Nothing Left to Lose
In the years since she had permanently closed the Hellmouth in Sunnydale, Buffy Summers had travelled the world, killing vampires and demons wherever she went, her only companion Giles. He researched, made connections in the various cities and did all the planning, which Buffy then executed with the precision of experience. Until three months ago, that is. It had become clear to Buffy, now in her mid-twenties, that Giles was slowing down. For a man his age he was still remarkably agile, still strong, but slowly he was becoming a liability. It hurt Buffy to think like that, but she realised that she was having to focus a little too much on keeping both of them alive, and in the end, it was simply putting them both in more danger. She knew that she was living on borrowed time as it was, but she was determined to stick it out a while longer. After all that she had done for this world, there was no way she was allowing herself to be taken from it just yet.
So she had gently persuaded Giles into early retirement, or rather, allowed him to set up a permanent base for operations. It was a compromise, but it was one that they could both live with. He headed back to Sunnydale, which still attracted more than its fair share of demons, if only for nostalgia's sake. And Buffy headed back off into the world alone, reporting nightly to Giles, not knowing where she was heading from one day to the next and not really caring that much. As long as there were demons she would have work to do. Then one day it happened, as she had known it would do as long as she stayed alive. As she turned a corner in Paris, her senses pricked up, alerted by a change in the air. Her spidery sense was tingling, and she allowed herself a momentary lapse in concentration to think of Xander and smile. The thought was banished as soon as it came, and she was tense again.
She slid her stake down her sleeve, feeling the sharp point nestle reassuringly in her palm. She had learnt many years before how to tread lightly, and as she made her way down the well-lit street, she noticed an alley leading off behind a store. It was down there, whatever it was, and now her ears picked up the sound of scuffling, confirming what her instincts had already told her. She slid the stake further down, gripping its sides and fully prepared for whatever met her as she turned into the darkness.
She could make out what looked like the figure of a man, but her skin was crawling, letting her know that he was one of them. From the movement of something behind him, she guessed that he had already found a victim. All Buffy could do was pray that she was not too late. She opened her mouth, but before the words could come out he disappeared. Or more, correctly he turned to dust, which dropped to the floor, twisting slightly in the wind, revealing the figure, holding a stake.
This was what Buffy had always known. That as long as she lived, she would one day meet the slayer that replaced Faith, or the slayer that had replaced that slayer. She had known Faith, understood her, and she knew that she liked to live dangerously, something that gave her slaying a punch but left her vulnerable to many things. Such as the evil that had driven her off the rails the last time. With Faith out of prison awhile ago, Buffy knew that she would not survive long. And she really didn't care that much. Wouldn't allow herself to care that much. She was used to working alone now, and caring about things tended to make you vulnerable. That was the lesson she had learnt the day she lost her mother, and her feelings for Willow and Xander finally allowing her to push them away from the fight. She had lost so much and she was determined that it would not happen again.
And as she looked at the woman standing in front of her, she found that her world and beliefs were turned upside down.
"Hiya B. Long time no see." Even in the darkness, Buffy knew that Faith was smiling, even as she walked towards her.
"Faith?" It was so obviously Faith, but Buffy had been so sure. So sure that she knew her. For a moment the hard, unemotional wall that Buffy had put up around herself to stay alive showed the beginnings of a crack.
"What? Surprised to see me? Bet ya thought I'd be dead by now huh?" Faith laughed it off, the way that she always had laughed things off, but Buffy could tell that there was an edge to the voice. Faith had made some changes too, must have done to stay alive this long. She linked her arm with Buffy's knowing that it would make her uncomfortable, and led her out of the alley. "I'm just about done here. How about we go for a coffee and stroll around gay Paris?" Faith laughed at the look on Buffy's face, seeing that the reports she had heard were true. Buffy was a loner now, and she didn't want to be reminded of the days when she had the group of friends, and the social life that she was so determined being a slayer would not prevent. Faith knew that there was one way not to miss those things; it was not to think about them and avoid the things that tugged at your memory. Like bumping into old ghosts.
