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Five by Five

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It's been a long road getting from there to here
It's been a long time but my time is finally near
And I can feel the change in the wind right now
Nothing's in my way and they're not gonna hold me down no more




Aisle five. It was the express lane. The eight-items-or-less, cash-only checkout.

Amazement already held me in its thrall as I stood there, my carton of eggs and bottle of fabric softener neatly lined on the conveyor. I was in heaven, surely. The express lane. The magical aisle five where the wait was infinitesimal and there was never a harried mother in front.

I knew all about aisle five. As an 'other' aisle shopper, how could I not? How often had I stood at aisle four, or aisle six, with my rug-rats clinging to my legs, my trolley overflowing, and stared across to aisle five, salivating at its prompt service? Envying the shoppers who had only eight-items-or-less. The women with no kids clambering for attention and whining for chocolate. The people who didn't have to sort through a wallet of bank cards for the one that was reserved for household expenses.

Aisle five was the dream aisle and I was finally there. With no kids. And no trolley. I didn't even have my wallet with me. The thrill, the amazement was intoxicating. Finally--for what seemed like the first time in a VERY long time--I wasn't an aisle-eight, two-kid-toting, trolley-full housewife-and-mother. I was just me, in aisle five, and life was looking good.

Looking good, that is, until I actually looked UP.

It had been at least eleven years since I last saw her, which, admittedly, wasn't really the best gauge for how long she'd been gone. Up until 2002 she'd been still around--not in MY daily timetable, of course, but still around--and we'd all heard the grand ol' tale about how in late 2004 she'd been run out of Sunnydale. After that, though...

She looked pretty good, all things considered.

"Faith."

"Cordelia."

We spoke at the same time, recognition instantaneous despite the years, and as my two items slid along the conveyor, I automatically moved up the lane. She followed me, a loaf of bread clutched in one hand, bottles of shampoo and conditioner in the other.

"Nice hair," I couldn't help but comment, staring at the white streak that dominated her brunette locks. "I always figured you more for skank though, not skunk."

A smile curled up her lips and I found myself wondering if the expression was real, if it reached her eyes. Her sunglasses reflected back my appearance only, restricting me to wonder and not knowledge. To the jab, however, she didn't reply.

"So... where you been?" My husband, wonderful man that he is, frequently tells me that I'm as subtle as a sledge-hammer. Personally? I think he's right.

"Not here," she answered simply as the check-out chick scanned and bagged my shopping.

I paid absently, the buzz of aisle five unfortunately waning with the shock of this unexpected reunion. "Obviously," I remarked dryly, gripping the paper bag. I watched as her items went through the check-out. "Going to see Angel?"

She thanked the check-out chick as she took her change, hefting her own bag. Facing me, she smiled again. A slow smile, as though she knew something I didn't about the ex-vampire. Which was doubtful, extremely doubtful. "Personally," she murmured, her gaze flicking briefly to the bag in my hands, "I would have gone for the peach-scented."

I followed her gaze down, confused, and then realised she was referring to my fabric softener.

When I looked up again, she was gone.




I thought about her for the rest of the afternoon. Right through my dentist appointment, my afternoon jog, and all the way to the elementary school gates. I stopped when the last bell rang and the kids poured out into the schoolyard, more important concerns taking the forefront.

Nathan's shoelace had broken at recess and Melissa had lost another tooth.

My gaze narrowed as I opened up the trunk so they could toss their schoolbags in. "HOW did you lose it?"

The five-year-old grinned brightly, a gaping hole where her front tooth should have been. "Annabella Thomas hit me," she announced happily and my heart sank as she summed up that gem of information with: "but I got her back good, Mom."

I watched her clamber into the backseat next to her brother, the two immediately bickering over whose turn it was to use the Playstation first when we got home.

"Wonderful," I sighed under my breath, inwardly cringing. I knew I could expect letter in the mail tomorrow, requesting yet ANOTHER meeting with the Deputy Principal as to Melissa's behaviour. How do you explain the fact that your five-year-old daughter gets into more fights than the average twelve-year-old bully?

I sighed again. At least she wins.




