Beauty Effulgent

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It Isn't Even Past

 Summary                    Post Season-7 Chosen, Buffy and Faith meet up in Rome. Unfortunately, their past comes with them.

Rating                         PG-13 overall

Pairing                        Implied Buffy/Spike; implied Faith/Robin

Disclaimers                Joss owns all.

I. Portrait of a Lady II. Beast in the Jungle III. Empathy IV.  The Ambassadors V. The Real Thing

". . .the conception of a certain young woman affronting her destiny."

-Henry James


I. Portrait of a Lady


She had been in a coma, in prison, in hell. Her passport said she was twenty-five years old, and her body didn’t give the lie, but in a nice hotel, in a warm foamy bath, she was still a girl child. She had heard things about Europe -- no soap, no water pressure -- but in this well-appointed room, she got what Roger Wyndam-Pryce and the slowly reassembling Watchers’ Council paid for. The same people who had once tried to buy her a one-way ticket to the funny farm or worse. Now it was, “Whatever you need to be comfortable while the two of you are in Rome, Faith,” “Spare no expenses, Faith.”


Faith hadn’t liked the Watcher’s look when he said it. Neither had Robin, who stood there and glowered. He was good at that, the moody jealous stay-away-from-my-girl bit. She found it alternately cute and annoying, but under those haughty Wyndham-Pryce eyes she thought it, for once, justified. It was almost enough for her to understand how old Roger's kid got to be such a jumpy, fawning, tightass; why, when Wesley’s inner compass finally went haywire, it sent him so far off course. This creep knew what Faith had done to his son, and he wanted to do her. Probably thought he was buying her off with minibars and bubble baths.


“I’ll take their money but it won’t buy me,” she whispered in Robin’s ear, burrowing against him on the way from the mansion’s door to the private car, on the small stretch of drive where it might be harder for the Council to eavesdrop. Brushing his ear with her lips, she added, “I’m no one’s to buy.” And that means you, she hoped that part came across. She suspected him of falling in love with her, the bastard. When had she asked for that?


Faith settled into the circular soaking tub, blew a wisp off bubbles off of her fingers, and turned a page in her book. It was a cheap paperback, though a hefty one, almost overstuffed. She was barely halfway through, but the pages were threatening to fan loose any second, and scatter into the bubbles. Robin would have a fit -- you didn’t treat books that way, even cheap ones -- but what good were the things if you couldn’t have them when and where you wanted them? Faith worked at night, but the days were hers. She liked her afternoons in the tub, and a story while she was soaking.


She had picked the book up when they were trying to look inconspicuous in a Notting Hill bookshop, waiting for the Council’s contact to pull some corny cloak and dagger shit. The author’s name might have caught her eye because she remembered her first watcher telling her about this other story the same guy had done, the crazy babysitter and the creepy kids. Sounded like this Henry James knew his hauntings. Faith liked the dead to stay that way, and she didn’t really trust these drafty English country houses to be spectre-free. It was all in the name of research. But really it was just something to hold, thick and satisfying in her hand. Her fingers closed around it and Robin chuckled, “Won’t get far with that one.” Faith lowered her chin and stared at him, telling him without having to say it. “Don’t you know what happens when you tell me what I’m not going to do?”


Faith reached to the shelf by the tub, broke off a chunk of swiss chocolate, and chugged from a small bottle of cognac. This book might be about to go kaput on her, so she folded back the cover and looked at the first page again. Blah blah blah blah, afternoon tea. This guy was long winded, no question. It was like spending 700 pages at a Watcher’s convention. But Faith kept at it and it was kind of like listening to Giles. After a while, even though Mr. Henry James kept refusing to get to the point, she was seeing the story. This spoiled American girl -- Buffy Summers, in Faith’s mind, wearing petticoats and some kind of ridiculous hat -- shows up in Europe, comes into some money. And right off the bat there’s some handsome English lord wanting to marry her. Faith figured the guy was bad news, that Miss Isabel Buffy Dumbcluck would go off with him to his castle and find his dead wives chained behind the walls. Some magical portrait (wasn’t that what the title was about?) holding her soul captive, getting older while her body stayed young and a prisoner. Wasn’t that how these kinds of stories went?


But no, Lord Charming had turned out to be a perfectly decent guy, but Lady Dumbcluck ran off to Italy to attach herself to one of the most obvious vamps Faith had ever encountered. Holed up in his villa, collecting beautiful things, staring hungrily at the innocent blonde. And then there was the daughter he was forcing into a convent, who he wouldn’t let out of the house. That was the key to the story -- His own daughter, and he’d sired her, and she didn’t even know it. Could you be a vampire without knowing it? Robin might have answered that, but in Rome he was all with the guidebooks, the paintings -- Michelangelo! Leonardo! -- the old old buildings, and she’d finally pushed him out the door on his own. “We’re not attached, Robin. You want your Ninja Turtles, I want a bath.” And, she was too embarrassed to add, the only Rome she cared about right now was the one inhabited by Isabel Archer and Lord Warburton and Gilbert Osmond.


