I guess we never really moved on
It's really good to hear your voice saying my name
It's funny that you're calling me tonight.
And, yes, I've dreamt of you too.
And does he know you're talking to me?
- Hinder, "Lips of an Angel"
PART ONE: Don't Know What You've Got
Buffy had always assumed that she would be the one to move on from whatever was between them in the past. That she'd wake up one morning more mature, and more focused, and in love with someone. Preferably a big, handsome, beefstick of a guy. That was her thing. And then there was Spike. All sinew and bone, lanky and graceful in his movements. But Spike was merely a distraction. A side road on the highway of her life, if she wanted to be poetic about it. With the exception of him, her partners tended to be on the burly side. Chiseled and handsome, with strong jaws yet soft eyes and boy-band-member hair.
All of her partners, however, had been decidedly male. Buffy had never felt herself attracted to another female, not even when she was fourteen and drunk and made out with Hunter Medkowski, her best girlfriend from middle school.
Well, maybe not never. It wasn't out of the question that she was moderately attracted to Cordelia when she first started at Sunnydale. Cordelia was gorgeous. Supermodel gorgeous. Until she opened her mouth, anyway.
Buffy knew that Faith had been enamored with her since the first time they met. There was a tingle when their hands touched, a shiver when they made eye contact, and the subtext of unspoken thoughts haunted them constantly. But Faith's crush was just that--a crush. Flattering, but a waste of time to think about.
Except when it was late, and it was dark, and Buffy ached for someone to be in bed with her. Anyone. Curling up around her pillow and pretending that it was emanating its own warmth instead of just reflecting her own back to her. The loneliness was devastating; even paralyzing, sometimes.
So maybe she'd thought about it. Maybe she'd considered giving as good as she got with Faith, and crash-landing into bed with her at the end of the night. Just to have someone. A warm body next to her. And Faith wasn't bad to look at, either. If you went for that sort of thing.
Which Buffy didn't.
She'd seen Faith disappear out of her life more than once, yet instead of slamming the door on her ass, she opened it and welcomed the girl back again and again. There were times after Sunnydale that Faith would show up unannounced and crash on the couch, she and Dawn stumbling out of bed in the afternoon and demanding pancakes while they developed video-game-thumbs. Buffy hoped sometimes, watching Faith ruffle Dawn's hair and cajole her into doing homework.
Then one day, as suddenly as she'd shown up, she'd be gone again. Off to another job, another guy, another life. And so it was. She was like an unruly boomerang in Buffy's life.
Until she wasn't.
Months had gone by with no contact. Dawn decided to look her up on the internet, but when she asked for Faith's last name, Buffy was too ashamed to admit that after eight years, she still didn't know it. She felt bad, as though she'd used Faith and her little crush to boost her own self-esteem and never bothered to consider the girl as an actual person, never mind as a potential mate.
She had assumed Faith would always be there.
Buffy found herself Googling odd things. Faith Slayer vampire. Faith Sunnydale Police Record. In a last ditch effort, she searched Faith "Wolfram & Hart" only to be disappointed by a fancy splash page encouraging her to place her faith in Wolfram & Hart and call their toll-free number today.
She browsed the page for awhile, but found nothing of interest with the exception of a photo of Angel looking uncomfortable at a conference table that made her heart ache.
That was Sunday. On Tuesday she flipped through the mail as she walked back to her side of the duplex. Bill, bill, pre-approved credit, bill, won a million dollars, overdue bill, and at the very bottom of the stack, a small square envelope with no return address. Ms. Buffy A. Summers and Ms. Dawn E. Summers. It was a strange way of addressing an envelope, but Buffy's heart raced as she quicked her pace. Even if it was a change from the normal crayoned notes on diner napkins, she'd know that handwriting anywhere.
Dawn was volunteering somewhere after school--Buffy couldn't for the life of her remember where. Animals? Elderly? Elderly animals? Whatever. She had the house to herself, so she curled up on the couch after dumping the rest of the mail onto an end table, and fingered the envelope lightly. 'Just checking in' it would say. Or maybe, 'coming for a visit soon. got that fold-out couch yet?'
Buffy was actually hoping it was a blind confession of love that she couldn't ignore and would be forced to act on. The more she thought about her-and-Faith, the more she hoped it would happen. Maybe. If she felt like it.
She turned the envelope over and opened it carefully, frowning as she pulled out a stiff white card.
Faith Penelope Lehane
Casey Donovan Fitzpatrick
request the honour of your presence
at their marriage
on Saturday, the eleventh of June
two thousand and five
at two o'clock
Buffy furrowed her brows, not quite understanding what she was reading. She was pretty much still stuck on the opening line.
"Penelope?" she muttered, scanning the text again. It seemed like a long time before the word "marriage" hit her, causing her to choke on her own saliva, sputtering indignantly. Faith? Married?
She searched the envelope and card frantically, hoping for a tell-tale sign that it was a joke. Maybe a "P.S. Gotchya!" in fine print at the bottom. An extra scrap of paper wishing her a happy April Fool's Day even if it was December. Did people play Christmas pranks?
Her face flushed hot as she realized that it was no joke. That Faith--loud, brash, all-around good time girl, was settling down. With some guy named Casey who was no doubt a douchebag that didn't deserve her. Thoughts flashed through Buffy's mind. Strange thoughts. Thoughts of sweeping in at the last moment to take Faith away. Walking in on him beating her, maybe. Kicking his ass and saving the day.
She swallowed hard, tucking the card back into the envelope. Walked upstairs and stuck it under her mattress. Like a child's game of Hide-and-Seek; if I can't see you, you're not really there.
She poured a glass of wine, took a cigarette out of a stash that Dawn thought she didn't know about, and started cooking dinner.
A few weeks later, she was sitting on her bed holding the envelope again. It had become a ritual--comb over every centimeter of paper looking for a mistake. Buffy stared at the card for hours like a twelve year old boy with his first porno magazine.
Then suddenly, one night, she knew what she had to do.
She grabbed her credit card and maxed it out over the phone. Snuck into Dawn's room and pulled the Hello Kitty suitcase that she couldn't bear to get rid of out of the closet while barely avoiding an avalanche. Packed it quickly. Tried to remember underwear and socks. Left Dawn a note with an apology and semi-cryptic directions to the emergency fund, hoping Xander or maybe Willow would step in and buy some groceries.
