Goodbye to You

Author: Norwalker

Part 1 of 1

Summary: Another in a very loose series of stories about the Slayers & company, after they've matured( in this case, they're pushing 40). There is no particular order to these stories, so they'll bounce around a bit. Anyway, this story kind of defies summarization, so you'll just have to read it

Rating/ Category: R for some language/ Angst

Spoilers: None, way past the timelines in the original series

Time Line: at least a decade past " Chosen"

Disclaimer: Joss Whedon , Mutant Enemy and Fox own them.

Warning: Implied character death. Implied romantic/ sexual relationships between characters of the same gender. Strong language, adult themes… the usual.

"Why am I even here?" She wondered.

She sat nervously fiddling with the tableware in the small café, the agreed on meeting place. For the seventh time in the last half hour, she checked her watch, and yes, it was 3 minutes later than it was the last time she checked. She was beginning to think this was a setup. That she wasn't coming at all. It'd been some kind of cruel little joke. She didn't like cruel little jokes.

Willow glanced towards the front door again, thinking that if she didn't show in 5 minutes, she was so out of here. " I so can't believe I fell for this" She mutters to herself, " you'd think by the age of 39, I'd really not be so naïve. She's not gonna show, I'm gonna sit here like a fool, and they'll have a good old laugh at Willow's expense. Ha, ha!" Willow was starting to stand up when a dark haired woman ran through the front door, looking harried and out of sorts. The woman glanced around the restaurant hurriedly, and seeing Willow, started towards her table. Willow, with a sigh, sat back down. At last!

Faith felt like she'd been through the wringer twice today, and was still dripping wet. Nothing, nothing was going right. Buffy was all out of sorts and cranky, the kids…god, she hadn't realized that kids could get that extra noisy, extra tantrumy, extra hyper. It was worse than when they'd had the terrible twos. Two ten year old whirlwinds of destruction and chaos is more like it. Then there was work. God, work was a bear. The client was NOT happy with the presentation, she had to redo the whole damned thing, and of course the meeting ran over, making her late for her appointment with Willow. And now, Red is looking like she wants to stab me, Faith sighs to herself. Can't really blame her, can I? I make her wait here all alone without a call or anything, and I'm half an hour late. God, she must be doubly pissed. Great, just really great, Faith. That's really gonna help things.

Willow looked at Faith with a small frown on her face. It'd been over 5 years since she'd seen either Faith or Buffy… 5 years since the big blow up that had ended her and Buffy's friendship. And yeah, you can pretty much be sure that Faith was a big cause of it. Faith and Buffy had returned to Sunnydale after 10 years absence, together. With two daughters. God, now the kids? They were cuties. Joy and Hope. Little sweethearts. Joy is so like Buffy, it's scary. Same looks, same eyes, same personality. And Hope? God, are you sure she's Faith's? Ok, that's nasty now, Will. She looks a lot like Faith. But, she's so different personality wise. Sweet, shy, a little quiet. At least she was 5 years ago. Who knows now? … Gee, Will, space out much? They came back , Buffy and Faith, obviously living together, and not as sisters, let me tell you. First of all it was totally wiggins time that Buffy even was batting on the girls team, now. And of course, out of all the women in the world, she has to pick Faith, right? Ummm… do we forget so easily that Faith was psycho- bitch-killer-work –for –the –mayor –try-to-kill –all –of-us slutbomb? That she tried twice to ruin Buffy's life? Oh, right, she 'redeemed' herself in prison. She came to Sunnydale, and fought the first. Well, big whoop, ya know? We all fought the first. Why was she so special?

God, Will, listen to yourself. Jealous much? Yeah, ok, maybe. Maybe that started the fight. But that isn't what ended everything. Buffy walked away , told me to never talk to her again. See her again, come around again. Just because I pointed out that I thought Faith was a poor choice as a partner. Ok, and maybe I did kinda say I didn't bring Buffy back from the dead to hook up with Miss Psycho-Slut USA. Maybe that was a little over the top. But god, Faith? Why her? How can she sleep knowing that Faith might wake up one of these nights and decide it's time to stab her? God, Will, STOP!!!! Faith isn't like that anymore, and you know it. You said some awful things about her, and Buffy had every right to tell you to go to hell. Why? Why'd you do it Will?

