DISCLAIMER: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its characters are the property of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy.
SPOILERS: Angel S4 specifically Orpheus (which I am taking HUGE liberties with) BtVS 6-7.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

By Mbard


The pain was excruciating. Hot metal rods slammed against the inside of her head each time she moved, and it felt like there was a ball of barbed wire being straightened out inside her stomach. It was dark and the air about her had an acrid, coppery smell to it. She recognised the scent of blood immediately, and wondered if it was her own. She realised she must have been fading in and out of consciousness for some time now, not quite knowing how she'd gotten to this particular dark alley, nor where those noises of a fight were coming from.

Despite the pain the moved caused Faith forced herself up off her back, using the conveniently placed crates to her side as leverage so she could get herself sitting. Finally in a position to place the fight she could hear, she focused in the dim moonlight on the tall dark figure of Angel fighting with…himself?

Huh? What the fuck is going on? The dark haired woman thought, just as another searing pain shot through her side and she grabbed on to the crate so hard the wood eventually splintered off with the force.

It started coming back to her then. Like a fog clearing over the coast so you eventually make out the safe harbour you're headed to, images and snippets of conversation started filtering back into Faith's mind. Though it dawned on the dark slayer that being inside Angel's mind on some psychedelic mojo trip in to his chaotic past wasn't the safest harbour to be headed for, especially as it seemed her body was elsewhere going through a shit load of pain so fierce she could feel it inside here. As if reinforcing that line of reasoning, the barbed wire inside her stomach unfurled again, ripping her guts apart, forcing a scream to burst out of her lungs, and slivers of hot burning pain coursed through her body. She fell back against the hard ground with a sick thud, her eyes substituting the darkness of the night with the darkness of semi-consciousness. The slayer couldn't remember ever feeling this much pain before, vaguely aware of not actually being in the real world, not understanding why the pain should still feel so real. Was this down to being inside the fucked up nightmare that was the vampire's mind? Or was this the magic drug Wesley had given her working its bad mojo and bringing on some wicked painful side effects?

"Or maybe it's door number three and I'm already dead, 'cause this sure as shit feels like HELL!" Faith screamed out the last word as another round of pain rushed through her stomach. Biting back the bile that rose up in her throat, taking in a few very deep breaths against the burning sensation.

"You're not dead."

If she had the ability to Faith knew she would have jumped three feet in the air in surprise at hearing a disembodied voice like that come out of no-where. But considering the rest of the night's events so far, the slayer felt herself roll with this new twist in the tale like she had all the others.

"Yeh? How'd you know?" Faith forced out through the pain, which eased off a little allowing her to pull herself back up to in to a sitting position, it was easier to force much needed air over burnt lungs this way.

"It's not y-y-your time…not your time to die." The voice was feminine, melodic and soft. Despite the slight stutter to the words it sounded very self-assured. Faith also couldn't shake the weird feeling she vaguely recognised it.

"And again have to ask," the slayer spoke through gritted teeth, breathing in sharply against the pain, ignoring the fact that she was talking to thin air. "How the fuck do you know?" Faith looked in the direction she thought the voice came from last time, only to turn her head sharply when she heard the reply come from behind.

And this time the reply came attached to a body.

"I just know. Some things cannot be explained."

The dark woman leaning awkwardly against a broken crate felt a wave of heated air gently brush over her skin, bringing with it some relief from the acrid smell around her as the scent of vanilla filled her senses. With the wave of air came a bright light right out of a science-fiction movie. So bright it filled Faith's vision and she instinctively clamped her eyes shut against its glare. At the same moment another molten tendril of pain careened in to Faith's head, and she let out the loudest scream yet.

In the distance Angel was dimly aware of the slayer's plight, she needed his help and he badly wanted to give it. But he was unable to do anything for her. He had no choice but to block out the sound of her anguished scream, knowing that he would be no use to the fallen slayer if he didn't win this battle with his own demons.

Finally Faith felt the pain ease inside her head. She cautiously opened her eyes to see if she really had seen what she thought she'd seen right before the pain hit.

Blinking a few times to clear the salty tears of anguish from her eyes, Faith focused on the serene blonde figure crouching beside her, the bright light fading to a more muted softer glow around the edge of her. And decided that yep she'd seen it all right, she just wasn't sure what the sudden appearance of a mystery blonde woman in Angel's nightmare dreamscape was supposed to mean.

The woman's blue eyes gazed sympathetically as Faith tried to bring herself up off the floor again. She was wearing a long blue skirt with white embroidered flowers sewn in to the design, a simple white peasant shirt loosely buttoned covered up a very pale blue tee shirt underneath. Her blonde hair was clipped back slightly from her face and fell past her shoulders in long soft tendrils. Again the slayer was hit with a wave of soft vanilla scented air, as the blonde moved closer to her trying to help Faith up.

One thought kept returning to the slayer. Well there were about a million thoughts running around her aching head right then, but this one was taking pole position. She thought she recognised the woman who was offering her help now. The voice and now the face all seemed familiar to her. She only wished she could remember where…

"Don't waste your energy Faith. We-we only m-met the once. You won't re-member-remember me."