Left her car key next to the note, called a cab, and two hours later, she boarded the plane.
PART TWO: Never Been to Boston in the Fall
I am a Southern California girl to a fault. When I think of vacations, I think of beaches and boardwalks. Beautiful people and sand. Not that I thought of this as a vacation, but I still wasn't prepared for Boston at the end of winter. At home, March means the tanktops and shorts come back out, and the one or two sweatshirts you have get shoved in a box until the end of next November.
March in Boston means it's still snowing.
"Stupid, stupid," I mumbled, pulling my stupid 'oh-isn't-that-to-die-for' denim jacket tighter around my shaking body. Amazingly stupid. Epically, even. Because not only had I packed as though it was March in California, I'd also forgotten one important detail in my rush to get here.
A place to stay.
I could have called a cab, of course. And gone to a hotel. But last I heard, those things cost money, something I was severely lacking at that point. I had several options, and all but one of them would probably lead to a night in the slammer. I sighed and dug into my pocket, pulling out the tattered envelope. Underneath the date and time was the address where this terrible mistake would be taking place. Which, considering it wasn't for months, was probably not helpful.
I sighed again and grabbed my cell phone, dialing 411.
"Boston, Massachusettes. Last name is Lehane. L-E-H-A-N-E. First name, Faith." Nothing. I winced and bit my tongue. "How about a Fitzpatrick? Casey. Casey Donovan." Bingo. I wrote the number down on the back of my hand and sank onto a bench. Either she had an unlisted number, or she was living with the bastard.
She's sitting on a bench just outside Terminal B, smoking a cigarette she bummed off a guy who figured that entitled him to hit on her afterwards. She'd called and left a message on the answering machine that picked up with a generic recording. Thank god, because if they'd had some cutesy couple-y message, she might have had to puke. She shivers in the new onslaught of snow, but would rather freeze to death then go back inside. She's been in and out all afternoon and people are starting to look at her strange.
The last thing she needs is to get hauled off for questioning by Homeland Security. Especially with the plethora of stakes in her bag, which, in retrospect? Probably not such a great idea.
Just when she's searching her bag for a pen and paper to start naming the various shades of blue her fingertips have turned, a car pulls up. It's a black Trans-Am, and the window rolls down with the jerkiness of a non-automatic. A thin guy with short, dark blond spikey hair wearing a plain black t-shirt looks out at her. He's got those black plastic glasses and a small stud in one ear.
"Uh.. hey," he calls out cautiously.
She decides that if he tries to pick her up, she might just go with him, just to be able to feel some warmth in her hands again. Then she thinks about it again and frowns. "I'm not a hooker," she declares defensively.
He raises an eyebrow. "Good to know. Are you Buffy?"
She knits her brows, studying him. "Who's asking?"
He smiles. Not a creepy smile, either. "Faith said you'd say that."
Buffy lets out a breath she didn't even realize she was holding and stands up. "Casey?"
He nods, motioning her towards the car. She walks over, pulling the stupid pink suitcase that she's suddenly embarassed by, and opens the door. "Sorry you had to wait. I didn't get your message until about a half hour ago when I got home from work."
She climbs into the passenger seat gratefully, wedging the suitcase between the seats into the back and pulling the door shut. "It's okay, really. In hindsight I probably should have.. you know. Called or something. I mean, before I got on a plane."
He shrugs. "Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do, as Faith's always telling me. Knowing her long as you have, you can probably figure out why I'm not surprised that a friend of hers just shows up out of nowhere with no warning."
She nods, sliding her arms around herself. She's too cold to try to hate him yet, and he only makes it worse when he reaches over and jacks the heat up. "She's got some clothes at my place. We'll stop and grab you a real jacket before I take you over if you want."
Over? "Oh, you guys aren't living together?" she wants to jump for joy. They're not even living together! That's something, isn't it?
He shakes his head, pulling onto a street lined with rowhouses, and she glances up, suddenly realizing they'd been moving all this time. "Nope. Neither of our leases are up yet. Plus we're still looking for a new place." He pulls into the driveway and puts it in park. "You want a soda or something?"
"No.. um, thanks though. Kinda too cold for a Pepsi."
"Alright," he nods and gets out of the car. "Back in a minute."
She watches him go, then slumps down in her seat. This was a nightmare. He was cute in a geeky way, charming but not too charming, thoughtful, and he had a smile that could probably melt ice. There was nothing obviously wrong with him, and she was afraid that scratching the surface would just reveal a genuinely nice guy.
She slumps further, sulking as he dashes through the snow that's started falling carrying a big fluffy jacket with fake fur trim around the collar, and a pair of snow boots.
This was so not how she'd pictured this going
PART THREE: Losing is an Awkward Feeling
On the drive to Faith's place, Buffy learned that Casey was twenty-six, just a year older than Faith herself (and why hadn't she known how old Faith was, anyway?), and that he was originally from New Hampshire. He worked for a software company designing video games (Faith must just love that, Buffy thought bitterly.), and listened to a mixture of classic rock and club music. He was learning to play guitar (Just for fun, not because he had delusions of stardom.) and had joint custody of a ferret named Poncho that it was currently Faith's week with (At least they don't have kids yet.)
In the course of conversation, Buffy also learned that Faith liked yellow cake with chocolate frosting best and wouldn't compromise at all on their wedding cake, that she had recently taken up roller derby as a blocker on a team called The Chowdaheads, and she'd been promoted to manager at the record store last month.
Buffy sunk deeper and deeper into the seat, wishing like hell that she was anywhere else. That she'd never come, that she'd never met Faith, that she'd never been born. Faith had a good thing going here, what the hell gave Buffy the right to ruin it because she thought she might want to be with her instead?
She wasn't even sure of her own emotions, and she'd gone off completely half-cocked, and she felt like the biggest jerk on the face of the planet for it.
They pulled up to a squat apartment building and Casey manuevered into a tight parallel parking space easily, thought you couldn't have slid a piece of paper between his car and the ones he parked between. Buffy sighed and got out, reaching for her stupid pink suitcase, but Casey had already grabbed it and was carrying it easily through the snow towards the door. She grabbed her purse and hurried behind him, feeling like the younger sibling your mother forced you to take to the mall with your friends. Trying to keep up with the cool kids and stumbling every step of the way.
