Chapter 5: i'm never going back again
It's easy to blame yourself when someone you care about is having a hard time of it. You think to yourself, `Did I say something to make her leave this time? Did I act a certain way that made her stop returning my calls?'
I know that when Faith is ready to talk, she'll talk. But no matter how many times we've played this game, no matter that the rules have changed forever in an instant, I can't help but feel that every time I wake up in the morning and she's not there, I've lost.
The water that laps at my bare feet is freezing but the sun peeking out between the clouds feels warmer than it should for a February afternoon. There aren't many people out today, the rain having chased away the casual beachgoers. Today it's just the diehard joggers, a few people walking their dogs, and me.
I've tried to pretend, like I always do, that Faith was never there in the first place. I cleaned up the mess my family made. I went out for more groceries. I went slaying, even cleaned out a nest of fire demons near the beach cliffs, but she's still here, in the back of my mind.
She slept a week by my side.
I learned more about Faith in those seven days than I knew about her in ten years: her secret wants and desires, her hopes and fears, her favorite song – "Dear Prudence", what she wanted to be when she grew up and left Boston and her abusive mother behind.
She let me in, and I did the same.
I learned every dip and curve of her body, every way to kiss and touch and caress to make her sigh or moan or giggle. If I close my eyes, I can pretend that I still feel her inside of me, that I can still taste her on my lips.
I keep my head down, watching the tiny waves lap at my toes so I don't have to look at people passing me by, hoping each one coming will somehow be her. I watch the clouds reflected in the wet sand floating above my head in puffy pinks and oranges and try to swallow down the hot lump of tears forming in my throat.
A red tennis ball whizzes past my head, startling me enough to look up as a small brown dog flies along the beach after it. I look back despite myself, just to make sure there aren't anymore projectiles or speeding dogs coming my way. What I see stops me in my tracks.
A man with one of those ball flinging things jogs by me, giving me a pleasant smile but I barely notice.
Faith is sauntering along the beach behind him, hands in her jeans' pockets and head up, staring straight at me.
At first I think I'm hallucinating and I close my eyes. When I open them again she's standing less than a foot away, close enough to touch.
Her eyes skitter away, focusing on my bare feet. I study her face, watching how carefully she keeps that expressionless mask in place.
"I thought you'd left." I can't be bothered to play games, not this time.
The left corner of her mouth twitches. After long minutes of tense silence, her eyes rise to meet mine again and she holds the stare. "Thought I did, too."
She laughs, a quick, humorless chuckle, and looks out over the stormy waters of the bay.
"Faith…" I start to speak without knowing what to say. Her eyes flit back to mine.
"Look, I don't know what you expect from me, Buffy." Her brows scrunch together as she fights to maintain eye contact.
"I want you to stay."
The words leave my mouth before my brain has finished forming them. Faith sucks in a hard breath and turns once again to the windswept bay. It's obviously not the response she expected, and for a brief second I wish I could take it back.
An errant cloud begins to spit rain down as Faith turns back toward me.
She's fighting back tears.
"What do you want from me?"
A ray of sun breaks through the clouds, catching tiny rainbows in the rain droplets and hints of gold in Faith's dark eyes.
I know what she wants me to say, but I can't do it this time. I can only give her the truth.
"I just want – after the week we've had together, I just… I can't do this anymore, Faith. I-I want you to come home."
She shakes her head at my stilted plea. "I can't promise you anything."
I nod. "I know."
Her shoulders sag as she wraps her arms around herself.
I turn from her to move up the beach to a dry patch of sand that isn't covered in kelp. I sit down, my knees bent and low. Faith's eyes track my every move, like a predator after its prey.
I watch as she turns back to the stormy bay waters, as she studies the white peaks of the waves. Her hand reaches up to adjust the pack on her shoulder before she makes her way over to me. Her steps are slow, deliberate, one booted foot in front of the other and her head is down is she sets her pack in the sand behind me.
That same trembling hand tucks a lock of hair behind her ear, and she takes one furtive glance back at the bay before settling down between my bent knees. Cautiously, she leans back into me.
A sigh escapes her and I can feel the muscles in her back relax as my arms wrap lightly around her shoulders.
Faith turns her head to look at me. I watch the bay.
A smile creeps up my face.
She is home.