This wasn’t a conversation she could have with Robin, anyway. He was the one who had started shoving books at her, but when she asked about Sherlock Holmes -- vamp, maybe, telepath demon? -- he sighed, “Faith, you can’t talk about fictional characters that way.” It went with all those things he liked to go on about, symbolism and metaphor and irony. Who knew he’d really been a high school teacher, that the “Principal Wood” thing wasn’t entirely an act? The only one who had stuck up for her at all was that weird blonde kid, Tucker’s brother, who informed her that, “Many reliable accounts support the conclusion that Sherlock Holmes was a Vulcan.” Whatever kind of demon that was.


Now Angel, he would know about this Osmond guy. End of the nineteenth century, if you could believe James, this Eternal City was fat with juicy tourists. How could he and Darla not have spent time here? Faith sunk deeper into the bath and imagined making that phone call. Yes, this is a known fugitive, calling for the CEO of Wolfram & Hart, I just wonder if I could have a word with Mr. Angel. What’s it regarding? One Mr. James, comma, Henry. Yes, Angel, was Gilbert Osmond a demon? Are Donny and Marie his Satanic spawn? And, oh yeah, what the hell are you doing in bed with the psychos who once upon a time, you know, tried to pay me to kill you?


Out in the suite, something fell. The book dropped from Faith’s hand to the tub. Pages floated loose in the water, but her mind was with her fingers, finding a weapon on the shelf between the chocolate and the liqueurs. Daytime and no invitation, but this wasn’t strictly her hotel room, but no chances here. She picked the knife in one hand and the stake in the other. No time for clothes before she wrenched open the door, jumped over the threshold and saw --


The back of a girl’s blonde head bent over the minibar.


“B?” Faith demanded.


“Hiya,” said Buffy Summers, cheerful as you please.


Faith backed into the bathroom before Buffy could turn. She set the weapons down slowly, and picked up a robe. “Sorry about the no-knock,” Buffy was saying. “I ran into Robin on my way in, and he gave me this keycard thingy. Hey, do you think these truffles in here are like the mushrooms or the chocolates?”


Casting a sorry look at the water and her soaked book, Faith knotted the robe around her waist and walked into the room. “So you’re hanging out in the Eternal City these days?”


“Mmm-hmm. Good place for vamps. Do you think the cheese is supposed to be this color?” Buffy finally looked up. “And, hey, umm, how are you these days?”

“You know.” Faith shrugged. “Five by five.”


II. Beast in the Jungle    Top


Sneaking up on Faith was a shitty thing to do, Buffy knew that. Turning your back on Faith was damn near suicidal. But she calculated the risk, the way she calculated everything now. Buffy was coming as a friend, and the best way she knew was to act like a friend. It was hard to think of someone as a mortal enemy when you walked in on them rooting around in your refrigerator. *Goodness, pet .  Wherever did you learn a thing like that?*  The words rang behind her ear, the way they had regularly for the past four months.  It wasn't exactly Spike's voice, but it wasn't exactly not.


Here and now,  just in case psychology didn’t work, there was the little matter of the dagger Buffy clutched in her palm. She held it tight in her hand as she rifled through the cheeses, watched the bathroom door reflected in the television. Faith eased it open without a sound, stepped out armed, dripping wet and -- yup, naked.


“B?” Just one syllable, but Faith managed to sound relieved. Even happy? *Don’t push it, Summers.*


“Hiya!” Buffy said, going for ‘chipper.’ She wouldn’t even mind ‘slightly dense.’ Faith eased back into the bathroom. “Sorry about the no-knock,” called Buffy, and went on excusing, casual as she could, digging through the minibar. She trusted Faith, more or less, that wasn’t what this was about. *And jolly good show, preten’ing not to see the bird in ’er birthday suit. * Good show? Buffy thought. Spike would say good show? Who was she channeling, here, a former Big Bad turned love-addled champion, or Wesley Wyndam-Pryce? But she knew the truth, she had for months. He was gone, no one was in there. Buffy Summers was talking to herself.


“Five by five,” Faith was saying.


The knife tucked in her jacket, Buffy raised her hands and wiggled all her fingers. “Me too, I guess.”


Faith frowned and looked down at her own hands. “Is that what that means?”


“I guess, what did you think?”


Faith lowered herself onto the end of the king-sized bed and stared down to count her own fingers. “Five by five,” she repeated. “Damn.” Then, without looking up, “Is there any chance of you explaining to me, in say, the next thirty seconds, exactly what you’re doing in my room, so that I don’t have to get up and knock it out of you?”


Buffy’s hand went to her pocket, the knife, while her mind raced around for the words she’d planned to say. Concern. Friendship. Welcoming committee. Fruit basket -- maybe she should actually have brought a fruit basket, the plums from the market down on the piazza put California to shame and, damn, knife -- Then Faith raised her head and Buffy saw the other girl’s smile, the gotcha eyes, and there was suddenly nowhere to go but the truth. “Wood,” she said.


"Would what?” Faith repeated, then in dawning comprehension. “As in, Robin Wood, my partner in heroics and, for lack of a better word, fuckbuddy?”


