Buffy is aware, even in her distraught state, of the sound of the front door opening behind her – she is also aware that she is slightly certain there is only one person she expects to be opening it.

The deep, gravelly voice proves her correct, though it does little to comfort her.

"Hey. Look, I swear I didn't want it to go this way – "


"I mean it, I – "

"Don't…apologize." Buffy turns to face the other woman, the only other person on the face of the earth who is just like her and yet completely the opposite in so many ways.

"I didn't want this," Faith tells her as she moves forward.

Buffy takes her time in answering, staring at anything but the woman before her. She has never been sure of what to say when it comes to her.

"It's……okay. It gives you a chance to…slip on my shoes." She looks away again, though this time out of pain. "Maybe I am just going insane and letting my emotions get in the way of everything."

Faith's expression becomes even more concerned as she takes in the words of the other Slayer. "Hey." She waits until Buffy looks at her. "You're not insane. Well besides the little bit you gotta keep to be a Slayer, but that's just normal. Without emotion a Slayer's just a….a robot. And B, I hate to tell ya, but you got some big feet."

Buffy's face registers confusion. "What?"

"You know, the whole…slipping on your shoes thing?" Buffy nods. "I don't think anyone can fill 'em quite like you can, certainly not me." She puts a hand to her own chest, pausing, and her voice changes. "But I'll try."

Buffy looks her straight in the eye. "You don't need to try, Faith, I know you can do it. I just… It's like the car's going 90 miles an hour, and I'm driving, and the door just opened and I got shoved out onto the road – which would probably kill me at 90 miles an hour – and now I have to pray that someone else takes the wheel before the car crashes and explodes into thousands of fiery pieces." She throws her hand up into the air.

Faith nods. "Well I don't have much experience driving cars, but I think seeing your body rolling away at 90 miles an hour would spur me not to crash." She thinks about what she said, as does Buffy, and then reiterates. "Or turn around and save you from becoming roadkill. Whatever." She shrugs.

"Aw, you'd save me? That's sweet," Buffy replies, trying to lighten…something.

"Well that's kinda what I'm tryin' to do right now." She quickly says something else, hoping Buffy didn't register her words. "Tell anyone I'm sweet and I'll kick your ass. Just wait, Blondie. I know where you sleep."

Buffy's eyes almost fill with tears again – which Faith is delighted to find had, until this point, stopped. "Well you did. Doesn't look like I have a permanent bed anymore."

Faith's face softens immediately, and her voice is hardly recognizable. "I'm really sorry, Buffy."

Buffy looks into Faith's eyes again, deep this time, searching for something, or maybe realizing something. There is a long pause. "For what?" Her voice is barely above a whisper, and she's looking for something else.

"Everything." Faith's voice is a whisper, and her eyes are locked onto her counterpart's, reflecting the emotion shining from them. Neither can blink, or move, or even breathe. Buffy is certain she has never seen this much feeling in Faith's eyes the entire time she has known her, even when they were screaming at each other, even when they were hitting and hurting and tearing at each other.

"Faith…" Buffy is whispering now as well, too encompassed by the whirlpool of sensation within her to focus on how the words are coming out. Thing she had suppressed for years are suddenly bubbling back to the surface. She opens her mouth to speak.

"Don't." Faith's voice is still quiet and soothing as she slightly shakes her head. "It's okay. I get it." She looks away for a moment, up at the stars, a serious and adult look on her face that Buffy has never seen before, that doesn't seem to belong on Faith's face. "I spent three years in that cell. And every night, I would look up at the sky and wonder, is this it? Is this what….all of the shit that happened boils down to? Sitting here feeling sorry for myself and wishing everything had gone a different way, wishing I…" She looks down at the ground, stopping herself, then looks back up, still away from the porch. "There was so much I coulda done, I shoulda done, that I didn't. And… You know, sometimes I get the feeling that if I hadn't left there I'd never…'redeem' myself, I'd never understand how it felt to be…forgiven. And…Angel was the only person who ever forgave me. But……." She looks at Buffy, her eyes shining. "But you were the only person I ever wanted it from." Her voice cracks.

Buffy can hardly hold back the flood of emotion that is suddenly pulling her in every direction – mostly in the direction of Faith, as she walks toward her without realizing her feet are moving. She finds herself a foot away from the other woman's face. "Faith…" She puts a hand on the side of Faith's head, lightly touching her dark hair. She makes sure Faith is looking into her eyes before she speaks. "I forgive you."

The look on Faith's face is enough for Buffy to understand the entire definition of the words relief and gratitude, as she can see in every way how Faith is suddenly released from all the confines of her youth up until this very moment from those three simple words. She knows she has never seen this in Faith before, and she knows that it means she will no longer be the crestfallen, angry, confused person she once was seeking freedom and redemption. She knows she has given Faith the greatest gift she ever could – the only one that ever mattered.

"Buffy…" The use of her whole name registers humorously with the older woman that this really does mean something. "I…" She can't think of the words, so instead she just says, "Thank you."

Buffy smiles at her, a genuine and comforting smile that brings light to Faith's image. Faith remembers something, and when she speaks her voice is back to normal. "So, that's not the reason I came out here, we were talking about you."

