Author: Jedi Buttercup
Disclaimer: The words are mine; the worlds are not. I claim nothing but the plot.
Notes: 1600 words. Post-series and post-"Serenity". An interlude in the Ancient Slayers 'verse.
Summary: Buffy looked up as Faith reached the table, a faintly amused expression in her kohl-outlined eyes.
It was maybe three weeks after Faith met Malcolm Reynolds again on Haven that she finally settled enough of her affairs to rent a hangar on Aberdeen for a while. It was a quick hop from there to Beaumonde, where she'd arranged to meet him and his crew, and easier on the pocketbook than a garage on the wealthier world. Her current cover, Charity Chase-- a cloth merchant from Boros-- wasn't that high in the instep, and she wasn't about to tempt official interest in her nephew's direction just because it would have been more convenient to park her ship closer to the pick-up.
'Want, Take, Have' wasn't exactly a survivable motto anymore, not unless you had Parliamentary favor. The Allied Parliament wasn't anyone's idea of a fairy godmother, though; they weren't even as benevolent as Richard Wilkins had been, and Faith had a long memory for what that kind of favor cost.
Her shuttle docked about two hours before Serenity was due to arrive. On any other visit she'd have burned the extra time roaming the dockside shopping district, but peacekeepers in purple uniforms had started patrolling the Xian Wu and Qing Long systems more heavily since the Miranda broadwave. The last thing she needed was to catch the eye of an older Alliance officer who might remember the way things had gone down on Shadow. She'd made quite a name for herself in the local defence force there as Faith Harris, before they'd given up on ground action and bombed the planet to rubble. She and Elizabeth Reynolds, currently known as Xiaochen Williams-- not that Faith ever called B anything but Buffy to her face-- had both been listed as casualties, and that was the only reason they didn't still have live warrants on the Cortex.
Luckily, Faith had an in with the hot twins that ran the Maidenhead. They'd been overlooked in the sweep that took down most of the Independent-friendly dealers in the quadrant, and had been making money hand over fist ever since trying to keep up with the trade. She'd saved them from a predatory demon several years before, and helped them ward their bar against hostile non-humans later. They always had a glass of Ngkapei for her whenever she passed through, and they liked Mal well enough not to shoot him on sight, which was more than could be said for most of the other surviving brokers.
She eeled down the stairs into the bar without bothering to stop and lock her weapons; she knew the scanners would pick up the blades she was carrying, but the facial recognition software had been programmed to ignore her, and the autoalarms only went off if someone tried to sneak a gun past the entryway. She nodded to the barkeep, then made a scan of the corner tables, hoping to spend a couple of hours hanging out with one of the hosts. Fanty really did live up to his full name-- Fantastic-- and his brother Mingojerry wasn't half bad company, either.
Her hopeful mood crashed and burned, though, when she caught sight of someone else lurking at the brothers' preferred table, idly tracing one finger around the rim of a delicate teacup. The dim light and the fans fencing off the area obscured the woman's profile-- but Faith didn't need to see the color of her eyes or the exact shape of her mouth to recognize her sister when she saw her. She took a deep breath, shook off the chill of misgiving that shot through her nerves in that first instant of recognition, and approached the shadowed nook with a relaxed, casual stride.
Buffy looked up as she reached the table, a faintly amused expression in her kohl-outlined eyes. "Long time no see," she said, lifting the cup to Faith's presence.
"Ditto," Faith nodded. "This a private party, or you up for some company today?"
One slender leg kicked forward under the table, and the chair opposite B's scraped back a foot or so.
Faith took that as invitation and turned the chair around, straddling the seat and folding her arms over the back as she sat. "You're looking good," she said. "Trolling for a new husband?"
She'd learned to judge the state of Buffy's mind by her bodyweight; B grew lean and whipcord mean in the bad times, after breakups or disasters or too much time spent brooding. She never really got plump-- or even happy, not since they'd buried Dawnie back before the Migration-- but her face and her curves filled out a little whenever she found something to keep her occupied, enough to recall the vibrant teenager Faith had both loved and hated all those years ago. She was in good shape today, the first time Faith had seen her dressed to kill since they'd left Shadow.
