1. Chapter One

Disclaimer: I do not own these characters. I am merely another of you obsessed fans who enjoys writing. Author's Note: This takes place sometime shortly after Buffy's resurrection, in place of "Dirty Girls" and the episodes Faith is in the fourth season of Angel.

Buffy hesitated as she stood before her bedroom door, clad in a red tank top and her blue pajama bottoms. She had hardly slept last night, was too restless to sleep now for sure, but she didn't want to leave the relative privacy- the relative mental and emotional safety- of her room to head for the kitchen. For at the moment- or at least, the last time she had checked, which she had done compulsively several times throughout the night- Faith was sleeping on her living room couch.

It had been a shock to see her last night, to say the least. Buffy had been on patrol, having recently found another hot vamp hangout. She'd found four of them, been dusting them off one by one while steadily defending herself as well, when she turned to look for the last one- and realize that several feet away, someone else had already intercepted him, was poised to stake him. As the vampire had exploded into a cloud of dust and disintegrating bone, Buffy had realized to her complete shock, bewilderment, and apprehension that the dark-haired figure who had just taken him out was none other than Faith. Faith, who was still supposed to be in prison…

"Faith," Buffy said flatly, her eyes narrowing as she felt her body tense, her grip on her stake tighten.

She watched the younger girl sharply, preparing to defend herself should Faith make a move. Prison or not, having confessed and supposedly repented of her crimes or not, Buffy had not forgotten what had happened the last time Faith had arrived in Sunnydale and barged in on her life. This time, she swore silently to herself, she would let Faith wreak such havoc- she would stop her short the moment the other Slayer tried.

Strangely, though, Faith seemed as shocked as Buffy was, if not more so. Her dark eyes had widened almost exaggeratedly, and her pouty lips parted as she stared at Buffy, blinking several times. She did not make a move towards her; rather, she seemed frozen, unable to decide as to a course of action.

"B," she said, and her voice was hoarse. Still she did not move towards her, only swallowed, her eyes still drinking in Buffy's form, still blinking more than was strictly necessary. She's- her hands are shaking, Buffy realized suddenly, seeing how the stake moved in Faith's hands, and not understanding or caring.

"B," Faith breathed again, and she finally took a slow step towards her, her left arm half extended. One fierce look from Buffy, along with the older Slayer's hissed command for Faith not to touch her, stopped her in her tracks.

"I thought you were in prison, Faith," Buffy said in a very controlled yet tense tone, as Faith continued to stare at her with a confused, slightly hurt frown.

"Well, god, B, I thought you were dead!" Faith blurted out.

Suddenly her strange reactions made sense to Buffy. Well, of course Angel would have told her… and since she had only come back a week ago, he might not have yet had the chance to tell Faith the update. Visiting hours at prison were probably only on certain days, at certain times.

"Yeah, well, you can't keep a good woman down," she quipped. "Or a not so good one either, apparently," she added pointedly. "Faith, what are you doing here? And don't give me any bullshit, just cut to the chase."

"Well, the Council sent me," Faith said, still staring at Buffy as if she couldn't quite believe what she was seeing. "Our old buddies the Watchers. After- after they found out you- had died- they were short a Slayer. Since you died already before, I guess another one wasn't chosen when you died again. So there wasn't anyone- no one but me. I guess they figured, better a formerly "bad" Slayer than nothing, so they pulled some strings to get me home free. I'm out on parole basically- the whole reformed-good-behavior thing. But obviously someone was never informed that you had rose again, or whatever. Damn, how many lives do you have anyway?"

"About as many as how many times you escaped justice before turning yourself in," Buffy shot back.

When Faith lowered her eyes, not saying anything in reply, it only made her angrier- did she really think Buffy was gullible enough to fall for her sorry routine?!

"I'm just supposed to believe you, that they let you out like that?" Buffy said tightly. "Because you've been so honest before, because you've been so trustworthy? I mean, you definitely never lied to me, you never screwed me over- literally- or tried to kill me or my friends-"

"I'm not looking to fight you, B," Faith interrupted, meeting her eyes squarely and not flinching at the hostility she saw reflected back at her. "I'm just doing what I was told. Just following orders."

