Way Past Time
Chapter One: Mourning Regrets
Two women sat opposite each other at the booth nearest the back of the darkened, nearly empty bar. They appeared young and healthy, the worst of their scars hidden by the matching tight black tank-tops and fraying low-rise blue jeans they wore. Their eyes told the real story. Haunted exhaustion and grief was obvious in their bloodshot brown and hazel depths respectively.
A freshly opened bottle of Jack Daniels sat in the center of the table next to three shot glasses. A clean ashtray sat nearby. A shaky hand reached for the bottle and then proceeded to fill all three glasses before the bottle was returned. Then one shot glass was nudged across to the blonde who merely blinked in response.
She watched blankly as her companion lifted her own shot glass and looked at her expectantly. Then she shook her head as if coming out of a daze and picked up hers. She looked at the brunette with a lost expression.
"Tonight we drink to those we mourn, both those taken from us in sickness, and those taken from us in battle," A raspy voice muttered.
In unison, they gently tapped their glasses together and then knocked back the whiskey. Fresh tears filled their eyes and were ignored as the liquor burned a trail down their throats to warm their chests. They set their glasses down with a thump. The blonde sucked in a ragged, harsh breath and it was her who set up the shots this time.
"Tonight we drink to Angel," She murmured.
They tossed back the liquor and then the brunette bit her bottom lip as she struggled for control. She squeezed her eyes shut and her jaw clenched as a loud sob escaped. A warm hand closed over the one she had clenched on the table. She turned her hand to return the clasp in thanks.
For Buffy, the loss of Angel still choked her. He had been her first love, the one who'd helped her take the step from childhood to adulthood. Four years and the grief still ran deep. There were days when it was clouded by anger at his refusal to ask for help, but they were far between.
For Faith, the loss filled her with rage and a bleakness that frightened her. At one point he'd been the only thing standing between her and oblivion. She worried at times that if she were to fall again, there'd be no one to catch and raise her back up this time. There wasn't a moment that went by that she didn't wish she'd been fighting at his side.
Four figures stood as silent sentinels around the table the two women were seated at. They watched on in their own varying levels of sorrow. But tonight wasn't for their tears. Tonight they were there to be certain that their leaders, their friends, their family members, were given this chance to shed their own. Nothing would disturb the Slayer Prime and the Alpha on this night.
Faith reopened her eyes and released Buffy's hand as she reached for the bottle. She proceeded to set up the next shot and then she caught Buffy's gaze. She gave her a shaky half-smile.
"Tonight we drink to Spike."
A flash of renewed pain crossed Buffy's face as she downed the shot. She held so many regrets; not the least of which was not having gotten the chance to see him one last time. She may have never been in love with him, but she'd still loved him deeply.
Faith set her empty shot glass down and regarded Buffy as she struggled to regain her composure. Faith and Spike had never been friends, but they'd had their moments. She mostly felt sympathy for Buffy's loss. She'd lost any respect she'd held for him the moment she'd learned what he'd tried to do to the blonde Slayer back in Sunnydale.
The next shot was set up and they studied each other for a moment. Then Buffy sighed and raised her shot glass again.
"Tonight we drink to Robin."
Faith visibly shook from suppressed emotion as she knocked back the shot. Robin Wood had shown her a lot, and given her more than she could ever say. She didn't think she'd been in love with him, but he definitely held a special place in her heart. She'd been devastated when he'd been killed during what should've been a routine patrol three years ago.
She poured the next round, pausing to gaze blankly at the untouched shot in the middle of the table. Then she lifted her gaze back up to meet Buffy's.
"Tonight we drink to Joyce."
The tears overflowed her hazel eyes as Buffy tossed the shot back. There was nothing she could think of that could explain how she felt at that loss. The only way to understand it would be to experience it, and she wished that on no one.
At one time, Faith had been jealous of Buffy's relationship with her mother. She'd only been able to dream of what it was like to have one that cared. She regretted not being able to apologize to Joyce. Faith took a shuddering breath and dug her cigarettes from her front pocket.
She shakily brought one to her lips and lit it. As she started to return the metal pack to her pocket, a hand entered her line of vision. She lifted her gaze and peered through the thin haze of smoke to look at Buffy in confusion.