Back to the jealous thing again, Will. You were totally jealous, you know you were. You know why you were jealous too, don't ya? You just don't want to admit it, do you? You just couldn't deal with the idea that Buffy chose Faith over you, could you? Never mind you never let Buffy know there might be some interest there. Never mind that you literally ran away from her after defeating the First, moving to San Francisco with Kennedy, just so you didn't have to deal with how you felt about her, knowing it'd never be reciprocated in the way you wanted. Boy, she surely blew that away when she came back with Faith. You blew any chance you had with her, Willow. You did that to yourself. And then, you told her you wished you never brought her back at all. Yeah, Will…good move! Great one, Will. Really sweet. Now she won't have a thing to do with you, and can you blame her? Boy, you'd sure like to, wouldn't you. Better yet, you'd like to blame Faith, put it on her. You're a peach Will, all sweet at the outside, rotten at the core.

So, why is Faith here anyway? She sounded so urgent on the phone, so life and death. But she's late, and I'm all out of sorts now, and feeling like guilt central. This is pointless. There's no going back, Will. Whatever you and Buffy had once, is gone. Never coming back, no repeats, no refunds. Done, done, and over done.

All this flashed through Willow's mind in the few seconds she looked at Faith. The big thing she noticed was how tired and harried Faith looked. Like she'd been running through a hailstorm face first with no sleep for the last 10 days. Despite whatever resentments she might harbor for the woman, she couldn't help but feel sorry for her at this moment. Something was going on, something big and taxing.

"Hey, Red, I'm so sorry I'm late" Faith says, her voice reflecting her bone weariness." Got stuck at a client meeting, couldn't get out to phone you. My bad " Faith said, her eyes apologetic, her brow furled with concern.

" Hey. It's cool. I know how clients can be" Willow smiles slightly," I have a lot who loved nothing better but giving me hell".

" Yeah, but not all of us struck gold like you did, girl. Man, semi-retired for four years. Must be nice" Faith grins.

" Just lucky" Willow responds, a little defensively. She feels funny being rich.

And Willow was rich. Billions of dollars rich. From a small start up company she started in her basement, WillNet became a huge multinational corporation serving cities in the U.S.., Europe and soon, Asia. The Headquarters was still in San Francisco, but they had 20 branch offices scattered around the globe, and planning 10 more in Asia in the next 5 years. From being a computer geek hacker in high school, She's become one of the richest people in the world, and probably the richest woman in the world. She smiles slightly to herself. Cordy would be green. Hell, Cordy would turn gay for that kinda money.

Yet for all her wealth, Willow isn't happy. She's comfortable, she lives well. She does the charity thing, and practices her Wicca Craft. But in the end, she's not happy. She's never had a steady relationship, something she craves to her bones. Not that she's lacked for companions. She's had a succession of women after Kenny, but none ever worked out. It was her own fault. She just wasn't ever satisfied. It wasn't the others fault, it was her own problem. She just couldn't find someone to love. She couldn't find another Buffy. Of course not. There was only one Buffy, and she belonged to someone else. That so sucks. And the irony is, the woman she belongs to is sitting right across from me. Wonder if she realizes how lucky she is?

"Ok, so Faith. I'm here. I just don't understand why? I mean, you and me? We're not exactly the best of friends. So , what's the big? Why the urgent call, anyway?" Willow asks, wanting to get this over with. Sitting with Faith is not exactly how she likes to spend her time.

" Right down to business, then, is it Red?" Faith says, a little grimly, " Ok, fine. I'm not really good with the small talk crap anyway. So, ok, let's get right to it. What's it gonna take for you and B to make it up, make peace with each other?" Faith says, earnestly." I mean, besides me walking off the closest cliff and disappearing, that is. Cuz, that's not happening, Red".

Willow feels like Faith just stripped her naked for the world. God, she's good, Will thinks, not without some rancor. She can see right through me, and it's so not comfortable!

" You know, Faith. Don't know what it'll take. Not sure it's really you're business, anyway" Willow replies, a little hard nosed in her tone.

" B's my business, Red. You know that. This is tearing her apart. So, I gotta know. What's it gonna take for you two to be friends again?" Faith says, quietly but firmly.

" Well for one thing, her personal interest. She's not here, is she? Why are you here asking this? If she's so interested in being friends again, I mean" Willow asks, her tone reflecting some bitterness.

" B doesn't know I'm here" Faith replies to Willow, " if she did, she'd probably kill me".

" So, all of a sudden, you've become the peacemaker, then?" Willow asks, not trusting Faith or her motives. " Funny about that, since the blow up between us was about you". Willow couldn't resist putting that in.

" I know that, Red" Faith says quietly, squeezing her eyes shut, as if in pain." Thing is, it's not about me now. It's about you and her. You both need to come to terms with this, and make up".

" Why now, Faith?" Willow asks, "why is it so important now?"

" It just is, Red" Faith says, emphatically," I can't tell you why, Red, but it's very important that you and she come to some understanding".

