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by KW Jordan


Disclaimer: Very few of the following characters belong to me. Most are the property of Joss Whedon & CO. I'm merely borrowing them for my own amusement. I haven't, nor will I ever, make any profits off of the creation of this story. The scenario, however, does belong in its' entirety to me. I'll warn you ahead of time that the contents of this story may be considered inappropriate for anyone under the age of eighteen. I'm just that kind of person. I like violence, and I like sex—better yet, I like sex between women and sometimes it's rough. If you don't heed this warning and you continue ahead, I don't want to hear about it if you dislike what you find. However, if you would like to express your interest in the story, I would love to hear about it—in great detail even. I'm open to suggestions for future reference. Or if you would like to borrow my idea, please e-mail me. Please do not post my work anywhere without my permission. Any quotes or lyrics used are here without permission. I meant no disrespect to the writers or the musicians. I apologize for not requesting permission to use them beforehand, but please allow me to leave my work intact. No profit will ever be made from the use of your work here. Visit my site at: http://kw-jordan.livejournal.com

Summary: The balance between good and evil has been upset and the Powers that Be have set a deal into motion that sounds kinda like a resolution that would be reserved as a last resort—like sendin' less than thirty kids, eight adults, and a vamp into a Hellmouth with an iffy spell and a gaudy trinket.

Oral's Notes: Song Credits can be found HERE.

Listen to the Music

Prologue: Dirty Little Habits

On the outside, the house the group of four was approaching was just another abandoned building. It was a two story building with faded and peeling yellow paint with equally dingy and cracked green trimming. The dark oak door was cracked and warped and the windows were boarded up. The porch was stained a rusty red passersby avoided questioning for fear of the answer they might get.

Inside, the house was just as neglected if not more so. The carpet was soiled and frayed beyond recognition, matching the stained, torn and peeling wallpaper. The tiles in the kitchen and the bathroom were chipped and discolored, some broken or missing. The few pieces of furniture someone had bothered to scrounge up were broken down and irreparable from years of misuse.

The current occupants had only increased the house's already squalid appearance. How long they'd been there was anybody's guess. The neighbors had long since ceased complaining about the loud music and the constant traffic at night. It wasn't as if the police ever bothered to do anything about it.

Tonight there was only one visitor. Anyone watching as the three housemates escorted the beauty to the house would have been too wrapped up in her to take notice of the underlying tension. Wavy dark brown hair framed an angular face and equally dark eyes stood out from pale olive toned skin. Black leather draped over her legs like her pants were painted on and a black tank top clung to her breasts.

She didn't give a second thought to the condition of the house. She was there for three things and none of them included interior decorating. The moment the door closed, all she wanted was to get the first thing out of the way. She zeroed in on the blonde that originally caught her attention at the bar and grabbed a fistful of her shirt, pulling her into a possessive kiss that the blonde eagerly returned.

Her hands roamed the blonde's lithe body, pausing to explore any exposed flesh. The coolness of her lover's skin did little to affect the lust burning in her. The only things that mattered right then were the touches and the sounds. Soon she was removing articles of clothing as they impeded her caresses.

The two males of the group closed in on them to aid in the process, the blond male moving behind their visitor as his darker companion went to the other woman. The brunette paid little attention to the men as she finished her task and then she suddenly turned to face the blond male. She leaned up to nip his bottom lip and then she ran her hand down his bare chest to grasp the large bulge in his jeans.

"Hey there, big boy," She whispered teasingly as she gently squeezed.

He was unable to reply as adept fingers unfastened his pants and then his pants fell down around his ankles. He kicked them off and reached for her so that he could return the favor. She backed away, smiling impishly, and once she was sure she held their attention, she began a slow strip-tease. Her hands caressed her own flesh, pausing to circle areas of importance as they were revealed.

Her tank top drifted to the floor as she sauntered closer to the others and she ran her fingers through her hair. Then she reached out to caress the dark coffee colored skin of the other male's chest before she leaned up to kiss him deeply. Her tongue probed his mouth and then she left him to give the blond male the same treatment. Small hands gripped her hips from behind and she broke the kiss. She was turned around and she found herself in an embrace with the only other female of the group once again.

A predatory smile creased her lips and she dipped her head to cover the blonde's answering smirk with her own mouth. She tangled her fingers in the silky hair and edged the woman backwards until her knees hit the couch. The blonde tumbled back onto the shredded cushions, bringing them both down. The brunette straddled her lover's hips and let her hands roam unchecked as the kiss continued.

She fondled the blonde's breasts with one hand, teasingly pinching and rolling her nipples until they were achingly hard. Her other hand slid downward between their bodies, drawn to the only part of the blonde that exuded heat. Taut thighs parted eagerly and the brunette moved to kneel between them for better access. Her fingers brushed through golden curls, getting soaked by sticky wetness.

The brunette broke the kiss, panting for breath. She locked eyes with the blonde and grinned as she drove three fingers into tight, hot depths. The woman's mouth fell open as her eyes squeezed shut, her hips surging forward to meet the brunette's thrusts. The brunette lowered her head to capture the blonde's mouth once more and then she slowed her thrusts as a large hand clasped her hip from behind.

Hard, throbbing flesh brushed against her inner thigh and then she felt the hot shaft slide through her wetness. Her arm picked up speed again, pounding her fingers into the blonde beneath her in response. Then the wide head was probing at her entrance and she held her breath in anticipation. There was a brief pause and then her eyes rolled back as the man standing behind her slowly slid into her.

"Oh fuck yeah," She muttered as she felt the delicious sensation of being stretched open and filled. She shook her head roughly and their bodies fell into a rhythm that only they could hear.



The brunette finished tying her boot laces and then glanced around the room. Particles of dust still floated in the air from the recent slaying. She smirked, though it held far less humor than it once would have. They always acted so surprised when she staked them afterwards.

She pulled a sandwich bag from her pocket and gazed at the yellow and white contents for a moment. Her forehead wrinkled as an odd feeling passed over her and she just shook it off. The second objective was done with and now it was time to move on to the third item on the evening's agenda. She reached inside and then removed her hand, a tiny capsule captured between her thumb and forefinger.

She carefully returned the bag to her pocket and then strode to the door she assumed led to the kitchen. Her assumption proved correct, she rummaged through the refrigerator and found what she'd been after. She checked the expiration date on the bottle and then smirked as she pried the top off. She popped the pill into her mouth, chased it down with beer and then grimaced at the taste left behind.

She chugged the rest of the beer and then set the bottle on the counter as she felt the first stirrings in her blood. She clutched the edge of the counter and then gasped as the wave of euphoria washed over her. Then she bit her lip, moaning softly as the familiar sensations made her body throb. Heat, followed by goose bumps, chased over her flesh, leaving the tiny hairs on her body standing on end.

A second wave washed over the brunette, bringing her to her knees on the cold and chipped tiles. Her fingers convulsed on the counter and a chunk of it broke off in her hand. She collapsed against a cabinet as giddy laughter tore from her throat and she threw the debris across the room. The laughter trailed off as the effects of the drug began to recede, leaving her feeling slightly manic and invincible.

Tingles ran up her spine, causing her to shiver violently as she stood, unfolding her body from the floor. She retrieved the last two bottles of the now-deceased vampires' beer and sauntered out of the kitchen. With one last look around, she smirked and left. The night was just beginning.

She'd achieved her objective. Now, with her stash boosted by what she'd found in the vampires' home, she could find some action a little more worth her while. She approached the 1984 Harley Davidson ShovelHead she'd parked at the end of the driveway and straddled it. She finished off one of the beers and threw it at the house to shatter against the porch before doing the same with the last.

As the bike roared off, its' rider decided she'd had enough foreplay. She wanted to do some real damage. Her helmet hid the wicked grin that spread across her lips. It had been far too long since she'd done any serious slaying. That was an error she'd have to correct immediately.

Her drug and alcohol induced high caged the more reasonable side of her that tried to remind her of the reasons she'd been so careful during the last couple of years. There were times that she was grateful to forget, but there were others when she regretted it deeply. Tonight might prove to be one of the latter. But at the moment all she wanted to do was give into the burn in her gut that urged her onward.



Chapter One: Faithless

"Oh, fuckin' hell," She moaned as consciousness rushed up to greet her.

She clutched her head in her hands and tried to roll onto her back. Intense pain shot through her side, causing her to tense and cry out. Regaining some of her sensibilities, she forced herself to relax and slumped back onto the bed, burying her face in the pillow as she fought off the nausea. She took shallow breaths to minimize the movement of her ribs until the pain faded to a dull throb and the nausea passed.

Tentatively, she shifted to her uninjured side, pausing each time she felt a twinge. She settled down and then gingerly inspected the ace bandage covering her torso. Her fingers brushed her ribs and pain flared, causing her to hiss in response. Her hands clenched the sheets as she waited for it to pass.

Not broken, She mused. That would cause a different kind of pain. She glanced around, relieved to find that she was at least in her own motel room. There had been far too many times that she'd awoken not knowing where she was. Even worse were the days when she wasn't alone.

"I gotta do somethin' `bout this fuckin' headache," She muttered, wincing as even that low utterance caused the pounding to increase.

She took a deep breath, steeling herself for it as she pushed herself up into a seated position. She leaned back against the headboard, gritting her teeth against the pain in her side. Then she swung her legs over the edge of the bed and slowly stood on weak legs. She wasn't sick now, but she knew from personal experience what would happen if she didn't move with every bit of caution she was capable of using.

She paused to catch her balance on the dresser and then stumbled the rest of the distance to the bathroom. As she got closer, a familiar odor made itself known as it grew stronger. Her nose wrinkled in response and she swallowed hard at the mix of stale puke, cigarettes, and booze. It was no wonder she felt so miserable right now if that was any indication of how her night had ended.

The brunette closed the door behind her and then she turned to walk over to the toilet. She peered down and closed her eyes and shuddered as she reached out to flush the handle. She moved to unfasten her pants and hesitated as she finally took notice of the abrasions on her knuckles. It was obvious by the lack of blood that she'd at least taken the time to clean them before passing out.

She shook her head and slid the zipper of her leather pants down. There'd be plenty of time to contemplate her injuries later. Much later, maybe after she'd rid herself of the hangover jackhammers and TNT in her skull. She relieved herself and then moved to the sink to wash her hands.

Her eyes drifted up from the water rushing over her skin and her movements slowed as she glared her reflection in the mirror. She could've been looking at her birth mother for as rough and sick as she looked at that moment. She'd seen it happening day in and day out over the past two years, and she just didn't have the strength to stop. She didn't have the strength to care about what she was doing to herself.

It wasn't a pretty picture—pale skin, bloodshot eyes, dilated pupils, and dark shadows under her eyes. Her upper body, throat, and face were a roadmap of scars, and fresh bruises and half-healed claw marks covered her bare shoulders and chest. A thin, raised scar trailed from her left temple to the corner of her mouth and a thicker, inch long scar bisected her right eyebrow. Those were only the visible marks.

She turned off the faucet and dried her hands off on the threadbare hand towel hanging from a rusted nail in the wall. Then she braced herself for more pain as she slowly removed the bandage from around her torso. The long piece of material fell to the floor as she sucked in a harsh breath at the sight of the wound. A stitched up gash ran the length of her ribs, dark reddish purple bruising surrounding it.

Her hand hovered, hesitant to touch it. She could feel the heat radiating off of the angry wound without even touching it. It needed medical care, but as per the norm, she didn't have the cash for a doctor's visit. She'd just have to do the best she could with it and hope it was enough.