That night, as I prepared a salad to go with the steaks being barbequed on the back porch, I remembered aisle five. A face appeared suddenly over my shoulder and I looked up to see my husband's reflection grinning at me. As I held up a piece of a carrot, he leant forward just enough to take it between his lips; dropping a quick kiss on my collarbone as he moved away again. Laying down the knife, I turned and watched him as he started searching for something in the pantry.

"Guess who I saw today."

Nathan appeared at the kitchen door, a piece of paper in his hands. "Mom, I have to do a family tree for history and so far I've got--"

From the pantry, he shrugged, examining a bottle of Worcestershire sauce and then a jar of mustard. "Who?"

"Cordelia."

"Faith."

Nathan and I spoke at the same time, the former continuing with, "but what's the rest? I need your madam name."

"Maiden name," I corrected him, giving him my old surname. I watched as he pencilled it in carefully, the corner of his tongue poking out as he tried to keep the letters within the tiny box. Only six-years-old and already so studious.

Finally selecting the mustard over the sauce, my husband headed towards the back porch. "The steaks will be ready in five," he informed me.

I raised an eyebrow, "no comment then?"

He paused briefly, shooting me a smile. "None that would be appropriate for small ears." Our gazes flickered briefly to where Nathan now sat at the kitchen table, pencil scribbling in his sister's name. "Five minutes," he repeated and slipped outside.

I turned back to the salad and picked up my knife again. "Nathan--go get your sister and wash up. Dinner's almost ready."

"'Kay."




Five months later I saw her again. It was during my afternoon jog and as I let my Nike's chew the path circling the park, I thought not about her, but about my babies. Seven years, five years--almost six, Melissa's birthday was in just five more weeks--and, I glanced down briefly, negative three months.

When I looked up again, she was jogging beside me.

"Who knocked you up?"

"The mailman."

We exchanged a smile to conclude the banter and I confessed. She laughed outright when I told her who my husband was.

"Isn't that against the laws of nature or something?"

I shrugged. "In our lives? What isn't."

"Is this your first?"

I looked down again and shook my head. "Third." I answered as I raised my head.

She was gone, jogging off the path and up a slight incline. I stopped and watched her go, half-folded as I panted slightly. She didn't look back and when she merged into the crowds near the carousel I sighed.

Straightening, I continued jogging.




We celebrated Connor's ninth birthday the same way we always did. A birthday cake, complete with candles, and a small present that he wouldn't open on the day. We bought him something every birthday and every christmas, stock-piling the gifts in the bottom drawer of the bureau in the den.

The kids loved buying Connor gifts. In every way possible, Connor was their older brother. They loved him.

I almost expected to see her again. I was torn between thinking she knew all about us--despite her questions to the contrary--and that she knew nothing about us--as evidenced by her questions. If she did know everything, if she was watching us, keeping track of what we did, then I thought today would be a day for her to show.

I never saw her.




Andrew was born in May. When Nathan was born I stayed in the hospital for over a week afterwards--he'd been premature and I wanted to be close to him. When Melissa was born, we were in and out within thirty-two hours. This time, I voluntarily stayed for the full five days--I needed a holiday.

On day three I awoke to find her standing near the window, my baby cradled in her arms.

"What's his name?"

"Andrew James."

"AJ? Nice."

I shifted onto my side, watching her watch him. "Angel says 'burn in hell'."

She grinned, sunlight streaming through the blinds and reflecting off her sunglasses. The white in her hair gleamed almost silver. "Tell him I love him too."

She bowed her head and kissed Andrew's cheek then walked over and placed him in my arms.

"Faith."

"Cordelia."

She nodded goodbye, as did I, and I smiled down at my son as she left the room.




"He looks like his father."

Curled on the park bench, I turned the page of my magazine, one foot rocking Andrew's pram. "So everyone tells me."

She sat down beside me, leaning over to coo meaningless baby-talk to the five-week-old infant. I was surprised--I'd never pictured her as a baby-talk kind of person. A shock of hair escaped from behind her ear and, as always, I found myself mesmerised by the white.

"Why'd you do that to your hair?"

It was unnatural, I could tell. Unnatural but brilliant--not a trace of colour permeated the raw strands.

"I needed to accessorise."

