Into the Blue Again
A/N: Written for zortified. Faith isn't the easiest of people for me to write, and Buffy even less so, so it was a challenge, for sure - pretty much the reason i chose it!
Beta'd, of course, by the incomparable darkhavens, and cheered on by sweptawaybayou. But reremouse really gave me the inspiration to finish it up and get it *right*, so thank you thank you!
Title from the Talking Heads song 'Once In a Lifetime'.
Listen to the Music
The blue-metal mailbox made a hollow boom boom boom as Faith idly drummed her boot heels against it. Nothing but mist coiling under the streetlights – nothing but emptiness in the alleys.
"Boring, boring, boring," Faith muttered. She dug deep for a crushed cigarette pack – picked through them for a moment and then pulled out the one that was least mangled and lit it with a little flourish of her Zippo.
"What's a girl gotta do ta get some action around here?" She smoked for a moment and then slid off the mailbox with a sigh. Maybe it was time to move on. Three nights running and there'd been nothing. Not a peep of demonic activity, not a non-breathing breath of a vampire. Nothing. Hard to believe that after just one month she'd emptied a whole city of the creepy-crawlies, but her senses just didn't lie.
Faith stood under a streetlight, shoulders back and legs apart, smoking and staring into the shadows. After a moment she ground the butt out and shoved it into her pocket and strode away into the damp night. She needed a drink.
"Jack, straight up," Faith said, slumping down onto the bar stool. The demon behind the bar nodded and slid away, mouth-tentacles writhing. She lit another smoke and regarded the cheap plastic bowl that sat next to the ashtray. In a human bar, there would be peanuts. Here there was something that looked suspiciously like.... "Are these eyes?"
"'Iinessst kiiind," the bartender lisped, nodding, and Faith edged the bowl away. "'Aack, sss'raigh uu'," he added, setting down her glass with a little clink.
"Awesome." Faith lifted the glass in a silent salute. Habit, that was all. A moment's remembrance. Then she tipped it straight back, wrist stiff, swallowing hard and breathing deep, burn across her tongue and a coal of mellow heat spreading in her belly. "Hit me again."
Her glass filled – she emptied it. Three glasses later, she felt relaxed enough to shed her coat and put a dollar in the juke box. Not that she'd dance, here, but some of these demons had the worst possible fucking taste in music and like hell was she gonna sit through another round of 'flashback to the eighties'. Tiffany was probably a demon, anyway.
As Barracuda rolled out of the speakers, someone slithered – literally – onto the stool next to Faith.
"Snake," Faith said, tipping her glass toward the demon a little. "How's tricks?"
"Very sslow." Snake lifted one scaled finger toward the bartender, split tongue flickering out. "I've got an oversstock of virgins jusst now."
"I could probably help with that," Faith said, grinning, and Snake looked sideways at her out of his good eye. His other eye was covered by a patch.
"Yess, all very well to make a joke at my exsspensse, but I'm running out of liquid capital."
"Life's a bitch that way," Faith murmured, rolling her cigarette along the edge of the ashtray.
The bartender brought a tall glass of yellow-green liquid to Snake and set it down, and Snake pushed a crumpled twenty across the bar. "Another for the Sslayer, if you pleasse." Snake took a long drink and set his glass down, sighing. "When you shhowed up, you made it clear you were ssimply passsing through."
"Guess I lied," Faith said, shrugging. In truth, she had meant for this stop to be a short one. A couple weeks, clear out the worst of the non-humans, make sure nobody was up to anything stupidly world-ending. Get on her bike and head out, move on, find the next town in need of an ass-kicking almost-hero. Jesse James with a conscience. But it hadn't really...worked that way. She'd just gotten stuck.
Twenty towns in eight months, restless zig-zag east from LA. So many things left behind, but not the things she was actually trying to outrun. It was...pissing her off, really. And here – North Coast, fall edging into winter, no one and nothing around that she knew – she'd just stopped, thinking that maybe if she let things catch up – stopped pushing it all behind her with the dust and the roar of her bike – then she could get a handle on things. On herself.
"This is stupid." Faith crushed out her cigarette and turned sharply on the stool, startling Snake, who hissed. "Listen, Snake. As long as I'm in this town, this town is mine, you get me?" Faith leaned in close, the dry-spice-dust smell of the demon tickling her nose. Her finger came up, ox-blood painted nail poking stiffly into Snake's chest. "You don't like it, you can either pack up your pretty pink panties, or you can get six inches of cold iron right between the eyes-holes. Totally up to you."
