Let go

Disclaimer: I own nothing.

Author notes: Written in the same style of "Progression" (a Giles/Faith fic) and "Echo in Time" (an Echo/Paul Dollhouse fic) , which means this is composed of fifty sentences showing Buffy's and Faith's relationship over time, from their first meeting to a couple of years after "Chosen."

1. The first time that Buffy ever saw Faith, before she knew her as the second half of the Chosen Two, she looked over her tight pants, long gloves, tousled curls, and cleavage-bearing top as Faith enthusiastically gyrated against her apparent date and immediately labeled her as a total skank; this opinion was not to change very much over time, but there was a second smaller twinge in her stomach as well, a tiny voice that Buffy quickly stifled…a voice whispering that this skank girl was also kinda hot.

2. Even before the skank girl casually took Buffy's stake and used it to finish off her "date" without breaking stride, Buffy knew she was a Slayer, and though somewhat stunned by her arrival, and protective of her status as the only Chosen One, she also felt a small measure of curiosity…so she wasn't the only one, even after Kendra…

3. As Faith elaborated on the many risqué adventures of her Slayerdom, chowing down on muffins as quickly as others could purchase them for her, Buffy felt resentful envy at the attention she was gathering…and some alarm at the fact that long after her naked alligator wrestling tale was over, unwanted images kept cropping up in her mind…or maybe it was the fact that they weren't entirely unwanted that bothered her.

4. The new Slayer was taking over her friends, her sorta-not-really-boyfriend, her Watcher, her mother, even her slaying duties, and Buffy resented the intrusion; it never occurred to her that Faith had nothing, and did not want to take anything from her, but rather to share it.

5. She saw the slowly dawning relief, even triumph, flash across Faith's eyes as she flattened her back against the wall, chest heaving, staring somewhat dazed in the direction that Kakistos's ashes had scattered, and it was easy for Buffy to forget the pain in Faith's features, the way her voice had cracked as she struggled against tears, the look in her eyes as she confirmed her Watcher's murder…and it was easy to tell herself that Faith had found release, that she had put it all behind her.

6. It was difficult to determine Faith's age; she could look and behave as old as 25, as young as 14, and it was never something that Buffy felt the need to ask…perhaps because she was afraid she would be shocked by the answer.

7. Buffy would never know how much courage it had taken Faith to ask her to homecoming, the control it had taken for her to sound so casual in tone, the effort it had taken for her to get a dress and make herself look acceptably formal, acceptably pretty…and she would never know how disappointed and frustrated Faith was when Buffy came late, stayed for only five minutes, and never even said hello to her.

8. Faith never wanted Scott Hope for herself, not really, but she had to admit, she was glad that he didn't want Buffy either.

9. It never occurred to Buffy until years later that Faith didn't' have her depressing, dilapidated motel room by choice, and that she, her friends, or Giles could in fact have helped to make sure she had better.

10. In a similar vein, Buffy tried not to think about Faith's sex life, as wild and active as she hinted it to be, or how, with no job or source of income, she was able to afford food, clothes, and motel rent…or whether there was a connection between the two.

11. Faith always seemed to know exactly what to do or say to rub Buffy wrong and did so with a wicked, amused smile of self-satisfaction…but sometimes Buffy wondered if she let herself get so angry on purpose, just as Faith deliberately angered her on purpose, just to keep distance between them, to keep from getting close enough to truly bond.

12. When Faith and Buffy slayed together, sometimes Buffy thought she could sense the other girl's body as an extension of her own; with every kick and blow, every thrust and jab, she felt energized, connected, in tune with herself and everyone and everything around her…she felt more than simply close to Faith, but at one with her.

13. Sometimes Buffy wanted to kill Gwendolyn Post all over again for breaking Faith's trust, for hurting her so badly she retreated, protecting herself from opening up enough to be hurt again…and sometimes she just was disgusted with herself, because she knew that she too had broken Faith's trust…that she had known better than to walk away from her.

14. As Buffy took Faith's Christmas gifts to her and her mother, hastily wrapped in newspaper, and the sight of Faith's embarrassed, lowered eyes as she stood in the doorway in her too-short skirt and conservative buttoned top, she was glad her mother had made her ask her over; she wished she hadn't needed prompting to do so herself.

15. Sometimes it was hard to patrol with Faith…to get herself so worked up, adrenaline pumping, hormones coursing, her skin flushed with need, and then to go to Angel, unable to find in him a release; Buffy knew she wasn't gay, but once in a while, she had thoughts…had to just be hormones, right?

