Buffy was certain Faith's body had never blushed so much. Her blood was probably confused at rushing to her face all the time. She couldn't help it. She'd be wolfing down the plate after plate of waffles Mom set in front of her – Buffy herself didn't eat this much in a month of breakfasts – and then her breath would catch. A delicious tingle would send shivers racing through her, like cool ocean spray against sun-warmed skin. She'd look up – and meet Faith's gaze across the table. That was all it took. Buffy couldn't look away. Faith's eyes sparkled with a wicked gleam. There was mischief there, and lust, and a tantalizing, teasing promise. It was the sort of look that said "I know you're thinking what I'm thinking, and when can we do it again?" Butterflies fluttered in Buffy's stomach, and her face turned hot and red. She beamed at Faith, an embarrassed, coy smile that completely escaped her control. She ducked her head to hide it, but she couldn't help peeking at Faith through her lashes. There was something incredibly...Faithlike...about the smug way she licked her lips, exaggerating the slow, sensuous movement. Buffy tried to cool her cheeks in her hands and felt dimples against her fingertips. God...Faith just wasn't built for embarrassment, because the flutter in her stomach was moving lower and becoming more insistent the longer she stared into Faith's eyes.
"But what I don't understand," Mom said, entering the room and shoveling another load of bacon onto Buffy's empty plate, "is this matter of Faith's soul being...broken."
Buffy blushed harder at Mom nearly catching her making googly-eyes at Faith and speared the bacon with her fork. Her breathing was quick and shallow, and she made an effort to concentrate on eating without choking.
Faith raised a taunting eyebrow at her and picked at the remains of her single waffle. "So the whole body-switch thing's making some kinda sense to you that I missed somehow?" she asked.
"Oh, that," Mom said, with an airy wave of her hands. "Evil spells. The Mayor turned into a giant snake at Buffy's Graduation. If I didn't run to Chicago for that, then this is hardly news. Willow did say she could fix it, didn't she?"
"Scooby meeting here today," Buffy mumbled around a bite of toast. "We'll see what she and Tara came up with. And Giles can be Bookman again. I think he misses tweed." She licked her fork thoughtfully.
Faith grinned at her. Buffy reddened again, realizing what she must look like. She let the fork clatter to her plate. "I...I'm done," she said. "Okay. Dishes...they go in...large metal water...thing. Sink. I'll get right on that." She jumped to her feet. Her pulse was thrumming in her wrists. She felt Faith's stare on her back as she walked into the kitchen, and her body responded by adding a bit of swing to her hips. Body-switch or not, she knew that's where Faith's eyes were glued. Buffy couldn't blame her. Faith's ass was undeniably hot.
Okay, so she'd freaked out a little last night. Okay, more like a lot. And then...this morning...
Something came of giving in and trusting Faith. Trust didn't mean believing things were going to work out. But, like forgiveness, she didn't give it because she necessarily wanted to. Faith needed it. At this point, it was really all she had to hang on to.
Faith had still been beside her this morning. That had meant more than a lot of betrayal. Buffy felt her body warm, the unrelenting throb of blood to her crotch. She breathed in, eyes closed, holding the edge of the sink. Calm was not a word in her vocabulary lately.
"Buffy?" A hand on her shoulder made her look up. Mom sounded tentative – she wasn't used to attaching the name to this face. "Are you all right?"
Buffy hoped that Mom didn't have enough practice to read Faith's emotions. She knew how easily everything Faith thought passed across her face. World's worst liar. Even when Faith was betraying them, she'd believed she was doing right. World's second best actor. "Fine." Not exactly a lie. She'd rarely felt better, physically at least.
"You seemed a little...flustered...in there." Mom crossed her arms and leaned back a little, as though to get a better look at her. "Is it something Faith did?"
It was more something that Faith was, but Buffy wasn't about to explain what it meant to be dealing with Faith's body, with being Faith. "No," she said. And then, after a pause: "You were right."
Mom smiled, a wry twist of her lips. "That's something a mother doesn't hear every day."
"Faith's...not evil. I mean, she could be...but it's not for sure. She could change her mind."
"I'm glad you see that. Because she is getting her memory back." Mom glanced towards the entrance to the dinning room.
Buffy followed her gaze and remembered that Faith had overheard them talking last night. What would she make of this conversation? "She is?"
"Slowly, but, yes. She told me she was 'five by five' the other day." Mom raised an eyebrow in emphasis.
Buffy nodded. "She called me B last night."
"I want her to trust me, but..."
"You're still worried. That's understandable." Mom sighed. Worry-lines creased around her eyes. "Buffy...seeing you like this..."
"I know." Buffy wrapped her arms around her mom, squeezing as tight as she dared. "Your local Hellmouth tax dollars at work." She tried to smile. "It's not for long."
"Right. I'll keep that in mind." Mom released her from the hug, shaking her head with resigned amusement, concern lurking in her eyes. She studied Buffy, touching her cheek. "I know you're in there somewhere." She looked up when the doorbell rang. "Looks like the gang's here," she said. "If Xander's coming, I should probably run out for Twinkies and cheese doodles."
Buffy laughed. "Good idea." She went with Mom to the door. Faith had beaten them there. She opened it to Riley, standing on the porch, looking nervous, and suddenly everything that was wrong about last night came crashing down. Rationalizations didn't help when your lover and your boyfriend were glaring at each other across the threshold. Buffy wanted to hide. It was like looking at a funhouse mirror version of her and Riley. Riley looked like he was staring at one of his psych experiments gone horribly, horribly wrong. Faith was caught somewhere between sneering and looking smug. The expression didn't look good on Buffy's features, either way.
After a moment, Riley looked past Faith and focused on Buffy. The psych-experiment stare didn't fade. "Um...Buffy...I'd –"
"Yeah, so, if you need me, I'm gonna be...elsewhere," Faith interrupted. She turned around and headed upstairs, leaving the door open behind her and Riley outside.
Riley stepped inside and closed the door behind him. "Mrs. Summers," he said, nodding at her. "I, uh, may I speak to Buffy alone?"
"Of course, Riley. I was just heading out to do some shopping." Mom smiled at him, then, turning her back on him while she put on her shoes, widened her eyes at Buffy in a silent question. Buffy shrugged miserably. This was going to go badly. She was a Slayer and had premonitions of apocalypses...apocalypti? This felt a lot like that.
She gestured Riley into the living room. When they'd both gotten their voices back, after the Gentlemen had been killed, they'd sat across from each other in her dorm room for what seemed like forever, not talking. Now sitting was the last thing she wanted to do. She started pacing. It'd be nice if she could just slay a vamp right now, or at least maim a demon. Facing Riley was about the last thing on her list of to-dos...
Which, again, wasn't fair to Faith. Or to Riley. Or to herself, for that matter. It wasn't that Riley was a bad guy; he was nice. He was...stable, good-looking, even-tempered. Buffy winced to herself. She sounded like somebody's grandma, describing Riley that way. Shouldn't she be saying...hot? Exciting? Someone who challenged her and pushed her buttons and...okay, someone like Faith. But the fact was, Buffy had enjoyed having a boyfriend a bit closer to normal, because that way she could pretend that she was normal, too.
Oh, God. That was such a horrible reason to stay with him. And...and he was talking. Okay. Listen. Do not let yourself run away from this situation.
"Buffy..." He said her name doubtfully, like he believed she and Faith were playing some sort of practical joke with the body-switch. Or maybe it was the pacing. Usually, when they Talked, the kind of Talk with a capital T, she was the calm one and he was restless. "About last night. I made a mistake." He tried a smile, and a bit of a chuckle. "But you know there was no way I could have known that you and she were – that she wasn't you."
She nodded. "I'm sorry, too. I...I shouldn't have said that stuff. I'm just..." She rolled her eyes and repeated Faith's excuse to Tara. "I'm just not myself right now."
"I know. And the sooner you're back to – you, the better. Faith is –" He shook his head, wry confusion on his face. "Well, she's something else. Definitely not you."
Buffy whirled to face him. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Nothing! Just that –" Riley shrugged, blinking. "Well, you said she'd be here temporarily. That she was your responsibility. And..." He smiled again, the kind of self-satisfied smirk that had always been tolerable before but suddenly pissed her off to no end. "And, well, if you're her – and she's you – then, when we...I don't know, Buffy. I'd just rather you were in your own body. Don't you?"
Buffy tensed up. "Yeah? Well, Riley, what if I was stuck this way? What if Willow can't find a spell, and I'm like this forever? You'd go after Faith because you like my body better?" She got louder as she went on, the words coming from nowhere, a sudden storm of anger that she'd had no way of predicting.
"Whoa! Buffy!" Riley's eyes widened. "Where the hell are you coming from? Of course not –"
"You know what?" Buffy advanced on him. "You probably didn't even care it wasn't me. You probably wouldn't even have figured out it wasn't me!" Buffy listened to what she was saying and knew it sounded stupid. But everything would be so much easier if it were his fault. It probably was his fault, somehow, and anyway, being angry felt a hell of a lot better than feeling guilty.
"I think I would have been able to tell," Riley said, laughing a little. So fucking assured, so fucking superior, damn him! "I mean, yes, I kissed her, Buffy, before I knew, but it wasn't like I slept with her."
Buffy froze. She felt her face go white, but she couldn't do anything except stare at him. All her anger drained out of her faster than it had blown up.
"What?" Riley's grin faded. "What is it? Buffy –"
"Nothing. It's not –" Buffy shook her head and tried to back away. "Can we just –"
Riley's face turned from confusion to shock in slow motion. Buffy's heart squeezed in her chest, a pain more for him than because of him. "Please – Riley –"
"No." Riley held up his hands, as if she was attacking him, as if he needed to defend himself from her. "What the hell are you saying – you – you slept with Faith? You had sex with her? Buffy, I don't understand. You can't – you can't be telling me this."
Buffy bit her lip. The urge to run was overwhelming. It was an effort just to be here, talking to him. "Riley, Faith and I –" Nothing, nothing at all that she said was going to make this right. Not excuses about Faith's hormones, and not even the truth – that she'd wanted Faith far longer than she had ever admitted to herself. "It just happened," she said lamely, knowing it was nothing of the sort, knowing how much those words would hurt him.
Riley clenched his jaw, muscles working near his temple. "You never even thought about me. You cheated on me and you – you didn't care."
"I – I care, Riley, I do," Buffy said. But not enough. She knew it. She could see that he knew it, too.
"Yeah, right," he said bitterly, anger bursting from him. His shoulders bunched. "I can't – I don't think I want to be here right now. I can't even talk to you, looking like that – like her."
Buffy bridled at how close he'd come to insulting Faith, but she nodded. "I'm sorry," she whispered.
"I guess I should have known." Riley shook his head in disgust. "Willow told me I might be some rebound thing for you. I thought what we had was better than that, Buffy. I thought I was more to you than you moving on from some great mystical love." He stepped forward, the edge of his glare softening slightly. "But now I see you'd rather go back to her – even though she hurt you. I hope you know I'd never do that. I wouldn't have hurt you."
Buffy gaped at him. He thought that Faith was...? That Faith was the person she'd been pining for when they first started dating? But then, she'd never told him about Angel – the specifics, anyway. And was he so wrong to assume that about Faith? Buffy had been feeling guilty about her for way longer than she'd ever suspected. It was all tied together with Angel leaving, with the Mayor, with all that history that was so wonderfully blank for Faith right now. Angel, her first love, who she hadn't even been allowed to be with since his return from Hell...or Faith, fellow Slayer, secret crush, always nearby, always on her mind – whether as her friend or her enemy?