"Can I bum one?"
Faith blinked in surprise and then handed the pack and lighter over. She watched silently as Buffy lit a cigarette. When she started to return the pack, Faith gestured for her to set it aside. Then she retrieved her refilled shot-glass and lifted it.
"Tonight we drink to Merrick."
Buffy smiled sadly and threw back the shot. Merrick was a bittersweet memory for her. He'd started her down this long road that she'd at times both hated and cherished.
"Tonight we drink to Diana," Buffy said quietly after she set up the next shot.
Faith knocked back the shot and then took a drag off her cigarette. She watched blankly as Buffy did the same. Diana had been the first person to ever show her that she was something more than just a body. She was also the only Watcher Faith had ever really accepted and trusted.
"Tonight we drink to Jenny," Faith said, her words filling the semi-quiet gently.
Giles winced at the name. His gaze dropped from the sight of the young women tossing back their shots. Even after all these years, his heart still clenched painfully at the memory of Jenny. He took a shaky breath and returned his attention to guarding his two surrogate daughters.
He wasn't the only one to wince at the name. Buffy did as well. Jenny Calendar was a reminder of what Buffy viewed as one of her biggest failures. Her reluctance to kill Angelus had resulted in the death of her Watcher's lover and the loss of her friends' unshakable belief.
"Tonight we drink to Tara," Buffy murmured before they tossed back yet another shot.
That memory was painful for them all. For Buffy it was the loss of a friend who'd gotten her through the worst time in her life. For Willow it was the loss of her soul-mate. For Dawn it was the loss of another mother-figure. For Xander it had been the loss of his best friend's innocence.
For Giles, it had been the loss of one of his kids. As for Faith, she regretted never having gotten the chance to apologize for her spiteful words and cruel behavior. For never having had the chance to get to know someone her friends spoke so reverently of.
The next shot was set up, a cigarette was put out, and another lit. Faith sighed and took a drag from the fresh cigarette. A half-smile played briefly at the corner of her mouth.
"Tonight we drink to Anya."
They drank the shots and then Buffy took one last hit from her cigarette before she put it out. She looked up and shared a pained smile with Xander before moving to set up the next shot. There were too many regrets attached to that loss to list.
"Tonight we drink to Wesley."
Faith downed her shot. She and the watcher had settled their issues in Los Angeles. She'd never been able to forget his actions in Sunnydale, but she'd forgiven him.
Buffy set the next shot up and caught the younger Slayer's gaze. Her eyes glinted softly and her next words were echoed by her companion.
"Tonight we drink to all Slayers, past, future, and present."
She tapped her glass against Faith's and they downed the shots in unison. There were no words for those losses. If not for the loss of the Slayers past, they wouldn't be the warriors they were today. If not for Buffy and Faith, most of the ones who would become Slayers wouldn't have.
They shared looks of pained regret. And if not for them, most of the ones who were Slayers now wouldn't have to die for the cause. There was no denying that was how it would end. Dying was the only way out of their line of business for most.
Chapter Two: Disappointed Tension
The night they'd started the tradition had resulted in a bar brawl neither Slayer was likely to ever forget. For Buffy it'd been the first time she'd ever seen one, much less been involved, and for Faith it'd been the first time she'd ever been defended in one. Why they'd chosen to spend that night in a demon bar, they'd never been able to recall. They'd been drunk beforehand that time.
The next year and the one after were much the same. The fourth year they'd had to delay it until the next day simply for the fact that they were both in the hospital. When the fifth year resulted in yet another trip to the E.R., their friends decided that they would stand guard during the sixth.
The demon community had eventually learned to stay far from the bar on that night. Not even the peaceful ones wanted to be around when a Slayer's emotions were out of control. It was usually travelers who made the mistake of being there. They generally tended to make some moronic attempt at challenging the Slayers and things would just snowball from there.
It was closing on three A.M. when they decided it was time to go. Faith drained the last of their second bottle of Jack Daniels before standing unsteadily. Then she waited for Buffy to come around to her side of the table and they wrapped their arms around each other's waists before turning to go. Neither acknowledged their friends as they trekked across the bar to the door.
