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Every Letter That You Write Me

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The first scream that wrenched through the air wrenched through Buffy’s own blood. It took everything in her power to stay put in the second-floor classroom. True, her classmates were risking their lives outside, but the whole world could be at risk if Faith screwed up Tara and Wesley’s plan to suck the Mayor into the library.

It was strategic to wait here for Faith to show.

Strategic to stand back as the screams got louder.

Strategic as the Mayor stretched into a giant snake from hell, and Xander and Oz led everyone into—

Oh, screw it.

Buffy couldn’t stay here. It wasn’t right.

Strategy be damned.

Buffy grabbed the ax she’d stored beneath a nearby desk and swung it through the plastic window slats. They shattered with a loud crack, pieces flying. She climbed through the Buffy-sized hole and stood on the veranda, ax in hand, surveying the chaos in the courtyard below.

The demon snake had been surrounded by Xander’s special volunteer force—ordinary students playing at being soldiers the same way Xander had last Halloween, only this time they didn’t have an evil warlock augmenting their memories. Distant screams echoed from the parents and students who’d fled down the southside steps. Everything was still dark from the eclipse. Buffy stared up at the black hole of a sun as if it’d give some kind of sign of imminent retreat; Wesley had said most eclipses lasted for only three minutes, but something else told Buffy hellmouths didn’t participate by “most” rules.

A shock of dark hair caught Buffy’s eye—Faith dropping from the roof across from her. The girl’s feet hit the grass, and she ran straight towards Xander.

Buffy’s blood went cold.

Apparently, it wasn’t enough that Faith had tried to kill Spike. Everyone on Team Buffy was now an enemy.

Buffy leapt over the second-floor railing into the courtyard. By the time she reached the fray, Xander had already been forced to defend himself, ax swinging.

“You guys have to stop!” Faith shouted above the din. “Something’s wrong!”

“You mean how we’re kicking your ass?” Xander shot back. He turned to the small group of students beside him. “Left flank, advance!”

Buffy winced as the students obeyed. They charged forward against the Mayor’s impenetrable scales. The Mayor’s tail gripped one around the waist and flung him into a wall. Buffy felt the impact shudder through her own body. It was all wrong. This had never been her classmates’ fight. They’d never asked to be born in this town.

It needed to stop.

Now.

Buffy stepped forward. “Hey,” she shouted.

Faith turned. As the girl locked eyes with Buffy, her face drained of color. She looked caught between fight or flight mode.

The last time Buffy had seen her ex sister Slayer, she’d been pointing a crossbow at Buffy and Spike. She had fired that crossbow without a hint of warning. She’d been planning on killing them.

And Buffy and Spike had survived, but only at the cost of Spike’s soul.

Buffy swallowed.

The Snake Formerly Known as Mayor turned as well. He hissed at Buffy but didn’t attack. The students at his flank paused. They glanced between each other as if seeking orders.

Buffy felt a chill run down her spine. Faith and the Mayor were probably the two most dangerous beings currently in Sunnydale, and now she was facing down both. It wasn’t the wisest matchup of her Slayer career, but, luckily, she didn’t have to defeat them. She just had to waste enough time for Tara’s spell to kick in. Given that, getting caught up in some modern, high-noon standoff was a-okay in Buffy’s book.

She readjusted her grip on her ax and waited for an attack.

Waited for anything.

Several daggers and stakes were sheathed at Faith’s hips, but she didn’t go for those. Instead, she lifted her hands. “I don’t want to fight.”

“Really,” Buffy said dully. She turned her ax over in her hands. “What do you call all this then?” She pointedly glanced at the Mayor and at the sounds of fighting from the southside steps. Her skin itched to run and help whoever was in trouble there, but she could only be in one place at a time. Only one Slayer to go around.

Once upon a time, Buffy had thought she’d made a permanent change to thousands of years of Slayer lore. Had broken the shitty system life had flung at her.

Life had proved her wrong.

“You’re the one who threw your lot in with vampires,” Faith snapped. “How do I know this isn’t your doing?” As soon as Faith said it, her eyes widened. “It was, wasn’t it? You did something to him. To the Ascension.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Xander shouted.

