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After Ragnarok

by Nifra



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This used to be wine country. Now it's not much more than hill after hill filled with a tangle of shrubs, a few dusty presses scattered between. They've been sleeping out in the field for the past few days, in a protected pocket of sunlight by the remains of a brick wall.

It's quiet, except for the whining hitch in Willow's breath as she sleeps, her white hair spilled out over the black dirt. Oz sits next to her, whittling a handful of new stakes. Faith can see Buffy's head over the dark spears of the leaves, the blood dark grapes. Her hair is lighter now, almost colorless. It doesn't look like gold, but it does catch the light. Faith's eyes follow as Buffy stalks up and down the rows of the old vineyard.

“There's a house to the west of here,’ Oz murmurs as he looks up at Faith, an eyebrow arched in question.

She shakes her head, laughs dryly and closes her eyes. “And you think it's just sitting there empty waiting for us?’

“Point,’ Oz says with a nearly audible shrug. Then he turns his attention back to the stake in his hand, silent again.

Faith settles back against the wall – the bricks are warm at her back, and she wonders what day it is. She thinks Buffy´s thirtieth birthday is coming up sometime soon, but she isn´t sure. She isn´t even sure when she started keeping track of things like that. Back before the First, and Sunnydale, Faith hadn´t ever cared about anniversaries, or birthdays, or dates at all.

Maybe it was when Dawn died. Faith remembers how Dawn used to carry around a calendar with her, one of those pocket planner things. It was from 2002, and she just kept crossing out the days and remaking it every New Year. It was probably with her when the house burned to the ground.

“What´s going on?’ Willow slurs, pushing herself upright, and Faith opens both eyes. Willow´s hair hangs to her waist now, and it´s caught in the branches. The breeze must have moved a little, Faith thinks.

Oz gives Willow one of his soft, real smiles. “Nothing. Just waiting,’ he says, and she nods, rubs her eyes with her fists like a child.

“Mmmm, sleepy, sleepy,’ Willow murmurs, and pillows her head on Oz´s shoulder. “Grapes for breakfast?’

“And lunch, and dinner,’ Faith tells her and Willow nods.

“Yay variety!’ she says, yawning so widely her jaw cracks.

“There´s variety,’ Oz protest gently. “You´ve got your big grapes, and your small grapes, and your in-between sized grapes.’

Willow raises an eyebrow at him, and turns to Faith. “What´s Buffy doing?’ she asks.

Faith waves a hand toward where Buffy walks, her arms crossed over her chest as she seems to stare out into the distance. “Having a moment,’ Faith says.

Willow frowns, and Oz puts an arm around her, rubs her shoulder.

“She´s okay, right? I mean, she seemed okay last night,’ Willow frets, looking back over at Faith, who smiles.

“B´s fine,’ Faith tells her. “She just needs her quiet. You know how that goes.’

They both accept that, and Willow closes her eyes again. Oz whispers something to her, and she grins, scoots closer to him.

Faith watches them for a moment, then turns back to watching Buffy, who looks so thin, so still, so tall – even though she´s not. She´s tiny, and when they sleep, her head tucks right under Faith´s chin, and she always kicks. Faith wonders, sometimes, if Buffy was always a restless sleeper, or if that started with the First breaking through the Hellmouth.

Faith doesn´t even remember that battle, beyond the deep gouges on her back, the claw marks across her thigh. Willow says that Spike carried Buffy out, and that they´d all thought Faith was lost with all potentials (she can´t stop thinking of them as that, though now it has less to do with becoming a Slayer and more to do with getting a chance to live) until Spike heard her screaming.

That´s all black for Faith. She remembers walking into the cavern, and she remembers waking up with Giles crouched over her, dabbing at her face. One of her eyes had been mostly swollen shut, so there´d just been dark around his face. She hadn´t been able to talk, and she really hadn´t had anything to say, either.

“She´s alive,’ Giles said, sounding tired, sitting back on his heels.

And Xander had croaked, “Two slayers came out of that. Only two.’

“Better than none,’ Buffy had said, putting a hand on Faith´s good arm.

Buffy hadn´t been too well either. The two of them had shared the one mattress until they were able to stand, or, in Faith´s case, load and reload a cross bow fast enough to make a difference. Giles packed them into the school bus he´d taken from the lot – Dawn, Xander, Willow, Andrew and Buffy and Faith. They were all that was left.

Oz wasn´t there then. Oz showed up when they were in L.A., maybe five years ago. That was when Xander decided to stay there, and it was probably the right decision, Faith thinks. He wasn´t safe with them, no matter how much they all tried to protect him – and whatever had happened to him at the high school had left its mark, too. His legs were weak. With Angel, Xander was safer, and where Xander went, Andrew followed.

So after L.A., there only would have been the four of them – Willow, Buffy, Faith, Dawn. Except Oz was there when the sun came up, his eyes on Willow and an ax in his hands.

“I'm coming with you,’ he said. And he did.

Faith likes having him with them. He used to make Dawn laugh, and he seems to make Willow happy – even though Faith is never sure what´s going on with them, even if they are fucking – and he´s good in a fight. Besides, Faith just likes Oz. He´s steady.

They need that.