I didn't pretend to understand the reply, but neither did I push the issue. "Wes wants to know why you keep coming to see me."

She shrugged, tucking her hair back behind her ear. "And Angel?"

"He says he hates you."

"You think he doesn't?"

"I think you should see him and find out for yourself."

"Nine years is a long time."

"In cat years, that's only five months."

"Are you saying that it's not too late, or that I should wait longer?"

"I'm saying that we were never friends--you and Angel were."

Our longest exchange to date. I went back to my magazine then, determined to finish the quiz 'How hot is your marriage?' before it was time to pick up the kids from school. So far, we were scoring a sizzling fifty-five.

She left while I was rating our sex life on a scale of one--"fish generate more heat"--to ten--"Lucifer himself would feel cold next to you two".

I gave us a nine-and-a-half.




Braced above me, his arms trembled as I pressed kisses along the scars on his neck and collarbone. Every day, it seemed, a new one appeared.

"Are you trying to get me pregnant again?" I teased, nibbling just below his ear.

He groaned, hips twitching against mine instinctively even as we succumbed to the after-glow of satiation. "God, no."

He shifted to the side, collapsing down onto the tangled sheets, and I curled up beside him, my head pillowed on his chest. His fingers began to run through my hair, feathering the strands.

"I wonder why she left," I mused softly, his ministrations reminding me of that negatived hair.

He stilled briefly, hand immobile, and then breathed out slowly. "She didn't leave," he reminded me, "she just never came back."

I sighed. "I know."

His fingers started moving again. "You saw her today?"

"At the park."

His hand left my hair, running lower. I shifted against him, amused.

"Stamina, babe?"

He grinned wolfishly as he moved to kiss me. "You're beautiful when you're pregnant."




I started to expect her. I even learnt her routine--it wasn't that hard. She never came to the house, for instance, or approached me when I was with Nathan and Melissa and their father. Andrew, however, was allowed. I wondered at that.

"Why me?"

It was a routine enough question--I'd asked it, or a variant of it, at just about every one of our meetings--but she never answered. Not properly. She was a master at evasion. Today, it seemed, would be no different.

I watched as she bounced Andrew on her lap, the five-month-old giggling and grinning and waving his hands madly. A mocha warmed my palms, the cafe bustling with mid-afternoon patrons.

With a particularly loud squeal--even for a baby--Andrew's hands connected with her face, sending her sunglasses flying. As she laughed back at my son, reaching down to collect the shades, it occurred to me that I'd never seen her without them.

"That day in the supermarket?" she started, straightening again.

"Aisle five," I acknowledged.

"You didn't try and kill me." She looked straight at me and I found myself caught in a piercing gaze. "That meant a lot."

I couldn't look away. Her eyes were white. No pupils, no irises, no bloodshot lines. Pure, startling white. I remembered her accessorising comment and found my voice.

"Suits you."




"Mom?"

"Yes, Melissa?" I stirred the pasta sauce, mentally adding garlic to my next shopping list.

"What's 'five by five'?"

I answered automatically, absently. "It's a rating for strength and clarity. Radio operators used to say it to confirm that their messages were of good quality. One meant bad reception, five meant good reception."

Silence descended on the kitchen. I added some more oregano to the sauce.

"The answer's 'one', Melissa."

"Thanks, Dad."

I turned around to see Melissa laboriously pouring over her math homework, her father now standing behind her. Andrew was in his arms, head nestled sleepily in the crook of his neck. An eyebrow arched in my direction and I shrugged self-consciously.

"Whoops?"




Sunnydale, 2004.

I wasn't there--none of the LA crew were--but we heard about it later.

It was summer; no one had seen her for over eighteen months, though on our part it wasn't for a lack of searching. Buffy had been patrolling one night--nothing new there--and she'd heard what sounded like a fight. Upon investigating, she'd found her standing over a body, hands bloody.

According to Buffy, she'd tried to make excuses, had claimed that there'd been a demon in there. She'd tried to save girl, stop the demon... Buffy hadn't believed her.

Big surprise there. Buffy and crew were never big on changing their views. Murderers were always evil. Demons were always evil. The fact that Spike had managed to win their friendship, and respect, was immaterial. He was an exception to the hard-fast rule, a fluke. Evil was always evil in Sunnydale. The package only defined how evil the evil really was.