"Anyone ever tell you it's rude to read people's minds?" the dark woman responded, trying to place the blonde at the same time as breathe through the excruciating knot of pain in her stomach.

"Sorry." Blue eyes fell to the ground, her voice sincere as she tried to explain. "I'm still getting used to this."

"Used to what?" Faith wasn't quite sure why she asked, idle chitchat never being one of her strong points, least of all when she was stuck inside a vampire's mind chatting with some mysterious blonde woman who had come out of no-where and seemed to know who Faith was.

"Being dead." The blonde looked directly at Faith, a small apologetic smile on her face to offset any of the shock that statement might have caused.

"No shit!" Faith hadn't been expecting that, well half expecting it maybe, but still couldn't come up with a more coherent sentence, as her brain tried to cope with all that had happened to her in the last 24 hours, coming up with a big blank slate each time she did. The fact that her insides seemed to tear themselves apart again wasn't helping the slayer think much either.

"Arrgghh!" Faith screamed. "Make it stop!" She breathed out, clutching her stomach sure blood would stain her hands as the pain worsened beyond unbearable.

The blonde woman simply nodded beside her, rising to her knees a concerned thoughtful look in her blue eyes as she focused on the slayer's now prone form. She looked closely at where Faith indicated with her clutched hands. The pain beginning there and travelling around her body like malevolent juggernauts on the freeway, knocking everything down in their path. The woman stared hard, seeing pass cloth and skin, breaking through dense flesh and hard bone, moving through channels of vessels, the veins and arteries which carried life in them until she saw the burning red source of Faith's pain. Buried deep inside, so deep only magic could heal it, as it was magic that had put it there in the first place.

From her position on the floor Faith tilted her head slightly to watch the blonde woman, her puzzled expression contrasting with the concentration showing in the blue eyes above her. The woman held her hands over where the pain burnt the worst inside Faith, barely audible incantations left her lips as the heat within burnt more slowly. Or at least that's how it felt to Faith, who could suddenly take in a breath without her lungs feeling as if they were on fire, could relax her stomach muscles without them flaring out in intense pain. The searing unbearable heat had been replaced with something much more benign, it felt oddly comforting. As if it were doing the opposite to its predecessor and was actually healing her insides, instead of torturing them.

"That's exactly what it is doing. Healing you." The blonde offered when she read Faith's thoughts again, grimacing slightly with an apologetic smile when she did. She eased back a little, placing some distance between her and the slayer, remembering what she'd been told about Faith and her temper. The blonde woman found a convenient upturned grocery box behind her, choosing to sit down and regain some of the lost energy healing Faith had drained her of.

Faith watched her closely. Realising that when she moved it wasn't followed by jarring bolts of pain shooting through her, the slayer eased herself up into a more comfortable position. Sprawling her long legs out in front of her she found a box directly opposite the blonde to lean against, so she got an un-obstructed view of the woman a few feet away from her. Even though the pain began to ease inside her the move had winded her some, making her realise the weird authenticity of this dreamscape world she was trapped in. Wondering if she'd hurt this bad when or should that be if she woke up?

"You n-needn't worry Faith. You'll heal." The blonde woman spoke softly, hoping her words would be heard as the encouragement she meant them as. She might have known Faith would have taken them slightly differently.

"Will you quit doing that?" The brunette barked at her, sparks of real anger flaring in her eyes for the first time.

The blonde didn't cower at the slayer's harsh voice as Faith hoped to see. She really had no need to be afraid anymore, and frustrated outbursts from the slayer certainly wasn't going to trigger fear in her.

"I can't." She simply stated, as that was the truth. She didn't know how to turn it off, whatever it was in the first place. She wasn't even sure how she could do it to begin with.

Faith didn't have a response for that, at least not one that made sense. She was vaguely aware she was getting pissed off with this stranger who had come along a few moments ago and pretty much saved her life, and realised she was hardly being gracious about it. So what she owed her thanks? That was hardly her style.

Despite herself the blonde woman laughed, clearly able to hear the inner dialogue Faith had going on. Finding it amusing that in amongst all this craziness Faith can still act Faith-like over something. She'd been warned of that too.

"If you're laughing at me I'll…" the slayer quickly ran out of steam when she realised she probably couldn't do much to someone already dead.

The blonde woman smiled more indulgently at the slayer this time, trying to ease some of that renowned Faith temper.

"You can go ahead and hit me if you want to Faith. I know it'll make you feel better and I really don't think you can hurt me." The woman offered so sincerely it made Faith only more frustrated to feel conflicted about her. It was difficult to be pissed off with someone who a) had saved your life, and b) was giving you a free shot no strings attached.

Faith let out a heavy sigh, scowling at the woman in front of her.

"Look, who the fuck are you? And why do I get the impression you know me?" She demanded.

A direct question like that wasn't easily ignored the blonde woman contemplated, not having been briefed on the exact details of what she could tell the slayer and what needed to be kept hidden. But never being comfortable hiding the truth from anyone, she had to concede to Faith's request.

