Xander scooped some more spaghetti onto Faith’s plate, telling her he remembered how much she liked to eat and that’s why he’d been cooking up a storm. She chuckled and thanked him. She hadn’t eaten anything all day and was grateful his memory was as good as it was.
“I’ll just pretend like you didn’t call me fat right there,” Faith said, shovelling a large forkful into her mouth as his eyebrows shot up into his hairline.
“No, no, no,” Xander protested, holding his hands up. “Not fat. Never fat. I mean look at you, you look. . .just as amazing as ever. I just know what you slayer types are like.”
She smiled and winked, letting him know she wasn’t in the least offended. She knew she could eat more than most. Her appetite for most things seemed out of proportion; like she could never get enough of anything.
“So, this Drac dude led an army of zoo types in here huh? How’d that go?” she asked, hoping to get more info than the little that had been shared during the meeting.
“We’re not sure exactly what happened. One minute everything’s fine, then. . .it’s like Noah got pissed and dumped an Ark on the lawn,” he told Faith as he mostly just watched her eat as he pushed spaghetti around on his plate. “I got sent to talk to him - what with being his pet monkey last visit - but he wasn’t there. Seems like he’s being forced to use his power for somebody else’s benefit, as far as we can tell.”
“Weird,” she said.
“Yeah, and I gotta tell ya. . .wasn’t the weirdest thing that happened that night,” he said cryptically.
Faith slowed down her eating as she listened, hoping to learn more about what was going on with Buffy. She knew something was off, or different, but she was so far out of the loop there was no way she could really guess for sure what it was.
“You gonna fill me in or do I have to guess?” she asked, using her best smile on him.
Xander looked towards the door and back to Faith, scratching at his eye patch before continuing. “I shouldn’t really say but you’ll probably hear it from somebody else anyway,” he told her. “When all hell was breaking lose with the misty vamp types, I walked in on Buffy. . .in the buff with Satsu.”
He practically whispered the last part and Faith had to replay it in her head before it fully sunk in.
“Wait,” she said, raising her eyebrow, “you tellin’ me she got wriggly with a girl?”
“More than once,” he confirmed, nodding, “though only with Satsu.”
“Wow,” Faith responded.
She didn’t know quite what to say. She’d seen that there was something between Satsu and Buffy, but she couldn’t have imagined it was quite like that, or had gone quite that far. Impressions were one thing; facts were another entirely.
Though the past told Faith that Buffy had never totally dismissed her flirting, she’d never imagined Buffy actually jumping from bi-curious to girl on girl hotness. It was a lot to take in. It was a lot to think about and not get totally jealous or pissed off about.
Faith pushed her plate aside and stared at the fork in her hand. There’d been a time she’d have done anything to be the girl Buffy took that road with. To be the one to hold her against her skin and feel the heat that would burn between them. It had never crossed from flirting into something more, and Faith had been sure during their time together in LA that it never would. She’d dropped a few hints, they’d gotten closer, but Buffy had always stepped back when it became more obvious there was at least an attraction between them.
After a while Faith had stopped dropping the hints and then. . .well, then Buffy had gone completely cold on her and she wasn’t sure why.
“Took us all a little by surprise,” Xander continued. “But if it makes her happy. . .who are we to judge?”
Nodding, Faith put her fork down and took a long drink of her glass of water. She knew now why Satsu had stopped her in the corridor; she obviously felt very protective over Buffy, and in more than just a friendly way.
“So she’s happy then?” Faith asked quietly, staring into her empty glass.
Xander appeared to think about it, opening his mouth to speak but then stopping. He furrowed his brow and stood, lifting his plate from the table and taking it to the sink.
“Yunno, Faith,” he began eventually, “I really can’t tell for sure. Some days she seems fine, but others. . .it’s like there’s something missing.”
As he stood by the kitchen sink, Faith could see that he was worried for Buffy. It seemed like he felt powerless, in no position to do anything for Buffy if she was unhappy. Faith knew how that felt; she’d been on the outside for long enough.
“I’m betting me being here sure as shit ain’t helpin’,” Faith said with a sad chuckle.
