Find a Way
Rating: R (just playin' it safe)
She came back to me today.
There was nothing special about it, there never is when she comes and goes.
Have you ever had something, or someone, that you don't realize you've been missing until it pops back up in front of you? Faith's like that. When she's with you, sliding her attention your way, it's like you'd do anything to stay in her world. It's different when she's gone. I'm never sure that I'll see her or hear from her again, so it's easier to ignore the fact that she existed at all. Easier than wasting time missing her, anyway.
This morning was just like any other. I get up, go through my usual routine, go out for a run. It isn't until I'm about a block away from the house that I realize the winds have shifted overnight. The heat wave that had been coming down from the mountains has given way to a cold front blowing in from the bay. My usual attire of a t-shirt and shorts isn't going to cut it, but I'm already jogging. I figure it's too late to break my stride and I'll just have to bear with it. Goose bumps harass my flesh and my teeth chatter through the entire five-mile loop, but bear with it I do. By the time I'm done, my tiny two-bedroom house feels much too warm for my icy, sweaty skin.
I go through the motions of a cool-down routine of push ups, sit ups and jumping jacks. I shower, and eat breakfast while I watch the morning news. I get dressed and go to the grocery store, still finding it odd that after so many years of living with so many people I only have to feed myself.
When I get home, Faith is sitting on the front porch, smoking a cigarette.
"Got a spare bed for a wanted fugitive?"
"No, but I've got one for you." I play my part, just to see her smile. It doesn't take as much as it used to, but she still can't look at me as a shiver of real happiness runs through her.
Our friends – mostly Robin and Kennedy – were angry and confused when she came back after leaving the first time. I would have been too, once upon a time, but I've come to understand Faith over the years. She can't always just "face up and deal" like Kennedy wants her to; she needs to remove herself from the situation to be able to heal herself, and by default, that means she has to remove herself from us.
I read something in a book one time a few years ago, around the time Faith first went back to Boston. It said: If you cage a wild thing, you can be sure it will die, but if you let it run free, nine times out of ten it will run back home.
I don't get my hopes up that she'll stay for longer than a few weeks, and if I feel disappointment creeping in when I peek into the spare room and find her gone again, I just think of that quote and go on with my day, knowing that while I don't know when, I know that I will see her again.
Faith stands from her spot on my front steps, stretching and popping her back. I drink her in unabashedly.
She's lost weight again, her pants riding loosely on her already-slender hips. Her face is devoid of the mask of makeup she usually hides behind. The freckles around her eyes and across her nose stand out against her pale skin.
The scars behind her eyes flicker in the sunlight as she appraises me, too. I wonder what she sees?
"Help me bring in the groceries? I'll make you a sandwich."
Habits are hard to break sometimes. Food was the easiest excuse I had to spend time with Faith after Boston, and it's still the automatic choice I make to try and keep her where she is.
"Sounds good." Her eyes finally meet mine, just briefly, as she skips down the steps.
When we first got her back, we thought she'd never be the same. The doctors fed her through tubes while she was unconscious. Once she woke up, we knew it would take some time for her to get used to swallowing again after the trauma to her neck. Very slowly being decapitated by piano wire will do that to a person, even a Slayer.
We weren't prepared for her to refuse to eat. Or talk. Or let any of us come within five feet of her, except me. She always let me close to her; close enough to climb into the bed and soothe her back to sleep when she had nightmares, close enough to hold her down when she'd attack the doctors and nurses if they attempted to change her bandages or check her vitals without forewarning.
It wasn't until two days after she was allowed out of the infirmary that she really started to come around. I was sitting in the kitchen, trying to give her space, but she came looking for me anyway. She sat down at the table across from me, keeping her eyes on the wooden tabletop. The stitches along her throat were red and raw against her pale skin, and the lack of color in her cheeks made her look even more emaciated than she already was.
I think she'd been afraid to feel that good after what that bastard Tommy put her through.