"I know you more now than when I was alive." She began, thinking to herself that it was rather an odd place to start, the confusion in brown eyes across from her agreeing it seemed. "That..th-that is I know a lot m-more in gen-general…a lot more in general than when I was a-alive."

The slayer stared intently at the woman before her. There was something familiar in the way she spoke, that stutter, that tone…she'd heard it before, Faith was sure of it. She just couldn't place where, or who with…

"I'm Tara, Willow's girlfriend."

Right that made no sense whatsoever thought Faith, gently nodding as if agreeing with the woman called Tara really trying to think where it was she would have met Red's girlfriend. Did she even know that Red had a girlfriend in the first place? Was it the pain still rushing around her edges a little or was Faith usually this slow on the uptake? Frowning more as she still couldn't figure it out.

Tara gave her a gentle smile in return, helping the slayer along some more.

"The Bronze, circa 2000."

She could tell Faith still wasn't satisfied with her recall. Not wanting to bring on any painful memories for the slayer Tara chose her words carefully.

"You were a little blonder then," Tara spoke softly wishing she could just use some of the power she felt course through her now and send Faith a quick vision. But it wasn't her place to send the visions, she had to remember that.

"Blonder?" Faith responded, confused at first. Then the slow realisation of when it had been dawned on the brunette and her face screwed up slightly with the painful memory. The last time she'd been in Sunnydale wasn't exactly something she liked to think about, no wonder it took her awhile to place the blonde woman sitting in front of her.

"Sure right, I remember." She mumbled, her walk on the wildside of Angel's nightmare mind taking a turn she didn't think it would, faced with her own chaotic past.

"So how you been?" Faith eventually asked Tara after she'd stayed silent for long drawn out moments, debating with herself whether this was a memory she wanted to relive. Deciding that she didn't particularly want to walk this path now or ever for that matter small talk seemed the only way to go.

Tara listened to the inner struggle within the slayer relieved that she wouldn't have to explain any further who she was, as she watched Faith corner the memories of that time inside her mind and bolt a lid on them, closing them out. The blonde smirked at Faith's attempt at small talk though, the opportunity to answer with a smart comeback too irresistible.

"Dead mostly." Tara's smirk turned into a full fledged smile when she saw colour flush Faith's cheeks, embarrassment she quickly guessed not one of the feelings the slayer was used to.

"Shit!" She relied on her favourite expletive again. "You're dead." It was a statement not a question but the slayer waited for Tara to answer all the same.

"Yes," the blonde replied, her voice growing serious to match the slayers.

"Does that mean that Red?" Faith could barely get the words out, for some reason she couldn't even begin to deal with any more of the stupid Scooby gang dying. Not after Buffy, not again the dark slayer thought.

Tara couldn't deny the question quick enough. Like Faith she was also unable to deal with the possibility that her precious Willow could ever be where she is.

"Goddess n-n-no." Her voice was firm, colour flooding her pale cheeks. "Will-Willow is very much alive…" Tara paused for a second, closing her eyes in sudden concentration drawing the curious eyes of the Slayer to her as she did. "In fact Willow is here which means we don't have much time."

Faith's brows rose up in confused arcs, Red was here? "Where? I don't see her? Are you tripping or something?" She asked maybe too harshly as it drew the first annoyed look she'd gotten from Tara. There was something hidden behind that look, something powerful which Faith had the sense to be weary of. She forced herself to take a deep breath, getting angry now would not help matters she thought.

"Don't ask stupid questions Faith." The blonde responded, her voice carrying a harsh edge to it that it didn't have before.

"Well excuse me for freakin' breathing." The not anger thing wasn't going to work out Faith could just tell. "You're the one invading my mind here, not the other way around, so don't go pulling that superiority shit like the rest of them."

"Actually we're both invading Angel's mind," Tara offered, forcing her voice softer, remembering all the things she'd been told about Faith whilst she was alive, and also the things she'd been told after…well after the alive part. She didn't have time to get in to a slanging match with the slayer.

Faith took her own stock of the situation just as Tara had done. She remembered that power she glimpsed behind the blue eyes, couple that with the fact she was talking with a dead woman who seemed to know an awful lot about her life and Faith realised the smartest thing here would be to just shut up. In the very least make nice with the powerful dead woman.

Tara gently laughed. "Smart move Faith," she said to make clear that she'd been reading the slayer's thoughts again. This time Faith didn't have the will to get angry over it.

She simply shrugged her shoulders in response, physically relaxing a little as the tension in the air between them slowly dissipated.

"You're here to tell me something bad is gonna happen aren't you?" Faith asked when it looked like Tara was about to speak and the slayer suddenly didn't want to hear what ever it was the blonde had to say.

"Yes." Well there really was no use in denying it, nor be surprised by the slayer's intuitive question. After all she was the slayer, and bad things in dreams or visions were to be expected.

Faith took in a long hard breath, letting it out again in a slow weary sigh, clearing the last away of the burning sensation inside her chest. She really hoped this wasn't what she thought it might be.