Her package was defined the moment she looked up at Buffy. The bloodied palms and dead body only confirmed the Slayer's duty.

When Buffy advanced, she ran. Though Buffy chased, she disappeared.

Six years later, as I stood in the express lane--aisle five--of my local supermarket, she reappeared.

I had to wonder why.




"Angel in the sun?" I laughed. "I never get tired of seeing that." A brief pause as I shook my head. "Neither does he, for that matter."

"Angel human." She smiled, switching legs as we did pre-jog stretching exercises. "Hard to believe."

What I found hard to believe was that she hadn't KNOWN that Angel had shansued back in 2003. Her surprise was genuine--I could tell--and I found myself curious as to what else she didn't know. In the movies, the absentia persona always kept tabs on their old friends, family... enemies? 'I can see you but you can't see me.' Was it really possible that when she'd disappeared, she'd REALLY disappeared?

"Why didn't you come back?" I folded at the waist, reaching for my toes. "Straight away, I mean. We--they--were waiting for you."

She paused for a long moment before answering me. As if choosing her words very, very carefully. "Parole doesn't absolve you of your sins--it just means that you've finished being actively punished for them."

Her words touched something in me, something I didn't want to really think about. "You needed forgiveness to come back?"

She smiled, that same slow smile she'd given in aisle five when I asked if she was going to go see Angel. Two years and dozens of 'reunions' later, that smile still seemed all-knowing.

"What I did can never be forgiven."

I watched as she adjusted her sunglasses, a hand running through her hair. The white strands mixed with the brown; salt-and-pepper. There'd be no tandem jogging today--just like I'd learnt to anticipate her arrivals, I could now foresee her departures.

She nodded once, I returned the gesture.

"Faith."

"Cordelia."

Turning, I took off.




"I'd only been here about five minutes before I saw you in the supermarket. I hadn't even started unpacking when I ran down to get some bread."

"Don't forget about the shampoo and conditioner," I reminded her.

She smiled, well used to my fascination with her hair. From his high-chair, Andrew laughed suddenly, almost insanely--and for apparently NO reason whatsoever--and threw his cup to the ground. I rolled my eyes and picked it up, handing him a cookie instead.

"Where'd you been before you came to Venice?" I asked curiously.

She took a cookie for herself, picking a chocolate chip from its surface. "All over really," she answered, "I was East-Coast for quite awhile--New York, Boston..."

I thought about all those 'Faith-Does-Boston' stories and smiled.

"Anyway, when I saw you--on my first day back in LA no less--I thought I'd just lost my security deposit."

"But you stayed," I pointed out.

She nodded. "You didn't kill me... and no-one else came looking to kill me... I decided it was time to take a chance."

"It wasn't a chance to come back here in the first place?"

Laughing, she nodded emphatically. "Oh hell yeah!" Her grin turned wry. "Unfortunately, I'm addicted to ocean sunset's."

"They know you're here," I reminded her quietly. "Ever since aisle five."

She nodded, glancing a look to my kitchen clock. She'd leave soon, I knew, before anyone else appeared. Her visits to the house--which were random and very, very infrequent--were always the shortest of our interludes. "They don't care about me; not anymore."

"They do."

"If they did, they'd track me down. Kill me."

"Since when do you believe in the 'you only hurt the ones you love' philosophy?"

She chuckled as she stood, leaning over to brush a kiss on Andrew's hair. It was matted with cookie--chocolate smeared across his cheeks--and I knew I'd be doing bathroom duty in about five minutes time. I handed him another cookie--he may as well make the most of it--and followed her to the front door. She paused briefly in the hallway, eyes caught on the collection of portraits that hung along its length. All were hand-drawn.

"Angel?" she asked.

I nodded. Her fingers trailed along the frames of the kid's portraits.

"You have beautiful children."

I smiled. "I like to think so."

As I opened the front door for her, she paused briefly on the last portrait. "Nathan's going to be a heart-breaker in a couple of years."

"He's only eight... I hope it's MANY years before that happens," I replied, chuckling.