Buffy laughs, and she realizes how foreign it sounds to her. "Well, I don't know where I'm sleeping tonight, I think we were somewhere around there." They both suddenly become aware of the fact that Buffy's hand is still on the side of Faith's face. They both look at it, and then Buffy pulls it away, looking down for a moment in discomfort. "Um… Know any good abandoned houses?" She tries to laugh, but it comes out choked as this time the pain is back at remembering what just happened fifteen minutes ago.

Faith registers this and without thinking, reaches out and pulls Buffy into a tight hug. She vaguely thinks that she can't recall the last time she hugged someone; she guesses it's appropriate that it be Buffy of all people. Buffy relaxes into her, though still clinging tightly, letting herself be comforted by Faith's strong arms and beginning to cry silently. Faith just stands, putting one hand on her head and resting her own in the crook of Buffy's shoulder. She has never tried comforting someone before – well, not since she was a preteen and a boy she was friends with watched his dog get killed by a car – and she realizes that it really isn't that horrible or difficult, if you're willing. Then she realizes a second, more important concept: maybe it isn't horrible or difficult anymore because she no longer has guilt and shame weighing down on her.

After a few minutes, Buffy lifts her head and looks at Faith, who moves her hand to wipe Buffy's tear-stained cheeks but then re-thinks the idea and doesn't. Buffy, she thinks, realizes what she was about to do but doesn't say anything. Instead she says, "Can we sit down?"

Faith nods, releasing her, and Buffy sinks down to the steps leading up to the porch. Faith sits beside her. For an indeterminate amount of time the pair stay silent, consumed with thoughts and feelings and the idea that speech might break all of it apart. Eventually Buffy speaks.

"You know what I felt when I came back from the dead?"

Faith is staring off at nothing. Her voice comes out quiet. "I know what I felt."

Buffy turns to look at her, surprised. "You knew?"

Faith gives a dry smile. "We're connected in a lot of different ways, B." She looks at the older Slayer, the smile gone. "The day I felt you die I coulda just let the prison guard shoot me down."

"And…" Buffy's voice is hesitant and small, almost innocent. "…When I came back?"

This time the smile is real. "I'll tell ya some other time."

Buffy allows a smile to break across her face, then continues with her original train of thought. "When I came back… I felt so empty. So lost. And so angry." Her face turns into a mixture of sadness and resentment, her eyes hardened. "They had ripped me out of heaven. I mean… What I think was heaven. And I didn't know what to do, or how to feel. And… And all I could think was that you were the only person who could ever truly understand me, understand who I am, what I am. Because you and I are the same." She looks at Faith.

"Except not."

They both grin. "Yeah."

"I'll never do as good a job as you, B. Not with shit like this."

"Don't say that, Faith. I have…faith…in you. You were chosen as a Slayer for a reason." She pauses, letting the sentence sink in. "Don't ever forget that."

Faith sighs. "I'll try not to." After a moment, she catches a glimpse of a sparkle falling from Buffy's face down to the step, and realizes it's a tear. "Hey." She lifts Buffy's face gently with her hand, putting her arm around her shoulder. "Don't even worry about this. They don't know what they're doin'. They'll realize they need – and want – you back in no time. They're just goin' a little crazy from, you know, the impending apocalypse thing." She pauses. "No one could ever handle not havin' you around for that long."

Buffy's eyes are glistening as she looks up at Faith. "Even you?"

Faith grins. "Even me. Had to beat someone up on a daily basis just to get out the frustration in the big house."

Buffy briefly wonders if Faith ever had other kinds of frustration in prison, the kind that brought most people to do things they normally would not… Or in Faith's case, maybe normally would. She doesn't voice her thought. However, Faith picks up on it – or just has the same thought – and slyly smirks, the amusement evident in her voice.

"You thinkin' about the other kind, B?" It just wouldn't be complete without Faith saying something sexual, even in a situation like this. Buffy wonders if it's because Faith is actually attracted to her, and the idea makes her body temperature suddenly rise.

Buffy knows her skin is probably pink. "No."

Faith smirks again. "Well, I wouldn't think so, I mean you've got Peroxide Boy for that. Hear you two have gotten kinda naughty."

"Of course, we just had a serious conversation, so now we have to talk about sex." But there is a playful edge to her voice.

"Well bein' locked up for three years can do that to a girl."

Buffy takes it the wrong way, turning immediately to Faith with an apologetic expression. "Oh, no, I didn't mean – "

"It's okay, I didn't mean it like that. I just meant… It's been a while." The look she gives Buffy practically sears her skin, and she suddenly doesn't feel the need for the jacket she brought with her.

She clears her throat and looks away. "Um… You know, you've been out here kind of a long time. They might start to think I killed you and boiled you alive."

"Mmm, Faith soup. Best kind there is."

"I bet," Buffy murmurs without thinking, but Faith can still hear.

Rather than replying, Faith simply leans in close to Buffy, running a hand through her hair and resting it on the side of her face, and kisses her. Buffy, almost as if she was expecting it, returns the kiss and the need in her causes her to practically fall against Faith. But the kiss itself is extremely gentle, and warm. Faith realizes that this is what she has wanted all along.

Eventually Faith pulls away, leaving Buffy with her mouth slightly open and questioning.

"Was that comforting?" Faith asks.

Buffy smiles. "Yeah." Pause. "But I think we both know you did it for other reasons besides just that."

"Oh so you think you've got me all figured out now, huh?"

"Oh, Faith. I've always had you all figured out."

"Psh, you wish," she scoffs.

Yeah, I do.

"Let's go see if we can't find somewhere to stay."