Risks and Rewards
by Alan Hitchen
Rating: PG-13

Disclaimer: BtVS belongs to Joss Whedon and others.
Information: Set after Angel: Sanctuary.
Inspiration: Hide All Emotion by Sandie Shaw for Faith. Happy Together by the Turtles for Buffy.

+1=2=3=4=5=6+

PART 1. YOU'VE GOT MAIL.

The prison warden called out, "You've got mail."

A puzzled Faith stepped forward to accept the proffered item. She wasn't expecting anything. It was a postcard. The picture on the front depicted Sunnydale by night. She turned it over. The familiar handwriting caused her heart to leap into her throat. She had not really expected a reply to her letter, and after a while she had given up all hope of getting anything back, but here it was. She returned to her cell to sit down and examine each word with care.

At the top of the card, written in small neat letters, was a poem by Janet Rand entitled Risks.

	To laugh is to risk appearing the fool
	To weep is to risk being called sentimental
	To reach out to another is to risk involvement
	To expose feelings is to risk showing your true self
	To place your ideas and your dreams before the crowd
	is to risk being called naive
	To love is to risk not being loved in return
	To live is to risk dying
	To hope is to risk despair
	To try is to risk faliure
	But risks must be taken, because the greatest risk in
	life is to risk nothing
	The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has
	nothing, is nothing, and becomes nothing
	He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he simply
	cannot learn, feel, change, grow or love
	Chained by his servitude, he is a slave; he has
	forfeited his freedom
	Only the person who risks is truly free

Below that was the message.

"You took a risk when you told me what was in your heart. Now it is my turn to take a risk. You asked me a question. The answer is, yes."

It was signed simply "B".

She clutched the card to her heart, and for the first time in a very long time Faith smiled.

PART 2. BEHIND BLUE EYES.

Visiting time found Faith waiting expectantly for the first time since she had entered prison. Angel couldn't come during the day of course. Cordelia did. Once. She came to sneer at Faith, but came away disconcerted by the change she saw in the once self-assured Slayer. She saw in Faith a woman devoid of hope, slowly dying of loneliness. Even so, she did not return.

Then the unexpected happened. Buffy replied to Faith's letter. Faith had begged her for a chance to make amends. Buffy had said yes to this meeting, and soon she would be here in person, large as life and close enough to touch, except that was forbidden.

Faith sat behind the glass screen counting the seconds. Her mind was in a turmoil. Would she come? What would she do if she didn't come? Then she saw her enter the room - and the whole world stopped turning.

Buffy sat down and picked up the phone. She gesticulated that Faith should do the same. Faith snapped out of her daze and snatched the handset off the wall.

"Hi, Buffy," she said, beaming at the blonde vision before her.

Buffy's face remained carefully neutral.

"You called me Buffy," she said in the soft voice that Faith had heard in a hundred dreams.

"What? Oh. Yeah," said Faith in some confusion. "I thought you liked that?"

"Well, it is my name," said Buffy, a slight smile playing about her lips. "So, how have you been?"

What's with the small talk? Faith thought. She wanted to know what was really going on behind those baby-blue eyes opposite her. But would she like the answer? Dare she ask the question?

"Yeah, I'm fine, five by five, thanks for asking, and you?"

"Fine." There was a long pause before Buffy spoke again. "Angel tells me you've been a model prisoner here. Somehow he's managed to get you an early release on parole, and got Kate Lockley to be your parole officer. You must be very pleased."

"Yeah, over the moon," she said impatiently. "Look, B, the suspense is killing me. What I said in the letter. How I feel about you. You said yes to my getting a chance to prove myself to you, but what does that mean exactly? If I'm a good girl, do I get to be your friend, or something more intimate?"

Buffy hesitated; her eyes looked down, then flicked up again to capture Faith's pleading expression.

"I don't know yet. A lot has happened between us and we've both been badly hurt. You say you love me, and I can't deny that I'm attracted to you, but you'll understand if I want to take it one step at a time. You come out of here. You prove yourself to Kate and Angel and we'll see how things go from there. I won't make you any promises I can't keep, but I promise you this. I will give you the chance to show me what you say is true, and if it is... I'll say yes again."

She stood up and pressed her hand to the glass in a farewell gesture. Faith did likewise. After some time she realised that Buffy had gone. The words "I'll say yes" reverberated in her mind as she went back to her cell happier than she had ever been.

PART 3. THE WAY BACK.

Faith blinked in the strong sunlight as she exited the Lakewood correctional facility. She was clutching her discharge papers in one hand and a plastic bag that held her belongings in the other. She stopped to put the papers into the bag; pulled out her personal stereo, wound the volume up to maximum; then strode off with a spring in her step, looking for the bus-stop that would take her back into town. She saw a woman waving at her, it was Kate Lockley, she switched off her stereo and changed direction to meet her.

