while I talk?" Stepping close, but not too close. Taking the non reply as an invitation to proceed. "…I'm the relish. I get that now."

"You're relish? Are you feeling okay?"

"I'm feeling fine… Mostly. I'd feel a lot better if I could get you to accept my sorry."

An attempt at a blank face the only sight that greeted Buffy's request. She wasn't being fooled though; she knew enough to know that she was on the right track. That Faith's sudden hardened façade was a result of her abandonment and not testimony to the feelings that existed beyond all of the let downs. Continuing her speech. Searching for the words that would push Faith into offering the forgiveness she was seeking.

"I know how bad you must've felt. You turned to me for help, and I turned away. Puts it into perspective; I get now why you'd rather play dead, than-"

"Jesus Christ, B! D'ya really think the whole world revolves around you? My ass was on the line; I had to save my ass. You didn't play any part in that."

"Yes I did. I'm the relish."

"Quit with the fucking relish! The relish doesn't mean anything!" Provoking the anger before honesty could be reached. As if Faith had needed to blow a gasket, before she could ever let the lid blow off her true feelings. Lifting herself up from the bed to stalk Buffy again. Letting it all pour out with savage inflections. "You really think I give a shit, anyway? Should've known you were too busy lying on your back again, to worry about covering mine. It's what you do, right? What you're good at."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Exactly what I said, Einstein. You work it out."

And it hadn't exactly taken a stroke of genius for Buffy to catch the meaning behind Faith's words. Hadn't taken more than a moment for Faith to simplify the matter further just in case she'd missed the memo. "First time I needed your help, I didn't have the balls to ask for it. Paid the price for that one. This time I asked you for help, and I'm still stuck paying the price. It doesn't take a genius, B; I rely on myself an' I don't get screwed… I don't need anyone else."

"I said I was sorry."

"Don't need that either. I've made my choice, I do what I do. We deal with this vamp nest, and we move right the fuck on. I'm dead to you, Buffy; get over it already."

Except there was nothing about Faith that was feeling dead to Buffy; a whole lot of the exact opposite if they were residing in the region of truth. She would acquiesce though. Would let Faith think that she had been blind sided into believing that all of the old emotions didn't still have a place to be felt.

And then they would go, and then they would slay. And if fortune was favouring them in the way that Buffy hoped it was, they would win the day without suffering anymore loss.

Just waiting for the end of the day. For the needs that always arose after a good solid workout and a hard fought slay.


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