The blonde gave the slayer a conciliatory kind of smile, as if to say that things are as bad as she fears, and the slayer leaned her suddenly weary head back against the crate she sat against. This was not what she expected when Wesley came to get her from jail. A small part of her mind hoped that maybe all this was some wacky dream brought on by some of Aileen's homemade hooch and she'd wake up in her bunk on D block, everything straightening itself out as soon as she reached the bucket and puked. But Faith knew that the dream she was currently a part of was far too real and far too nightmarish to qualify as one of Aileen's trippy hooch induced ones. The sounds of Angel's grunts and yells coming to her from a distance, the ache she still felt in her own body, and the very real presence of the vanilla scented woman sat across from her, which despite being dead Faith thought if she wanted to reach out and touch her she'd feel as real and as solid as the crate she leaned against.

The blonde looked pensive, her hands clutched tightly together resting on knees covered by the long skirt. Every now and then she would close her eyes, as if listening to something faint and far away needing to concentrate on every word. It disturbed the slayer more than the fact she was stuck in Angel's mind talking with a dead woman to see Tara grow silent and closed off like that. She might not have been the smartest slayer on the block back in the day, but she knew enough to realise that this was something bigger than just getting Angel straightened out. And it was that something bigger which was putting the freak on her a little.

"It's Angel isn't?" Eventually Faith's thin sliver of patience wore thin, unable to take the blonde's silence any longer. "This isn't gonna work is it, and I'm gonna have to stake him." The slayer had limited options of what she thought the big bad was going to be, Angel remaining evil was always going to be on top of that list.

Brought so swiftly out of her silent dialogue that it made Tara feel slightly dizzy she stared hard at the slayer at first, annoyed to be interrupted. But seeing the clear frantic look to the brown eyes before her, Tara realised the time had arrived to tell the slayer everything, or at least everything that she was allowed to tell. She softened her gaze, leaning forward just short of touching Faith's outstretched leg to try and instil some calm to her emotions. Tara was still tentative around the slayer, very aware of her erratic behaviour in the past, and if she didn't get Faith on board with this everything would have been in vain, everyone's path up to this moment would have been pointless. Cordy and Angel and Buffy and Dawn and even the dark journey her beloved had to take would have been for nothing. The thought was so devastating to Tara she physically shook with the emotion, determined to not let that happen. Determined to not fail the first time in the new 'life' she now had to lead.

"Angel is going to be fine. You've done enough to save him and already Willow is performing the ritual to restore the vampire's soul." The blonde was relieved to hear the stutter gone from her voice, instead she sounded clear and commanding. She wondered if that had been Them lending her a helping hand, but the thought was too insignificant to let it settle further than fleeting through her mind. She focused again on the slayer.

"And if she does that before you hear what I have to say then all this would have been in vain, and I will not be able to help you when the time comes." The blonde's voice was back to being firm again and a chill ran up the slayer's spine when she saw the flecks of anger dart around in the pale blue eyes, a very real manifestation of the power she suspected Tara held.

"What do you mean help when the time comes? What's going to happen?" Faith wasn't used to feeling this out of control. She fought hard with herself to not show the shake to her hands as she drew herself up into a more direct sitting position opposite the blonde woman, looking up to her a little as Tara was still seated on a crate.

"Buffy is going to die." That was the easy part over with at least the blonde thought, waiting for the brunette's reaction.

"Shit, again?"

Not entirely what Tara had expected to hear, but then again it wasn't exactly what Faith had been expecting to hear either. All this because the other slayer couldn't stay alive struck Faith as slightly overkill to say the least. She barely hid the smirk that formed on her face from the watchful eyes of the dead woman. Although deep down she recognised the sick feeling of loss seep its way into her stomach from the time before when Angel had told her of the blonde slayer's death, and she knew her immediate reaction was just covering up her real emotions. For once she was glad Tara could read her thoughts as she wondered if the blonde woman would eviscerate her for being so flippant.

"I wouldn't eviscerate you, I was never that kind of wicca to begin with, but you'll do well to mark me Faith. You're running out of time here, and I am your only option."

Faith duly chastised, tried to ignore her first reaction of telling the dead witch to go fuck herself. She breathed in deeply forcing her anger back down where it came from, although she threw a caustic stare to the blonde as if to say if this had been under any other circumstance she wouldn't be so lenient.

Tara knew enough to let that one slide from the slayer. She waited only long enough for Faith to get a handle on her emotions before she continued.

"Buffy is going to die and the First Evil shall reign the Earth. This has been seen. A prophecy has foretold it." Tara couldn't help thinking how much she sounded like Mr Giles, allowing herself an inward smile at the thought of resembling the man she'd looked up to so much when alive. But she wasn't here to reminisce. "If something isn't done to prevent Buffy from the path she is currently walking she shall die before she finds the tool to defeat The First. This cannot be allowed to happen."

Tara sighed not expecting this to be taking the toll on her it was. She realised with great clarity suddenly what a difficult task it had been for Mr Giles to always be the one explaining things to them, giving them the bad news all the time. Forcing Buffy to make decisions a young woman should never be forced to make like kill your sister or sacrifice yourself, it's up to you Buffy. No wonder Giles wanted out in the end, the blonde woman thought sadly.

