When the announcement is finally made, I catch the look of disgust Buffy and Cordelia exchange before turning on their heels and stalking raggedly towards the exit. I hurry after them, elbowing my way through the throng, and catch up just outside of the Bronze.
"Hey Buffy, wait up!"
She and Cordelia turn to look back at me, their faces so heavy with exhaustion and disappointment that my heart does a queer sudden flip. A split second later, those expressions are erased as two pairs of eyebrows shoot up in surprised realization.
"Faith?" they chorus.
"Uh, yeah." The funny feeling melts in the sudden heat of annoyance. I raise my hand to my hair self-consciously and thrust out my hip a little. "What, you didn't recognize me without my stake?"
Cordelia is the first to pick her jaw up off the floor and sneers, "It's just, this is the first time we've seen you dressed in something that didn't come from Whore-Mart."
I don't even realize I've clenched and cocked my fist until B's strong little hand closes firmly around it. "I'm sure what Cordy *meant* to say was that you look amazing." She smiles dazzlingly at me, and my fury evaporates and wafts away on the cool night air.
Cordelia tosses her tangled, muddy hair as Xander joins us. "Sure. Fine. Whatever. I'm going home." She looks at Buffy. "I'd offer you a ride but if those guys come back, I think we'd all be better off if you were with the real Number Two." She flounces off, Xander trailing in her wake with an apologetic grimace.
I'm not really sure whether I've just been insulted, but just to be safe I call, "Hey, fuck you!" after her rapidly disappearing ass.
Buffy looks more resigned than angry. "Whatever," she echoes softly, and lets go of my hand. She looks down at herself with a tired sigh. "God, my mom's gonna kill me when she sees this dress."
She really is a mess: dirty blond hair straggling out of its clips, a deep, ugly scratch on her tricep, a huge, dark stain front and center of her bright red skirt. Not exactly the kind of thing your parents wouldn't notice - unless, of course, they were my parents.
I flex my fingers and rub them a little, and an idea pops into my head. "Hey, she doesn't have to. You can come shower at my place and borrow some clothes."
B opens her mouth, already beginning to shake her head, but I push on before she can protest: "Come on, it's like a block and a half away." I place a hand persuasively on her bare arm. "Whaddaya say?"
The worry on her face melts into a small smile. "Um... okay. Thanks."
"No problem." We walk for a few moments in silence before my curiosity gets the better of me and breaks it.
"So I gotta ask - what the hell happened to you two tonight?"
"Long story." She purses her lips and expels her breath in a tired little sigh. "Slayerfest '98. All assassins all the time. You missed the big fun."
"No kidding? You mean the guys that did this to you and Cordy were looking for us?" I have to admit that I feel a certain smug pride at the thought.
"Fuck." I shake my head in disbelief. "If I'd known something like that was going down, I would never have let them convince me to give Cordy my seat in the limo. I spent the whole evening all dolled up at that stupid dance when I could have been kicking some undead ass!" Still unused to the high heels, I mime a few punches, try for a kick, and almost fall on my face, but B grabs and steadies me just in time.
"I'm touched," she says dryly. Is it my imagination or does her hand linger around my waist just a little longer than strictly necessary?
We're both quiet until we reach the Downtown Apartments. As I start to unlock the door, Buffy suddenly puts her fingers lightly on my arm. Her touch gives me a delicious little shiver that makes me drop the key. As if she hasn't noticed, B says, "Cordelia held her own. But I really missed having you there tonight."
She's so close to me, I wonder if she can hear my heart thundering in my ears. I try to keep my voice casual. "Yeah, bet it would have been handy to have another Slayer around."
Her eyes darken almost imperceptibly as she drops her hand. "Yeah," she says, real quiet, looking away. "I really could have used you."
I want to kick myself. Instead, I bend down awkwardly to retrieve the key and let us into my apartment.
Luckily, the light comes on this time, a little unsteady but functional. On the downside, the harsh glare reveals the battered outlines of what little furniture I've managed to scrape together in the past couple of weeks.
Buffy stops just inside the doorway and looks around, her face carefully blank. I feel ashamed suddenly, and what's worse, resentful. I resolve to fix the place up by her next visit, never mind that I can't afford a change of pillowcases at the moment.
But in the meantime, if she says the wrong thing right now, I might just toss her back out on her ass.
"On the plus side," she says finally, "the windows are still intact." And with those words rises the memory of the night that Kakistos appeared at my door and B tugged me across the room and right through the glass because I was too terrified to move. Never did pay for the damage, but then, the only clerk who knew me there was dead.
"Bet that won't last long with you around," I retort, but I'm grateful and she knows it. I turn to the dresser to hide my face and pull out a clean towel, t-shirt and sweatpants. "Here," I say a little gruffly, thrusting them at her. The bathroom's all yours."
"Thanks," she says, and stands there awkwardly for a moment, arms full, before wobbling into the bathroom and closing the door. Suddenly I feel very tired. I yank my pumps off and fling them in the corner, then throw myself down on the bed and gaze up at the ceiling. There's a big waterstain shaped like a lopsided heart right over my head.
From the bathroom, "Ow!"