There were days when she grew tired of everything, moments when she hated herself for surviving. She glowered at her reflection again. Those came all too often lately.



Rupert Giles had always warned that there were consequences for every action. But no one could've foreseen what was to come after the fall of Sunnydale. The Empowerment spell had upset the balance between good and evil. By the time anyone had realized what was happening, it was too late.

Tiny incidents over the span of a year all lead up to the biggest catastrophe any of them had ever dealt with. Guilt over the memories threatened to swallow her whole if she didn't keep busy. Her regrets haunted her. It was almost like it was still 1998 and she'd never stopped running from Kakistos.

She couldn't afford to stop, even now, so she just kept running. She'd been a wanted woman before the balance had begun to right itself. It was just a different set of pursuers with darker intentions now. She sometimes longed for the days spent dodging Slayers and cops and evading tracking spells.

She blew out an irritated breath and twirled the pool cue in her hand as she waited for her turn. She'd only been able to tolerate resting in her motel room for one day before anxiety set in and she'd had to get out again. Still aching, she'd decided on a calmer sort of entertainment than her usual. She refused to say that there wouldn't be trouble because that was just asking for it, but it wasn't as big a risk.

The bar she wound up in was just like all the other dives she'd been to lately—smoky, reeking of booze, sweat and God knew what else, and brimming with demons. So maybe she was still tempting fate. But it was better to be here than somewhere she'd be endangering innocents with her presence. She'd been attacked in public by demons one too many times and she'd learned to avoid it as much as possible.

"Yo, make your move," She shouted over the loud music.

The vampire turned from the pool table to glare at the brunette, his eyes flashing yellow. It was obvious her impatience was pissing him off, but she didn't care. She was here to play, not to watch someone contemplate their navel. He snorted and turned back to the pool table.

A couple of minutes later, he finally made his move. The pool cue struck the cue ball, sending it across the table to slam into a solid ball. It veered off course slightly and smacked the side of the table by the pocket he'd been aiming for. He backed off from the table, sneering at her.

"Stop rushing me, bitch."

The brunette lifted an unimpressed eyebrow at him and closed in on the table. She studied it briefly and then took aim at the cue ball. A few seconds later, two of her striped balls shot off the rim of the table and into a side pocket. She straightened and moved around the table to the cue ball.

She took aim once again, only to hesitate as her senses screamed louder at her. The burn in her gut and the tingles running up her spine told her that a demon had stepped up entirely too close. She stood and turned, spinning the pool cue upright in her grip as she did so. She propped the butt of the cue on the floor and leaned her weight on it carelessly, studying the demon standing in her personal space.

He was at most five foot ten and could've been mistaken for a human if not for the orange tint to his skin and the ridges running up the center of his bald head. His breed was recognizable enough, seeing as they were considered too humanoid by most of the other demons. They made their living like the human mob. She tilted her head slightly and hooked her right thumb through her belt loop.

"Somethin' I can do for ya?"

"Thought the Slayers were dead," He snarled in a guttural voice.

"Didn't ya know?" The brunette drawled, "We're like cockroaches. We always come back."

The jukebox at the back of the room changed tracks and as she recognized the beginning strains of "Awake" by Godsmack, the brunette smirked at the irony. She noticed movement out of the corner of her eye and tensed, shifting up over her center of balance. Obviously, tonight just wasn't meant to go as easy as she'd hoped for. She brought her attention back to the demon as he spoke again.

"Maybe I'll just have to remedy that," He said thoughtfully.

"You're welcome to try," She shrugged.

He eyed her as if sizing her up and then smirked as he backed away. He gestured across the room at someone and her attention was drawn to further movement in her peripheral vision on her left side. Four demons of the same species approached her confidently. She rolled her eyes and then twirled her pool cue again before bringing it down hard on the edge of the pool table, snapping the cue in half.

Wait another minute.

Can't you see what this pain has fucking done to me.

I'm alive and still kicking.

What you see I can't see and maybe

You'll think before you speak.

"I just wanted to stay out of trouble for one fuckin' night," She muttered as the demons closed in.

I'm alive. For you,

I'm awake. Because of you,

I'm alive. I told you,

I'm awake swallowing you alive!

Without looking, she threw the top half of the pool stick at the vampire approaching her from behind. She heard a grunt as it struck and there was a brief pause as he exploded into dust. Then the demons attacked. She eyed the end of the pool stick and then rolled her eyes as she tossed it away.

It wouldn't do any good with these guys. She leapt into the air and kicked the first two demons that reached her in the gut. She landed just as the next two arrived and she lashed out, catching the third in the throat even as the fourth caught her other fist. Their eyes met briefly and he attempted to twist her arm only to have the maneuver turned around on him. She pulled his back to her chest and laughed.

"Thanks for the dance," She drawled, easily restraining him.

She twisted the arm in her grasp until she heard his elbow snap and then she shoved him away, releasing her grip as she turned to the next demon. She threw several punches that were blocked and then kicked him in the groin with a steel-toed boot. As he bent over in pain, she slammed his face into her knee and then took hold of his neck. She locked eyes with the main demon as she snapped his neck.

Take another second.

Turn your back on me and make believe, that

You're always happy.

It's safe to say you're never alive.

A big part of you has died and by the way,

I hope you're satisfied.

An arm draped over her upper chest from behind and she was jerked backward. She stumbled into a hard body and paused as she regained her footing. Then she snorted and jerked her head back, slamming her head into the bridge of her assailant's nose. He howled, releasing her to bring his hands up to his face.

I'm alive. For you,

I'm awake. Because of you,

I'm alive. I told you,

I'm awake swallowing you alive!

For you, I'm awake

Because of you, I'm alive.

I told you I'm awake.

She spun and grabbed the vampire by his hair with one hand as the other arm wrapped across his chest to grab his shoulder. She smiled cruelly and tugged in opposite directions with all her strength. There was a moment of silence in which the snap of bones could be heard over the music and then skin and muscle tore. She dropped his head and the vampire turned to dust before his head could hit the floor.

Tearing it back unveiling me

Taking a step back so I can breathe

Hear the silence about to break.

Fear resistance when I'm awake.

Tearing it back unveiling me

Taking a step back so I can breathe

Hear the silence about to break.

Fear resistance when I'm awake.

There was more movement on her right as three more demons came at her before she could face their attack. They tackled her to the ground, each grappling for a hold on her. She hit the ground hard, pushing the air from her lungs in one gasp. She lay there, stunned, as spots danced before her eyes.

For a frightening moment, she couldn't breathe, couldn't think, as her body instinctively struggled against the hands gripping and pulling at her. Then clarity came as the demons successfully pinned her to the grimy hardwood floor of the bar. She flirted briefly with the thought of giving in, accepting the relief death would offer, and a snarl tore from her throat as that familiar darkling thing inside her rebelled. If she was going out, it would be on her terms...never theirs.

She surged up off the floor, head-butting the demon holding her down by her shoulders in the face. He stumbled off to the side and she struck out at the demon straddling her waist. He reared back and she sat up, pressing her advantage. Her fist struck him in the solar plexus and she felt the bones give way to her strength as he flew back into the demon holding her legs still. Her strong legs sent both flying.

Alive for you

I'm awake, because of you

I'm alive, I told you

I'm awake swallowing you

I'm alive, I told you

I'm awake

Because of you I'm alive,

I told you I'm awake

Swallowing you alive

Now free, she stood and faced the suddenly quiet bar. The main demon was standing across from her with his hands in his pockets. He tilted his head and eyed the bodies on the floor, pursing his lips. Two of his goons scrambled to their feet and he sighed as he shook his head.

"Don't bother," He growled at them before returning his attention to her with an aggrieved expression. "It's so hard to find good help these days."

"Scared to try me yourself?" She taunted, crossing her arms over her chest.

"Let's just say common sense says not to," He answered, smirking.

This guy's a fuckin' joke, She thought, shifting to hide her discomfort.

Her side was burning and her knee throbbed in time to her heartbeat. She could feel hot wetness on her skin, causing her shirt to cling to her side and she just knew the stitches were busted. She was certain she'd dislocated her knee when they'd piled on top of her. She glared at the demon.

"Give me one good reason why I shouldn't just kill you now."

 "Just consider it a favor," He held up his hands defensively as her body tensed, "You don't kill me, and the rest of my clan won't come after you for killing a prince."

"You're a real gem," She said sarcastically.

"Thanks," He answered cheerfully.

She shook her head and turned to survey the club. Most of the bar's occupants had taken off during the fight, though a few of the more aggressive demons remained, apparently enthralled by their interaction. She strode towards the door, forcing herself not to limp. She'd had enough of this.

"Hey, one more thing," The demon called after her.

"What?" She growled, pausing with her hand on the door.

"I'd be honored to know the name of the last of the Slayer line," He laughed derisively.

A sudden surge of grieving, hateful rage flooded through her and she inhaled sharply. Her eyes closed briefly in resignation and before anyone could hazard a guess at her response, she unsheathed a knife from her boot and threw it with the unerring accuracy of a Slayer. Her eyes locked on his and a sneering smile curled her lips as he clutched at the knife buried hilt deep in his lower abdomen.

"The name's Faith."



Chapter Two: The Misery You Put Me Through

The door of her motel room was hanging off its' hinges when Faith reached the room. She paused warily, giving her senses free reign. Assured that whatever had done the damage wasn't within range, Faith entered the room, still cautious. She stopped just inside the door and inspected the damage.

The TV had been busted up and the mattress and box spring were shredded, stuffing and warped springs scattered around. The curtains and blinds had been torn from the wall, the drawers pulled from the dresser and nightstand, and the bathroom door was in splinters on the floor. Faith had obviously overstayed her welcome in this town. Or, she'd been found quicker than she'd expected.

Faith stared at the mess impassively. At least she'd learned not to leave stuff in the room. She'd lost a lot of her junk that way. Loss...yeah, Faith had lost a lot of things she wasn't careful enough with.

Her jaw clenched and her nostrils flared as she inhaled unsteadily. The demon prince's words kept playing in her head like a bad CD caught on repeat. The last of the Slayer line—oh, how she hated that title. The first time she'd heard it, it had sent her on a bloody tear through Britain.

The reminder that she was alone once again for the first time since she'd become a Slayer always wrecked her. It was the one thing that always kept her from going the distance back when she'd been working for the Mayor—the thought of being alone frightened her beyond belief. She never could have killed Buffy, and maybe the Mayor had known that. He'd never really pushed for Faith to do it.

What really burned was how she'd gotten that title. It shouldn't be her standing here; she should have been there at her—their side. Instead, she'd been on the run and had been too far away to help when the call came. Faith closed her eyes against the memories and took a shuddering breath as she tried to resurrect her defenses. A walk down memory lane would leave her too vulnerable right now.

This was why she couldn't stop, even for a moment. The memories were always waiting, and she'd drown in them if she didn't keep moving. That was why she tried to lose herself in everything else. She grimaced at the reminder and reopened her eyes to stare blankly at the wall. Faith wasn't even certain she'd picked that coping mechanism up again. She clenched her jaw and stood to go to the bathroom.

She paused in the doorway to stare at the red message scrawled across the mirror above the bathroom sink. You will die, Slayer. Faith snorted softly. Have these guys seen too many horror movies or somethin'? They'd have to stand in line, because they weren't the only ones looking to make that happen.

The mirror bit seemed to be their favorite tactic. She sighed and retrieved a wash cloth from the linen cabinet to wash the blood from the mirror. Then she dropped the cloth in the trash and turned to leave the room. It was time to get some distance before the motel manager caught sight of the damage.