Xander shrugged. “She hasn’t said much about you, ‘cept when she came back kinda mad that you’d tried to drown her.”
“Was a weird sitch,” Faith said by way of explanation.
“Sounded like it. And she was mostly angry at Giles I think,” he told her.
They fell silent for a few moments. Faith had lost her appetite but didn’t much feel like moving. Right where she was sat was as good a spot as any to wait out the few hours before they’d hit the place the scythe was being held. She didn’t have anything to do other than grab a weapon and get her jacket when they were set to go.
“I think she kinda misses you, yunno,” Xander told Faith as he handed her a cold soda from the fridge, opening one for himself before resting back against the sink again.
“I think you musta got hit in the head,” Faith responded, a puzzled look on her face.
“No, seriously. She moped for weeks when we left LA, and whenever anybody mentions you she gets all. . .spacey.”
“Spacey? Sounds like she’s probably daydreamin’ of ways she can kick my ass,” Faith guessed.
She popped the ring of her soda can and gulped down half of it, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand as she lifted a foot up onto the chair opposite her.
“Probably, but I’m guessing she misses that about your relationship,” he said with a smirk.
They both laughed; both knowing just how much Faith rubbed Buffy up the wrong way, and how Buffy always got Faith so mad she’d have to walk around for hours just to burn it off. At least in LA they hadn’t come to blows, apart from the ones during sparring. They’d started to learn when to back off rather than fight, but Faith hadn’t been given the opportunity to see where that would lead them.
“She kinda froze me out back in LA at the end, Xand,” Faith told him. “Doubt she’s exactly sad I’m not around.”
Her voice cracked as she said it, the rough texture to it straining easily under the weight of her feelings. She hated that nothing was ever simple where Buffy was concerned. She hated that she was always looking for answers, for forgiveness, for any kind of sign that Buffy had the same thoughts and desires as her. Those thoughts and desires ran deep. Deeper than any wound Buffy had ever given her.
“Yeah, I noticed something was off. What was that about?” Xander asked.
“Beats me, Xand. One day we’re cool. . .the next she won’t even talk to me,” Faith explained. “I got a feelin’ it’s got something to do with me pissin’ off Willow just before we all split up, but B hardly spoke to me after that so. . .” She shrugged and took another drink.
“But Will’s fine with you now, and to be honest I don’t even remember her being mad at you after Sunnydale went underground,” Xander remarked. “I doubt it’s that.”
“Then I got no clues over here, big guy,” Faith said. “I just know I’m back to being the slayer she doesn’t want around. I can deal with that, s’not like I’m used to it being any other way.”
Xander took a deep breath and shook his head, the slight look of pity making Faith feel just a little uneasy. She didn’t want to be pitied; she just wanted to be treated like she was human, with human feelings. Sure, she’d done some pretty fucked up and inhuman things in the past, but she’d dug herself out of that pit and was well on her way to atonement.
“Whatever, though,” she added. “I’m doin’ good and righting wrongs in the world so who gives a fuck what Buffy thinks?”
She raised her soda can and Xander got the hint, clinking his own can off it and drinking to her little declaration.
“Actually, quite a lot of people ‘give a fuck’ what I think,” Buffy pointed out as she entered the kitchen behind Faith.
Xander cleared his throat uncomfortably and Faith felt her entire body tense up.
“Hey, Buff. . .we were just. . .catching up,” Xander explained as he fidgeted.
Buffy strolled past Faith and headed towards the fridge, pulling it open and bending down to grasp a can from the back. Faith watched, her eyes travelling over Buffy before she could stop herself or remind herself that Xander was right there to see it. She glanced over to him and he gave her a knowing grin as he nodded his head in acknowledgment of what he’d just witnessed. It wasn’t Faith’s fault if she’d always taken every opportunity to check out Buffy’s cute little backside when she could. It was instinct.
“Xander, could you give us a few minutes?” Buffy asked as she turned towards him and nudged the fridge door shut with her rear.