"Hiya, Kate, what brings you out here?" she said brightly.

Kate smiled back at the cheerful Slayer. "You of course. Angel asked me to pick you up, and as I am your parole officer you're supposed to report to me anyway, so I'm saving you the bother."

"Thanks. Where's your car?" Faith asked.

"You're looking at it," said Kate, turning to the nondescript brown sedan behind her.

"Jeez, Kate, that auto dealer really saw you coming, didn't he?"

Kate laughed. "It's a surveillance vehicle. I'm going on a stake-out tonight, but what are you complaining about, it's a free ride, isn't it?"

"True enough," said Faith. "Let's burn rubber!"

Driving back towards the city, Kate glanced at the bright-eyed young woman sitting beside her. "No need to ask how you are today."

"I'm five by five," Faith replied. "Now I'm no longer living in a room that measures eight-by-ten and locks from the outside that is. How is everyone? Angel, Cordy, Wesley," she paused slightly before mentioning the one she really wanted to know about, "Buffy?"

"I don't know about her, but the others are all well and keen to see you."

Faith was surprised. "All of them? Angel maybe, but the others have no reason to, especially Wesley." Her face fell. "Or Cordy. You know she came to visit me once, just to gloat I think. She caught me on a bad day, I guess I frightened her. She never came back." She shrugged. "Well, that's all in the past. I've got a future to think about now."

"That's the spirit, up the ziggurat lickety-split!"

"What does that mean?" asked a bemused Faith.

Kate thought about it for a moment. "I'm not sure, but it sounded good didn't it?"

They both burst out laughing. Faith stuck her head out of the window to feel the wind in her hair, to smell the fresh air - and food!

"Hey, Kate, can we stop somewhere to eat? I'm starving. I've got money. I'll treat ya."

Kate glanced at her watch. "Okay," she said, then spotting the place that Faith had smelt on the breeze asked, "Will this do?"

"Yep, it'll do just fine."

Kate watched in amazement. "When you said you were starving I didn't think you meant it. Didn't they feed you at Lakewood?"

Faith shrugged, which was all she could do with her mouth full of food.

"So, are you looking forward to your new life as a secretary?"

Faith almost choked. "Secretary?" she mumbled.

"That's what the paperwork says," Kate explained. "The parole regulations don't list 'slayer' as an acceptable occupation."

"I bet they don't." Faith grinned.

"Angel explained about you and Buffy being special, but I get the feeling that there's more to it than he's telling me."

"You could say that. Look, Kate, I don't want to be rude, but this is personal. All you need know is that I intend to be the best parolee you've ever had."

"Well, that's good to hear, but I'm afraid your secret is out. Whenever her name is mentioned I can see it written all over your face. You're in love with her aren't you?"

Faith sighed, then a broad smile spread over her face. "You've got me, Kate. I'm head over heels in love with Buffy Summers, and she's promised me if I play my cards right... she'll be mine."

Some time later, Kate stopped the car out front of Angel Investigations. "You want me to come in with you?" she asked.

"No, but thanks for all you've done for me, Kate. I won't let you down, promise!" Faith leaned across to kiss Kate on the cheek. "Catch ya later!" she said, and bounded out of the car and into the building.

"Strange girl," said Kate and drove off smiling.

PART 4. I'M ALL YOURS.

The young girl emitted a strangulated scream as the sharp white fangs descended towards her throat. The vampire felt a tap on his shoulder. Startled by the unexpected interruption he turned to find Faith standing behind him. She busted him across the chops with the blunt end of her stake. He yelped in pain.

"Hey! You broke my teef!"

"You're breakin' my heart!" she replied brusquely, and stuck the sharp end into his chest.

He exploded into a cloud of dust. Faith helped the girl out of the pile of trash she was lying on and checked her for any injury.

"You okay?"

The frightened girl nodded in response.

"Good. Just a bit of friendly advice then. The next time you chose to go down a dark alley with a stranger, remember that sometimes a condom isn't enough protection."

The girl nodded again. Faith flashed a winning smile at her. The girl smiled back and said, "Thank you."

"No problem," said Faith, guiding her out of the alley. "Take care now," she called after the girl.

As the girl went safely on her way Faith began whistling a happy tune.

"Found another girlfriend already?" said a familiar voice behind her.

Faith span around to find Buffy grinning at her.

"Angel told me where to find you. He tells me you've been doing well. So I came to find out for myself."

"Buffy, I..." Faith didn't know what to say, so she just threw herself at the blonde Slayer and hugged her tight.

"Ooof!" Buffy wheezed. "Let me guess. You're pleased to see me?"