“That’s your best word?” *Way to reach out to the girl, love, bang-up job* *Oh, shut up, you’re not even there.* “Robin came to me, said he was concerned about you. He said you’re -- spending more time in the room by yourself, not getting out in the world. I said that didn’t sound like the Faith I know and --”


This was almost the truth. Robin had found her as soon as he got to Rome, and that was what he had said. “Faith just doesn’t seem to be herself lately.”


“You haven’t known Faith as long as I have,” Buffy responded, “But let me suggest that Faith not being herself has the qualities of a good thing.”


Robin sighed. “Buffy, I’m sure you can’t think of any reason you should want to help me. I know damn well you don’t even like me that much.”


“Well, Robin, you did try to dust my friend. Who, incidentally, turned out to be all world-saving champion martyr boy --” *Well, it was all in a day’s work, though thanks for noticing and all -- hold up, whazzall that about ‘my friend’?*


“But Buffy," Robin said. "You do need to understand where I was coming from.”


“I did understand,” she said, “That’s why --” *Tha’s why his skull is still attached to his neck* was the helpful interpretation from her non-existent Spike. But she had understood it, too well, the simplicity of Robin’s drive. Vampire bad, vamp-killer good. Spike, killer of Robin’s good mother, Spike bad, Spike should be dust. It was wrong-headed and destructive to the mission, but Buffy could understand it. She could remember, though she could hardly believe in, that time when “Nobody messes with my boyfriend” was all the mission statement she had needed. *And you were so different in the end, pet? You protected me to save the mission, or you protected me and we got lucky? * * Yeah, that’s you and me, William. We've always been the lucky



And in the end, she had promised Robin to drop in on Faith. Buffy knew that Robin and Faith had acquired a reputation as a formidable team, doing freelance work where they were needed. Some people grumbled that Faith had gone all Diva Slayer, conditioning her services on posh accommodations and gourmet food, Council-subsidized shopping sprees and long vacations. Nobody ever said she didn’t get the job done, though, and so far no one had questioned her loyalties. But if Robin was right, if Faith’s head wasn’t in her work, could that be a sign of something else? Could you ever really trust someone’s motives after they’d switched sides? *Thanks for the vote of confidence, then. * *Oh, not you too.*


“Robin’s worried --” Faith’s words jerked her back to the present. “Robin’s  worried that I’m not getting out, so he sent you to check on me? Like maybe, what, he goes out in the day and I become a secret double agent for -- who the hell ever we’re even fighting these days. The First hasn’t dared to show its lack-of-a-face since Sunnydale. Wolfram & Hart’s even being run by the good guys.” Faith laughed and shook her head. “B, do you have any idea what Robin Wood is like when you give him a guide book? It’s all the piazzas, the sculptures, the Vatican -- big frigging crosses, given, but not the kind of thing that drags me out in the hot to get bumped into and squeezed around in these countries where nobody’s ever heard the word deodorant.”


“And that’s all?” Buffy leaned her head to the side, tried to figure what she could make out from Faith’s eyes. “Just nothing to get out for in the day? Actually, there’s a whole lot to see in Rome. It’s like they say. When in Rome . . .”


“And I look like a tourist?” Buffy had to admit that Faith looked pretty much the same as she always had, although her hair was cropped short and dyed another shade -- maybe dark red, it was hard to tell when it was still wet.


“Point taken,” said Buffy. “Incidentally, is there a reason that you two are registered as ‘Robin Locksley and Bianca Savage’?”


“The Robin Hood thing is all him,” Faith answered. “But Bianca --” She leaned over the night stand, picked up a wallet, which she flipped open and tossed it to Buffy. The Canadian passport had a picture of Faith with short dark red hair, and the name, “Bianca Diana Savage.”


“Did you pick that name?” Buffy demanded.


“You like?” Faith asked. “It’s not like I made it up. I guess it belonged to some dead girl from British Columbia. They made me learn where that is, too. Sir Roger had a lot of names to choose from but -- Bianca means white, Diana was the goddess of the moon. And Savage, well,” she shrugged. “Am I or ain’t I? And as secret identities go, I’d say it’s pretty damn cool.


“Yeah, um -- does your secret identity happen to be a porn star?”


“Excuse me, Buffy. Anyway, it was a better thing to put on a passport than





“Seeing as Faith’s an international fugitive, yeah. And also? Not so much your put-it-on-a-passport kind of name.”


Buffy frowned, caught offguard. She couldn't believe she'd never thought about this before, never thought much of anything about Faith's identity before she showed up in Sunnydale. “And your real name?”


“You can learn when you pry it off my cold dead tongue. Meaning, you know. Never.” Faith smiled and rolled over on her stomach. “You should try this bed, B, it’s wicked soft. Courtesy of the Council, like the passports. You can write a thank-you note to Sir Roger.”


“You keep saying that. Tell me, slayer sense, what kind of vibe did you get off him?”


“Do you mean was he angry because I subjected his firstborn to the not-quite-death of a thousand cuts?” She shrugged. “Didn’t seem to bug him.”


“Well, you know.” Buffy forced a smile. “That’s all past.”


Faith laughed. “Sure, B. But that’s not exactly what I mean. It’s not like he forgot what happened with me and Wes. It’s like he didn’t care. He even seemed to think it was kinda funny. I know that it’s not like I’m the one to be judging family dynamics, but those Wyndham-Pryces make the crew at Wuthering Heights look functional.”