She'd accomplished what she'd stopped to do so another day's stay wouldn't have made a difference. Her cash had been replenished, she'd gotten as much rest as she could, she'd slayed, and she'd boosted her stash. She absently fingered the bag in her front pocket as she exited the motel room. She straddled her motorcycle and then hesitated as she tilted her head and gazed curiously at the motel.

Just what the fuck did I do last night to draw their attention? Her eyebrows furrowed and then she shook her head as she reached for her helmet. The previous night was a blur to her just like so many before it. A twinge in her side reinforced the thought that she needed to get going now.



Faith drew the needle through her flesh, grimacing. The reaction was more habit than a response to any pain. The five beers and the pill she'd taken half an hour ago assured that. She was feeling good. Faith smirked as she picked up the scissors to snip the thread and then she tied it off.

The stitches in her side had popped during the earlier fight in the bar, just as she'd thought. It should have been taken care of earlier, but it wouldn't kill her. It had just made it a little more difficult when she'd removed her shirt earlier. The blood had dried, causing the shirt to stick to the wound.

Faith closed the first aid kit and then threw away the used alcohol pads. Then she slumped back against the headboard. The drug she was on made it almost impossible to focus sometimes and forcing more than a little lucidity drained her energy and her high pretty fast. Her eyesight blurred and she sighed softly as she dug the heels of her hands into her eyes, fighting against the exhaustion.

Her hormones interfered in the effects of the pill as well. The drug itself tended to amplify her emotions and senses. The adrenaline from sex and fighting added in with alcohol and the drug gave her a major rush of endorphins. It was one of the best sources of distraction that Faith had found, though even it had limits. The only real downside she saw in the drug was how it magnified grief or anger.

Faith didn't know the official or even the unofficial name for the drug. She only knew that vampires referred to it as `Fane'. She couldn't exactly recall where she'd first been introduced to it either. She was well aware that her behavior over the last two years was unhealthy but she didn't care.

It was the safest way to cope with the life she lived and her grief without getting herself killed. She still went where her Slayer dreams lead her. At the beginning, she'd tried to ignore the messages from the Powers that Be, especially the dreams. More like the powers that screw you, She thought bitterly. But it had almost driven her crazy as the dreams kept repeating until she finally just went with it.

Faith's jaws unconsciously clenched as she squeezed her eyes shut against the emotion threatening to choke her. While she was determined to die on her own terms, it was bound to happen sooner or later—probably sooner at the rate she was going. Either way it meant that she'd no longer be a tool for the Powers that Be. These days Faith was just twisted enough to actually hope for it.

It hadn't taken her long to derive from her Slayer dreams that she'd only awakened from her coma because the Powers That Be had plans for her. They were going to lose all their other `champions' and she would be the only one left standing. She was only alive because they were determined to fuck her over until the very end. They'd turned their backs on the others and it had resulted in their deaths; in her darkest moments, Faith couldn't help but wonder how long it would be before they did the same to her.

At first those thoughts had suffocated her with fear. But now, she couldn't help but smile in bittersweet acceptance. It was better than most of the other kinds of thoughts she'd had during more sober moments. Some things were better left locked in the back of her mind. She wished she could forget them.

Faith leaned over to turn the radio on. Then she retrieved a cigarette and her black and silver Zippo lighter from the inside pocket of her leather jacket. She lit the cigarette as a familiar song started up. She absently murmured the lyrics as her thoughts continued on the vicious cycle they'd started on.

Tell me exactly what am I supposed to do

Now that I have allowed you to beat me

Do you think that we could play another game?

Maybe I could win this time

She'd betrayed her calling, betrayed her friends; even betrayed her sisters-in-arms. But the worst sins that came to mind were the moments when she chose to betray her heart. She did it so many times, so many ways, all the while knowing just what she was doing. Faith truly did hate herself.

I kind of like the misery you put me through

Darlin' you can trust me completely

If you even try to look the other way

I think that I could kill this time

Rah! Rah!

Rah! Rah!

That last time she'd seen Buffy, calling it a disaster would be an understatement. She could recall the sheer ecstasy she felt as Buffy's struggles grew weaker beneath her. At the time, holding Buffy under water while choking the life out of her had been the most satisfying thing Faith had ever felt. It was the realization that she actually wanted to kill Buffy in that moment that had snapped her out of it.

It was also that very thought that had sent her on the run. As soon as the mission was over and she'd reported to Giles, Faith packed a bag and left. It was less than two weeks later that she realized they were tracking her. Just because she could, she'd turned it into a game, taunting and losing them at will.

It doesn't really seem I'm getting through to you

Though I see you weeping so sweetly

I think that you might have to take another taste

A little bit of hell this time

Rah! Rah!

Enlighten me.

Rah! Rah!

Enlighten me.

Is she not right?

Is she insane?

Will she now...

Run for her life in the battle that ends this day

Four months later, she got the call that shattered her world. All across the world, the Watcher's Council was under attack from an unknown force of demons. She arranged transport to Scotland as quickly as she could, but she'd known she'd never get there in time to help. She immediately began to search for survivors, but as the rumors had stated, no one was left but the ones who'd been turned. Faith was certain the instigators of that assault were responsible for her current set of pursuers.

Is she not right?

Is she insane?

Will she now...

Run for her life now that she lied to me

You always wanted people to remember you

To leave your little mark on society

Don't you know your wish is coming true today?

Another victim dies tonight

Faith reached over and turned off the radio with a vicious stab of her index finger. That song was normally one of her favorites, but not this morning. That last line had sent a shiver up her spine that made her inner Slayer growl with discontent. Faith let out a shuddering breath and shook herself slightly.

She flicked her cigarette ashes into the ashtray on the nightstand and took one last hit before she stubbed the cigarette out. Then she picked up the first aid kit and dropped it on the floor by the bed. She slid down in the bed and reached for the corner of the bed covers she'd tossed aside earlier. She pulled the sheet and comforter up over her and shifted until she was lying comfortably on her back.

She gazed up at the ceiling of the dimly-lit room as she waited for sleep to claim her. She knew it would be a while, but it wasn't as if she had anything else to do. She would have to avoid patrolling for a while, unless a Slayer dream sent her after something particular. Patrolling would draw the attention of the demon community, and she had to avoid that if she wanted to lose her pursuers for a little longer.

It didn't take much for her to figure out what had happened in that last town. She'd been getting more and more careless the longer she allowed herself to be dependant on Fane. She was lucky if she didn't get killed just trying to get her next fix, let alone while fighting under the influence. Faith snorted.

That ain't luck. It's just a little somethin' extra in my fuckin' misery. She closed her eyes resolutely and sighed. Enough of this shit.



Chapter Three: Devastating Reality

(Faith's POV)

I'm in a strange bedroom. The walls are a pristine white and the light oak bookshelf in front of me holds books, some old cassette tapes, and a few small picture frames. A familiar face in one of those photos catches my attention and I reach for the picture frame. It can't be...

"You know I'm not her."

I freeze at the sound of her voice. My breath hitches as my chest aches. I wanna see her, but I'm afraid she won't be there if I turn around. But apparently I ain't got a choice, `cause I'm already movin'.

My heart skips a beat at the sight of her. Blonde hair falls in gentle waves around her shoulders and she's drenched in the sunlight from the window she's leanin' next to. She's wearin' tight low-rise denims and a white baby-T under an oversized dark blue letterman. I can't describe how this feels.

"I'm painfully aware of that."

Wait a sec, what the fuck's goin' on? I didn't say that, but it was definitely my voice. I feel another emotion that I'm on very intimate terms with as I come to a realization—anger. This is a Slayer dream; nothin' good ever comes from one of these things. Fuckin' Powers that Be...

I look around and my eyebrows furrow in confusion. The chick sprawled on the bed is me, but she ain't. My Slayer senses tell me there's somethin' off about her, but I can't figure out what `cause dreams dull my senses. I lean against the wall and study her as I listen to their conversation.

"Good. I'm glad we've got that settled," B mutters and turns to face the other me.

"It wasn't ever really in question," My counterpart says mockingly.

"What the Hell do you want from me?" B growls defensively, exasperated.

The other me snorts derisively at the question and gets up. She shrugs out of her leather trench coat and tosses it on the bed. Then she shoves her hands in her pockets as she strolls across the room until she's in B's personal space. I turn my gaze to see B's reaction.

I raise an eyebrow. The B I know wouldn't be standin' there all relaxed if someone was givin' her attitude like that. It's now that I really look at her. This ain't my B.

There's a yellow `H' stitched into the right shoulder of her jacket. It doesn't take much for me to realize what that means. This is Buffy at fifteen, just after she was called back in LA at Hemory High School. I don't get why the Powers that Be are showin' me this, but I'm sure I will eventually.

Instead of tryin' to figure it out, I'm just gonna listen. Maybe their conversation will tell me what's goin' on and keep me from havin' to put too much thought into it. I doubt it though. The Powers that Be could never make anything that easy, especially for me. Though, come to think of it, I'm pretty sure that they never really made anything all that easy for B or Angel, either.

Before they can continue their conversation, before I can even blink, the scene changes. Now I'm outside and there are people walkin' around me as if I'm not even here. I turn in a slow circle and my eyebrows furrow in confusion at the naggin' sense of familiarity I'm gettin'. My gaze falls on a bulletin board surrounded by a small group of college kids and I freeze in recognition.

U.C. Sunnydale. There's no mistakin' this place. I run my hand through my hair roughly and glance around. I turn to walk off and then freeze as a voice squeals my name.

A commotion out of the corner of my eye draws my attention and I turn back to watch the scene that unfolds. A familiar figure drops a backpack near the bulletin board and then turns to race across the quad. I'm stunned as I watch her leap into a chick's arms. My eyes drift upward and I inhale sharply.

It's me—or, maybe a nightmare version of me. She's dressed in tight preppy khaki pants and a pale blue camisole with a classy black waist-length leather jacket over her shoulders. I don't know which bugs me more, the way she's dressed, or the intimate way her hands are caressin' B's back. She cups the base of B's skull and lowers her head, bringin' their lips together in a passionate exchange.

The sight sends a surge of tangled emotions through me that leaves me shaken. I close my eyes against the scene before me and struggle to close everything out. I don't need that Goddamn image. I don't know what kind of game the Powers are playin', but they need to get to the fuckin' point.

A change in the sounds around me makes my eyes snap open. It's nighttime and I'm now in a cemetery. There's a familiar lookin' crypt directly in front of me and rows of headstones to my left and right. I turn around and find that I'm standin' on a gravel path that leads into a thick copse.

I dimly recognize the place as one of the smaller cemeteries in Sunnydale. The nature noise level drops off as I focus in on the faint sounds of a fight. I don't even have the chance to consider it before I'm runnin' off down the path in the direction it's comin' from. My memory leads me instead of instinct.

I dodge branches that seem to reach out for me and leap over the log in the center of the path. Then I come around a curve in the path and skid to a halt, nearly losin' my balance. My focus ain't on that, though. All my attention is up ahead on the two strugglin' figures as my Slayer senses scream.

Despite the darkness of the night, and the fact that I've never had the chance to it from this angle, there's no doubt about who those fighters are. I've seen one of those faces in the mirror all my life, minus the recent scars, and the other is as familiar as my own. I'm transfixed by the scene. We look fierce.

Buffy suddenly gains the upper hand and slams my counterpart against a tree. She pins her arms up above her head and presses close against her. She laughs as her opponent's struggles increase.