She still guards her food like I might take it away if she doesn't eat it fast enough, but it's a good way to tell that she appreciates it. At least, that's what I tell myself.
"Where were you this time?"
I'm genuinely curious about where she's been, I always am, but the look on her face tells me that my question didn't come out exactly as I had intended.
She pushes her empty plate away and sits back in her chair, crossing her arms over her chest. I see new scars mixed in with the old on her forearms and I hope they're from a demon. I have to doubt it, though, as she catches me looking and shoves her sleeves back down to her wrists.
"I'm sorry; I didn't mean that to sound –"
"S'cool." She rolls her eyes the way she used to, back in the library at Sunnydale High when Giles or Wesley would lecture her about one thing or another.
I stand and take her plate to the sink, giving her the space I know she needs. Her chair scrapes against the slate tiles and I feel her walk up behind me. She takes the plate from my hand, placing it on the counter with one hand while the other presses against my hip. I close my eyes and try desperately not to give myself away.
I can practically hear her grin as she growls "I wasn't done with that" in my ear. She's gone just as quickly as she came, taking an apple from the fruit basket next to the refrigerator and a knife from the block.
I grip the edge of the sink with both hands, telling myself that she's just acting out as a defense mechanism, that whatever that just was didn't mean anything. We've never been down that road before, but we've come close.
Even after all Faith has been through, after everything Tommy put her through only four years ago, sex was one of the first things that came back easily to her. Robin is tantamount to that fact. At first he thought she wanted something real with him, and he doted on her like she was his girlfriend. The rest of us knew she was using him, to feel, to forget, to escape. Then she started to escape for real.
Sometimes though, when she comes back and she's started to settle in, less on edge… the way she looks at me tells me she's at least thought that it could mean more to her. That I could mean more to her.
She flicks her hair back as she slices up the apple. That gorgeous mane is still as long and unruly as it was when she was first out of prison, but it seems lighter than the last time I saw her. Her brow furrows just slightly in concentration, showing new wrinkles on her makeup-less face. We've both just turned 28, the oldest Slayers ever.
I could tease her about it now and tell her that technically she's the oldest, that month she's got on me giving her the win. I trust her with my life, but I still won't mention that while she's got a knife in her hand.
I watch as she finishes the job on the apple, noticing that the tremor in her hands hasn't gone away as she puts the knife to one side. She pushes the plate of apple slices to the center of the table, allowing me to share her snack. I smile and sit back down across from her, careful not to watch her hand as she reaches for the first slice.
The tremor was something that was there when we got her back, too late of course. Willow and the team of doctors in charge of healing her wounds told me that there was nothing medically wrong to cause it, but it's there just the same. Just a slight shake of her hands, from her wrists down, like a junkie jonesing for the next fix.
I made a big deal about it at first, thinking she simply needed to be comforted and protected, holding her hands in mine in her room in the infirmary, telling her it was alright, she was home.
She didn't speak again until a week after she woke up. She still doesn't say much, only really speaking when it's absolutely necessary. Or if she wants to get a rise out of someone for her own entertainment.
The first time she spoke again wasn't to me, and I'm still a little jealous that my little sister got to hear her voice again before I did. Dawn still teases me over what Faith said to her: "B's gonna break my hands if she keeps squeezing `em like she's been doing."
I blush a little at the memory and I know Faith is watching me.
"Arizona," she says out of the blue, studying the last slice of apple on the plate. I haven't had a single one yet, and I know she'll be offended if I don't take it, so I do. "In the Kofa."
The patch of desert she's referring to is one of her favorite places. She told me once that she feels like she could lose herself there and she'd know that everything would be alright. It's close to me, less than a three-hour drive, but it feels like it's worlds away.
I hope she didn't bring back any surprises like the last time she was there, two years ago. It was good to hear her laugh, but not really so great that she was laughing at me. I've since learned never to offer to do her laundry, because finding a scorpion in her jeans pocket was definitely one of the most unpleasant experiences of my life.