He lead her into the building and up to the third floor, and she fought the urge to forget the suitcase and just run as fast as she could, as far away as possible. She watched as he knocked on the door, and opened it when Faith called out that it was open.
He walked in toting the suitcase, and Buffy saw Faith over his shoulder give him a smirk. "Well, at least I found out before the wedding."
Casey laughed and set it down, kissing her cheek. "Jeez, babe. One time and I gotta hear about it forever." Buffy stood awkwardly just outside the apartment, and he gestured at her, looking back at Faith. "I found her wandering the airport, cold and lonely. She's probably housebroken, can we keep her?"
Buffy blushed and stepped inside cautiously. Faith looked up at her, her face brightening a little. "Gee, I guess so. But you're walking her." She stepped forward and hugged her. Buffy stiffened a little at first, not used to such an outward display of affection from Faith, but quickly relaxed and hugged her back, smiling. "Long time, B," Faith mumbled in her ear.
"Yeah.. too long," Buffy answered softly, not feeling the need to point out that it was mostly Faith's fault for not keeping in touch.
"Where do you want the bag, babe?" Casey asked, shifting it in his arms a little. Faith waved her hand vaguely. "Where is that? The hall closet, the lawn, New Jersey?"
Faith snorted, releasing Buffy. "Yeah. Go to Jersey and drop off the suitcase. There'll be a man in a raincoat there, he'll tell you the next step of the quest." She threw her arms up a little. "Just put it somewhere the pizza guy won't see it and Poncho won't chew on it."
"So what, the pizza guy's company now?" he asked, going down the hallway.
Faith glanced over at Buffy and grinned. "Not if he thinks I have a kid." Buffy couldn't contain her amused snort.
Casey popped his head out of the hallway. "You're hi-la-rious." He disappeared again, and a sudden crash mixed with the sound of breaking glass came from wherever he was, followed by a stream of curses. Faith raised an eyebrow as what looked like a fuzzy snake wriggled down the hall and scooted under the couch. Casey emerged again, this time without the suitcase, but looking a little abashed. "So, how much did you like that glass ashtray on the nightstand? You know, the one you stole from the casino?"
Buffy pulled herself up onto one of the kitchen stools, watching their interaction with interest.
"Just a little more than I like you," Faith said, crossing her arms and looking stern.
He shrugged. "Well, I guess I'm in first place now."
She shook her head. "Nope. Poncho's still number one. Now get out so we can get caught up and talk about you behind your back."
Casey smiled and leaned over, kissing her briefly, then turned and stuck his hand out to Buffy. She shook it firmly, and he smiled again. "Nice meeting you. You guys have fun, and Faith.. try not to give the pizza guy a heart attack. We can't even order from A-1 anymore 'cause of what you did last time."
Faith walked him to the door, mocking him behind his back, and glanced back at Buffy. "Just a minute." Buffy nodded, and Faith stepped into the hallway, pulling the door almost all the way closed behind her. She couldn't make out what they were saying, but Casey's voice sounded a little concerned, then there was some scuffling and a light sigh as they kissed.
Buffy stared at the floor, feeling incredibly out of place. It was like from the moment she walked into Faith's new apartment--let's be honest, her new life--she felt like an awkward teenager again. Gangly, with hands and feet too big for the rest of her. She felt guilty for taking up space in such an asymmetrical way. She didn't belong here, not at all.
Faith came back in and closed the door, locking it and looking a little flushed in that if-you-weren't-here-we'd-be-doing-it-in-that-very-spot way. Buffy felt smaller with each step closer Faith took to her.
Faith stood beside her, suddenly looking uncomfortable as well, and they both studied the floor quietly.
Buffy cleared her throat. "I like this carpet."
Faith lifted her head. "Oh.. uh, me too. It's.. from IKEA."
"I like IKEA," Buffy nodded emphatically. "It's.. yunno. Got a lot of furniture."
They stared at each other for a minute, then started laughing at the same time. "Yeah, B," Faith said through her chuckles. "IKEA's got a lot of furniture. Especially for a place that's known for--"
"Well, their amazing food," Buffy chimed in, laughing harder. It wasn't funny, not even a little, but it felt good to laugh.
Faith straightened up, still laughing lightly, and walked around the other side of the counter. Buffy swivelled in the stool to look at her as she opened a cabinet and pulled out a bottle of wine. "You want a--"
"Yes," Buffy cut her off again. She really needed something to ease her nerves a little bit, but truth be told if Faith had offered her an animal carcass just then, she probably would have still said yes, just to keep the conversation going.
She watched as Faith poured the wine, smiling until the light reflecting off the ring on her left hand caught her eye and reminded her that she was way too late. Faith was engaged, Faith had a new life, and most importantly--she was happy.
Faith leaned over to grab another glass, and her shirt rode up a little, revealing a small tattoo on her hip that said "adamo".
Latin for falling in love with.
Buffy sighed heavily as she took the glass Faith offered her. It was going to be a really, really long night.
PART FOUR: Erase/Rewind
"No, I told you it was gonna be weird. You said give it a chance, and I did." A pause. "I know I said I was fine. But.. maybe I'm not anymore." Pause. "Because. I know that's not a good reason. Case, she got drunk, told me she loved me, and puked on me. This is not my idea of bonding, okay?" A heavy sigh. "Fine. Fine."
Buffy forced her eyes open, and it felt like the world was caving in on her. Everything was too bright, like overexposed film. Her head throbbed and her mouth was dry as a desert. She felt like she'd been thrown in a washing machine that was stuck on the spin cycle. She was suddenly understanding the phrase "rode hard and put away wet".
"I gotta go, she's waking up." Buffy practically heard the smile on her face. "I love you, too. Bye."
Faith set the phone in the cradle with a soft click, and Buffy groaned. "Too loud.."
Faith sat on the coffee table and leaned over her, thankfully blocking out some of the harsh light. "Open your mouth."
"Huh?" Buffy furrowed her brows, which hurt. Why did she want..? She obediently opened her mouth, closing her eyes. The aspirin Faith popped in were bitter on her tongue, and she lifted her head, coughing a little and grabbing the glass of water Faith held out. "How.. how much did I drink?"
Faith looked at her, a mixture of amusement and annoyance on her face. "Four glasses."