It was the way they wanted it. Buffy and Faith only agreed to allow their friends join them to pacify the group's need to protect them. They would give their thanks the following day when they joined them for lunch. Tonight was for the Chosen Two.
There was a sense of disappointment as they exited the bar without incident. Buffy tightened her grip on Faith's waist and guided her towards a familiar vehicle. She chuckled indistinctly.
"C'mon, we can go on patrol tomorrow night to make up for it."
"Just us?" Faith slurred, the hopeful tone not going unnoticed.
"Yup," Buffy murmured her agreement.
Dawn waved goodbye to the rest of the group as they split up to go to their own vehicles. She followed slowly behind Faith and Buffy. She pulled the keys from her pocket and pressed the button to unlock the doors. Then she lifted an eyebrow as the two women briefly scuffled over who would get into the backseat first.
"Oh get in!"
Buffy shoved Faith inside and ignored her grunt of protest as she climbed in after her. She leaned out to grab the door handle and would've slid out onto her head if not for Dawn's steadying hand on her side. She blearily looked up through a curtain of hair into amused blue eyes and then stuck out her tongue in response.
"That was mature," Dawn muttered as she closed the door.
She made her way around the dark blue SUV and got into the driver's seat. After she'd gotten them on the road, she turned the radio on and put the windows down a little. She hoped the cool air would keep them conscious long enough to get them to their respective beds. She sighed and tuned out the faint murmurings of their conversation.
Buffy leaned back against the headrest and tilted her head so that she could look at Faith. She studied the other Slayer's features and sighed.
"Are you okay?"
"Fine," Faith muttered. "Just ain't lookin' forward to goin' home alone."
"Ah," Buffy murmured. "Do you want me to spend the night?"
She wasn't sure what made her ask the question. She'd gotten the same answer every other time she'd asked that question on this day. It hadn't ever given her the urge to offer that before. She didn't understand the anxiety she felt as she awaited an answer.
Faith peered at her through the passing shadows for a long moment. Then she let out an explosive burst of air and shook her head.
"Nah, I'll be aight."
Her expression wasn't convincing but Buffy was too busy to call her on it. She was trying to decipher her mixed emotions at the answer. It was surprising how small the part of her that was relieved was. They'd gotten closer over the years, and this past year had been strange for their friendship, but this...
She didn't know what to make of it. It just added to the confusion she'd all ready been feeling when it came to Faith. There had been a weird tension between them for a while now, and this wasn't the first time she'd felt disappointment at an odd moment. She blinked and turned her gaze away from the searching brown eyes.
The silence stretched on and Faith sighed silently. She was instantly filled with regret upon answering but she couldn't take it back. She didn't know if it was because she was afraid of what it might mean or if it was because she was ashamed of needing anyone.
The following fifteen minutes seemed to take forever. Faith was nearly asleep when the SUV rolled to a stop in front of her brownstone. She lifted her head, blinking in confusion.
"We're at your place," Dawn announced softly, turning in her seat to glance at the older woman. "Do you need help getting inside?"
"Hold on, lemme find out," Faith muttered before fumbling with the door.
She finally got it open and then slid out of the SUV. Her knees buckled and she felt hands close around her upper arms, holding her up as her hands clutched at the door. She glanced over her shoulder and met Buffy's concerned gaze. Then she took a deep breath.
"Stay?" She asked softly.
Buffy regarded her a moment and then nodded almost imperceptibly. She released Faith's arms and then waited for her to step away before she hopped out. She steadied herself by grasping the door and waited for her vision to steady. Then she shut the door and stepped around to lean against the driver's door.
"I'm gonna crash here tonight, Dawnie. You go on home, okay?" She said quietly.
Dawn glanced from her sister to Faith and back. A faint smile crossed her lips as she nodded. Then she watched in the side-view mirror as Buffy followed Faith to the front porch.
"It's about fucking time," She muttered under her breath as she put the SUV in reverse.
Faith watched Dawn's SUV pull away and then shoved her hand in her pocket to retrieve her keys. She kept her back to Buffy as she unlocked the door and let them in. As she closed the door behind them, she cleared her throat and turned to face Buffy.
"Want somethin' to eat?"
