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Virtue

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1, Prudence

“What the hell, B?” Faith screams at her as soon as the last vamp is dust and ashes at her feet, stomping over to the other slayer, murder in her eyes and sex in the sway of her hips. All the years they’ve hunted together have not turned her docile at all. Instead they have only made her wilder.

She grabs the blonde slayer by the arm, attempting to spin her around but Buffy ducks, twists, and takes two quick steps forward, avoiding the other slayer’s grip with an ease that still makes Faith’s teeth ache. So she throws up her empty hands, slaps a strand of her too long hair out of her face and snarls, “What the fuck is wrong with you? It’s my job to barge into situations with no brain and no plan, not yours! You could have gotten killed, for fuck’s sake!”

B just stares and glares and doesn’t react at all. She always does this once a year, without fail. Toward the end of September she shuts down and locks Faith out, taking herself to a place that no-one knows and no-one sees. Always. She stops caring, stops being careful, stops, just stops. It’s like she’s a corpse walking and sometimes Faith wonders what would happen if she poured holy water over the little blonde head, held a crucifix in that tiny, empty face.

Buffy finally shakes herself out of her slow winding stupor, like an ice cube melting and says, “Leave me alone, Faith.”

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2, Fortitude

The phone rings almost as soon as they leave the abandoned warehouse the nightly slaying took place in. Faith doesn’t even pretend to check her cell phone, knowing that hers is not the one ringing. This, too, happens every year without fail. A day, two at the most, after B falls silent, the phone rings and Red and the Whelp and Little D call.

Sometimes Faith considers just bailing on this horrible, clichéd family therapy bullshit they have going for themselves. Considers just packing her measly belongings and make like a tree. Just leave. And why shouldn’t she? It’s not like there’s much holding her here, is there? Most of the crew still refuse to get closer to her than the occasional polite small talk, preferably over the phone. But every time she’s thisclose to leaving, September comes. September comes and B shuts down and Faith has to pull her out of some life threatening situation, to save her ass and her sanity, and so she stays.

“Willow,” B greets and her voice sounds dead even to the mistress of dead voices, the princess of flat looks and hollow dreams. Fucking, damn September, coming with red and yellow leaves, with storms and rain and a borderline catatonic slayer.

“Buffy, how are you?” A tinny voice asks, just loud enough for the dark slayer to guess the words. She stops, turns, eyes fixed unwaveringly on B’s face, waiting for her to do something. It’s in the blonde’s face, in her eyes and the curl of her lip, the slump of her shoulders that she wants to. She wants to scream at Red, wants to yell herself hoarse and she has every right to do so, unlike Faith who just yells for therapeutic reasons. She wants to hold the phone in front of her face, break out of her stupor like Leviathan rising and yell until her voice snaps, finally putting those patronizing, understanding, caring, meddling, fucking sidekicks in their place.

For a moment Faith holds her breath because she can actually see a decade of anger rising underneath the other slayer’s skin, can see the resentment for what they did to her grow and yes, yes….

No. B’s face crumbles like ashes and dust, her anger falls flat, her rage dissipates like hot water. She snaps the phone shut with a click and resumes walking. Her gait lacks the usual rolling grace and sex appeal the other woman fought so hard to put there, lacks everything that makes her different form a machine.

“You gotta face the shit sometimes, B,” she sighs.

B refuses to meet her eyes all the way home.

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3, Temperance

The door closes behind them with a click that seems louder than usual, more final in a feeling-of-doom kinda way. Faith sheds her leather jacket, smiling wryly at herself for how far she has fallen. She drops it to the floor behind the door without care, not even bothering to look where it lands. She unzips her boots, one at a time and toes them off. They hit the wall with a resounding smack and B jumps just a bit. One teeny, tiny bit that’s just enough to let Faith know that no, she’s not dealing with a corpse but a real girl, even if it doesn’t look that way. Her blood stained jeans drop to the floor in the doorway leading to the small living room and her top lands on the lamp in the far corner. The socks go last, one flung to the right, the other to the left.

She finds the older woman in the kitchen with a glass of water in her small hands, turning it left, right, left, right, palms roughened by stakes and splinters.

There is no sexy sway of hips and no wicked grin on her lips as Faith plucks the glass gently out of unresisting hands and turns the other slayer around. She grabs the lapels of B’s jacket and pushes it off her shoulders, down her arms, working each hand out of the sleeves individually before flinging the garment on the counter she just backed B into.

Carefully she brushes a loose strand of honey and sunshine coloured hair out of B’s eyes and watches as green eyes slowly focus on her. Time to get the blonde back down to earth. That, too is always the same. The sidekicks are god knows where and so it falls to Faith to put this faithless creature back together, to make her function again. Even after all these years, there’s only one way she knows how to do that.

She smiles and greets, “Hi there, stranger.”

It’s corny and overused but definitely underappreciated because it does the trick. B wraps one arm around her neck and pulls her down, devouring her lips in a kiss that makes her toes curl with the blatant need and desperation. The other hand marches down her stomach toward the waistband of her panties and then she trips a bit as a slayer-powered push sends her stumbling toward the living room sofa. After that it’s seductive oblivion as B takes all that Faith has to offer and some things she doesn’t.

