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the principle of the thing

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The first thing she sees when she wakes up is Buffy. Of course, it's Buffy.

It's too bright and she closes her eyes, tries to turn her head, but she's too weak. A rustle of movement, then, the flicker of blinds, and it's dark again. She misses the heat of the sun on her face, her arms, shivers.

Someone – Buffy, yes – moves her arms, and tucks her under the blanket. For a while, she stays like that, half-awake, drifting. It's peaceful.

Eventually, she falls asleep.

 

The next time, it's Spike, and the room is dim. "Made her get some rest," he says, to Faith's questioning look. "You up for something to drink?"

She can manage a nod now. Spike pours her a cup of water, adds a straw, brings the straw to her lips. From Buffy, the same treatment would be humiliating. Spike is efficient, friendly, but businesslike. He's a guy she could sock in the jaw with no hurt feelings when the dust settles. His patience is impersonal.

When she's had enough to drink, she tugs her head away. He sets the cup on the table and wipes her face with a napkin. Still, there's a damp spot under her cheek on the pillow where some water dripped. She turns her head to the other side.

"Angel," she says. It hurts to speak.

"There's just you. I'm sorry."

It hurts.

It hurts.

 

Buffy's hand is on her arm when she wakes. "Faith," she says.

The ceiling is an off-beige color, flecked paneling. Hospital ceilings are all the same, but she can't look Buffy in the eye.

"You died," Buffy says. "Everyone— We brought your body to the old hotel where he used to— we brought you, and Wes, and— but when we— you started breathing again. But you were dead. You died."

"Thanks," she says. It's not what she means. She clenches her fists in the sheets.

"Do you remember? You can tell me."

"He was brave." There was a dragon, and a sword, and fire. It's hazy, but she remembers the charge. She'd had a sword, too. She was ready to go.

"No." Buffy's voice is tight, uneven. "I mean, after."

"Just you," she says. "Sorry."

 

It's night again, and she's alone, but she can hear voices outside. Faith flexes a foot, then a leg, experimentally, shifts around in the bed. Everything works likes it's supposed to, aside from the part where it feels like she had a truck or ten dropped on her and got stabbed in the gut. That last part actually happened. Again.

"—act like this is all about you." It's Spike speaking. "You're not the only one who—"

"You don't know her," Buffy says. "You don't know—"

"I don't need to," he says. "Buffy—"

"Why? I need to know why. I need to know."

Nothing to know, she thinks. She followed Angel into hell, Buffy sent him there. He wasn't the same man. They weren't the same people.

Her pillow's wet again.

 

Whenever she closes her eyes, it's vivid, Technicolor, surround-sound replay. She remembers more each time. Wesley's death, the way Illyria held him. The demon that sliced open her side. And Angel, dark silhouette against dragon flame. Closing her eyes. She didn't see him die. Dust. Die. There's no one to tell her.

The blanket draped over her is a cotton waffle-weave. Faith rubs it between her fingers. Coming back to life, everything's sensory overload. Dreams, memories, textures, the light in the morning, the orange jello on her lunch plate that's bland but too sweet. She picks at her food at every meal. Somewhere, Buffy found her soft knit pajamas and presented them to her with the seams turned out without her even asking.

They're not girls anymore and she shouldn't let Buffy get under her skin like this. Pretty, perfect Buffy. Always rushing in to save her, too late.

It's not like Faith has any problem saving herself. It's just the principle of the thing.

 

She doesn't see Buffy again until she gets out of the hospital and has to figure out where she'll go. Faith's never gone in much for long-range planning.

Spike's the one who asks her, in the end. "You could go to Giles in London. He'll figure out where to put you in the field, if that's what you want. Or you can come with us."

"Cleveland. Really?"

"Don't knock it. It's hell. I mean, home."

She smiles in spite of herself.

"Look," he says. "It'd mean the world. To her. She'll never—"

"Okay," she tells him, so this conversation will be over. "But I'm expecting some sweet digs. You better not disappoint."