Chapter Three

Buffy and Echo walked through the busy city streets, making small talk but mostly just enjoying a comfortable silence. It didn't seem as though they were headed to any destination in particular, but Buffy didn't mind. She'd never had a relationship like this with Faith, and quite frankly, it felt good to just be.

She found it amusing how intricate Echo's programming was. True to the details she'd given Topher, nearly every time they passed a street vendor, Echo would stop to get some kind of food. A piece of pizza, a hot dog, a cup of noodles, even something strange and foreign that Buffy couldn't pronounce and didn't want to.

Echo was a veritable bottomless pit, and it made her feel like Faith all the more.

"That smells horrible," Buffy complained with her face scrunched up as Echo downed yet another street snack.

"Tastes great," Echo said around a mouthful. "Try it, it'll change your world, got my word on that."

Echo held out the falafel pita that she was snacking on and waited for Buffy to take a bite. Buffy looked from the pita back up to Echo's face and raised her eyebrows.

"Falafel? No, I don't think so. Now, a waffle? Sure, bring on some of that. I love waffles. They're safe and contain absolutely no mystery meat. I'll pass on the falafel though."

Echo smirked a true Faith smirk and Buffy suddenly forgot what she was contesting.

"Eat the falafel, B."


"C'mon, just a little bite."

"I don't want it. It smells."

"Fine," Echo finally relented and they began walking again. "Probably don't wanna try it anyhow. You're lookin' a bit thick around the middle these days."

Buffy looked down at her extremely flat stomach before giving Echo an indignant look.

"I'll give you thick in the middle!"

She grabbed the falafel from Echo's hands and inspected it briefly before whimpering and taking a heaping bite out of it. She chewed quickly, hoping to finish it fast without having to suffer through it much, but then it hit her: the falafel was good.

Slowing down, Buffy finished chewing and handed the pita back to Echo, who watched her with a smirk the whole time.

"Well, I wouldn't exactly call it life-changing, but I won't laugh at you the next time you get a double order of falafel and baba ghannouj."

Echo smiled a smile that wasn't quite Faith's, but the rest of the overall package was enough to trick Buffy's mind into believing that she really was with Faith.

But the facade - no matter how great a facade it was - came crashing down when Echo asked her next question.

"Next time? So like, there's gonna be a next time that we hang out?"

Buffy's own smile faded then, leaving her looking sad and glum as they continued walking along.

"Actually, this is probably a one time kind of deal. Which, well . . . kind of sucks if I really think about it," she said honestly.

"I don't get it. I mean, we got past all the bad stuff, right?" Echo asked and stopped walking, waiting for Buffy to stop too. "Why can't we hang out if we're cool?"

Buffy stopped walking and turned back to face Echo, unsure of what to say next.

"I'm going home tomorrow. And well . . . I guess you are too, in a way. We're from two very different places. Our lives just aren't going to do that whole meshing thing," she answered with a shrug.

"Once enemies never friends, not even after death," Echo said under her breath.

It took Buffy a few moments of digging deep into her memory banks of her college literature class to realize that she'd heard that before.

"Antigone? Did you just quote me a line from Antigone?" She asked, astonished. "Damn, those programmers are good."

Echo ignored her though, pursuing her previous line of thought.

"Kinda smells like bullshit to me, B. Just cos your vacation's up doesn't mean we can't be friends," she said and crossed her arms over her chest, staring at Buffy intensely.

"Vacation? Doubtful. Haven't had one of those in years."

"So, top secret mission then. Whatever."

"Actually, yeah."

Echo smirked. "Secret mission? You gonna fill me in?"

"The word 'secret' really has no meaning to you, does it Faith?" When Echo shook her head, Buffy laughed. "I guess I probably could tell you. It's not like you'll remember any of it anyhow."

Echo raised a perfectly sculpted eyebrow at Buffy's last statement.

"Why wouldn't I remember it?" she asked, confused. "I might drink like a fish from time to time but I'm pretty sure my memory's better."

"No reason," Buffy answered, quickly covering for her little slip up. "Okay. You wanna know why I'm in New York? I'll tell you." She paused for a moment. What harm could it really do, filling Echo in on her mission? Her memory would be wiped clean and all said and done would be forgotten anyhow. Steadying herself, Buffy continued. "I'm a slayer. The slayer, actually. Besides you, I mean. I fight the forces of darkness and keep the world safe from all kindsa evil. I was on a secret mission to observe and intercept two agents of the most evil corporation in the world."