"What makes you think I won't just drain and leave you here for the idiot-brigade to find?"

My counterpart's movements cease and she snaps her head up. Their gazes lock for a long moment. The tension wavers and snaps almost tangibly as they size each other up. She smirks.

"Because you ain't the soulless bitch you want `em to think you are."

My mind freezes as their discussion registers. She's a fuckin' vamp? Jesus, no wonder I feel like someone's hooked me up to the mains; the few turned Slayers I've come across made my senses go fuckin' insane. Fuck, that's just... I don't even have words for what that is. I feel a little ill.

"It's completely disturbing, isn't it?"

I inhale sharply. Those two are still deeply involved in each other like it usually goes when me and Buffy are throwin' down. The words came from behind me, from someone my senses only now choose to register. I blink slowly, warily acknowledging what I already know.

I tense up when she moves closer and a faint tremblin' starts deep inside my belly. I ain't gotta look to know who it is. There's only one Slayer who's ever made my senses hum like this. I bite down on my bottom lip to keep from cryin' out and I have to force myself to stay in place.

No fuckin' way am I gonna let her know how much she shakes me by givin' into what my body's urgin' me to do. Just a few words and every defensive wall I've put in place in the last few years is about to come crashin' down around me. The emotions I've been closin' myself off from are risin' up and I'm probably gonna choke on `em. I just know this dream's gonna have some lastin' effects.

"What, you're not going to say hello?" She asks, teasin' me as she moves around to come face to face with me, pressing close into my right side as she does.

"What's disturbin'?" I ask, playin' her game as I edge away from her a little.

"Me as a vampire," She answers, her face screwin' up in disgust.

"There are worse things," I reply dryly, tryin' so, so fuckin' hard to pretend this isn't everything I want. Seeing her... "Like the first scene in my dreams tonight; you as a fifteen year old—very scary."

 "I've missed you," She laughs softly, gazin' up at me.

The scene around us fades but I barely notice the change. Now we're left in a blindingly white nothingness that encompasses everything. Her previous words echo in my head and I glare at her. I don't wanna let her know how much she shakes me, but I'm afraid she can see right through me.

"Why are you here?" I ask bluntly.

She gives me a sad smile and shrugs as she slips her hands into her back pockets, lookin' cutely innocent. Her head lowers briefly and then she looks up at me through a curtain of hair. The pressure in my chest tightens just that much more at the sight and I swallow hard past the lump in my throat.

"The Powers needed a new mouthpiece to handle you and I'm the one they chose," B shrugs.

"But, Heaven..." I trail off, concerned.

"Oh, God, no," She protests, catchin' my drift. "No, Faith. They have other ways for me to come to you without taking me away from my rest. I'm still exactly where I'm supposed to be."

"But this is really you, right?" I question quickly. "I mean, I can feel you."

"Yeah, I'm probably more myself now than I've ever been," B smiles coyly.

So many questions are goin' through my head right now. But I don't give into the torrent of words on the tip of my tongue. Most of my energy's goin' into resistin' the need to take her into my arms. I want so bad to feel her, to smell her scent again, but I'll lose any ounce of control I have if I give in.

"What happened to Whistler?" I ask, tryin' to put my focus elsewhere. I've only met him once and came damned close to endin' him that night. Yeah, I really don't like that creep.

 "I'm thinking that they've realized that any solid emissary they send to speak to you will end up taking on the brunt of your frustrations," B says dryly, then gives me a serious look. "But that's not what we're here to talk about. I need you to listen to me. I mean, really listen to me here, okay?"

"Aight," I answer reluctantly. "I'm listenin', B."

"The Powers set a deal into motion to stop something that would've obliterated whole realities and maybe even dimensions, and that deal has some dangerous side-effects," She explains. "They'll need someone to deal with the fallout, that someone being you. But they need something from you, first."

There's a ball of tension formin' in my gut. None of what she's sayin' sounds good to me. In fact, it sounds kinda like a resolution that would be reserved as a last resort—like sendin' less than thirty kids, eight adults, and a vamp into a Hellmouth with an iffy spell and a gaudy trinket. But considerin' that I'm the last champion left in this reality, I guess they're kinda desperate. Yeah, they'd have to be.

"What?" I ask.

Her eyes close briefly and when they open again I can see raw grief in their hazel depths. She gives me a look that I can't understand and that ball of tension in my stomach just had babies. I've never had anyone give me a look so full of emotion before. She lets out a shudderin' breath.

"You have to die."



Chapter Four: Letting Go

It was the wooden door splintering into pieces that woke her. Faith was awake and moving in the same instant. Her feet hit the threadbare carpet just as the first one entered. She was going on pure instinct even as more demons slipped and shoved their way inside her small motel room.

Faith dropped into a defensive crouch and slipped her hand around the hilt of the short-sword that she'd stashed under the bed upon her arrival. The first demon came at her and she straightened, lashing out with the well-sharpened blade. The sword left a gaping wound in his gut and she leapt up, kicking out at him and sending him flying back into the demons crowding in behind him.

She twirled the sword and watched as the demons shoved their dying companion aside. She idly noted that this group was mixed, and most were recognizable from past experiences. The one that worried Faith the most was the Strom Demon, as she'd once seen one survive a shot-gun blast to the face. She winced at the memory, yet another painful one, as she parried a strike from a baseball bat.

She used the opening in her attacker's defenses to quickly plunge her sword into his gut as she executed a double kick to an approaching demon's knee. The bone gave way on the last kick and she smiled grimly. Then she felt a change in the air and slipped to the side just in time to see a sliver of white shoot past her. She moved so that the demons in front of her were blocking any further projectiles.

Parry, thrust, right-hook, slice, triple kick, roundhouse kick, parry, parry, slice; it all became a blur as she lost herself to the inner rhythm of the fight. It had been so long since she'd been in a fight anywhere near this magnitude—a fact that she tried not to dwell on. She couldn't afford any doubts. She could only hope that her reflexes hadn't been dulled by time and lack of use.

She threw an uppercut at an opponent and started to follow it up with another punch. Faith missed her target when a huge, hairy mammoth of a demon grabbed him and shoved him back out of the way. The new demon gestured at the rest and they backed away slightly.

She didn't wait to see what he would do. Hesitation would only insure that she'd be the loser in this altercation. When she was fighting, it never occurred to her that she might want to lose. When the fire of the fight was racing through Faith's veins, making her body pulse, the only thought the Slayer's instincts made room for was that she wasn't going to go easily.

Faith's fourth punch missed when her opponent slipped to the side and he took advantage of the small opening it left. He slammed a massive fist into her gut and then as she was struggling to breathe past the pain, he hit her again, the force of it shoving her back. She crashed into the nightstand and absently felt the lamp shatter beneath her, the glass shards digging into her back. She ignored it as she regained her footing and threw herself back into the task of taking him down.

Somehow she'd managed to keep hold of her sword throughout the entire thing. This time she was more careful, she forced herself to relax, forced her breathing to regulate as she took measure of her current opponent. Despite the fact that he looked like a humanoid buffalo, he obviously wasn't stupid. It took everything in her not to act on the tension begging to be let loose inside of her.

She didn't stop to think about why they weren't attacking en masse. It wouldn't make much of a difference to her. It was just one more thing she'd have to worry about when this was over with. Now just wasn't the time to think, anyway. Enough of this shit.

She threw a few testing swipes at the demon and then she feinted a combination of strikes to his upper and lower torso. Then she was moving forward, into his guard, shoving past his startled defensive reflex to shove her back, and her blade slipped through his belly with ease. She smiled grimly as she twisted it and she saw the light dim in his eyes as she dragged the blade back out. She moved back, let his body hit the floor, and then she moved forward to meet the next attack.

It didn't take long. The demons exchanged looks ranging from startled, to pissed, to... Amused? Faith shook her head at that one and they apparently took it as a signal. Five of the demons came at her and she grimaced because this time, it was a group of three Strom Demons.

Oh, how she hated nearly invincible demons. Sorry, Dick. She couldn't help a hoarse laugh at that thought. But it wasn't funny, because it brought with it memories she didn't need, now or ever.

They obviously didn't know she'd seen their kind before. She snickered as she wondered briefly how her old piñata Frances was doing. She shook it off as the first green-skinned demon came at her, brandishing a scythe like the ones she'd seen in old drawings of Death. She only sneered at him as she met his blade with her own in an awkward parry.

Really kinda wishin' I had my own scythe, She mused internally. If only to show this motherfucker what a real scythe is.

Unfortunately, there was no way to tell where it was. She hadn't been able to find it in the rubble of the Scotland headquarters. And she'd tried, though she'd been half-insane at the time. She liked to tell herself it was from anger, but she'd known better then, and she knew better now.

It pissed her off to think that a demon had it. Because she knew—she just knew—that whoever had it now was probably the one who'd killed Buffy. She wanted his blood on her hands in the worst kind of way. It had taken her weeks to fight her way out of that dark cesspool of emotion, and she'd utterly devastated the supernatural community in Scotland by that point.

Faith didn't have any way of knowing if it'd just been the evil ones she'd taken out her grief on, or if the neutrals had borne it as well. She didn't care, though. Something had made plans as big as to take out the entire Watcher's Council and even the pacifists had to have known, and still they hadn't said a word, had given them no warning. Nothing could convince her otherwise and nothing ever would.

She kicked the scythe out away from the Strom Demon and before he could recover, she hit him with a left uppercut and then brought her blade around in a sweeping blow that decapitated him. She'd never minded getting dirty in a fight. But these guys really made it nasty, because when you took their heads off, their bodies exploded.

She didn't even have a chance to turn her head this time. She got a face full of gore and she was forced to ignore it despite that it was slimy and sick as it slid down her face when an enraged demon came at her. Oh, great... Faith grumbled internally as she met his desperate and angry attacks.

"Bitch," He snarled as a stray punch clipped her shoulder. "That was my brother!"

"Should've kept baby bro out of the fight, then," Faith returned, launching a kick at a demon trying to come up on her right side as she sliced the sword through the Strom Demon's belly.

She knew she needed to get out of the room, to take this fight somewhere a little more in the open. But at the moment, there wasn't a way to do so. They were crowding together between her and the door. And she could sense even more of them waiting outside the motel.

Faith didn't want to think about how many occupants of the motel were probably dead. So instead, she let go. Over the years she'd learned to exert some control over the demon essence inside of her, learned to keep its' darkness from swallowing her again. And now she just let it go.

Blood sprayed out from a neck wound her blade left behind, leaving a pattern of bluish-black blood across the dingy walls. Hot and pungent, a line of it trickled down her nose as she pivoted, twirling her sword around her hand before plunging it into the chest of a demon. She laughed and moved on.

Faith took more than a few down before it happened. Faith came face to face with a she-demon. Her roughened skin was ruddy, bare except a cloth over her groin and if she were human, Faith might've been distracted by her breasts. Instead, Faith smirked as she rotated her wrist and brought the sword up between the demon's thighs, powering the stroke until her blade lodged in the demon's breastbone.

Then Faith felt powerful arms clamp down around her, pinning her arms to her sides. She was forced to let go of the hilt of her sword and she let out a low growl of warning. It was ignored. Huge biceps flexed, almost crushing her arms and she slammed her head back.

She felt cartilage collapse and a spray of blood dampened her sweat-slicked hair, and still her captor didn't release her. Then the rest of the demons were moving in and incredibly, Faith froze. It wasn't fear. It was a thought, a memory, and it rendered her helpless, defenseless even.

