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Willow had been experiencing a nagging sense of inevitability ever since the princess had been born, to be honest. Probably rather longer, if she were being really honest. She thought it was the feeling of being trapped in a story that had not yet quite reached its conflict, which she found very much like the helplessness of an impending sneeze.

This sense was why Willow flitted at the queen's side a bit restlessly, gossamer wings shivering, until Xander clamped a quelling hand down on her wrist. The christening was supposed to be perfect, of course. Because Queen Buffy liked perfect things, and what did she have a team of faeries on retainer for if not to make things perfect?

“For my gift,” Giles was saying gravely, “I grant Princess Dawn great wisdom. She shall speak with the tongue of sages, and all who hear her will marvel at her learning and her keen judgement.” Willow nodded along with the rest of the court; it was a fine gift, and absolutely the one everyone expected from the solemn senior fae.

Xander glided forward over the cradle as Giles backwinged into place beside Willow. “And for my gift, I grant Princess Dawn exquisite beauty. She shall strike awe into all those who look upon her lovely face.” Willow rolled her eyes a bit at that; Xander would pick beauty.

Willow herself was preparing to wing forward for her turn when the massive doors to the great hall banged open with a thunderous crash that she'd somehow more than half expected. A fae clad in leather with great black wings hovered there, framed dramatically in the doorway. And oddly, Willow felt released, like she'd sneezed at last and could finally breathe.

“I'm really starting to feel unwelcome, B. First no invitation to the wedding, now this? It's like you're ashamed of me or some shit.” Faith the dark fae swooped forward gracefully, landing with a click of bootheels before the royal cradle as guards bristled around her. She didn't even glance at the soldiers as a careless wave of her hand raised a circle of green fire around herself and the small company standing there beside Princess Dawn. An arrow sizzled in the fire a foot from Faith's back, ashes falling harmlessly to the marble floor.

“It's exactly like I'm ashamed of you, because you know? I really am.” But in Willow's opinion Queen Buffy looked a lot more angry than ashamed as she stepped aggressively between the cradle and Faith. “Now get out before I pluck you like a chicken.”

Faith grinned wickedly, the tip of her tongue peeking out to stroke her lower lip. “You wanna...pluck me, B?” But somehow it sounded a little off to Willow, like Faith was repeating lines she'd planned in advance.

“Don't. Even.” Buffy growled at her menacingly, thwacking the royal scepter meaningfully into her palm. “And that was one time when we were really young,” she added defensively, with considerably less menace and considerably more discomfort. “If I had known – ”

“Yeah, yeah,” Faith cut her off. “I've heard that one; tell me another.” She cocked her head to the side as queen Buffy let out a shrill noise of outrage. “But you know what? I'll give the spawn a gift anyway.”

“You stay away from her,” Buffy snarled.

And right there, as Faith opened her mouth with a smirk, words clearly on the tip of her tongue, she stopped. She blinked a little, almost like someone who'd been mildly startled back to reality out of a daydream. The smirk melted into a frown. In a quieter, more thoughtful tone, she finally said, “It ever feel to you like we've done all this before, a million times maybe? Like, you and me, we're going round in circles?”

And Willow was thinking Goddess, yes, all the time; I thought it was just me, but it didn't seem like the moment to say so.

“Wills,” Xander hissed beside her as everyone turned to stare. “You know you're thinking out loud again, right?”

“Um,” Willow mumbled, withering under Queen Buffy's furious glare.

“See?!” Faith demanded. “She knows what I'm talking about. You tell her, Red.”

But Willow really didn't mean to say anything, it was just that there were all those eyes on her, and Buffy was doing that squinty thing that Willow was pretty sure it was in her job description to avoid, so she opened her mouth and words just came tumbling out. “It's just, here we are, like characters repeating a classic dramatic arc over and over without ever changing the main genre of our story, and sometimes I think maybe it doesn't even matter if we keep going through the motions, because we're all caught in the current of the narrative and it's only going to keep flowing along whatever we do. I mean, don't we all basically know what happens next, and next after that, and so on to infinity without any surprises?” She ran aground there, panting for breath as silence fell and everyone continued to stare. Beside her, she could hear Xander slap his palm over his forehead.