"Yeah!" Faith agreed enthusiastically, stepping back to look at Buffy, who looked as beautiful as ever.

"I've been thinking about you a lot these past few months," Buffy said wistfully. "You've kept your side of the bargain, now it's time for me to keep mine. Do you still love me?"

"Need you ask?" said Faith. "Kate said it was written all over my face."

"I don't need to ask if you love me," Buffy admitted, "but I do need to ask, why do you love me? You do know, don't you? When I stuck that knife into you I wanted you to die. So when I read your letter begging ME for forgiveness I felt so guilty, so ashamed, and so surprised. How could you still want me after all I had done to you?"

To Faith's surprise Buffy began to cry. She took Buffy into her strong arms to hold and soothe her.

"Hush, hush. It's okay, it's not what we did in the past that matters, but what we're going to do now and in the future that counts."

Faith's own words confused her. This is what she had wanted Buffy to say to her, yet the roles had been reversed and she didn't know why.

"You'll have to be patient," Buffy sobbed. "It's not easy for me. I've not been in a relationship with another woman before."

"Neither have I, the others, they didn't mean anything. Nothing meant anything 'till I met you. 'Get some and get gone' never got me what I really wanted. Someone to love, who would love me back, that's all I've ever wanted. It's what I've never had."

Buffy looked up into Faith's expectant face and smiled. "You do now. I'm all yours," she said, and leaned in for a kiss.

Faith returned the feather-light touch of Buffy's lips in a kiss of such gentle tenderness she had never experienced before. This was heaven.

"Get a room!" someone shouted from a passing car and Faith came down to earth with a bump.

"He's right," said Buffy. "I've got a hotel room going to waste. We could go there and talk."

"Talk?" This wasn't exactly what Faith was thinking of doing with Buffy.

"Well, not just talk," Buffy blushed, guessing what Faith had in mind, "but we do need to discuss what happens next. I want you to come home with me."

"Home?" Faith smiled. "Home!"

PART 5. HAPPY TOGETHER?

He is six-foot-two, three-hundred pounds of solid muscle, has bad breath like a blowtorch, and his fangs are just inches away from Buffy's neck. His laughter makes his, and her, whole body quiver, as he continues to press her hard against the side of the mausoleum.

"I've got me the Slayer," he chuckles. "Kill you and I'm the king of Sunnydale."

"Dream on, fatboy. You even think about killing me and my girlfriend's gonna be really pissed," Buffy says lightly, totally unconcerned by her predicament.

He laughs again. "And why should I care about your girlfriend? Will she make a nice after-Slayer snack?"

"I doubt it, you see, one, she's also a Slayer, two, she's standing right behind you, and three, she has a pointy stick with your name on it."

"Huh?" is the sum total of his response before he turns to dust.

Buffy coughs and brushes off her clothes before stepping forward to greet her girlfriend. "Thanks, honey," she says before kissing her warmly. "Hey, why the sad face?" she asks, noticing Faith's downcast expression.

"You were just playing with him. You didn't really need my help, did you?" Faith says glumly.

"Faith, we've really got to work on your self-esteem problem. Of course I needed you. You're a great Slayer, we work well together, and, may I add, you are also the best girlfriend I've ever had," Buffy states proudly.

"I'm the only girlfriend you've ever had," is the matter-of-fact reply.

"Well, yes, but one's enough for me. What's the problem?"

Faith sits down on a tombstone and sighs. "Do you know, you're the only one who's lasted more than a week? I'm just waiting for the hammer to fall, that's all."

Buffy can hardly believe her ears. "Faith, I love you. Wild horses couldn't drag me away from you. Why do you say that?"

"Some of the others said they loved me too." She grimaces. "That didn't stop them walking soon after. That's when I started my 'get some and get gone' policy. So I could screw them before they screwed me." She pulls a wry smile.

Buffy places her hands on her hips and exhales noisily in disbelief. "Faith, words fail me, how could you live like that?"

"It wasn't living, it was surviving. You don't know what it was like."

"No, and I never will, unless you tell me, and you never tell me anything," Buffy says exasperatedly.

"I don't want to tell you. I don't want you to think less of me," Faith says, hanging her head to avoid Buffy's gaze.

"Honey, you are the best thing that has ever happened to me. I couldn't think badly of you if I tried."

"Well, I do. I hate myself, B. I'm a worthless piece of shit. My mom told me that when I was six, and repeated it almost every day afterwards."

Buffy is appalled, physical abuse is bad enough, but this emotional battery of a child chills her to the bone. But still she tries to make light of it, for Faith's sake.

"She didn't mean it. She was an alcoholic. She didn't mean anything by it."

"She wasn't always drunk, B, and she did mean it. She meant every mean and hurtful thing she ever said. So I believed it. She was my mom, B, she was my mom."