"Yeah, we all know how good you are at that, Faith," Buffy said sarcastically. "Well if that's true, then you won't have any problem coming with me to get Giles to sort this out, will you? You won't have a problem if we call the Watchers and the prison and whoever else you claim arranged this, right?"

Faith looked back at her, an impenetrable expression in her dark gaze."Okay," she said. "Whatever. You do what you think you gotta do, B."

"Oh, trust me, I will, F," Buffy said, placing deliberate harsh emphasis on Faith's initial. "You don't have to worry about that."

Starting toward her, she seized hold of Faith's arm, holding it tightly, hard enough to bruise, and began to walk away. Faith walked with her, unprotesting. Buffy couldn't decide if this was a good thing or not… or even whether, if Faith was telling the truth, it was preferable to a trick or a lie.

2. Chapter 2

Disclaimer: See chapter one.

Of course, Faith had not been lying, as Giles had quickly found out. She had indeed been sent to take over where the supposedly-deceased Buffy had left off. Now that all miscommunication had been corrected, however, they were left with the problem of what to do with Faith. On one hand, she was not needed- nor wanted- in Sunnydale. On the other hand, they HAD freed her from prison, and she had nowhere else to go.It had been decided that she would stay at Buffy's house, for at least one night. The next day, they could discuss other options.Buffy had not been happy with the arrangements for obvious reasons, but on the other hand, it did give her the chance to keep an eye on Faith. If the other Slayer tried anything, Buffy would not hesitate to put a stop to it. With Dawn having been sent to stay at a friend's, loudly protesting all the way, Buffy was more secure that Faith couldn't at least harm her little sister. But there were endless other mischiefs she could get herself into.

As Buffy made herself push open her bedroom door and begin to walk down the hall, she found herself almost hoping that the other Slayer was gone already, that Faith had skipped out in the night. If she'd just go her own way, leave everyone alone and butt out of Buffy's life, it would be so much easier.But of course, there was no such luck. From the kitchen door she could see Faith at the table, still clad in her day clothes from yesterday. Probably, Buffy thought, the clothes she had worn when admitted to the prison. They certainly looked very Faith-like- a snug black sleeveless top and black pants. Faith didn't have any food before her on the table, nor any plates or utensils. She seemed to have been just sitting there, almost as if she were waiting for someone. For Buffy.

Buffy couldn't help but notice that Faith didn't seem to be sending off waves of bold and cocky confidence either, for once. There was no trace of that arrogant smirk on her face that so often had made Buffy want to punch her- and so often had. Rather, her shoulders were tensed, rounded in on themselves in a way that seemed more protective of herself than defensive. From what Buffy could see of Faith's face in profile, she looked almost… nervous.

Faith, nervous? That would be a first. In denial, lying through her teeth, jealous, angry, insane… all that, Buffy had seen, and some part of her knew that it had often been a cover, a way of hiding a pain and vulnerability that Faith could not admit to herself, let alone anyone else. But for her to look nervous- almost scared- with no one to watch her, and therefore no agenda she could have been carrying out by expressing it… that was definitely something new.

Thinking this, Buffy felt a hot flash of anger surge through her chest. Well, Faith SHOULD be nervous- she SHOULD be scared, and sorry too. It was about time she felt something other than selfish, vindictive desires to screw with the lives of Buffy and her friends, to take for herself everything Buffy had. If she really thought Buffy could just forget all that she had done to her- well, she had always known Faith wasn't exactly a scholar, but she had to be completely oblivious if she believed that.

Seeing no way to further prolong facing Faith, Buffy finally walked through the kitchen entrance, going to stand diagonally from her, by the sink and kitchen counters. Faith looked up at her in surprise- apparently their shared Slayer senses/on-and-off-connection was not up to speed this morning. Or maybe prison had blunted it. Though seeing the way Faith had moved yesterday, Buffy doubted that. She looked as strong and toned as ever, probably from long prison work-outs.

"B," Faith said quietly, more tentatively than Buffy was used to hearing from her. "Hey."