An awkward silence followed until Echo chimed in, "Starbucks?"

Buffy couldn't help but laugh.

"No, but close. Wolfram and Hart, evil global law firm. What better way to mask evil than behind the guise of a lawyer."

"Never heard of 'em."

"That's probably a good thing," Buffy said. She put her hands in her pockets and continued walking along the slowly darkening street.

Echo jogged a few steps to catch up with her.

"Okay, so weird secret mission shit aside, I get it. It's not a 'me' thing that's stoppin us hangin out again. Why don't we just take advantage of the time we have tonight before we make our dramatic exits?"

"I'd like that," Buffy said quietly, stealing a sideways glance at Echo.

"Yeah, me too."

It wasn't a date. It wasn't a date. It wasn't a date.

Buffy had to keep repeating that in her head over and over throughout the night, even though Echo was making it very difficult to believe it.

Echo had opened doors. Shared her snacks. Paid for the cab fare to the waterfront. Chased away the june bug that was trying to nest in Buffy's hair and only teased her about it for a minute or two before dropping the subject.

Okay, the last part wasn't very date-like, but it was pretty chivalrous the way she'd swatted at the bug and chased it halfway down the sidewalk as Buffy frantically busied herself trying to put a ponytail in her hair.

The evening had gone off without any hitches - june bug incident aside - and Buffy couldn't help but feel like her information gathering mission had very much turned into a date. The worst part was, she'd let it happen.

She knew that she should be more professional. Do her job and get out. But the fact that tomorrow she was going to head back to Scotland and to her life where Faith was no longer involved, well . . . she wanted to take advantage of these last few hours where she could pretend like they were friends.

It was the closure she was sure that Faith would never again offer her.

It was late out now, well after the midnight hour, and the girls had just left a small club about a mile or two from Buffy's hotel. She'd had a drink or two and was feeling good, but she still had her wits about her. Knew that she had to keep a clear head so that the night would end easily with no tears shed, both girls going off in their own directions. Forever.

They walked slowly to Buffy's hotel after she'd turned down Echo's offer of a cab ride. She just wanted to enjoy their last half hour together. It was bittersweet. Part of her wished that they had more time together, but the other part of her knew that Echo, as good as her programming was, wasn't the real deal.

She didn't know what she wanted with Faith, but their doom and gloom relationship was definitely not it.

As they finally approached the front entrance to the hotel, both girls became uncomfortably quiet. Echo shoved her hands deep in the pockets of her dark jeans, and Buffy wrapped her arms around herself, looking down.

"Tonight was pretty cool, B. Thanks for hangin' around," Echo said, finally breaking the silence.

"Well, thank you for letting me apologize. I felt really bad about the way things went down," Buffy replied, stealing a glance over at Echo.

"No big. We're only human, yunno? We live, we fuck up, we learn. Hopefully we move on."

It was awkward. It was more than awkward. They both stood there shuffling around, avoiding one another's gaze at all costs. Buffy's prayers for some type of distraction were answered when a street performer on a unicycle came charging at them, beer bottle in one hand and a bike horn in the other.

She didn't have the chance to move out of the way before she was forced to stumble backwards or get run over. Her back collided with the bricked front of the building before she slid down it in a heap. Both Echo and the doorman ran over to her side.

"Ma'am! Are you okay?" The doorman said as he took her hand and helped her stand upright, Echo doing the same on the other side of her.

"I come to New York and can't even get hit by a cab. It's a lone unicycler that was able to bring down the great and powerful Wizard of . . ." she drifted off, succumbing to an unconscious state.

Echo caught Buffy in her arms just as she began to collapse. While the doorman was intent on calling an ambulance, Echo argued that she was sure Buffy would be more comfortable in her hotel room and that the drink or two she'd had probably attributed to her passing out.

With Buffy's room key in her hand, Echo carried her into the hotel and to the elevator, then up eleven floors to her room. She'd noticed a slight tingle running throughout her body in response to their close proximity, but she figured it had something to do with the two bottles of Corona she'd had at the club.

When they finally reached Buffy's room, Echo unlocked the door and carried Buffy in, gingerly placing her down on the large double bed. She took off her shoes and was just about to put the blankets over her when she heard Buffy mumbling and stirring.

Buffy opened her eyes to see who she thought was Faith, sitting on the edge of the bed and looking down at her with a worried expression on her face.

"You okay?" Echo asked, pushing a few strands of Buffy's hair out of her face.

"What happened?" Buffy asked groggily.