"I know," she answered Riley. "I know you wouldn't..."
There was so much more she wished she could tell him. That he was too safe for her...that, somehow, as a Slayer, she needed pain. The course of true love shouldn't run smooth. Faith was dangerous, and uncertain, and desperate; and despite that, or because of it, Buffy wanted her.
None of that would make this better. Riley was decent, and she'd treated him like dirt.
"Yeah. Well. I'm going." Riley made a sharp about-face, then strode for the door, hunched over and angry still. Buffy closed the door gently behind him, bowing her head slightly. At least she wouldn't run in to him anytime soon. Her psych class had been cancelled due to a severe case of professor death. They didn't live anywhere near each other on campus. Even when patrolling, she was usually in the graveyards while the Initiative took the area around the university. It was amazing, really, how painlessly Riley could be removed from her life, leaving barely a scar to prove he'd been there.
There was a knock at the door. Buffy started, then automatically opened it. Xander stood outside, with Willow and Tara coming up the walk.
"Hey, quick service! I could get used to this," Xander said. He paused in the foyer and peered at her, then, playfully, tapped on her forehead. "Buffy? You in there?"
Buffy swatted his hand aside. "Xander –"
"And I thought Willow as a vampire was the top of the chart as far as the creepiness factor goes." He walked around her, studying her from every angle.
Buffy rolled her eyes. "This isn't an opportunity for ogling, Xander. You know what Faith looks like."
"Wow! And she really has the Buff-speak down." Xander nodded, impressed. "Okay. I give. You're you. Er, her. Yourself. In there."
Buffy exchanged pained looks with Willow as she and Tara entered the house. "Look, can we just not right now, Xander?"
Xander's face screwed up in an apologetic grimace. "Buffy, I know. Look, you took in a murderous Slayer who doesn't know she's a murderous Slayer, except now she kinda does, and you accidentally took the Personalized Docent Tour of her body. Plus, on top of that, it turns out my best friend has a girlfriend." He gave a cheesy grin and waved at Willow and Tara. Willow rolled her eyes and waved back. "See me embrace the maturity! I don't do it that much, so appreciate it when it comes, okay?"
Buffy smiled. "Sorry, Xander. It's not you."
"Yeah, I'll bet. Riley didn't look too happy leaving. You're probably waiting for the witchy stuff to be over so you can go and have a reunion." Xander kicked off his shoes and threw himself onto the armchair.
"Actually, I just broke up with him."
Xander snickered. "Right, or you just broke up with him – wait, did you say you just broke up with him? That is serious stuff!"
Willow immediately wrapped her in a hug. "Oh, Buffy, I'm sorry!" She leaned back and frowned at her. "I think. Or is this not the double-mint-chocolate-fudge-caramel-cookie-dough ice cream kind of break up?"
"It's barely Rocky Road," Buffy said. "It's a long story, not the point right now, and if I feel the need for fudge sauce you're the first person I'll call."
Willow nodded, and shared a look with Tara. Xander eyed them suspiciously. "Man, that is pretty much my quota for shocking developments in the lives of my friends," he said. "I hope you have cheese doodles."
"Mom's out getting some." Buffy glanced up the stairs, wondering where Faith had disappeared to. Speaking of shocking developments...
"Well, Giles is bringing about as much as he's got left of his library," Xander said. "Willow and Tara already have a couple ideas, probably along the lines of nose-wiggling and blinking forcefully. So, I'm guessing that means I'm pizza-ordering guy."
"Great. You go ahead and get set up." Buffy ushered them into the living room. "I'm just gonna..." She stopped and made a vague gesture towards the stairs. Only Tara seemed interested in her interrupted sentence. Buffy blushed under her calm stare. "Well. You know."
Tara nodded understandingly, which just made the blushing worse. Probably her aura had already betrayed her – screaming, "I had incredibly satisfying sex last night" or something similar. At least Tara didn't seem the type to go spreading it around – not even to Willow. Buffy sent her a grateful look before she headed upstairs.
She felt ahead of herself for Faith's location. She was in the guest bedroom, where she'd spent her first night back. Buffy knocked on the door, tentatively, then opened it before Faith had a chance to tell her not to come in. She had no idea how Faith would be taking her dumping of Riley, or his of her, whatever it had worked out to in the end.
Faith was lying on her back on the bed, one leg bent at the knee, the other crossed over it, her arms behind her head. Buffy felt suddenly nervous. The day-after stuff had never worked out for her, and so far today her conversation with Faith had been limited to good mornings and discussions of breakfast.
"I don't know what the hell you expect."
Buffy paused. Faith's words had burst out before Buffy had finished saying her name. And what did she expect? That just because she had forgiven Faith, trusted her, that Faith could immediately return those feelings? Hardly. Again with the unfairness.
"I don't expect anything." Buffy cautiously sat on the bed beside Faith, drawing up her knees and resting her chin on them.
"You think I can replace your farmboy?"
"No...not replace..." Buffy frowned at the bedspread. "Faith, all I know is that you showed me something...that it's not working with Riley. I don't expect...I mean, if you want...but..."
"You figure you can brainwash me before I remember anything. That if I love you now, then of course I'll still be buying you roses once I have my head screwed on straight!"
Buffy drew in a swift breath. Love? Did Faith just say love?
No. Faith wouldn't.
But Faith had. Because she still didn't remember, she still didn't know, and none of this was fair because Buffy wanted her to have said it. The thought that came immediately was, Back away and she can't hurt you.
"The gang is here," Buffy said instead of answering. "Do you want to go down...maybe research, find out what's the what?"
Faith finally moved – turned her head and glanced sideways at Buffy. "You've gotta be kidding me. One, I tried to kill your friends. Two, I have no idea what we're looking for. Three."
"Three?" Buffy prompted when Faith didn't continue.
Faith gave a half-shrug. "I don't know. Whatever. Might as well." She rolled to her feet on the opposite side of the bed as Buffy.
Buffy followed her down the stairs. Faith paused at the bottom, fear flashing through her eyes for a split second. She squared her shoulders, getting the determined look that was so familiar to Buffy from her past several world-saveages. Closed. Grim. Like she was going to face a firing squad. Buffy reached out and put a hand on her shoulder before she could go further. Faith turned and looked at her. They were standing in the hallway, the stairs behind them, the living room just around the corner. Xander's quips and Willow's laugh carried to them easily.
"Faith..." Buffy stopped. She wanted to close up. Shove up walls as fast as she could build them, hide until nothing could get through to hurt her. Faith's old defensiveness, pushing through what she wanted. Instead, she asked, "What was three?"
Faith stared at her, green eyes like glass, like emeralds, hard enough to hurt. "I think I am remembering," she said softly. "Blurs. Pictures. What I felt..." She looked down, away. "You're fucked up if you can forgive that," she said. "I'm fucked up."
Buffy didn't have the words to contradict her. "Faith," she whispered, and pulled her close, and kissed her.
At the first touch Faith's lips parted. Buffy gave a tiny sound of encouragement. Liquid heat shot through her body at the speed of thought. She found Faith's tongue with hers, caressing it, drawing it out. She meant the kiss to be a reassurance, a reaffirmation, but with a sudden twist Faith was pressing her against the wall beneath the stairs, hands holding her in place. Buffy's heart pounded, and she moaned, breath catching. Faith kissed her like she was remembering everything, hatelovejealousylust, her lips hot and quick and frantic.
Buffy let herself be shoved into the wall, hard behind her, Faith in her body like a flame in front. She drew her fingers up, resting on Faith's hips, then sliding lower. Faith panted, mouth open wide, slanting across Buffy's, and Buffy met her, joined her, curving into her heat, her body, her, them both, as if their bodies didn't matter, as if there was only feeling, rapidly drawing to a point, like a knifeblade.
Buffy gasped, found Faith's neck beneath her lips, and mouthed her skin, the taste of her, the sharp line of her chin. Faith's tongue swirling around her earlobe until Buffy's rapid breath filled the spaces between them. She tried to be quiet but she knew there were sounds she couldn't help but make, "Ah!" and "yes" and "F-Fai – Faith!", because they were the only words she had left. Words that meant something. Words that held trust, love, forgiveness.
Which was how Xander found them.
It was the smash of the cheese doodle bowl that brought Buffy out of the haze of kisses. Xander stood in the hallway, staring, dark eyes wide and shocked. Buffy imagined what he saw. Xander knew they'd been switched, but coming upon them, he probably couldn't help but perceive it differently. Herself, dominant and aggressive, using her power to lean on Faith's body, pressing her into the wall. Faith, blushing and flustered, pink-cheeked and bright-eyed, gasping for breath. It's not what it looks like darted stupidly through her brain, but then, he knew that: it was the opposite of what it looked like, but that didn't change the fact that he'd caught the two of them kissing.
"Xander," Buffy said, in her roughdark voice, made huskier by arousal. It was the wrong thing to say to him, the wrong voice; a look of disgusted disbelief washed over his face, and he walked straight out the front door.
The door swung open and Xander stomped back into the house. "Okay, I'm back. But only because I forgot my shoes," he said. "The dramatic exit still stands."
Faith stepped away from Buffy. She glanced at Xander's gleaming-white socks, then at his little-boy-lost pout. And, as quickly as that, she was laughing – well, giggling, really, Buffy's thousand-watt smile and infectious silliness taking her over. Buffy stared at her, then at Xander, then at Xander's socks. She started to smile.
"I'm serious!" Xander protested. Willow and Tara came to the foyer to see what was going on, and Xander turned to them for support, gesturing wildly at his feet. "I used the last of my bleach on these! And just because I live with a washer-dryer set..."
Faith giggled harder, tears of mirth gathering in her eyes. She leaned on Buffy, who offered her tiny 'there, there' pats on the shoulder. Willow and Tara smiled at her cautiously, as though they couldn't figure out what was quite so funny. Faith waved at Xander, then at Buffy, trying to explain. "He's – and you're – acting like we robbed a bank – but the socks – the socks brought him back –"
Xander grinned sheepishly at his feet and wiggled his toes. "The storming out is just tough on them," he said, giving the socks a sympathetic look. "They really do their best."
Faith got control of the giggles. She felt a sudden surge of affection for Xander, who needed to be dramatic, but whose quick turnaround proved he was willing to be won over. The first day, in the hospital, she'd felt his anger and reacted with wary self-protection. Today, in Buffy's body, felt like a fresh start, like she was willing to open up to these people and be friends.
"Storming out?" Willow asked. "Why is there storming out? And please don't tell me you guys robbed a bank. I hack for business and pleasure, but fixing police records makes my stomach all rumbly."
Tara smiled gently at her. "I d-don't think it's anything illegal, sweetie," she said. "Xander's just surprised."
"Surprised? Try shocked! Shocked, I say!" Xander pointed an accusing finger at Buffy and Faith, then gave a defeated shake of his head. He ran a hand through his hair, leaving it even messier than before. "But, hey, I can deal. I'm supreme-dealy guy. They could hire me at Circus, Circus. That's how great a dealer I am." There was still a trace of bitterness in his voice, but he shrugged and smiled at Buffy and Faith.
"Um, still in the dark here?" Willow said. "Deal with what?"