"That's it. Then you puked on me and passed out on the heating vent. I moved you to the couch."
Buffy groaned, laying back again and putting her arm over her eyes. "You should have let me catch fire and die."
"Thought about it, but the last thing I need is another corpse to get rid of." Buffy opened one eye, trying to gauge her level of seriousness. "I'm joking," Faith said, frowning a little. Buffy blushed, feeling like an idiot. Of course she was joking. She hadn't killed anyone in a really long time; she was a different person. Why was that so hard to accept, even all these years later?
"I'm really sorry," Buffy said softly, pushing herself to a sitting position on the couch. "I--I guess I can't hold my liquor as well as I think i can."
Faith shrugged. "No big. Clothes are washable. So'm I."
"This was.. so not how I saw this going."
"How, um.. how did you see this going?" Buffy frowned. "I mean.. you hopped a plane and showed up here out of nowhere, called my boyfriend to come and get you, show up here and barely say three words to me before you get drunk, throw up, and pass out."
Buffy leaned forward and put her face in her hands, shrugging as she shook her head. "I don't know. I just.. I don't know, Faith. I saw that envelope, you know? And it's like, something snapped and I just decided I had to see you."
Faith narrowed her eyes unsurely. "The wedding invitation?" Buffy nodded. "Why would.." she trailed off, shaking her head. "I don't get it. Why would that make you decide to just.. show up here? And why did you call Casey?"
"I didn't have your number," Buffy responded defensively. "And 411 didn't have it."
Faith studied her and leaned over on the coffee table, picking up an invitation identical to the one Buffy had, except that this one was crisp and clean, not wrinkled from endless nights spent pouring it over. She held it out and Buffy frowned, then realized Faith's thumb was pointing to the number under the "Please RSVP By" heading.
She opened her mouth, and closed it again.
"Did you come here.." Faith shook her head a little, changing tactics. "What did you think was going to happen when you got here, B?" Buffy shrugged. "Come on, don't yank me. I deserve to know, don't you think?"
She sighed and closed her eyes, wishing the floor would open up and swallow her. "I--I wanted to make sure Casey was the real deal. That he wasn't.. I don't know. A demon or something."
"Really?" Faith crossed her arms, sizing her up. "'Cause here I thought you came here to talk me out of marrying him."
"W-what? Why? Why would I do that?" Buffy sputtered, curling herself up a little on the couch.
"I dunno. Maybe you got off your ass and decided to do something 'bout the way you've been feeling."
This isn't happening, this isn't happening. This isn't how it's supposed to go. "What, um.. what way is that?"
"See, this is our problem, B!" Faith stood up, obviously frustrated. "Everytime we start to get some place, you start playing coy, or acting like you don't know what I'm talking about. Or you blow me off, or say something nasty about the past. Why do you think I stopped coming back?"
Buffy responded softly. "Because.. you met Casey?"
Faith laughed, but not in a happy way. In a way that cut through Buffy like a blade. It hurt from the inside out. "Baby, Casey and I have been together for three years."
Buffy's mind spun quickly, counting back, trying to do the math. She felt panicked, suffocated by the numbers as the figure slowly became clearer in her head. "But that means.."
"Yeah," Faith's voice was low. Sad. "All this time. Been right here."
"You.. you never said," Buffy straightened her back, looking at her accusingly. "You never told me you were.. you never told me anything! You just showed up and crashed on my couch a couple times a year!"
"You never asked!" Faith snapped angrily, losing her cool. "You never fucking asked, B. You sat there and filled me in, told me all about your life and Dawn's life and who Xander's dating and how Willow's doing, and you never--not even once--asked about my life. You just assumed that I was.. whatever the hell you assumed. I don't even know. Some loser with no life and no future who needed a place to stay, I guess. You never cared enough to find out! That's why I gave up! Because you never even tried in the first place!"
Buffy sunk deeper into the couch, her skin prickling with embarassment and fury--mostly toward herself.
Because everything Faith had said was right. She'd never asked. She wouldn't say she never cared, but she'd certainly never showed that she cared. She just always assumed that Faith hadn't changed.
Hot tears sprung to her eyes as she stared at her lap. "I'm sorry," she whispered, her voice cracking a little. "I'm really sorry, Faith."
Faith let out a breath, sinking onto the couch beside her. "Come on, don't start crying." Buffy shrugged a little, the tears starting to flow. Faith sighed and grabbed a box of tissues, placing it on Buffy's lap and rubbing her back lightly. "Look.. B. Maybe we can just.. start over or something. It could be like it was when we first met, yunno? Remember how great things were then?" Buffy nodded, blowing her nose so loudly that Faith winced. "So let's just.. let's start fresh. Forget all the shit in our past, and try again."
"I'd really like that," Buffy let out a shaky sigh. "I'm.. I'm really sorry, Faith."
"No sorries. Starting new, right?"
"How do we even do that?"
A smile spread across Faith's lips. "Well, they say the beginning's a good place to start." Buffy tilted her head to look at her questioningly. "We met at the Bronze, right? So I say, you better clear up that hangover, 'cause we're going out tonight."
PART FIVE: Let This Party Never End
Buffy looked around the club, totally bewildered. When Faith said they were going out, she'd assumed it was a Bronze-like place. Somewhere with a dance floor, live music, and comfy chairs to sit and enjoy a chai tea in while you caught up with your friends. The place Faith had brought her was.. less intimate.
Rainbow disco lights flashed from every direction, spiraling and flashing across the entire building, lighting up each section intermittently. In the darkened corners, she saw snakes of multicolored light weaving through the air, and as they passed by one of them, she saw it was a guy, maybe a little younger than them, pulling a glowstick through the air in various patterns.
She turned to Faith's ear and screamed into it. "How are we supposed to talk in here?"
Faith grinned and shook her head. "No talk!" she yelled back. "Just dance!"
Without warning she grabbed Buffy's arm and pulled her into the sweaty, glittering crowd and started moving to the pounding techno. Buffy rocked uncomfortably back and forth for a minute until Faith grabbed her hips and guided her into the rhythm. Buffy glanced around, but nobody was watching them. Nobody was the least bit interested in either of them, and she relaxed a little, let her guard down.