"Well, I would rather have something a bit more filling that coffee, but I guess it will have to do." Faith let Buffy pull her arm away as they walked down the street, Faith leading the way to a coffee shop that she had seen as she left her hotel that evening. The night air was cold, so they opted for a booth inside, and sat, both warming their hands on the sides of the cups.
The air was thick between them as they said nothing, Faith staring down at her coffee, Buffy looking out of the window. Now they were sitting here it became clear that things were as strained between them as the last time that they had met, the only difference being that Buffy appeared to have no desire for revenge any more. It struck Faith that Buffy had no desire for anything any more. She glanced up at the green eyes looking away from her and saw that they were so much harder than she remembered.
"What happened to you B?" Faith's voice was almost nothing more than a whisper, and Buffy noticed that the words were laced with disappointment.
"I grew up." The answer was short and the tone was designed to stop any further questions. She hated this, hated the fact that Faith always got to her emotions. Whether it was love or hate, there was no middle ground. Now Buffy was just feeling a tingle, rather than a complete emotion. It had been so long since she allowed herself to feel, and she was damned if she was going to start again now. Even when Giles had been with her, she had just been determined that he would not die. It was all tied in with the slaying. Now she was sitting opposite Faith, and she had no choice but to think about the way it had been between them. Even if that feeling was hate it was still a feeling, and now Buffy could feel it warming her body. It was the reason she could not even look Faith in the eye.
"I sit here B," said Faith, stubborn as ever, "and I think you didn't grow up. You just grew more like me." She watched to see if that got a reaction from the blond in front of her.
"Like you?" Buffy snorted and looked Faith full on before she even realised that she had. Their eyes locked and she saw that Faith had that same look there. The one that she had now.
"Yeah, like me. Only it was a bit easier for me, coz I didn't have friends that I had to care about. I was already on my own, I just had to make myself stronger. How does it feel to be alone B? Truly alone? Here." She reached forward and pushed a finger into Buffy's chest, knowing that the back of the booth would stop her from being able to pull away.
"It doesn't feel." Sighed Buffy, breaking the stare between them and looking down into her cup, anger simmering inside her because she knew that Faith was winning again. Like Faith always did.
"I know." Faith smiled and looked away then. "Do you miss him?"
"Who?" Buffy knew that Faith was talking about Angel, but she wanted to make sure. She even knew *why* she was talking about Angel. Someone that gave you everything, the love, the companionship and who could take it. Could take the fight and be part of it, day in day out. Who would never tire of it. Who would never die because of you, only because of their own carelessness. Someone who understood the rules of the game and could play it alongside you. She looked at Faith who mockingly raised an eyebrow, knowing that she knew damn well who she was talking about.
"Yeah, I miss him," Buffy finally conceded, allowing herself to remember what it had been like. She had not been held for so many years now, and yet she could feel his arms around her like it was only yesterday that they last touched. She looked at Faith, who simply nodded and then looked over to the waitress.
"You want another coffee B? Or do you want to go get food? That was a pretty tough kill, and I'm wicked hungry." As if to prove her point, her stomach growled, and Buffy smiled. A genuine smile that hurt the small muscles in her cheeks. It had been a long time. When Faith saw it she decided that she might as well try and push her luck, the way she always did. She might be doing the right thing as far as the battle between good and evil went, but she still liked to get her kicks whenever she could. "Amongst other things," she winked with a hint of a mock-growl in her voice. She was relieved when Buffy actually giggled a little, deep in her throat but it was still there. She followed Faith out of the booth and along the street, happy to fall into a comfortable silence as they strode next to each other. Buffy noticed that Faith's swagger was a little less confident these days. It was still there, like she meant business, but she looked a lot less like she was actively looking for trouble. Buffy found it strangely comforting.
As Faith ordered a take-away, Buffy decided to eat as well, despite the fact that she was not particularly hungry, but chose not to ask herself the reasons why. Without being asked, and without asking, she followed Faith to her hotel room, noting that it was in fact only two streets away from hers. The room was nice, especially compared to what she was used to seeing Faith in, and she didn't ask where she got the money from to afford it. Giles wired her whenever her funds got low, all part of fighting the good fight.