Faith looked to Buffy to answer. But Buffy stared at Willow, shame-faced, and didn't say anything. Faith wondered that it wasn't obvious, because Buffy's arm was still around her waist, and she was leaning into her. She could feel her mind struggling to remember, murky details from the past fighting to surface. She remembered that she wasn't like this, a hugger or a cuddler. Yet waking up in Buffy's bed had been wonderful...warm, and safe...like it could go on forever.
Her memory warned her that nothing was forever. Her mind told her that she was independent, that she didn't need Buffy, didn't need anyone.
Her body stayed curled against Buffy's, though, enjoying the feel of her, the scent of her skin.
And still no one answered Willow's question.
"I-I think he means that B-Buffy and Faith are t-together," Tara said softly. She held Willow's hand and studied her anxiously.
"What?" Willow tilted her head and stared at the two of them. Faith met her gaze steadily. She felt a blur, a disconnection, and remembered Willow's face from another moment, another time. Fear, and anger, and righteousness.
You did try to kill me...
Faith had held a knife to her throat, and Willow's expression had been the same.
"You gotta admit it's weird," Xander said, tromping all over the silence. "First Will and Tara, now you two? Were they handing out the naughty crack at the Bronze last night?" He appeared to think about that for a moment, then gave a dopey grin. "And why wasn't I invited?"
"That is not fair, Buffy," Willow said.
"I'm so, so sorry, Will," Buffy said. "I didn't know. I didn't mean to hurt you –"
"Oh, gee, well then, that makes it not too late at all," Willow said. "I think I left a book open. Excuse me." She turned around and headed for the living room.
Buffy was right behind her. "Wait – Willow –"
"Whoa. Am I the only one the clue train missed at the station?" Xander asked.
Faith shook her head, just as bewildered. Willow shouldn't be having any problems about the fact that Buffy had been with her...unless they were problems due to the fact that it was her. Last night Willow had started to seem almost friendly. And Faith had fallen for it. The more she remembered, though, the more she couldn't believe that Willow would ever forgive her. And maybe that's what she was talking to Buffy about right now.
"I-it's not you, Faith," Tara said, putting a hand on her arm. "Don't think that."
"What, you read minds as well as auras now?" Faith asked roughly.
"No...but faces." Tara glanced at Xander, then back to Faith. "M-maybe we should go somewhere else...let them talk."
Xander shrugged. "Yeah, that's probably a good idea." He glanced out the front window. "And if it's not perfect timing for G-man and the Bookmobile."
They all helped Giles cart in his loads of books relating to transformations and consciousness exchanges. Faith watched blankly as the others dove into researching, feeling out of place. She could hear the low murmur of Buffy's and Willow's voices through the wall, and started to jack up the super-hearing.
Xander slapped her arm.
"After four years as a Scooby, I know that look," he hissed.
"Buffy's 'I can hear you breathing from the next room' look." Xander gave her a concerned glance, fiddling with his book. "I think Tara's right. It's not about you. So don't."
Faith glared at him – another tried and true Buffy expression. She didn't want to admit how lost she felt when Buffy wasn't with her. There was nothing familiar left, and the clamor in her mind kept throwing images up, sights she didn't want to relive, broken, angry memories. Why today? Why did everything seem to want to come rushing back now – now that things had changed? Now that she was building new memories. Faith didn't Buffy just because she felt safe. She should be able to be strong on her own. It seemed like she used to be able to separate herself from situations. Use anger or sex so that she wouldn't have to admit to being scared. Now that defense was gone. She cared. She was more confused than ever, but she knew that last night with Buffy wasn't a mistake. And she certainly didn't want Buffy to be with her only because she felt guilty, or whatever the hell was motivating her. Faith didn't know what was going on with Buffy, and it left her adrift.
"So...how did...um...I mean, you and..." Xander gave various eyebrow wiggles and finger-flicks to finish his question. "I mean, again, resident Scooby, did not see it coming."
Faith raised an eyebrow at him.
Xander waited for a second, then shrugged. "Hey, a guy can dream, can't he?" he sighed. He obviously didn't expect her to crack and spill details.
"She makes me remember good stuff about myself," Faith said.
Giles looked up mildly from his books, pushing his glasses up his nose. Tara smiled softly behind the veil of her hair. For an instant, Faith wished she hadn't said anything. She didn't have the automatic lock on her thoughts any more, the shut-up-or-they'll-know valve. But she found she didn't mind them knowing. They already knew about the sex, or the kissing at least, so why make herself look bad in their eyes by recalling the person she'd been before? The cleavagey and slutty Faith they thought they all knew?
Xander blinked, then suddenly grinned. "That's of the good, then."
"Yeah." Faith met Giles' eyes. He was still an unknown quantity. She hadn't really had the time to get to know him. He seemed to take the news that she and Buffy were together pretty calmly. "It is."
Giles steepled his fingers. "As long as you're prepared to remember that when you regain your full memory, Faith, I shan't worry."
"Why? You think I'll go berserk?" Faith glanced around at all of them. "You're all still freaked that I might, aren't you?"
"How much do you remember, Faith?" Giles asked. He looked at her steadily, not in disbelief but not with a whole lot of confidence either. "Enough to know whether our concerns are groundless?"
Faith broke his gaze and stared down at the tabletop. "I don't know. All I can see is pictures...maybe what I felt...and not even you guys, mainly. Stuff from when I was a kid, I guess." And none of it pleasant. She supposed she didn't need to add that. They probably already knew.
Tara tilted her head and studied her. "May I – look at you again? All of you?"
Xander's grin grew about three times. Faith punched his arm, pulling it a little. "I think she means my aura, Xan."
Tara blushed and ducked behind her hair.
"Sorry, Tara," Xander said.
"And it's fine." Faith stood up and moved around the table so that Tara had a full view. "What are you looking for?"
"I-I think I'll know w-when I f-find it," Tara said, still stuttering after Xander's teasing.
Faith shrugged and stood still. Tara peered at her – not directly, but as though there was a surface above her skin, a flickering shadow-shape only she could see. Tara's eyes softened and lost focus. Her breathing slowed and became deep and regular. She stood up and reached out to Faith, raising a hand as though to stroke it down her shoulder to her arm. Faith watched, but didn't flinch. Tara's hand curved, but didn't quite touch her. Tara ran her fingers down from Faith's head, pausing over her stomach, then moving away. Each time, she would reach for a different point on Faith's body, coming within an inch or two, and then her hand would flow towards a point just below Faith's ribs on the left-hand side.
Tara blinked, and took a quick breath. "Here," she said, the one word more certain and confident than anything Faith had heard her say.
"What is it, Tara?" Giles asked. He'd taken his glasses off and had watched the entire procedure intently.
"A...a darkness. A wrongness." Tara sat down again, quickly. Her legs had become to shaky for her to stand.
"Tar? Are you all right?" Faith asked, seeing the tremor in Tara's hand as she brushed the hair back from her face.
"I'm fine. I-I just...I had to go deeper than I expected." Tara shivered slightly.
"Xander, could you perhaps put on a pot of tea?" Giles asked. He knelt in front of Tara. "Are you saying that Faith's coma was not merely a matter of her injuries? That there is something more fundamentally wrong?"
Tara nodded, a quick jerk of her head. "It feels like a blockage. I don't think it's as strong as it was last night...the fracture doesn't spread as far."
"That must be why Faith is regaining some of her memories," Giles said.
"What does it mean?" Faith asked, pressing a hand against the spot Tara had indicated. The exact spot where the knife-scar was on her body. Buffy had given that to her. Faith knew that, although she couldn't remember it yet...only that sense of falling, and the sound of rain. Under her top, on Buffy's body, there was nothing but smooth skin. How had Tara known?
"It means," Giles said, "that you cannot heal entirely on your own. There may have been some improvement, some vector that aided you last night, but essentially, if your soul does not mend, then you will die."
"Cheerful," Faith said, trying to sound unaffected. She felt sick, her stomach clenching.
"However," Giles said, "if we can narrow down the causative factor that helped you..."
"Yeah, like maybe some of that sweet hot monkey lovin' with Buffy!" called Xander from the kitchen. He came back to the table carrying a teapot and a mug already well-dosed with honey for Tara.
"Xander –" Giles removed his glasses and glared.
"I know, stop joking and keep it in my pants," Xander said.
"No. You may be right." Giles nearly shuddered as he said the words. "This soul-fracture, along with the exchange of consciousnesses, may have been far more complicated than we realized at first. If Buffy's soul and Faith's are entwined, and they engaged in an act...as deep, and as meaningful...as making love, then perhaps..." Giles cleared his throat and shrugged. "Buffy's soul could have triggered the healing process."
Tara, holding her tea carefully in both hands, nodded. "It could help us find a cure," she said.
Faith sat down again in front of the piles of books. She already owed so much to Buffy...and now Buffy was the only thing standing between her and dying? She didn't want that. Last night, she'd kissed Buffy on her own terms. She'd wanted something and she went straight for it. Now it was getting messed up by all this soul-stuff. Almost...dirty. Like it wasn't about them anymore.
Giles started pouring tea for the rest of them. Everyone had fallen silent, thinking about the implications of what Tara had found.
Willow and Buffy walked back into the room. Faith looked up immediately. Buffy's eyes were a bit swollen, and Willow seemed way more subdued than she had been earlier. Willow immediately went to sit next to Tara. Buffy waited in the doorway for a moment, her eyes meeting Faith's. Faith smiled before she knew she was doing it, an invitation. It was easier to be open, easier to show what she felt. And...even if the wound in her soul came from Buffy's hand, from her knife, from their fight...Faith couldn't let that stop her. She didn't remember it! She couldn't imagine it; the hatred between them, whatever had caused them to throw down like that. What she remembered was last night...every detail, every moment. That was what mattered.
Buffy came around the table and took the chair next to her. "I kind of freaked when Willow told me about Tara," she said softly, in a voice pitched for Faith's hearing only. "I was awful to her, because I was scared." Buffy's eyes went to the two witches, who were also talking in soft whispers. "So when Tara told her about us..." She shrugged.
"There's an us?" Faith asked. It was the first question that popped into her head, following hard on thinking about whether she loved Buffy...and whether she still would, still could, when she had her memory back.
Buffy glanced at her quickly. "I don't know...is there?"
Faith started to say...something...and stopped. "I don't know," she admitted. She glanced across the table. Willow and Tara were staring deep into each other's eyes, as if it didn't matter that the world was going on about its business around them. Tara seemed to glow with happiness, and Willow's half-smile took it in and returned it just as much. That was love, Faith supposed. Whatever memories were returning to her certainly didn't include anything of the sort. Lust, yes, and friendship maybe...
"I trust you," she heard Willow whisper, and then, on Tara's objection, "I. Trust. You."
Tara's smile at hearing those words was beautiful.
Faith sighed and sank down in her chair. Buffy had given her a lot of trust...enough to let them come together last night, enough to tell her friends about it. Enough to send her douche-bag boyfriend packing. But Faith had heard her in the kitchen this morning, talking to Joyce. Buffy couldn't let go of their past.
None of them could, not yet. They were all waiting for the moment when the old Faith would emerge. They said they forgave her, but every time there was a silent "for now" attached to their words.
And Faith couldn't offer them anything better. She knew what she wanted. She knew she could love Buffy, maybe did love Buffy. But without knowing who she was and where she came from, what could that love possibly be worth? Two days together, one night in each other's arms. That was nothing compared to eight months in a coma because of Buffy, to a year spent fighting with her and against her. The only true thing between them was the Slayer connection.