Faith grabbed her hands and pulled them into the air, and Buffy let out a breath, closing her eyes and letting the bass guide her. She always felt so stared at; so paranoid that everything she did, somebody was watching and waiting for her to mess up. She felt so damn *visible* sometimes that she wanted to scream. It wasn't even the Slayer thing, although a lot more people obviously knew about it. Knew her, even.
But it wasn't her pseudo-celebrity status that made her uncomfortable. It was the every day people. The older teenagers walking to the movies in a group, the 40-something man in his car sipping a cappucino. The little kids on the playground, and of course, her friends. She always felt like she was putting on a show, like if she was less than perfect, everyone would stop what they were doing to laugh at her. It was ridiculous; she knew that. She'd told Jonathan Levinson once, in that tower where he'd planned to kill himself..
"Every single person down there is ignoring your pain because they’re too busy with their own."
She'd said it then, believed it even. Maybe still did. But she still felt obvious. Messy. She wore sunglasses even on cloudy days, just so she could avoid making eye contact. She looked at no one, and hoped no one was looking back at her.
She looked at Faith now, her face tilted toward the strobe above them, one hand in the air and the other gripping hers and pulling it towards the sky as well. Faith looked comfortable. She was smiling and shouting along with the repetitive lyrics of the current song. She didn't just look comfortable, she looked happy, and Buffy decided then and there that it was over between them. Whatever it was that she thought she felt, she would swallow it down and ignore it. It didn't matter that, despite her better judgement, she thought she might be able to be happy with Faith. She'd never really been happy before, and probably wouldn't even know what happy was if it came up and bit her on the ass. If she left her alone, Faith had a chance, though.
She started moving with Faith, her hand gripping hers a little more firmly as they moved together. She felt empty, disappointed with her own decision, but figured that if she really did care about Faith she would want her to be happy. Even if that meant being with Casey.
Faith pulled her a little closer, as though she could hear her thoughts even over the roar of the club, and their upper bodies touched occasionally as they danced. The current song faded into another, and Buffy furrowed her brows as a sped-up version of "Mandy" started playing and Faith cracked up for some reason. Then she remembered, with a stray pang in her heart. Angel.
Faith lifted her head, studying the lost look on her face for a minute before grabbing her hand tightly and giving her a comforting hug. Buffy's light sigh was swallowed into the beat before it even escaped her lips, but she relaxed a little in Faith's arms and hugged her back, enjoying the contact. Not even because it was Faith, but because she couldn't remember the last time she'd had real physical affection from anyone. Not counting, of course, last night when she'd first seen Faith. Dawn wasn't big on hugs these days, and Xander's new girlfriend got jealous so easily. She and Willow hadn't spent any quality time together in months.
She felt very alone.
Faith just hugged her, rocking back and forth a little until the song was over, and Buffy looked at her with misty eyes and a light smile. Faith patted her cheek playfully, and she perked up a little when the first lyrics of the next song came on. She actually knew this one! Not this version, of course, but what did that matter? She'd always loved this song, and she and Faith began moving again, Buffy leading them this time, and shouting along with the lyrics.
"And he can see no reason, 'cos there are no reasons, what reasons do you need to be shown!"
Buffy laughed, a real laugh, and that set Faith off as the crowd moved in closer. Buffy was drenched in sweat and her feet ached. Sweaty people kept bumping against her, and she got hit in the head with stray glowsticks so many times she lost count, but she didn't care.
She'd never felt so alive before.
The crowd swelled again, and forced her against Faith. She let out an involuntary shiver when their bodies came together, and Faith's ears turned red, but she went with it. Wrapped her arms loosely around Buffy's hips and kept moving, pressing her hips against hers in a way that made Buffy heat up in a totally different way than dancing in a hot club did. Following Faith's lead, she wrapped her arms around her neck, pulling her so close that she could feel Faith's warm breath on her forehead. Feel her heart beating against her own chest.
Faith looked into her eyes, almost as a challenge. Daring her to push it a little further. Buffy inwardly cringed. If this was a test, she was failing it either way. She just kept moving, electricity crackling through her body, the floor thumping beneath her feet, and looked back at Faith.
Everything seemed to slow down for a moment. In that moment, Buffy wanted nothing more than to lean forward and kiss Faith, pull her to the floor and let all her feelings loose. They just stared into each other's eyes, each waiting for the other to move.
Faith's face tilted forward just slightly, and Buffy's heart sped up even more. She started to close her eyes, anticipating it, when she was once again slammed in the forehead with a glowstick. Except this time it hurt a lot more, and Faith's eyes widened as she reached forward, pressing her hand over Buffy's forehead and turning her around, pushing her towards the exit quickly.
Buffy let herself be pushed, a little confused as to what had happened. Faith's hand was really pushing down on her head, and she felt something warm trickle down the side of her nose. Faith hurried her out the door and leaned her against the outside wall. Buffy's ears felt like the were stuffed with cotton, everything muffled. She looked at Faith unsurely. Faith pulled her hand back just enough for Buffy to see her palm coated in red, then quickly pressed it back in place.
"What?" Buffy said, her voice sounding far away to her throbbing ears.
"Some asshole with a spiked bracelet," Faith answered loudly. "I'm just.. gonna take you over to the ER. I think this needs a few stitches."
Buffy wanted to protest, but she felt too tired now that they were out of the club, and just quietly let Faith lead her over to the car and help her into the passenger seat. She buckled her in and closed the door before getting in the driver's side and glancing over at her. "Don't fall asleep or anything."
"I won't," Buffy lied. She would just rest her eyes for a minute.
"I mean it, B. Here," Faith hit the button on her door that rolled down Buffy's window, allowing the freezing air to hit her in the face, then grabbed her hand and pressed it to her forehead. "Put pressure on that."
"I'm cold," Buffy complained, obediently holding her hand to her head.
Faith shrugged. "Means you're awake. Hospital's only a couple minutes away." She put the car in reverse and pulled out, watching Buffy out of the corner of her eye as she drove a little bit over the speed limit. "You still with me?"
"Mhm.." Buffy rested against the seat and sighed, forcing her eyes to stay open despite the swelling already happening on the left side.
Faith thought about what had almost happened in the club and bit her bottom lip. She drove the rest of the way to the hospital quietly, lost in thought.