She smiled hesitantly; when Buffy did not smile back, it faded slowly. "I guess to say good morning would be stretching it, huh, B."

"Yeah, you guess right," Buffy said shortly, crossing her arms across her chest. "And you know, Faith, I really want you to stop calling me that."

"Yeah, sorry," Faith muttered. "Old habits die hard, you know?"

"Yeah, I know, Faith," Buffy replied pointedly. "That's what concerns me."

Faith's cheeks seemed to pale slightly, her olive skin growing almost ashy, and she clinched her jaw. Buffy could see her gripping the table edge tightly as she looked down, and knew she had provoked some strong emotional response in her- but what? Anger, shame, distress? The deliberate blankness of her eyes made it impossible to tell.

She fully expected Faith to explode, to jump up and lunge for her, attack her. She almost wanted her too… it would give her a reason to fight back, to vent the frustration and anger she felt for her, her desire to hurt Faith as Faith had once hurt her. It would give Buffy a clear, concrete reason for her fury.

But Faith did not attack her, and when she looked at Buffy, her eyes were still deliberately guarded.

"I didn't want to just help myself in here," she said, ignoring what Buffy had just said to her. "I figured you wouldn't be cool with that, so I thought I'd sit here and wait for you."

"You can get something to eat, Faith. I'm not going to stop you," Buffy said coolly. "I'm sure you remember where everything is."

Faith watched Buffy for a moment, seeming to look for something in Buffy's eyes that, judging from her frown, she could not find or decipher. Moving her shoulders in a slight shrug, she stood, moving her chair back a few inches to allow herself space. Although it would be closer for her to go to her right to the food cupboard, this would mean that Faith would have to walk past Buffy in a distance that would be uncomfortably close for both.

Instead, she went to her left, going completely around the table.Faith could feel Buffy's eyes on her as she walked, and she knew that the other Slayer was honing in on her every move. It didn't take her Slayer senses, as she and Buffy used to call them, to be able to tell just how much Buffy still resented her and her presence in her home.Trying to ignore Buffy and her never wavering gaze, to tell herself that it didn't matter, Faith reached for the cabinet knob. But she couldn't do it- she couldn't convince herself that she didn't care. She couldn't shake off the strange buzzing sensation that seemed to skim across her nerves in reaction to Buffy's behavior, the near agitation it provoked in her. Whether or not she tried to deny it, it DID bother her, and Faith realized suddenly that she couldn't let it go any longer.

3. Chapter 3

Disclaimer: See chapter 1.

She turned abruptly, and Buffy was vaguely surprised- and annoyed- to see that her forehead was creased slightly, her face showing a strong awkwardness and self-consciousness, a confliction of emotion.

"B- Buffy- I know you still hate me- and I mean, I don't blame you-"

"I don't hate you, Faith," Buffy cut her off, her words cool and clipped. She knew where this was going, and frankly, she didn't want to hear it. Explanations, apologies, declarations of her newly reformed self- Buffy was not the least bit interested. All she wanted was for Faith's current situations and subsequent future to be resolved, so she could get out of Buffy's life again, as soon as possible.

"I don't care that much," Buffy finished, looking the younger girl flatly in the eye.

And in that moment, she really believed her own words.She saw the hurt spring up in Faith's eyes, saw the way that the other Slayer's lips pressed tightly together as she fought to conceal it, how her elbows subconsciously pressed against her sides. Buffy would have thought she'd take satisfaction in this, but she didn't, couldn't- and neither had any of her anger been abated.

"Okay, so I deserved that," Faith said finally, lifting her eyes back to Buffy's with a determination and grit that offset her early hesitance.

She shook her hair back from her face; it was still as dark and thick as ever, and it struck Buffy suddenly that she had almost never seen her put it up or tie it back. For Faith to do so, to not have her hair half in her face, ever ready for her to shake back with a restless toss of her head, would be to somehow make her no longer herself.

"But B- Buffy- If you don't care, then why are you giving me the whole Ice Queen voiceover through gritted teeth?" Faith pointed out. "I mean, your face is just screaming 'uptight,', and your eyes aren't exactly sending rainbows and puppies my way."

