Summary: Four years after a harsh exchange of words, two old acquaintances confront their past together.

Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters portrayed here, they remain the property of their respective owners/creators.

Rating: PG-13, for themes.

Time Frame: Near the end of "Orpheus" (spoilers).

Archiving: Be my guest, but e-mail me (eilandesq@hotmail.com) and let me know. . .I like to know where stuff I write ends up and I might want to see what else you've got.

Dedication: To Eliza and Alyson-with thanks for performances past and hopes that we will get at least one scene with some of these themes on the show.

REQUIEM FOR A VENDETTA

Faith leaned back in the tub and forced herself to relax. One of the nice things about Angel having chosen a hotel as his version of the BatCave- there were plenty of rooms, and plenty of indoor plumbing that one could enjoy in peace.

She glanced down at her body and took inventory. Slayer healing had done its usual job at making bruises go away, and even some of the nastier cuts had started to fade. Her back and legs still ached rather insistently, but the hot water was helping with that. Give her a day or two, and she'd be fine. Well, as fine as she had been in the last four years, anyway.

After an hour, Faith got out of the tub, dried herself, and put on a robe before heading out into the main part of the hotel room. Someone had laid out fresh clothes on the bed: Faith saw a note next to them and picked it up to read:

Sorry if these aren't your style. Best I could do on short notice.

--Fred

Faith smiled. * Nice kid. A bit weird, but nice. Wonder how long that'll last, in this place, in this life * She glanced at the clothing: Fred's proportions were a bit different from hers, but these would do for now. She dressed quickly, noticing that movement was considerably less painful than it had been just an hour before. She sat on the foot of the bed and frowned: * Now what? *

There was a soft knock at the door. Faith smiled: Angel was probably coming to check on her. She called out, "It's open: come in." The door opened, and Faith felt a burst of primal fear when she saw who was standing there. She swallowed hard. * You knew this was coming: might as well get it over with * She forced another smile, then repeated her invitation, directly this time: "Come in, Willow."

Willow inclined her head and walked into the room. Faith stood up and faced the redhead, looking directly at her but not quite meeting her eyes. Willow studied Faith with a neutral expression for several seconds before commenting, "You look like you're feeling better: the Orpheus really did a number on you."

Faith looked warily over at Willow, and was silent for a few seconds before replying, "You could say that. A tour of Angel's past, with Angelus as the whiny tour guide-not fun. Got pretty nasty at the end: I thought I was going to lose-" She paused in mid-sentence, looked down, and whispered, "Willow?"

Faith waited, then there was the soft reply: "Yes, Faith?"

Faith swallowed hard, and forced down the last traces of anger and the new pangs of fear as she looked back up at Willow and said quietly: "Thank you for saving him when I couldn't."

Willow raised an eyebrow and replied, "Funny, but I seem to remember you stomping an overly rambunctious teenager to save him-without even getting into the fact that you dosed yourself with a dangerous drug to set things up to where I could save him in the first place." She shook her head sadly and added, "Goddess, Faith. . .how much you must think I hate you."

"Don't you?" Faith couldn't bring herself to look back at Willow, and the guilt that she had managed to hold at bay during the crisis came rushing back as she continued, "We both know what I've done: to you, to people you love. My little body-swapping trick kind of gave me the inside scoop about how you feel about me, Red, and that was before you knew about that little atrocity." She closed her eyes, raised her head, and opened her eyes again, staring into Willow's emerald eyes as she whispered, "I know why you're here. . .and I'm ready to go."

Willow's eyes narrowed, and she did not pretend to misunderstand Faith's words: "Back to prison? Is that what you really want?