Right now, it hurt.
"We think we can do it," Willow said, turning slightly to address everyone.
"Do what, precisely?" Giles asked, looking up from his volume and taking a sip of his tea.
"There's a sp-spell," Tara said. "A conjuring..."
"We can find a way to put Buffy and Faith back where they belong, and maybe help Faith at the same time," Willow said. She smiled at Tara. "Tara wants me to anchor her while she finds the missing piece of Faith's soul on the ethereal plane. Then, we use it in an exchange spell...poof!"
"N-no actual poof," Tara clarified. "It's more of a light."
"Does that mean Faith's amnesia will be gone?" Xander asked. He darted a quick, anxious look at Faith.
Faith stared straight back at him. "Still worried, champ?"
"It's not like it's your fault that you don't know if you'll want to murder us," Xander offered helpfully.
Buffy whapped him upside the head.
"Um, okay, I'm guessing too much time having conversations with Anya."
Willow snorted. "You have conversations with her?"
"Hey!" Xander grimaced. "You know what I mean. Remembery Faith could be Enraged Faith. You don't know."
"I know," said Buffy. Faith caught her breath. Buffy sounded so certain.
Xander opened his mouth again. Giles eyed him and gave a small shake of his head. Xander shrugged. "Well, I guess somebody had to say it."
"Like you did with Angel," Buffy said. "Spare me, Xander. We know the risks. I'm willing to take them. Just because Faith remembers last year doesn't mean she'll forget the past two days."
Faith smiled again – it was just too easy in Buffy's body – and caught her hand below the table. This was Buffy's trust. This was a gift.
"I won't forget," she said. Promising. Buffy's fingers trailing against hers, the tingle of skin on skin, warm, shivery, wonderful.
"Is there any danger in performing this conjuration?" Giles asked.
Tara glanced at Willow. Willow's chin lifted. "A little," she said. "Not like the books locked in your filing cabinets. But some."
Giles frowned at her, then turned his gaze on Tara. "I don't suppose it would make any difference if I asked if you'd thought this through?" he asked. "The ethereal plane is not one reached lightly."
"I can do it," Tara said, softly but firmly. "If I have Willow."
Giles sighed. "Then we had best make our preparations."
"We just need a place where we can be private, and quiet," Willow said. "It won't take long."
"All right," Giles said. "But be aware I will be nearby, and if I sense any distress –"
"You'll come charging to the rescue. We know." Willow grinned impishly at him. "Thanks, Giles."
Faith watched the group bustle around, gathering books together, grabbing spices and herbs for Tara's spell. Again, she was the outsider, not a Scooby, not knowing what she was supposed to do. But Buffy sat beside her, as if she didn't have a part to play either...or as if she was making the most of this time before Faith-the-enemy returned. She didn't let go of Faith's hand, the small strokes of her fingers over Faith's palm sending amazing sparks of feeling through her. Willow and Tara disappeared upstairs to Joyce's room, where they figured there would be enough room to cast their circles of protection, while still leaving them some privacy. Buffy and Faith waited, Faith still and quiet, focusing on the touch of Buffy's hand; Buffy, nervous, fidgeting, glancing from clock to doorway to Faith.
"Usually I just get them to point me at stuff to kill," Buffy said finally. She looked sideways at Faith. "Are you worried?"
Faith looked down at their linked hands. "Hell, yeah."
"You know I said you hadn't changed..." Buffy squeezed her hand until Faith looked up again. "It's true. But, Faith?"
"You don't need to. You're not someone else. You made some mistakes, so did I..." Buffy's free hand fell to rest on her stomach, on the knife wound. The old soul-scar that came from being enemies too long. "Don't stop being you just because..."
"Just because of you?" Faith asked.
Buffy nodded, tears blurring the darkness of her eyes, the secrets there. "I'm not trying to change you."
"I would, you know." Faith focused on their hands, on drawing patterns on silky skin. Her skin, soon to be hers again. For now, she had Buffy's body, Buffy's easy, open mind. "For you."
Giles entered the room, clearing his throat loudly. "Willow and Tara are ready."
Faith waited to see if Buffy would finish her sentence, but Buffy just stood and headed for the living room. When they were seated, Willow handed Buffy a glowing orb that fit into her palm.
"It's just like the Mayor's gadget," she said. "All you have to do is touch it together."
"Are you ready?" Buffy asked, meeting Faith's eyes. Dark eyes where there should be green. Faith closed her eyes for a moment, searching through memories, holding tight to this moment. What if she hated Buffy? What if there was no chance, no possibility? What if she really was a monster, a murderer, a psycho bitch?
Buffy trusted her. Hold on to that.
"I don't know," she said. "I'm not the one who knows what she's missing."
Buffy took a deep breath. "Okay," she said, holding out her hand. "On three?"
"One," Faith said, and grabbed hold.
The green glow in Buffy's hand expanded, like a sphere of light, until Faith's eyes burned and she had to close them. She concentrated on the feel of Buffy's palm, warm and soft against hers, fingers entwined. She squeezed, and Buffy squeezed back, and it was the last thing she felt. Brilliant light washed over them, erasing them, sending them flying into nothingness.
Faith remembered the sound of thunder, the hiss of rain, the cold damp seeping through her clothes and leaving her shivering. She remembered hating. She remembered fear. She remembered pain, punches and kicks and slamming into walls. Buffy, attached to her by handcuffs, dragging at her, death in her eyes. Buffy, with a jagged knife in her hands. Blood and pain like acid, steel sliding under her ribs, Buffy's eyes hurt-scared-shocked, and the gasp on her lips.
"Should have been there, B. Quite a ride..."
Faith remembered falling, backwards into empty space, falling and wondering if it would ever end, if she could ever pay enough for what she'd done. Falling into dreams.
She remembered Buffy's lips against her forehead, and her whispered, "Thank you."
Without a body, without a thought, Faith died into emptiness; and she remembered.
She remembered it all.
Buffy stared at Faith, hardly aware that anyone else was in the room. They were both silent except for the sound of their breathing – something Buffy was distinctly grateful she could do with her own lungs again. She realized their hands were still clasped. Willow's conjured ball of light was gone. Faith stared right back, and Buffy couldn't help but think how beautiful she was – black eyes you could fall into endlessly, full lips soft enough to kiss forever, the hint of a cleft in her chin, and the wanton fall of dark hair. The body switch had worked. Buffy was definitely herself again, so Faith must be, too. But there was no sign that Faith had regained her memory.
Oh God, we've broken her, we've broken her brain, Buffy thought, as the silence stretched and Faith did nothing, said nothing. Faith's eyes were wide and dark, with a look of almost childlike surprise. In Faith's body, Buffy had always been compelled to act, to move, anything but stillness. A hard, cold lump settled in her stomach. Faith looked like a hurt animal, like a feral cat that would hiss and scratch and run rather than let anyone help her. Buffy knew – finally she understood – what Faith felt.
They'll hurt me so I have to hurt them first. They'll leave me so I'd better start running.
Buffy remembered this morning, watching Faith sleep. Adrenaline had settled on her like a second skin, every instinct screaming at her to get away before it was too late. The cold, nauseous fear of rejection – the endless guilt that flashed too easily to fury. That was what Faith dealt with all the time. Last year, Buffy had been so sure that since she could control herself, Faith should be able to as well. God, what a self-righteous bitch she'd been! Twenty-four hours in Faith's body had turned her whole life upside down. Buffy had stomped on Riley's feelings, taken advantage of Faith's vulnerability, and came out to her friends with barely a second thought. She'd left herself totally open, defenseless, if Faith hated her now. Buffy's heart thudded, frantic and hurtful. What if Faith wanted to kill her? What if Faith ran?
Worst of all, what if Faith never wanted to be with her again?
I'll love her anyway, she thought, with a forlorn certainty. Even if she kills me, even if we fight. I love her. Last night, her control had barely allowed her to lay down next to Faith. But she had. She stayed. No matter what Faith's body told her, Buffy knew she had to take a chance and trust Faith. Trust that Faith wouldn't hurt her. For Faith, it might not be that easy. She might lash out instead, try to free herself from restraints. Get some, get gone. Run. And even so, seeing Faith now – frightened, confused – only made Buffy want her more.
Buffy searched Faith's eyes, looking for the affection and warmth that had been there before they switched back. Please, Faith, she thought, please forgive me. Please stay.
If Faith heard, she didn't answer. Her eyes flickered to their hands, still clasped in front of them, like they'd been glued together during a high-five. Small tan hands with coral pink nails. Long, delicate fingers too thin after eight months in a coma. The same hands. The same tender touch. Buffy felt the faint tingle of their connection: warmsafe, wantyou, you are like me, you are mine. When Faith looked up again, the confusion was gone. Her eyes were shuttered, as if she'd pulled a shade down and hidden herself behind it. She looked confident, almost arrogant. There was the tiniest trace of a sneer on her face, the same one Buffy remembered from when Faith dared her to chase vampires into a sewer. Buffy gasped, soft as a sigh, like a last breath before crying.
The others hadn't noticed anything was wrong yet. Xander watched them solemnly, looking for some sign as to whether the switch had worked. Willow was practically quivering with suppressed excitement. She gawked at Buffy and Faith, looking like she was dying to ask if her spell had worked. She knew better than to interrupt. She'd gotten between the two Slayers before. Tara frowned slightly, eyes worried and concerned, but she wasn't watching their faces. She stared at Faith's stomach, as if she could see through the cloth to the scar beneath. Of all of them, only Giles was watching Buffy. When she saw Faith's expression change – when Faith's surprise and uncertainty faded to defensive contempt – Giles closed his eyes, and his shoulders sagged.
Faith dropped her hand, their first movement since the spell. Buffy felt her heart reach into her throat to choke her. She tried to shake her head, deny this was happening. Faith's eyes were wild beneath her surface calm. Buffy wanted to say something, reassure her, but she couldn't speak through the lump in her throat.
Faith tensed slowly, her muscles rippling, shifting her center of balance forward until she was poised over the balls of her feet. To anyone but a Slayer, it would look like she'd barely moved. To Buffy, it was obvious what she was doing. Faith maneuvered for position until, even though she was still sitting on the couch, she was completely prepared to attack, defend, or run. Buffy knew she could match Faith's action just as subtly. They could circle for the advantage without ever standing up. But doing that could destroy whatever fragile trust Faith was still clinging to. She hadn't tried anything yet. Faith was testing to see if Buffy would try to stop her. But Buffy didn't want to fight, and she didn't want to drive Faith away.
She remembered last year, on Faith's rooftop. Buffy could nearly feel the weight of Faith's knife in her palm. Starlight glittered along the blade, and as Buffy turned it in her hand, it caught the glow of the moon, like quicksilver. They were there again: Faith poised on the edge of the roof, and Buffy with a knife in her hand.
Except this time Buffy wasn't driven by rage. Love and fear churned inside her, each one stealing her breath and leaving her trembling. And she knew, all too well, what would happen if Faith let herself fall.
When it happened, everything fell apart at once. The door opened, and Mom walked in, a paper bag of groceries in her hand. "I'm back," she called, leaning into the living room. "And I brought Twinkies."
Xander leapt to his feet with a startled "eep!", sending his chair tumbling over. Giles started stuttering out an explanation before he'd fully turned to see who had entered. Tara gasped, wrenching her eyes away from Faith's stomach. Faith was standing in the doorway before anyone but Buffy had seen her move.