To her complete aggravation, Buffy found herself reacting automatically to Faith's words in exactly the way she had pointed out- gritting her teeth, clinching her jaw so that she felt her back teeth grind, and narrowing heated eyes at her. Since when had Faith become Miss Observant?

"Well, Faith, standing in the kitchen with someone who tried to kill me and my friends and family more often than Kenny dies on South Park doesn't exactly put you in de-stress mode," Buffy said tightly, her voice heavier with anger than the sarcasm she had originally intended.

Faith nodded slowly, though she looked a tad confused. What, she hadn't seen South Park on the big-screen TV her sugar daddy the Mayor had given her? Still, she kept looking at Buffy with a clear determination, meaning to go ahead with whatever it was she so obviously wanted to say, whether or not Buffy wanted her to.

"Look, B… Buffy. I know I'm no good at this. I mean, I can't even hardly remember to call you Buffy instead of B- I don't know how the hell I'm supposed to do THIS. But- I feel like I gotta, you know? I know you don't want to hear it- I know you're still mad, and I don't blame you, like I said- but I really, I feel like I have to say it."

She exhaled, obviously uncomfortable as her eyes briefly lowered, as she swayed her weight back and forth in her typical restless fashion, her hands seeming to be unable to decide where to settle as they tugged at her shirt hem, skimmed briefly over her hips and arms, before she finally put a hand to the back of her neck, gripping it absently. Faith's shirt rose up from her stomach enough for Buffy to see the partially revealed scar on her abdomen… the scar from where Buffy had stabbed her.

Startled, rattled, Buffy jerked her gaze away, her heart quickening. Somehow, seeing that mark on Faith's stomach had sickened her. She hated to look, to see what she had done- and she hated Faith in that moment for reminding her, making her see.

Surprised, Faith looked at the other Slayer in confusion, frowning. Then, as it dawned on her the direction of where Buffy's eyes had been focused, her own eyes widened, and she hastily put down her arm, pulling down her shirt with a jerkiness that was simultaneously shamed, horrified, protective, and defensive.

"Buffy- look, Buffy," Faith fumbled, her voice shaky, stumbling, "I-I'm sorry. I know I fucked up. I know I screwed you over. I know- I know what I did, and I'm sorry. But that's not me anymore. I've changed."

"Yeah, well so did I, Faith," Buffy said, her voice harsher than before as the visual of Faith's scar remained burned in her memory. She had to concentrate just to keep her breathing even, to not let her voice falter. "Back then, I might have been able to look past what you had done to me. Now I can't."

Faith continued to look at her, her dark eyes focused too intently on Buffy for the older girl's liking.

"You don't want to believe me," she said quietly. "You don't want to forgive me. Angel does… and I know I didn't do to Angel what I did to you, but B, you're supposed to be better than Angel."

At this, Buffy sucked in her breath audibly, a hissing sound escaping her that would have made most people flinch. She could not believe the other girl's nerve, her DARING to say that- and yet it was so typically Faith. And for her to say it so quietly, so earnestly, as if it were Buffy who was in the wrong…Heat flooded her face, and Buffy could barely restrain herself from punching her. As it was, her reply to her was dripping with bitterness and venom.

"Angel… oh yes, Angel. Of course Angel would forgive you anything."

Faith frowned, her brow furrowing. "Why do you have to say it like that? I-"

"Faith, don't give me that innocence bullshit," Buffy snapped, her blue eyes glinting dangerously. "You always had him in your sights. He was mine, and you couldn't take it. He loved me, and you couldn't stand it. You did all you could to seduce and twist and manipulate him into taking your side, taking you into his arms, and now he's finally all Team Faith, your unconditional supporter, your damn killing codependent. Are you happy now that you have him wrapped around your fondling little fingers, or is that still not enough for you?"

Faith's mouth had dropped open, and she stared at Buffy, the shock and hurt- and anger- flickering in confliction across her eyes and mouth.

"B-Buffy- it's not like that at all. Me and Angel- we-"

"Isn't it?" Buffy asked her, her voice dropping to an icy whisper.