16. She and Faith got caught in the rain once during patrol and dropped by Faith's motel to dry off; when Faith asked her if she just wanted to stay there for the night, Buffy pretended not to see the brief flicker of hurt in the brunette's eyes when she quickly declined.

17. Buffy had always wanted to be able to let go of herself, to just feel good, to just be able to find release in something outside of the stress of her existence; Faith gave her permission and means to do so, and it was inevitable that one day both would lose control.

18. Buffy kissed Faith once, or rather, Faith kissed her, her mouth hot, insistent against Buffy's, and for a second Buffy let her; when Faith pulled away, grinning, treating it as a joke, Buffy sputtered in seeming shock and disgust, and both denied their racing heartbeats and shortness of breath, the tingling in their palms and the twisting of their hearts.

19. When they danced together, their limbs intertwining, their bodies lose and flowing to the beat surrounding them, there was nothing else in the world at that moment but Faith, Buffy, and the pure joy of their bodies moving together.

20. One night, one unheeded shout, one sharp instinctive motion of one stake in one Slayer's hand, one human in the wrong place at the wrong time, and for Faith and Buffy, everything was changed.

21. Buffy was scared for Fait…she pitied her, felt responsible towards her, was frustrated by her…but mostly, Buffy was scared BY her, because she knew that she could have been her.

22. Buffy tried to tell Faith who she should be, incapable of understanding why Faith was what she was.

23. Faith's betrayal, her departure to the Mayor's side of things, hit Buffy hard and on a personal level; she didn't realize that in Faith's mind, Buffy had betrayed her first.

24. Twenty minutes after Faith had fled, Buffy could still feel her hard, angry kiss, almost burning the skin of her forehead.

25. Buffy told herself that Faith was selfish, crazy, evil; she told herself that she felt nothing towards her except weary disgust, that there was no reason to feel guilt; she didn't let herself know that Faith was desperate, hurting, and scared, that she needed to be loved infinitely more than she needed to be hated.

26. Their fights had always been intense, provoking and invoking much pain, but when Buffy stuck the knife into Faith and watched her mouth fall open, pain sparking brightly in her eyes as her face drained of color, she felt sick, even in the cloud of her righteous intent.

27. Buffy didn't know what her dream meant; she only knew that she felt sad, even wistful, and as she gently kissed Faith's bruised forehead, she wished things could have been different.

28. Buffy never visited Faith in the hospital; she told herself that she could hardly be expected to, and Faith would not even realize that she was there, but the truth was that if she looked again on the pallid skin, the wasting limbs and impassive stillness of the girl who had once been so vivid and vibrant and attributed her motionless state to her own actions, the guilt and sadness she would encounter would be overwhelming.

29. Buffy told herself when Faith awakened that the other Slayer would never change, that she was still the same murderous, evil, body-snatching, mom-kidnapping, boyfriend-stealing bitch who would kill her as soon as look at her…but as she watched Faith pummel her own body harboring Buffy's self, screaming and weeping in self-loathing shaking near tears in Angel's arms, heard her voice crack as she pleaded for Buffy to show her how to make it better…as Buffy watched it all, even in her righteous fury, she felt the first flickers of doubt.

30. Buffy tried to forget Faith while she was imprisoned…she never spoke of her with Angel, and there was so much going on at all times that she could really succeed at doing so, at thinking and feeling nothing towards her; but when Faith came back, at the brink of yet another apocalypse, all the old sharp feelings of anger, jealousy, and resentment came back with her…and of course, the confusion.

31. When she came back, as usual, Faith was cocky, maddening, undermining, flirting with Buffy's sort-of-but-not-really guys, encouraging rebellion and challenging Buffy's authority…and yet, she was different, changed…and yet, when Buffy ejected her from her own house, her leadership voted down in favor of Faith's, she could not bring herself to be angry with her.

32. When Buffy heard of the bomb, her heart stilled, horror choking her throat; when she watched Giles and Xander carry Faith's unconscious form upstairs to her bed, the bed she had immediately and unthinkingly offered up to her, she felt something like fear for the first time…and when Willow told her that Faith had opened up her eyes, she felt more than relief, but did not question it too closely.

33. Showing Faith the scythe- THEIR scythe- touching it, feeling its power, its connection to them and to each other as they talked, slowly beginning to work out a small bit of their tangled relationship, Buffy felt closer to Faith than she had in years, almost at peace in her presence, and she didn't kick her out of her bed, even if she and Robin HAD done the nasty in it…ew.

