Chapter Thirty-Seven: Hell or High Water
Buffy's anxiety had increased the closer the black rental van got to the San Francisco house. Faith had been out of sorts on the phone, and she hadn't even tried all that hard to cover it up. Buffy just didn't know if that was the norm for Faith when she was on a job. They'd definitely have to have a talk if it was, because Buffy was so over that kind of self-sacrificing routine.
She'd gone that route before, both sides of the path. Buffy didn't want Faith to wake up one day, considering letting her reflexes falter just enough. Nor did Buffy want to find herself holding her breath every time Faith went out, hoping that she was enough for Faith to stay. Buffy wouldn't, couldn't, let herself settle for the kind of existence she'd had with Spike, or with Angel, again.
Buffy blew out a silent breath, ignoring the amused glance Kennedy tossed her from beside her on the bench seat in the middle row of the van. Buffy was aware she was acting out of character, more so than had become the norm in the past couple of months. Serious moods and silences had been exceedingly rare for Buffy since they'd left Scotland. But she thought that the situation at hand was more than explanation enough, so they didn't need to know her heart was in her throat.
She had the sliding door open and was out before the vehicle had even come to a complete stop in the driveway of the council house. As soon as the van stopped moving, Buffy moved around to the back and opened the doors to retrieve her overnight bag and Faith's laptop case. Then she turned and made her way across the yard to the front porch. Buffy didn't wait for the others to catch up before she lifted her fist, prepared to knock on the oak door.
Before Buffy's knuckles could make contact with the door, a sound she was intimately familiar with reached her ears and she changed the direction of her hand mid-motion. Impatiently, she repeatedly pushed the doorbell with her index finger. She ignored the concerned questions of the other three Slayers as they joined her up on the porch. Then when Giles arrived at her side, Buffy was about to ask if he had a key when she finally, finally heard someone approaching the door.
"What's wrong, Buffy?" Giles asked, gesturing for the others to fall silent.
"I thought I heard Faith shout," Buffy shrugged, glancing at him out of the corner of her eye as she reluctantly let off of the doorbell. "It probably wasn't anything, but still..."
The deadbolt on the inside of the door was flipped and Buffy's eyes snapped back up to the door. The door swung inward violently and Buffy was met with an irritated glare from a familiar face. The expression softened just slightly as Buffy was recognized and the Slayer then lifted her gaze to take in the rest of group. It took Buffy a moment to figure out where she knew the younger woman from, but before she could greet Diana, the sound she'd heard before was repeated.
"Jesus Christ," Faith snapped in a hard, guttural tone that sent a shiver up Buffy's spine and made her wince. "Did you replace the fuckin' alcohol with goddamn battery acid?"
"Ahem," Diana cleared her throat. "Buffy, Mr. Giles, how are you both?"
"We're just peachy," Buffy drawled, interrupting Giles as he was about to speak. "Are you going to let us in, or are we supposed to stand out here until we draw the local nightlife's attention?"
"Oh, sorry," Diana reached up to massage her neck and chuckled sheepishly as she stepped back to let them in. "It's um, been a little... hectic, I guess you could say."
"I'm sure," Buffy said sardonically as she entered the house, falling silent as her eyes were immediately drawn to the wreckage of the section of the banister at the foot of the stairs.
"Yeah, um, hectic," Diana repeated, eying Buffy nervously.
Buffy's gaze tracked the length of the foyer as she set her bags down. She scanned the pieces of the splintered door scattered across the floor and then let her eyes come to rest on the archway to her right. She turned and angled her head just enough so she could see inside. The sight Buffy found simultaneously flooded her with relief and annoyance, and she sighed, chuckling shortly.
Trust her to soothe my anxieties and piss me off all in the same moment.
Faith looked up from watching Janice bandage the gash in her lower calf and met Buffy's eyes at that sound. She'd fallen silent as soon as she'd felt their approach. Faith couldn't put a name to the sensation that curled up in her gut at the knowledge that Buffy was there. But now Faith was more than a little nervous, because despite her amusement, Buffy didn't look happy.
Faith cringed internally. After the fight she'd just had with Corrine, she really wasn't ready for some one on one with Buffy. It had taken an hour to wear Corrine out enough to see reason, and then another three hours to calm her down. Faith just didn't have enough energy left for more.
"Okay," Janice smoothed down the edges of the gauze wrapped around Faith's calf and stood. "You are done. Di needs to recheck her stitches tomorrow, plus she'll need to take a look at your ribs while she's at it, too. Don't get the stitches wet, and take Tylenol if the pain gets too bad."
Faith didn't acknowledge her words. She couldn't look away from Buffy's hazel eyes. They'd softened just a little at Janice's pronouncement. The corners of Faith's mouth lifted slightly.
Buffy's expression shifted, taking on an exasperated fondness. She stifled a few expletives. Faith wielded her dimples as effectively as she did any weapon. It had always thrown Buffy for a loop.
It made her lower belly throb painfully. And suddenly Buffy was acutely aware of the cleft in Faith's lower lip. She absently licked her own and then almost smiled when Faith's lips parted. Buffy's feet started moving forward quite without her permission, but she wasn't objecting.
Eight feet from the couch Faith was perched on, Faith shifted to stand up but remained leaning against the arm of the couch. Seven feet from the couch, Faith's eyes lightened to a soft brown that made Buffy forget having ever been angry. Six feet from the couch, Faith held out a hand to Buffy with a gentle smile of invitation and even if she'd never admit it, Buffy's knees started to shake. Five feet from the couch, Buffy just barely managed to return the smile; it was kind of hard to do so when you were breathless and you couldn't hear for the heartbeat in your ears.