"You have to die."

The dream, it came rushing back. That fuckin' dream, Some part of her that wasn't immersed in the memory snarled impotently. She had a feeling that it was the same part that had kept her alive when all she'd wanted was to lie down in the ruins of their headquarters and rest in peace. But that dream, it wasn't really a dream and she knew she wasn't going to get any peace or rest where she was going.

No, there's no rest for the wicked, and if the Powers have their way, it'll be anything but peaceful. That thought was enough to snap her out of it. A demon reached out a clawed hand towards Faith's throat and she twisted to the side just enough to let it bypass her. There was a pained hiss and the demon holding her went lax and Faith took the opportunity to escape.

Faith was frantic now. It was panic and rage induced and there was no control to grasp. Faith was running on instinct, and unfortunately, her instincts had always gotten her into trouble in the end. Faith flinched away from the memories yet again and fought with everything she had and everything she was.

Still, it just wasn't enough. Faith was outnumbered, now unarmed, and it was too much. It was too much because now Faith could remember that dream and the woman in it. And there was pain and it was overwhelming anything else she might have been feeling. She just wanted to see Buffy again.

It was pain that was old and new and terrifying all at once. And it was to be her downfall. The demons had her again, this time it was another mixed group of demons that were too large and too strong. She was cornered with no idea of how she'd gotten there and then she felt pain of another kind.

Everything slowed to a stop, every part of Faith's attention narrowed to one point on her own body. Faith's eyes drifted down and as if she couldn't believe what she saw, she clutched feebly at the knife handle. It was real and it was there and... Oh, fuck it hurts. Yeah, she'd been there before.

"You killed me," Faith whispered, remembering another time and another place.

Faith moved her hand away and looked at it, confusion creasing her brow. It was covered in blood and for a brief moment she couldn't remember why there was blood. Then the confusion cleared as an oh-so-helpful demon grabbed the hilt and twisted as he removed the knife. A fresh wave of pain swept over her as the demons stepped away and she felt herself sliding down the wall.

"You have to die."

That memory resounded, pulling at Faith's attention. Her hands absently clutched at the wound as she slumped over on the floor. But her mind wasn't there now. It was on golden hair and hazel eyes and a smile that told Faith again how much she'd been missed and a voice that made Faith's chest ache.

Faith didn't feel the hot blood soaking her skin. Faith didn't feel the queasiness in her stomach or the chilling numbness spreading through her limbs. Faith didn't notice her eyes slipping shut as they grew heavy. She didn't feel her breathing growing shallow, didn't feel her heart stuttering.

No, all Faith felt were the fingers running through her hair, the lips brushing her ear as warm, minty breath washed across her cheek. She felt warm sunlight caressing her skin and strands of hair tickling her forehead. She felt the tingles running up her spine and that throb starting low in her belly.

"Easy now, easy," The familiar voice whispered, "Go gently, Faith. Let it go."

And so she did because there was no one else she trusted as much as the owner of that voice. In a rundown motel room full of demons, Faith Lehane let go one last time on her native earthly realm. Her hands flexed on her stomach and then went lax. Her chest rose and fell, once, twice, thrice, and then stilled. Her pulse fluttered anxiously for a long moment until it grew weaker and then it, too, stilled.



Chapter Five: The Heart Has Its' Reasons

(Faith's POV)

The emotions bring me awake slowly. I haven't ever felt anything like this. So much warmth and it's not just from the sunlight. The warmth encompasses me, givin' me this sense of complete wellbein' that I don't know what to do with. For the first time ever, I don't wake up with rage burnin' me up.

The next thing I register is the body coiled closely around mine. Weird enough, I don't even feel like shovin' away from `em, not even a little of my usual defenses stir. It's like my body knows who it is even if I don't. I don't know if I like it, or if I hate it. I've never had this kind of certainty about anyone.

Then I feel the familiar, soothin' tingles runnin' up my spine and the hot throbbin' in my belly and I know who's holdin' me so intimately without even havin' to look. I have to force myself to move `cause my body really likes it where it is—and if I'm truthful, so do I. But it's like I can't even dredge up an ounce of anger and I can't just let myself trust that. It feels too good for me to trust this. I roll up onto my feet and glare down at her but all she does is shift up onto her elbows and smile up at me.

I'm stunned by the beauty of it all for a breathless moment. For that brief span of time, all I can see is B. She's lyin' in the shadows of a huge tree, sunlight filterin' through the leaves to dance over the green silk button-up shirt and tight faded blue jeans she's wearin'. She's surrounded by grass greener than any I've ever seen, and a vivid array of wildflowers that give off a heavenly scent.

Then it comes floodin' back—the fight, the knife... Oh fuck. I gasp as my knees give out and I collapse to the ground. I clutch uselessly at the grass as I look up at B, resentful and grateful and so much more all at once. She's the reason I gave up, but I'm so grateful that I'm finished and I'm utterly terrified `cause I got no idea what comes after this. What the fuck do they want from me this time?

I ain't even aware of the tears I'm sheddin' `til B reaches up and brushes `em away. I don't know when she got so close, either. This place is ruinin' me. I wanna move away but I can't make myself this time. When B pulls me into her arms, the only thing I can do is fall into her. I hate the relief I feel.

She gathers me closer, holdin' me tight against her. I wanna scream, wanna shove her away, and ask her what the fuck's wrong with her. She never would've done this when we were alive. But I ain't really gotta ask, `cause I just know this place is gettin' under her skin the same way it is mine.

I tangle my fingers in her shirt, rubbin' my face against her shoulder. Bein' this close to her is what I've always wanted and I can't find the drive to fight it just now. I'm surrounded by the citrusy-vanilla scent that I've always associated with B and she's holdin' me so close instead of pushin' me away. Add to that the sense of utter contentment this place gives me and I don't want to fight it.

I'm able to forget it all for a moment—this place, the Powers, demons, realities, scars, family, friends, the past, anger, death, hate, everything is just gone. I'm able to sink into that firm yet yieldin' body for the first time ever. I find peace in the arms of my heart, my soul, my other half, in the last place I'd ever have expected it to happen in. And then reality comes crashin' back down on me and it hurts.

I tear myself out of her arms, shovin' her away with less heat than I mean to as I scramble backwards. I slam back into an invisible barrier and it takes me a second to register that I'm not movin' anymore. B looks at me, hurt etched deeply. My only response is to give her a look of enraged disbelief.

"This is just a fuckin' bad trip, ain't it? I took too much Fane or drank too much and passed out."

 "What?" She gives me a knowin' look and sighs, "Faith, it isn't. It's real, I swear, baby—"

I'm up in a flash and standin' over her. I grab the front of her shirt and jerk her up, bringin' us face to face. I snarl as I shrug off the spell this place is tryin' to weave. I can't let them win, I'm too afraid to `cause I won't be able to handle the pain that's gonna come when they extract their price.

"What the fuck am I doin' here, then? We both know Heaven ain't a place for someone like me," I laugh derisively. "Think there's more than a few demons just dyin' to get their hands on me downstairs."

"Faith, this is a gift from the Powers," She says softly, her fingers comin' up to gently stroke my fist as she tries to make me relax. "To make up for what you've had to go through."

"Then just who the fuck are you?" I growl, jerkin' my hand away and steppin' back. "'Cause Buffy Summers would never hold me the way you did. And she sure as fuck wouldn't call me baby."

"Faith," She says sadly. "I know we've had a lot of problems. But being back here gave me a measure of peace to work through some things, to really see the stuff I should've seen when I was alive. It's given me time to deal with everything I felt while I was alive, everything I still feel."

Her words hit me like a sledge hammer and I choke back yet more tears. I can believe what she says about this bein' a gift, as difficult as it is to accept, but the rest... I shake my head in denial, refusin' to believe it. `Cause then it'll make everything we went through hurt all that much more.

`Cause if she felt the same way I do—did, and still pushed me away, still closed me out, still chose Angel, Riley, Spike, and everyone else over me? That won't just break me, it'll shatter me. Anger, hate, irritation, failure—I can take all of those. But don't ask me to deal with that.

To know that she loved me and I still couldn't measure up to her expectations? Or that she was too ashamed, too disgusted, to accept that she loved me? That would be too much for my heart to take. But I look into her eyes and I can see the truth of her words, no matter how hard I try not to.


My voice is ragged, harsh from the pain she's inflictin'. I don't even have to explain to her what I mean. Why wasn't I good enough, why was it so wrong to love me, why did I make her so sick? It's all there in my voice and I can see by the fresh look of wounded agony that B felt every meanin'.

This time I don't step away when she reaches out to me. I let her hand cup the back of my head, let the fingers of her left hand caress my face. But I don't lean into it. I fight that urge, fight to keep my eyes open just so I can see her for a little bit longer. She's here. She's... she's real?

"Oh, Faith," She murmurs, steppin' closer. "It wasn't that. It was never because of you."

"Then what was it?" I whisper, achin' to give in, despite myself.

"I love Angel," B says gently and I try to turn away as her words cut into me but she won't let me. She tugs my hair gently, forcin' me to look at her. "But what I feel for him is like a candle flame when compared to what you make me feel, to the bonfire you ignited inside me that first night."

She's so close to me now that she's all I can smell, all I can feel. I blink slowly, dazedly, as her thumb grazes my bottom lip. I hadn't realized I was smirkin' `til just now. I shrug sheepishly.

What does she expect? She's touchin' me so gently, in such a way that I've never even known was possible, let alone dreamed of, sayin' things I never thought I'd hear from her of all people. She has to have expected that to make me feel at least a little bit cocky. I'm a proud, proud woman. She knows.

"That intensity scared me," She sighs. "I'd been so close to sacrificing everything just on the off-chance that I could save Angel. And I knew, without thought, that if I gave into what I feel for you, I would give up everything to save you, and I didn't even know how. Then Angel came back and gave me a solid excuse to deny everything, `cause I couldn't hurt him, and then things started to spin out of control."

Hearin' her put it into those words, how can I stay angry, or even hurt? I get it. I can understand fear. Fear is my constant companion. Hell, I was, and still am, frightened of the way I feel for her.

It made us push each other away. It made us shut down the parts of us that call out for the other, the parts of us that feel the other as if we're one and the same. Fear was the main drivin' force that made everything go so horribly wrong in Sunnydale. It was fear that made me abandon them just when they needed me most, fear that kept me from bein' at B's side when she needed me most.

I take a shaky breath as my thoughts threaten to delve into subjects too painful to deal with. We'll have to deal with all those issues soon enough, no matter how much I'd rather not. But right now, I just can't, not yet. I don't know how long we have, and I don't want to waste it on the past.

"So where's everyone else?"

It's about as subtle as a Mack truck, but that's never been one of my strong suits anyway. All I care is that the subject change works. Though for a sec, it seems like B's gonna call me on it. Then she sighs and I'm flooded with relief as she steps away to settle back on the ground.

"They really wanted to be here, to see you again. But they didn't want to overwhelm you," She admits. "So they decided to let me help you adjust to being here before they overwhelm you."

She pats the ground to her left, gesturin' for me to sit down. I contemplate ignorin' the offer, and then I shrug internally. I allow myself to sink down onto the grass next to her, keepin' just a bit of space between us. I'm feelin' a little awkward, and I hate it.

There's so much between us that's bein' left unsaid. She's had time to deal with the past, but I've spent the last couple of years runnin' from anything that made me feel. I want to tell her everything, and at the same time, I'm afraid to. And for the first time in two years, I'm ashamed of what I've been doin'.