Faith swiveled around and lifted her glass, tossing back the last of her drink and signaling for another. Fuck Snake and his wanna-be Godfather act. Maybe this po-dunk town wasn't a Hellmouth, but it was hers for now. And she didn't have to take any crap from a demon so clueless he'd named himself after an eighties movie character.
Snake took a moment to collect himself and then he stood up, smoothing his t-shirt, his drink waving in his other hand. "You're not so tough, Sslayer. You think you blew into town and everybody just ran? Think again." Snake leaned close, tongue flickering, his drink close to slopping over. "There's ssomething on your trail, and it'ss bigger than you'll ever be."
Faith spun, almost lazily. Spun and drew back and punched, solid and satisfying crack directly to the point of Snake's chin. Snake's jaws clicked shut and he fell straight back, taking out a stool on his way down. His drink – the consistency of thin oatmeal – sprayed up in a fountain as his glass hit the bar. "I'm the Slayer, Plissken. There's nothin' tougher than that." She pulled out a handful of bills and dropped them on the bar, picked up her jacket and slung it over her shoulder. Aimed a mock-sorrowful face at the bartender.
"Sorry about the mess," she said, and strode out.
The streets were just as empty as they had been, but something was different. Some electricity that hadn't been there before, subtle and distant but still there. Faith made a pass through the two – only two! – cemeteries the town boasted and then headed for the observatory. It was up high – isolated – and if anything was going to try anything, that seemed like the best place to go. She climbed the long switchback of concrete stairs, breathing deep.
Pulling chill, damp air into her lungs, faint scents of wet leaves and wood smoke, and the overwhelming, ever-present tidal smell of the lake. It was good – clean – totally vanilla. Faith missed smog. That feeling – that low, sweet buzz, like a contact high or the adrenalin-crash after a good fight – got stronger as she went, tingling along her skin. Tugging at her bones, whisper-soft and everywhere. Familiar, somehow, but she ignored that little nudging feeling, crushing it down flat. No time to be distracted now. No time for wishful thinking. She bounced on the balls of her feet, fingers curling into fists. Ready, oh hell yes. So damn ready. At the top of the stairs was a catwalk that went all the way around the building, parts jutting out over the hill, railing painted something pale and chalky.
"Come out, come out, whatever you are," she sing-songed, swinging her arms. "Come out and plaaa-aay...."
"That's original," a voice said, and Faith spun around, automatic grin fading a little and then coming back strong. Strong as a shield.
"You know me – can't resist a classic." Faith felt that energy snapping along her skin – jittering across her nerves and she wanted to lash out. Wanted to move. "What brings Little Miss Jet-Setter out to the boondocks?"
"I'm just doing my job, Faith. You know – the punch-kick-stake thing?" Buffy moved out from under the overhang of the observatory, coat snugly buttoned and her hair soft to her shoulders, colorless in the reflected city lights.
"Oh, come on, Buffy. Last I saw, you were boogieing off to Italy, all hopped up about shopping for shoes and starting your brand new Hellmouth-free life." Faith clawed a cigarette out of her pack and lit it with a snap, ignoring the little tremor in her fingers. The deeper one in her belly.
"Well, sure. Every girl's dream, right? But, you know...after a while, all the Fratteli Rossetti's start to look the same." Buffy pushed her hands into her pockets and walked to the railing, leaning there and looking down the slope of the scrubby hillside below.
"Yeah, must be hard, figuring out which designer dress to wear when you go out dancing," Faith said. She slumped against the rail next to Buffy and drew on her cigarette, blowing the smoke away from the other woman in a grey-white plume. The sensation – slayersisterotherme – hummed in her bones.
"About as hard as sticking a pin in a map. Or are you using a more sophisticated way to pick where you're going?"
"Have you been following me, B?" Faith laughed, incredulous. "Seriously? Don't you have your little brat-pack to do the grunt work for you?"
"I'm not...following you! Not in the following following...sense, I just...." Buffy turned, her elbow on the rail, her face pale in the silvery light. A little more filled out, now – a lot less haggard. Easier to sleep and eat in Italy, apparently.
"You just what? Don't trust the help?" Faith flicked her cigarette, sending ash tumbling down – whirling up on a breeze. Shiver and gone.
"Are you saying I shouldn't trust you?"
"Hey, you know me – Little Miss Behavin'." Faith laughed softly – drew in a lungful of smoke. "Fuckin' things up left and right." She said that quiet, but Buffy could hear her. Of course.