Buffy froze and leaned down to look deeper into Faith’s eyes. “Willow? That’s not you in there, is it?


“Because I can’t have read a book?” Faith demanded.


“Well --” Buffy stammered. Well, maybe they have pictures. Maybe she sounded it out. “Sure, but, my first instinct. Body-switches? I mean, there is a history. ”


“A history,” Faith laughed, “It’s all past, but there’s a history. That's all this damn city is, Buffy, it's history. How do you stand it?"


Buffy felt a snappy reply rise to her lips before she even knew what it was, and then. *Two birds with bad attitudes cooped up in a hotel room. This either leads somewhere bad or somewhere. . .* She jumped to her feet, suddenly decisive. "Come with me and I'll show you."


Faith ran a hand over her scalp. "Hair's still wet, B, and nowhere in my job description am I required to move my ass from this bed while the sun is out." Seeing Buffy's determined face, she groaned. "Right, you don't have to say it. When in Rome."


III. Empathy    Top


"I may not attempt to report in its fulness our young woman's response to the deep appeal of Rome. . . " Henry James, "Portrait of a Lady"


It was a gorgeous autumn day in the Roman Forum. Faith put a leather-clad sleeve over her forehead and slumped against a ruin. She groaned. "I hate sunshine."


"It does kind of clash with your carefully cultivated pallor," Buffy admitted.


"Fuck yeah," Faith answered. "That and cats."


"Well," Buffy hesitated. "Maybe if it was a pale cat. . .or a black one, to match your hair. Well, your old hair."


"No, I mean, I hate cats. Stray ones, anyway." A striped head emerged from the shadow of a column. Faith scowled at it, and the creature disappeared. "That's right, you just try something." She turned to Buffy. "I don't trust their motives."


Buffy frowned. "Really, I'd think you'd have some empathy. I mean, that you'd understand."


"I got all kinds of empathy," Faith said , laying heavy stress on the last word. "Which is exactly why I don't trust them. Oh, you can take one of them home, give her food and fresh water, nice place to sleep. Maybe if she's a smart cat, you can find some use for her. Teach her to catch mice, keep the vermin population down. Maybe she gets to like hunting the mice, gets really good at it. Gets nicer food, crystal dishes, softer pillows. But somewhere in there, you know and she knows that she's a wild animal. If you gave her a good reason and half a chance, she wouldn't just bite the hand that fed her. She would chew it off and gnaw it to bits, and wash it down with your



"Well," Buffy swallowed, locking eyes with Faith, tracing her expression for the hint of a joke. "She could, I guess. Anybody could. I don't know about would. . ."


"Oh, it's not just a would. It's almost a 'should.' It's the stray cat code, B, whatever it takes." She spread her hands. "Am I right, or am I right? I thought you'd have some empathy. Seeing as you don't trust my motives."


"Faith," Buffy sighed, "I never said that. In fact, I'm starting to understand. I think this is a thing between you and Robin that I should never have gotten in the middle of."


"What's to get in the middle of?" Faith asked. "What's not to love? Traveling the world. Kicking demons. Big strong guy at my side, has my back. When he doesn't have me on my back. I mean, isn't that the way that you'd have it if you could? Fighting side by side with Angel, or Commando Boy?"


Buffy lowered her chin to stare at Faith. "Commando Boy?"


"Yeah, well, about that. . ." For once, it was Faith's turn to look uncomfortable.


"No no no no. You steal my body, you sleep with my boyfriend and after all that, you don't remember his name?"


"Right," Faith looked down, tugging at her shirtsleeve. "I wasn't sure if you knew -- I mean, if he would have told you."


"Oh," Buffy said. "Oh, he told me. But I thought you were the one who didn't want to drag up the past."


Faith leaned against the stone wall and ran a finger through a film of dust. "Look around, B. In a place like this, the past is not so much a thing that you have to drag up. Something Robin told me that he read somewhere. The past isn't dead. It isn't even past."


"No." She swallowed and looked at the other girl. "I guess it isn't."


"So . . ." Faith's eyes wandered down to the tips of her boots. "This may be kind of a shitty question, and it may make you want to try to kick my ass."


Buffy tilted her head. "Try?"


"Yeah." Faith met Buffy's eyes now and with a curve of her lip said, "You and the whole baby slayer army can try. But I still have to ask. Whatever happened with you and -" She swallowed. "Riley?"


"Oh." Buffy was both surprised by the question and by how long it had been since she gave much thought to Riley Finn at all. *It's called moving on, love, I'd think you'd be happy about it .* *Moving on, that's what I'm so damn good at. That's why I'm talking to you.* "Well, it wasn't the world's greatest breakup, but, you know, I didn't kill him, so on the whole Buffy scale of things. . . not so bad."


"So it wasn't because of -" Faith swallowed, the closest Buffy had ever seen her to apologizing for anything.


"Because of you?" Buffy barked out a laugh. "Hell, no. With Riley it went on a long time after -- well, after that."


Faith hesitated, then continued. "I thought I should say that he loved you. I mean, he told me he loved you. Well, me, but of course, meaning you."


