The Shedding
by Dylan
Rating: NC-17

Disclaimer: These characters do not belong to me, unfortunately. They are the property of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy and whoever the hell else owns them. I make no profit from this.
Timeline: Set just after the girls get their own bodies back, after the body swap scenario.
Notes: This is a little out of left field for me. I sat down to it not knowing where it was coming from, nor where it was headed, and thus a fic was born. My muse is taking me on a walk here so bear with me, it may not be to everbody's taste.

CHAPTER ONE

They bleed. My eyes. Deformed and reddened by the harsh burning light. Scorching as the fires engulf me. As the heat melts and taints, and rends rivers of my skin. I bleed.

She carries me lifeless from the fire. Lifeless from the taming of my insurgent soul.

Brought forth in front of the council heads. In front of all who choose to judge me. Who choose to blame me.

Buffy wipes at the blood as it pours. As it spews from my veins in anger. She mops and holds, and mops and holds, and my eyes grow cold. Tears of ice to quash the burning.

I told her to leave me. I told her my fate was stamped. It was sealed, but she donned her hero's cape and flew to my aid. She flew like a swift raven eagle to my side, and swooped. Scooped up my skin, and my blood. My traits. My temper. My fatal facing of the crumbled coward I'd become.

This is my doing. This is my cause. I lit the paper. I fanned the flame. I brought the walls and the ceilings in with my screams. With my arms reaching and pulling. With my voice roaring and soaring its anger.

I've always been angry. Always had a scream in my throat. Choking back words. Choking back honesty. Responsibility.

Buffy saved me. She hammered at the fallen walls and saved me from my hell.

"Hold on," she yelled like a whisper that lifted on the wind. "Hold on." And we were carried by her wings to safer ground.

Safer until black suits swarmed. Until shiny shoes hit the hard dusty floor. When the guns were drawn, pointing, ever pointing at me, I felt tears. My skin shifted and wept with my tears as they struck my cheeks.

I was never one for crying. Running, but not crying. Now, in the arms of my saviour, in the burned remains of my clothes I lay and cry. I weep for all I have done. For all I have not done. For the pain at her touch. For the pain of my doing. My undoing.

"Stay back," she shouts at them, her heart pounding so much I can see it lifting the skin of her chest. "She's mine. I'll deal with it."

They murmur and share glances. They withdraw their weapons all silent nods until one speaks.

"Buffy will end this once and for all," his English voice cuts like shards of glass. "She's the true Slayer, and she hates Faith." He laughs and the black suits laugh with him.

My hands are grasping her and I feel her grasp back. She may kill me. She should kill me. I'm ruined. First my mind, and now my body. Burned. Burned as black as my soul.

*****

I slowly lift my gaze to the ceiling. My eyelids taught and straining. The corners seeping with the force. With the memory of how to move.

I remember myself, laying dark on a darkened floor. Holding onto Buffy, watching as men filed away. As I was filed away in a steel drawer. My history wiped. My future gone. They were sure Buffy would plunge a blade into my belly again. They were sure, but they were wrong.

She'd lifted me again, her tears splashing down on me, cooling my skin. I was taken from the birthplace of my self-proclaimed resurrection to a house. To a bed.

Buffy laid me down and cried. She held her arms around her small and shivering body and I watched until my eyelids sealed shut with exhaustion.

She told me "everything will be ok." And though I had no reason to, I believed her.

Now I'm alone in the house, on the bed. I'm alone, swathed in bandages, hands and body bound. Wrists I'd cut with jagged edges, clothed in wrappings of white. I feel the pain there. I still feel the seeping blood. I see the river it poured into. The spurting. Every spurt a jolt. A grab. A pull into the void.

I gurgle in the back of my throat as I feel emotions well. My eyes are no longer an outlet it seems. Burned. No more tears will pass.

I feel the scratch of my eyeball against harsh skin as I look down from the ceiling. The door in front of the bed is closed. I look left towards bare walls. I look right, towards bare walls. Their nakedness should make me worry, but I have no strength for worry. Buffy brought me here and I feel safe.

As I swallow and let out a silent cough, I see the door open and my unlikely saviour emerge. She runs to me, dropping her bag from her hands, spilling its contents. I hear something roll under the bed and clunk against whatever is kept ensconced under their, with me above.

"Faith," Buffy says, each letter taking my baited breath away. "Wait, close your eyes or you'll damage them."

I haven't already? They aren't seared and swollen like they feel? I didn't rip them out to no longer see you, to no longer see my mistakes?

She bustles next to me as I close them. I hear every breath she makes. I sense every movement. I try to speak, but my throat is dryer than my lips. Nothing comes out and I taste blood.

"Shit, I'm sorry. I forgot to put more Vaseline on your lips before I went," Buffy says, opening and closing things like she's catching butterflies in jars and storing them for me to see later. Much later.

I lay, stiff in my bandages, eyes closed and mouth bleeding. I want to see her, but I feel instead. Her fingers, so soft, cementing Vaseline on the dry and cracked surface of my lips. It eases the bleeding and the sharpness. I want to thank her.

A groan escapes me and she's instantly shushing me.

"No talking, Faith," Buffy tells me.

No seeing, no talking and no moving in my casing. Is this being saved?

"I just went to get more of the cream Giles gave me for you. I didn't mean not to be here. I'm sorry I wasn't here when you woke up," Buffy says, her voice cracking like ice in the sun.

I don't want her to sound so sorry. I don't want her to feel it.

I shake my head and her hand is on my shoulder. I take it as a sign not to move, so I lay stiff and concentrate on her hand. I have so many questions. Each one forming in the back of my throat, but held in by the cage of my dry lips.

Reasons for her saving me filter in and out of my mind. I'd done the worst. I'd hurt the most. Cut deeper than the thrusting blade into my belly had gone. Yet she'd pulled me from the wreckage of my own train wreck and brought me here.

Here, wherever it is and for whatever reason she has.

I take a breath to force out the word "why", but it's trapped inside me as I feel her hand on me shaking. She's shaking as she sits, her hand having fled to my chest, over my heart.

My heart is the only part of me moving. The only part still trying to break out. Still trying to escape. Always trying to escape.

Buffy's slow sobs come in waves, crashing over me. Washing over me and salving my burns and my wounds. There's nothing I can do, nothing I can say to stem the tide of her woe. I've felt just as broken. Feel just as broken as she sounds.

My tongue forces a break in the barrier before it, and I will out my words despite their unimportance. "It'll be ok, B," I say, hardly recognising the husk of my own voice, knowing my words were unsure of themselves.

Buffy crumples beside me, her face falling to the pillow next to mine. Her hand a fist on my chest. I fear for a second that she's going to fight me, but it passes. She's fighting herself. She's fighting a battle within and losing.

An instinct makes me want to rip at the confines of my bandages so I can pull her to me. So I can hold her as she falls. But I don't move. I lay. . .blind, numb, abstract and intangible. A floating body, charred and lost. Floating on a sea of white, with a fair maiden drowning beside me.

She saved me, but she is unsaved. She's moored me, but she is adrift.

...to be continued...

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