"It doesn't matter what I want, Willow. It hasn't mattered for a long time now." Faith turned away from Willow and began pacing restlessly: Willow watched silently, waiting for the younger woman to compose herself. Faith stopped short, looked back at Willow, and blurted out: "I broke out because I was needed, but Angel's back now, and they'll get their act together now-they've got some good people here, darkness issues aside. They'll be as all right as they're going to be, with or without me. I need to get back there, Willow: you know what I've done, and Angel said it best just before you zapped his soul back-you never stop paying for it, and I need to get back to paying." She shrugged and concluded, "Hey, if I turn myself in all peaceful-like, I'll only get a few weeks in solitary for breaking out. I can do that standing on my head."

Faith bowed her head, and was startled when Willow gently grabbed her arm and led her back to the bed. They sat at the foot of the bed, with Faith looking at Willow with a puzzled expression on her face and Willow carefully studying the Slayer. Willow broke the renewed silence: "Faith, you were right: I've come to take you away from here. . .but if you'll listen to me, I've got a better place for you to go than prison."

Faith stared at her: she wasn't about to pretend she didn't understand, either. "No. No way, Willow: that's not going to happen." Willow's expression remained impassive, and Faith lashed out: "Yeah, that would really be a great idea, wouldn't it? Go back to a place where I've screwed over just about everyone I know. Hey, I can talk about old times with Buffy and Dawn-like how I held their mother hostage and threatened to gut her! Or maybe I can sit down with Xander and Anya and describe how I tried to choke the life out of him! Oh, I know! I can sit you and your girlfriend Tara down and describe how I held a knife to your throat. I bet she'd get a kick out of-"

"Tara's dead, Faith. Someone came to shoot Buffy, and a stray bullet went through Tara's heart. She died in my arms." Willow's expression remained calm, and only the slightest quaver in her voice betrayed the emotions she was feeling. Faith's eyes widened, and Willow nodded slowly as she added, "Besides, I remember what happened: no need to rehash it."

Faith's anger fled, replaced by guilt doubled and redoubled: "Damn, Willow. I'm so sorry." She shook her head in frustration and whispered, "Just goes to show you were right about me all along, Willow. My life is a waste: all I'm really good for is hurting people." She looked at Willow with resignation and stated flatly, "Maybe it's just for the best if you leave me to rot."

Faith waited for the condemnation to come, and she steeled herself against it, promising herself that whatever Willow had to say, she would bear it as her just lot. She was shocked to see-instead of the anger she expected- profound sadness in the older woman's eyes. She waited, and Willow shook her head and commented, "Sometimes I forget that everyone I run into isn't up on what's happened in the last few years in Sunnydale. . .I've been so damned cheerful since I got here, and I couldn't figure out why. I just realized what it was: I've been seeing people who have absolutely no clue as to what's happened, and it's like being on vacation somewhere where nobody knows you and you're incredibly grateful for it." Willow saw Faith blink in utter bewilderment, and she smiled and reached out to squeeze her arm in comfort-giving before sighing and adding, "I've got some stuff to tell you, Faith. Maybe we should settle down in those comfy chairs over there before I start-it's a lot to absorb."

* * * * *

Willow stopped speaking and glanced at the clock: the sun would be down soon. She looked over at Faith, trying to gauge her mood now that the story had been told, and was surprised to see that the younger woman's expression was not angry or frightened, but instead had the look of sudden revelation. Fascinated, she called out softly, "Are you all right, Faith?"

Faith quirked a smile and cocked her head at Willow slightly, as if to look at her from a slightly different perspective. Willow waited, and the Slayer shook her head and commented, "I still have the Slayer dreams, you know. I've gotten bits and pieces of what's been happening in Sunnydale-I knew when Joyce and B died, and when she came back-I called Angel all three times, and we talked about it. But I didn't figure out everything that was going on. . .there are a lot of scary dreams from last May that make a lot of sense now-I thought I had just gotten into a bad batch of meatloaf." She stared at Willow and asked, "So you were all dark and evil and skanky?"