As their eyes met, held each other's too hard, full of too many sentiments both too well understood and yet not enough, Buffy realized with a sudden shock and vague agitation that her hand had unconsciously gone up to touch the scar on her neck. The scar where Angel had drank from her the day that she had fought with Faith, in the fight that ended with the other Slayer going into a coma, having flung herself off the roof with a knife wound in her gut…Faith too, Buffy saw, had somehow also slipped, simultaneously, into some moment of their past together… her dark eyes had clouded over, and her face was slack, troubled. Her hand had drifted as well, was resting seemingly without her knowledge over the scar on her abdomen.

Both Slayers' eyes met at the same time, shadowed, momentarily lost, the same pain reflected in dark brown and pale blue. Then in the same instant, with the same jerky motions, they both yanked their hands away. Buffy could feel her heartbeat speed up, and she tried to grab hold of the anger that was beginning to slip away from her, to stomp down hard on it once more.

"You can't tell me you didn't want him, Faith," Buffy said aggressively. "You can't tell me that you didn't try to take him from me. You tried to kill him- and when that didn't work, you used your woe-is-me tales and crocodile tears to make him and his ever-understanding mortal soul feel sorry for you."

"Look- first off, by that time, B, he wasn't even yours anymore," Faith pointed out levelly. "You'd gave up on each other, remember? You had your new guy-"

"Yeah, one you felt necessary to deceive into sleeping with you!" Buffy cried, frustrated.

"Well- yeah, I'm sorry about that," Faith mumbled, looking away and shifting awkwardly. "I don't know what else to say, B. BUFFY. Shit! Buffy, Buffy, Buffy. Sorry. But anyway- that's not the way it is with Angel and me. I don't love him like that- and he doesn't me either. He just- he cares. I- it's hard to explain. Nobody never- nobody never cared about me like that."

"I would have, Faith," Buffy countered. "I wanted to. I tried so hard to, and you wanted no part of it. All you did was throw it in my face."

"I'm SORRY, Buffy!" Faith repeated, voice rising, face tightening. "I don't know how much I have to say it, before you'll finally accept it! Yeah, I screwed up! And I'm sorry! Yeah, I tried to kill you and Willow and Xander and the entire school, yeah I slept with your boyfriend, yeah I tried to kill Angel and seduce him, and I'm sorry! I don't know what else I can say. I've been trying to make it better, and I don't know how, I can't do it. And you won't tell me, you won't let me. Yes," she said, in a softer, almost pleading voice, "I did try to take Angel from you at first. But it wasn't because I wanted him. I mean, that's never what it was about. I didn't really want him to sleep with me, or love me instead of you-"

"No," Buffy interrupted heatedly. "Of course not, Faith. You wanted him because he was mine. You wanted to take everything I had, just so it would be yours instead of mine-"

"No, I didn't," Faith insisted, quietly but firmly. "B… Buffy-"

"Yes, you did!" Buffy nearly yelled, and she was leaning towards Faith now, only a few feet away, her body tense and pumping rapidly with emotion-driven adrenaline. "You did all you could to hurt me, because you hated me! You hated everything I had and you didn't, so you turned it around, tried to make it all about poor little Faith and her broken home childhood, how no one understands you-"

"No!" Faith screamed, her face flooding with color and emotion. "No, that isn't true! Dammit, B, that isn't fucking true! I didn't want to do that! I didn't hate you, I didn't want what you had! I didn't want anything at all- anything but you! I just wanted you- I just wanted fucking YOU!"

Her eyes were bearing into Buffy's with a feverishness, a powerful anger and anguish both that froze Buffy in her thoughts as well as her movements. The dark-haired Slayer's breathing was rapid, raspy and erratic, and her chest moved up and down shallowly with each breath. They stared at each other, unable to form words, and Buffy realized dimly that while she couldn't move, Faith was shaking visibly.

"What… Faith, what are you saying?" she finally asked hoarsely.

4. Chapter 4

Faith tore her eyes away, blinking several times, but not before Buffy saw a glinting that looked suspiciously like tears.