"Oh, Faith, it was all lies," Buffy says urgently. "It's not true. You are a wonderful, worthwhile, loving, lovable person. I love you. Doesn't that count for something?"

"B, it means everything to me. That's why I'm so scared you'll find out who I really am. Then you'll leave me, just like the others did."

"Look, tell me, don't tell me, it won't change anything between us. Whatever you say I'll love you. I will always love you. that will never, ever, change. Just believe in that, believe in me, and it'll be okay."

"Always is a very long time, B."

"Not when I'm with you. Come here," says Buffy, as she pulls Faith up from the tombstone and holds her close to kiss and cuddle her.

The warmth and affection pouring out of Buffy soon elevates Faith's flagging spirits.

"Okay, B, I believe you," she says, and almost apologetically adds, "I do love you."

"I know, darling, even before you told me, I knew. So, are you happy now?"

"Yeah, B, happy now," she says, smiling, "as long as we're together I'll be happy."

PART 6. RUN, FAITH, RUN.

The Sunnydale Motor Inn. Early evening.

The voice was raspy and unfamiliar but the menace behind it was all too real. "We've got your girlfriend. If you want to see her again you've got twenty minutes to get to 179 Aspen Road. Come alone and don't be late!"

The line disconnected with an angry buzz. Faith slammed down the phone. What could she do? Nothing - except to follow the instructions. Twenty minutes, barely enough time to even get there, let alone tell anyone or plan anything. She grabbed her jacket and ran out of her room in something approaching panic.

As she streaked down the sidewalk at a speed Flo-Jo would have been proud of, scattering bewildered pedestrians in her wake, Faith's mind kept coming back to the phone call, and the plaintive voice her slayer senses had allowed her to hear in the background.

The voice had said just two words, "Faith, don't," before it was silenced. That was Buffy speaking. She was in trouble, and Faith was going to rescue her, come hell or high water.

She glanced at her watch. Too slow, she was never going to make it on time, she needed to push the tempo.

Up ahead, a biker was unlocking his Yamaha R6, his keys dangled temptingly from his hand. She easily snatched the keys, pushed him aside, and leapt into the saddle. That ill spent youth in Boston is certainly paying off today, she thought.

It had been a while since she had last ridden a bike, but she remembered the routine as if it were yesterday. Key in, brake on, press start, engine fires, clutch in, select gear, throttle up, clutch out, and she roared away into light traffic.

Soon doing eighty-plus, Faith should have enjoyed the experience as she had before, but now she was riding on autopilot, thinking of other things, of another person, of Buffy.

Approaching the address, she slipped into neutral, and killed the engine. The bike silently turned into Aspen Road and coasted to a halt outside number 179. She parked the bike at the kerb and slinked quietly up to the front door. The house appeared to be deserted, but the door was unlocked and ajar.

All her senses were now sounding off like fire alarms as she made her way inside and up the hallway, towards the door behind which she knew Buffy was being held. They were expecting her, so a surprise attack was impossible. Best just to walk in and see how it goes, she thought, and opened the door.

It was dark - then suddenly light - as she was surrounded by jubilant Scoobies, welcoming her in with a blizzard of party streamers and silly string.

"Welcome home!" they all shouted.

Faith was confused, relieved, and very angry. "What the hell is going on, B," she demanded. "I thought you were in trouble, and unless I get a good explanation, you still are!"

"Sorry, hun," Buffy smiled apologetically, "that was Xander's idea of a joke. He said it would bring you running, and it did."

Giles attempted to voice his disapproval of the idea as Joyce nodded in agreeement with him, but realising he was being ignored, he fell back into an embarrassed silence.

Faith's murderous glare sent Xander scuttling behind Anya for protection. Willow and Tara snickered at Xander's discomfort, until Faith froze them with a glance.

"It was just a joke," Xander said over Anya's shoulder.

"You see me laughing?" came the menacing reply.

"Buffy played along," Xander pointed out. Faith's glare returned to her girlfriend. Buffy, realising the joke had gone too far, embraced Faith and kissed her firmly to stop any further argument.

"Welcome home, darling," she said, after breaking off the kiss.

"What?" Faith replied, more confused than ever.

Buffy explained. "A distant relative died and left me some money. As I couldn't bear to see you living in that motel a minute longer, I bought a house, this house. This is our house, Faith. I'll need you to sign some legal papers later on so you'll be the co-owner, but this is our house. You like it?"

"Like it?" Faith was in tears now, she had never been so happy. "I love it," she choked, "and I love you."

As Buffy hugged and caressed her one true love, she whispered to her, "I love you back, honey. In this house, or wherever we are, I'll always love you back."

...continued in Dead on Time...

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