"That's really not good enough, Faith" Willow responds. " Buffy doesn't seem to be interested in making up, according to you. She doesn't even know you're here. At least that's what you tell me. Yet, somehow, for no reason, I'm supposed to make it up with her." Willow shakes her head," Nope, just aint flying, Faith."

"God" Faith growls, frustrated. " You're as stubborn as she is. Are you positive you two aren't twins or something?" Faith shakes her head. "I'm sorry, Red, for wasting your time. Obviously you and she aren't ready to try, even. My bad. I'll go now" Faith starts to stand up, but Willow puts her hand out, holding her back. Faith looks at her with some suspicion, but sits back down. She sees that Willow's demeanor has changed.

" I'm sorry, Faith" Willow says, contrite." I'm just having a hard time with this. I can't understand why, if Buffy isn't interested in trying to reconcile, you're going through all this. You're right, I'm being stubborn. But you've gotta understand. It's not like you can play UN and expect the interested parties to just fall in line cuz you think it's a good idea".

Faith looks at Willow, and seems to come to a decision in her mind.

" Ok, Red. I'm gonna tell you something that if you tell B, I'm gonna hang you from a lamppost. You didn't get this from me, do you get it?" Faith says, quietly. " Do you get it?" She repeats, insistently.

" Yeah, ok I get it" Willow replies, a little confused, and a bit on edge. " What's the big hush-hush about?"

" She's sick, Red" Faith closes her eyes while telling her, as if it won't really be true if she doesn't look at her," she's very sick. The doctors aren't sure she's going to make it".

Willow feels as if she's been hit with a two by four. She finds she can't breathe, as if her lungs are being squeezed by invisible hands. She looks at Faith as if she just exploded before her. Somehow she manages to respond.

"What??!!??!!" Willow says, her voice reflecting her feelings of shock," You're lying. You've gotta be lying. She's not sick" Willow goes into denial mode.

" Every day I wake up, and I wish it were a nightmare" Faith says, her voice low, losing it's strength." It's a nightmare, alright. A nightmare I can't wake up from, Red. I wish I were lying, I wish it weren't true. I wish lots of stuff, like, Why couldn't it have been me? But I don't get any of my wishes, Will. She still sick." Faith's head is down, she's leaning on her hand ... she can barely keep it together. But she has to, for Buffy's sake, for the girl's sake, for her sanity's sake.

Faith feels a hand on her arm, and she looks up into Willow's face. Willow's face is empathetic, and she gently squeezes Faith's arm. She quietly asks," What is it, Faith?" .

" She's got leukemia, Red. She's doing combo radiation and chemo, but the best course of treatment would be a stem cell transplant. Problem is, her blood type is rare, and finding a donor for her is difficult…well, at this point, impossible." Faith says, her voice heavy with emotion. "It doesn't look good right now."

"What can I do? How can I make it better" Willow says, knowing that despite it all, she'd still do anything for Buffy. Right now, looking at Faith, and seeing how much she's suffering, she'd do anything to help her, too. All the anger she's felt for the last 5 years, the resentment she harbored, seems to wash away. All she wants to do is help.

" I dunno, Red. I don't know if anything can help" Faith says, looking up at Willow. Her face is haggard, and she has dark circles under her eyes." I just wish Dawn hadn't disappeared".

Two years ago, Dawn had gone on a 'special' assignment for The Council. There were some rumors of a Demon tribe in Tanzia. Dawn and a team from the Council went to investigate. They were there 6 months when the entire party simply vanished. Their camp, their supplies, everything gone. No trace of them, and not a word has been heard from any of the team members. Buffy had called a …truce with Willow, and Willow had used every contact she had, and considerable resources in the search. But nothing had ever been found. It was like they'd never existed. The Council surmised that they'd been attacked by the demons, who killed them and stole their equipment and supplies. Buffy had been devastated. She never really recovered from that, she was never quite the same woman after that. She broke all contact with the Council. Even with Giles. It was around that time she quit patrolling, quit being a slayer and devoted her time to her job and the kids. It'd been a difficult time for her and Faith, to the point they almost separated. But in the end they both realized they needed each other more than ever. It wasn't long after that , when Buffy started having symptoms of her current illness.

Faith had been strong through it all, supporting Buffy, taking care of Joy and Hope, working. Trying to be everything to everyone. Unlike Buffy, Faith wasn't one to make close friends. She had acquaintances, sure, from work. But she had no one to talk to, no one to tell her fears and hurts to. She had bottled it all up, trying to deal with it while Buffy was getting sicker. The last 2 years had been hell for her, and it didn't look like it was going to get any easier. But she had to hold on, she kept telling herself. They need me, I can't let them down.

