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Tale-Telling

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There's a stranger in their kitchen, Buffy sees as she comes in. Automatically, she tenses, muscles coiling for a fight, then the figure turns her head and it's Faith. She looks different: colorless, in the bright unrelenting cheerfulness of their Italian kitchen. Only her mouth and shirt have any color, both a deep rich shade of red. "Hey, B," she says, and smiles.

Buffy breathes out and in, smelling Faith's perfume and the welcome aroma of coffee. "You always look like you're flaunting a secret when you do that," she tells Faith, though she didn't mean to. She covers up her mistake by pouring coffee sloppily into two mugs. Take the girl out of California, but you still can't make her drink her coffee black, she thinks, reaching for the sugar.

Faith shrugs, accepting the mug and adding milk, stealing Buffy's spoon to stir it with. "Mona Lisa's got nothing on me," she says, and Buffy has to smile. It's Faith, and it's good to see her again.

"So, how was Japan?" The first sip is still too hot, like always, and she hisses. Caffeine should not be painful to get, not in the mornings. A burnt Slayer can be a cranky Slayer. Beside her, Faith adds sugar, the spoon clinking softly against the porcelain.

"Oh, you know." She waves the hand not encumbered by the spoon. "Asian." She blows on the surface of the coffee before sipping, and Buffy thinks that it isn't fair that Faith still knows how not to burn herself.

She looks away, out the window. The sun is rising on Rome, and the quality of the light surprises her all over, just like it does every time. "Yeah, I hear that's how it is."

"Heard some interesting things from Giles," Faith says quietly, and even though Buffy's moved away, Faith is at her elbow again. "I can't believe Angel did that."

Buffy lets her head hang, trying not to think. "Yeah," she says finally, and offers a silent blessing to whomever watches over Slayers when the moment is interrupted by Dawn. A flurry of movement later, Dawn has coffee, breakfast, and lunch, and bustles back out the door, headed for school. Suddenly, Buffy feels old, and she rolls her head on her neck, letting all the bones in it crack and stretch.

Faith set down her mug and takes Buffy's arm, and Buffy has to look down, because Faith's grip isn't hard, precisely, but it's sure. "I heard something else," she says doggedly, and Buffy contemplates testing just how firm Faith's grip is. "Spike's back."

Somewhere deep inside Buffy, a bell is struck. She can feel the echoes thrumming through her hollow body. "Spike's dead."

"Talked to Andrew lately?" And what does Andrew have to do with anything, but Faith isn't done. "I did. He said he saw Spike when he went to get that wacko Slayer."

Finally managing to get her body to respond, Buffy pulls away. Faith lets her go, and the place where her fingers were is all at once terribly cold. "Maybe he was wrong. You know Andrew. I mean, it could have just been-"

"Buffy," and that's weird, because Faith doesn't usually bother with her whole name. "Buffy, maybe he has a good reason why he didn't call."

"Maybe not." And on the subject of paintings, there's a part of Buffy doing a very good reenactment of Munch's The Scream. She sighs, remembering that it's ok to show weakness now, that Faith isn't her enemy anymore. It's not a big shift, but it's enough: Faith touches her shoulder gently, trying to offer comfort but unused to it.

"Why did you have to tell me?"

Mona Lisa smile, and a shrug. "You had to know." Faith pats her other shoulder awkwardly, and Buffy tucks herself into a hug.

"I did," she says softly. "I did."