“Not now, Xander!” Buffy said. She glanced around the courtyard. “Go help the others on the stairs.”

“But—”

“Now! I’ve got this.”

Xander cast her a wary look, but he ultimately signaled with his hand, and his gang peeled off, leaving Buffy alone with Faith and the Mayor. Luckily, the Mayor continued to hold back from attacking, seemingly more interested in the current show between her and Faith.

Which worked for Buffy,

The Mayor wanted a show? Buffy would give him a show.

“I didn’t do anything to tank your boss’s grand Ascension,” Buffy told Faith. “I was laid up in bed. Dying. From poison. Maybe you didn’t hear?”

Faith’s hands dropped to her weapons for the first time. “I was aiming for the vampire,” she said through gritted teeth. “You weren’t supposed to save him.”

“Why not?”

Faith laughed. “Listen to yourself, B. He’s a vampire. Evil. How can you still call yourself the good one when you’re all up on his junk?”

“I could ask you the same question,” Buffy shot back, even as a new wiggle of uncertainty scratched at the back of her mind. Was Faith really trying to pretend she’d been some secret do-gooder this whole time? After all that she’d done—attacking Buffy, attacking Angel, attacking Spike… and now standing here in front of the Mayor in his ghastly demonic form? It had to be a trap of some kind. Some kind of trick to make Buffy look stupid. Still, something felt Twilight Zone-y about it. Something Buffy couldn’t quite shake. “Look around you,” Buffy said. “Look at what you’re defending.”

“His Ascension was supposed to save everyone.”

Buffy jabbed her ax at the Mayor like a laser pointer. “His Ascension was meant to turn him into a giant demon, and—surprise, surprise—he is one now.”

“I don’t believe you,” Faith spat. She withdrew two daggers, one in each hand. “I can’t believe you. Not after what you’ve done.”

“Oh, yeah? What’s that?”

“Where to start… Oh, I don’t know, B. How about killing innocent people… sleeping with the dead…” Her eyes narrowed. “Sacrificing souls?”

Buffy flinched. Her limbs went numb.

“It’s true,” Faith whispered, disgust slowly rippling over her face. “Tell me. Who did you sacrifice? Whose life was less important than yours?”

“Shut up! You don’t know anything about it!”

Faith laughed. “Touched a sore spot, have I?”

Buffy’s breath came short and shallow. It was Faith’s fault. Faith had been the one who’d shot the poisoned arrow. Faith was the reason Spike even had to sacrifice his soul in the first place, and now she was laughing, laughing as if she’d done nothing wrong, and Buffy couldn’t take it anymore.

She charged forward, swinging her ax to shut Faith up if nothing else. She’d wipe that cruel grin off those cherry red lips.

Faith dodged Buffy’s first blows, then hit back with a clash of steel. The inner curve of Buffy’s ax locked against Faith’s dagger hilts. “How does it feel?” Faith sneered, her face inches from Buffy’s own. “No more perfect, shiny Buffy to show the rest of the world? Turns out you’re just as filthy as the rest of us.”

Buffy screamed and shoved her back.

It wasn’t Buffy’s fault. It wasn’t. She’d never asked Spike to sacrifice his soul. She’d made peace with her death. She’d…

She’d wanted to die.

The thought struck heavy as Faith swung into another volley of attacks. Blunt fists and pommels hit where sharp edges didn’t, each raining harder than the last. Buffy tried to clear her head, tried to focus on the battle, but the more she shoved against the noise in her head, the louder it roared. Now that she’d opened the box, Buffy couldn’t help but wonder… maybe, just maybe, Spike wouldn’t have had to make his terrible decision… if only she’d died a little bit sooner.

Buffy stumbled and Faith used the opening to drive her dagger hilt into Buffy’s side. It knocked the air from Buffy’s lungs, and she crumpled onto the grass. Her ax fell from her grip.

In the distance, she heard a triumphant hiss.

Buffy was still gasping for air when Faith grabbed Buffy’s hair and lifted until she was forced to look Faith in the eyes.

They were dark.

Emotionless.

“Pathetic.” Faith ran her dagger slowly over Buffy’s throat. “Just so you know, your little vampire boy toy is the first demon I’m gonna take out after I’m done with you.”