"I know what you're thinking B. What happened to the shitty motel room? Surely that's more like Faith?" She laughed and threw herself on the bed in the middle of the room, boots still on. It crossed Buffy's mind that she still treated the room as if it was in a shitty motel, but again she didn't say anything. And Faith didn't tell her any more than that. Instead she opened up her food and began to tuck in. "You gonna stand there all day B, or are you going to sit down and eat that stuff before it gets cold?"
Buffy sat down on the edge of the bed, a lot less comfortable than Faith, and opened up her food. She looked up and saw the other girl watching her, smiling despite the fact that her mouth was full almost to the point of bursting. Manners were something that she hadn't acquired over the years that had passed between them, thought Buffy, smiling inwardly. But people like Faith did not need manners. You never did if you had virtually no friends, lived on take-outs and spent most of your time in the darkness killing things that go bump in the night. When you're ramming a stake through a vampire's unbeating heart it doesn't matter that much if you chew with your mouth open.
Eating in silence, Faith was also reflecting on the situation. She, like Buffy, had learnt to rely on her senses over the years, knew that she had to trust them if she wanted to stay alive. And she could tell by the way that Buffy was picking at her food that she wasn't really hungry, that she hadn't been hungry in the store. But she had decided to get food, and she had come back here. She knew it was a long shot, but Faith was beginning to think that for some reason Buffy did not want to be alone tonight. And that meant that they were either going to have to talk at some point or enjoy a few hours of uncomfortable silences. As she finished off her food, she realised that she would find out soon enough.
Reaching beside the bed, she reached down and pulled up a bottle of Southern Comfort. If nothing else it would buy her some time, give her hands something to do while she worked out the battle plan. So to speak. "Want some?" she asked, hoping that she had a second glass in here somewhere.
"Sure." Buffy was feeling old and weary tonight, seeing all the bounce that Faith still had left in her. Even if sometimes it seemed a little false, as if she was trying to hold back the effects of everything she knew and everything that she did night after night, at least she was still trying. Buffy had left all the inner battles behind when she left college and walked out into the real world. Faith battled each day with inner demons, and had been ever since she was a kid. But she never seemed to tire of it. She continued the fight because that meant she at least allowed herself to continue to feel. Not to succumb to the numbness that Buffy herself had.
Sometimes, just sometimes, Buffy needed to be held. It was there at the back of her mind whenever she got back to her hotel and showered vamp dust out of her hair and off her skin. As she turned up the shower head to maximum power and felt her shoulders tingle she could feel its heat begin to warm her. And then she would always go to bed alone. Feeling the emptiness that she told herself everyday was necessary to keep her friends alive. To keep herself alive. That she felt so deeply for them that she had to stop thinking and feeling at all. It was the only way and now all of a sudden she was looking at Faith and wondering whether there could be a second choice.
"Yunno, when I first came to Sunnydale, I had a massive crush on you B. It's funny now that I think about it. You were everything I wanted to be I guess. Man, I wanted you so bad," Faith laughed at that, it seemed like such a long time ago now. And as they sipped their drinks, she wondered what had made her finally confess it now.
"You did?" Buffy asked the question, but she was not surprised. That old Faith had exuded sex, was all about sex, and it went so much deeper than being a hormonal teenager. It was part of Faith's fire and she was always trying to find an outlet for it. Any outlet. Buffy was a natural choice. The Chosen Two. And she had been so jealous. Faith could have the freedom and the sex, but she had the tortured soul boyfriend. She had loved him and that had been enough to see her through. But she had needed it, which was probably why she had a succession of loser boyfriends once Angel had left. Catching up on lost time. Besides, all along she had understood Faith's 'hungry and horny' comment, even if she hadn't said anything at the time. What could she have said? Yeah, Faith I know what you mean, sometimes after a good patrol I just want to be fucked senseless but, hey I get to eat a non-fat yoghurt instead in case my boyfriend becomes a cold-blooded killer again! They were the thoughts that she would not share with anyone and especially not with Faith. Not then, Faith couldn't have understood.