I've spent the last two years fillin' my body with whatever I could get a hold of; drugs, alcohol, sex—the source didn't matter to me so long as it drowned everything else out. I didn't care what else it did to me, or how much danger it put me in when I knew demons were lookin' for me. I went out lookin' for fights like that, not carin' that it made me sloppy. I barely cared if I was endangerin' anyone else.

I fucked whoever came along. Sometimes for whatever I needed a fix of, sometimes just `cause I needed somethin' more when everything else failed to do the job. I did whatever they wanted, let `em take me however and wherever they wanted. I whored my body and my blood out to vampires for a drug.

How do I explain how low I went to someone I love? Or does she all ready know? Just the thought of her knowin' what I've done makes it so, so hard to look at her. Bein' this close to her, knowin' how dirty I am, makes me feel guilty and disgusted with myself. She shouldn't be anywhere near me.

"D—do you think maybe we can go see them?" I'm shakin'.

B looks at me, brow furrowed in thought. She's silent for a long moment as she considers my request. Then her shoulders slump and she nods sharply. She lets her gaze drop.

"Sure, come on."

My heart clenches in regret as she stands up. I can hear the disappointment, the hurt, in B's voice and I wanna apologize. I wanna beg for forgiveness, `cause I didn't mean to hurt her. But I can't.

If I do, then she'll wanna know why I'm tryin' to get away from her. She'll wanna know what's wrong. And I can't do it; I just can't bring myself to utter those words to her. I don't wanna find out if she already knows, and I won't be the one to tell her how much of a fuckin' whore I really am.

She offers me a hand up and I ignore it. I get up, evadin' her outstretched hand as I dust the seat of my pants off. A glance down almost makes me laugh. I'm wearin' a pair of loose black leather pants and a white wife beater, both well-worn, yet cleaner than anything I've owned in a while.

"Give me your hand," She commands.

I shoot a startled look at her. She's still holdin' her hand out towards me. I give her a confused look. She's gonna have to explain that, `cause I ain't doin' it unless I have to.

I want to; God knows I wanna wrap my arms around her and never let her go. But I can't. For one, the last thing she needs is someone like me touchin' her. For another thing, every time I touch her, I lose just a little more of myself to this place and that dangerous spell. And I just know that if I let it win, this place is gonna make me spill my guts about everything I don't wanna talk about now.

"Why?" I ask stubbornly.

"We can shift to where they're waiting," She says, exasperated. "But you don't know how to lock onto them yet, so I'm gonna have to be your guide until you get the hang of it."

"What do you mean, shift?"

"It's like teleporting, but not quite. The Upper Realm consists of millions of these little pocket dimensions, each of which can be manipulated by occupants to appear as they want it. It's all done using telekinesis, and other psychic stuff that Will, Giles, or even Wes and Andy could tell you more about. But anyway, if you close your eyes, you can sort of shift through the dimensions."

Yeah, that's about as clear as molasses. But I guess I can deal. It's pretty obvious I have no other choice when she grabs my hand. She shoots me a questionin' look.

"You ready?"

No, not really. But I can't give her that answer. That'll lead to that talkin' thing I don't wanna do and I'll have to explain that I'm freaked about seein' them again too. I straighten my back and shrug.

"We might as well get it over with."

"Okay, close your eyes or you'll wind up losing the dinner you didn't have."

I frown at her statement, but I don't have time to question her. The space around us starts to blur, shades of the rainbow bleedin' into each other as I feel a weird, almost ticklish friction against my skin. I slam my eyes shut, the meanin' of her warnin' registerin' as my stomach churns. The last thing I want right now is to puke while I can still feel the ghost of the pain from that knife carvin' up my insides.



Chapter Six: Of Which Reason Knows Nothing Of

(Buffy's POV)

Two years. It's been two years, seven months, four days, three hours, twenty-six minutes, and counting since I last saw her in person. That memory still burns. Out of everything that's ever happened in my life, she's the one thing I haven't been able to let go of, despite where I am.

I've wanted her since I first saw her. I ache for her. It's something not even Angel has ever inspired in me. I love him, but I've never needed him so much it hurt this way.

Loving Angel hurt for all the wrong reasons. As much denial as we were in when he returned from Hell, I couldn't ever truly have him again. We both knew. I'd already said my goodbyes.

Loving Faith isn't usually painful in the true sense; it's feeling so much so strongly that it makes me ache. I ache to see her, to speak to her, to touch her, to hold her, to kiss her. I ache to have her watch me, speak to me, touch me, hold me, kiss me, to have me. I just ache for Faith.

It scared me. Angel only ever inspired giddiness and curiosity. Faith inspires passion. And I knew, looking into her eyes as she introduced herself, I could never willingly sacrifice her for anyone.

I pushed her away and continued to until the pain became too much for us. We overcompensated as we tried to just be friends and an innocent paid the price. Seeing her with blood on her hands, my fears made themselves known again and became a self-fulfilling prophecy. I tried too hard to help her when all she needed was for me to stand by her side and I finished what I'd started months before then.

I can't describe the horror I felt in the months that came. I can't describe the pain. Then that self-fulfilling prophecy came to a head the night she poisoned Angel. I had to choose; my first love, my friends, my family, the world, or the woman that even though she was my enemy, I still ached for.

The night before graduation was the night I just shut down. I didn't understand it, and no one else realized it then, or even in the years that followed. They thought it was something that just began when I was resurrected. That's just another example of how self-absorbed we all were in life.

That night at the hospital wasn't the last time I visited her. My solo-patrols usually ended up going the route of the hospital so I could drop in and see her, always telling myself it was the last time. I couldn't tell anyone. They were all so angry with her and it hurt to think about her, so I said nothing.

Need, want, hope, fear, pain, guilt, anger, love; those are only some of the things I felt when I heard she was awake. I felt each of those things as strongly as I have ever felt anything for her. But the guilt was double sided. I felt guilty for her waking up in the hospital alone, and I felt so guilty because I loved her in a way Riley never stood a chance against. I felt guilty because, even then, I ached for her.

The moment I heard her voice in the quad at U.C. Sunnydale, it all came crashing down around me and my heart hurt. I tried to get her to back down, but I knew it was hopeless. She was still angry, still hurt, still lashing out in all of her fear induced rage. And Willow just kept making it worse.

I just wanted Willow to stop. I thought that maybe if I could get Faith alone, I could get her to see reason. But Willow just couldn't stay out of it. I hated her a little for it, and did for a while.

I wouldn't tell her that, of course. She may be my best friend. But she was also judgmental and jealous and so much more when it came to Faith when we were alive. She always was.

Then Faith took my mom hostage and I shut down just a little more. It was enough that I could go after her again without feeling the pain immediately. No, that waited until it was all over. In the meantime, I had to deal with the fallout, meaning the body swap and the Council's goons.

Riley. I was so angry that she'd slept with him, but it was for all the wrong reasons. It should have been me she was with. But, then, I've always felt that spark of jealous rage whenever any of her conquests were brought up, especially if they were someone that I actually knew.

Don't get me started on how I felt when I first found out that she'd slept with Xander. That felt like betrayal. It still stings a little if I think about it too much. That's why I try not to.

Cordy called and told me that Faith was in LA and that Angel was set on helping her. I was angry, yet again for the wrong reasons. He was helping her. And she wouldn't even let me try.

Of course, those were things that I never would have admitted to anyone, let alone myself. Instead, I hid behind words that were far from the truth. I hid behind the façade I let everyone see. I lied and let them think that it was Angel I was there for, when it was Faith; it's always been Faith.

Subconsciously, I wanted to hurt her as badly as she hurt me. I was angry at myself and her; me, for still wanting her, her, for making me a victim. I was disgusted with myself, too. One word, one look, one touch, and I'd be well on my way to forgiving her and I couldn't let it happen.

I was harsh. I was unrelenting. At least until I was alone again. Then I cried.

It was both reflex and necessary that I continued to shut down after that. It was the only way I could cope. I wanted her and I couldn't have her. It almost drove me insane.

I never forgot her, not even for a moment. Patrol, I wanted her watching my back. Eating, I wanted to tease her about her appetite. Arousal, it was her on my mind, and I craved her.

I wanted to call Faith when we discovered what Glory was, and again when we figured out why she was there. Faith was the only person I truly trusted with Dawn's safety, even after everything she did. I had to settle for Spike. The gang couldn't have accepted Faith's help and I was still too angry at us both.

Then I died. I remember more than I ever told them back then. I didn't want to share that with them. I was too angry at them for resurrecting me, for pulling me back into that Hell.

I remembered mom soothing me as I transitioned from living to the afterlife. I remembered my confusion. I remembered fighting to hold onto everything. And I remembered absolute acceptance.

Then they dragged me back. Then it was absolute fear and pain and coldness and rage again. I completely shut down. And then I took it out on Spike; every nasty, violent thought I had.

It was all about feeling. I was angry and hurt and the one person that could make it all better was locked up away from me. Spike invoked passion without love. That was what drew me to him.

He reminded me of Faith. He was rough, crude, unrestrained violence. He smelled of cigarettes, leather, whiskey, and blood. He could incite me, even if it was nowhere near as well as she does.

I could close my eyes and think of Faith and he'd disappear. The first time I realized it was before the sexual aspect of our relationship even began. It was the night Sweet came to town. The words he sang to me could have come from Faith lips for all that they made me feel and think of.

I was just happy when that was all over and no one seemed any wiser about the meanings behind most of the lyrics I sang. They didn't need to know how long I'd just been going through the motions. They didn't need to know how long I'd been shut down to the point that I just didn't care. They didn't need to know that Dawn wasn't the only one calling to me through the smoke.

Things started to make sense to me again after a while. The fear and rage faded some. Gradually, as much as I still hurt, I realized I didn't need him as a substitute anymore. It was time to stop.

The night Spike tried to rape me was one of the worst experiences of my life. It wasn't just that the very act itself frightened me, `cause it wasn't the first time that's happened to me. Some of our darker games hadn't been too different, and Xander tried when the Hyena possessed him. It was because of who Spike represented for me, and it hurt so much to think of her violating me like that.

That's why it was so easy for me to forgive Spike later. Even as he was trying to force my legs apart, something inside of me still refused to see him as Spike. And the part that knew and accepted the truth forgave him because I felt that I deserved it. I'd used him, knowing how he felt.

The night Faith came back into my life, I realized that even though she had changed, nothing else had. I still ached for her. I wanted nothing more than to throw my arms around her, so instead, I punched her. I wasn't going to make it easy for her after everything I'd gone through.

I didn't like that just seeing Faith made me want to trust her again. I didn't want to trust her again. I didn't want to need her. I didn't want any of the things she made me feel.

I fought it. Even as we were sitting on my bed talking, I fought against what I felt. I fought against the urge to tell her everything, `cause I didn't want her to be my confessor. Resistance grew a whole lot easier when I learned that she'd had sex with Robin, in my bed!

It was bad enough that she'd had sex with someone that wasn't me. It was bad enough that it was someone that we both knew, even someone I'd had a date with. Hell, it was bad enough just hearing about it. But of all the places she could do it, did she have to do it in my freaking bed? It was so wrong.

That night could have been the base for a truce that could have become a solid friendship, or maybe more. Could've, should've, would've, right? But we didn't get the chance to. She was restricted to the US, so she decided to stay with Wood for a while, and the rest of us relocated to Scotland.

I'll admit that I was bitter about that. The rational part of me knew I had no right to ask her to be alone when I wasn't willing to give her anything in return just yet. But there's nothing rational about love, ever. And in the following months, any progress we'd made was destroyed bit by bit.