Faith recovered first, cocking her head curiously at Willow. “I dunno,” she said slowly, flicking her gaze over Willow like she was trying to read garbled handwriting that she could not quite make out. “I think maybe there's a surprise left here after all. Imagine that.” And she smiled at Willow in a quick flash, dazzling and bright, there and gone like a comet trailing across the night sky. Willow had the dizzy feeling like she might be choking on her tongue, or possibly hiccuping butterflies.

Buffy frowned sternly back and forth between Willow and Faith. “Stop confusing my people! I don't know what game you're playing, but it's not going to work. Whatever crazy skank show you're putting on here, you can forget it right now. I'm not falling for that time loop thing.” Giles cleared his throat just a little and the whole court abruptly tried to look casual all at once and definitely not like they were snickering at their queen. “Not again, anyway,” Buffy added in a smaller, grudging voice, eyeing her courtiers sharply. “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me a few times, and that is a whole lot of shame,” she snapped.

Faith had turned her attention away from Willow and drawn herself up tighter and tighter as Buffy railed at her, like a spring coiling. Her wings mantled against her back fitfully. “Shoulda known we're never on the same page,” she growled back. “You know what? Fine. We'll do this thing. Curse of death, yadda yadda, at – how old were you when we met, B? Right, sixteen. And from pricking her finger on a spindle, too, cause what's a good curse without a violent dick metaphor? Bang, done.” She snapped her fingers and a curl of green glow swirled around Princess Dawn's cradle.

Buffy howled wordlessly and threw herself at Faith, tackle falling just short as Faith backwinged sharply. The queen rolled as she hit the ground and came up swinging her scepter like a mace. “You take that back,” she was snarling, “or I will shove a spindle right up that stupid smirk.”

Faith twisted away, almost crossing the green fire circle as she evaded Buffy; soldiers on the other side leaned forward hopefully, like dogs watching food about to fall off the table. “Your symbolism's just as fucking disturbing as always, B. Same old, same old,” she chuckled, moving aside again and unfurling her wings to get a full buffet that knocked Buffy back against the cradle. “But you,” Faith added, suddenly meeting Willow's eyes again. “I could stand to hear more from sometime.” And she spread her wings to full span again and sailed up and over their heads so fast that every arrow launched after her fell short.

“Do something,” Buffy demanded as soon as Faith was gone, holding out Princess Dawn to her faeries.

“It'll just be...really deep sleep. That's my gift. No death, just lots of sleeping for everybody so we can all wait with her, no matter how long it takes. Until she wakes from true love's kiss,” Willow finished a little dreamily, not thinking of leather-clad thighs at all.

“An improvement,” Giles nodded. “Still room for more, mind you, but it's a fine place to start.” He patted Willow's shoulder approvingly.

Surfing the heady rush of validation, Willow added, “And we can get rid of all the phallic...um, I mean, spindles. In the whole kingdom.”

“Sure,” Buffy agreed with a determined smile. “I mean, that's a great excuse to import some stylish cloth from Flanders anyway, right? It's going to be fine.” The jut of her chin practically dared anyone to gainsay her.

“Perhaps it might also be wise to hide the princess,” Giles mused. “One never knows with curses; some have absolutely terrible senses of direction. I'm sure the three of us could – ” And he broke off there as Xander kicked his ankle surreptitiously.

“Because the three of us know so much about babies? Have you been flying up in the thinner air again?” Xander whispered urgently at Giles, as if his voice didn't carry to most of the court.

******

In the end, child-rearing was actually easier in some ways than Willow had thought it would be. So much of it seemed to come down to having plenty of distractions prepared and lots of sweets on hand. It was possible that the three of them were not the most ideal foster parents of all time. And it was also possible that returning the princess to the castle on the very day of her sixteenth birthday was an absolutely terrible idea, but Giles insisted that if the curse hadn't lost track of her yet, it wasn't likely to, so they might as well take her home for her birthday.