Four feet from the couch, their audience had all but been forgotten. Almost three feet from the couch, Buffy placed her hand in Faith's and Faith's long fingers curled around hers. Two feet from the couch, Buffy's knees buckled and Faith tugged her into her arms. One foot from the couch, Faith held Buffy tight as only the two of them could handle, and they sighed in unison.
Buffy's face tilted up at the same time Faith's tilted downward. They had to force their eyes open from where they'd drifted shut in utter contentment. Then Faith's smile faded and she lowered her head the rest of the way. Their eyes were closed again by the time their lips touched for the first time, and by that time, their audience wasn't even a footnote in either of their thoughts.
Buffy was certain she'd whimpered, but she couldn't care less. She fit into Faith's embrace like Faith's arms were made to hold her. But that wasn't what had her absolutely absorbed, though. Faith's lower lip was between hers and they were kissing like it was their very first time ever.
It wasn't at all like she ever would have thought it to be. She'd have thought that kissing Faith would be like losing control. But the way Faith was kissing her, so softly yet determined and self-assured, wasn't taking control; Buffy was giving it. It made Buffy tremble.
Buffy remembered her actual first kiss and doubted that Billy Fordham could have made her feel like this even with years of instruction and practice. That thought made Buffy remember all over again just who she was kissing, and she violently pushed away the notion that occurred to her next. She didn't want to think about who else Faith might have kissed like this, ever. Then Faith's arms tightened even more around Buffy's waist and Buffy knew without a doubt. Faith hadn't ever kissed anyone else exactly like this; she couldn't have, not without hurting them.
She was selfishly grateful. And she pitied every last one of Faith's former conquests because they would never know just what they were missing out on. Because with Faith's tongue now teasing Buffy's top lip, Buffy felt that she could afford to be a little magnanimous. But just a little, mind you, because Faith was still officially off the market now, and she was hers.
Some small part of Buffy was crowing in victory. She smiled faintly—almost smugly—and then parted her lips, opening her mouth just enough in invite. She was more than a little disappointed when Faith didn't immediately take her up on her offer. Then Faith's lips and tongue were gone and Buffy immediately felt the loss and she couldn't help it as her lower lip crept out.
"No," Buffy whined, just barely resisting the urge to stomp her foot.
Faith didn't know where she'd gotten the strength to pull back. Buffy was in her arms, so soft and warm, and she was letting Faith kiss her. She'd felt Buffy tremble, and had been reminded that the strongest woman she knew was still just that—a woman. And Buffy was a woman who would never forgive herself for losing control of her self in front of a group of their co-workers.
It was that thought that reminded Faith that they weren't alone. Once upon a time, that wouldn't have mattered to Faith. In fact, she would have thrived on the thought of bringing Buffy down to her level by pushing Buffy as far as she could. And in this case, Faith couldn't say that wasn't her anymore, because she did like to embarrass Buffy. But looking down at Buffy's flushed features Faith couldn't bring herself to tease Buffy when it came to this—not yet.
"Shhh," Faith pressed a quick, firm kiss to Buffy's mouth.
When she pulled back again, Buffy tried to follow her. Faith evaded her attempts to reclaim her mouth and waited. After a few seconds, Buffy's shoulders slumped in defeat. Faith lowered her forehead to Buffy's and a soft sigh escaped Buffy's parted lips. She finally opened hazy eyes, and Faith's stomach clenched at the naked need obvious in the wheat colored depths.
"Have mercy, B," Faith chuckled almost silently as she heard Giles grumbling as his glasses squeaked in protest under the cloth he was rubbing over the lenses, again.
"Yes, please do," Giles said a bit louder.
"This ain't the time for that," Faith finished, ignoring Giles.
The darkening of Buffy's already flushed features told Faith that she'd caught her underlying meaning. Faith was telling Buffy that she wanted her, but that it wasn't going to happen while they had an audience. It was most likely the reminder that Giles and the other Slayers were in the room that had the most profound impact on Buffy. Faith relaxed when Buffy chuckled.
"Well, I did say come Hell or high water," Buffy muttered.
"What?" Faith sputtered, snickering.
"Uh, nothing," Buffy mumbled, glancing away briefly.
"Uh-huh," Faith said disbelievingly, and then shook her head. "You gonna let me go?"
"Shouldn't I be the one asking that question?" Buffy teased.
For emphasis, Buffy tapped the nail of her index finger against Faith's collarbone. Her hands were still braced against Faith's upper chest as they had been since the start of their embrace. Buffy would have wiggled her hips against Faith's to punctuate her words, if not for her awareness of the group awkwardly awaiting their attention in the room behind them. Still, Buffy was rewarded for her disclosure by the adorable flush racing across Faith's features.
"Um, yeah," Faith muttered, obviously disconcerted. "Sorry."
"It's okay," Buffy murmured, gently rubbing her thumb against Faith's skin. "But I think that maybe you should show Giles to Aaron before he has a conniption. I think he's a little worried. Then you and I need to have a little chat before we get to work on this problem of theirs."
Faith cringed at that. She finally looked up to find Giles still waiting several feet away with most of the San Francisco team and his other heavy hitters scattered behind him. He was still absently cleaning his glasses and was staring at the floor, his eyebrows furrowed. Faith dropped her arms from around Buffy and stepped around her, catching Giles' attention with the movement.
"C'mon," Faith motioned Giles towards the door. "I'll show you where Aaron is. Then the girls and I will get to work on the plan I've been kickin' around for the last little bit."
Buffy gave Giles a pointed glare the second that Faith's back was turned. He needed to hear Faith out before he spoke. Buffy wasn't sure what had gone on before their arrival, but she doubted that it was anything as bad as what he was probably thinking. She smiled gratefully when Giles nodded at her, and then she watched as he slipped out of the room behind Faith.