"You musta knocked your head on the wall. You're up in your room, B, I carried you here."

Buffy tilted her head to the side and looked up at Echo - at Faith - her eyes squinting slightly.

"It's scary how much you look like her," Buffy said, her voice barely a whisper.

"Like who? You seein' two of me, B? Shit, maybe we should call a doctor or something."

"No doctors!" Buffy shouted and sat up quickly, instantly regretting it as her head clunked with Echo's. "Ouuuuch!"

Echo took a second to rub her own sore forehead before she looked over to Buffy. Buffy was rubbing her head, but Echo grabbed her hand and pulled it away so she could inspect the damage.

"Well, you're gonna have a goose egg, that's for sure. Bump in the back of the head, bump in the front of the head; your melon's gonna look like a football soon."

Buffy tried not to laugh, but she couldn't help it. Thinking about walking around with a head shaped like Stewie Griffin's was almost too much to handle. She stopped laughing, however, when she felt a pair of the softest lips ever brush gently over her forehead.

((Suggested music: Wicked Game by Stone Sour))

She closed her eyes and took in a deep breath, losing herself in the moment. Losing herself in the lie. Between the drinks and the concussion and the FaithFaithFaith on her mind, she wasn't sure what was wrong and what was right; she only knew what felt right.

Opening her eyes, she looked up to meet soft brown eyes looking back at her. Faith's eyes weren't that soft. Faith had never kissed her forehead.

But Faith had never let down her walls long enough to get that close. To give their friendship a chance. To give them a chance.

Throwing caution to the wind, Buffy leaned in the short distance and brushed her lips slowly over the lips she'd felt on her forehead just moments before. They were soft and warm and kissing her back, tentatively at first, but then more confidently as a few moments passed.

And then as if she'd been scorched, Echo jumped back, her eyes wide as she looked at a surprised Buffy.

"Shit! I'm so sorry, B. Shit. I didn't mean . . . here you are with a concussion and I'm takin advantage . . ."

"Shh," Buffy interrupted, putting her finger on Echo's lips. "This is me." She took Echo's hand and put it over her heart. "This is you," she finished, putting her own hand over Echo's heart.

Echo looked down at her hand over Buffy's heart, then up to green eyes staring into her so deeply, with such honesty.

And suddenly lips crashed back together as all sense of wrong and right or good and bad flew out the window. It wasn't about what they thought; it was about what they were both undeniably feeling.

Buffy slid her hands down Echo's sides until they reached the bottom of her shirt. She broke away from her lips just long enough to pull Echo's shirt up over her head, then immediately sought out her lips again as they fell back onto the bed.

Echo lifted herself up on her arms and knees, kissing Buffy with everything she had while Buffy fumbled with the button of her jeans. As soon as she felt the pop of a button and heard her zipper being pulled down, she immediately began to wiggle out of her pants. While she did that, Buffy busied herself removing her own shirt and pants, which thankfully were easy to get off in her laying position.

Looking down at Buffy, clad in only her bra and silky panties now, Echo hesitated for a moment. She wanted to be there. She wanted to love Buffy, to giver her what she wanted. What they both wanted. There was something niggling deep within her though, a feeling that something wasn't right. That something was off. The way that Buffy had looked at her before, was looking at her now; she couldn't put her finger on it, but something was amiss.

However, as she found Buffy's gaze, all of her doubts melted away. Buffy was looking at her with such longing and emotion, she couldn't hold back anymore.

Leaning down, Echo captured Buffy's lips in a heated kiss. There was no fight for dominance. Buffy clung to Echo's lithe body, feeling the burn of her skin against her own. When Echo began to kiss down Buffy's neck, it was Faith's name whispered from Buffy's lips.

The lines were crossed - leapt over headfirst, in actuality - and there was no going back now.

Echo continued to kiss and nibble on Buffy's neck until she began to slowly slide down her body, eager to please Buffy in every way that she could.

"Wait," Buffy breathed out as Echo was kissing over her navel.

Before Echo could ask what was wrong, Buffy was pulling her back up so that they were face to face once again.

"Stay with me," Buffy whispered before capturing Echo's lips in another kiss.

Echo was happy to oblige, and even more happy when she felt a slender hand slip between their bodies. Buffy's fingertips slid across her stomach, stopping only when they reached the top of her panties.

"Am I out of line?" Buffy mumbled against Echo's lips, resting her head back so that she could look up into Echo's eyes.