"Yeah, but you guessed that at the time, didn't you?" Faith looked at her, breaking the silence and Buffy's thoughts. Not for the first time since they met, their eyes locked as Buffy nodded.
At what point would she have to surrender to the darkness? At what point would either death or such heart-breaking loneliness claim her, pull her into that oblivion? Buffy felt as if she was staring over into the abyss now, and she had to make the choice to pull herself back, or close her eyes and give up, allowing the weight of her life pull her in. She had only this moment to make the choice, a decision that she instinctively knew would effect the rest of her life. It would be the time that she would always remember, no matter what the decision was. As they stared at each other she knew that Faith was waiting for her to make the decision. The decision that would ultimately effect the rest of her life as well, but she did not say anything, did not push, simply waited to find out the decision of her fate. And it vaguely crossed Faith's mind that she had experienced the same feeling as she stood in front of the parole board, waiting to hear whether they would let her out early for good behaviour. It was another moment in her life that was defining, and yet she had stood there and waited then. It seemed like whenever she had made choices they had always been the wrong ones, so at some point she had subconsciously given up trying and let others do it for her.
Buffy realised she wanted Faith to touch her, not for Faith but for the touch itself. That was what she needed, what she craved. The nod she gave when she acknowledged this to herself was barely perceptable. So, when she felt Faith get up off the bed, put down her glass and stood in front of her, took her hands and pulled her into an embrace, she did not resist, but instead closed her eyes and waited. She had spent the years refusing to surrender to anything, and now she felt all her resolve melt away. With it went the weight of the burden that she felt she had been carrying alone on her shoulders, allowing her to forget at least for one night that the fate of the world would always rest on her shoulders. Just one night of something else, one night away from the demons, one night to feel human herself again. She did not even tense as she felt Faith's arms slip tighter around her waist and the warmth of the other body touched against hers. Instead she followed her instinct and simply lifted her head, lips parted slightly in expectation, knowing that the taller woman was watching her, she could feel Faith's eyes scanning over her face.
Faith looked down at the thing that she had once wanted most in the world, more than life itself. Buffy could never have killed her. She was the one of them who could always fight to the death, the one whose instinct for survival was stronger. But she had made bad choices, hell she had only been a kid having to make choices that no adult could have made, and she had screwed up. But she had had more than just a crush of Buffy, she had believed that she was in love with her, with her strength and her beauty, and when it came to the crunch and they threw down, she knew that she could never kill Buffy. And she also knew that she had gone down the path too far now for Buffy to be happy unless she killed her. Killed her and saved the one that she had believed that she loved. So when the knife went in Faith knew that she had done the right thing. And then the devil on her shoulder whispered in her ear, the same devil that had always been making her run for as long as she could remember and she took off. Or, more correctly speaking, she let herself be carried off on the back of a truck.
Now that face that had always been so strong, the face that was only a few hours earlier both strong and empty, now looked nothing but vulnerable. Vulnerable like Faith thought it would look if its owner ever slept peacefully, allowed to wake up in the morning to streaming sunlight and a normal life. Faith bent her head down and slowly placed her lips against the slightly parted ones in front of her. She knew that she had never been this gentle before, and she knew that the moment between them was more fragile than anything she had ever held. Buffy did not move or make a sound under her mouth, and Faith brought her lips together as she pulled away, catching Buffy's lower lip and tugging it slightly as she pulled away. She looked down as Buffy slowly opened her eyes, darkened with a mixture of desire, frustration and fear. She looked up at Faith for a moment before leaning forward and resting her head on her shoulder. She needed to be held. That was all. Buffy knew what Faith was like, and knew that she would probably want to take it further, that with Faith, all roads lead to sex, and she wondered vaguely whether she could. Whether her body would remember how to react to any touch that was not her own, if her skin would tingle and feel alive like the last time it was loved. It was there, a distant memory in the back of her brain, always fleeting, always staying a little out of reach. She leant her cheek against the firm shoulder and waited for the feel of lips on her neck, trying to imagine the feel of Faith's teeth on her jugular, but it did not come. Instead the arms that were wrapped around her waist simply pulled a little tighter, holding her, protecting her, almost making her feel like she was safe.