The next time we saw each other was the last. I really should have known better. But I saw her there, and I could feel it like a knife in my heart, and I broke. Then I did what I always did.

I returned the favor. I pushed Faith until she broke, again. It was her tears that brought me back to reality. Then, before I could even try to fix what I'd broken, Willow pulled me out.

I was so angry with Giles. But I wasted time fighting with him over what he'd bribed her to do. I wasted time that I could have spent tracking her down personally. I screwed up, again.

Things were difficult enough with Twilight after us. It just got worse when the first of the attacks began. They were just small blitz raids on random Slayer squads. It wasn't enough to concern us.

Then the attacks increased and we lost a few girls. I suddenly found myself unable to spare any time or people in looking for Faith, and I knew in my heart that no one else would catch her anyway. It wasn't just my ego talking. I just know Faith, and if she doesn't want to be found, then she won't be.

Four months to the day after Faith left, we were taken off guard. We hadn't expected such a vicious all-out attack. They'd kept things relatively small scale. No one could have expected them to launch a full scale attack on every one of our bases and our headquarters in Scotland.

The memory's been dulled. Unlike what I thought of them when I was alive, the Powers that Be do show some mercy. Our lives left each of us too raw for us to maintain the full brunt of our memory and accept the peace they offered. They cushion us from the emotions that go with the memories.

Thinking back on it now, I can objectively say we didn't stand a chance. They came too quickly for us to stem the tide. We didn't go easy, though. We took them and the castle down with us.

I remember getting trapped. I remember trying to get out. I remember choking on the smoke for hours and I remember the fire burning in my chest. I remember killing every demon I came across.

I remember telling Dawn I was so sorry. I remember begging her to forgive me. I remember holding her as she fell asleep one last time. I remember just wanting to follow her.

I was crying as I closed my eyes that final time. I could hear my mother's voice in my ear, telling me that everything would be okay. I could feel her fingers combing through my hair again. I could feel the sunshine warming my skin and I could smell her familiar, comforting scent all around me.

I understand Faith's reaction when she comes around. It's not an easy transition. But it still hurts when she pulls away. I'm aching for her and knowing, again, that I can't have her—at least, not yet.



Chapter Seven: Once More, with Meaning

(Faith's POV)

"You can open your eyes now," B says, gigglin'. "In fact, I'd seriously recommend it."

Her warnin' comes just a second too late, and I know it was on purpose. My eyes open to the sight of Dawn launchin' herself at me. I don't even have the chance to plant my feet on the floor before she slams into me. We topple over backwards even as her arms wrap around me, and I hit the floor, hard.

"Little D," I choke out, half-winded, half-surprised.

"Faith," D squeals, wigglin' on top of me a little as she tries to get closer.

"Ugh," I grunt as her knee catches me right in the groin. I try to squirm out from under her but she just clings tighter. "Y'know, last I checked, you'd grown out of this stage."

That's understatin' things a bit. Little D was more interested in glarin' me into submission last time I saw her, rather than wrestlin' me into submission. Now, she just ignores my protest and proceeds to bury her face in my chest as she tries to hug me to death or whatever. Actually, I think this type of thing counts more as snugglin' than huggin'. Aren't hugs supposed to be, like, standin' up?

I drop my head back to the floor and look up, meetin' B's gaze. Seein' the laughter dancin' in her eyes, I look elsewhere for assistance. My eyes find Angel's as he steps up to B's side and my breath catches in my throat. He's so... human... so beautiful? I don't know, it's like...he finally found what he's been lookin' for. Peace...forgiveness...redemption? My heart clenches with longin', and I look away from him. That burns more than a little and I know I have no right. He's earned this.

"Dawn patrol, maybe you should let Faith up, huh?" Xander grins at me over D's head. "There are other people here who need a chance to get some Faith lovin' too, y'know."

"Thanks, X-man," I mutter as D jumps up off me, sputterin' apologies.

An elegant hand offers to help me up and I take it. Reflexively dustin' my backside off, I look up to see my erstwhile savior, only to forget anything else I might've said. Blue eyes framed by thin-rimmed wire glasses twinkle back at me and I feel somethin' inside of me let go. I huff out a soft sound that might be her name and grab for the arm that was previously extended, pullin' her into me for a full-bodied hug.

"Di," I whimper again as I bury myself in her shoulder.

"I know, Faith, I know," She repeats over and over as she runs her hands over my head and shoulders. "Just let it go. I know, we all know, darling Faith. This is real. Just let it all go."

I squeeze my eyes tighter and gasp raggedly as, without so much as a fuck you very much, I give in just a little more. I let myself revel in just bein' here, surrounded by the only people that have ever known me as more than just another face in the crowd. Angel's warm hand clasps my left shoulder, Buffy buries her face in my neck from behind, and I feel the others as they close in on us, each reachin' out to me in some small way, offerin' comfort, offerin' love, offerin'...forgiveness? Is this what that feels like? Maybe, but it hurts, and I'm cryin' `cause I've never felt this before...I've never felt this free.



"Buffy," Giles' voice interjects. "Time is running short."

I have no clue how much time has passed when Giles interrupts the current conversation we have goin'. Dianna's sittin' on my left, a hand restin' on my arm as she listens to us, and B's pressed up against my right side as we share a chair. Everyone else is seated around us at a table that looks remarkably like Mrs. Summers' kitchen table. Joyce is seated next to Giles across from me and B, makin' this feel more surreal than anyone else has so far. B keeps throwin' glares their way like they're a couple of frisky kids.

We've been exchangin' stories, mostly about the past, though a few of my more recent adventures have come up. Mostly, they seem willin' to let me procrastinate. From some of the things they've said, I'm gettin' that they're more caught up on current events than I'd have thought. I just ain't too sure how to broach the subject, or even if I should. They've forgiven me. Does it really matter now?

"We're supposed to go speak to the Powers soon. They were only able to give us two days of privacy," B frowns in apology. "I didn't realize we'd been here for so long already."

"Oh," I mutter softly.

A pang of anxiety makes my chest tighten. There's so much I want to say. There's so much I need to say. There's so much I need them to explain. I meet Buffy's gaze and she smiles knowingly.

"Come on," She holds out a hand.

I take her hand, starin' in confusion. She shrugs and leans in, pressin' her mouth to mine. My eyes close in reflex. Before I can respond to the lips movin' softly over mine, I feel the world shift against my skin for a long moment and then B pulls away again as the sensation fades. I blink at her, dazed.

"Sorry," B says cheekily, "I thought that might make the shift a little less disorienting."

"Right," I nod. "Less disorientin', huh? I think maybe you need to do a little work on that."

"Probably," B gives me a disarmingly sweet smile. "I'm sorry this didn't last longer."

"B, no," I shake my head, "Jesus, this was more than I ever could've expected, as it is."

"Faith..." I interrupt her before she can finish the objection I can see in her expression.

"B, come on," I huff, feelin' a little more me again, "You know. I get that now. All of you know what I was doin', maybe even what I did way before the balance was knocked into Hell's ballpark. Don't pretend I was ever goin' anywhere other than where we both know I was headin' full speed ahead."

I let go of her, pushin' up off of what I now recognize as the steps to the basement of Sunnydale High School. I brace my hands on my head and look up at the vast darkness hidin' the ceilin'. She stands up and places her hands on my upper chest, tryin' to get me to look at her. I do, blinkin' away tears.

"If Angel can find redemption..." B trails off.

"At the rate I was goin', no amount of penance could've gotten me off," I shrug, reachin' up to place my hands over hers. "No reason to pretend otherwise."

"But now..." She trails off again, her eyes beggin' me for reassurance.

"I'm no Angel, B," I laugh humorlessly as I pull her hands away, keepin' her wrists held firmly in my grip so she can't grab me again, "Fuck, right now I ain't even Liam, the man-whore that he was."

Her eyes close and she lets her head drop. I can see the tears glistenin' on her cheeks from the dim torchlight. Her shoulders shake as she stifles a sob. I can feel the frustration rollin' off of her.

"So you're just not even going to try," B scoffs, jerkin' out of my grasp, "Real fucking nice, F."

She puts some distance between us, walkin' further into the basement. I cross my arms over my chest and look away from her, studyin' the basement, anything not to see the accusation in her eyes. She wants promises I don't want to break. I've never been any good at keepin' my word to anybody.

The basement looks just like it did in the final days before we imploded the Hellmouth. I can see the exposed seal, waitin' for the blood. I frown. I wonder who's gonna have to bleed this time.

My eyes narrow as a realization comes to me. I can sense the Hellmouth, like a disturbingly familiar lullaby to the Slayer. It's not even the distant kind of feelin' I've gotten used to in the years I've spent away from the Cleveland Hellmouth. If I had to hazard a guess, I'd say we were actually standin' right on top of it at the climax of the tide of darkness that ebbs and flows with the changes of season.

"B," I call out softly, tentatively, "You feel that?"

"Yeah," She shudders, glancin' across the distance at the seal. "I feel it."

"Is it just me, or is that a little too real?" I ask, gettin' an unexpected response.

"Forgive us for the change in venue," A silky voice comes out of the darkness at the edges of the torchlight, sendin' a shower of sparks up my spine that makes somethin' inside my chest coil tightly.

"Yes, do forgive us," Another ethereal voice echoes the first, "We merely thought it would be more advantageous to our situation to start right where you will need to be."

"Where I need to be?" I huff, "How did we even get here? We destroyed this place."

"Fortune smiled on us and an inter-dimensional time rift suddenly made itself available," A third voice responds, way too close. I jolt as a redhead just comes into existence on the steps next to me.

She smiles in response to my nonplussed look. I glance over at B, concerned. B just nods at me, and I figure that maybe these guys are the Powers that Be. The other two step out of the shadows on the other side of the Hellmouth. The two guys are older, but still have an unearthly beauty that steals my breath, and of course, always uncomfortable in the event of any loss of control, I react inappropriately.

"I'm just dyin' to know more," I drawl sarcastically as I give the redhead a once over that's mostly professional. I do kinda, sorta, wanna make sure I'm not about to be—I dunno, knifed in the gut again so soon after the last time? "But I really want some firsthand knowledge of what's up under those sheets your girl here's wearin'. `Cause, I mean, hot damn. You really make my body hum."

"Faith," Buffy snaps, and I glance up at her sheepishly. "So not the time, or the place, and definitely not the people you really need to get up close and personal with."

"Never mind that, Buffy Anne Summers," The smaller of the two men waves off her irritation, causin' me to glare and he freakin' smiles at me, "We have a more than passing acquaintance with this Champion's defense mechanisms. We take no offense, no matter how much she may prefer otherwise."

"I'll give you a passin' acquaintance—" I snarl, only to be interrupted by a burnin' hot touch on my upper arm. I flinch away from the redhead's hand and she raises an eyebrow.

"We do not have time for this," She sends a warnin' look to her companions.

"Of course. You are quite correct, Ava," The darker skinned man nods, placin' a restrainin' hand on the shoulder of the other guy. "We have preparations to make, Mika. Baiting our Champion is not the wisest course of action at this time, not when there is still so much left to chance."

"As you say, Ramah," Mika nods and returns his attention to me. "Faith Lehane, you have agreed in spirit if not in word to take up the mantel of Champion of the Chosen, is this so?"

I throw a questionin' glance Buffy's way and she meets my gaze head-on. She only shrugs at me, and I just know this response is because of our previous conversation. She thinks I've given up already, so she figures she might as well just stay out of it. I huff and throw my hands up, exasperated.