"And here I thought what you were doing was slaying some vamps, kicking some scaly demon butt. Saving people."
"Least I could do, after all the killing people I did," Faith said, and then grit her teeth tight together. Hadn't really meant to say that, but there it was, out in the open and free.
"Oh, that." Buffy turned away and Faith flicked her cigarette butt out over the rail, watching the pale firefly of the coal plummet down and down.
"Yeah, that. Look, Buffy. I dunno why you're out here or what you're looking for but.... We said our goodbyes in LA and now it's just...it's just me, okay? You've got your gang and your Watcher and your...club-kid life and I've got – all this." Faith turned around and leaned on the rail, legs planted wide and elbows back, chin up. Grinning through clenched teeth, tough-as-nails, hell yeah. "So how 'bout you just skedaddle on back to the high life and let me do my job."
"Hey, I'm not stopping you from doing your job." Buffy pulled her hands out of her pockets and tugged at the scarf that was looped around her throat, weird little nervous gesture that made Faith's stomach turn over.
"No, you're not. So what are you doing? Something big going down? Timmy in the well? Angel lose his soul again? Or maybe Willow this time?"
"Oh my God! Would you just – just let me – you make this so hard!"
"Hey, Buffy –" Faith straightened up, frowning. Feeling a little skitter of unease because maybe something really was wrong. Maybe Dawn had gotten herself kidnapped or, hell, Giles again. Maybe there was a Hellmouth under the fuckin' Coliseum, who the hell knew? "You know I'm your girl when the bad shit's going down. Tell me, okay?"
"God. You know, I was pretty messed up in LA. I mean, my whole town – my whole life – had just went boom and Spike was dead and...and...the Potentials weren't anymore and then there was Angel and all those evil lawyers and I was really confused, you know?"
Oh. All that. Again. Second verse, same as the first. "Didn't seem confused to me." Faith turned and walked along the rail, tapping it with the tips of her nails. Feeling the little shocks up her fingers, feeling the cold of the metal, and the slickness of the drizzle that was coalescing out of the air. "Seemed like you were pretty sure you knew exactly what you wanted and how you wanted it."
"Well, maybe I was but now I'm...not. I mean, a person is allowed to go off and...and wallow in shoes and eat too much pasta and blow up their hairdryer –"
"You blew up your hairdryer?"
"It was an accident!" Buffy had that look on her face. That look like she just got caught with her hand in the cookie jar but she's very, very sure if she just pouts a little and flutters her eyelashes, she'll get to keep the cookie, anyway. "I mean – outlet, plug – how was I supposed to know they super-electrify things over there?"
Faith couldn't help it – she had to laugh. "Did you catch anybody on fire?"
"No! Just a couple towels. And a rug. And part of the wall. But the shower had this detachable head so I put it out pretty quick." Buffy was smiling and Faith laughed again, shaking her head.
"Only you, B. Only you."
"Yeah...." Buffy sobered, her eyebrows drawing down a little, her mouth thinning. She plucked at her scarf again and then straightened up, taking a long breath. Taking a few long, fast steps until she was right there in front of Faith, close enough so Faith could feel her heat – could feel the prickly buzz of slayerslayer like a little shock all over. "Actually, that's kinda what I wanted to – talk to you about."
"About blowing up hairdryers? I gotta tell ya, you could have just texted me."
"No, about...I mean, what you...said, I mean, what I said and then what you said and then what we –"
"Buffy –" Faith had to stop her, finger to Buffy's lips, and they were cold – a little chapped. Familiar and plush and there, right there.
"Shut up, okay?" And then Faith leaned in and kissed her.
It was the same, God – so much the same. Same hissing zip of electricity, two live wires. Same little catch of breath in Buffy's throat, same little throb, low and warm, between Faith's thighs. She slid one hand around Buffy's side, into the small of her back, and tugged her those last crucial inches closer and Buffy yielded, gloved hand on Faith's shoulder. Tipping her chin up that little bit she had to and it was so fucking...good.
Until Buffy shivered all over and took one – two – fast steps back and Faith felt like she'd just been punched.
"Wow, uh, that was – I so wasn't gonna go there."
"Yeah, well...consider it our last hurrah, then. Jesus...Christ, B." Faith spun on one heel and just – motored, blinking hard. Not, no not, lifting her fingertips to her mouth, to touch skin that seemed to tingle and burn. She got to the first little landing and switchback and a shape plummeted out of the air, landing cat-easy in front of her.
"You always did like to have the last word."