Buffy stayed where she was.
The tone of the room changed in an instant: from eager, cautious observers to frightened hostages. Buffy glanced at Willow and Tara, huddled together; Tara shivering and speechless, and Willow glaring at Faith as if it was her fault. Xander's flinch turned to defensive anger. Giles looked to Buffy to lead them – to guide their reactions. She couldn't do anything. The sense of standing on the edge of a cliff was stronger, as if Faith was waiting for Buffy to push her off. Mom, uncertain, turned to Faith, touching her arm, and asked cautiously, "Buffy?"
Faith shrugged away her hand. "Not this time."
Her voice: Buffy had been the last person to speak with it, but she'd never realized how powerful it was. Faith used it like a weapon, jagged and dangerous, every word just a little bit harder, contemptuous, pushing away any kindness. Any weakness.
"Faith," Buffy said, and her voice was too high, tight and controlled, and Faith's name came out like an accusation. Why did she sound like that? Why couldn't she say the words she knew were there? You don't need to change. It was never your fault. I want you to stay. Oh, God, please stay.
I love you.
The cliff was crumbling beneath her feet. Faith looked like an enemy. She was so hard, and cold as steel, anger burning bright in her like a diamond shining in the night.
What had changed? Were Faith's memories really so terrible? Did she hate Buffy that much? Then where did last night come from? Faith had kissed her. Faith had loved her.
And before? All those months of Faith watching her, eyes wandering, lazy half-smile on her face. Faith's teasing, Faith's sly jabs and innuendo, the way they had danced together, like they were the only two people in the world –
Was Faith thinking of that? Of last night – the slow, exploding heat between them, the way it should have been, the way Buffy still wanted it to be. The way they'd woken up together, small sleepy sighs and soft touches, smiling into each other's eyes. Buffy's breath hitched with silent tears. Had Faith lost that, somehow? She'd promised she would remember! She couldn't just toss last night aside, as though it was a mistake, as though it was nothing...
"What is going on?" Mom asked, searching everyone's faces for an explanation, and getting none. "Why are you all acting like Faith is suddenly your enemy?"
"Because I am," Faith said, not taking her eyes off Buffy. "Isn't that right? No matter how much you wanted to think I wasn't. Nice try, B, but it was never gonna work."
Everybody watched Buffy, waiting for her to speak, to tell them how to act, how to handle this new Faith. They'd only forgiven her halfway, and what the hell did that even mean? If you forgave somebody, you couldn't go back on it, you couldn't keep bringing up the past. Say something! her mind screamed, but the huge aching lump in her throat wouldn't let her. She couldn't breathe, couldn't move, and behind Faith's anger she saw a flash of disappointment that hurt worse than a thousand knife cuts.
"Yeah," Faith said, disgusted, after a long moment. "That's what I thought."
And before anyone could stop her, she ran.
The door banged shut behind her. The silence lasted for a split second longer, and then everyone started to talk. Giles tried to explain to Mom what had happened while she was gone. Willow asked Tara what was wrong, and Tara shook her head, unable to answer. Xander picked up his chair, babbling the whole time about how if he never got zapped by a body-altering spell it would still be an eon or three too soon.
Buffy stood up and walked to the door, Faith's words still ringing in her mind. Did she really believe they could never make things work? Faith with her memories back would have no reason to trust her. Buffy had let her down too often. She'd shied away from being Faith's friend because she was worried that Faith might try to make it more than that. And Faith had hurt her, too – tried to pin Finch's murder on her, tried to steal Angel's soul – if she really did care for Buffy, if last night really meant something, then she must be feeling the guilt of all those betrayals. Every fight, every disappointment.
It wasn't Faith's fault she couldn't handle it. None of them had been able to prepare her for what her memory would hold. Faith had always been so independent, so stand-offish about her past – none of them knew what she was facing right now.
And Buffy wasn't going to let Faith's memory destroy her. She opened the door. Faith was nowhere in sight. With Slayer speed, there was no reason she should be. Everyone in the living room was still arguing. Xander calmed himself with a therapeutic Twinkie. Tara was the only one looking in her direction. Silent and calm, she raised her eyebrows, asking Buffy why she was still here. Buffy smiled at her. Through the chaos of the Scoobies' argument, Tara was encouraging her to go and find Faith.
Buffy slipped out of the house, closing the door softly behind her. She closed her eyes. Two nights ago, hunting vampires, she had felt Faith's presence: the strength of her, the surprise that gave way to fierce longing, the heat of their connection. Faith had followed her by the muted hum of their Slayer-tingles. Buffy pushed down her own feelings and searched for Faith the same way. She opened up to the part of herself that knew, without understanding, where Faith was.
Maybe it shouldn't have surprised her that it was Faith's old apartment.
The building, on the outside, was worn down and dirty, edging the factory district on one side and tenements on the other. Inside, even the stairways and elevators looked old, with chipped paint and cracked plaster. Buffy trailed a fingertip over the rough brickwork. The last time she'd come here, she'd expected Faith's apartment to be as dingy as her motel room. It had crossed Buffy's mind to feel sorry for her, despite the fact that she'd come to kill her. And, even with Faith's knife in her hand and Angel's blood on her sleeves, she had paused here long enough for regrets. The lobby seemed built for them, dim and dusty like old memories.
Buffy climbed the stairs. It wasn't that she didn't trust the elevator so much as that she was retracing her steps. Eight months ago she'd come this way, knife in her hand and murder in her heart. Giving herself over to rage because if she allowed herself to calm down, she'd know she didn't want this, didn't want Faith's death. She only wanted Faith to come back to her. To come home.
Seeing that the Mayor had completely remodeled the apartment had been a shock. Seeing Faith acting completely at home there had been worse. It had helped, at the time – helped her to be angry, helped her to be cold.
Now, pushing the door open in the last of the afternoon light, everything had changed. The apartment was empty. No furniture, no large-screen TV, no stereo system. Golden light, sliding through the wide bay window, lit the dust motes floating in the air. Canvas had been stretched over the frame where the window was smashed, but someone had peeled away the duct tape, and now it flapped in the breeze.
Buffy stepped over the railing in front of the window seat and brushed the canvas aside. Faith stood on the stone railing, staring down, as if she could chart her own fall to the road below if only she looked hard enough. Buffy climbed out onto the balcony, silent as only a Slayer can be, but Faith knew she was there anyway. It was something Buffy never thought about before: how much their connection meant. Or was it that it was stronger now? Buffy had always been aware of Faith's nearness, and when they touched she felt the soaring fever of her skin. Maybe only now did she realize what it meant.
Buffy lifted her head at Faith's question, low and sudden. She wanted to scream at her to get down, but she answered calmly instead. "In L.A. He left just after – after Graduation."
"You see him much?"
"Once. To confirm it was over."
"Love of your life. Soulmate, remember? Gone like that." Faith raised her chin and stared away over the rooftops. "Traded him in for Captain Cardboard."
"I didn't exactly trade..." Buffy stopped. They were falling into the old pattern, Faith goading her with tactless honesty and making her tense and defensive. This wasn't really about Riley, or Angel for that matter. "I think we just finally realized that he's going to live forever, and I'm really, really not."
"And I'm a Slayer, so you figured I'd at least be someone to die with."
Buffy shook her head. "No. I wanted someone to live with."
"And now you've left soldier-boy for me, is that it?" Faith let out a snort of unamused laughter. "I can't say I'm liking the progression, here."
Buffy stepped over to the barrier and leaned against it, so that she could look up into Faith's face. She still wanted nothing more than for Faith to get down, away from the edge. Faith didn't look like she was going to jump, but at least if Buffy stood here she could pull her back if she tried. "I didn't break up with Riley for you," she said. "I did it for me. I didn't love him."
Faith smiled, distantly. "But you do love me." She said it flatly, but Buffy could hear the question in her voice.
"I do," Buffy said softly, studying the railing, Faith's boots beside her.
"Bullshit!" Faith was suddenly loud, and her voice cracked. "Bullshit, Buffy, because two days out of a coma means nothing, not one fucking thing. You don't love me. You love the me who doesn't remember the way we fucked each other over last year."
"I'm not the one who forgot what you did! Or what I did. And I didn't fall in love with you in two days, either. I just –" Buffy paused, wondering what she had done. "I forgave you."
Faith crossed her arms. "I don't need you feeling sorry for me. I didn't then and I don't now."
"It's not pity, Faith." Buffy gripped the stone in front of her until she felt the mortar starting to crumble. "You never knew the difference."
"And you never knew when to back the fuck off." Faith glared down at her.
Buffy glared right back. Faith was holding up her walls as best she could, but Buffy had lived in her body. She knew the signs, and she knew how hard it was not to let everything come rushing out. It was so easy to be angry, for Faith. So easy to just keep pushing.
"You kissed me first," she reminded Faith, suddenly smiling. Last night she'd been the one denying it. Faith's mouth against hers, the quick mingle of their breaths, had shocked her. Not the action, but her instant response. She drew in a breath. Faith's lips had tasted so good, the wet glide of her tongue catching against hers, until they were wrapped together so tight Buffy was sure they still hadn't let go.
Faith's face flushed and her breathing was quick and light. "Why'd you do it, anyway?" she asked, nearly whispering.
Buffy turned around, so that she could lean back against the warm stone. Faith was gorgeous in the sunset, all dusky skin and glowing eyes. Buffy couldn't help but smile. It wasn't her smile – it was the ghost of Faith's leer, so familiar from the face she'd worn for the past day. "You know why," she said, letting her eyes trail down Faith's body.
"You were – I was horny," Faith said. "So you finally got it, huh?"
"You always feel that much?" Buffy asked, as if she didn't know, hadn't felt it. "That's – I don't know. Scary. Amazing. How do you...control it?"
"Badly." Faith let out a breath. "Buffy, you know I always wanted you – even when I didn't know I always wanted you, I wanted you. God. I – I can't –"
"It's all right. I know..." Buffy wanted to reach out to touch Faith, to hold her. She smiled to herself. She wanted more than that. She wanted to kiss Faith, to melt into her the way they had last night. This time, in their own bodies...for real, this time. For them. Staring at Faith, her lips slightly parted, Buffy shivered and let a sigh escape her lips, nearly a moan.
Faith closed her eyes and shuddered. "Don't."
"You're here. I'm here." Buffy gave in to her desire and let a finger run down the back of Faith's calf. This wasn't like her at all, but maybe she'd learned something from Faith's body. They were alive today. They were here. Buffy wanted her; she wanted Faith to stay, and maybe this was the only way to convince her. Maybe, if Faith had learned something in return, she would finally open up...and give up the idea of running.
Faith caught her breath. "I held a knife to Willow's throat," she said, like she was reciting a list. "I nearly strangled Xander while I was raping him. I poisoned Angel. I –"
"I remember that stuff now, Buffy. I can't pretend it didn't happen! You can't forgive me for that!" Faith kicked a rock off the roof-edge. It shattered a window across the street.
"I can," Buffy said. "You had no idea what was happening for the past two days. We switched bodies and fought vampires. You could have freaked out but you didn't. You helped me! That's who you are, Faith." She touched Faith's calf again, softly, feeling their connection buzz through her fingertip. "That's who I fell in love with. Not your mistakes."