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4, Love

Faith lies breathlessly, writhing and twisting like a snake in a bed of thistles. She gasps, arches her back and digs her short nails into the sheets beneath her, clawing at everything and anything solid with abandon but she doesn’t make a sound. Oh, her mouth is open and her eyes scream so loud she can’t hear her own laboured breathing over the din of it, but never, never escapes a single coherent sound her smudged burgundy lips.

B’s face appears above her, sweaty and sticky, a vision in blonde and green with cherry lips and strands of hair plastered to her temples. One hand lands on either side of the dark slayer’s head and there is a languid kiss before B pulls back, looking down at Faith with some semblance of otherworldly fascination.

She parts pink lips, words so heavy on the tip of her tongue that Faith fancies she can see them already and so she holds her breath as an angel hangs above her, suspended in an infinite moment.

B’s mouth snaps shut with an audible clack as she rolls off the bed and glides into the bathroom, not saying a word.

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5, Justice

For a moment Faith stays where she is, gasping for air and anything solid to hold on to because she believed, for once she really believed that the words would fall, tumble from B’s mouth in a torrent of emotion and regret, of relief and forgiveness. She was so sure.

She deserves those words. Deserves them because she’s the one who waits and dreads for September to come but doesn’t run. She’s the one who saves this fallen angel with no energy left to save herself and she’s the one who wakes the insatiable and selfish demon in order to pull the angel back to her feet. She’s the one who deals with the fallout of life and death and friends and family and fucked up resurrections. She, she, she.

And yet, as she follows the other slayer into the bathroom, comes to a halt behind her, staring at both their reflections in the mirror, she knows that Buffy only sees herself.

She’s blind to the rest of the world.

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6, Hope

There is more sex, more claws and desperation, more silent screams and unseeing eyes and for hours Faith’s world spins around her, twirling on its axis. They make it back to the bed eventually, fall back into soft, cool sheets, into forgetting and feeling and so many other things that are good but not, never, no never, the thing they both want. And afterwards Faith just lays there, glassy gaze fixed on the cracks in the ceiling and a million things beyond, so far beyond this room that smells of them and still feels so empty.

B unwinds slowly like a big cat after a long nap and stretches before crawling up the bed, up her lover and dropping down beside the dark slayer. Summer blonde and autumn brown, their hair makes a nice tangle on the pillows as they lie silently in the dark room and breathe in perfect sync.

They breathe and breathe and breathe like it’s the only thing they are capable of doing, the only thing keeping the world on its axis and spinning in the slow grinding way of those that do not care. And Faith finally caves, gives in and lets the words she knows B needs to hear tumble out between kiss swollen lips. She whispers them into the void between, the darkness around them and curls her hands into fists because she abhors these empty promises that didn’t even heal scraped knees. How can they heal this?

“It’s gonna be alright,” she says, fists tight.

Buffy puts a gentle hand to Faith’s cheek for just a moment, careful, grateful maybe, and then turns away to stare wide eyed into the dark, her back to her lover.

It’s not gonna be alright. They both know this because resurrections can never be made right and all the family therapy bullshit in the world can not make right the fact that Red brought Buffy back but left her mortality in a cold grave six feet under. Faith’s words can’t make it so Little D and the others finally understand and they can’t make B go back where she wants to be most in the world and face her aging friends with the face of a twenty year old girl.

Her words can’t undo that one day in September so long ago when everything went wrong.

No matter how much she wishes they could.

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7, Faith

Faith stares at Buffy’s back for long minutes, studying her outline in the grey light of morning. Then she sighs inaudibly and scoots closer, wrapping one strong scarred arm around a tiny never aging waist and pulls the smaller woman tight against her. She kisses B’s neck softly and buries her face in blonde hair, closing her eyes and waiting for sleep to come and take them both for just a few sweet hours of oblivion.

Tomorrow things will be better. She knows that because they always are. One night of flawed love, and tomorrow B will paint her face back on, rise to her feet with a roll to her hips and be a bit more human again. Tomorrow the dreaded September will bleed almost invisibly into October and they’ll fall back into their routine.

But the next September will come and B will fall again. She’ll run into a different warehouse, attack a different monster with no weapons and no plan, wishing that this one might finally do her in. The sidekicks will call again and B will not shout at them and it will be Faith’s lonely task, Faith with her greying hair and scarred hands, her task to bring B back so she can face another year.

B isn’t the girl she used to be, this brave and strong and controlled and so human girl she was. She’s colder now, harder, a bit crueller and a bit more lost. Many of the things Faith admired her for in their teenage years have faded long before Faith’s hair started to turn grey.

All in all, the blonde is a loveless creature of forty three with the face of a twenty year old saviour and the heart of a corpse. She has no hope, has no love, no justice and nothing left to give. But there is one thing she’ll have forever.

She’ll always have Faith.

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Fin

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