Buffy had been her everything, and now she was afraid she'd lose her. Some mornings, when the sun hit her eyes, she just wanted to get up, pack a bag, and run. Run far and fast and hope that all the crap happening wouldn't catch her. She was losing clients; her patience was razor thin these days, and more than one client had pissed her off with some stupid demand that pushed her over the edge. She never hit them, but boy she came very , very close a couple of times. She'd apologize, of course, and try to smooth it over. Sometimes it worked, most times it didn't. So, on top of everything else, she was worried about money. Part of the reason she'd come here was to ask Willow for a loan. But she got here, and now just couldn't do it. After all the bad blood between them, she couldn't beg now.

She was at the end of her rope. Buffy, thank god, was in remission right now. She's home, and looking better than she has in awhile. But even so the shadow of death is right beneath her skin, and Faith sees it every day. It sends chills through her heart. If the cancer activates again, she doesn't know what she'll do. The doctors told her, privately, that another bout could be the last one. Faith didn't want to believe it, she couldn't lose her now. It was just too much to even consider

Somewhere in the café, a server drops a plate, and Faith jerks upright, like she's been shot. She looks around, her face frozen in fear, her eyes wide. She realizes it's only a plate, and settles …but the damage is done. Her body, already stressed out, betrays her. She can't handle even something as innocuous as a broken dish. She starts to shake, and can't stop. She looks at Willow, who is staring at her, and her embarrassment grows by leaps and bounds. She mumbles something unintelligible, jumps up and bolts out of the café.

Willow, concerned, follows her out, throwing some money on the table as a tip. She runs through the café entrance, but can't see Faith anywhere. She stands quiet for a moment, closing her eyes and concentrating. She casts about with a small spell, trying to find Faith. She feels a great aura of sadness near her, and heads towards it. As she approaches, she hears a choked sob, followed by some cursing. She looks down the alley, and sees Faith leaning against a wall. She's bent over, shaking, trying to keep herself from losing control. Willow walks towards Faith.

"Not now. I can't lose it now" Faith is muttering to herself, her fists gripped tightly. Her body is still shaking, trying to release the built up emotions coursing through her.

" Faith" Willow says gently, approaching the dark haired slayer quietly.

"Go 'way, Red. Go 'way" Faith hisses, backing up." Lemme alone". She backs up until she hits the wall. She puts up her shaking fists." Go 'way, Red! I mean it! I'll fucking punch you!" Faith growls at her. On instinct, Faith goes into her fighting stance.

" Go ahead, Faith" Willow says quietly, but resolved. She's not going to leave the dark haired woman alone.

"Damn you!" Faith yells, running at the witch. Willow puts up her hand, and quietly says "Stop". Faith runs into cushioned shield… and staggers back. She gives Willow an angry look.

" No fucking fair using magic!" Faith snarls, punching at the shield. She keeps hitting it, not really trying to knock it down. Just because she's so frustrated, she needs to hit something. She keeps punching at it, until she wears herself out. She stands there, breathing hard, shoulders slumped. She looks defeated. Willow waves her hand, and the shield dissipates.

" I don't know what to do, Red." Faith says, her voice sounding hollow and flat." I just don't know how I'm… I can't even think about… Oh, God, Red, if she…" Faith stands there, her body starting to shake again. Willow just walks over to Faith, and takes her in her arms, holding her tight. Faith breaks down, all the stuff she's been holding in for nearly 2 years coming out in a flood. She leans against Willow, her face wet with tears, her body convulsing with sobs. Willow just holds her, gently rubbing her back and letting her get it out.

Finally, after a long time, Faith runs out of tears, and just lies quietly in Willow's embrace. Faith is not a crier. She disdains all the "weepy blubbering" she sees goes on. But when it comes to Buffy… the last time Faith can remember crying like that was when she heard that Buffy had died fighting Glory. She'd sat in her cell, facing away from the bars, towards the wall, and cried for nearly an hour. She thought then she'd never get to tell Buffy how sorry she was for what she'd done. She'd never get a chance to make it up to Buffy. She'd thought she'd lost her chance to ever be Buffy's friend. She'd lost Buffy.

Here she was again. She was faced with losing Buffy again, and she couldn't deal. She's been trying so hard to prove to everyone that she can handle it, she's mature now, she doesn't need help. But she needs help. Badly. It's all falling apart for her, and she needs help. She can't do it alone anymore.

Faith starts to laugh, quietly. Willow looks at her like she's finally ready for the rubber room. Faith stops laughing, and smiles slightly.