"If you think I've got what it takes to do the job, yeah sure, why not," I say flippantly. "I mean, it ain't like I got anything better to do with the rest of my eternity, right?"

"Right," Ramah drawls softly, dippin' his head in acknowledgement. "However, you may find that you are more capable of this undertaking than most others would be. You have walked the path of villain, and that of the righteous. Who better to hold back the tide than one who is part of it?"

"Right," I repeat, stunned.

"It was always meant to be this way," Ava murmurs, and her words manage to echo in the basement despite their quiet seriousness. "The War was coming ever closer, and we needed something to divert the attention of the darker Powers. Your world was offered up to their whims to save the thousands of other realities that would be overtaken were yours to fall. This sacrifice is not one we've made lightly."

"What war?" I demand, growlin' in frustration, "Who are the darker Powers? What fuckin' difference could one reality really make? Why did things have to go that way?"

"Faith," Ava interjects patiently, "We do not have time to give you all the explanations you seek just yet. You have your eternity to find the answers. Some won't be what you expect—"

"What the fuck do you know about what I expect?" I hiss, gesturin' violently at the room around us. "All I've ever wanted to know is, why? Why did they have to die? Why wasn't I there? Why does everything have to go so fuckin' horribly wrong every time I let myself want somethin'?"

"Faith Lehane, Champion, Slayer, Chosen One...ever so impatient, aren't you?" Ava's green eyes burn into me hotly as she commands my attention. "It has somehow always been about you and Buffy Summers for you, and now for us as well. Your reality is the only one in which you were called by Kendra Young's death while Buffy Summers still lived, the only one in which you made the choices that make you The Champion. Your reality is the only one in which Willow Rosenberg tore Buffy Summers from Heaven, the only one in which Willow Rosenberg Empowered the entire line through you and Buffy Summers. Your reality contained so much power that we could not let it fall as things stood.

"We had no control over your choices," Ava continued passionately, "But we need you as you are. We could apologize for your pain if it would help, butthe answers to those questions burning so painfully in your heart will not change anything that has happened. The only things we can offer you are life and a cause, and maybe you can find the meaning somewhere in all this. We need you."

I just stare at her. I can feel the anticipation buildin' in the air. My eyes burn and I finally have to look away. Mika gives me a curious look and turns his attention to Ava.

"There is one thing we could do for her," Mika says thoughtfully.

"Mika," Ava says warningly. "You presume too much. She has given up more than enough."

"Well, yes," Mika sighs, glancin' at B. "But it would be her choice this time..."

"I'm almost afraid to ask," B mutters, rollin' her eyes upward.

"I ain't," I chance a smile at B and she curls her lip at me, "I'm downright intrigued."

"Buffy Anne Summers," Ramah says respectfully, "We would ask something of you that we are aware we have no right to ask. It is entirely of your choice, and we will take whatever answer you give."

"Get on with it," B sighs, "And give up the "Anne", already, `cause it's getting wigsome."

"It has come to our knowledge that our dear Whistler is quite irksome to others," Ava smiles at B as B's eyes widen, "Our previous solution was, however, only temporary. We believe we have found a more permanent resolution to the problem that could work to everyone's satisfaction. If you are amenable, we think that you would be an excellent liaison to the Champion of our Chosen."

B remains silent as she contemplates that. I'm horrified at the implications. How could they even ask that of her? Why is she even thinkin' about it? She can't just give up Heaven. Not for me...

B's eyes meet mine again. Her lips purse as she takes in my expression. I know I probably look as torn about this as I feel. Her eyes flicker with a familiar stubborn glint as she makes a decision.

"Okay," She shrugs as my mouth falls open, "Eternity was getting kind of boring already."

"B..." I trail off, confused.

"Yes?" She drawls sweetly and I just shake my head. Maybe...

"Then it is done," Mika nods, satisfied, as the other three echo his words.

My attention is drawn to the seal again as grey and white lights coalesce into two figures, a third with an impressive wingspan supported between them. I hear B hiss Whistler's name and see him give her a wary look as he and his partner lower their captive onto the seal. Concerned, I step forward.

"What's goin' on?" I demand. "Ain't nothin' good comin' from this scene, even I know that."

"A sacrifice is required from both sides for the terms of the agreement to be met," Ava explains, "We must open the Hellmouth to grant them entrance to this world as we seal ourselves outside of it."

Before I can object, before I can even really process the meanin' behind her statement, Ava grabs my shoulder and then we're standin' on the seal. I don't have a chance to protest before I hear B's voice raise in alarm and my eyes meet Whistler's gaze. He smiles in apology and my confusion triples.

"Sorry, Champ," Whistler mutters grimly.

"What—" I feel a twistin' motion and a scream rends the air as the blade slices through muscle and tissue, tearin' up my insides in a far-too familiar mutilation of my belly.

"Faith," B screams my name and I can hear the commotion as she fights with Ramah and Mika to get to me. "Goddamn you, goddamn you all for doing this again!"

"Whistler," I whisper, clutchin' at the knife handle. I wish I could say I was surprised.

"Yeah, kid?" He asks, lookin' almost concerned.

"This really fuckin' sucks," I mutter, feelin' the fresh blood splash across my skin as I pull the blade from my gut. I stare at the gruesome sight. It's like my hands were never clean to begin with.

"I'll bet," Whistler chuckles uneasily, "That probably hurts, huh?"

"Like you wouldn't believe," I snarl as I lunge forward, grabbin' his shoulder and drivin' the knife into his lower abdomen. I twist the knife around, and pull upward, shreddin' up his insides.

I tear the knife out of his sternum, collapsin' to my knees as his entrails spill from his torso, my own blood already poolin' in the crevasses of the seal. The knife clatters on the ground and I fall forward, weakly pressin' my hands against my stomach to staunch the flow of blood. I stare across the basement, my breath comin' slower as I feel my life fadin' away, again. Over the roar of my blood in my ears, I can hear whispers of sounds, but above everything else, I can hear Buffy threatenin' and pleadin' to get to me.

This time there isn't someone waitin' for me as my body grows numb. Darkness creeps into my vision as all of my other senses go crazy. The rusty iron smell of blood and hints of the Earth fill my head as a heavy weight collapses on top of me. My mouth dries up as I pant for breath. I hear my name one last time before I pass out, B's voice crackin' with hysteria. I wish I could see her one last time.



Epilogue: Maybe

The Hellmouth was opened and closed and two Slayers passed through one side of the portal and out another without notice. They were pebbles, and the Hellmouth a pond that covered the expanse of eternity. Changes were made, far-reaching and unquantifiable. Nothing would ever be the same again.

In the basement of Sunnydale High School in Sunnydale, California, some of these changes were more evident than others. The seal glowed and disappeared beneath layers of concrete as Buffy scrambled past Ramah to reach Faith. The Powers that Be left, taking Whistler and the corpse of their sacrifice with them as the basement shifted to resemble what one would think a high school basement should look like.

"Faith," Buffy's voice cracked, stressed from overuse, as she fell to her knees by Faith.

Buffy's hands hovered frantically for a moment before she grasped Faith's shoulders and turned her over onto her back. She searched for the fresh wound in vain. The Hellmouth had absorbed the blood, and Faith's clothes were intact, almost as if nothing had happened. The damning stillness of Faith's chest and the sickly pallor of her skin were the only sign that anything was amiss. Buffy's hand cupped Faith's face, her fingers tracing the curve of a scar to Faith's mouth. The lack of breath made it even more real.

"Oh, God, Faith," She choked out as she pulled Faith half into her lap.

Buffy bowed over Faith's upper body, burying her face in Faith's abdomen as silent grief wracked her frame. They'd warned her, but it was one thing to know it was coming, and another thing entirely to have to sit and wait after being forced to watch them kill Faith, again. Self-hatred swelled in Buffy's chest, because once upon a time, she'd been the first one to drive a knife in. Tears of horrified rage burned Buffy's eyes at the images of violence and carnage burned into her memory.

Buffy shuddered, wholly unprepared to feel anything so intensely after being in the upper realms for so long. It was almost seductive. Swallowing in disgust, Buffy dug her fingers into Faith's sides. That was when she felt the first stirrings as Faith's chest finally rose with a desperately needed gasp of air.

She sat up, gazing down at Faith as she placed a palm over Faith's heart. She felt the erratic beat of Faith's heart and her eyes fluttered shut in relief. Buffy felt Faith's hand clasp her own and the tears overflowed her eyes. Buffy blinked away the wetness, watching as it dripped onto Faith's cheek.

"Ugh," Faith groaned, wiping away the moisture with her free hand. "Somebody spring a leak?"

"Faith," Buffy warned and her voice cracked again.

Faith's eyes snapped open, and Buffy gave her a wavering smile. Faith's hand convulsed painfully around Buffy's as they stared at one another. Her mouth opened and closed as she tried to process her thoughts. Finally, something came of the whirlwind mess in her head.

"So, that really happened, huh?" Faith asked weakly.

"Yeah," Buffy murmured, laughing a little in disbelief. "That happened."

"Okay," Faith's eyebrows arched and as she nodded. "That sucked."

"I don't know," Buffy said, a little numb. "It had its' high points. I mean, I've wanted to do that to Whistler for a very, very long time, you know. It was almost cathartic."

"Yeah," Faith let out a shaky breath, "That was mostly reflex. I thought for a minute there that they'd betrayed me or somethin' again. I wanted to get mine before they could get theirs this time."

"Oh," Buffy said softly.

"Yeah, oh," Faith sighed.

Faith winced and lowered a protective hand to her belly. It still felt tender, a phantom reminder of a healing wound. Brow furrowing, Faith shoved a hand under the white wife beater and felt around some more. Alarmed, she sat up, jerking her shirt up below her breasts to reveal the expanse of her abdomen.

"Oh," Buffy repeated as she saw the flawless skin.

The skin that had previously bore the scars of their past was clean. The thick mass of scar tissue that had marred Faith's lower abdomen was gone. Buffy looked up just as Faith raised a hand to her face, fingers trailing from her temple down to her mouth across that facial scar. Their eyes met again and Buffy could see the sparkle of disappointment in Faith's gaze. Then Faith blinked and the look was gone.

"Huh," Faith uttered, at a loss. "So, not everything is gone, huh?"

"It makes you look dangerous," Buffy offered helpfully.

"Yeah, sure does," Faith scoffed as she pushed herself up onto her feet. "Well, maybe now people can quit goin' for my gut, huh, Twinkie? Sure would be nice, anyway."

"Maybe," Buffy responded quietly.

"Yeah, maybe," Faith finally smiled again, holding out a hand to Buffy.

Buffy placed her hand in Faith's and allowed Faith to pull her to her feet. Their eyes remained locked, their fingers entwining. Buffy licked her lips as something changed in Faith's expression. The air took on a more serious charge and Buffy held her breath as she waited to see what would happen.

"Yeah, maybe," Faith repeated, more seriously this time. She nodded, reinforcing her words.

Buffy's bemused expression changed to one of understanding. Faith wasn't talking about the scars anymore. Buffy reached out and pulled Faith down for a kiss. Faith chuckled as their lips met.

"Shush, maybe sounds good," Buffy muttered against Faith's mouth.

Faith sighed, contented as her lips glided against Buffy's. Neither of them paid attention to the distant sound of a school bell or the din of voices that followed. They kissed like lovers should because maybe sounded great. They wanted to let the end of their beginning come to a natural conclusion.


The End




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