I debate for a second and then haul myself to my feet and go knock on the door. "You okay in there?"
B opens up. Her shoes are off, revealing a big run in the toe of her pantyhose, and her face has this scrunched-up look like she's fighting back tears. "I can't get these stupid things out of my hair," she mumbles around a mouthful of hairpins.
"Turn around," I instruct her. When she hesitates, I give her a little push. "Turn *around*. I'm not gonna hurt you."
B obediently turns back to face the mirror, and I expertly begin disengaging the twisted bits of metal from her disheveled hair. Whoever fixed her up tonight just didn't have a clue. There must be an entire package of hairpins stuck in the poor girl's head.
I'm normally not all that patient with my own hair, but I take my time with hers, untangling the knots, teasing the strands apart. When I finally finish, I linger for a moment, combing her hair with my hands, winding the little tendrils around my fingers before letting them drop back onto her neck.
Then I glance at the mirror and realize that she's staring at me with that maddeningly bland expression she gets sometimes. My face fits perfectly in the sharp curve between her neck and shoulder.
"Done?" she asks.
"Yeah," I say, and retreat from the bathroom.
On the bed again, still in my slinky black dress, this time on my stomach, trying to ignore the sounds of running water and the accompanying mental images of it cascading down her skin.
I have no idea what I'm doing, or more to the point, what she's doing. If this were a guy in my apartment, I'd know exactly what to expect, for him to get some and get gone. We might drag it out a little for the hell of it, but we would both know that he wanted me and I wanted him and that was all that mattered for the moment.
This thing with Buffy is a different deal entirely. We've only done it the one time, after we killed Kakistos - or more accurately, I did it to her, but I didn't hear any complaints. The very next day, though, she started dating Scott Hope, and although we've patrolled together off and on since then, she's never given a sign of wanting to indulge in a little after hours' *unh*.
I figure, the way her mind works, nothing actually *happened* between us. Maybe if I were a guy, it would be more real to her somehow. But I'm not, so it wasn't sex, so she doesn't need to think about it. She can go on her little dates with Scott and give him those dainty close-mouthed kisses and make no connection whatsoever with my hand between her legs in a dirty diner restroom.
I understand all of that. And I'm patient. I see her whenever I can, work out with her, watch her back. And although I know it's stupid, I can feel myself falling for her a little more every day.
The shower stops. I tell myself that I don't care, that I'm not gonna turn around, but when the bathroom door eventually squeaks open, my head twists of its own accord.
"Hey," she says, standing in the doorway. Her face is all shiny, scrubbed clean, looking tired without the eyeliner. That, plus the fact that my clothes are just a little too big for her, makes her seem so young that you just wanna reach out and give her a big ol' hug.
But, "Hey," I echo, playing it cool, and roll over and sit up. "Find everything okay?"
"Yeah," she says, crossing over to the bed. I can smell my shampoo, Herbal Essence, out of the big discount bottles. It's weird, like smelling myself on her hair when I know damned well I haven't touched her. Then my stomach lurches and it's not just 'cause she's sinking down next to me... but it's mostly that.
She's managed to open up her scratch again in the shower. I start to roll up her sleeve to get a closer look and she winces, pulling away. "Relax, B," I scold her. "Let me take care of that for you." I go to the medicine cabinet for some gauze and tape. Funny, I think this is the first time I've ever played doctor... at least in the literal sense.
But when the bandage is secure and I'm smiling at my handiwork, B lets out a sigh that seems to come all the way up from her bare little toes and says, "Some girls are bringing a tiara home from the homecoming dance tonight. But me and Cordelia? Scars."
"Hell, B, you know you deserved to win. I bet half the school would be allergic to sunlight if it weren't for you."
This elicits a small and all too brief smile. "Oh, I don't know. I haven't exactly made the wisest choices at times." Her voice gets thin and sad. "Sometimes I wonder if things would be better if I had never come to Sunnydale."
I know enough by now to suspect that she's thinking about Angel, that vamp who popped her cherry and then turned on her like a rabid dog. But what's past is past, and dwelling on the negative is a waste of neurons. How could I cheer her up? "Hey, guess what? I saw your ex-honey at the dance."
B's eyes flick to me, her expression suddenly unreadable. "You - you did?" Was that fear in her voice?
A little puzzled, I continue, "Yeah, you know, the weasel formerly known as Scott?"
Her face relaxes and the color comes back into her cheeks. "Oh, yeah, right. Scott. Was he..." She looks away, taking a deep breath. "Was there someone else there? I mean, in... in the sense of being with him?"
"Well, actually, yeah. Asshole. But I took care of her." I wink at Buffy, smirking a little with the recollection.
Apprehension wars with amusement and her voice drops an octave as she demands, "What did you *do*?"
I hold up my hands, all innocence. Look officer, I'm unarmed, go ahead, pat me down... please. "Nothin'! Really! I just... talked to him, y'know."
"And?" she growls.
I turn and place my palms on her shoulders, cooing, "Scott? There you are, honey!" For the first time I realize that she isn't wearing a bra, which throws me for a second, but I recover quickly.