" It's ironic, Red. The irony just hit me. Here we are, we've been at odds over Buffy for …god, how long?" Faith groans, not even wanting to think about it. " And it's you that winds up comforting me over her". Willow shakes her head, and chuckles, seeing the point.

" Not a big, trust me, Faith" Willow says, dryly." I'd do it for anyone".

" It's a big, Red, trust me. I can't do it alone anymore, Red" Faith says, her voice thick with tears." I've tried, really tried to be strong all the time, but I can't. I…god help me, I never thought I say these words… need you, Will. More, Buffy needs you"

"You don't need me, Faith" Willow says, quietly, " you just need some help".

" No, I need someone to talk to. I can't talk to B, it just upsets her. And I know she won't talk to me. She thinks I'll get weird, or scared… gee, like I'm not already weird and scared, huh?". Faith looks at Will, and continues," Please, Red, if not for me, then for B. I know she's scared, and hurting. She needs you, Red. She needs her friend. The one she could tell anything to." Faith, desperate, gets on her knees. "Please, Red. She needs you. I'll do anything… please". Faith hangs her head.

Willow gets down to Faith's level, and lifts her head. " Faith, stop. I couldn't turn my back on Buffy, you know that. No matter how angry I might be at her. Of course, I'll help. … but there's more, isn't there?" Willow asks, divining Faith's anxiety. Faith nods, embarrassed.

" I can't concentrate on work, Faith. I'm… screwing up. I'm losing clients, and those I still have are not pleased with what I'm doing. I … just can't think straight. And, there are the girls. I don't know where I'm gonna get the money for tuition this year. The insurance has run out on Buffy, so it's cash now…our savings are getting close to depleted." Faith sighs." I'll admit it, this wasn't all altruistic. I was gonna ask you for a loan to tide us over 'til I could figure something out".

" I just wish you'd come to me sooner, Faith" Willow hugs Faith." Don't worry, it'll be ok."
"I'll pay you back, I promise" Faith says, what small bit of pride she has left reasserting itself.

" Faith, my god. I've got more money than I could spend in 10 lifetimes" Willow says, " It's a gift, ok?"

"I'll pay you back" Faith says, her face hardening up. She's not into charity.

"Fine. When you're back on your feet, we'll work something out. Right now, lets not sweat it, ok?" Willow says. God, she's as stubborn as Buffy!

" Thank you, Red." Faith says, genuinely grateful. " I… was at my wits end".

"C'mon, lets get out of this alley" Willow says," I know you and Buffy used to hang out in these places looking for baddies, but frankly I don't like the ambience. We'll go back to the café and talk some more."

Putting her arm around Faith's waist, she helps the slayer up, and they walk back to the café.

Faith, after cleaning up in the restroom, joins Willow back at the table.

" I think what you need, Faith, is a break. Away from business and all the rest. Take some time off, spend it with Buffy" Willow says.

" Red, I just can't drop my business. I've worked my ass off to build that firm, and I…" Faith says, but Willow interrupts her.

" Yeah, and by your own admission, you're driving those clients off, yes?" Willow says, all business now.

Faith looks at the table. She nods. " Yeah"

" So, I've got an idea" Willow says," I've got a good management team in the San Francisco office that needs a new challenge. I think this might be the perfect thing. I can bring them in, and have them run the business until you're ready to come back" Willow says.

Faith starts to shake her head " No, Red, that won't fly. This is not an IT firm. This business is totally different" Faith retorts. " Nothing personal, but what do you know about Commercial art, or advertising?".

" Me? Nothing" Willow laughs," But this is a business, right? This team is good, trust me. They'll bring in the right staff to run the day by day work. Their job will be to increase the business. That they're excellent at."

" I don't take charity, Red" Faith says, firmly.

" God, Faith. This isn't charity. I keep charity and business separate. So far, it's worked pretty well for me. I need to diversify a bit, and this could be just the direction. WillNet needs some new advertising and artwork for the business. It's getting stale. I think having partner who does that work would be a good idea" Willow says, her resolve face firmly set in place.

" Partner?" Faith says, " what partner?"

" You, idiot!" Willow replies, half joking, half irritated." You didn't think my help comes free, do you? I want 25% of your firms net".

" Wait a minute, now. I don't know about that. I mean, I…." Faith starts, but Will cuts her off again.

"Faith, take the deal. Believe me, when this team is done, you're business will be worth 10 times what it's been worth in it's best year. And, you'll be managing partner. What do you say?" Will says, doing her best Donald Trump .

" Ummm… why're you doing this?" Faith asks. She's grateful, but not stupid. She knows there's a catch, somewhere.