Time lost all meaning as they stood there, until Buffy pulled away and stood in front of Faith . Once again, all Faith could do was look into those green eyes that she could not read or understand, and like Buffy, she felt like she was staring at the abyss. A tugging somewhere inside told her that she wanted to fall in, and it reminded her of being a teenager again. It was a nice feeling, slightly comforting, in the fact that she had made it through, if nothing else. She watched as Buffy opened her mouth, but no words came out. It was almost as if she had decided to say something and then realised that words were not the right thing, that they were inappropriate for this moment in time, that they might shatter the fragile distance that was separating them. She swallowed, and tried again.
"Stay with me?" The words sounded odd leaving her mouth, especially as she was in Faith's room. So, really she was asking 'will you let me stay?' but that was irrelevant. It was the step that counted, the move towards something that she had only known with Angel. It was the understanding that went with the human touch that she craved. And now she wanted it from the last person that she could. The only one left who could give her the combination of all the things that she desired. Faith nodded her reply, and tensed slightly as Buffy gripped her wrists. "I mean it Faith. I don't care who you sleep with or what you do. Just be there for me in the morning when I wake up. Do you think that you can do that?"
When Faith nodded again, Buffy let go of her wrists and looked her in the eye. It was something that required all the honesty that she had in her, and all the past that lay between them. "Starting tonight?" Faith did not trust her mouth with a reply. So instead she answered in the only way that she could, taking Buffy's hand and pulling her back down on the bed.
Buffy felt the softness of the sheets give way under her back, and the softness of Faith's forearm under her neck, supporting and holding her at the same time. She reached out and stroked the cheek of the face in front of her, wondering whether it was just desire that was making those dark eyes even darker, or whether it was the need in Faith calling out to that same need in her. As the eyes moved closer to hers they closed and she followed suit, her lips parting slightly in anticipation. Then Faith's mouth was on hers, gently, slowly at first, allowing their mouths to mould together, to get used to the feel of another's lips on their own, to get used to the feel of each other. Buffy parted her lips still further, a subtle invitation, and Faith slipped her tongue between them, flicking with the tip, not yet probing, but tasting, slowly savouring the moment. It retreated and Buffy tilted her head further to the side, opening her mouth wider as her tongue pushed against Faith's, the action as natural as breathing. This time the kiss deepened, and as their tongues battled against each other, a little more desperately each time, Buffy could feel the warmth spread through her body, the heat that went beyond a lonely need and into the realms of lust, of desire. Her arms snaked their way around Faith's body, pulling it down closer, pressing it along the length of her own, as Faith's free arm settled on her ribcage. She felt the fingertips tracing their way down the length of her body, gently over her waist, before the hand settled on her hips.
Buffy pulled away from the kiss, her lips tingling against the sudden chill of the room, and deliberately looked Faith in the eyes as her hands drifted their way down the length of Faith's body and tugged at the hem of the tank top, pulling it up slowly, never breaking the look except for the moment when the material passed between their faces. As she tossed the it aside, her hands went back to the body leaning over her, and pressed her palms flat against the taught muscles and soft skin, pulling Faith closer into her so she could kiss her again, fingertips tracing the individual vertebrae as she moved from the base of her spine up to her neck, before sliding her hands into Faith's hair, knowing that if nothing else it would keep Faith there, the sudden fear of losing her now nagging at the back of her brain. She felt Faith undoing the buttons on her blouse, not hesitating, but not rushing, her hands moving instinctively while it was the kiss that she was focusing on. And then the two pieces of material were separated, Faith leaning up on her arm enough to allow the soft cotton that was closest to her to slip down to Buffy's side, as her hand took the other piece and pushed it out of the way. Buffy gasped slightly as she felt the cool of the night replaced by the warmth of Faith's body repositioning over hers, the sudden heat of skin against skin. She pulled her arms tighter around Faith, pushing their bodies closer together, wanting in some obscure way for the two of them to become one, to melt into each other. She could feel the passion of Faith's mouth becoming more intense as they kissed, and she knew that both of them had gone too far to turn back now.