"What's all this got to do with me?" It was a question Faith didn't really want to know the answer to, but curiosity got the best of her as it always will. She was concentrating hard on what Tara was saying, more so than she ever did when she'd been a slayer and Giles brought out his dusty books just to tell them that you kill the demons with the pointy end. And what she was gathering from the dead woman's apocalyptic vibe so far she knew she wasn't going to like.

"You have to take her place." That was the heart of all this Tara thought. It seemed so simple now she'd finally been able to say it out loud.

Faith was a little less calm though.

"You want me to be Buffy so I can die?"

"No, that's not what I said."

"Yeh you did. Don't fucking squirm out of it now witch girl…"

Tara stopped Faith mid-rant, she didn't have time for this petty behaviour.

"What I said was you have to take her place, I didn't mention dying." Her voice was firm, the flecks of anger sparkled in her blue eyes more brightly and Faith swore that the faint glowing light that had surrounded the blonde woman all this time grew a darker shade.

Faith swallowed hard, prepared to argue this point with the woman but not getting a chance to.

"You have to go back to Sunnydale and become the Slayer. Do you understand me? You have to take Buffy's place, not as Buffy but as yourself. Be the Chosen One Faith. Make decisions and lead like she has always done. Only then can the two of you join together and win." Tara paused, locking the dark woman in an intense gaze, searching brown eyes for understanding. "Don't you see Faith? The prophecy that I speak of is about you. Not Buffy, not Angel, but you."

It wasn't exactly understanding showing in the deep dark orbs in front of her, the slayer growing very pale all of a sudden. This was definitely not what she'd signed on for with Wes.

"Faith?" Tara gently spoke, noticing the difference in the slayer. "Faith are you okay?"

Prophecy, Faith had always hated that word. Giles had bandied it around too easily and Wesley had loved to dig up arcane references to them all the time. But Faith had never taken to the concept that kindly, because as she knew full well from being the slayer that came along after Kendra's unfortunate death, where prophecy was concerned there was only ever one woman who could thwart them, or fulfil them, or know by sheer arrogance alone that they were about her.

Buffy – she was prophecy girl, not Faith.

"You're wrong," Tara gently offered, wanting so much to reach out to the dark woman and show her what she meant, but knew it wasn't time for that yet.

"I can't go back there," Faith shook her head with her words, choosing to ignore the immediate information about prophecies and shit, and grabbing on to the more logical branch offered her. "For one thing the cops shall be all over the place, hello just broke out of jail here." It was random but accurate at least, Faith thought noticing how her heart rate had accelerated suddenly, sweat building up on her forehead and arms making her shiver.

"The law is a concept you no longer need to worry about." The blonde explained, and Faith didn't even want to begin to ask her what the hell that meant. It sure as shit had to be a concept she worried about for the past two years.

"Okay, well I don't think I'm exactly gonna be welcomed back with open arms you know, I mean it's not like me and the…" Faith stopped herself from saying slayer, suddenly not liking that loaded term anymore. "We are hardly on speaking terms if you know what I mean."

"It won't matter." Tara countered.

"It fucking matters to me!" Faith exploded, her breath quickening with her emotions just as her heart rate forced blood around her body so quickly her muscles began to tingle the way they do when her slayer senses were heightened.

Tara smiled, knowing this to be the hidden reason behind Faith's reticence, glad that the dark woman had admitted it. She'd been told by Them that it was Faith's feelings about Buffy which would be the thing the dead wicca would have to get past in order for her to succeed.

She chose her words carefully, her voice the soft melodic tenor that had soothed so many of her friend's worries aside when she'd been alive.

"Going back to Sunnydale means you will have to face a lot of hard truths Faith. Truths that Buffy and the others perhaps have no idea about. Like how you have never felt like a real slayer, how you blamed Buffy and Willow and Xander for making you feel that way in the first place."

The blonde broke her compassionate gaze with the slayer knowing she had her full attention to just quickly flick her eyes over to where Angel was fighting, making sure he was still there and Willow hadn't completed her spell yet. She didn't think she'd ever think this but thankfully Angelus was still very much a part of the vampire, which meant that Tara had time to deal with this in the right way.

"Going back there means you have to face the possibility they all still fear you, hate you even. The way you hate yourself sometimes. At night when no one can hear you cry and you wish that things had been different between you and them, you wish you'd never killed. Because slayers don't kill do they Faith? At least that's what she said when it happened didn't she? You became a killer 'cause you never really thought yourself a slayer."

Faith stared hard at the blonde woman who was forcing things out into the open the slayer prided herself in keeping hidden. All it took was this bitch from the other side to go all psychic on her ass and Faith was faced with all the things wrong in her life. All the things she'd done wrong in Sunnydale. Was it any wonder she didn't want to go back there?

Tara shook her head agreeing with Faith's silent question. "No of course you don't want to go. Sunnydale only holds pain and anger and hate and despair for you, why would you go back?"