Spike.

Fire rushed through Buffy’s limbs, leaving them shaking. She shoved Faith away, and the dagger cut a shallow, searing line of pain across her throat.

She struck before Faith had time to recover, fists and feet driving anywhere she could reach. Her mind flashed up memories of the past several days—the way it’d felt as the poison had burned through her body; the helplessness as Spike had been forced to carry her to Giles’ apartment; the hours of pain and exhaustion; the broken look in Spike’s eyes when she’d told him not to kill her next soulmate—over and over, ripping her apart…

All of that for nothing if Faith kept destroying and destroying and destroying.

Faith lifted her dagger, but Buffy was faster and knocked it from her hands. Her knee connected with Faith’s gut. As she fell, Buffy grabbed her by the shirt collar and slammed her fist into Faith’s face, again and again again. Blood dripped from Buffy’s neck onto Faith’s skin until they were both falling onto the grass, and Faith was too beaten to resist, her hands slack at her sides and eyes glazed shut in a state of semi-consciousness. Heat and fear pounded through Buffy as she lifted her fist for one final strike—

A hand wrapped around Buffy’s arm, stopping her cold.

“No,” Spike said.

Buffy twisted and stared into a pair of impossibly blue eyes.

He wasn’t supposed to be here. He was supposed to be in the library, protecting Wesley and Tara. She’d told him she hadn’t wanted him here. She’d told him—

With a single yank, Spike pulled Buffy off Faith and sent her rolling onto the grass. As Buffy fought to push herself up, fingers digging into the soft dirt, she watched Spike pick up Faith’s body and shift faces. His fangs were thick in his mouth. “You need a monster,” he lisped, “then I’ll be the monster. Not you.”

“Wait, that’s not…”

Spike angled his mouth over Faith’s neck. Behind them, the Mayor’s snake body slithered into a wide arc, making a ring of no escape.

Buffy stared at them, her heartbeat loud in her ears.

Was this what she wanted—Faith dead and Spike her killer? It was what she’d been about to do herself. What had felt right in the moment.

But now Buffy wasn’t so sure.

“Stop…” she managed weakly.

Spike’s fangs pierced Faith’s throat. Her unconscious body jerked in his arms. Spike let out a feral growl as he clutched her tighter, pulled her blood in deeper. The sound of it pierced straight through Buffy and into her bones. Buffy couldn’t look away from his yellow eyes. His blood-stained mouth.

A demon.

Murderer.

Monster.

Everything Buffy had ever told him he was.

“Stop!” Buffy shouted. “Spike, please!” The remaining breath left her lungs. “Stop.”

He did.

He pulled out of Faith’s throat and stared at Buffy, his brow wrinkled in a mixture of anger and confusion. His mouth still dripped with blood. Even as she stared, his tongue darted out to lap up a stray trickle. Faith was paler than Buffy had ever seen her. There was no telling how much blood Faith had lost… no telling whether she’d survive even if she didn’t lose another drop…

But Buffy wanted her to.

Maybe it was stupid. The more Buffy thought about it, the more unsure she felt, but… even if Faith woke up and tried to kill Spike again… tried to kill Buffy again…

The dead man’s eyes from the alleyway swam before her. Glassy. Vacant. Stiff with horror.

If Buffy did this… if she let Spike kill Faith… she’d have another pair of eyes haunting her for the rest of her life. Spike could fashion himself as the gun, but Buffy would always know she was the finger that pulled the trigger.

She could find another way forward. There had to be another way forward.

For all of them.

As Buffy opened her mouth to speak, there was a flash of movement—the Mayor’s tail, whipping towards them.

“Spike!” she cried as it caught him in the ribs. A sharp crack rang through the courtyard as he fell. Faith crumpled beside him.

The Mayor loomed over them both, stretching higher and higher, seemingly pissed at the ultimate lack of death in his private show. His gaping mouth was large enough to swallow any one of them whole. Venom dripped from his fangs. It sizzled against the grass where it landed.

Buffy’s ax was lying off to her side. She grabbed it and teetered to her feet. Her entire body ached (if she survived this, her left knee was going to need ice for a week), but she pushed through the pain and forced herself to look up at nearly certain death.