"Not this time," Buffy said, a half-smile tugging at the corner of her mouth. "Believe it or not, I'm finally back on the payroll."
Faith stiffened at that. "Shensheng de gaowan," she blurted, then snorted at Buffy's raised eyebrows. "One of these days you've really got to pick up a little Mandarin, B. What changed your mind? I thought you cut off contact with the Council thirty years ago."
Buffy shrugged, then took a long sip from the teacup. Anyone else, she would have assumed they were drinking something a little stronger than tea; but B never really had learned to hold her liquor. She favored a strong, smoky blend of leaves that she swore was as good as coffee now that beans were so hard to come by, but Faith couldn't stand the stuff.
"Same reason I left it all behind in the first place," Buffy finally said, watching Faith closely for her reaction.
Faith's hands tightened on the chairback, hard enough that she could hear the wood creaking in protest. "And what's Mal got to do with the Council?" she asked, as coolly as she could.
"I don't know, maybe you should tell me," Buffy replied, tartly. She held Faith's gaze long enough to make her point, then looked away, letting down the façade a little. "Miranda wasn't the reason I came back, though. Zabuto tracked me down several monnths ago to look into a Potential who broke her contract and ran away to Sihnon, then turned con artist and ran again. I'd've told him to look you up instead, but he'd sent the list of her victims with it, and...." She shrugged.
Faith put two and two together, and came up with that hilarious story Mal's merc had told her that started with Mal in a dress and ended with her nephew bare-ass naked on Bellerophon. "You're kidding me. You're the reason Yolanda what's-her-name never came back for revenge?"
Buffy smirked, and took another sip of her tea.
"And let me guess, now that they've cooked you new records and you don't have a kid to protect, you decided you might as well keep your hand in," Faith sighed.
"I still do have a kid to protect," Buffy disagreed. "The Council's already got their eye on him. I kept him out of my personnel records, same as all my other kids, when he was born-- but they actually asked me to sign on board Serenity as a passenger slash bodyguard." Wry humor lit the depths of her eyes. "Since he's a symbol now, and all; and I should know what that's like."
Faith tipped her head back, shaking her head as she stared at the smoky ceiling. "Zao gao! Of course they did." She chuckled, darkly. "You know, I was going to go radio silent for this? I didn't think the council would approve. Why do they really want you there? To help him? Or to stop him from making more waves?"
"They haven't said one way or the other," Buffy shrugged. "They've got some good people, now. But they did when Travers was running it, too. And he's my son." Her hand tightened on the cup, knuckles whitening; Faith winced in anticipation, but she stopped just short of shattering it.
And that alarmed Faith as much as anything else about the whole conversation. Buffy was angry-- but she was also fully in control of her power and motivated, a combination Faith hadn't seen on her since Dawnie was alive. "Then how come you never told him you survived?" she asked.
Buffy's face twisted a little, and she looked away, words and body language all oblique to the question. "I don't do this. You know I don't do this, and you know why I don't do this. But it's too late now. I had him for twenty years, Faith."
Faith scrubbed a hand over her face. Yeah, she could see that. All her drifting, all that dressing up lives like an endless series of dolls and running when things got deep-- she'd been fractured so badly by her losses back on Earth, she'd never wanted to face pain like that again. Mal, though-- Buffy hadn't been able to leave him, like she had all her other children while they were still too young to remember her.
"Fine way to protect him," she said, slowly. "He's going to be furious when he sees you. And with me for not telling him."
"Better furious and alive than a martyr caught between the Alliance and the Council," Buffy said, grimly. "You with me on this?"
"What do you think?" Faith leaned forward and reached across the table. "Five by five, sister."
Buffy reached back, strong hand gripping hers, and smiled a wintry smile.
(x-posted to jedibuttercup)