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Buffy hadn’t spoken a single word to Faith since they found out about L.A.

There was something on the news, something that didn’t make any sense, and then Spike showed up on their doorstep, with a whacked-out, super-weird-looking version of Fred.

“There was a dragon,” Spike said. “It was—He was—”

And everybody knew.

Buffy didn’t cry. She just stared at Spike as if she could see right through him. Spike couldn’t meet her eyes as he stumbled through the rest of it, something about Wolfram & Hart and the Black Thorn and their doomed last stand.

Faith left the room before Spike finished, wanting to run at the same pace as her racing heart, but her feet felt like they were pulling through snow or sand or the dust he’d left behind. When she made it, breathless, finally, to the bathroom, she closed the door behind her and quietly threw up into the toilet.

She felt, for the first time in her life, like someone whose mind was neat and tidy, thoughts all lined up in rows, like she imagined the inside of Giles’ head, with all the facts shelved like a library. Only her thoughts were all the same.

Angel’s gone. Wesley’s gone.

Over and over, repeating into infinity. Every thought colored gray as ash. She had been covered in vampire many times in her life, and she could feel it now, a fine coating on her skin, down her throat.

She rinsed her mouth at the sink and looked away when she saw her own face. She sat on the tile, leaned against the wall and waited for the nausea to pass.

When it did, she would go and kill things. Many things.

She left through the window and stayed out all night.

She didn’t even bring a stake.

She didn’t kill a thing.

***

Faith didn’t know what Buffy did that first night. Already, just a few weeks later, things had blurred a bit, but she didn’t remember Buffy missing training sessions or patrols or showing up late to things with puffy eyes. She did remember the shared glances between the Sunnydale gang when Buffy’s head was turned. The murmured urgings to, “Take some time. We can handle things for a while.”

No one said that to her, even though Faith also never skipped a training session or a patrol. She was doing the responsibility thing now. She couldn’t risk falling apart. She was still on the high wire and now she had no net, even far, far below, not even half a country away.

None of them understood about her and Angel, what he’d been to her. Except Buffy.

And Buffy wasn’t speaking to her. Every time Faith was even around B, the same look set in. Something bristley around the eyes and in the firm set of her mouth.

And it didn’t make sense. She’d cared about him, too. Some stupid part of her that she could barely even acknowledge wanted to share this with Buffy. Kept thinking Buffy might cry with her, that Faith could hold her close, could just be close. It was dumb. And sappy. She wasn’t that type.

But a little part of her wanted to be. For Buffy.

***

They had become the two constants in her life.

Buffy was the sun — burning hot and bright, too dazzling to even look at sometimes. Angel was the moon — trying his damndest to reflect her light. Like Faith, he had a shadowy side that could consume him completely. But he’d been her light in the dark.

She couldn’t talk about it. Every night she dreamt she swallowed a stone, and every morning she could still feel it, lodged in her throat.

***

The worst of it was that it really wasn’t fucking fair. Before this, things had actually been pretty good with B. Good enough that sometimes she thought…

One night in particular. It had been about a month before Spike showed up. She and Buffy had done some slay business in Ohio City, and they'd finished up early enough that the crowd at Great Lakes brewery was still going strong. Faith knew it was one of Buffy's favorite spots, so she agreed to stop in, even though it wasn't exactly her taste.

In Cleveland, the month of April generally meant "still winter," but it had been warm enough to sit out on the patio under the twinkling lights. The beer was great, but Buffy only ever ordered wine. Faith teased her about it, as contractually required.

“A toast,” Buffy said when their drinks came. Faith lifted her glass gamely.

“To you,” Buffy said.

Faith’s stomach flipped, but outwardly all she did was raise a skeptical eyebrow.

“Look,” Buffy said, lowering her wineglass and leaning slightly forward across the table. “It’s been about a year since you showed up in Sunnydale. And I know I wasn’t the most welcoming then. But I’ve seen it. The work you put in. And it...means something...to me.”

“Gee, thanks, boss,” Faith said, glad the low light would hide her blush. “Does this mean I get a raise?”

Buffy sighed and then smiled. “Fine, mock my sincerity.” She picked up her glass again. “But clink anyway.”

So they did.

They hadn't said much after that, just a little small talk about work as they sipped and people-watched and split a big plate of fries. But Buffy had caught her eye and smiled often enough that Faith started to think about buried hopes.

Her heart had skipped beats the whole way home.

***

After that, they’d been closer than ever. Well, they’d been friends for the first time. A little awkward still, sometimes, but in a way that made Faith’s stomach flutter instead of sink.

But these days, it was all gone. Buffy avoided her on patrol and seemed to be finishing up her workout whenever Faith came into the training room.

Finally, Faith was tired of the silence squeezing her throat. This time, when Buffy interrupted her work on the mats to try to slip away, Faith grabbed her elbow.

“Hey,” she said, trying to keep her voice normal. “Are you, like, OK?”

Buffy looked around as if Faith could possibly be speaking to someone else, but they were alone.

