Faith's voice breaks into Buffy's solitary contemplation of the sunset. The three months since the closing of the hellmouth have reduced their numbers as most of the girls, slayers now, have gone off, either home to their parents or to find their own way, but solitude is still in short supply.
Of course, the ones who stayed might have something to do with that. Kennedy is still loud and abrasive, Rona's still sarcastic, and Vi is just... Vi. Always wanting to train, or patrol, or drag Buffy off to discuss the finer points of slaying and strategy. Timid little Vi, the mouse who always looked like she was about to shriek, is now about as timid as your average lion.
"Hey," she replies, not bothering with perk or enthusiasm. Faith can deal; it's not her the girls are constantly hounding. "What's up?"
Faith shrugs, that long rolling one that's half shrug, half stretch, and half stripper. Okay, that's three halves, but Faith has always been a little larger than life. "Thought you could use the company, B."
Buffy slides over without saying anything, making just enough room on the log for another person. Faith takes the hint and takes a seat. She's quiet for a while, almost calm. Buffy's still not used to this new improved Faith. The calm and control get to her; she's still expecting Faith to be a loose cannon.
When she can't take it anymore, she asks, "How's Xander?"
"He's been worse. Him and Andrew are doin' some kinda Anya quote-off."
Which means Xander's feeling a little better. Andrew is earning his keep. For the first week, he wouldn't let Xander out of his sight, not until Xander finally had to tell him point-blank that he could use the bathroom without any help from his seeing eye monkey.
From the corner of her eye, she sees Faith pull a cigarette out of her jacket, then a blur of motion as she lights it. Smoke mixes with the salt air. It's nice, kind of comforting. Buffy breathes in just a little too deeply and starts to cough.
"Sorry, B. Guess I should try to quit, huh?" Faith goes to stub it out, but Buffy reaches out a hand to stop her.
"No, it's okay," she says. "I'm used to the smell."
It's a nice sunset tonight, with deep pinks and oranges that stain the sky, their reflection giving the water the illusion of warmth. When it fades to twilight, it'll be time for her to go back to the ramshackle house they've rented, back to too many girls and too few rooms. Andrew's strung Return of the Jedi sheets across the living room, so at least everyone has his or her own space, but it's still not much better than Sunnydale, no less like living in a sardine can. But as crowded as it is, as close as they've become, Buffy realizes she still feels lonely in the crowd. Faith has Robin, Willow has Kennedy, Vi's made Rona her personal project (for which Buffy is eternally grateful), Andrew is Xander's shadow, and Giles is eagerly training Dawn in the ancient art of slayer watching.
She's the odd girl out. A third wheel, well, actually, an eleventh wheel. "Does anything even have ten wheels?" she finds herself asking.
"Yo, B., you all right? Your mind seems to have wandered somewhere weird." Faith sounds more amused than concerned. She's come out to join Buffy on the log almost every night since they moved here, so Buffy figures she's gotten used to the tangents.
"Sorry, just thinking out loud." Buffy kicks at the pebbles, wishing again that they were somewhere a little less rugged and outdoorsy. Northern California is pretty, but it's short on ooky-spookies, and even shorter on amenities.
Faith takes a last long drag of her cigarette, looking at Buffy with her new, calm expression, making her next words seem more abrupt. "Wanna stay in my room tonight? Robin feels up to going out with the girls, so you and me can have a night off. 'Sides, I know that futon you're on's not so comfortable. I had it last week."
Buffy considers the lumpy futon that's waiting for her in the middle partition, the only one without a solid wall. The mattress in Faith's room isn't much better, but it has the advantage of being in a real room with four walls and a door. Which, thanks to the luck of the dice roll, is something Buffy hasn't had since the second week here.
"Sure." Buffy's learned the hard way that pride is no substitute for need, and she needs this, needs to have someone thinking about her, even if it is Faith.
The schoolbus is already gone when they get back to the house. Buffy wonders if Faith had all this planned ahead of time. She must have, because it's supposed to be Buffy's night to train. She looks pointedly at the empty parking spot, then back at Faith.
"Vi wants to see if she can start training the rest of them. She's a little gung-ho and way green, but I figured what the hell, you looked like you could use a break," Faith says, kicking at the gravel. "I left my window open so we can get in without having to talk to anybody."
From the sounds of things, Buffy's not the only one in need of a break. Still, she's not going to look a gift horse in the mouth. Quietly, they make their way to the back of the house and climb through the window like a pair of misbehaving teens in reverse.
Andrew and Xander's voices carry through the tissue-thin walls, urgently cheerful. It sounds like they've moved on from Anya to comic books, for which Buffy is almost unbelievably grateful. Not that she's especially thrilled to hear every third word of a conversation about Sandman, but it beats having to hear the catch in Xander's voice belying the glibness of his words.