She smiled and left. Shutting the door, I hesitated to glance at the last portrait, my own smile fading.

It wasn't of Nathan.




I could hear the kids playing in the living room, squabbling about whose turn it was on the Playstation and, more importantly, whose turn it wasn't.

"She thinks you don't care anymore, that you hate her only enough to be indifferent towards actively searching her out and killing her."

He fixed me with a cool look. "She'd be right."

I sighed. Loudly.

"She made her decision," he reminds me, "and left us--left ME--to deal with the repercussions. I refuse to let her make another mess of my life. There were enough pieces scattered the first time."

He stood and left the den without another word, without giving me the chance to argue the issue further. I looked at the bookcases framing the walls--the room was more a study then anything else--and glared at the dust motes that seemed to breed without chaperone down here.

"Damn you, Wesley," I muttered sotto voce, before storming out of the room myself.

I hated dusting.




She never asked me any questions about what had happened in the years proceeding her invisibility. Never seemed to want the histories of the people she had known. That didn't stop me from telling her though. Every meeting, every visit, I let something 'new' slip out. I was still the sledge-hammer, just more particular about where I placed the blows.

"Three months, huh?"

I nodded, holding up a blue shirt as I peered towards the store's mirrored wall. "There was like this five day long party on the beach--completely wicked--and then Angel took off to Sunnydale."

"Of course," she drawled, taking the shirt from my hands and replacing it with a forest green one. "Goes with your eyes better."

"Thanks," I added it to the pile we were taking into the changing rooms with us. "Three months later--almost to the day--he was back in LA."

I watched as she hovered near the accessories stand, fingers trailing over a selection of sunglasses. If I was obsessed by her hair, she was obsessed with her eyes. "Amicable?"

I shook my head. "Buffy and Angel were always better at sucking face than at breaking up." I critiqued a particularly sexy leather mini-skirt and reluctantly conceded that as a thirty-one-year-old mother-of-three, it wasn't really my style anymore. "They get along ok when there's some big evil brewing that needs all of the West-Coast to work together to beat, but for the most part it's Buffy-non-grata."

She looked thoughtful for a moment. "Nine months later--Nathan?"

I chuckled. "Eight months," I corrected her.




I stood at the sliding doors that led onto the back porch and watched her. Thirty months now--Andrew had turned two last week--and as bizarre as it seemed, I was beginning to think of her as my friend. Cordelia and Faith. Friends. Miracles, I guess, still happen. After a moment, I stepped outside.

"You should be ashamed of yourself," she scolded me, hands running over the frayed and torn fabric of the punching bag that hung at the end of the porch.

I smiled and shook my head. "We don't use it anymore--can't," I explained. "The neighbours kept calling the cops when we fought out here and the cops would call social services when they saw our bruises." I chucked a thumb over my shoulder. "Basement's got a full on gym thing happening though."

Behind me, the sliding door opened. I turned and smiled at the newcomer, gesturing that he come closer. He did, bypassing me and heading straight for her. I stood back and watched, curious and maybe a little amused.

"Hi."

She glared at me--people other than Andrew weren't allowed, I knew--but to him she was polite. "Hello, Nathan."

"You're blind," he stated.

She looked at me and I shrugged. She shook her head. "No."

"Can I see your eyes?"

I thought she'd refuse, run away from this questioning twelve-year-old, but she stood there silently. They stared at each other, young and old, and after a moment she removed her sunglasses. The white orbs seemed to fascinate him.

"Are you like Vanessa Brewer?" he asked. "My Dad told me that she did it on purpose... did YOU do this to yourself?"

She nodded. "It was my decision, yes."

I frowned. "Brewer saw movement--a three-sixty spectrum. What do you see?"

"Everything," she smiled at me, then at him. "I have no limits, no perception-boundaries." She gestured to the lawn which needed mowing. "For me, those blades of grass are as clear as the pilot's faces."

It was his turn to frown. "Which pilot's?"

She laughed and looked up. We followed her gaze and there, thousands of miles above us, an aeroplane arced across the sky.

"Cool," he breathed out. We both looked down.

She was gone.




As I folded the laundry, he sat on the floor, eyes glued to the Playstation.