Buffy jumps a little but doesn't pull away as I continue with illustrating gestures, "Hey, good news! The doctor says that the itching and the swelling and the burning should clear up, but we gotta keep using the ointment." I turn my head to the side as if addressing Scott's invisible date. "Hi!"
Buffy's eyes widen in disbelief and she covers her mouth with her hand. She's making this funny choking sound, and all of a sudden a snort escapes, and then she's giggling helplessly, tears glistening at the corners of her eyes. "Oh - my - god!" she gasps. "Faith, you didn't!"
I shrug modestly. "Ah, it was nothin'."
She shakes her head, still grinning from ear to ear. "No, it was really something!" Then B cocks her head to the side like a little bird, bright eyes fixed on my face. "You're really something. Thank you."
And damned if she doesn't lean forward and kiss me on the mouth.
It's a quick, soft kiss, no tongue, just a moist brush of lips, but it sends my head reeling and my heart starts to do the Macarena. It takes me a second to realize that my eyes are closed. When I open them, Buffy is sitting there staring at me with the huge eyes of a wary forest creature. I know better than to make any sudden moves.
When I reach for the hem of the t-shirt, she lifts her arms over her head as gracefully as a figure skater. Her breasts are surprisingly small, dark rose nipples crinkling in the dry, cool air.
The kiss I give her is slow and deep and leaves me stranded on her golden body like driftwood.
At last we break apart, both of us breathless. Buffy slips out from under me and bends over, tugging at my zipper. "You *can't* be comfortable in that," she says.
Actually, I didn't even notice the dress, but it's not like I'm gonna argue with her when her hands are all over me, peeling the damp fabric away from my skin, sliding it past my hips and over my head. She doesn't touch the strapless black lace bra, but I figure there'll be time enough for that later.
I'm wrong. I'm kept so busy licking her earlobes and sucking her nipples and nuzzling her navel that we just never get around to it.
She seems to like the kisses best, with me lying full length on top of her, our sweaty stomachs sliding past each other like seals. The first time we kissed, I couldn't taste her past the barbecue sauce from our meal; tonight I'm drinking naked Buffy, no additives or preservatives.
B's mouth has this wholesome, comforting taste like warm milk sweetened with honey, like the drink my mom used to make me when I couldn't sleep - if she hadn't had one or five too many.
But no matter how tame and tender I'm keeping it, I'm acutely aware of the tension building between my legs. Buffy's, too, judging from the way she's arching her hips to grind her bony little pelvis against mine. I figure it's about time to give my mouth something new to do.
This tends to be a lot easier from a 69, but I doubt that she's ready for reciprocation or my ass in her face, so I prop the pillows behind her back and kneel in front of the bed. When I take hold of the waistband of her panties, she sucks in a small, sharp breath and raises her hips enough for me to pull them off.
Belying her blondeness, B's pubic hair is almost as dark as mine, but not so thick. Her cunt is a clean, glistening pink, like the inside of a conch shell. When I lower my head, I can't hear the ocean, but I can taste it, salt and warm and just slightly bitter.
Buffy jerks a little the first time I touch her with my tongue, and for a second I'm afraid that she's going to lose her nerve. I keep my head down, knowing that if we make eye contact, she'll have to acknowledge that this isn't happening in a vacuum, that it's me kneeling here.
I'm not sure if I'm disappointed or relieved when she relaxes, spreading her legs a little wider, the smooth skin of her inner thighs shimmering under the light.
I take a deep breath and descend again, swirling my tongue around inside her, separating her secret folds. When I find her clit, she gasps and twists her fingers in my hair, scratching the scalp.
It doesn't take very long for me to get dizzy; what little air I get is saturated with her scent, a heady combination of seashore and sweet cloves. And she's not making my job any easier, wriggling her hips around even as she tries to guide my head towards the right spots through blind trial and error.
It's all right, though, because she was so wide open when we started that I know she isn't going to last much longer. Already she's rocking her hips faster and faster, straining to raise herself against my tongue. Without breaking that rhythm, I thrust my hand into my panties and follow it with my finger, around and around.
As Buffy comes, she tightens her thighs convulsively around my head, crushing my ears closed. But I can hear the vibrations of her cries down the lengths of her bones and through her skin. A few more strokes with my finger and I'm groaning in harmony, shuddering helplessly between her legs.
Finally she releases me, spent, and I finger my ears to make sure they're still intact despite the roaring in my skull.
When I drag my sore, numb-kneed self back onto the bed, B is lying spread-eagled, limbs limp, with an expression of beatific peace. Now that all the excitement is over, the air is chilly on my damp skin; I pull the pillows up and slide between the sheets, near her but not touching her. Filled with a sleepy, delicious warmth, I pat the pillow invitingly next to my head.
"It's late," she says in a wistful little-girl voice.
"Call your mom," I suggest with a yawn. "Tell her you're spending the night." The bed undulates gently as B gets up to use the phone. I drift drowsily up and down on it, half-listening to the low murmur of her voice across the room.
When she crawls back under the covers, she snuggles up against my back, wrapping her arm around my waist. Her warm breath tickles my neck as her slowing heartbeat marks the measures of a lullaby.
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