Willow waved a hand, and Faith involuntarily leaped back as she saw the intense green eyes watching her turn as dark as midnight. She caught a glimpse of inky black hair and a cruel smile before a second gesture caused the disturbing apparition to blur and vanish, revealing Willow as she had been when she entered the room: the sadness had returned to her eyes. Faith repressed the urges to flee and to strike out, and forced herself to sit next to Willow as she whispered, "Red, please don't do that again without warning me. How did you-"

"It's a glamour spell. I worked it out while I was in England with Giles. I wanted something available that would always remind me what I had been, if I was alone and had no one to turn to for help." Willow looked down and blinked once: her eyes were glittering when she looked back at Faith and admitted, "I've never had to use it before. Every time I look in the mirror she's there, Faith-I've never needed any reminder of what I was. . .what I am."

"Yeah-I'm not too fond of mirrors either." Faith sighed, then shook her head and asked, "So is this where we decide to let bygones be bygones and vow to work together to serve the common good?"

Willow blinked, and Faith was surprised to see genuine anger there as Willow replied, "I'm still mad at you, Faith-about a lot of things. As reformed as you are, I bet you're pretty pissed off at me about a lot of stuff, too." Faith froze for a second before nodding curtly as Willow continued, "But I haven't tried to murder you-well, not directly, anyway- and you never actually got to the point of trying to murder me, though I bet you really gave it a lot of thought." Faith didn't nod, but Willow read the glitter in the other woman's eyes and nodded as she concluded, "I'd say that's enough for us to work with right now-things are bad in Sunnydale, Faith. I know stuff looks bad here, but it's way worse back there."

"What is it, Willow? What's so bad that it's got you shaken up this badly after everything else you've gone through?" Ferocious curiosity seized Faith and she leaned in as she whispered fiercely: "What's bad enough that you want me back, with all of the baggage that it means for everyone?"

Willow's expression went blank, and Faith was getting exasperated with the buildup when Willow softly uttered a few words that caused her spine to stiffen and her eyes to widen:

"It's the First Evil, Faith. The First Evil's come back to end everything."

Faith's mind fled back into memories, and she recalled the Christmas morning in Sunnydale, with snow falling everywhere and how she and Joyce had walked out into it in wonder, only to see Buffy and Angel walking over to them, well after what would have been sunrise. They had sat down in the living room, and Buffy and Angel had told a harrowing story of tormented visions and shared dreams, which had ended with Buffy's futile pleas for Angel to come inside, and the abrupt, astonishing miracle of the snow that had saved him in spite of himself. She had been relieved at the time, but vague misgivings about the timeless, infinitely malicious foe who had been thwarted on that day had troubled her from time to time, and those misgivings had come more often of late, as she lay on her bunk with only her thoughts for company. She shook her head in renewed anger and locked eyes with Willow as she snapped, "Not if we have anything to say about it." She extended her right arm, and Willow clasped it firmly with her own: it was the shared salute of two warriors, who saw clearly what might be their own deaths and had decided that those deaths would come at a dear price to those who caused them.

After a moment, they let go, and Faith saw Willow smile in the manner that she had in their days together in Sunnydale, for the first time since she had entered Faith's room. Faith returned the smile, then commented, "I'll go say my goodbyes to Angel in a little while, and we can get going after you say yours. In the meantime. . .we may be five by five-" Willow smirked, and Faith chuckled self-deprecatingly in response before continuing "--but I'm going to need some serious advice, Willow-there are a few other people I'm going to need help to deal with." The sound of a man gasping for air echoed in her head, and she muttered quietly: "Xander comes to mind."

Willow's sad smile was back, and Faith was surprised to see genuine amusement in the green eyes to accompany the sadness. She waited, and Willow replied quietly, "You'll have to work that out with him, but I think you'll find he's fairly forgiving. You never did hear the story behind Anya, did you?"

Outside the room, there was only silence for a few moments, then abruptly the sound of loud laughter was heard: there was affection in the laughter, and nostalgia, and a small amount of hope. It was music to the ears of the women in that room, and that music would accompany them on their way from this place where they were no longer needed, back to the one where their actions might determine the fate of all they knew. For now, it would have to do.

As always, comments are welcomed and desired.