PART SIX: Pandora's Box
"..Ow." Buffy mumbled as the med student finished off the suture. Faith, who was sitting next to the bed on a hard plastic chair, rubbed her arm comfortingly. Buffy, who had been given Tylenol-3's and was on the verge of total unconsciousness, turned her head towards Faith while the student rolled his little cart away. "Hey.. hey, Faith.."
Faith looked at her, swallowing what she was sure was a very guilty look and forcing a smile in its place. "Yeah?"
"Seems.. can't just be myself with you," she laughed a little. "Keep bein' drunk and stuff.."
Faith smiled gently, rubbing her arm a little more. "It's okay. Tonight's totally my fault."
"Nuh uh.. spikey.. person.. Spike's fault," she closed her eyes, relaxing a little. Faith wasn't gonna argue with anything being blamed on Spike, so she kept quiet.
She looked terrible, and Faith felt really bad because of it. She'd seen Buffy looking rough before, of course. But usually after an apocalypse, not a night of what was supposed to be fun. And this.. this was right on her face. Five stitches across the forehead--close enough to the hairline that they had to shave just a little bit of it to suture it properly. Faith had a rock in the pit of her stomach. She knew what those places were like, knew that half the people there were messed up on something, and she still dragged Buffy there.
Not for Buffy, either. She'd figured in a place like that, they could avoid all conversation and she wouldn't have to be honest with her. She wouldn't slip up and tell her that she didn't even care how shitty Buffy treated her, she just wanted to be with her. She wouldn't mess up all her plans and keep letting Buffy ignore her and toy with her. She was, honestly, scared of what might happen in a more intimate setting.
And now, because of her own fears and her own weakness, Buffy had a train track of a gash running over her head that, even for a Slayer, would take a really long time to heal. Good going, Faith. You don't want to talk to her so you get her shish-kabob'd instead.
Faith sighed as Buffy twitched gently in her sleep, and stood up. She leaned over and lightly kissed the uninjured side of her head, then grabbed Buffy's purse and headed for the cafeteria. Had to be something better than stale chips in the vending machine to eat this time of night.
Thankfully, the cafeteria was open, just on limited menu. Bagels and bottled drinks were about all they had, plus a few slightly-wilted salads from the previous day. Buffy's purse weighed about a metric ton, and she set it down on a table and unzipped it, sighing and starting to paw through it, looking for her wallet. She'd asked Buffy to carry it for her, not realizing that Buffy already had the entire universe in her bag.
Faith frowned and started pulling stuff out, unable to even make out unique shapes in the messy bag. Buffy's wallet, a slightly beat-up cell phone, a datebook that was so stuffed with random papers and business cards that it was bound with a scrunchie, a pack of cigarettes (cigarettes? since when?), a thick stack of receipts, one slightly-used plane ticket (one-way, Faith noted with interest.), various haircare supplies and products, and a few stray mints that were attracting loose tobacco in the bottom of the bag.
What she did not find was her own wallet, and she swallowed hard, a wave of panic going through her. It probably fell out in the car. The purse didn't close all the way, and she had kind of flung it in after Buffy. Nothing she could do about it at the moment, though, so she'd check the car for it later. If it wasn't there then she could panic. And probably call Casey and beg him to go back to the club to look for it, even though if it was lost there, chances were someone was already walking around Cambridge pretending to be her.
Her stomach rumbled as she put everything back in the purse except for the pink plaid wallet, which she opened. She'd get Buffy back later for it, but she noted with a frown that the five dollars she'd intended to borrow was the only thing in her wallet aside of a few more reciepts, one from the airline indicating how much she'd spent on the plane ticket. Faith closed her eyes briefly and started to close the wallet, deciding that stale chips wouldn't be so bad, when a photo in the ID holder caught her eye.
It was old. Really old. A younger Buffy stood next to Joyce, and both their arms were wrapped around a giggling Dawn's stomach. Faith smiled, touching it lightly. They looked so happy, so together.
It was almost ironic. Faith being called had changed her life, of course, but she didn't see it as negative. She was stronger, faster, better than almost anyone. She could finally outrun the demons chasing her, and she wasn't talking about the literal ones that dripped slime, either. She had a purpose, a reason for walking the planet. Slaying gave her confidence, made her alive.
And it seemed like all it had ever done was weigh Buffy down. Sure, her mom probably would have died anyway, even if Buffy wasn't the Slayer. But would Buffy have been able to handle it better if she wasn't saving the world all the time? And maybe Dawn would have still been there, but she would have been a normal kid, instead of a lie in everyone's memory.
Maybe Buffy had a good reason for seeming so selfish all the time. Because all she did, every day for her entire life, was give everything she had for the world. For the greater good. For everyone else but herself.
And maybe Faith was a total bitch for not seeing that and being angry that Buffy never asked her how her great new life in Boston was. She wanted Buffy to care about her, obviously. But, she admitted to herself as she closed the wallet again and tucked it back in the purse, she could have met her halfway. She could have volunteered the information, too. She could have asked how Buffy was doing beyond, "So you dating anybody?"
Sure, she saw her day-to-day life when she made those trips. But she never grabbed her by the shoulders, steadied her and made her look into her eyes, and said "But how are you really doing?"
Buffy was hard because life had made her that way. It wasn't her fault, and the whole thing seemed so endlessly fucking stupid to Faith now, that she wished she could take the last couple of years back. Just suck them all back inside and do them over.
She shouldered the bag and headed back to the emergency room, having lost her appetite, and sat in the chair again. She set the bag down next to her and reached over to take the sleeping Buffy's hand, laying her upper body on the bed and closing her eyes as well. Her brain spun wildly with thoughts and emotions and guilt as she dozed off, her hand instinctively squeezing Buffy's even in her sleep.
PART SEVEN: Happy Comes From a Kiss
The sun was high in the sky by the time they came home from the hospital, and after a brief argument during which Faith made it perfectly clear that it would be over her dead body that Buffy would sleep on the couch, they both collapsed into Faith's double bed and fell asleep immediately.
Hours later, as the sun was setting again, Buffy lay awake on her good side, facing the closet. Faith was sprawled out on the opposite side of the bed, snoring lightly and twitching in her sleep every now and then.