Faith's shoulders drooped, falling out of her tense, defensive stance. "All those times I flirted with you..."
"Scared the hell out of me," Buffy admitted. "It's not like I didn't notice."
Faith smiled, shakily. The sun was lower than the tops of the buildings around them, draping the balcony in twilight. Faith's eyes shone, and Buffy felt her heart squeeze. Tears...how long could it have been since Faith had cried? Had allowed herself to let anyone see?
"Come down, Faith," she said, at last, when there seemed nothing more to say.
Faith glanced down at the street below, then turned to Buffy. "You ever dream of flying?"
"Yes..." Buffy tightened her grip on the barrier. What was Faith doing?
"I never did." Faith spread her arms, a bird ready for flight. "It's a lot like falling, I bet. Except you think you're in control."
"Faith –" Buffy heard the fear in her own voice, the desperation. "Please, get down."
"You're not, though," Faith said, almost to herself. "You never are." She took a deep, uneven breath. "Buffy..."
"I love you." Faith let her arms drop, her eyes drift shut.
Buffy felt her fear melt away. Back at the house she'd had no idea what to do, what to say to make Faith hers. Now, in the fading shadows of evening, it was easy, so easy. She leapt up beside Faith, so that they were both standing above the city with nothing between them and that awful fall. She circled Faith with her arms, buried her face on her shoulder, and let herself cry.
Faith's arms wrapped around her. Her skin was soft, and warm, and even though it had been hers for a day Buffy knew she could never have worn it this well. Faith was really Faith now, and Buffy held her as if it was the only thing making them real. Faith's shoulders shook, and Buffy felt the heat of her tears. Early this morning, in the dim cold light of dawn, Buffy had forgiven Faith, in the choice between running and staying. But until now, Faith hadn't let herself accept it.
Now, on the rooftop, with the night cool around them, Buffy sighed into Faith's neck. She brushed her lips against Faith's throat, whispering love into her skin. Faith's arms tightened around her.
"B..." she sighed, in the husky voice that was all hers, all Faith. Buffy felt her mouth, open and warm just behind her earlobe.
Faith's tongue flickered out, tracing over the tiny, sensitive places behind her ear, along her jaw. Buffy gasped. Faith knew her body so well, and she was using that knowledge, turning Buffy's legs to water. They wobbled, and Buffy laughed breathlessly through the last of her tears. If they fell now, what would Willow and Xander think? That this had ended in another death match?
"Faith," she said again, and for once her voice came out right: husky-soft, dark with desire. "Let's get down."
"I have lots of plans that involve going down," Faith replied.
Buffy moaned. "Now...please?"
Faith's only answer was to kiss her. Buffy flowed into the kiss, forgetting the danger. Her hands wandering over just above the flare of Faith's hips, over, and then under her shirt. Then –
Faith jerked back, looking suddenly apologetic. "What?"
"Take off your shirt!"
"What, now? Here?" Faith raised an eyebrow, thinking about it. "I think I love you even more."
"No – look!" Buffy tugged impatiently at Faith's t-shirt. "Feel."
Faith lifted a hand to her side, running it over her stomach. Her eyes widened. Buffy stared, touching the spot where eight months ago she'd sunk a knife deep under Faith's ribs. There was no sign of it now.
Faith's scar was gone.
Faith held Buffy's hand as they came out of the apartment building. Grey twilight, fading to orange in the west, glimmered above them in the narrow lanes of sky between buildings. Faith turned away from the light, into the long shadows that inked the alley. Buffy followed her, only the eager gleam of her eyes and the flash of her smile giving away her position. Faith sank into the rhythm of hunting as naturally as breathing. She was a Slayer, and it was good, so good, to have that power. Night was their time – hers and Buffy's. God, she'd missed this! Eight months! It felt like a lifetime. She'd fallen into a deeper darkness than any she'd known, but she'd climbed out on the other side, and somewhere along the way, she'd learned to fly. She felt like a falcon, light and strong and fierce. Joy filled her in a sudden wave, and she laughed, and pulled Buffy into her arms just because she could.
"You know how long I've wanted to patrol with you?" she asked, letting her hands fall to Buffy's hips and tugging her closer.
"We patrolled together all the time," Buffy said. She blushed, flustered and pink, but she smiled coyly at Faith through her lashes. Her hands crept up Faith's arms until they linked behind her neck.
"Not like this," Faith murmured. Buffy's eyes were so incredibly green, like the sea when it grew deep enough to be dangerous. Faith started to smile, losing herself in Buffy's dreamy, unhurried gaze. She'd never been able to stare for as long as she wanted. She'd never come close to filling herself with just looking. Buffy's eyes darkened, and it was like watching a storm drift in over open waters. Faith felt like she'd never breathe again, and that it didn't matter, she wouldn't need to. Buffy was there to bring her back to life, every time. Faith leaned forward until their foreheads were touching. Excitement shimmered through her, and she knew better than to think it was nothing but their Slayer connection. Buffy's lips parted slightly, and Faith heard the sharp intake of her breath.
"What are you thinking?" Buffy's fingers whispered through Faith's hair, tracing shivery trails over the back of her neck.
Faith raised an eyebrow. "Remember Homecoming?" she asked, grinning. She did. She remembered, which was almost as good as the memory itself.
"I remember being wet and muddy –"
"I remember your dress nearly falling off 'cause the strap was torn. You were so fucking beautiful..." Faith smiled. "Still are."
Buffy's answering smile was like a sunrise. "Not like you." She leaned forward until their lips met. Faith caught her breath and closed her eyes under the gentle assault of Buffy's tiny butterfly kisses.
Faith had never believed in luck, just in shitty things happening, but she had to be luckiest person in the world right now. Her amnesia was cured – and if a lot of her life was terrible, then a lot more was memories of Buffy – her adorable, embarrassed blush when Faith had pressed her about loving the Slaying; every smartass quip she'd ever made during training or on patrol; the way they'd danced...like lovers, teasing each other with every melting look and flirting touch, knowing that they'd come together eventually but in the meantime pretending to be just good friends, really. And it had all gone to shit, yeah, but here they were now, and Buffy was so soft, so wonderfully warm in Faith's arms. Impatient, Faith sucked Buffy's lower lip into her mouth, pushing forward. This kiss came with memories: the sweet-dusky taste of Buffy's mouth, the insistent, heated slide of her tongue.
"Buffy," Faith breathed, the word lost in Buffy's lips. "God, yeah..." She hooked her hands under Buffy's ass, pulling her up until she was half supported by Faith's thigh, and half by her arms around Faith's neck. Buffy moaned softly, both satisfied and longing, a sound of oh, finally, yes.
Buffy deepened the kiss, her mouth slanting across Faith's, their tongues meeting and twining together. Eagerly, Faith massaged Buffy's ass, her hands moving in time with her thundering pulse. For a long moment after Tara and Willow's spell, she'd felt like she had two lives: the person she'd been before the coma, and the person she'd become. She'd felt cracked in half, dizzy and uncertain. How could she be both – the enraged Slayer and the woman who'd fallen in love in the space of a day? Kissing Buffy, now, here, was like every answer she'd ever wanted. She'd always loved Buffy. The yearning she'd felt, the familiarity, was her heart remembering more than her mind ever could. Remembering that this was possible, Buffy kissing her more and more frantically, her hips moving in tiny jerks under Faith's hands.
Buffy broke away from the kiss, her breathing harsh and uneven. "Ohhh...Faith...love you," she panted, and rolled her hips forward, slow and hard. Her head dipped forward, her fingers clutching the back of Faith's neck. She gasped and rocked forward again. Faith watched for a long moment, her mouth open, hardly able to breathe. Buffy was so goddamn sexy, her body trembling as she desperately tried to control the rhythm of her hips, squeezing Faith's thigh between her legs, that Faith barely realized her hands were helping Buffy push closer each time.
Faith took a deep breath and swallowed hard. "Hey," she said, releasing her grip and stroking her hands down Buffy's back. "Thought I was the horny one here?"
Buffy tilted her head back, her eyes dark and half-closed, breathing quick and light. She pouted slightly. "I never said I wasn't..."
"You did learn a few things in my body then..."
"Just...that I didn't have to hide it all the time..."
"Mmm." Faith lifted Buffy away from her, half her mind telling her not to be stupid, go for it, here was as good as any other place, and the other half saying that they were still in an alley and maybe that would be good enough someday but right now it sure as hell wasn't. She wanted all of Buffy, naked and spread on soft sheets and breathlessly begging Faith to oh God just do it, please Faith, I'm so close, I need you, want you, love – you – oh – Faith! "Not yet."
Buffy pouted harder for a second, then suddenly grinned. "Race you?"
Before Faith could answer, Buffy took off, running down the alley. "Hey!" Faith yelled, sounding like her old self, of angry sex and laughter. "No fair, B!"
Buffy spun around at the corner where the alley met the street, her blond hair whipping over her shoulder. "Aw, you weren't ready yet, Faith?" She touched her forefinger to her breastbone, then ran it slowly down the front of her blouse, letting it catch on the dipping waist of her jeans, tugging them lower. Faith felt all her breath leave her body. Buffy's eyes slid closed, and she licked her lips. Faith slumped back against the cement, her knees melting, her pulse pounding so hard she was amazed she didn't keel over from a heart attack. When exactly had Buffy learned to do...this? She was going to die, she was really going to die of wanting Buffy naked and moaning beneath her. Buffy looked up, slowly, staring at Faith, her finger toying with the top button of her fly. "'Cause I was."
Faith groaned. "That...is not...fair."
"I didn't think so," Buffy said with a wounded sniff.
Faith pushed off from the wall and sprinted for Buffy. Buffy squeaked in surprise when she saw Faith coming after her. She bolted, laughing breathlessly, glancing over her shoulder to see if Faith was catching up. She ran like a cheetah, golden and graceful and faster than any human could ever be. Faith matched her, pushing hard to close the distance between them. Their feet pounded the asphalt, Buffy's laughter and Faith's curses echoing off the walls.
Buffy didn't run directly for home, but dodged into a sidestreet, then burst out into a kids' park, racing across the soccer field. Faith closed in behind her, adrenaline surging through her. She was only a breath behind when Buffy hurdled a fence into another maze of back streets. Faith knew all of them like the back of her hand. Buffy was a flitting shadow in front of her, disappearing and reappearing as she chose an almost random series of lefts and rights. Faith followed her easily. She remembered every dark corner, every make-out spot in all of Sunnydale. She'd used more than a few of them in her time, and saved a lot of people from fatal hickies in the rest. She reached for a burst of speed, caught Buffy's wrist, and jerked her to a stop.
Immediately they were kissing again. Buffy slid into Faith's grasp, soft and yielding, abandoning any sign that she'd ever wanted to escape. They were both panting and frantic. Buffy stepped back for an instant and yanked the hand Faith held across her body, spinning her around. Faith ended up pressed face-first to the wall. Buffy held her there, one hand over hers on the bricks, the other squeezing her hip. They kissed again, Faith with her face turned sideways to meet Buffy's mouth. Their lips crashed together. The kiss was hard and deep and rough and oh so right. Faith bucked backwards. Buffy slammed her body forward again.
"Stay," Buffy hissed. She pushed her hands under Faith's t-shirt. Her fingernails grazed the skin over Faith's ribs, then moved up.