"I- god, B, I just- I just wanted YOU. I just wanted you to care about me, to- to love me," Faith almost whispered, her voice cracking slightly. She cupped her elbows as she stared down at the ground, still blinking furiously, a fierce self-loathing tightening her features at her own inability to continue to hide her true thoughts and feelings. She could not seem to look at Buffy- but Buffy could not look away.

"That's really all I wanted, B. All I ever wanted. I- I just wanted you- your attention, our respect, your caring… and I thought I had it, I thought it would never change. But it did. It did! You stopped- you stopped, you just shut me out when I needed you. You- you just didn't get it, you didn't get me, what I said and did. You didn't try to see- you just acted like you believed everything I said to you! How could you believe me, B? You were supposed to know me- you were supposed to see how much I needed someone, needed you, even if no one else did! We were both Slayers- sister Slayers. You were supposed to get me, I NEEDED you to get me. You were supposed to see how scared I was," the younger girl said, and her voice broke, her features contracting sharply. "After- after I- after Alan- you were supposed to stop me. I needed you to stop me, to tell me that it wasn't my fault. I needed you to tell me that it was okay, that we could fix it, that what I had done wasn't evil, but just a mistake. I needed you to tell me, because no matter what I said to you or to anyone else, I couldn't believe it on my own."

Faith paused in her impassioned outburst, still trembling and breathing in rasping pants. Each of her inhalations sounded painful, as though something were cracking her ribs or compressing her lungs, and the pain in her eyes emphasized this impression.

"And you- you didn't do it, B," she said, her voice weaker. "I know you tried to help me, at first- I know you wanted to. But you didn't do it the way I needed you to, the way I wanted you to. They way you would have for Angel or Willow or Xander, or anyone else that you really loved. You- you never told me that I'd be okay, that you knew I hadn't meant to kill him. You never told me that you still cared. You didn't tell me that it wasn't my fault, that I wasn't a bad person. You just- you looked at me and believed me, all the damn bullshit I said and did, and you thought it was true. You WANTED to think it was true, because then you could give up on me."

Faith was starting to cry now, fast-streaming tears wetting the sides of her hair, falling unchecked onto her chest as she lowered her head, shaking it back and forth in bitter frustration. She balled her hands into fists as she continued to choke out her words through her harsh, distorting sobs.

"Do- do you know, B, that you n-never even said that you liked me? I didn't expect y-you to love me, b-but you never even said you liked me! D-do you know how it made me feel when you- god, I didn't care about not having all the stuff you had, I was fucking used to that! I never had anything- why would I think it would be any different now? But I didn't know if you even liked me, B, and I c-couldn't take it. You didn't n-need me… but I needed you."

Faith was almost unable to go on now; she was doubled almost entirely over, her arms tight around herself, hair hanging in her face as she cried, too angry and upset to even attempt to stop or filter her words."E-everything I d-did was because I w-wanted you to s-stop me, to show me you cared! The M-Mayor- he was just a substitute, I only l-loved him because he loved m-me, he cared about me, and I t-thought you didn't, that you w-wouldn't! I hoped you'd s-stop me… I wanted you to stop me! But you d-didn't… you didn't, and I went too f-far, I couldn't stop, and I d-didn't want to anymore. I t-thought you hated me, and so I w-wanted to hate you too. B-but then you tried to k-kill me… I didn't want to kill you, B. I just w-wanted you to stop me. I-I just wanted you to care, even if you didn't… even if you didn't l-love me…I'm sorry, I'm so fucking sorry."

Faith's voice trailed off hoarsely, and she continued to cry, not bothering to try to stop even as she turned her face away. Buffy stared, her mouth dry, as alternately surges of anger, pity, and guilt, a huge wave of guilt and sorrow that she could not force or rationalize away, rose in her chest and throat. Try as she might to remind herself of what the other Slayer had done, of all the reasons she deserved her current anguish, Buffy could not help but take no pleasure in Faith's grief.

"Faith," she said, her words thick, awkward, and she found herself reaching out a hand to the other girl that hung uncertainly in the air, helpless, and not quite touching her. "Faith, I didn't know…"

"No, B, you didn't," Faith said roughly, sucking in another shuddery breath. "That's the point. That's exactly w-what I'm saying."