Buffy smiled as Faith bit her bottom lip and glanced up at her. She recognized it as one of the brunette's nervous ticks. It was also one of Faith's sexiest expressions, not that she had any that weren't sexy. Buffy blew out a breath and ran a hand through her hair.
"Not really. I'm sort of exhausted right now."
"Aight," Faith said and turned towards the short hallway.
Buffy followed Faith to her bedroom and paused just inside the door. She watched as Faith fidgeted indecisively for a moment before she walked over to the long dresser across the room. She opened the drawer to pull out a bundle of cloth and then crossed back over to where Buffy stood. Buffy accepted the bundle which turned out to be a pair of boxers and a tank-top and then glanced up curiously at Faith.
"You can crash in here and I'll take the couch," The younger Slayer offered hesitantly.
"Hey," Buffy said softly. "You don't have to do that. There's enough room in here for us both."
Faith opened her mouth to speak and then stopped. She dropped her gaze from the unnerving hazel eyes staring at her and sighed. Then she glanced back up.
"You sure about that?"
"Sure that there's enough room or that I'm willing to share?" She teased.
"Aight, blondie," Faith muttered. "We'll share. But don't blame me if we wake up in a clinch."
"If we wake up in a what?" Buffy sputtered.
Her only answer was a deep chuckle as Faith retrieved her pajamas from the foot of the bed. She watched blankly as Faith reached for the hem of her top. Then Buffy spun around to face the open doorway as a flush raced over her skin, warming her rapidly.
"Hey, you can't just not answer me," She objected weakly.
"Sure I can."
Chapter Three: Morning After
Buffy was confused at first as wakefulness slowly filtered in. The angle of the light entering the bedroom wasn't right. She shifted and froze as smooth skin slid against the sensitive flesh of her thigh. She was suddenly very aware of the warm, mostly bare, body wrapped around her.
Bits of memory from the previous night slammed home and she whimpered silently. I guess this is what she meant by that warning. Wonder if I can move before she wakes up? I'll never hear the end of it if I don't.
A soft moan caressed her ear as Faith's thigh slid across hers again. She stiffened and buried her face in the pillow as heat flooded her. Guess not, She thought sardonically as Faith's firm body tensed in a full bodied stretch.
"Mornin', B," Faith rasped, her breath leaving a trail of goose-bumps across Buffy's shoulder.
"Good morning," She mumbled into the pillow.
Faith chuckled and lifted up onto her elbow to gaze down at Buffy. She reached her free hand up to brush the hair back from Buffy's face. Her fingers brushed smooth skin and she paused, gazing at the sight of her olive-toned complexion in contrast against the Buffy's golden tan. She blinked when Buffy shifted onto her back to look up at her.
Buffy caught her hand as Faith started to pull away and held it. Their eyes locked for a long moment and then Buffy smiled. Something about the glint in Faith's eyes put her at ease.
Faith relaxed and let her head drop forward onto the bed near Buffy's shoulder. Sincerely, she quietly said, "Thanks for stayin'."
Buffy gazed at the crown of dark hair for a long moment in confusion. The atmosphere really did seem far less tense and awkward than she'd have expected. She let out a soft breath. She liked that because she didn't want their friendship to become awkward like hers and Riley's was.
"You're welcome," She murmured. Then, considering it, she added, "I kind of needed this, too."
The comment was a little ambiguous and brought a raised eyebrow that went unseen. Faith shook her head and finally lifted her head to meet Buffy's gaze again. There was something soft and indefinable in Buffy's expression and it made Faith pause as her chest tightened. She may not have ever had that look directed at her before, but something inside of her certainly recognized it.
Going on instinct alone, she shifted so she was partially hovering over Buffy. She smiled briefly at the confusion clouding her eyes. Then she lowered her head, bringing their foreheads together as their eyes drifted shut in response. She sighed inaudibly when Buffy's hands gripped her hips.
The words were quiet, almost going unnoticed. Had she not been a Slayer, Buffy wouldn't have heard it. But she was. It was only self-preservation that kept her eyes shut.
"Let me get this out," Faith interrupted quickly, her voice rough.
"Okay," She drawled, her eyebrows furrowing in concern.
"Those two simple words have been between us for too many years, B. There've been a lot of instances where we both should've said it. But we never have and I had to, `cause that wasn't right."