“Five by five,” she said eventually, the words flat.

Faith felt pain flash through her. “What is with you?” she practically yelled. “What the hell did I do?”

Buffy looked frustrated. “Nothing,” she spluttered.

“I know this is about Angel,” Faith said, his name burning her tongue. “Just tell me.”

Buffy huffed and pulled her arm away. “It’s just brought up a lot of stuff. Like how he looked, when he was dying from that poison…”

Faith wrinkled her forehead. “I’m pretty sure he’d gotten over that,” she said. “Plus, didn’t you kill him too?”

Buffy glared. “That’s not the point. I just thought I had gotten past that, remembering how you...hurt him.” How you hurt me, she didn’t say.

“You did pay me back.” Faith grazed a hand over her abdomen and Buffy winced.

“But you still won in the end.”

“What?” Faith’s mind was reeling.

"He chose you. Over me," Buffy bit out. “He picked you.”

"What are you talking about, B? He carried a torch for you like it was the goddamn Olympics!"

"I don’t mean...like that. But when it really mattered, it was you." Buffy looked into her eyes with a sense of finality, like someone who had thought long and hard before coming to an inescapable conclusion. Faith wanted, sincerely, to punch her.

"You cannot be this dense. God, Buffy, you’re such an idiot."

She turned, hit the punching bag hard.

“You can take this out on me, that’s fine,” she said, whirling back around. “But even dust, he deserves better than that.”

***

That night, she woke up to someone opening her door a crack. She sat up, startled, and Buffy’s head peeked inside.

“You awake?” Buffy whispered.

She obviously was now. Faith nodded, rubbed her eyes. Buffy stepped through the door and closed it, looking the opposite of battle Buffy in an oversized shirt, her hair messy around her shoulders.

Faith could tell Buffy had been crying. This is it, she thought, my big moment. To be the strong one.

She opened her mouth to ask what Buffy wanted, but suddenly the hard lump in her throat was gone, and tears were streaming down her own face. She didn’t even have the ability to protest when Buffy crossed the room and patted at her awkwardly. Faith stayed rigid, swallowing the tears back furiously, trying to keep the hitches out of her breath.

"You know you’re stupid, right?” Faith sniffled. “Everything he did for me was because of you. Because of what you did for him."

Buffy’s hands dropped to her sides. She went very still.

"I haven’t killed anything... since he... I just keep thinking, what if I lose it again and he’s not there?” Faith couldn’t stop her words any more than she had been able to stop her tears. “He was the only one left...who cared."

Buffy made a strangled sound, but Faith wasn’t prepared at all when Buffy’s arms went around her, when Buffy’s lips moved toward her own.

And Faith's first thought was that she didn't want this, not with a ghost in the room, but it was Buffy, and her second thought was that she might never get this chance again. It wasn't like they had much of a relationship left to ruin.

So she closed the last little bit of distance and it was...it was exactly like she had expected and also nothing like it at all, her chest filling with a strangely painful pleasure.

And then Buffy was crying into Faith’s hair. “Never had that reaction before,” Faith teased lightly and Buffy let out a sound that was half-laugh, half-sob.

“Faith—" she said.

But Faith didn’t want whatever this was to be over, so she cut Buffy off with a tender “shh.”

She pulled up the covers to invite Buffy in and said, “Just sleep.”

And like a miracle, Buffy did.

***

In the morning, when Buffy left, Faith pretended to still be sleeping. She couldn't stop thinking about how Buffy’s voice had sounded in the shape of her name, that sweet, strangled Faith.

She didn’t want to know how that syllable would sound on Buffy’s lips in the cold morning light.

***

Now Faith was the one to avoid Buffy in the training room, to turn the other way when she spotted her in the halls.

But Buffy put up with it for only a fraction of the time that Faith did. By that night, before patrol, Buffy had caught up with her. They stood near each other, not touching.

Buffy fixed her with the same expression that she wore when giving out orders.

"It wasn't about him," she said.

Faith just looked at her, tilted her head.

"All right, it was a little bit about him," Buffy conceded. "But I felt this way...before. I just didn’t know how to tell you. That I...care.”

"OK," Faith said slowly, blinking too much.

"I understand if you don't want to talk about it. We can just pretend it never happened."

Buffy started to walk past her, but Faith reached out and grabbed her arm. "Buffy."

"Yeah?"

"I don't wanna pretend."

***

It was a long time before anything else happened.

That was OK. It was enough to be closer, to find their smiles together.

Then one night Buffy was in Faith’s bed again, and they both knew there was no turning back.

“I...I don’t know if I can love anyone the same way I loved him,” Buffy said quietly.

“Well, hell, me either,” Faith answered. “How about we just leave him out of it?”

And Buffy had pulled her close and kissed her until there was no room for ghosts between them.

***

Buffy was still the sun. She’d always be the sun.

But Faith didn’t want to be her moon. And she sure as hell wouldn’t find herself by looking to the heavens.

So below, then. The earth. Something solid, something you could touch.

She'd soak in all that sunlight and turn it into something that could grow.