"If she's not blind," he asked suddenly, "then why'd she call me Nathan?"

I looked up and watched as he paused the game, brown eyes searching mine for an answer. Before I could reply, however, the front door opened and his father appeared.

"Hey champ."

"Hi Dad." He jumped up from the floor. "Is my stuff still in the den?" he asked me.

I nodded. "Bottom drawer."




It seemed appropriate that I would hear her version of the events in the supermarket. I stood at aisle seven, my trolley overflowing, Andrew banging his feet against the side as he sat in the cart's toddler seat. Nathan and Melissa were at the park with their father.

She seemed indifferent towards Andrew today--cordial, but reserved--and as we waited in line, she told me her story. I wasn't really surprised by what she told me. It wasn't what I'd imagined had happened, but neither was it unbelievable. What WAS surprising, I thought, loading the groceries into my trunk later on, was the prevalence of bad luck and unfortunate coincidence that seemed to mark the tale.




Hours later, as we sparred in the basement, I was still thinking about what she'd told me.

"Stop leaning back."

I blinked a drop of sweat from my eyes. "I'm not."

Together we started the exercise again. Turn, thrust, stretch, pivot, jab.

"You're leaning back," he stated.

I dropped my arms. "I'm NOT."

He shook his head, coming up behind me. Firmly he pulled my arms back up, keeping his back pressed to mine as he started the set again. One hand rested on my hip, the other swept along my outstretched arm. Less than half-way through, I leant back. Deliberately.

He pushed forward, trying to keep me straight. Grinning, I shifted again, rewarded when his fingers clenched on my waist. "I thought you wanted to work out," he groaned in my ear.

I rested my head on his shoulder, linking my free arm up and around his neck. "I do."

An attempt was made, albeit half-heartedly, to maintain the proper exercises. Eventually, however, we gave up on the pretence and sank to the floor, our bodies cushioned by the training mats. His palms mapped my sides, my abdomen, alternatively tickling and teasing as they made their way lower. I rolled until I was on top, my hair curtaining our faces.

"Why do you love me?"

He cocked an eyebrow. "After ten years and three kids, you don't know?"

I said nothing, only waited. After a moment his hands came up to push back my hair, head raising to string kisses along my forehead and nose and cheeks.

"You keep me real," he answered, the words punctuated with kisses. "When everything seems black and white, you remind me of the grey. Reality needs grey."

I thought about that. "You're such a romantic, honey." My drawled reply was tempered with a soft smile.

He chuckled, pulling me down for a deep kiss. It was a long time before either of us spoke again.




Maybe she was tired of not seeing them, of meeting with only me. Or maybe it was just an accident, another coincidence; when I thought about why she left, and how we reunited, the idea of happenstance no longer seemed so bizarre. But regardless of HOW it happened, one day it just did.

The men were in the den, discussing something demonic--I'd left them when the words 'beast' and 'mating ritual' started being tossed around--and the kids were all upstairs, playing so quietly that I was starting to get worried. I was half-way up the stairs when the doorbell rang and as the guys emerged from the den--still talking--I went to answer it.

"Faith."

"Cordelia."

From behind me, the men paused in their conversation, looking our way. I kept the door open as we both turned to stare at them, our voices meshing.

"Angel."

"Wesley."

The four of us stood there, frozen. We at the front door, them in the archway that led into the kitchen.

The sound of feet on the staircase broke the silence and she turned, ready to flee.

"Dad?" the almost-thirteen-year-old jumped the last two steps and hit the hallway floor with a loud thud, "can we have some more juice?"

"In a minute," came the reply as I stared at my husband, "Connor."

I faced the door again, expecting her to be gone.

She wasn't.




I watched from the kitchen window, the kettle whistling steadily. She sat on the bench outside, head bowed, as he paced the other end of the porch. Neither of them spoke.

Footsteps sounded behind me and I tore my gaze away, turning off the kettle. Coffee cups were already lined along the bench and I poured the boiled water carefully as he watched me from the door.

"Is this what you expected?" he asked.

I laughed softly, shaking my head.

"Then what?"

Handing him a cup, I nestled myself into his side, his arm moving to drop comfortably around my shoulders.

"I think I expected blood."