"Girls' night in, so what do you feel like doin'?" Faith grins and gestures to the small bookshelf near the door. "We got Life, D and D, GURPS, and Shadowrun." The shelves are stocked with games and books on games, all in various stages of disrepair.
"Andrew really knew to pack the general interest entertainment, didn't he?" Buffy observes. When they found them on unpacking, Andrew claimed they were all part of his morale campaign. They've been gathering dust ever since. "Truthfully? I just want to sleep."
Faith's grin gets wider. "Sounds like a plan," she says, pulling off her shirt.
Buffy looks away, which she realizes is silly; over half a year spent sharing quarters with a seemingly endless supply of teenaged girls has erased most of whatever modesty she once had. It's just that this is Faith, and that makes it somehow different. She catches herself watching the distorted reflection in the window as it undoes its bra, releasing the full breasts and reaching up to rub away the indents from the straps.
As it turns out, Faith doesn't wear a nightshirt or pjs or anything but the sheets. Buffy turns around when that realization hits her. For a second, she thinks about asking for a t-shirt, but the part of her that still prickles around Faith refuses to allow it. She looks at the floor as she takes off her clothes, painfully aware that her bra is mostly decorative, you can count every one of her ribs, and her hips are more bone than curve. Without even trying, Faith's made her feel small and self-conscious again.
"We need a better mattress," she grouses brightly as she slips under the covers.
"Need a bigger house, too," Faith yawns. "Still beats prison."
"Well, the food's a little worse, and there's less privacy, but the cellmates are better, so yeah."
Buffy falls asleep with her face pressed against a lumpy pillow, and wakes up with it pressed against soft skin. She should, she knows, roll away before Faith wakes up, but they've left the window open, the room is chilly, and she's too comfortable to move. Besides, Faith's arm is tightening around Buffy's waist, and there's no way to move without disturbing her.
When Faith's fingers begin to stroke the small of Buffy's back, she starts to suspect Faith's awake. She doesn't say anything, because if she does, she thinks Faith might stop. She doesn't want Faith to stop. She doesn't want to think about the why involved with that. Instead, she keeps her eyes shut tight and breathes in the scent of Faith's skin. It's cigarette smoke and sea air again, and it's a different sort of comforting. Faith's fingers stray a little lower, and little to the right, and Buffy's soft intake of breath betrays her.
"Buffy?" Faith's hands pause on the question.
Her mind still muzzy with sleep and sensation, Buffy responds without words, moving a hand up to tangle in Faith's hair as she seeks Faith's mouth with her own. Kissing another girl is different somehow, softer, or maybe it's just that she remembers when that mouth was briefly hers.
She remembers when that body was hers, too. Buffy slides a thumb across the underside of Faith's right breast, seeking the mole she knows is there. A sharp moan from Faith, and suddenly kissing's no longer softer, it's hard and bruising and right. Faith slides a hand between their bodies, down Buffy's stomach and between her legs. Buffy stiffens uncertainly at Faith's touch, whimpering as she hears Faith's fingers parting wet, hot flesh.
Faith makes soothing noises against her mouth, and Buffy relaxes, parting her thighs to allow Faith better access. It doesn't seem fair that Faith's getting to do all the touching, so Buffy moves her hand down Faith's body until they're arranged like mirror images, dark and light, yin and yang.
They're both covered in sweat, and the room doesn't feel cold at all anymore. Movements grow faster in tandem, their breath harsh and rapid. Buffy feels Faith tighten around her fingers, and feels herself tighten in return. She starts to shudder, fracturing and melting all at once, moaning and mewling against Faith's mouth until she's boneless, senseless.
When she's able to form words, Buffy pulls back, looking at Faith, hoping to see some sort of clue about what to do next. "I should go," she says, not wanting to.
Faith gives a sated yawn. "Why?"
"Well, for starters, you're sort of seeing someone. I don't think this is something he's going to be happy about, exactly." She can hear the note of uncertainty creeping into her voice, and hates it.
With a sigh, Faith sits up. "Only thing he's going to be pissed about is not having an invite to watch." Her face looks as uncertain as Buffy feels. "You I'm not so sure about. You okay?"
Buffy smiles and reaches up to cup Faith's cheek. "Yeah," she says. "I'm okay." She pauses for a second, bites her lip. "If you are."
Faith's relief fills the room, warming it. "Yeah, I'm cool."
They settle in, cautiously curling next to each other. It's nice, like so much this night, right. Buffy buries her face in the crook of Faith's neck. She smiles again, unable to help herself. "Willow's going to claim we owe her a toaster," she says, pulling the covers around them before they fall asleep.