A small sigh left Buffy's lips, followed by a moan as Echo copied her move, sliding her fingers down her side and into her already damp panties. Her fingers slipped through folds slicked with Buffy's arousal until she found her clit. Pressing down over it ever so subtly, Echo couldn't help but grin sexily as Buffy arched against her.

"If you are, then I definitely am," Echo replied easily. She leaned down to kiss Buffy again and couldn't help but smile as she felt Buffy's fingers tentatively copy her moves, slipping and sliding throughout her folds, trying to find their own rhythm.

Encouraged by Echo's moans and sighs, Buffy became more confident. Easing her fingers lower, she let them slowly slip into Echo's pussy. Echo moaned into Buffy's mouth, which only served to encourage Buffy further.

They clung to one another, bodies slick with sweat as they moved and sighed together.

Buffy remembered heaven. It was bright, and beautiful, and it made her feel like she was humming on the inside and tingling on the out. Being with Faith, no Echo . . . fuck it, Buffy didn't care. It was as close to Faith as she was ever going to get, and it felt like heaven all over again.

Her body was humming, more alive then she'd ever quite remembered feeling at any time in the recent past. Slowly but surely she started to lose control. Her muscles tightening, her breathing harsh and ragged, her free arm clinging tighter and tighter to Echo, who did her best to meet Buffy thrust for thrust, moan for moan.

Feeling her orgasm wash over her, Buffy slammed her eyes shut and concentrated on the feeling of Echo's fingers inside of her, on the soft words being whispered into her ears, "Come for me, B. Come all over my fingers."

And then all was lost in a symphony of pleasure. Waves crashed, angels sang, the earth moved . . . but Buffy couldn't bring herself to open her eyes. Couldn't bring herself to come face to face with Echo, who she was suddenly remembering was very much not Faith.

"Shhhhh, it's okay," she heard whispered to her a short while later, and it was only then that she realized that there were tears streaming out the corners of her clenched eyes.

"I'm sorry," Buffy said, trying to hide her face. Trying to hide from what she'd done, what she'd allowed to happen. What she'd invited to happen.

"No sorrys, Buffy. Never. We're okay. We're okay, right?" Echo asked after she'd taken a moment to kiss away Buffy's tears.

"Yeah," Buffy answered, but she knew it was a lie. They weren't fine. She wasn't fine. Nothing was okay, but it couldn't be changed. Things had happened, and now she had to deal with them.

Seemingly appeased with Buffy's answer, Echo rested her head on Buffy's chest and kissed her skin softly, smiling to herself.

She hadn't noticed that Buffy still hadn't opened her eyes.

Buffy awoke to the sound of the door lock beeping. Opening one eye, then the other, she rolled over to find that she was alone in the bed. She didn't have time to think about if that made her happy or sad as a housekeeper began to enter the room at that moment.

"Oh, sorry," the woman apologized, surprised to see Buffy laying in the bed, covered only with sheets.

"It's okay. I just need like twenty minutes," Buffy said sleepily as she rubbed the bump on her forehead.

"Take your time," the woman said with a smile, turning around and leaving Buffy alone in the dark room, the thick curtains still closed to keep out daylight.

Sitting up and swinging her legs over the side of the bed, Buffy winced as she found herself deliciously sore in all of the right places. She wasn't sure how many times they'd had sex that night. After the blubbering and a short nap, she'd awoken to find Echo kissing over her chest and stomach, which had led to a whole world of wow and new.

And like Adelle had promised, Echo had been re-called earlier that morning. She hadn't heard her leave, so she wasn't sure how long she'd been alone. Still, a sense of relief washed over her as she realized that waking up with Echo at her side would have created a whole new definition for the word 'awkward.'

Making her way over to the bathroom, Buffy slipped into the shower to rid herself of her indiscretions. Plus, the sex smell had to go. Xander had a nose like a bloodhound. One whiff of her and he'd be in happyland for god knows how long.

She quickly shampooed her hair, paying less attention to detail than she normally would. After all, she still needed to call Willow and get the portal up before the cleaning lady came back.

Turning off the water, she dried off and put on a clean pair of clothes but left her hair to air dry. Fighting with herself for a moment or two, she tossed her clothing from the night before into the garbage bin in the bathroom. The memory of the night before would never leave her, but she didn't want to take back anything that would act as a further reminder of her stupid decisions.

Happy with the state of the room and her packed bags, Buffy finally picked up her cell phone from the dresser and hit speed-dial number one. The line began to ring after a few moments, then was quickly answered by an anxious Willow.