I catch her eyes and she lets me hold the stare. My fingers feel cold and sticky holding the last slice of apple. I smile before crunching into it, looking away first, that traitorous blush still on my cheeks.
Chapter 3: been down one time
Faith's homecomings are always a cause for celebration, no matter how long or short her absence has been. It's like we can't all get together unless we're all here, and Faith's presence is just so large that it's an impossible void to fill.
This time Willow, Kennedy and Giles teleport in from Cleveland, Xander drives down from Bakersfield, Willow teleports Robin in from New York and Andrew in from Scotland once she's here, and tonight Xander will pick up Dawn – who'd rather fly down from Santa Barbara in a big tin box of death than have the unattractive barfy side effects of teleporting – from the airport.
The first time Faith left, we were all still living in Scotland. She was only gone a couple of weeks, and when she came back I think she was afraid that we wouldn't accept her back in the fold. She snuck into her old bedroom in the middle of the night, dodging the Slayers on sentry duty like the seasoned pro she is.
Just like every other time she'd popped back into our lives, I somehow just knew, as soon as I woke up the next morning, that I was going to see her. I didn't expect to see her sound asleep in her bed completely naked, but I should've remembered that with Faith I need to be prepared for anything.
I was only there to crack open the window and air out what I thought was an empty room on an unseasonably warm November day. Faith was sprawled out on her stomach, the sheets in a pile on the floor. Most people would have been immediately drawn to the abundance of naked flesh on display, but I found that my eyes were glued to the myriad of pink and white scars covering the exposed skin of her back.
She woke up almost as soon as I walked into the room, startled out of sleep by my presence. I forced my eyes to hers, but she only allowed the contact for a fleeting second.
If there is anything in my life that I regret, it's letting Faith go back to Boston alone. No one could've known what had been waiting for her, not even Faith herself could've guessed, but we all knew it wouldn't be an easy homecoming. I knew she'd need some emotional support, but I believed her when she told us she'd be fine. Looking into her eyes that morning, I wanted nothing more than to turn back time so that I could stop her from going alone. Stop her from going at all.
She told us she'd keep in touch, but after almost two months with no word, I was worried sick. Dawn and Willow thought I was worried that she had gone bad again, but somehow Xander knew it, too: something had happened to her.
He was waiting for her. Almost like he knew she was coming.
From what little information I gathered once Xander and I got to Boston, Tommy and Faith had been best friends in high school, before she was called. He ran away in the middle of their junior year and Faith hadn't heard from him since. Unfortunately, that meant she didn't know he'd been turned, around the same time Faith's Watcher found her. Tommy somehow found out that Faith was a Slayer, and blamed him being turned into a vampire squarely on her shoulders. He'd been plotting revenge ever since.
It took Xander and me three weeks to find her once we got to Boston. By then she had been his… toy for almost three months.Three months of torture at the hands of a sadistic vampire that she used to call a friend. Three months with no one but herself, and him, and every little sick game he could think up. Three months thinking that no one would ever come looking for her, that I'd never come to her rescue.
I can't blame her for wanting to leave me so often. I still can't believe that she's forgiven me, that she'd even want to. I don't know that after four years I've forgiven myself for what happened to her.
In her room in the castle on that balmy November morning, Faith didn't say a word to me. She looked ashamed, whether of her nudity or of having left and come back with no word, I don't know. She stared at some invisible spot on the far side of the room, and I opened the window like I had meant to. I didn't see her again until lunchtime. By then the entire castle knew she was back.
The girls threw her a party, more than glad for an excuse to take a break and kick back after the year we'd had. Faith was surprised to say the least that no one was outwardly angry or disappointed with her for leaving like she did. While Kennedy and Robin each gave her a piece of their minds once things settled down again, they welcomed her back just like the rest of us: with warm smiles and open arms.
Faith isn't nervous about coming home anymore.
It's hard for the others to accept that she considers my home to be home, now that we're all spread around. Willow even once asked me if we were involved. It was the third or fourth time Faith left and came back, when I had first moved here. I still don't know how she found me.