Buffy found her mind wondering as Faith's hand slid along the length of her body, noting the fullness of Faith's lower lip, the tiny moles on her back she could feel bump the smoothness under her fingertips, and then nothing but feeling as the hand that had been stroking the flesh of her waist swept its way up her body and cupped her breast, the thumb stroking over her nipple, heightening the sensation of arousal that was slowly building in her body. Faith moaned slightly, the feel of Buffy tensing under her touches arousing her as much as they were intended to arouse her lover. It crossed her mind that they were becoming just that, lovers, and she felt her body thrill at the thought. Her hand continued its slow pace at Buffy's breast as she pulled herself away from their kiss, instead placing soft kisses on Buffy's chin and then, as the blonde's head tipped back, along the slight ridges of her windpipe, to the butterfly of perfect bone and flesh where her neck met her chest and then further down, her hands taking the weight of her own body as she took a nipple into her mouth, Buffy immediately and instinctively arching up further between her lips, needing her like Faith had never been needed by anyone.
Buffy was taken over by the need to kiss and touch, and to be kissed and touched, and to feel the soft release of the past few years of nothingness. She needed to feel the whole of her body along the whole of Faith's, to be able to touch and caress and bring to life each inch of skin. Her hands pressing into Faith's shoulders silently communicated the need, and Faith began to remove the rest of the clothes that were forming a barrier between them. Slowly, deliberately, kissing and touching each newly exposed piece of skin, Faith freed them both, and slid back up the length of the bed, pressing their bodies back together again like two pieces of the same puzzle, her thigh sliding between Buffy's as the blonde's long legs wrapped around her, the muscles feeling taught pressed against her own, both of them strained to the point of breaking as the agonisingly perfect slow build up began to lead to the only place it could possibly go, the place where they both wanted to be lost.
As she felt Faith's hand slide up her inner thigh, Buffy felt herself gasp, anticipation shooting through her, and she pulled Faith closer to her, not wanting the kiss to end. She wanted Faith to be kissing her all the time they were making love, wanted to feel Faith's mouth on her own so that she could know how much this meant to her. And it was the kissing that was making Buffy feel loved now, making this more than just sex, more than sex with feeling, but something special that made Buffy ask herself whether Faith had ever stopped loving her at all. Her body opened up for Faith, accepted her hands, allowed them to burn their way through the sensitivity of flesh that had been unloved for too long, the gentleness of those fingertips caressing her, urging her on, moving her towards total feeling. Faith moved slowly, almost painfully slow, not quite allowing Buffy's aroused body to tumble over the edge, even though all of her muscles were tensed against the bed, pushing herself harder against Faith fingers as they moved in slow circular motions. Buffy willed her on silently, her kisses becoming frantic as she need her to move just a lit bit faster, just a little bit more. But the increase in speed and pressure was slow until Buffy could feel the blood pounding in her head and she knew that she was close, her tongue delving deep into Faith's mouth, until Faith captured it roughly between her teeth, stilling her. Buffy opened her eyes, semi-delirious with unsatiated desire, as Faith whispered "I love you Buffy." Buffy gasped as she felt her whole body arch off the bed, heat flooding through her and Faith's words falling through her mind, vaguely conscious of the fact that she had called her Buffy and that there were tears in her eyes.
As her body fell back against the sheets, and Faith rested her head on her shoulders, Buffy felt like her soul had been pierced again. She could feel her neck wet with what she suspected were Faith's tears, and thought about telling her the she loved her too. She decided not to. The moment was too beautiful to ruin with a lie.