"And with trying to kill me and all, you never got a chance to mention it?"


"I didn't try to kill you! I mean -- not after that. There was definitely a point when I quit trying to --" A tourist's head swiveled their way, as Faith's voice had risen and this one actually seemed to speak English. "Are you looking at something?" she demanded, staring the man down until he turned on his heel and scurried away. "But I did think about that sometimes, whether I should have said something. Then when I saw he was out of the picture, I always wondered if it might have made a difference."


"Faith," Buffy managed a smile. "I appreciate hearing that, in a weird way, but Riley not being in love with me was never exactly the problem. Really, maybe the other way around. I pushed him away."


"Oh," Faith said. "So you woke up one morning and were all -- You're a big strong guy and I know you love me now --" She mimed a shoving gesture. "Go away. And I mean, I'm really asking. Because let's just say I have some empathy."


"Oh." It was Buffy's turn. "Oh. You and Robin?"


"A little bit of that, yeah."


"Well, with Riley, it wasn't so much -- I mean, me pushing him away, that was sort of an underlying cause. It wasn't the immediate cause. Look, if you want to try to make it to the Coliseum before sunset --"


"And the immediate cause would be --?'


"Right." Buffy looked down and spit out quickly. "I found him getting a suck job in a vampire brothel. Now if we just get a move on --"


"You what him whatting a what????" Faith demanded.


Buffy gestured for her to lower her voice. "I mean, literally a suck job. Not like - sex or anything."


"B, I know what you're talking about. I've seen it and -- OK, I take back the whole thing about what a sweet little love puppy he was. And to be honest, here, I'm not even sure I'm down with the whole you-not-killing-him." To Buffy's sharp look, she said. "Well, I don't mean literally." A second's thought. "No, I kind of mean literally. Why would you think that for one second you should have to put up with that and -- how was that your fault?"


"I was busy with a lot of my own stuff. I didn't really give him the time he needed. What with Glory after Dawn, and my mom in the hospital."


"Whoa whoa whoa, B? Busy with your own stuff is spending too much time on a 'Xena: Warrior Princess' chatroom -- cause, you know, Robin and me have had this fight. 'Your own stuff' not saving the world and your sister while watching your mom die."


Buffy sighed. "I guess. It's just -- which one of you was in the chatroom?"


"Look, the whole cyber thing was new to me. And there were some great Lucy pictures, only later I found out somebody made them with PhotoShop, and the bloom was off that particular rose."


Buffy peered at her. "Are you sure that's not Willow in there? Could be some kind of memory spell involved."


"Stop changing the subject," said Faith. "There's no way to understand or excuse what he did, all right? It wasn't just cheating, it was worse than cheating. You were the slayer and he was going against everything that's about, giving himself up to a vampire. No excuse for that. Period. Move on."


"Well," Buffy sighed. "I did. And maybe that's why I can understand a little better what it meant to him."


"Oh," Faith said. "I don't know why I keep forgetting about your little Undead Fetish." After a moment's hesitation, she said, "Do you miss him?"


"Sometimes," Buffy shrugged. "But it's really been so long. I'm in a pretty good place. Riley found someone else and he's happy." *Hey, love, I don't think she means him.*


"I don't mean him."


"I know, F-- Bianca. I was avoiding the question." *I know, Spike. I was avoiding the question.*


"Well," Buffy sighed, settling in for the big talk now. "It's been, what? Four months since -- all that happened. Since Spike was," she swallowed, "Lost. What would you say if I told you that I don't miss him?" *Hang on, there.*


Faith stepped back from her, lowered her head, and considered. "Well," she said. "'Liar liar pants on fire' comes to mind. Come on, B. It's your better half talking. You can tell me how it is."


"Fine, Faith," Buffy said. "Fine then. I will."


IV.  The Ambassadors    Top


"It's not exactly, " Buffy said, settling into her seat at the sidewalk cafe. "It's not that I don't miss him. I mean, in a way it's like --" Faith leaned closer across the table, and Buffy hesitated, wondering how crazy this was going to make her sound. "In a way it's like he's still there. The other day, I was walking across the Forum, and I saw this scrawny little punk kid, wearing a leather jacket and tight pants, with a safety pin in his nose. And looking about as tough as a Calvin Klein model. I hear this voice right behind me, just exactly the accent." She put on Spike's voice as well as she could. "'Well, look at the whelp with the Sid Vicious starter kit.' " She shook her head. "I'd never think something like that. I don't even know what some of those words mean."


Faith frowned. "So, what, Spike was there?"


"In Rome, in broad daylight, when he's been dead for four months?" Buffy shook her head. "No, actually, I turned around and it was this fat middle-aged Indian-looking guy. We talked for a while. He ended up being from the same part of London where Spike --" She paused.


"Did some of him most vicious killing?"


"Something like that. And by the end of the conversation, I almost wanted to hug him. Because you know, me and Spike? Did that all the time." She rolled her eyes, and thought, *Don't you have anything to say about this?* *What, and miss the 'you flailing around trying to explain yourself' part of the conversation? For this one, love, I'm all ears.* Buffy sighed. "So maybe I miss him. But what I mean to say is that I don't grieve for him."