A pure-blooded demon.

Buffy wasn’t sure how strong that was—maybe a hundred normal demons’ worth? Put like that, it wasn’t so bad. Buffy had taken on a hundred demons before. True, maybe she’d never faced them all at once, but there was always a first for everything.

“Hey, reptile face!” Buffy shouted. It wasn’t her finest insult, but it did the trick. The head turned from Spike and Faith to Buffy. “Yeah! This is your big Ascension? I’ve seen bigger snakes at the petting zoo!”

The Mayor hissed.

He slithered forward, and Buffy fought her mammalian instinct to step back.

To run.

As the Mayor reared up to strike, Buffy did the same. She tightened her grip on the smooth wood of the ax. Its blade was highly unlikely to pierce the Mayor’s scales, but she’d give it her all anyway, and if she failed, well…

She could say she went out swinging.

A static force blasted through the air like a hairdryer set to maximum power, and then reversed like a wave rushing back to the ocean. It tugged at Buffy’s clothes, stronger and stronger, until she sunk to her knees in the grass.

The Mayor didn’t.

His smooth body twisted and turned. Without limbs to anchor himself, he slipped over the ground, hissing, trying to strike at Buffy. Each time he struck, he was pulled further away, and his fangs took bite after missed bite of useless earth.

Spike’s unconscious body started rolling towards the library as well.

Shit.

Buffy crawled forward and pinned herself over him, eliciting a groan.

His yellow eyes slowly blinked up into her own. “Glinda?” he managed.

Buffy nearly laughed at his ridiculous nicknames for them all, even in the middle of an apocalypse. “Yes,” she told him. “Glinda.”

And then the brief relief she’d felt popped.

Tara’s spell activating meant the school was going to blow. A hundred tons of TNT had been packed into every classroom.

And Faith, Buffy, and Spike were in the dead center of it.

“Come on,” Buffy said, pushing herself up through the pain for hopefully the last time. She hefted an arm beneath Spike’s shoulders, careful of his cracked ribs.

Faith started to stir as well, and she stared up at the two of them with dazed eyes. Her neck was still bleeding, but there was no time for triage.

Buffy extended a hand. “We’ve gotta go,” she told Faith. She had no idea if the other girl would listen, but she had to try. “Can you stand?”

Faith’s face was a picture of confusion, but she grabbed Buffy’s hand, and that was the only answer Buffy needed for now.

By the time all three of them had managed to stand, the Mayor had been sucked to the opposite edge of the courtyard and was actively battling with a pair of double doors. Their hinges creaked beneath his weight. Buffy tried not to stare like some rubbernecker on the freeway and focused all her remaining energy on dragging Spike and Faith—ignoring the sharp pain in her own knee—towards the southside steps that led down to the main parking lot.

Buffy prayed that the first half of Tara’s spell had gone as well as this second half. She prayed that Willow and Giles were back. That they’d all gotten—

Halfway down the steps, the school exploded. A blast of heat scorched Buffy’s back, throwing her forward into the air. She hit the grass of the front lawn, battered but alive.

They were all alive.

Except for Spike, who was technically already dead.

And on fire.

“Spike!” Flames licked the back of his leather duster, and Buffy smacked at them, trying to smother them out.

Spike groaned. “Watch the ribs!” he muttered, flinching but letting her attack him all the same. “Thought it was the other Slayer tryin’ to do me in. Not both at once.”

Buffy’s hand slowed as she patted out the last flame. She reluctantly tore her eyes from Spike’s to look at Faith.

The other girl was already trying to push herself up, but her legs teetered and she collapsed again. Her face was a bruised and drained mess as she stared at the fiery wreckage of the school. All around them, other students did the same. There was no more fighting. All the vampires that had appeared during the eclipse were gone.

Save one.

As Faith noticed Spike, her eyes widened. She scrambled back, nearly falling all over again. She glared at Buffy. “He was going to kill me.”

Buffy took a slow breath. “I was going to kill you,” she corrected, nearly shocking herself with just how true it was. “Spike stopped me.”