And then suddenly she was moving, heading towards the kitchen entrance with rushed, almost desperate movements, swiping her cheeks roughly and tossing her tangled, partly damp hair back behind her shoulders as she went. Buffy's heart leapt in a strange, frantic dismay. She knew that Faith was leaving, and almost certainly would have no plans of returning.

"Faith, wait!" she called weakly. "Faith!"

But Faith had already slammed the front door behind her, and Buffy couldn't bring herself to move, couldn't bring herself to follow her and bring her back. She could only stand there speechlessly, confused and partly numb with her shock.

5. Chapter 5

Disclaimer: see chapter 1.

At least ten minutes passed before Buffy could make herself attempt to track Faith down. Ten minutes of alternating between guilt and fury, shame and self-righteousness, sorrow and vindication… everything she had ever felt for Faith or about Faith came to her in a bewildering circle of extreme emotion, utterly disorienting and confusing. She argued with herself back and forth, unable to let go of her anger with Faith, her condemnations of the other Slayer and her past deeds… and yet finally able to see, and even admit to the logic of, Faith's side of things.

If what she said was true- and it was clear from Faith's obvious emotions that she believed it was- then Buffy HAD failed her, HADN'T been observant enough- and yes, caring enough- to really look at who Faith was, really help her in the way she'd needed. Buffy knew that she had cared about Faith, that she had tried to help- but she was beginning to think that maybe she hadn't cared enough, tried hard enough. Maybe Faith was right- maybe they were both right to a degree. And that would mean that at least some of what had happened- at least some of what Faith had done- had been partly Buffy's fault as well…

Buffy didn't want to think that, didn't want to believe it. But she did… she knew a big part of her did. And likewise, a big part of her still cared about Faith and what happened to her, how the other girl was now feeling.It was this part of Buffy that made her finally leave the kitchen, finally go outside and try to figure out where Faith had gone. She had known even as she left that she was probably too late, that Faith was probably long gone, but she felt she at least owed it to her to sincerely try to find her.

Buffy was almost astonished to see Faith, sitting with her back against the wall of the house on the side. She was hugging her knees , her dark hair still half covering her face and lowered eyes. She was no longer crying, but Buffy could see the traces of her earlier tears, and she had seen the overwhelming hurt in her eyes before, seeing Buffy approach, Faith had quickly blanked her expression. Once again, Buffy felt her heart twist guiltily, even as part of her told herself that she should feel no such thing, that Faith was only getting what she had coming to her.

"Faith," she said softly, coming to stand before her, but the other Slayer didn't look up.

"Go away, B," Faith muttered, her voice without malice, spiritless. "I'll leave in a minute. I promise. I won't bother you no more. Just… leave me alone, okay?"

"Faith," Buffy said hesitantly, "you don't have to run off-"

"Yeah I do," Faith said tonelessly. "I know it; you don't' need to worry though. I'll be good. I won't screw with your life or your friends no more. I don't know where I'm going, but I guess I'll figure it out. I'll try not to get in trouble, but you know me. I'm not exactly Miss Lucky in that area."

Buffy could see how hard Faith was trying to cover how deeply upset she still was, how she must be struggling to keep her voice steady, her eyes so unemotional. A few more moments of inner struggling, and Buffy found herself kneeling beside the younger girl, less than a foot away from her. She could see Faith glance at her quickly, warily, her face tensing- did she expect Buffy to hit her, yell at her? But then, could she blame her, since some part of her still wanted to?

"No- look, Faith," Buffy said slowly. "Don't leave. You don't have to. And… I- I don't want you to."

Faith stared at her, frowning in consternation before shaking her head."No- no, B. I know you don't really mean that. You don't want me here- you just feel bad, or guilty or something."

"Yeah," Buffy told her in the same quiet tone. "Yeah, I do, Faith. And… I should. You- you were right. I messed up too. I did wrong things too. I… I did let you down. I did give up on you- I didn't look hard enough, didn't try enough. I wasn't there, and I didn't say or do the right things. I… I told you once I never gave up on friends. But I gave up on you."