Faith let out a half laugh.


Buffy stabbed a finger into the air in front of her. "I'm serious this time. I guess it sounds cold, but there's so much that's been lost. Mom and Tara and, well, me. I've even had practice killing my vampire boyfriends, right? And compared to -- I know I shouldn't be comparing. But with Mom and with Tara, there was just no sense to it. When I was seventeen years old, I spent six months thinking I'd sent Angel to hell forever. Instead of -- you know, just a hundred years. But Spike -- he'd been in this world for a pretty long time. He'd struggled with so much, with himself, and he finally found a way to be good. To be a champion. God even knows if he could have kept it up. But he went down at his moment of glory, when he had everything he wanted, and I guess if that had to happen -- if he wanted his sacrifice to mean something, the least I could do is let myself be happy about it."


"Yeah, well." Faith coughed. "Not to knock that theory. Because it's good as far as those things go, but -- everything he wanted? I wasn't around the guy for more than a few weeks, and we didn't exactly spend most of that time as intimate friends. But even I could see there was only one damn thing he wanted. I spent some time with him, down in the basement, the first night I was in town. And I really thought we hit it off. And not in a karate-chop hitting way, in a 'hey I can sort of see what Buffy sees in the whole vampire-with-a-soul gig.' And then you walked in the room, and B? I'm not always the first one to know when I'm licked, but I was licked." She paused. "I'm not saying it couldn't have happened with me and Spike, given the right sitch, because alive or undead, a guy's a guy, and a we both know a little bit of ass keeps them from seeing straight. Of course, I kind of ended up hating his guts. But saying I had been able to get over that and go for the hot vamp love. It wouldn't have been." She swallowed. "It wouldn't have been real. Is that funny?"


Buffy choked down a laugh. "More than you know. If it turned out that me and Spike were the one thing that was for real. . ."


"Oh there's plenty that's real for you. But I know there was only one thing that was real for him. And when he died he didn't have it." Buffy's face warmed as she looked at the table, and Faith asked, "Did he?"


"Now that," Buffy said, "Is the funny part of the story."


Faith's eyes widened and she crowed. "I knew it! Xander and Willow and Giles all said, no way, and I hadn't been around you as long so I went ahead and believed them but -- I knew it! You're a dirty bird." She fell back in the seat laughing. "Buffy's a dirty bird!"


"Hey, cool it!" Looking around at the disapproving glares of the cafe crowd, she demanded, as Faith-like as she could manage. "What are you looking at?" Then to the other girl. "Come on, Bianca. Remember, we're ambassadors of America here. No wonder everybody in Europe thinks we're crazy."


"They think we're crazy over the 'bomb first, ask questions later' thing, actually," said Faith. "Also, remember-" She patted the pocket that held her faux passport. "Canadian." She settled back in and lowered her voice. "So tell me about it, dirty bird. Was it the night he came looking for you and I kicked his ass through the ceiling?"


"That's not exactly the way I heard it," said Buffy. "But, hey, bygones, all right? And no, it was --" She swallowed. "Well -- a little bit, that night. But not the way you think. He went out and found me and -- it sounds weird but we talked, and that changed things. And after that we just -- well, it doesn't matter. But then the last night? Just those last few hours before we were set to wake up in the morning and raid the Hellmouth? I was sitting outside feeling sorry for myself, thinking about everything that had happened with Spike and then suddenly it was just -- this is so stupid, what am I trying to prove to myself by being alone and miserable, while Spike's fifty feet away on the other side of that wall? So I walked down the stairs, and I just stood there and looked at him and it was like he knew."


Faith smirked. "Woman on a mission."


"I don't know about that. I really wasn't sure what I was going to say to him until I got there. And he was lying on the bed, and he just looked at me and he stood up and stepped toward me and said . . ." Buffy swallowed. "He said, 'Nice try.'"


"Nice try?" Faith repeated, then in dawning comprehension. "Oh. Because, the First had been appearing to him. Looking like you. So he saw you and his first thought was. . ."


Buffy nodded. "A trick. That must have been what he thought, another last minute head game. But I didn't move, I just looked at him, and I said his name."


"Spi-ike. . ." Faith teased the word into a sultry growl.


"No." Buffy shook her head. "I said his other name." To Faith's blank stare, she said. "William, his human name was William. And I'd only called him that -- well, not often. But let's just say the occasions were memorable. And somehow that worked. Somehow he knew that was what I would say to him. Because right away, he was on his knees."




"Not like that," Buffy snapped. "Well -- not right away like that. At first he was just touching me -- my legs, my -- well all over. Like he needed to make sure it wasn't another trick. And then . . ." She shook her head. "Yadda yadda. I can't do this part."


Faith tilted her head, curious. "See it doesn't sound like it was just yadda yadda. Like maybe there was something more to it."