“Are you going to finish the job?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

Buffy swallowed. “Because… I think I was wrong about you. And myself.”

“What the fuck’s that supposed to mean?” Faith managed to stand. She reached for the weapons at her waist that weren’t there anymore; her daggers had been dropped in the courtyard, probably buried now beneath hundreds of pounds of rubble.

Buffy felt a new wave of exhaustion hit. Fighting, fighting, fighting… They both always reacted with fighting.

“Why were you working with the Mayor?” Buffy asked tiredly, realizing it was a question she should’ve asked a long time ago. She’d just stupidly assumed she’d already known the answer and Faith was just evil Spike 2.0.

Even though Spike 1.0 had proven, time and time again, that he was far more than “just evil” himself.

Faith swallowed. “Because he was… he said he was…” She stared again at the destruction they’d left behind. “He said he was going to save people. He said we could do it together.”

Buffy remained quiet, her gut twisting with some unpinnable emotion. She wanted to tell Faith she was lying, wanted to keep believing it was all some diabolical trick, that she’d been right and Faith had been evil this entire time… But Faith had never looked like she did now, her fists clenched but trembling. She was wavering between steel and glass as if a single wrong whisper would shatter her.

A dark part of Buffy wanted to be that whisper, but she couldn’t. Couldn’t be the evil Faith seemed to think she was.

Besides.

They all made mistakes.

A honey-like warmth spread across the back of Buffy’s neck. For a second, she thought a stray lick of fire had reached the bus stops, but then she noticed the sky getting lighter… everything getting lighter…

“Fuck!” Spike said, already smoking at the edges.

The eclipse was ending.

“Spike!” Buffy scrambled for some kind of jacket or sweater she could throw over him. She hadn’t survived all this just to lose him to the sun of all goddamn things.

“I’ll be fine.” He was already on his feet, holding his duster over his head like a tarp. “Auditorium wasn’t blasted, I think. Meet you there later?”

He took off before Buffy could reply.

Faith was moving as well, digging a stake out from only god knew where. (Buffy apparently wasn’t the only one with a hidden collection.)

“Stop,” Buffy said before Faith could stagger after Spike in doomed pursuit. The sky continued to lighten, sunlight rolling across the grass like the dawn.

“What gives, B?” Faith snapped. “He’s a vampire.”

Buffy sighed. “He’s a good vampire.”

“What the fuck is a good vampire?”

Buffy pursed her lips as she considered that. Once upon a time, she would’ve answered, ‘one that has a soul,’ but that answer didn’t work anymore. Truthfully, it hadn’t worked for a while now. “I don’t know,” she finally said. “If we ever had a high school class on gooditude, I probably slept through it. But Spike’s trying, I think. Even if he doesn’t want to admit it.”

Faith responded with a silent glower. Her facial bruises were starting to swell, making her look even more angry, but she wasn’t swearing or trying to kill anyone. Which was a plus.

“Also,” Buffy continued, deciding to rip the bandaid off while she already had one hand on the elastic. “The soul that saved me from your poison? It was Spike’s soul. He sacrificed it. To save me.”

“How the fuck do you want me to respond to that?”

“I don’t know,” Buffy admitted, feeling more and more exhausted by the minute. “It’s just what… is.”

Faith stared off in the direction that Spike had fled. The sun was now back to its usual Californian brightness; Buffy could only hope that Spike had reached the gym in time.

“What makes you so sure I had it wrong and you had it right?” Faith asked, gaze snapping to Buffy like some bottomless well of anger. “What if your Spike is just playing you? Do you follow him at night? Make sure he does what he says he does?”

A pit formed in Buffy’s stomach. “I don’t.”

“Then how do you know?”

“I don’t, okay?!” Buffy snapped. “I don’t have any guarantee Spike does or thinks or feels what he says he does! I don’t have a soul or a truth serum or— or anything! It’s just me and his word and, I guess, the word on the street, and—”

The full sadness at losing Spike’s soul suddenly hit her—not anger at Faith, not anger at Spike, just… sadness—and Buffy started to cry before she could stop herself. She cried for herself. Cried for Spike’s soul and whatever it’d been sacrificed to. Cried for the unfairness of it all.