She exhaled slowly, briefly closing her eyes before looking at Faith's bowed head, trying to meet her eyes.

"I did hurt you, Faith. I hurt you too, even before… before I stabbed you. And I didn't care. I never even said I was sorry. And… the thing is, I am. I didn't even realize it, before… but I am. I'm still not okay with- with what you did… but I'm not okay with what I did either."

Faith lifted her gaze slowly, looking at Buffy with an expression conveying both wariness and a softer, more tentative emotion… hope?

"You don't need to feel bad or nothing," she said finally. "I'm the one who fucked up. I'm the one who expected you to be some mind reader or something. I mean, I couldn't expect you to get it, what I was really thinking. You… you never were- you never did what I did. So you couldn't. I shouldn't have expected you to. I should have been able to deal with stuff myself."

"No," Buffy said with an insistence that surprised her even more than Faith. "No, you shouldn't have. You were seventeen, Faith, and that's something major to go through. You're right- I couldn't have known, I couldn't have understood. And… I shouldn't have tried to think I could. You're right- it was partly my fault," she said, her voice quieter than ever. "I didn't want to think that- I didn't want to accept it. I… I wanted to see you as this completely evil thing, something that I could be totally against, so I could justify my own part in everything. I wouldn't have to feel bad, wouldn't have to feel guilty. I think I wanted to hate you so I wouldn't have to admit I didn't know how to help you… that I hadn't tried to enough. But that was wrong, Faith. That was wrong… and I'm sorry."

Faith stared at her, her brow puckered, for several minutes, frowning, seeming to be trying to decide whether Buffy really meant what she was saying. When Buffy just looked at her almost nervously, watching for her reaction, it finally seemed to dawn on her that the blonde had been serious.

Faith's lips pressed together tightly, and she looked down at her knees, blinking several times. Still despite her obviously fierce attempts to shove back tears, one managed to escape from under each eyelid, making their way slowly down her cheeks. She swiped at them harshly, unfolding her arms from around her knees and adjusting herself into a kneeling position that unconsciously mirrored Buffy's.

"God," she said aloud, her usually deep voice even throatier than normal, and she swiped an impatient hand across her face again. "I-I'm sorry, Buffy. Really… I mean it, seriously, I'm really sorry."

"I know," Buffy said simply, and she felt the last remaining vestiges of her long-clung-to fury and resentment for Faith slip away as she continued to look at her. Now watching the younger girl still gathering control of herself, Buffy felt nothing for her but a strong compassion and empathy.

In all the time they had known each other, even in times of sorrow or happiness, the two Slayers had never hugged. The most they might have done to show affection was quickly clasp hands or give a friendly knuckle-tap on the shoulder. Once or twice one might have slung an arm briefly around the other's waist or shoulders; and of course, each had once, under very different circumstances, given the other a kiss on her forehead. But neither Slayer had ever put her arms around the other in a real embrace; it was just not something the did.

But now, for the first time since they had met nearly four years ago, Buffy found herself rather impulsively doing just that. Leaning closer to Faith, Buffy drew her into her arms, leaning her blonde head down to Faith's dark one as she pulled the taller girl's down against her shoulder and wrapped an arm across her back.She could feel Faith stiffen, seeming on the verge of pushing her away, retreating. But she didn't… instead, after several moments of tangible tension, Buffy could feel Faith's body relaxing. And then Faith's arms wrapped around Buffy's narrower back as well, and she was hugging her fiercely, her face mashed down hard against the bony ridge of Buffy's shoulder. Buffy could feel Faith's heart thudding wildly in her chest against her own chest, her body shaking, and her tears slowly dampening her shoulder.

Neither Slayer could have guessed how much time passed with them holding each other in silence, an embrace that seemed to be restoring once more the powerful kinship and connection they had once shared. But when they finally drew apart nearly simultaneously, their movements were slow but sure, and both their faces were oddly composed. They looked into each other's eyes wordlessly, dark brown meeting blue, and then Buffy stood, extending a hand to Faith in an offer to help her up. Faith took it, and together they stood, beginning to walk back toward the house. They didn't speak, but their silence was one such that they had no need for words.end

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