" Looking for the catch, Faith?" Willow replies, as if she read Faith's mind(don't think she couldn't if she really wanted to. But she didn't),"Frankly? I'm bored. WillNet doesn't need my constant care anymore. Hell, if I show up more than once a week, everybody gets paranoid. I need something new, and maybe this is it. Maybe in 10-15 years time we can be looking at a commercial art/ advertising firm rivaling WillNet in size. I know I could use the challenge. Whaddya say?". Willow sees Faith's expression, and continues." Ok, maybe there's more to it. Maybe I'm lonely, and I need something to do. God, Faith, I need to be part of something again. I'm going nuts. I … need to be part of a family. Maybe I'm trying to buy my way into yours" Willow says, a little shamefaced.

"You don' t have to do this, Red" Faith says, quietly." You're already part of 'my' family. Even if you and Buffy are being incredibly stupid about all this"

"So, we gotta deal then?" Willow asks, back to business.

" Yeah, well, we'll see. If we can work together without killing each other, we'll formalize it" Faith says. Not quite the business fool everybody thinks she is.

Willow smiles. She reaches out and takes Faith's hand, which kinda unnerves Faith a little. She looks at Willow with a bit of caution.

" I've gotta say something else" Willow says," I was wrong about you, Faith. I… really misjudged you. I thought you were all wrong for Buffy, that you were using her." Willow confesses," I.. didn't believe you really loved her. I was wrong. You've been good for her." She stops, this is hard. She sighs, and goes on," I'm asking you to forgive me, if you can". She looks expectantly at Faith.

" Yeah well" Faith says, a bit contrite," I haven't exactly been fair to you either. So how 'bout we just kinda start over, and maybe not be so bitchy to each other this time?" They both half grin, about as good as it gets between them.

" You know that was the easy part, right?" Faith says, continuing. Her mood turns a bit more serious." We still have the hard part to take care of" .

Both of them grimace at the same time.


This so wasn't going to be easy.

Buffy Summers sat on the porch, enjoying the late afternoon sun.

She was watching Joy and Hope playing in the front yard. Those two were inseparable. They were more than sisters; they were best friends. She loved watching them, and had a hard time not wanting to go out and tumble around with them. But she was tired, and didn't really feel up to it.

She looked pale, and even thinner than usual. She wore a scarf on her head, to cover the baldness from Chemo. Her eyes were bright, but she had dark rings around them. She looked as tired as she felt. She …hated feeling tired all the time. She missed being active, running around here and there, doing stuff. Now, she even got tired walking a few blocks. Fucking cancer, she grumbled. Totally not fair!

She perked up a little bit when she heard the car pull in the drive. Faith was home. Good. She always felt a little better when Faith was home. Though lately, she'd been worried about Faith. Faith is trying to do too much, Buffy thought. She's killing herself. Yeah, so what're you gonna do? You sit here, useless as log, Buffy. God, I really hate this so damned much. Shit, shit , shit!

She noticed someone was in the car with Faith. A woman. Buffy peered, trying to see who it was, but couldn't quite see her. She had her face turned towards Faith , talking up a storm. Red hair. Hmmm… Faith is changing her taste in women. Well, guess better than bald. Crap, Buffy, knock it off. Faith'd never cheat on you… and certainly wouldn't bring her home, even if she did. Never mind she knows I beat her to a pulp once I felt better. Must be a business client. That's kind odd, though, Buffy shrugged to herself. She never brings them here. Guess she's afraid the Wife (meaning moi, of course) would scare them with the pirate look she's got going on. Wonder what the deal is, anyway?

They get out of the car, the mystery woman with her back towards Buffy. Buffy, her nose itching with curiosity, hauls herself out of her chair, and starts down the steps. Hey, might as well introduce myself. Worse comes to worse, Faith can tell her I'm the crazy babysitter, or somethin'.

" Mommy! Mom! " Hope cries out, running to Faith. She jumps up and hugs Faith. Faith grins at the mystery woman.

" Auntie Faith, how's it goin?" Joy says, more cool, walking over and laying a hug on Faith." Who's this?"

" Hey, you!" Buffy calls out, walking over to Faith. " Don't I get a hug?" She pouts a little.

Faith, weighed down by two ten year olds, struggles over and throws an arm around Buffy. She gives Buffy a kiss on the cheek.

" Hey, baby. How ya doin?" Faith says, reverting to her street English. She uses it mostly at home these days. "What's the deal, B? Out catchin some rays? Gonna tan up nicely huh?" She kids with Buffy.

" Hi, sorry, don't think we've been introduced" Buffy turns to face the 'mystery' woman and stops cold. She turns to Faith. " What the hell is she doing here?" Buffy's smile is gone, replaced by a frown.