"Buffy? Thank god you called, I was beginning to worry. You never checked in last night and I thought that your Faith-bot went rogue and had you tied up somewhere, which was a surprisingly less disturbing image than I'd imagined."

"No, I'm fine, Wills. There was no tying up involved," Buffy answered evenly.

"So did you get lots of info? How did the night go?" Willow asked.

Buffy sighed and sat down on the still disheveled bed.

"I'd really rather not talk about it right now if that's okay," she answered quietly.

"Hey, it's okay," Willow assured her. "It was stupid of us to think that you and even Robo-Faith would get along. It's just not meant to be, Buff," Willow said sadly.

A wry grin appeared on Buffy's face, but she couldn't let Willow know just how wrong she was.

"Guess not."

"I think Jane Austen said it best when she said, 'Friendship is certainly the finest balm for the pangs of disappointed . . .'" Willow trailed off as she caught herself. Despite how much Buffy had grown as a person, Willow couldn't tell Buffy what was so obvious to see to everyone except her.

Friendship is certainly the finest balm for the pangs of disappointed love.

"Disappointed what?" Buffy asked, confused.

"Disappointment. Just disappointment. Come on home, Buffy. Xander and I are here waiting for you," Willow said sadly.


"The portal is up in seven minutes. We'll see you soon."

"Thanks Wills."

And with that, Buffy clicked her phone shut and flopped back on the bed.

Topher guided Echo through the lab and to the debriefing room. She wasn't programmed to ask where she was going or what was happening. It was just another part of the mission. She knew Topher was there to take care of her, and that was what mattered.

"I feel something, Toph. It's weird," she said as he pointed her to one of the reclined chairs. She sat down in it easily, resting back as she was supposed to do.

"What do you mean 'weird'? Are you feeling sick?" he asked, only half paying attention.

"No, I feel good. Strong. There's something deep inside of me, calling out to me. It's new, and it's different, and . . . it's a part of me, Toph. I need to find out what it is. What I am."

Topher slowly turned from his computer towards Echo, a wary look on his face.

"It's probably just indigestion," he covered quickly as he guided the headpiece over her forehead. "In two minutes you'll feel better."

"But I don't want to feel better," Echo said, looking into his eyes. "I want to understand this feeling. What's inside of me."

"I'm sorry," Topher said quietly.

"For what?" Echo asked, smiling at him.

Echo suddenly went rigid in the seat, her eyes slamming shut as an electric current passed through her. Topher watched on in his own personal agony. Wiping Echo's memory was part of his job, but there was something different this time. Something haunting him.

She was becoming self-aware.

After a few moments the current stopped and Echo's eyes opened, quickly scanning the room.

"Hello, Echo," Topher said, plastering on a fake smile.

"Did I fall asleep?" she asked innocently.

Topher paused before saying, "For a little while."

Another technician came in and took Echo from the chair, leading her from one lab into another for further de-briefing. Topher watched her leave before turning back to his computer, a troubled look on his face.

Picking up the phone, he dialed an all-too familiar extension and waited for an answer.

"Dewitt," came the answer from the other line.

"Echo is back and has successfully downloaded," Topher said.

"Excellent. Send the feed up to my office, and get Echo completely debriefed. She's due for another mission later tonight and we need her in tip-top shape."

"I don't think that's a great idea," he said warily.

"Why, pray tell?" Adelle asked, amused.

"She's changing, Dr. Dewitt. Something's happened. She's feeling something, something we haven't programmed her for. Adelle . . . I think she's questioning who she is."

The line was quiet for several long moments before Adelle finally responded.

"Well that's just not acceptable. Get Sierra ready for tonight, she'll be taking Echo's place. I want a full analysis done on Echo. Run the full spectrum, Topher. She is too big of an investment and commodity to lose to a stray memory or feeling," Adelle said, not a hint of empathy or concern in her voice.

"Adelle, I don't think you realize what this means. She . . ."

"I realize what it means for us. We could lose important clients, which could put me in a very awkward position. Do you understand, Topher?"

"Yes ma'am," he answered quietly.

"Fantastic. Now get to work. You have a busy day ahead of you."

She hung up the line without anything further and leaned back in her chair, rubbing her temples.

No, this was not good at all.

She grabbed the silver remote control from her desk and pointed it up at the large TV monitor on the wall. With the click of a button, a series of images began to show on the screen.