Willow was visiting and was asleep in the spare room when Faith showed up, drunk and loud and high on God knows what, doing a really poor job of trying to break in through my front door. After I fed her and made her take a shower and put her to bed on the couch, she stumbled into my room around five o'clock in the morning. She hadn't said a word to me, had barely looked at me since I had let her in the house, but she collapsed into my arms that morning and cried herself to sleep.
Willow came in around eleven, thinking I was lazing the day away, and found me awake, holding Faith and watching her slumber soundly. Faith only stayed until the sun went down that evening, and I didn't really have any explanations for Willow.
I walk into the kitchen where my red-headed friend is preparing snacks with Kennedy. The others are already in full-on reminisce mode in the living room, waiting for Xander to return with Dawn. Faith slides in behind me and there really isn't room for all of us in here. I watch as she grabs two beers in each hand out of the fridge, shutting the door with her hip. She catches me looking and winks, her eyes quickly skirting away but a small smile remains on her lips. I close my eyes as she slides back out, coming just close enough to my back that I can feel her heat through my clothes. When I open my eyes, Willow's giving me a knowing smirk. I bet she's dying to ask me again.
"So Buff…" Here we go. I just quirk an eyebrow at her. "Faith's staying with you again?"
Kennedy grins and slides a bowl of chips across the table to make room for a veggie platter. "Yeah, Will, that's right. What is this, the fifth time in a row since Buffy moved here?"
I roll my eyes and fight the urge to slap that grin off Kennedy's face.
"Still in the room!" I snatch a celery stick off the veggie platter before either of them can slap my hand away. "And I told you, Faith likes to stay here because I have the spare room and I'm close to the beach."
They just roll their eyes at each other as I walk out. I really don't want to open that can of worms with the two of them right now. The relationship Faith and I have is… complicated, and usually better left undefined.
When I walk into the living room, Xander and Dawn are just coming through the front door, wide smiles on their faces. It's like a cue for everyone else to kick our little soiree into full swing. Soon, we're all talking and dancing, eating and drinking, generally making with the merry.
Faith dances her way around my living room with her eyes closed and her hands in her hair. She looks every bit like the carefree girl she was when I met her ten years ago. I can't help but watch her.
A smile inches up her lips and I hope against hope that this time, she'll stay. Her head tilts back as her arms rise up, hips swaying with the beat, and I know I love her.
Chapter 4: been down two times
Faith is melting into my fingers and it makes me smile.
She never used to mind having her neck touched.
Ever since Boston and Tommy, it's not even a question. She broke two of Robin's fingers in an instant when he tried to massage her shoulders during a movie night about three weeks after she was released from the infirmary in Scotland. We all knew it was too soon for that, that Faith hadn't healed nearly enough. Robin was just trying to help her feel at ease, and he failed miserably.
The pads of my fingertips skitter across the bumps and ridges of her top-most vertebrae just under her hairline, as those same fingers tickle the baby fine hairs they find along her throat. This is heaven.
She hasn't allowed me to touch her like this since she was in the infirmary four long years ago. I was the only one she'd let near enough to touch for any extended period of time. To the doctors and nurses in charge of her care, that meant I was put in charge of bathing her, and cleaning and re-bandaging her wounds.
Tommy had carved a patchwork of symbols into Faith's back, and the medical staff was worried that without proper care, even with Slayer healing, they would become infected. Willow was worried that the symbols were some kind of a curse or hex.
Luckily for us, Tommy was a sadistic bastard, but also a stupid one. Faith said he probably just thought the symbols looked cool, and it seems that she was right. The wounds they made healed fine, but the scars remain. It's actually kind of a pretty pattern, if you don't take into account that it's been carved into a person's flesh.
The scar on her throat has faded to the point that you'd have to know it was there to see it. Just a shadow of a line running under her jaw, across her throat from one ear to the other.