"Yeah, there --" Buffy sighed. "I've been thinking it would help to talk about it. To someone. But really -- Willow's lost somebody who meant so much to her. It's just so hard, it would feel like I was comparing my loss to hers. And seriously, she never really got the me-and-Spike thing. Because, you know -- she's sane. And who else, Xander who hated his guts? Giles who, well, hated his guts? And besides, no thanks. Dawn, she loved Spike in her own way, too. And I know she's more of a grownup than I give her credit for, but still -- little sister is a little sister. So -- you and I, we're not exactly close, and it's the understatement of the geological period to say that we haven't always gotten along. But somehow I feel like if I'm going to try to explain it to someone. . . Bianca," she said, then leaning close enough to whisper, "Faith. I slept with Spike on his last night on earth and. . .God, this is so hard to say." She looked up, looked down, looked away, apologized, Forgive me, lover, but I'm not saying anything both of us don't know. "Faith," she repeated, putting careful emphasis on each word. "It -was -so - bad."



V. The Real Thing    Top


The silence hung between them for a second, then Faith gave a short burst of laughter before clamming up and looking at her seriously. "Really? I mean -- I'm a little disappointed. I always thought -- Spike? And well, you? You and Spike? I just thought that would be -- "


"Oh," Buffy nodded firmly. "Believe me. I know. We had so been there, and it had been --" A visible shiver traveled through her body. "But that night, it was just -- everything was off, everything was wrong. It wasn't him," she said quickly. "I mean, it wasn't exactly just him, wasn't exactly just me. It was us. First we were all, 'What do you wanna do?' 'I dunno, what do you wanna do?' And believe me, that had just never been an issue before. It was always just grab each other and whoever ends up on top wins. Plus it was the basement, and everybody was upstairs and I guess we were thinking about that and trying to be quiet, and the bed was too small and -- I mean, it was Parker Abrams bad. Not that it means anything to you but, well, college boy."


"'Nuff said."


"So we get done, which does not take all that long. We're both kind of lying there, not really looking at each other. And it gets to that moment where you know you're going to have to say something. And there's not really a right thing to say, because hey, he's not an idiot, but there's still that moment."


"I know that moment," Faith agreed. "I don't always respect that moment, but I am not so completely lacking in the social clues that I don't realize it's



"So finally I said --" She gulped and scrunched her eyes together, signaling her awareness of the complete idiocy of the comment she was about to repeat. "'Well,' I said, 'That was sweet.'"


"Oh!" Faith's eyes widened and her mouth dropped open in horror. "B, you



"As soon as I said it, I wanted to take it back, but. . ." She shook her head and whistled. "Boy howdy. He's on his feet talking about how I don't need to patronize him and I've never appreciated a bloody thing he's done for me, and besides, the whole having-a-soul is messing with his mojo, and as for me my heart clearly wasn't in it and that was obviously because I'd spent the whole time thinking about Angel."


"Oh," Faith winced. "He really was turning into a man, wasn't he?"


"No kidding -- And I came back with, you know, the usual. I'm busy saving the world here, I don't have the time to tiptoe around his fragile ego, and he's the one who keeps dragging Angel into it -- and, like I said, this is going on while everybody I know in the whole world is right upstairs, and we're trying not to raise our voices, and we're right in each other's face. And suddenly, it's like every other fight we've been having for six years, except fewer clothes and, you know. Weapons. But even that, I swear, might have changed pretty fast. Because we were that mad at each other. And then we're looking straight into each other's eyes, about as close as two people can be to each other, and then. . ." Buffy shook her head. "Then both of us. At exactly, and I mean exactly, the same time." She swallowed. "Laughed."


"Laughed," Faith repeated. "And that helped?"


"I swear, if one of us had started a second before the other. If the timing had been any different, he might be dust or I might have my throat ripped out, and a mega army of vampires might be running amok all over the Western Hemisphere as we speak."


"On the last part? Don't flatter yourself. We'da found a way. But for the rest of it? I'm not sure I follow."


"I wasn't even sure what was funny at first. And as for him, I wasn't sure what I was hearing. Because Spike really doesn't -- he didn't -- I mean, the whole 'bwa - ha - ha I have a diabolical plan' laugh, but he was pretty much over that. And the whole bitter, let me mock how much of a wanker somebody else is, to feel better about myself laugh, we all knew that one. But I don't know if I'd ever heard him laugh just because he was happy. Or something was funny. And this wasn't exactly either of those things, but at the same time it was sort of both. Because in a couple hours the Hellmouth is going to swallow us all, and the weight of the world is on our shoulders,

and the two of us are here having this idiotic fight about bad sex." She swallowed. "And for a second there, we both see it -- that I'm just a woman and he's just a man and, even though that's not exactly true, at that moment it is true, and none of the rest of it, dead or alive or vampire or slayer, none of that matters even a little bit. And so -"


Buffy forced a smile. "He said we could always try again, and I said 'OK, but remember that we have to get up in the morning and save the world.'" To her surprise, Buffy felt the forced smile relax into a genuine one. "And so we fell asleep and we woke up, and -" She shrugged. "We came, we saw, we saved. Weird thing was, we've done the apocalypse thing so many times. We've braced ourselves to face these terrible losses, and yeah, they have been terrible. But we've never really lost -- I mean, we've lost people, but they've never been -- the worst losses were the ones I wasn't prepared for. Mom and Tara, those came out of nowhere. Whenever we got all geared up to fight the big bad, we didn't end up losing anyone --"


"That you cared about," Faith said.


