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You stand in the hot sun and watch everything collapse.

For the first time, you realize what you've done, and you're not sure if you want to laugh or cry. You've won, but you've lost everything.

Somewhere in the gaping hole is your mother, and you're empty, hollowed out, everything Buffy turned into echoing space.

Willow is looking at your (her) handiwork, eyes big, lips slightly parted. She looks at you, and her eyes are full of tears.

You know what (who) she's thinking about.

Neither of you remembered photos. Too caught up in the now, in the apocalypse, in the "about-to-die," you forgot about the dead.

You turn, and Xander's talking with Andrew. The word Anya is said over and over, and you ignore it. It takes too much to think, too much pain and you already hurt enough.

Dawn is with Giles, and she's smiling. Maybe she hasn't realized that your mother is gone, lost or maybe smiling is easier than crying.

Faith is by herself, sitting against one of the bus's wheel, eyes squeezed shut tight. You go to her, and see that she's crying.

Faith, crying.

She looks to you and smiles, a half-smile, an exhausted smile, smudged with tears. "Not gonna lie, B," she whispers. "I didn't think we were gonna come out of there. Really didn't thing we," and she motions to herself and then to you, "were gonna live through this one."

She looks tiny, knees folded to her chest, and you tower above her. So you sit, hip brushing Faith's. And because it seems like the right thing to do, you lean into her, resting your head on her shoulder. You feel her brush a kiss to your hair, and it's something that you would normally try to talk about, but now she's got her hand curled in yours, and you know she's smiling.

It's quiet, and you're alive. She's alive.

The sun burns, and you decide to laugh.

---------

Eventually, you all get back into the bus. Potentials (Slayers, you quietly remind yourself) crowding together, not sure what to do with themselves or their newness.

You remember when you were Called, remember how it felt like being thrown into an ice cold pool in the middle of summer.

You wonder if that's what the new Slayers felt.

You wonder if it's what Faith felt.

Kennedy is driving. You offered, but Dawn shuddered in fear, and Kennedy just shook her head. She said she needed something to focus on.

Faith is still next to you, probably too close in the sticky, heavy heat, but you can't bring yourself to care. You sit in silence, until Faith notices the blood seeping through your shirt, and flips out.

She's focused, way too focused on sewing up the jagged cut in your side, maybe because of the way the bus is shaking, or maybe she, like Kennedy, needed something to focus on.

Somehow, you fall asleep somewhere between Faith's hands on your stomach and the one motel that had room for what looks like the school field trip from Hell.

When you wake up, there's only one terrified looking Slayer on the bus, Anna or Avery or something, who mumbles out something about Faith telling her to watch you and scurries off the bus.

You shake your head and follow her. Inside the motel, it appears Faith has taken charge, dividing the Slayers into groups of four and handing them room keys. You glance at Dawn, hoping to share a room with her, but she's got her arm around some girl who looks barely fourteen and walks down the hall, words of comfort lost as the door shuts.

But Faith holds up a key, saying "You and me, B? That okay?" Her almost-constant look of self-assuredness soaked in some degree of innuendo has slipped, flickered out of existence and she looks like she does in the prophecy dreams.

You want to keep this Faith, keep her safe, so you nod and she smiles. It's the same smile she gave you on the side of the road outside of Sunnydale, real and so happy your heart could break.

Sitting on a rickety chair, you watch her finish handing out all the room keys. She seems older in this moment, older than her... you realize quite suddenly that you know neither her age nor her last name.

Or really anything about her.

For a moment you remember senior year, remember how hard you thought you had fought to save her. You don't even know her, hadn't tried to get to know her. How hard could you have fought?

I'll try, you think, I'll try harder this time. But at the same time you realize you don't need to try, don't need to save Faith. She did that on her own.

"Deep thoughts, huh?"

You look up, and it's her, spinning the room key around her finger.

"Um. No." You mumble. "Just tired, I guess."

"Well then, it's a damn good thing that I managed to get us a room." She grins, smirk back and prophecy-dream Faith fading, "You'd better thank me, you know. Xander and Andrew are sleeping on the bus cause they don't wanna share a room with Willow and her latest girl-toy."

"Couldn't they have shared with us?" As soon as the words are out, you wish you could bite them back. You don't want Xander or (especially) Andrew sharing a room with you.

Faith shakes her head. "Nah. I told them that you needed your rest, being injured and all, and they agreed. Plus," She lowers her voice to a stage whisper, "I think they're all kinda scared of me. Hell, if being an escaped convict means we don't have to share a room with them, it was all worth it."

She laughs, but it's fake, so clearly fake that you reach up and grab her hand. She stops laughing and looks at you like you're some kind of saint.

You sit like that for a long moment, until you clear your throat and "We should probably..." She nods, and after checking the room number on the key, starts to tug you down the same hall Dawn went down.

You notice that she hasn't let go of your hand.

Once you get to the room, she motions for you to sit on the bed and she carefully lifts your shirt, making sure you haven't broken any of the stitches.

"I'm fine," you whisper to her bowed head, "Fine. There won't even be a mark come tomorrow."

You're exaggerating, and she knows you are, but she accepts it. Dropping your shirt, she sits at the foot of the bed.

"Faith?" She looks up at you, and nods for you to continue. You take a deep breath, and exhale out your question. "How old are you?"

She looks confused, and tilts her head to the side, like she's counting years. "Twenty. No, twenty-one. Hey, B, you know what this means? I'm legal!"

You ignore her comment, and it's your turn to count years, this time backwards. "You were seventeen in Sunnydale? The first time, I mean."

She shakes her head. "Nope. My birthday's not until February. I was sixteen. Turned seventeen there. Managed to turn eighteen during that coma, so they were able to give me life sentence."

She wasn't that much older than Dawn, and you feel sick as you get off the bed and kneel in front of her.

The carpet is dirty, and you wish you could kiss her someplace nicer, wish you could have kissed her before the Mayor, before knives, before betrayal, but you have to work with what you have, so you lean forward and do it.

Her eyes slip shut, and her lips are soft, and you don't know what you're doing.

After only seconds, Faith shifts her head back, and she looks more confused than ever. "What are you doing, Buffy?"

Your full name seems strange, clumsy in her mouth and you want to kiss her again, but you don't.

"I don't know."

"This isn't cause you're missing Spike? Cause I don't do that. I'm not gonna be a rebound..." Her voice trials off, but you know what she was going to say, and you know at the same moment that she's not. So you shake your head, and Faith moves so that your foreheads are nearly touching.

"You sure?" She whispers, almost into your mouth.

You nod. You've never been more sure of anything.

This time Faith is the one to tilt her head and kiss you, her hands on your back and in your hair and fiddling with the hem of your shirt.

She starts to laugh, and you look to her, half-hurt, half-curious. "What?"

She shakes her head and smiles, "It's not you. I'm... I'm just real happy that Andrew and Xander are sleeping in the bus. Probably wouldn't be able to do this," and she bites your neck lightly, "if they were here."

"Probably not." You agree. "Although Xander probably wouldn't protest..."

Faith gives you a disgusted look. "I think Xander's taken up enough of the time that should be used for better things." And she ducks her head to kiss you again, effectively stopping all conversation of Xander, or anything else really, at least until someone decides they need you.

(Little did you know, but Faith had given everyone Giles's room number when they asked for yours. He, she figured, would be able to answer most questions. Probably.)