I run the tips of my fingers from the edges of it down the sides of her neck, feeling her tendons tighten. I kiss the back of her head to soothe her, inhaling the scent of my shampoo in her hair and reveling in the warmth of her body pressed against me.
Her breathing picks up as she leans further back into me.
She told me she needed to calm down. She took my hand and led me into my bedroom without a word to anyone else, without a glance my way.
It would be so easy to take this innocent massage somewhere decidedly less innocent, to slip my hands inside the front of her shirt and give this same gentle treatment to her breasts.
I can't take advantage of her trust like that.
Body language is one thing, but I know I don't have her permission to take it that far. She wouldn't stop me if I tried, I know she wouldn't, but that's not what I want. It would change what we have, pervert it into some sick game that I really don't want to play.
So I breathe in the scent of her hair, and move my hands across her collarbones and up over her shoulders. I knead the pliant muscles along the top of her back and swear I can smell the desert in her skin.
Rain taps at the window outside and Faith's hands grip my thighs. A moan escapes my throat at the contact as my hands slip under the hem of her shirt, just for a moment, just to feel the heat of her skin at the small of her back.
Without warning, she leans forward, gathering the material of her shirt with her fingertips. She whips the garment off and over her head, exposing the ridged and scarred skin of her back. My hands freeze on her hips and I suck in a loud breath through my nose.
She turns her head but doesn't look at me. "Please, touch me."
Her mouth hardly moves. I can hear tears in her voice. I close my eyes and sweep my hands up her spine and over her shoulders and back down again.
"Faith…" I'm not sure what she's asking of me.
Faster than I can anticipate, she spins around. Her legs straddle my own, effectively pinning me to the bed. Her full breasts bounce subtly with the sudden movement and for a brief second, my eyes are transfixed.
Laughter drifts through the door from the living room, where the others are still up, still carrying on.
My eyes slowly drift up to catch Faith's face in the low lamplight. She watches her own hands as they lightly grip my tank top, as they slip underneath the material to caress my stomach. Her fingertips are calloused and smooth against my bare skin. I watch her eyes as they follow her fingers.
"Look at me."
Her brows furrow, her mouth is a thin line. I whisper her name as my belly erupts in sensation. After agonizing minutes, she looks up. It takes a few tries, but she's finally able to hold my gaze. The defiant, desperate look I see in her eyes reminds me so much of the way she looked when we found her hanging by her neck, still alive.
There was so much blood; on the floor, on the walls, on Tommy's hands and mouth. The smell of it made Xander falter, all of the bravado he had on show on our way there gone in an instant. It only spurred me on.
Tommy said something lame and sarcastic, like they always think they have to. I didn't pay him any attention. I only had eyes and ears for Faith.
It really is a miracle she survived through everything he did to her.
I could see the fire burning behind her eyes, that fierce, stubborn determination to survive, to live. I could see what she wanted so desperately to do, but couldn't. She raised her head as high as she could get it, jaw clenched, proof that she was somehow still in the fight. I took it as my cue.
Tommy was dust in my bare hands.
Xander composed himself long enough to call Willow and help me get Faith down without killing her.
"I won't break, B."
Her lips tremble but she's still holding my stare. I've spent too long giving her what I think she needs. She's finally telling me that it's time to do what she actually does need.
My hands make an unhurried journey from her hips to her ribcage, up over her shoulders and down to her breasts. She sighs and her eyes flutter closed. My fingertips graze her pink nipples and continue down to the flat muscle of her stomach. She smiles, her teeth gleaming softly in the low light.
Her hipbones jut out, showing me just how much weight she's lost since the last time I saw her. I watch my index fingers as they flutter along the waistband of her jeans.
I look back up at her as my tank top lands in a pile on the bed next to her shirt.
Her hands shake as she cups my face, making her seem so innocent, so fragile. And she is in this moment. She is vulnerable and she is trusting me with that vulnerability.
In the breath before our first kiss, tears well in my eyes.