They started arguing after awhile. We sat at the kitchen table, not really listening to them, but neither ignoring what they said.

"I've never heard them fight before," I commented after awhile, staring into my coffee. "Or at least, not like this."

"I have," he answered.

"What happened?"

He sighed. "I think..." He shook his head. "I think he apologised, in the end. Or not... I can't really remember."

I looked at them through the glass doors. "I don't think she wants an apology."

He followed my gaze. "Maybe he does."




The fighting stopped when the kids came back downstairs, hungry for lunch. After eating, Nathan and Melissa disappeared into the living room, the call of the Playstation too strong to be denied. Connor, on the other hand, headed outside.

I stood at the kitchen window again, and when a warm chest pressed against my back, I smiled. "Andrew gone down?"

"Napping as we speak," he answered, strong arms wrapping around my waist.

We stood there and watched.




"The potion--spell--whatever--was either a one-time-only deal or a no-go from the start. She never did work out which. A week into the vacation, the Slug had a vision."

"Groosalug," he corrected me, "Groo."

I ignored him. "She was furious, upset--the standard deal--and the Slug was very understanding about the whole thing, very apologetic." I shrugged. "To make a long story somewhat shorter, she agreed to go with him to the vowel-less land where he was sure they'd find a reversing cure."

"I'm assuming there was no cure."

"Right. With the visions the Slug was able to get his crown back again so suggestions of him returning to LA with her to find a more 'earthly' cure weren't well received. Eventually she realised that waiting wasn't going to change either the situation or his mind so she left. The way she tells it, leaving that place was like achieving freedom from prison."

"How long was she in Pylea?"

"She said it only seemed like a few months over there but when she got back..."

"Mmm," I looked over my shoulder and found a thoughtful expression on his face. "They have two suns there--as someone from earth, her perception of when a day ends or begins was probably--"

I rolled my eyes, cutting him off. "She came back blind. Pre-portal, eyesight. Post-portal, nada. It took a few hours--maybe a day or so--for her eyesight to return and when it did, it was different--all white on the outside and super-sensitive on the inside."

"Her demon aspect," he nodded. "Probably meant to help her decipher the visions more clearly."

"And probably set to happen on some cosmic timetable... something that didn't factor in the possibility of a come-fuck."

"Com-shuk," came the correction.

I shrugged. "Whatever. Point is--she realised that the portal had dropped her closer to Sunnydale than LA so she went to get help. Buffy, of course, saw the demon and not the girl and she, thinking that there was some big 'you-betrayed-us-by-disappearing' wanted sign pinned on her back, fled."

"And she never once thought about contacting us?"

"Once." I revealed slowly, watching the three outside. "But before she actually reunited with anyone, she overheard Fred and Gunn reminiscing about how Connor had been taken the previous year. She got the guilt's--figured it was all her fault, that if she hadn't come-fucked with the Slug then she would have had a vision to stop that from happening--and decided it would be for the best if she stayed gone."

"But Connor was only gone for five weeks--we got him back."

"Obviously," I pointed out, "she missed that part of their conversation."




Later that night, as I undressed for bed, I thought not about what had happened, but about what would happen next.

"Think they'll be ok?"

He looked up from his book, glasses glinting in the lamp light, and slowly closed the volume. "Define 'ok'."

I shrugged, sliding under the covers. "Angel's spent twelve years feeling abandoned, Cordelia's spent them feeling guilty... is it possible for a friendship--or whatever it was they had--to survive that?"

I watched as he put his book on the bedside table, glasses folded and laid carefully on top. "I think," he started slowly, turning off the lamp, "that history has a funny way of becoming immaterial when one is faced with the possibility of a happy ending."

I thought about our history, about our own 'happy ending', and decided that he was probably right. "I love you."

He chuckled, his breath tickling the back of my neck as he spooned up behind me. "I love you too."

We lay there in silence for awhile, my thoughts slowly seeping away as slumber approached.

"Faith?"

"Mmm?" I answered sleepily.

"Do YOU think they'll be ok?"

I nodded. "I think they'll be fine." We are, I thought.

Amusement decorated his voice. "Define 'fine'."

I smiled. "Five by five, Wes. Five by five."



The End