“You again,” Faith called out, gliding down into the courtyard as Willow ran out of the newly bespelled castle in a panic later that day. She'd feel better if she knew exactly where Xander and Giles had gotten to when everyone had started falling down where they stood, but they had to be around here somewhere.

“No,” Willow gasped at her, as if that made sense.

Faith grinned lopsidedly with one corner of her mouth. “I'm pretty sure it is, actually,” she laughed.

“You're not going to confuse me,” Willow insisted fiercely. “With all of that leather and those...,” she waved a hand that more or less indicated all of Faith. “That,” she finished lamely.

“I'm gonna take that as a compliment.” Faith's grin curled up the other corner of her mouth, too, and she lowered her lashes to look up through them at Willow with sultry, smoky eyes. “Not the smoothest one, maybe, but still. I can work with that.” She stalked a step closer with a roll of her hips that seemed entirely unnecessary but totally hypnotic.

“Is this a spell?” Willow demanded suspiciously. “Some kind of sexy siren spell?”

The sultry cracked a bit as Faith laughed, and there was something more genuine about her smile then. “Shit, you really are adorable, you know that?”

Willow's mouth opened and shut a couple of times before she got out a rather prim, “I am not.” Her face felt so hot she knew she must be blushing bright.

“You totally are,” Faith disagreed. “I don't suppose you'd consider blowing this rockpile with me, seeing the world a bit? There's more out there than Sunnydale, you know.”

Willow gaped at her, stuck somewhere between shock and outrage. “You just bespelled all my human friends! I'm not going anywhere, and certainly not with you. I'm staying right here to watch over them until they wake up safely.”

“'Course you are. Damn shame,” Faith sighed. “You never wondered what it might be like to stop being a supporting character in B's story? What it might be like to write your own?”

And that made Willow catch her breath and squirm a little in her skin with guilt, because she had wondered that, even if she'd never so much as breathed the words aloud to her cat in the dark of the night. “I don't know what you're talking about,” Willow finally managed in a weak voice that didn't even sound convincing to her as it came out of her mouth.

Faith sighed again and just looked at her for a moment, but Willow could not begin to tell what the dark fae was thinking. “Yeah,” she said at last, voice dull and bitter like the taste of rancid oil. The ground surged around them, boiling with brambles that shot up to shroud the castle in a forest of wicked thorns, and Willow stumbled a little in surprise and dismay on the shaking earth. Faith spat, “I guess expecting the stalwart best friend to run off with the vile villain is pretty stupid, huh? I mean, unless you could just do it for a day or so and then tell everybody how ashamed you were, because that is always good fun.”

And before Willow could say anything to that – even if she could have thought of something to either draw the poison out of that obvious wound or press harder against it – Faith swept off back into the sky, rapid wingbeats matching the thunder of Willow's heart. With some nameless tangle of feeling swelling in her chest, Willow watched Faith go until she was just a dark speck against the endless blue vault of the sky.

******

A hundred years later, Willow found herself waiting in that same spot again. Caught by magic in a moment in time like a fly in amber, the courtyard had not even overgrown with weeds in all those years. Xander and Giles hove into view on and off as they swooped over the wall of brambles, calling down directions to Prince Connor lest he get lost in that monstrous tangle. But Willow was really watching the other quadrants of the sky. Even so, somehow she still didn't spot Faith until she heard the rustle of wings marking a landing behind her.

“You're back,” Willow gasped unnecessarily as she spun around, wide-eyed.

“Sure,” Faith shrugged. “Who misses the climax of the story?” She winked as she said 'climax,' but it seemed hollow somehow.

“You don't have to...” Willow cocked her head over her shoulder where the Prince soldiered on, gradually coming closer to the castle. “Whatever you're going to do, can't you just not?”

Faith lifted both hands and waved them up and down, like she was literally weighing her options. “Don't see how. I'm the villain, Red. This is kinda the whole point of me, right?”

“What if...” Willow floundered a bit, but she'd had a lot of time to think about this. “What if we decided not to be those characters after all? What if I did run off with you, and we had adventures and things and got to be the main characters in our own story?”