" Buffy, be nice" Faith says," Red heard you were ill. She…wanted to see how you were".

" Still alive, Will" Buffy says, a little acidly, " Like you give a damn". Buffy turns, upset, and starts to walk off.

" Buffy, please!" Willow calls out. " I… I want to talk , if we can?"

" Don't see what there's to talk about , Will. You pretty much said it all 5 years ago." Buffy calls over her shoulder." Just wait awhile, you might get your wish yet!"

"B! Stop!" Faith says, her voice firm." Give her a chance!"

"Why? So she can insult you and me again, Faith? So she can make fun of us? So she can wish me dead, again?" Buffy turns, her face mottled with anger." Oh yeah, haven't forgotten that little valentine from you, Will. And you!" Buffy turns to Faith, "What's your deal? When did you become so cozy with Will, anyway? Don't you remember what she called you? How she treated you and me? God, Faith, what's going through your mind, anyway?".

Willow stands mortified, looking at the ground. She has this coming, and more. Goddess, be nice to open the earth and just swallow me up now, please!

Joy and Hope start to back away. Their moms fighting is never good, and it upsets them to watch. They start for the front door. Willow sees them, and realizes what they're feeling. Not thinking, she starts after them, to try to comfort them.

Buffy sees this, and puts herself between Willow and the girls. She grabs Willow, and stops her cold.

"You! Don't you go close to the kids!" Buffy warns, her voice cold and hard. Willow freezes, realizing her mistake.

"Sorry" Willow says, looking down.

" Yeah, I bet. Look, why don't you just go?" Buffy hisses, angered, " You're just causing trouble with me and mine, again. Like you did 5 years ago. Just go!" Buffy says, turning to follow the girls.

" Elizabeth Anne Summers, what the hell is your problem?" Faith says, her voice low, but really angry. Buffy freezes. The only time Faith has ever used her full name was when she's seeing red. With Faith, that can be extremely dangerous.

"What?" Buffy says, her tone defiant…like a 16 year old caught out late. But she's feeling queasy.

" This stupidity is gonna stop, now!" Faith says, her tone brooking no argument( gee, you'd think Joyce Summers had reincarnated in Faith, wouldn't you?)." Red came to me, extremely concerned about you.(ok, a tiny lie, but hey). I think the least you can do, is try to work this out!"

" You don't get it , Faith" Buffy says, " My friendship with her" nodding toward Willow, who's still standing like a statue by the driveway" ended 5 years ago. By her own doing. I've got nothing to work out with her".

"Faith, maybe she's right. Maybe I should just go" Willow says. She starts to turn to leave.

"NO! You stay" She says to Willow, who stops. Faith continues, " And you" She addresses Buffy, " Are gonna listen for once!"

Buffy and Willow stand like recalcitrant children.( God, Faith does Joyce so well, it's nearly eerie).

" You don't think I see things, Buffy" Faith says, sternly," but were not all as clueless as you can be sometimes" Buffy stands there, flushing red. She hates when Faith does that… mostly, because she's right." You don't think I see you look at Red's picture when you think I'm not looking. You think I don't catch you reading her old letters to you, with tears in your eyes. You don't think I hear you when you sit late at night in the living room, crying. Yeah, I don't get it, do I , B? You miss her. You miss her so badly, your heart's breaking over it. You really must think I'm a moron if you think I don't know it, Buffy Summers! I've got two little girls to worry about already" Faith says, her anger increasing, " I really don't need two more" indicating Willow and Buffy." Frankly, I'm sick to death of it! If I can forgive Willow, B, I damned well know you can." Buffy is looking at her feet, as if she's suddenly grown another toe on each one.

"And you, Ms. Willow Rosenberg!" Faith turns on Willow. " You took you're sweet time trying to reconcile. You came very close to being too damned late!" It's Willow's turn to examine the sixth toe she's grown on each foot. Faith continues, " You said some really awful things about me, and about Buffy. You have a little bit of crawling to do, I think!"

Willow looks up, her face reflecting her remorse. " Faith, I'm so very sorry, I can't begin to make you understand how much" Willow begins, her voice soft and contrite," I said some things about you that are so awful, I'm ashamed to repeat them. I can't make up for what I said, or did. All I can say is that I was jealous of you, Faith. Jealous because Buffy loved you, and not me". Willow stops, her heart beating fast in her chest. This is the first time she's admitted it, even to herself.

Buffy and Faith are …well, lets say they're looking at Willow like she grew a second head. This wasn't what either of them expected.