"It usually means I go out in style. What do you want, Buffy? Why are you here?"
"Not to fight," Buffy said, and Faith wanted to punch her. Almost did, but fuck – what would that prove? She didn't need her knuckles to hurt as much as her heart.
"Then what? Whatever we were doing, it's over." Faith pushed past Buffy, shoulders catching, wisp of some perfume, sweet-spicy and fading. "I'm out here trying to...trying to make things right, and I don't need you jerking me around, okay?"
"Faith, stop!" Buffy's hand gripped Faith's shoulder, pulled and pushed and this time Faith did swing, but it was half-hearted – clumsy – and Buffy knocked her fist aside easily. "I'm not – I'm sorry, okay? I'm not jerking you around, I promise, I just...I wanted – oh! You make me so crazy." Buffy rubbed her gloved hands back through her hair and it clung, fraying out. Making a corona around her face and then drifting down, weighted by the drizzle.
"I hated what I said to you in LA. I hated that I pushed all that – that junk on you. I was scared out of my mind, and just...everything was so crazy and I just wanted –"
"What? What did you want, Buffy? Tell me."
Buffy stood there for a long moment, just staring at Faith, eyes huge, mouth a little wobbly, breathing a little hard. Faith clenched her fists and bit the inside of her lip and braced herself. Buffy never pulled her punches.
"I wanted this." And then Buffy was right in her face, so fast Faith flinched back, tiny jerk that Buffy followed. Then lips, teeth, tongue, and Buffy's hands sliding under her coat, gloves clumsy at the hem of Faith's layered Henley and tee and wifebeater. The kiss was slow – thorough – and when Buffy pulled back a little, pushed her forehead into Faith's and just – rested there.... It was all Faith could do to keep her knees from shaking.
"You want...is this...what is this?"
"It's an apology," Buffy said, breath ghosting over Faith's lips. Gloved hands pushing, slow and smooth, up under Faith's shirts to stroke her back. Silky slide of what was probably the fur of some really cute and fluffy little animal, and Faith shivered.
"For what, exactly?" Faith couldn't keep the jagged little catch out of her voice – couldn't keep herself from asking. Because some hurts you could endure in stoic silence, and some you just....couldn't.
"For...everything. For freaking out and breaking up. For never telling...anybody. For saying I didn't – I don't –" Buffy pulled back a little, looking up at Faith, gaze so wide open and vulnerable – so fucking sincere.
"Hey, not like I stuck around. I mean...I meant what I said, Buffy. And if a girl says that out loud, then...she should have the fuckin' balls to fight for it."
"Ovaries, okay?" Faith glanced down at the buttons on Buffy's coat – tugged at the flap, working a button loose. "I ran away, you know? It's kinda what I do best. And I've been running ever since, but I just...." Another button slid free, and then the third, and Faith pushed the edges of Buffy's coat open. Rested her hands on Buffy's hips – on a thin sweater that was as soft and silky as the gloves that were still stroking, stroking, stroking over Faith's back. "I got here and I just wanted to stop. I wanted to...I wanted...."
"You wanted to get caught." Buffy was smiling – sly little smirk that Faith remembered from hotel rooms and shadowy corners and oh, fuck, that one time in the back of the bus, when it was dark and everybody was asleep and they just couldn't.... Just couldn't hold out, just couldn't sit there anymore in their separate little worlds.
Cold little worlds. Lonely and dim and grey worlds that had opened up and bloomed like desert flowers, after. Faith really loved...that little grin. With an answering one of her own, she jerked Buffy tight against her, reveling in the hard line of muscle against her thigh – the V of heat that pressed down, the lift and fall of Buffy's ribs under her hands as she slid them up and up, thumbs just brushing the warm, heavy curve of Buffy's breasts.
"You know what – you're right. I did. I wanted to get caught. So now what, B? What're you gonna do now that you caught me?"
Buffy tipped her head to one side, considering look on her face. Considering and pouty and fucking smug, because she already knew exactly what Faith wanted her to say. "Guess I'm just gonna have to stick around. Make sure you're not getting into any trouble or anything."
"Yeah." Buffy's hand slid around and out of Faith's shirts and poked her in the chest. "That bike of yours better be able to handle all my luggage."
"Anybody ever tell you you pack like a girl?"
"Shut up," Buffy said. And then they were kissing again, arms locked around each other, breath coming faster and hearts.... Hearts beating nearly in time. The drizzle thickened into a rain, and slicked their hair to their heads – slithered down inside their coats. But they didn't notice.