Finally finding a voice that sounded thick with the emotion bubbling up to the surface Faith managed to agree.

"Exactly, why would I go back?"

"Because Sunnydale was the one place you ever felt loved."

Faith looked accusingly at Tara as if to say that was below the belt. She didn't talk about that. Hell she never even thought about it let alone say it out loud.

"It is true though isn't it?" Tara's voice was so soft and gentle Faith couldn't help be calmed by it slightly. "For awhile before it all went wrong you did feel like you belonged there. And you did feel loved, even if it was only for a short time." Tara paused gauging what else there was, what more she might need to say to convince Faith to go back.

"Even though it would only have ever lasted as long as it did, Sunnydale has been the only place you've ever felt wanted. The only place you've ever known love."

Just like me Tara thought to herself, suddenly seeing her part in all this was as vital as she knew Faith and Buffy's to be. Talk about a grand design to things the mused silently, her ever growing respect for Them and the cosmic power they wielded taking on a new dimension now she realised how apt it was for her to be talking the damaged slayer into going back to Sunnydale. Just like Faith Tara's heart had been healed in that weird yet wonderful corner of the universe, given the chance she'd be back there like a shot. She wondered why it was so difficult for Faith to realise the same thing.

"Forget that the end of the world will happen if you don't do this," Tara began ignoring the sarcastic rolling of brown eyes she received from Faith. "You've got a chance here to go back and feel loved again. And all right it might not play out that way and you have every right to be cautious of what to expect from them when you go back. I cannot say how they will treat you. How she will treat you, as I honestly don't know." The blonde paused, wondering if Faith believed that final part, if slayer intuition knew she was lying and would demand the real truth. As she suspected Faith was having a hard enough time processing everything in the first place, to look for ulterior meaning was beyond her capabilities right now.

"But there is a chance," the blonde continued. "A chance that you can finally stop regretting what happened before. A chance to stop hating yourself for what went on between you and her. A chance at forgiveness."

"You're saying she'll forgive me?" Faith forced the words out, wishing she could muster up her usual brand of sarcasm to follow it with a 'I don't give a fuck' but only finding the honest fact that she really did care what might await her in Sunnydale.

"I'm saying you have been offered the chance to forgive each other."

Tara spoke gently but firmly, the tear that escaped her grasp and slid down porcelain pale skin astonished the brunette sat at her feet, not knowing why the blonde suddenly cried or even that the dead could have such a living emotion. Tara wiped absently at her face, feeling utterly exhausted from all this emotional talk, her tears manifesting the real pain she felt when she realised she'd never get the chance she was offering the slayer now. She'd never get to return to her home and tell Willow how much she loves her, how she forgives her for everything, how sorry she was they didn't have more time together.

At first the blonde had questioned why she couldn't go back and be the redhead's guide, Willow had as much chance of keeping Buffy alive than anyone else, in fact she was probably better qualified than a slayer for that particular task. But They had said no of course, it didn't work like that and Tara gradually understood why. It was about life and death, and destiny and power. It was about being shot in the chest and Them realising what a waste of a life that was. It was about prophecy. When all other explanations failed to pacify her that one always struck home with the dead woman. It was the prophecy that mattered. The one They had made for Faith and the one They had given Tara to deliver.

In the end it had to be the prophecy Faith followed.

The blonde woman gave the slayer a few more moments to consider the emotions inside. The ones that lay near the surface always and the ones that she'd buried deep. The betrayal and the hate were vying with the more contented feelings Tara had forced Faith to remember from before. The life ain't so shit feelings she remembered grabbing on to when she saw Buffy for the first time, swearing she'd never let those feelings go given the chance. The feeling like she'd found a home nestled in strong blonde arms a lifetime ago and no matter how much had changed between then and now, how much she had changed, the dark slayer knew she wanted to go back and see if home was where she'd left it. Even if it was going to be wicked hard to get through the door this time.

Tara smiled gently at Faith's reasoning underneath creased dark brows. She certainly had her own unique way of looking at things the dead witch thought. And thankfully it seemed she wouldn't need to come on all fire and brimstone to get the slayer to agree to this. Though she was a little chagrined it hadn't come to that, after all this time of being the quiet one in the group it felt good to be the one with the power for once the blonde thought, smiling to herself at the irony of having to die to discover her hidden abilities.

"So what's it going to be Faith?" The wicca asked, not that there really was a decision to be made here. A prophecy is a prophecy after all, events yet to happen already foretold.

Faith sighed, figuring much the same thing herself.

"Do I have a choice in the matter?" She asked honestly.

To that question Tara knew she couldn't tell a lie, even it They wanted her to she couldn't trick someone into the fierce battle that lay ahead. A prophecy is a prophecy yes, but that didn't mean it couldn't be altered so a different outcome occurred. They had Angel as proof of that particular maxim.

"Yes," she answered just as honestly. "You always have a choice Faith, it's what's called free will."

"Oh yeh I think I heard of that." The slayer replied, sarcasm dripping from her words, she was getting a little tired of this now and wanted some real answers. Ones she could understand.