" I'm so, so sorry" Willow continues, her throat thick with emotion," I was so wrong. I thought that Faith was no good for you, Buffy. I thought she would hurt you. I… did bad things, said worse things. I tried to break you up. I was wrong. Faith…I can see now, Faith loves you like I love you. She's good for you, and she's the one you love. I understand that. I accept that. No, I celebrate that. Because you're happy, Buffy. With Faith. And you being happy… is important to me. So, I can live with the fact that you don't love me …the same way I love you" Willow stops, her voice cracking. She takes a few seconds to recover.

" I think" Faith says, her voice a little strained, " I think you two need a little time alone" Faith walks towards the front door, and looks back at the two women. She smiles, and then turns and walks into the house.

Buffy and Willow stand in the front yard, not really looking at each other. Willow , for her part, has confessed to something she swore she'd never tell. She can feel the awkwardness and tension increasing with each breath, and she's wondering if maybe she shouldn't just disappear now and never come back. She knows her confession has made things worse.

Buffy, for her part, could've been knocked over with a feather. She…never even had a clue how Will had felt.(clueless much, blondie?). If she was going to be honest with herself, a part of her heart belonged to Will, too. Not only in a friendship way. Don't even go there. She loves Faith , she'd never do ANYTHING to hurt Faith, EVER.( Hope that's clear enough). But she couldn't help how she felt. That's part of the reason when Willow had been so…awful 5 years ago, it'd hurt so much. At least now she knew why Will had done what she did. She could understand it better.

"Will?" Buffy says, her voice softer, gentler.

"What, Buffy?" Willow says, looking up.

" We have to talk" Buffy says, holding out her hand. Willow takes it, and they make their way to the tree outside Buffy's old bedroom window. They sat down, and began to talk.

And talk, and talk. They talked for 3 hours under that old tree, going on for long after the sun set. Faith came out a number of times to check up on Buffy, but seeing them deep in conversation, just smiled and went back inside. It was the first time in a long time she'd seen Buffy…so like herself. It warmed her heart, and she was glad she'd done what she'd done.

They talked like they hadn't talked in like… forever. They laughed some, they cried a lot, and finally they came to an understanding.

" You've gotta know, Will. Even though I, in some little part of my heart, share some of your feelings, I love Faith. I'm in love with Faith. I love you too, but not the same way, Will." Buffy says, and Will nods her assent. She expected nothing else. " I will never do anything to hurt her. Ever. So, there can never be anything between us but friendship." Again , Willow nods." Good, then you're ok with that?"

" I can't lie, Buffy. Of course I wish there could be more. But, I want to be your friend again, most of all. I've missed you, Buffy. And, I want to be a good friend to Faith, too. I didn't realize until today that she really loves you Buffy. You're really lucky, Buffy. You've got two really great women who love you. Me, I can accept loving you as a friend. It's good, it's really good." Willow smiles, and for a brief second Buffy sees that shy red-headed girl with the emerald green eyes she met so long ago in high school. Impulsively she pulls Willow into a hug, and the two women just hold each other for awhile.

" I'm glad, Will." Buffy smiles, and for second Willow sees the pretty cheerleader that captured her friendship and heart so many years ago. Buffy continues," I didn't want to say goodbye to you again. I've missed you too, and we have so much to catch up on"

" Yes, we do. But another time. I think you need your rest" Willow says, worried about Buffy's health.

" Oh, poop. I feel better tonight than I've felt in a long time. Come on in, I'll make mochas, 'K?" Buffy says." C'mon, Will, ya can't turn down all that sugary goodness " Buffy grins.

"Well… ok, one" Willow says, giving into temptation" But that's it. I can't handle caffeine all that well anymore. Makes me super hyper".

" Oh yeah, like you could ever handle it" Buffy chuckles." God, Will, I remember one time in high school, you drank coffee all night, trying to stay awake to study for a test. You came to school the next day ,and you were so hyper…."

The conversation drifts off as the two women go inside the house. After a few moments, Faith emerges from the shadows, a self-satisfied grin on her face. She stands on the porch , thinking

She's glad that Buffy and Willow are finally back together. It's taken a lot of effort on her part, and it's been hard to get this all arranged. She knew that Willow loved Buffy… she's not the clueless wonder that her wife is. And, she was aware that on some level, Buffy shared those feelings. No shock to her there. What neither of them realized, however, is that Faith had more than a passing interest in Willow. Nothing would ever come of it. She'd never tell either of them. Buffy is her soul mate, and makes Faith very, very happy. But, you can't help how you feel, now can you? Faith chuckles and looks up at the night sky.

Faith looks up at the moon and stars, and for the first time in a very long time, things don't look so dark.

She turns and walks inside the house.