Tension coiled beneath Faith's skin as she awaited a response. They'd been through a lot in the last decade or so. They'd lost people, added new members to their extended family, gone through Hell together—literally in a couple of cases—and they'd seen each other at their worst and their best. She'd like to think they'd grown up in the years since Buffy's threat to beat her to death if she apologized. However, her hopes didn't prevent the fear that she was wrong.
Something approaching relief filtered through Buffy. Though it was short lived when she felt the body above hers vibrating with anxiety. The pain was sharp and bitter when she realized just why Faith was so nervous. Buffy's own words from years ago echoed between them in the silence that followed, playing out in two sets of memories.
"Apologize to me and I will beat you to death."
Buffy let out a shaky sigh and reached up, bringing Faith's chin up so that their eyes could meet. They were both silent for a long moment as they searched each other's gaze. Buffy sighed again.
"I'm sorry, too."
Faith's smile was weak, but it was genuine. It had taken her a while to accept it, to really believe it, but she knew she hadn't been the only one at fault. Years of brief conversations and stilted explanations had added up to give a more complete picture for both of them.
Then again, it helped that they were usually utterly drunk when they spoke of the past. Alcohol loosened their tongues, even if they had to drink enough to fell a human to get to that point now. It was quite possible that the amount the Chosen Two drank would drop even the Empowered Slayers. Unfortunately, the others weren't willing to test that theory simply for their amusement.
Buffy's fingers moved over Faith's jaw, caressing the smooth skin she'd only ever struck out at. Her stomach fluttered nervously, but she didn't question it for once. She followed her instincts. Her hand slipped down behind Faith's neck, her fingers entwining in her hair.
Faith's brow furrowed slightly. Then she smiled faintly. Finally, it's finally our moment. The thought came from a place she'd locked up thirteen years ago when Angel came back from Hell.
She kept still, despite the need to lean forward. She ignored her body's urgings for her to take Buffy's mouth in a punishing kiss. If she made the first move, she might always wonder if Buffy had truly wanted to go through with it. But this way, it was made clear for both of them.
It felt like forever before Buffy finally moved. Her head tilted slightly and then she shifted, pulling Faith down to bring them closer together. She hesitated a moment, her rough breathing brushing over Faith's face in rapid strokes. Then she let her eyes drift shut and finally, finally, their lips came together in a simple caress that was just lip over lip.
It was like coming home, and leaving for Heaven's gates. It was a peace she'd never known, and it made her blood boil in that oh so good way. It was every contradiction that made each of them who they were. It was everything either of the Chosen Two had ever dreamed of and more.
Nothing she'd ever felt before could have ever prepared her for this. Buffy had loved, she'd even been madly in love as only a teenager can be, but this was something else. It was a fire in her soul that burned and consumed and cooled and soothed all at once. It was everything she'd been afraid of from the first moment she'd been rocked by that whiskey roughened voice.
Then, she'd been young and had all ready been burned. Those burns had been too raw still for her to even contemplate what Faith brought out in her. But what she'd seen and felt had shaken her, had frightened her. Then Angel had returned and he'd been a cold buffer against the fire that burned inside of her for Faith and she'd locked it all away to forget what she couldn't have.
But now, now she could remember everything, every desire, and she figured it was time to warm up. It was time to stoke the fire. She smiled against Faith's lips and increased the pressure, gently sucking Faith's bottom lip into her mouth. Way past time, She mused as her belly clenched.
She'd spent her entire life running. Faith had learned from an early age that love was something painful, something nasty, but this was anything but. It was a shelter that kept out the haunting memories and soothed the scars on her heart and soul and made the past irrelevant. It was everything she'd ever wanted and the thing that she'd been afraid of since their eyes first met.
Then, she'd been young and so, so angry. Too much loss had left her broken and she hadn't been able to trust what she'd felt. But what she had felt had left her wanting more. Then her world had continued spiraling out of control and she'd locked it all away to forget what she couldn't have.
But now, now she could remember everything, every silent wish, and she figured it was time to take what was being offered. It was time to come home. She felt Buffy smile against her lips and then their lips were pressed tighter together as wet heat engulfed her lower lip. Way past time, She mused as her body tightened in need and love, making her moan ever so softly.