Faith had been about to kiss her before she was impaled, she was sure of it. The look in her eyes, the way she tilted her head ever so slightly. She wanted it so bad, wanted to act on the feelings she'd been swallowing down since high school. Just laying here on the bed with her, she could feel the electricity between them. It wasn't like the fiery connection she'd always felt with Angel. It was more subtle, like the static between your palm and a balloon. This quiet white-noise buzzing in the back of her brain whenever she was within a few yards of Faith.
What Faith called "the Slayer thing". She had no doubt that Faith felt it, too. She even felt it around the new Slayers, but just barely. It was always strongest near Faith, which was understandable. Faith was technically the 'real' Slayer. She was the last in the line to be called by destiny alone.
She genuinely liked Faith, though. It wasn't just the connection, or the physical attraction--although there was that, too. It was the way her eyes sparkled when she got an idea that would probably get them both in trouble. The way the dimples in her cheeks got more prominant when she grinned. Her quick wit and how easy it was for her to come up with a sarcastic comeback or a burning insult. If she was honest with herself, there was an awful lot to like about Faith. She'd just never let herself admit it before.
But did any of it matter? Even if Faith had been about to kiss her, even if she was willing to give Buffy a second chance.. who was Buffy to take it? Faith was happy here, and Buffy knew how her own relationships ended.
On the other hand, don't most relationships end anyway? If someone isn't the one, they just aren't the one. So maybe Faith was the one for her. Maybe that's why her relationships always sucked and ended with the guy leaving town or dying. Or both. Maybe that's why she hadn't even had a relationship since Sunnydale. She'd had a few dates, and two one night stands, but nothing even remotely serious or satisfying.
She was about to get up and go to the bathroom when Faith's cell phone rang, and though she knew it was wrong--really wrong--she pretended to still be asleep and listened as Faith answered it sleepily.
"Mm.. 'lo?" she mumbled. "Hey. Mm.. yeah, long night. Some punk stabbed her with a spiked cuff. No, not on purpose. Mhm. Five of 'em, right in the face." Her voice got a little quieter. "Yeah. I know it wasn't, doesn't mean.. Yeah, I know." She cleared her throat a little and glanced over at Buffy, before carefully getting out of the bed and walking into the bathroom. "You were right, yunno? When you said give it a chance? Things were.. I dunno. They felt okay again. Until the concussion, anyway."
She sat on the toilet lid and propped her feet up on the edge of the bathtub. "I don't know.. I just.." she let out a heavy sigh. "I don't know. Things are different now." She paused. "Because I'm with you. I know you're okay with us hanging, but maybe I'm not." She lowered her voice. "Because, Case. She spins me, yunno? I can't keep my head.. I know you trust me, but sometimes I don't."
There was a long silence, during which Buffy felt the guilt rolling through her in waves. So Casey knew there was something there on both ends, and he still treated her like a friend and trusted Faith enough to let them be alone together. She felt so small.
Faith's voice was a little shaky when she spoke again. "Don't say that. Please? That's not how it is. No, it isn't.. God, why are you being so nice to me about this?" Her voice broke a little, and Buffy's heart hurt. "I love you, too. O--okay. I will. Okay. Bye." The phone clicked shut, but Faith stayed where she was for a long time.
Buffy opened her eyes a little as Faith slowly walked out of the bathroom, startling a little when she saw Buffy was awake.
"Oh.. hey. How are you feeling?"
Buffy sat up, wincing a little. "I'm.. okay. Little sore." Faith nodded, and Buffy blushed a little bit. "I uh.. I kind of heard the conversation. Is.. is everything okay?"
Faith let out a sigh and sat on the edge of the bed by Buffy's legs. "I.. don't know." Buffy bit her lower lip and stayed quiet. "Case.. he feels like.. he's standing in the way of.. yunno. Stuff."
Buffy looked down, picking at a loose thread on the bedspread. "Funny. I feel the same way."
"Yeah. It's hilarious, really. Especially the part where the two people that actually make me happy are so eager to just walk away so they're not screwing up my happiness. Everyone wants to be the one to throw themselves on the sword so I can be happy without them, and nobody cares what really makes me happy and what I really want." Faith ended her bitter diatribe by getting up and pulling a pack of cigarettes from the night stand. She lit one and started pacing the room.
Buffy looked up at her. "I care what really makes you happy, and so does Casey. That should be obvious, Faith. I don't know about him, but I'm not walking away yet. If you're happier without me, then I'll walk away. I think we're both just willing to step down. What else.. I mean, what more do you want us to do, you know?"
Faith answered softly, moving in front of the window and looking out it. "I don't know."
"Well," Buffy stole one of her cigarettes and lit it, leaning against the headboard and crossing one ankle over the other. "We could always have a duel. Get some swords, fight to the death to win your love." Faith cracked a little bit of a smile, so Buffy continued. "There's always naked mud wrestling, too."
Faith laughed lightly and sat on the foot of the bed, facing her. "Well, now you're just making me horny."
"Please. Like that's so hard to do. Salt shakers make you horny."
"Seeing you laying in my bed like with a cigarette like that is making me horny."
Buffy blushed, looking away from her. It was the first overtly sexual comment in a long time, and it both excited her and made her slightly uncomfortable when she realized that Faith and Casey probably slept together in this same bed on a regular basis.
Faith's face fell a little, and Buffy realized that if anything was ever going to happen between them, she was going to have to lighten up a lot. She gave Faith a playful smirk and flicked her cigarette lightly into the ashtray. "That's pretty kinky, even for you. Getting turned on by someone who's had half their face ripped off."
Faith grinned again, obviously a little surprised that Buffy was playing with her, and shifted closer to the top of the bed. "Still hotter with half a face than most people with a full face."
"You like it," Faith retorted, her knee brushing against Buffy's lightly as she shifted on the bed again. Buffy flexed her toes, trying to keep her cool.
"No, you do."
"Doesn't that make me sweet?"
Buffy smirked. "No, it makes you a pervert."
"But I think you like that, too."
"Maybe I d--"
Buffy was cut off by Faith's lips on hers, pouring years' worth of pent-up emotions into the kiss. Buffy moaned softly, cupping her hand over the back of Faith's head and sliding down the headboard a little. Faith laid her body against hers, kissing her deeply, and Buffy ran her tongue over Faith's lips teasingly. Faith slid her arms under Buffy's shoulders, tilting her slightly and deepening the kiss.