Faith gave a high-pitched moan, almost a sound of pain. Her pussy ached, a sudden throbbing demand, and how did Buffy know? "B-Buffy –"
"Want you," Buffy muttered. Her hands cupped Faith's breasts. She circled her thumbs around Faith's nipples through her bra. They hardened under her touch. Faith felt her hips shove forward in instinctive response. There was nothing to press her pussy against, and she whined in protest. Buffy gasped when Faith's ass rammed back into her crotch. "You like this, hmm, Faith?" she asked, panting. She pinched Faith's nipples. Faith surged backwards. Her whole body was on fire, her nipples sending shocks of pleasure deep into her center. "You like me...in charge. God, I was so horny yesterday...when it hurt just a little bit..." Buffy took a shuddering breath, then closed her teeth on the juncture of Faith's shoulder and neck.
"Ahhh – Buffy!" Faith's breasts pressed into the wall, her nipples hard and electric with pleasure-pain from the rough touch. Her face turned so that half was scraped by the bricks, the other half meeting Buffy's skin, her lips hot and violent, her hair brushing between them. Faith spread her legs as she leaned forward, loving the feel of every inch of Buffy's body pinning her to the wall.
Buffy turned her bite into a sucking kiss, just under the collar of Faith's shirt. Faith shuddered beneath her. Before...before, she'd always wanted control, needed it, demanded it. Buffy stripped it away, left her needing more than she'd ever get, and Faith loved it anyway. Her body wanted to lose control. Anger or passion, it was all the same, and Buffy knew that, Buffy was giving her permission to lose herself in feeling. Buffy's hand splayed open on her stomach, then crept lower. Buffy was the only one who could control her body when she let loose. Her hand pushed beneath the waistband of Faith's pants. Her fingers went further, until they rested an inch above where Faith wanted her most. Faith writhed, her legs opening wider, her body begging for that touch.
Buffy's breath puffed against her ear. "You...don't want this here..."
Faith squeezed her eyes closed. It was hard to focus on anything. Buffy's fingers were pressing, circling, and at any moment they might move down that last tiny distance to her clit. Fuck, she could feel herself getting wet, desperate for Buffy's touch. But, no, not here. She wanted Buffy on her own terms: their own bodies, both of them knowing what they were getting into. Taking all their history into account and saying that none of it mattered. Faith gripped Buffy's wrist and slipped her hand out of her pants. She turned around, still holding Buffy's hand, and kissed her fingertips. She could smell herself, and she closed her eyes for a second, getting her control back. "Your place?" she asked. "What if everyone's there?"
Buffy nearly growled, sounding sexy as fuck. "Then they'd better have stakes and holy water, because I am kicking them out."
Faith tried to picture Buffy forcing a stake into her mom's hand and hustling her out into the night just so they could get down and dirty, and raised an eyebrow, amused. Buffy had learned a thing or two about want, take, have. And it seemed to work both ways. Faith leaned back against the brick wall. She was horny as hell, yeah, and it wasn't like her body wasn't yelling for her to get back to the business at hand, but there was something deeper than that, too. A sort of deep, slow satisfaction, a lazy sense that they had all the time in the world. A feeling that maybe it was just as good to want as to get; that stolen kisses in all of Sunnydale's alleys were enough in themselves.
Buffy stepped closer, between her legs, and lifted a hand to touch her cheek, and Faith leaned forward to taste her lips. God, she loved Buffy, and maybe what Buffy's body had taught her was that forever was possible. They kissed, and it was so, so gentle, but there was an amazing emotion behind it, and for once, Faith wasn't scared. They were still Slayers, still like as not to die some night when a demon got lucky, but Faith had woken up this morning in Buffy's bed, in Buffy's arms, and even now, remembering everything, she knew she wanted the same thing tomorrow. The itch between her shoulderblades that had kept her running every year since her mom kicked her out had finally vanished. She watched Buffy's eyes, in the tiny moments between kisses, and felt a love so deep she knew it was printed on her bones, in her muscles; it was part of her, part of her body. Beyond memory. Buffy studied her solemnly, and traced her thumbs over Faith's cheeks. In the touch of her skin Faith knew that Buffy felt the same thing. It shone through their connection like moonlight, white and clear.
"Let's go," she said. "Home."
It wasn't far. The lights were off, and Buffy had to use her key to let them in. "Okay," she said. "Either they decided we're trying to kill each other and have gone searching for us, or they figured out we're not trying to kill each other, in which case I really don't want to know how they explained that to my mom."
Faith picked up a note that was laying on the small table near the door. "Um, B, I'm thinking it was door number two."
Buffy snatched the note from her and read it. "Tara seems to think I should work late tonight. Very late. We will talk in the morning, young lady."
Faith wrapped her arms around Buffy from behind and rested her chin on her shoulder. "It doesn't say 'young lady'."
Buffy dropped the paper. "Oh yes it does. I can just hear it tacked on at the end."
"You can hear the writing that isn't there?" Faith grinned.
Buffy nodded. "Yes. Yes I can. That or 'Buffy Anne Summers, you had better stay put.'"
"Hmm." Faith turned her head slightly, pushing Buffy's hair away, and kissed the side of her neck. "Is that bad?"
Buffy shivered. "You...ah...don't understand..."
"I don't?" Faith nibbled her way up to Buffy's earlobe, teasing it over and over with her tongue.
"Nooo..." Buffy's eyes slid closed and she tilted her head, baring her throat. "Tara's...a complete stranger...Mom's never even – unnh – met her..."
"Mmm-hmm." Faith let her mouth follow a leisurely path down Buffy's neck, pausing randomly to lick small patterns, or suck gently on her skin. "So?"
"So...she's...uh..." Buffy seemed to lose her train of thought for a moment, then shook herself slightly and continued. "So Mom shouldn't have heard it from her."
"You don't trust Tara?" Faith asked, smiling into Buffy's skin. She returned to Buffy's earlobe again, exploring the tiny spot behind it that had driven her crazy last night whenever Buffy touched it.
"It's just..." Buffy gasped and panted softly. "Oh...Faith..."
"You know what..."
Faith bit gently at Buffy's throat, just below her ear, and teased her tongue over Buffy's skin. "I do?" she whispered, her breath raising goosebumps. She knew Buffy was close to cracking, and the thought that she was the one doing it, she was the one Buffy was moaning for, was such a fucking turn on.
Buffy whimpered, her hands clutching at Faith's on her stomach. "Okay, okay! I'm taking a magnifying glass and asking the gift horse to say 'ahh'."
"More like a telescope," Faith said, trying not to smirk. Oh, yeah, she was good. The house was empty and Buffy wanted to analyze it to death. Faith could appreciate patience better now, maybe, but that didn't mean she was dead. Less thinking, more groping!
"I do want to tell her –"
"We'll tell her," Faith assured her. "Tomorrow."
"Yeah," Buffy sighed, melting backwards. "God, you're incredible. I don't think I can walk."
"Really not a problem," Faith said. She swept Buffy off her feet, grinning at her astonished squeal, and charged up the stairs. Faith grinned. The crashing, exultant joy from earlier was back. "We're Slayers, girlfriend!"
"The chosen two," Buffy answered, laughing. She slipped out of Faith's hold at the top of the stairs.
Faith waggled her eyebrows, daring her, laughing. She was a Slayer! No one could beat her. Only Buffy could match her. And it wasn't like she was going to try to win. Much. "You gonna try something, B?"
Buffy gave a show of innocence, then, faster than even Faith expected, stepped forward and hooked her leg behind Faith's knee. She jerked Faith off-balance, catching her as she fell. Buffy smiled smugly, carrying her the rest of the way to her bedroom, and said, "You're not the only one."
Faith rolled her eyes. "Like I could forget," she said with a snicker. Even when she'd first woken up, disoriented and aimless, she'd known there was something superhuman about Buffy. "Put me down."
Buffy raised an eyebrow, a hint of a smile curving her lips. "Make me."
"Oh, B, you did not just challenge me..."
"Oh, I think I did," Buffy said. The smug smile was back in full force.
Faith gave her most dangerous stare, but Buffy didn't flinch. Probably because Faith couldn't seem to stop smiling for more than a second. She knew what was coming. They might not be enemies, but part of their friendship had always been the half-serious contest to see who could come out on top...and this was just another way of winning. Faith stretched, arching her entire body in Buffy's arms like a lazy cat, letting out a moan that was nearly a purr. She caught a bit of the smug smile herself when Buffy's eyes widened and her breath hissed out. Before she could regain her control, Faith reached down and pulled off her shirt in a single lithe motion, flinging it away.
"You sure you don't want to put me down?" she asked, letting a single fingertip drift down her stomach to her bellybutton, her own featherlight touch making her shiver. Buffy wasn't the only one who knew how to tease. Her nipples hardened, dusky pink and straining through the black lace of her bra. She was going crazy, wanting Buffy's mouth on her, sucking and biting. She licked her lips, staring into Buffy's eyes, and without thinking, let her hand brush across her breast, sighing when her nipple tingled in her palm.
Buffy nearly dropped her. Her mouth was open slightly, her eyes full of shocked arousal. "Bed. Now."
Faith was so eager to do just that, she forgot to gloat. That one whispering touch had brought back all the urgency of their earlier kisses. Her pussy ached, and she was so fucking wet, and she could smell that Buffy was too. Keeping her eyes on Buffy's face, Faith unhooked her bra, letting it follow her shirt to the floor.
"Oh, God...Faith..." Buffy's gaze was hotter than sunlight. Faith felt like she'd be burned by her look alone. The awed, open desire on Buffy's face made her even more beautiful. She stepped forward slowly, as if she was walking through water, and her eyes took in every detail of Faith's body.
She reached for Faith hesitantly, as if she was suddenly shy, and her touch was softer than anything Faith could remember. Faith groaned in frustration. She took Buffy's wrists and moved her hands to where she wanted them. "Like before," she whispered.
Buffy met her eyes for an instant, then, without warning, she bent forward and took Faith's nipple in her mouth.
"Oh fuck," Faith whispered. Sweet fire erupted low in her belly. The only thing that existed was Buffy, her mouth, her hands pulling Faith towards her. Buffy bit her nipple, swirling her tongue across the peak over and over again. Faith gripped her arms hard enough to leave marks, gasping for more. Buffy's hand found her other nipple and pinched it. Faith jerked and shuddered. Buffy traced ghost patterns on her skin, and ran a fingertip along the crease under her breast, her teeth nipping and exploring at the same time. "Ah fuck that's it, yeah – B – so good –"
Buffy ran her tongue up over the curve of her breast. "You're gorgeous..."
Faith chuckled breathlessly. "I noticed...yesterday..."
"So did I," Buffy admitted, blushing.
"Did you touch yourself?" Faith asked. She met Buffy's eyes for a long, burning moment, and then Buffy ducked her head to hide her embarrassment. "Did you?" Faith insisted, dark-voiced, pushing. "In the shower, imagining it was me?"
"Yeah," Buffy breathed. Her eyes were bright and wild with embarrassment and remembered heat. She shoved Faith onto the bed and climbed on top of her, her hands busy on Faith's belt. She pushed Faith's pants open and closed her eyes, breathing deeply of Faith's scent. Faith lay back and let her, transfixed, her skin burning. She was so hot, and Buffy blushed even harder when she said, "I couldn't help myself. I always...just...I mean, you were always so sexy, so obvious...and I wanted a part of that. I...love your breasts...your stomach..." She massaged each part as she named it, ducking to kiss Faith just above her bellybutton, her tongue flicking over her skin. Faith panted each time she felt the nibbling pass of Buffy's mouth. Buffy was so fucking good, every word she said bolting through Faith like a thousand touches. She pressed her palm to Faith's pussy, and Faith arched off the bed. "I love this," Buffy whispered. "So soft..." Roughly, suddenly, she pulled Faith's pants off her hips.