"Then you know you can walk away from this, deny what is asked of you." Tara's voice changed to the firm tone it held before, Faith watched carefully for those flecks of anger to spark in the woman's blue eyes again.

"Look I don't owe anyone anything, 'cept maybe Angel and I'm here paying that debt believe me. So why pick me huh? Why me?" Faith's own voice held anger in it, her temper almost worn thin, very close to the surface now.

"Because They chose you." Tara stated softly.

"Who's They?" Faith volleyed back immediately.

Tara looked questioningly at Faith, her left eyebrow raised, her expression asking Faith silently did she really not know who.

It dawned on the slayer a moment later the only 'who' that could be behind this whole elaborate show. She let out a soft 'oh' as she considered whether to be flattered she'd caused a blip on the PTB's radar or angry. From what she knew of the Powers That Be, and this mostly from a bitter Angel who often seemed to be in conflict with them, she did not like her chances any.

"So what they do? Invent a loophole in this prophecy of yours that says B will die but not if Faith shows up and gets her ass kicked instead."

Ahh the mighty Faith wit she'd heard so much about Tara smirked to herself, a little unnerved that Faith's sarcasm had been as accurate as it was.

"In a way yes, that's why I am here. The prophecy calls for a slayer to die…" Before she finished the sentence she knew Faith was going to interrupt, reading her thoughts was as natural to her now as breathing used to be.

"Hey! You said I wasn't gonna die."

Even though she was annoyed by the interruption the blonde was reassured by Faith's words, it appeared she'd made her mind up to return to Sunnydale.

"I did, and I haven't lied to you Faith." At least not much she added mentally, confounded by her need to explain things thoroughly to the slayer and her desire to just have it all over with as quickly as possible.

"The prophecy calls for a slayer to die," the blonde continued knowing this time Faith wouldn't interrupt. "I am here to send you on the path Buffy would have chosen, to replace her so she can embark on a different journey. So she can live. As will you."

Not one of the greatest thinkers Faith was having a hard time understanding. All she kept hearing were the words 'slayer' and 'die' in the same sentence, she had yet to be convinced it wasn't going to be her head served on the proverbial plate.

"And just how do you figure I will live if it's written that I die?" Faith asked, resolved in her own mind if she didn't get a straight answer this time she would test out Tara's theory of whether she can be hurt or not.

Tara smiled down at the brunette a few feet away from her, choosing to ignore her latest impetuous thoughts. Her eyes had lost all trace of the anger they held before and Faith found herself gazing into the most beautiful sea blue she had ever seen. Warmth and love abounded in those eyes, pouring out of the blonde woman as she held Faith in her gaze. The dark woman didn't notice at first that Tara was moving towards her, so lost in the gaze of those perfect eyes. The light glow surrounding the blonde made her skin look translucent, it was so soft and unblemished Faith noticed now they were so close. Her pale pink lips were full, enticing the slayer in a way she'd not been enticed by a blonde woman for many years.

"What are you doing?" Faith managed to ask, her voice close to a whisper, her eyes focused solely on the lips before her.

"Ensuring that you shall live when it is written that you shall die."

Tara barely spoke the words herself, she hadn't been told that when this moment came it would feel so charged. It would feel so right. Just as the thought passed through her mind that Faith wasn't Willow and this shouldn't feel so right, she felt the slayer's hands on the back of her neck pull her close, and the last inches of distance between them melted away into the kiss they now shared. She should have known the slayer would take the butch approach. Obviously she had chosen to ignore the promise she made to herself if Tara's explanation didn't make any sense, as Faith began to lose herself in the mouth that was pressed tightly against hers, closing her eyes, not caring in the slightest what it was the blonde had said. Unable to fathom how underneath strong callused hands she felt warm firm flesh, her hands roaming Tara's shoulders gripping tightly when she felt an insistent tongue beg entrance to her mouth. Faith was willing to give it, not remembering a kiss like this before, not even the first one she shared with the slayer had felt this charged, this right.

The kiss poured life into the slayer. Connecting the dark woman with the healing powers of the blonde, though none of this will become clear to Faith until much later on, after an explosion underground that kills a lot of girls but does not kill her. When she is recovering, talking with the blonde slayer about what Buffy has found hidden somewhere else underground, and Buffy tells her it is a miracle she survived the explosion at all Faith will realise what the dead woman had meant to do when she leant in close to kiss her. And she'll smile a knowing smile to herself, thinking yeh it had to have been a miracle that saved her, as she remembers a kiss that felt like heaven.

Tara had to let go, she knew it. She knew that the emotions she was now reading from the dark slayer were dangerous to latch on to. In this joint state she feared that she would make a mistake, growing lost in the kiss just as Faith was, and something would slip through to the slayer that shouldn't. Some things cannot be explained she had said, but they could be seen if the blonde wasn't careful. And she didn't even have to consult with Them on this one, Tara knew when enough was enough.