34. As the metal sliced through her torso and Buffy fell, she heard Faith's shout, saw the horror and fear brighten her eyes, she remembered another moment in time, when it was Faith whose skin split from the sharpness of a deadly blade; as she met Faith's eyes, passing her the scythe, that single action spoke more of trust and a breaching of the past than any words ever could.

35. Outside the bus, as they stood surrounded by friends become family, gazing out at the gaping crater that had once been the Hellmouth, her home, Faith stood just behind Buffy, watching her with slight narrowed eyes; when Buffy began to smile, Faith smiled too, turning to face the future with her former foe.

36. The night after the final battle was the first time Buffy had partied with Faith in nearly five years; as Faith grabbed her hand, pulling her with her out onto the dance floor of the club the group had settled on, Buffy swayed her hips and let herself be carried away by the pounding rhythm and the other Slayer's frequent touch, letting herself for just a few hours, forget.

37. Almost three days passed before Spike's sacrifice fully sank in, before Buffy realized that she had no way to visit the graves of Tara, of Miss Calendar, of her mother, that not one photograph had survived…and when she escaped to the bathroom of the restaurant, detaching herself from the group to shed her first tears alone, it was Faith who walked in on her and simply lay a hesitant hand on her shoulder, saying nothing as her brow furrowed in silent concern.

38. In their new Slayer headquarters, as the second half of the Senior Slayers, Buffy watched Faith grow and change even more under the mantle of her new responsibilities towards the newest Slayers; she began to view her as family, every bit as much as Giles, Willow, and Xander, but the problem was, that sometimes Buffy had a sneaking suspicion that one didn't think about one's family the way that she sometimes caught herself thinking about Faith.

39. Dawn had taken to sometimes unconsciously imitating Faith's posture or gestures, her expressions, favorite slang words, or tone of voice, and it drove Buffy insane; but she had to admit, albeit begrudgingly, that there were worse people her sister could have picked to develop an admiration of…even if Buffy did think that she herself was the obviously better choice.

40. Faith liked Twizzlers but not gum drops; she preferred dogs to cats, drank her coffee black, didn't like flip flops, hated pink (though Buffy swore she had seen her wear it before), and any chocolate she encountered would inevitably end up in her stomach; as Buffy gradually learned such small facts about her, she started to wonder why she had never noticed before.

41. It took Buffy five years to think to ask Faith her last name; it took her longer to ask her even the smallest questions about her past, and the little that Faith revealed nevertheless gave Buffy a much better understanding of why she was so reluctant to bring it up.

42. Faith claimed she had never learned how to swim; Buffy was certain that this was merely a flimsy excuse to spend a lot of time splashing around in the pool in her skimpy green bikini, tormenting Xander's very visual mind…not to mention Buffy's.

43. Buffy wasn't sure when it was that the scar on Faith's abdomen became to her simply a part of her body, a mirror image to Buffy's own, rather than an awkward reminder of the past, and by the time it had, it was hardly worth mentioning.

44. Faith told Buffy she loved her as she clumsily wrapped her arms around her neck, her breath warm in Buffy's face; Buffy hurriedly told herself that Faith was drunk and pushed her away, and in the morning, when Faith did not bring it up, she assumed it had been forgotten.

45. When Buffy turned 23 and Faith, toasting her with an upraised beer bottle, casually mentioned this was the first birthday where she could finally legally do so, Buffy was ashamed to realize that the younger Slayer's birthday had been the month before and though she had never said anything, neither had anyone asked; the guilt was enough that she said quickly to the group at large that as of now, the party was a double celebration.

46. In a quiet moment alone, Faith said with lowered eyes that she knew she would never be okay with Buffy; shocked, Buffy told her that the day where she was had come long ago, and she meant it in that moment more fully than ever.

47. Buffy knew Faith saw herself in Dana, and as tormented, mistrusting, and out of control as the damaged Slayer was, Buffy had to wonder just what darkness had been in the other Slayer's life before she ever even set foot in Sunnydale.

48. Even when at ease, they had never been ones to show more than brief affection towards each other, but when Buffy learned of Robin's death, over a year after he and Faith had called it quits, she went to Faith and forced her to endure her embrace, regardless of Faith's efforts to pull away, not giving in until she could feel the other woman's tears begin.

49. They still fought with frequency, vehemence, and even violence, but the anger did not last as long, the blood flow stopped sooner, and the apologies came faster and with more sincerity than before; Buffy and Faith could no longer hate each other so enthusiastically as they once had.

50. They didn't know what had changed, or if anything had at all, but one day Faith and Buffy kissed, and everything was different…or maybe, they had just finally learned how to let go.