She cried until the initial wave of emotion passed and she was hyperaware of Faith’s blankly paralyzed gaze on her.

Oh god.

She’d turned into a crazy person. A full-on crazy person, sobbing in front of the woman who’d just tried to kill her and whom Buffy had tried to kill straight back.

Buffy focused on her breathing until she could speak again. “I just… I just have to trust him.”

There was an awkward silence—fire crackled, sirens began to wail in the distance—and then Faith burst out laughing. “That sounds like total bullshit, you know. But you do you.”

Buffy laughed too, then immediately regretted it. “Oww…” Apparently, her ribs were more busted up than she’d thought.

Ribs that had been busted up by Faith.

God, they’d both been ready to kill each other just an hour ago, and were probably both still standing with one foot in death’s door, and now…

“I still don’t trust you,” Faith said. “Not fully.”

“Mutual.”

“So, what now?” Faith asked in a perfect echo of Buffy’s thoughts.

“I don’t know.” Buffy was tired of having to be the one with all the answers. Tired of being the one people yelled at when the answers she came up with were wrong. “We can start with a vow? I don’t kill people and neither do you?”

“How’s that supposed to work if we don’t trust each other?”

Buffy’s eyes burned with exhaustion. She pressed her palms against them. “I don’t know.”

Faith pressed her lips together in clear skepticism. Buffy didn’t blame her. After everything that’d happened, the small hope of a peaceful truce sounded lame and delusional, like something out of a Saturday morning cartoon. Faith looked down at the stake she was holding. “Or we can fight.”

Buffy stiffened, all of her bruises and aches flaring with painful clarity. “Do you want to fight?”

“No. Not really,” Faith admitted. She sighed, and the tension drained from her shoulders. She stared at her stake for a moment longer. “Could use a drink though.”

Buffy wrinkled her nose. Of all the things that could possibly help, alcohol would’ve been at the bottom of her list. “How about this—who’s someone you do trust?”

Faith glared at Buffy as if the question had been some sort of personal insult. The longer Faith stayed silent though, the more Buffy found herself worrying the answer was ‘no one.’ She wondered if Faith was coming to the same depressing conclusion.

“Xander,” Faith finally said.

Buffy blinked. “Xander.” She almost laughed, but the look on Faith’s face made her swallow it back down. “That is… a good choice.”

“You don’t have to lie. I know what you think of him.”

“Oh, really?” Buffy deadpanned.

“Yeah. Cause it’s exactly what I think of him. Weak… Powerless… Good for a laugh and quick fuck and not much else…”

“That’s not—” Buffy fought the urge to shake her head as Faith’s words hit like out-of-tune piano keys, one after the other. “I don’t…”

“Which means he’s the furthest from the center of your little Scooby cheer squad. Which means I trust him more than any of you.”

Buffy stared blankly at Faith for a long moment. “Fine,” she said. “Whatever. Say you trust Xander. Once he tells you the Mayor was evil this whole time, will you finally believe me?”

“No,” Faith said. “But maybe it’ll be a start.”

Buffy took a sharp breath. She wanted to yell at Faith to pull her stupid dark-haired head out of the sand and just look at the school that the Mayor had just destroyed— okay… that the Scoobies had just destroyed, and yeah, if an outsider looking in didn’t have any context for that… well, Buffy supposed Faith could have a point.

Still…

As Faith slipped her stake through a belt loop, Buffy wished she could read the girl’s mind. She’d either been a diabolically willing or naively unwilling pawn this whole time—neither particularly glowing endorsements for letting her simply ride off into the horizon. And Buffy didn’t want to let her ride off into the horizon. She didn’t want Faith anywhere she couldn’t keep a strict and steady eye on her.

She supposed she had to though. Eventually.

Had to start with trust.

Buffy had managed it with Spike. She could manage it again.

Or at least she could try.

“Hey!” shouted a distant voice.

Amidst the still-burning school, amidst the other students hugging each other and staring at the flames and the first of the blaring fire trucks pulling up beside the front lawn, was a small group emerging from the distant end of the school—the end where the library had been. There were six figures in total; one of them had red hair, and another sported a tweed jacket.