Willow starts to hum a little, and when Faith looks over, she´s combing her hair and smiling at Oz´s bent neck.

Faith lets her muscles relax, and takes a deep breath. It smells rich here, like the air is denser, like the water and the dirt are part of it. Buffy´s walking back now, her eyes on Faith, and her lips are teased up a little into one of her secretive smiles, the ones that she doesn´t think anyone but Faith can see. The ones that mean Buffy´s basically content for right now, and that makes Faith smile, too.

Buffy looks like Joyce, Faith thinks, amazed that she can even remember Joyce at all. It feels like that has to be longer than twelve years ago, like Faith is thinking about something that happened to one of her ancestors, not herself.

But Faith remembers it. She remembers hating Buffy, and Buffy hating her, and how it felt when they fought, and she remembers wanting to die when she woke up from the coma. That´s maybe what she remembers most vividly: the hot bright hate, how everything seemed to be moving so *fast* all the time, leaving her alone, and far, far behind, and so confused.

It seems strange to her now, because Faith wants life. Faith wants to *live*, wants more years, and months, and weeks and minutes.

Maybe that´s why she´s taken over counting the days, now that Dawn´s gone. Maybe it´s so that Faith will know how much time she´s had, when she goes. So she can say thank you to whoever the hell is up there running the show, and say it precisely. Like Wesley would have, she thinks with a grin.

And, yeah, maybe some people would think it was weird to say ‘thank you´ for all the blood, and the violence, and the fear, but Faith´s grown up. Her life is stark and simple, but it´s not just fighting. It´s Willow, and it´s Oz, and it´s Buffy, and it´s the way that when she tips her head back, she can feel her skin turning gold under the sun.

It´s how Buffy always manages to find nail polish, and Oz carries a handful of guitar picks even though they ended up using his last guitar as a weapon about ten minutes after he stole it.

Faith´s not an idiot. She knows people aren´t all good, all the time. She knows *she´s* not all good, all the time. But she does know that there´s enough good, right here beneath the vines and the sun, to merit a hell of a thank you.

Besides, she thinks, smiling a little wider, she doesn´t have the energy to be pissed about how things have turned out any more. She´s got more important things to do, they all do. Even Buffy, though Faith knows that it was hardest for her to learn that.

But Dawn – after Dawn, Faith thinks maybe Buffy wanted to die. She tried to, often enough, and she *looked* dead. Buffy´s eyes were flat, dark, empty for a long time. Faith remembers how pinched Willow´s expression would get when she watched Buffy, how even Oz was worried.

How they´d expected *her* to fix it somehow, and what a surprise that had been.

“We´re going to lose her, Faith,’ Willow had said, urgently, her white hands and her white hair fluttering in the wind as they´d huddled together outside a shell of a gas station, waiting for Buffy to use the bathroom.

Faith had no idea what to say, what to do. That wasn´t her area, that wasn´t her thing, and wasn´t Willow B´s best bud? She used to be, sure. But somehow, from that first day when Faith opened her swollen eyes next to Buffy in the cellar of a house by the high school, Faith and Buffy grew together, like the merging tendrils of the young green vines that hang over Faith´s head, waving with the breeze.

So, in the end, she hit Buffy. She´d always been best with actions, anyway. They fought for hours, with Faith just giving Buffy a chance to work it out, and in the end, Buffy had collapsed, crying. Faith made circles with her hand on Buffy´s back, even though her arms were bruised, and wanted to drop to her sides.

Buffy and Faith had slept next to each other basically since the beginning. That night, Buffy curled around Faith, holding her so tightly that there were even *more* bruises in the morning. When Faith woke up, Buffy was playing with her hair, and two days later, Faith kissed Buffy.

It was nervous, and Faith had never been nervous when kissing, but then, Faith hadn´t ever kissed Buffy before. It was unexpected, because even though Faith wanted Buffy back before the First, it hadn´t ever been like this.

At first, what Faith felt was just another bubble gum crush, and then it was angry and rough, but now it´s easy, now it´s peaceful, now it´s necessary. This is just Buffy, and Faith, and they don´t always get along. But they´re good.

A finger taps the tip of Faith´s nose, and she opens one eye to see Buffy staring down at her.

“You´ll get wrinkles if you don´t put on sun block,’ Buffy says primly, teasing.

Faith chuckles. “Oh, yeah, I´ve got some right here in my pocket. Let me put it on.’

Buffy drops down next to her, and Willow starts to chatter brightly to her about the possibility of wine in the cellar of the building Oz mentioned. Oz reveals some new obscure bit of knowledge, this time about wine making and Faith puts her arm around Buffy and closes her eyes again.

They´ll leave here before the week is out, heading further north. Willow thinks there may be another Slayer, a few days walk from here, but no one´s sure what they´ll find when they get there. The last time they talked to Xander, he said that there were reports of something big, and mean, and dangerous, right around Davis.

Faith doesn´t care about that. Buffy leans against her, and pops a grape into Faith´s mouth. It´s still a little cold from the night, sweet and tart against her tongue.

“Is it good?’ Buffy asks her.

Faith nods, smiles without opening her eyes. “Yeah,’ she says, “it´s great.’

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