Which had sounded pretty good in Willow's head, but Faith recoiled like she'd been slapped. “Now you say yes? Are you seriously offering yourself up to me like a sacrifice just to get me out of the picture? Gonna close your eyes and think of Sunnydale when the nasty Faith puts her dirty hands on you? That's really where you wanna take this?” Her face twisted in a sneer, but Willow was pretty sure the contempt was turned inward.

“No!” Willow cried hurriedly. “I didn't mean...” She reached out with one imploring hand, but Faith stepped back out of her reach. “Not like that,” Willow tried again. “It's just, things'll be okay here now without me. You know how this goes. There's a fight, and the Prince wins because he's a dashing hero and that's how it happens. He wakes up Princess Dawn and they live happily ever after, at least once Buffy gets done giving him her shovel speech. But maybe you get hurt in the fight, or even killed, because nobody promises us happily ever after.”

A breath huffed out of Faith like the ghost of a laugh, but at least she stopped moving away. “Well. You're right about that one. Nobody gives a shit about the villain, and happily ever after's a thing that happens to the main characters. But I'm still not letting you bribe me with yourself, Red. Not gonna happen.”

Willow smiled at her and edged a little closer, like she was trying to approach a skittish horse. “You do get that that is not a villain-y thing to say, right?”

Faith blinked, looking a bit taken aback. “I, uh. Well. I mean, there's bad and there's bad, right?”

Willow smiled wider and reached out to cup her palm gently over Faith's cheek; Faith dragged in a sharp breath and stilled completely. “Right,” Willow murmured. “And I've had a lot of time to look into literary theory these last hundred years. Have you ever heard of redemption arcs?”

Faith stared at her, fluttering pulse against Willow's lower fingertips still the only move she made for a long moment. “Nope,” she husked out hoarsely at last.

“I'll take that as a yes,” Willow countered, edging even closer. “I think that would be a good story for us to tell. Together,” she added pointedly, just in case that part hadn't been clear.

“You can't really want...,” Faith trailed off with a sharp flick of her hand that seemed to mean herself. “I mean, I know I asked before, but I knew you'd never, not with me.” Her voice was heavy with disgust, and her eyes dropped away from Willow's.

“Surprises,” Willow told her solemnly, “are awesome. I thought we'd established that.” And she leaned into the little space that remained between them to brush her lips softly over Faith's, just a whisper of contact. When she pulled back a little, Faith was staring with wide eyes.

“The hell,” Faith breathed, fingers of one hand darting up to touch her own lips like she needed to check they were still there. “You can't – ”

But Willow really didn't want to hear what she couldn't do or be anymore, so she slid her hand from Faith's cheek to the back of her neck and reeled her in again. This time she figured she might as well go for broke, so she sneaked her tongue right into the space where Faith had been going to put words, untangling those syllables inside Faith's mouth until there was nothing left but a moan and the taste of cherry lip gloss. When Willow finally broke away, she did it with a nip to Faith's tempting lower lip; it wrung a smothered sound from Faith's throat that made desire pool low in Willow's belly like warm honey.

“I can,” Willow breathed across those lips. “The pen's in my hand, I can write anything.”

“That a euphemism?” Faith murmured back, her voice gone warm and low.

Willow laughed and kissed her again. “I totally thought you were going to make something out of 'happy ending,' but I guess that works, too.”

Faith grinned widely. “Ain't even got to do 'climax' properly yet. Gimme time, Red.” She winked, and this time it seemed all playfulness and not hollow at all.

“That's the plan,” Willow told her with a nod, in a tone like she was promising something. When Faith's eyes went a bit shiny at that, Willow curled fingers into her hair and pressed up closer against her until Faith's arms came up to circle tightly around her waist. They fit together like a sentence that had been on the tip of Willow's tongue forever.

And this time, when Faith soared into the blue vault of the sky, Willow didn't have to watch her go; she was right there at her side, fingers tangled with Faith's and laughing with the rush of a turning a fresh new page together.