Adelle smiled as she heard Buffy uttering awkward apologies, true to form. Her clients always had something to apologize for. Really, it was rather boring. Fast-forwarding along and scanning only short clips, she had to hit rewind when an interesting bit of conversation caught her attention.

"I'm a slayer. The slayer, actually. I fight the forces of darkness and keep the world safe from all kindsa evil. I was on a secret mission to observe and intercept two agents of the most evil corporation in the world," Buffy said, looking directly into Echo's eyes. Directly into the camera.

There was no doubt about the look in her eyes, Buffy was telling the truth.

Pausing the feed, Adelle sat forward and placed the remote control on her desk, a cold smile on her face.

"Oh, Mr. Travers, your mouth spits lies like venom. You assured me that you got me the DNA of the slayer, not some second-rate runner up. I do believe you've breached our contract."

She sat back in her chair and stared at the screen, right into the green eyes of Buffy.

"Miss Carrigan, or whoever you are . . . I will find you again. You have my word."

Looking at the time on her cell phone, Buffy realized she'd only been laying there for two minutes. She still had five agonizing minutes to wait for the portal.

She flicked open her cell phone and began to browse around to pass the time when she stumbled upon an entry in her address book.


She hit the send button before she could stop herself.

Quickly lifting the phone to her ear, Buffy held her breath as the line rang again and again.

"I thought we already settled this matter," she heard an angry voice from the other end of the line.

"What, no hello?" Buffy asked, but quickly found that Faith wasn't in the mood for joking.

"I gotta get a new cell phone now too? Changing my home number wasn't enough, huh."

"You changed your number at home?" Buffy asked, sitting up.

"Changed homes too. Don't need any unexpected visitors poppin in all uninvited."

"Faith . . . I'm sorry," Buffy blurted out. She quickly continued, "and I know you don't want to hear it, and you don't care, but . . . I've realized some things. And you're gonna pack up and move on, but I can't. I'm stuck here, Faith."

"You got yourself stuck, B, and you can dig yourself out this time. I'm sick to fucking death of always being looked down on by you and your besties. I don't need to prove myself to you or anybody else, and it's 'bout fucking time I stopped pandering to Buffy-fucking-Summers."

"No pandering. No proving. I saw you, Faith. I finally saw you," Buffy said quietly.

"Yeah, in three feet of water with your fist connecting with my head."

"No. Not then. I was angry, and I drew conclusions, and I can't say the same thing wouldn't happen if we went back in time and it happened again."

"Cos you never fucking change, Buffy. You're always the princess, and I'm sick of being the peon. I'm not some second rate slayer. I'm not a second rate anything."

"I know you're not. And you don't have a monopoly on fuck-ups."

"Fuck you," Faith answered quickly, defensively.

"Faith . . . I want to try again. If we could see beyond this bullshit, I think we could be friends. Great friends. If we could just . . ."

"It's too late, B," Faith said angrily. "Too fucking late. I'm all about second chances. Hell, third chances are great. Anything more than that and it's just not meant to be. We're broken, Buffy. There's no use in trying to fix it."

Faith sounded defeated. Life she'd finally accepted facts and given up.

Buffy wasn't about to give up again though. Not when she saw how it could have been.

"I'm not giving up. We can fix it, Faith. We can make it . . ."

"I'm so tired, B." Faith said, and Buffy could hear it in her voice. Could feel it in her soul. "I'm just so tired. If you care at all, you'll just let it go. Just let this be the end."

Buffy played the words over and over again in her mind, but she couldn't come to grips with them.

She spoke with a shaky breath, a few tears sneaking past her censors.

"I can't."

Faith sighed deeply, "You have to. We're done, B. There's no making it better, no making it work. It is what it is."

Buffy was pretty sure she heard a sniffle on the other end of the line and it just about broke her heart in two.

"Faith . . ." she whispered.

"Goodbye, Buffy," Faith whispered back just as quietly.

And the line went dead. She sat up and quickly hit send again, but the call went immediately to an automated voicemail.

She knew that it was the last time she'd hear from Faith.

The tears finally fell fast and hard as Buffy laid back on the bed. She rolled on her side and grabbed the pillow, curling up around it. The scent of Echo drifted up and filled her senses, flooding her memory with images of the night before.

She wanted to take it back; to take it all back and go back to a place where she could live in denial and go on with her life, but it was too late now.

Faith was on her mind and in her heart, and there was nothing she could do to change that. She only hoped that one day Faith would allow her the chance to set things right.

If that day ever came, Buffy would be ready. There would be no more replacements, only the real deal.

The End.

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