Buffy's hands went around Faith's back, pulling her against her and wrapping one leg around the backs of hers. Faith's hand crept slowly up her side, pushing her shirt with it, and Buffy broke the kiss quickly, her breathing labored. "Wait."
"Don't," Faith whispered, her eyes still closed.
Buffy slid her hand over Faith's arm, coaxing her hand out from under her shirt. "You're with him. We.. we can't. We shouldn't have even.."
Faith sighed and rolled off her. "I know. He's.. he's been really great about this whole situation. Really supportive, yunno? I'm such an ass."
"You're not," Buffy answered firmly. "You're just.. I don't know. Confused."
Faith laid on her back, letting out a long breath. "This sucks. Can't I just have you both?"
Buffy smiled, reaching over to tug the end of her hair. "No."
"Cause we both deserve better than only getting part of you."
"You're right," Faith admitted. "If I wanna get real about it, though, you both deserve better than me to begin with, so."
"That's such a load of crap."
"It is," Buffy insisted. "I wouldn't let anyone else say that shit about you. You're not allowed to, either."
Faith smiled, looking at her. "You said a bad word."
Buffy frowned defensively. "I say bad words all the time."
"I do! Shit, fuck, damn, bitch."
Faith snorted. "You're a nut."
"So I've been told." Buffy sobered up a little, her voice taking on a serious tone. "I don't wanna push you. I want.. I think you should be able to make your own decision in your own time. If.. if we're going to be together.. I need you to be with me. Just me."
Faith sighed, sitting up and pulling her hair back into a messy ponytail. "I just.. need some time. Not a lot of time, but some. There's just.. a lot I need to think about."
"Take all the time you need. I'm not going anywhere." Buffy smiled, trying to lighten things a little. "I can't afford to. You're stuck with me indefinitely at this point."
"Heavy stuff," Faith said softly.
Buffy nodded. "Too heavy. How 'bout we rent some chick flicks, pop some popcorn, and see who can be the best couch potato?"
"No fair, you'll win for sure." Faith's eyes twinkled and Buffy knew she was in for it. "With that head injury, you're practically a vegetable already."
"Oh, you're gonna get it now!" Buffy cried out, grabbing a pillow and whacking Faith in the head with it. Faith just laughed, and Buffy swatted her with her bare hand. "Go rent a DVD or something. I'll order the pizza."
"Okay, okay. I'm going. Jerk."
Buffy snorted derisively. "And nothing with Jackie Chan or Bruce Willis!"
"I know what a chick flick is. God, B. I have seen Lifetime."
Buffy shook her head as Faith grabbed her cell and headed out the door. "Back in ten."
PART EIGHT: Just Like Kissin' Me
They'd stayed up most of the night, gorging themselves on junk food and watching Faith's idea of "chick flicks" which included Girlfight and Mr. & Mrs. Smith. They'd passed out around three in the morning laying head-to-foot on Faith's bed, and when Buffy opened her eyes, the first thing she saw were Faith's black socks. She smiled, making a mental note to tease Faith about her smelly feet later, even though they really didn't smell at all.
She sighed and closed her eyes again, not ready to get up despite the early afternoon sun beating against Faith's dark curtains and heating up the room.
She was nearly asleep when she felt Faith brush against her foot, and it took her a moment to realize that Faith was awake and kissing the tops of her bare feet, right below her ankles.
"Faith.." she whispered, bending her knees slightly to pull them away.
The bed shook as Faith shifted her position, coming face-to-face with Buffy. She studied her quietly for a minute before speaking softly. "I want you. God, B. I want you so bad."
Buffy closed her eyes briefly, her heart speeding up a little. "I want you, too."
Faith leaned over, kissing her hard and cupping her hand over her cheek. Buffy responded eagerly, wrapping her arms around the back of her neck and pulling her closer. Faith's hand reached under her shirt again, and this time, Buffy didn't stop her. As Faith's fingertips made contact with her skin, she moaned softly, breaking the kiss and arching her back a little.
"I want you," Faith mumbled, kissing her neck. "It's you, B. It's always been you."
"W--what about.." Buffy shivered under her touch.
"I will. I'll talk to him tonight, I swear.." Faith moved, pressing her hips against hers, and Buffy gave in, pressing back.
The sun was setting again, and Buffy lay with her head at the foot of the bed, naked and covered in a sheen of sweat. The sheets were soaked beneath her, and Faith lay next to her on her stomach, her face turned towards hers. Her lips were parted and she was snoring softly, her body also glistening with sweat and Buffy's own saliva.
She'd never felt like this before, so completely sated and comfortable. Every inch of her body ached, and she felt like her blood pressure was dangerously low, where only a few hours ago it had reached heart attack level. She didn't know sex could be like that. She thought she'd experienced it all by now.
Angel had been a meticulous lover, and, she reasoned, regardless of what happened afterwards, she was probably pretty damn lucky as far as that went. She hadn't had much pain at all the first time they did it, even though she was expecting it. He'd been extremely gentle and made her feel comfortable and loved.
Riley was pretty good. A little less gentle than Angel, but he made her feel amazing. And Spike.. it had felt good, no doubt, but being turned on by being degraded was a phase Buffy was glad to be way, way beyond.
There had been a few since then, but no one remarkable.
Maybe it was something about being with another woman. Everything felt different. The skin, the muscle beneath it, the fingertips and tongue and teeth.. something about all of it was different. Familiar. Like touching herself, but better.
Buffy reached over and gently ran her fingertips over the curve of Faith's jaw, and she mumbled lightly in her sleep. She smiled and pushed a few stray curls back that were plastered on her forehead, and continued tracing the shape of her face. She felt like she knew every inch of Faith's body by now. They'd made love relentlessly, kissing and licking and nibbling every part of each other over and over again; and Buffy was sure that, given a diagram, she could put every mole, every pockmark, every scar and every strand of hair in exactly the right spot.
She rolled onto her side and rested her forehead against Faith's, wrapping her arm over her back. Her skin was cool to the touch, so Buffy pulled the blanket up with her toes from where they'd tossed it over the headboard, and tugged it over both of them. Faith shifted a little and rolled onto her side, wrapping her arm back around her and tucking her toes just beneath Buffy's.
Feeling at ease for what she thought was the first time in her life, Buffy closed her eyes and finally dozed off, a light smile on her lips.