"Fuck, Buffy!" Faith felt the heated tide of all of Buffy's kisses running through her. "You gotta lose the clothes."
Buffy kissed her, then backed away with a secret smile, looking down at herself. She was fully dressed, straddling Faith's hips, and she brushed her lips next to Faith's ear. "I do?" she asked, full of sweet coyness. "Why, what do you want to do to me?"
"Everything," Faith said, dropping her hands to her sides in total surrender, total honesty. She wanted to memorize Buffy with her eyes, to imprint her brain with every moment she never thought she'd have. She wanted to create a memory she'd been forbidden before. She'd always believed Buffy's love would save her. Maybe not so literally, bandaging the soul-wounded parts of her that needed this moment even more than her body did, but she'd known. Buffy was the only one Faith would allow to give her everything. The only one she'd give everything to in return.
Buffy breathed out, desperately slowly. "Oh, Faith..."
"I love you, Buffy." It was easier saying it now, as if practicing could make it flow from her lips. It would never be commonplace, though, never words that Faith could drop like casual conversation.
Buffy smiled and backed away, standing up past the end of the bed, her eyes never leaving Faith's. She grabbed the hem of her shirt and raised it over her head, letting her whole body tighten in one long glorious stretch, showing off, her muscles rippling under her summertan skin. Faith watched, watched, couldn't look away, remembered the softness of that skin in her own shower, remembered it hard and hurting a thousand other times, remembered it best when Buffy touched her last night, wanting her and not the body she wore. Buffy unfastened her bra and dropped it, unbuttoned her pants and stepped out of them in an easy graceful motion. Moonlight outlined her ribs, the shallow curve of her breasts, the perfect dip of her side where her waist met her hips. Faith's eyes traveled down, to the trimmed hair between her legs, glistening with arousal. Faith forced herself to stay still, waiting while Buffy teased them both, lifting her hands up through her hair the way Faith did when she danced.
"You have a fucking amazing body, B," Faith whispered.
"Mmm..." Buffy preened, half aren't-I-pretty happiness, half dark eagerness, and her nipples stiffened into hard peaks, and Faith wanted to taste them. She wanted to laugh, suddenly, amazed all over again that she was here. Buffy came to her, crawling across the bed, and Faith forgot she'd wanted to laugh. She was dizzy and feverish and Buffy felt like hot silk against her, that gorgeous skin against hers. Her thoughts whirled, oh sweet fuck, oh God, and she remembered flying again; being with Buffy was flying.
"I want..." Buffy closed her eyes, then opened them again, looking half-drugged with moonlight and love.
"What?" Faith asked, mapping Buffy's body with her hands, finding every spot that made her moan, made her heart pound. "Tell me."
"You...I want to touch you..." Buffy kissed her, her breath hitching and uneven, trying to hold back and failing. She moaned. Faith swallowed the sound, met it with desperate words of her own. Buffy's tongue struggled with hers, and their hands tangled reaching for each other. Faith flipped them over, rolling Buffy half underneath her, and kissed her way down her body.
"Ahh...oh Faith...yes," Buffy whimpered, shivering when Faith reached her breasts. Faith gave her a wicked grin and taunted her with her tongue, mouthing the rounded side of her breast, licking over and under and down to her stomach and returning and giving her nothing. Buffy jumped and quivered, her stomach taut under Faith's kisses. She bit her lip on a frustrated groan. "You...uhhn..."
Faith kissed her stomach, sent her tongue darting into her bellybutton, fucking it teasingly. The sound of her name on Buffy's lips urged her on, and she ran a hand down to Buffy's thighs. "God, you're so wet."
"For you..." Buffy lifted her hips slightly. Faith gasped, seeing her exposed, her pussy lips deep pink and swollen. She pressed against Buffy's thighs, spreading her, brushing her inner thighs with her fingers. "Ohhh – unnh!" Buffy's muscles trembled, and Faith could see her hole clenching and releasing, so ready for her touch.
"B, fuck you're beautiful, oh God..." Faith positioned herself over Buffy, between her legs, then lowered herself until their clits rubbed together.
Buffy's head lolled back and her mouth opened in a silent cry. She moved under Faith's weight, grinding her body upwards.
"Ahhh, shit, Buffy!" Faith pushed her hips back in instant response. Her muscles pulsed in reaction, pure pleasure centering so deep inside. She dropped her head, kissing every inch of Buffy's skin she could reach, finally taking Buffy's nipple into her mouth. Buffy's breath exploded out, her body going insane, moving into Faith's touch.
"Ohh...uhhn – Faith –" Buffy moaned over and over, her hips flaring upwards in flawless rhythm. Every sliding movement jarred Faith with exquisite sensation, perfect and untouchable. She was hot and wet and sliding her clit against Buffy's pussy, supporting herself on her arms, pleasure ripping through her in long dark waves. She pressed her hips down in a light circle. Buffy's hand clamped down on her wrist, her mouth open and panting, her eyes fixed on Faith's. Her legs twined around Faith's back, pulling them together. "So close," she said, fast and frantic. "So ready. I'm...going to come for you, Faith, for you –"
"Buffy...Buffy..." Faith said her name each time she rolled her hips down, with each flaring burst of excitement.
Buffy bit her lip, her fingers digging into Faith's wrist. Her eyes flickered shut. With an amazed cry, she froze, then bucked up harder and faster. "Oh! Oh! Yesss!"
Faith tried to match Buffy's pace. She felt her orgasm building, so close, like sunlight, like ocean waves, like joy filling her mind and leaving her empty and pure. Faith came in a rush, wild and delirious, pressing her mouth to Buffy's, kissing her, kissing her. She felt each shudder that ran through Buffy's body, the long slow sigh as she relaxed.
"Mmm..." Buffy moaned deep in her throat. She reached up a hand, burying it in Faith's hair, holding her still for the soft kisses that were bringing them back to themselves. Faith rocked her hips forward a few more times, slowing and finally stopping.
"So good," Faith muttered, kissing around Buffy's ears, smiling when Buffy sighed. She didn't know what else to say. She buried her face in the hot junction of Buffy's neck and shoulder, kissing and nibbling. How could she tell her how much this meant – how there had never been anyone who gave her so much without causing pain?
But then, Faith didn't really want to think about before. She'd been given a second chance, and really, wasn't that enough? Her scar was gone, and she could feel that her soul was her own again. If her connection to Buffy was deepened because of that, then that was a good thing – it had to be. If she tried, Faith could sense the thrumming contentment running through Buffy's mind. Probably it would only make them better Slayers, a better team.
Was that what Buffy wanted now? Where was Faith's place? Yesterday she'd had no idea what the Scoobies meant when they called her psycho, murderer, slut. Now she couldn't forget.
Buffy slid her fingertips down the length of Faith's back. "Do you remember that day?" she asked, suddenly, her hands never pausing their light strokes.
Faith shifted her weight. She didn't need to ask which day. She remembered Alan Finch's blood on her hands, Buffy's horrified face as Faith pulled her away. The thing about regaining her memory was that she couldn't shut it off when she wanted. "Yeah."
"I almost..." Buffy paused. "I mean, I would have. That night. If..."
"If I hadn't killed that guy." Faith muttered the words, muffling them in Buffy's chest. She hated talking about it. She hated remembering. Maybe that had always been her problem. She lived like the future was the only thing, running away from any yesterday that was less than perfect. She kissed along Buffy's collarbone, hoping to distract her, and wishing she knew a better way.
"I just wanted you to know." Buffy gave a Slayer-swift twist, and she was on top, looking down. Her hair was mussed and golden-dark, her skin hot and glowing with sweat. She stared into Faith's eyes. "That's when I knew I loved you."
Faith couldn't help the bitter laugh that escaped her. "You mean when I was dumping bodies and trying to sell you out to Giles?"
Buffy frowned, a slight twinge of Slayer anger. "I was so scared for you. I hated what we'd done...but I was so fucking terrified that I would lose you! That's how I knew. And it just made me push you away, and I hate that too."
Faith looked away. "Why are you telling me this shit now?"
"Because!" Buffy kissed her, hard and quick, not letting her turn aside. "You're not the only one who wishes you could forget stuff, Faith!"
"You felt that?" Faith struggled with the idea that if she could feel Buffy's emotions, the surfaces of her thoughts, then it worked both ways.
"Yeah." Buffy kissed her again, gently. "I could have loved you sooner. We could have had this sooner. You think I didn't try to forget that, every day you were in that coma? And it worked...but I wasn't happy."
Faith brushed a strand of Buffy's hair away from her face, studying her. Without a word, without thought, she lifted up and kissed her; apologizing silently for everything she'd become after killing a man.
Buffy returned the kiss, her eyelids fluttering closed. "I'm happy now," she said, and Faith realized she was shaking in Buffy's arms. The kiss was so sweet, and she was suddenly, wonderfully aroused; the sound of Buffy's whispers and the taste of her tongue revving Faith's body back up to full throttle.
"Buffy..." she moaned, and Buffy sucked her tongue into her mouth until Faith thought she would fall apart from feeling it. "Please," she said, and half-remembered that she'd never said that before...but this wasn't about before, this was about Buffy kissing her way down Faith's body, licking and sucking and –"Oh fuck! Oh Buffy –"
"Let me do this..." Buffy murmured. "God, Faith, I want this..." There was no warning, not this time, and Faith knew-felt-understood that Buffy had learned this from her body, and Buffy licked her way between Faith's legs, covering her aching clit with her tongue.
"Unnh – ahh, Buf-Buffy!" Faith almost sat up. Buffy flicked her clit, increasing the pressure and then taking it away. Faith's hips jerked, so far beyond her control she barely knew they were hers. She took a few quick breaths and then just held it. She lived for the pleasure of Buffy's mouth, sucking her hardened nub, over and over again, and then Buffy's fingers joined her mouth, sliding into Faith's cunt so easily, so fucking easily, because she was still so wet and oh God this time when she came it was going to hit her like her past, like her memory. So hard, and all at once, and Buffy's fingers fucked her like nothing she'd ever known, slowfast, softhard, again and again and again –
With a burst of fiery, unbelievable sensation, Faith came, and she didn't know if she was moaning or screaming Buffy's name. Her eyes squeezed shut and she forgot, forgot everything, if only for this moment. It felt like the world had stopped for them, for their love, for this. "Oh God oh God oh Buffy –"
"Feel me, Faith, feel it..." Buffy curled her fingers and Faith felt herself flying again, flying, like love, like falling, like leaving her doubts behind. "Love you..."
"Yesss...Buffy...always," Faith said, and sent the warmsafe glow of it through their connection.
Buffy sighed, and kissed Faith's stomach. She moved up the bed, collapsing on top of her. Faith opened her eyes. Satisfaction rolled through her body, deep and hot. Buffy smiled, and kissed her. "Believe me," she said.
Believe that you'll always have a place. Believe that I love you. Believe that tomorrow will be as good as today...that we can have a future despite our past.
"I do," Faith said, and once again she was wrapped in Buffy's arms as she fell asleep, and for the first time she knew she didn't need to run.