"Well, except for, you know. Me. And Angel of course. But he came back. And I came back. So in spite of all the speeches, I wasn't really prepared for Spike to just be gone. I guess part of me thought he really was going to live forever and that there would be time -- God," she said. "What's this wet on my face?" She tried to smile an apology at Faith. "I guess maybe I am a little grieve-y. God," she dabbed at her eyes. "Now I'm embarrassed. I didn't really mean to -- you of all people. I'm not sure you wanted to know."


"And you don't exactly trust me to keep it to myself?"


Buffy colored. "No, no. That's not what I meant." She swallowed. "Not exactly. It's just you have to understand how important this is to me. I haven't told a soul. Or --" She frowned. "Anyone without a soul, for that matter. So it would help me to know that you'll"






"Harriet Joanne Smith. That's what's on my birth certificate. Or would be, if such a thing existed."


Buffy blinked. "Oh, so I'm -- " She frowned. "I'm not sure -- "


"Well, you've got dirt on me now. If I ever blab a word about you and your Spike-related grieviness, you can share that juicy tidbit with the whole Scooby Gang." She laughed. "Can you imagine what Xander Harris would do with that information?"


Feeling the tears mix with her swelling laughter, Buffy said, "Hey you two should get married. Harriet Harris."


"We'll have twins," Faith said gravely. "Boy and a girl. Harry and Xandretta. They'll get his strength and agility, my brains and carpentry skills."


"That's maybe the awfulest thing I ever heard. I mean, your brains are OK," Buffy said quickly.


"Never said they weren't." Faith leveled a finger at her. "And I wield a mean jigsaw too."


Buffy sighed. "It's been four months since that night, Faith. And -- OK, this is going to sound hopelessly idiotic, and way off the subject, but stick with me. You know how Andrew really likes Star Trek?"


"For God's sake, I hope this is way off the subject."


"Trust me. He and Xander have been getting Dawn into it, too. And a while ago, she showed me something Andrew wrote that he had e-mailed her. It was sort of like a short story, I guess, but --" She wrinkled her nose. "The writing wasn't very prose-like. Or, you know. Short. But it took place on the Enterprise. I mean, the new one or -maybe the new one's the old one, I can't keep it all straight. The one with Captain Archer? Anyway, the main character in Andrew's story is this girl named Andrea. She gets hired on the Enterprise, and her first day on the job, she helps Captain Archer fight the -- well, the Romans, or something. And they have something that, I presume was meant to be sex, though like I said. Not so proselike. But before they can be together more than that once, there's a reactor meltdown, and Captain Archer dies. Well, nine months later? Andrea's the new captain, stopping long enough to pop out the boy-girl twins."


"Oh Lord," said Faith. "That really might be the awfulest thing I've ever heard."


"Oh yeah," said Buffy. "And reading it, I just bawled and I couldn't even tell Dawn what was wrong." She shook her head. "I mean, it's such an ridiculous thing to think. Who could even imagine dealing with one little Spike offspring?"


"His pleasant disposition and your fashion sense?" Faith suggested. "His impulse control and your driving skills? Plus vampires can't have kids. There's never been a single case. Everybody knows that."


"But there's still a part of me that feels like that would be a happy ending. Or a happy something. A resolution. How dopey is that?"


Faith tilted her head to the side then moved it around, as if considering Buffy's face from every possible angle.


"What?" Buffy asked.


Faith placed her hands on the table, leaned across, and brushed a soft kiss onto Buffy's lips.


"Hey!" Buffy gasped, and just as quickly Faith was back in her own seat. "What was --?"


Faith shrugged, and slumped back in the chair as if it made no difference to her at all. "Another kind of happy ending to think about," she said.


"Really," Buffy stammered. "Really, I'm flattered but. . . I don't really. . . I'm not."


"Well, I'm not really, either. But for another hot chick with superpowers, I might make an exception."


"But I don't think I'd -- I mean, Willow's my best friend, and I think if I was, and if I was going to --"


"And I don't think it works that way."


"No," Buffy sighed. "It definitely doesn't."


To Buffy's continued stare, Faith said. "Ease up, I just thought you were cute right then. I'm not proposing. Just thought I'd put it out there."


"Well, out there is where it will have to stay.   At least --" Buffy swallowed. "For now. A few too many things for me to process at a time."


Faith lowered her eyes and traced an invisible pattern on the table. "So you never got a chance to tell him."




"Spike. You realized you loved him, but you never got a chance --"


"I don't think I ever said 'loved.'"


"B --" Faith sighed. "Come on. It's me. I know you. Hell, I've been you. I'm your better half, like it or not. Man or beast, champion or chump, you loved the guy, and his shadow's hanging over everything you do. Still."


"Maybe," Buffy answered. "But maybe it's lifting a little." She looked up at the lowering darkness, noticing for the first time how the day had faded. Standing, she stretched and said. "Yes, I loved him. And no, I never told him." *Forgive me, lover*, she said in her head, begging Spike, wherever he was, to let the little lie go. But no voice answered her. The shadow was lifting. There was no one there. Faith rose and followed her, into the sunset.


"The past isn't dead. It isn't even past." -- William Faulkner



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