She wrenched herself out of Faith's arms, feeling bereft of the powerful force that made up the dark slayer immediately. Tara was drained just as she had been after she'd healed Faith's wounds earlier, but she knew that this time the effects would last a lot longer for both her and the slayer. It took the slayer a few moments to realise Tara was no longer pressed against her. The magic that had been weaved by her kiss very powerful Faith felt like she was gradually waking up from a deep contented sleep. Her mind just as foggy as if she'd really been asleep all this time.

"What the hell?" She mumbled, unsure of her surroundings again.

Tara glanced concerned at the slayer. She hoped to Gaia she hadn't ruined this by releasing too much of herself to the dark woman, as there really was no time to correct it. Their time together had run out.

"Faith," Tara said the slayer's name, placing a gentle hand on the slayer's knee. A dark head looked up, confusion in her eyes.

Oh no Tara thought, beginning to panic.

"Faith are you alright?" She asked fearing the answer.

The slayer gazed at her, a little lost still.

"Who the hell," Faith began and Tara cringed in expectation at the next line. "Taught you to kiss like that?" The slayer finished off, finally regaining her composure, the heat within gradually cooling down. She smiled up at the blonde woman, smirking a little as the look of panic washed away by relief made her look fallible after all.

"Gotcha there didn't I?" She had to gloat, beginning to feel like her usual self again. Beginning to feel five by five getting ready for the next fight.

Tara smiled ruefully in admission, nodding her head with her words.

"Yes you got me Faith. No doubt I deserved that."

The slayer only nodded, her smile infectious so the blonde woman relaxed into one as well. Returning the broad grin with a slightly mischievous embarrassed expression of her own, one if Faith had been around in Sunnydale when Tara had been alive she'd recognise it as the blonde wicca's 'I've been caught having lewd thoughts about my girlfriend' smile. As it was Faith just thought it suited the blonde woman, feeling more than a bit of regret when she realised that probably she wouldn't get to see it again.

Tara softened her gaze at the slayer when she read her thoughts.

"No you won't see me again."

For once Faith didn't mind in the slightest she'd been read.

"You have to go now." Tara stated.

"To Sunnydale right?" Faith asked, wanting to reassure the blonde woman and the people she worked for that she knew her mission, she accepted her prophecy.

"Yes to Sunnydale, but first…" Tara began softly then something changed in her voice and it grew urgent in tone, breaking off as she received some silent information her eyes closing for the briefest second. At the same time Faith heard someone calling her name, it was Angel, he needed her help.

"…you must help Angel."

"I gotta help Angel."

They both said it at the same time, surprising the other.

Faith got up, amazed that she didn't feel any pain in the move at all. She turned away from Tara to where she heard her name called again. She saw the back of either Angel or Angelus up ahead in the alley, and the body slam he received from either Angel or Angelus, man was this going to get complicated real soon the slayer thought. She flexed her arms a few times, loosening out the stiffness in her legs from being crouched down for so long. Rolled her neck once or twice to get her circulation going. Right before she was about to jump back into action she quickly turned back around to see Tara standing to her full height, the glow around her growing brighter again.

"Do I tell them that I saw you?"

There was so much else she wanted to say to the blonde, so much that resembled the emotions and the heartache that Tara had brought to the surface in Faith again with her talk of Buffy and Sunnydale. She hoped Tara would read that in her though like all the other times, Faith really wasn't too good with words and she didn't have a clue of where to begin explaining to the beautiful dead woman stood before her now.

Tara smiled slightly, biting her top lip and closing her eyes as the difficulty of what she was about to do hit her like a bullet in the chest.

"No you can't tell them."

That wasn't the answer Faith had been expecting to hear. She frowned at the blonde woman, torn between this conversation and Angel's need for her help.

"Really? Because I can give Red a message for ya."

Tara opened her eyes, the pain of what she had lost echoed in the blue and Faith wished she'd just kept her big mouth shut. It didn't take a genius to realise that this was hardly Tara's decision.

A tear escaped the tenuous hold Tara had on her emotions right then and slipped gently down her pale, soft cheek. Faith stepped forward catching the drop on her finger and wiping it away. The blonde was surprised by the action. She realised that there were aspects of the slayer They had no idea of, and would no doubt be as surprised as she to discover them.

"I'm sorry Tara," Faith offered knowing those words were wholly inadequate when faced with something you've loved so much and lost so unjustly.

"Go. Go help Angel." Tara insisted, fighting the urge to take the shorter woman in her arms again and feel something other than the wave of loss that washed over her, threatening to consume her whole.

Faith moved back still with her eyes intent on the blonde woman, watching in admiration as Tara fought against what heartache lay inside and transformed herself into the powerful woman that had confronted the slayer so well in Angel's nightmare mind.

"Go Faith. Time is running out and you must not fail us."

Tara's final words could have been more encouraging the slayer thought, shielding her eyes against the bright light surrounding the blonde again, turning away from it completely and running back out into the alley to face whatever Angel needed facing. Not looking back to see if Tara had gone. Not daring too in case she was still there and she ran to her like she wanted to and held on to that warm slender body again, not ever letting go.

She couldn't afford to go back. She had a prophecy to fulfil.

The End

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