“Sure, I’ve got stuff to do anyway.” He made his way towards the door. “It’s great to have you with us, Faith,” he added with a smile as he left.
Faith appreciated the comment. It made her feel welcome despite the fact she knew the person that really mattered didn’t welcome her at all.
Buffy took Xander’s place, leaning against the countertop facing Faith. She looked beautiful: her blonde hair just brushing the tops of her shoulders, dark clothes clinging in all the right places, showing off her perfect little body and making it hard for Faith to focus. Faith had always thought Buffy was hot, sexy, desirable, perfect. . .and now wasn’t any different. She wanted to press Buffy up against the kitchen counter and kiss her hard, to feel her body flush against her, to know how wet she could make her from the first touch to the last. There was no getting away from the way Buffy had always turned her on. . .even through the worst of times, it had been there, burning under the surface.
The silence in the kitchen was almost deafening as they just stared at each other. Faith could hear everything that was going on all around her. The girls chattering, doors opening and closing, footsteps, the slight gust of wind against the old brick of the castle, Buffy’s shallow breathing as she stood and watched Faith’s every move as their eyes locked.
“We don’t have time for fighting,” Buffy said eventually, almost making Faith jump at the sound of her voice. “You can either try to kill me again and get stomped on by every other slayer here. . .or we can get over ourselves and forget the last fuck up ever happened.”
Faith hadn’t expected two such simple options. She’d been sure Buffy would drag out their latest spat long enough for her to feel suitably shoved back into the doghouse, maybe even for good. She wasn’t sure if she trusted Buffy’s motives.
“Didn’t plan on being stomped on by anybody,” Faith said, being purposefully noncommittal.
“Then I guess we should put it down to crossed wires. . .unless I’m going to have to watch my back around you,” Buffy responded.
Faith shook her head, her boot scraping on the wooden chair as she dropped her foot to the floor. “You don’t have to watch your back, B. Not as long as I don’t have to watch mine.”
Buffy placed the cold can of soda on the back of her neck, feeling the need to cool down, as she watched Faith shifting position in her chair; her legs stretched out in front of her as she lounged back, the very picture of confidence and unbridled power. She hadn’t wanted to speak with Faith until after they’d completed their mission - not wanting to distract herself from the plan and the fight ahead - but she’d heard her voice from down the hall and found her feet carrying her towards it before she could change direction.
Faith waited for Buffy to roll out the accusations and reprimands for their last encounter, but Buffy stayed silent as she held her cold can to her neck and dropped her gaze to the ground in front of Faith.
“Didn’t mean to. . .yunno, get all grabby with ya at Gigi’s, it just kinda got outta hand,” Faith said finally, taking the opportunity to get in some kind of an apology.
“Yeah,” Buffy responded, not looking up. She placed the can back onto the counter and hopped up beside it. “We have a problem of falling into old habits I guess.”
Faith nodded, catching Buffy’s eye once again as she now sat on the kitchen counter opposite her.
“We ever gonna get past that habit?” Faith asked.
She instantly regretted the question. It was too loaded. Too easy for Buffy to use against her and tell Faith that she’d done too much to her for them to ever get over anything. Buffy didn’t answer right away, however. She looked away and took an obviously tired breath before turning back to Faith.
“I’d like us to be able to,” Buffy answered. “I thought we had after The First but. . .”
“Something changed before you left LA huh,” Faith finished for her, wondering if now was a good opportunity to clear up what had happened. She doubted any time was exactly the right time, and she was done guessing what the fuck had gone on.
Buffy furrowed her brow; she couldn’t think of a way to answer without giving too much away. She wasn’t sure if she even cared if she gave it away or not now. It was Faith, though. . .and things never went easy with Faith. Buffy’s thoughts never sat still, her certainty wavering every time they spoke.
“I didn’t mean for it to change; what you did was just. . .surprising,” Buffy said softly.
“And it pissed you off ‘cause of Red?” Faith pressed, needing to figure out if there was any way to salvage a friendship between them.
Without looking away from Faith, Buffy opened her soda can and brought it to her lips. She closed her eyes and tipped her head back, taking a long gulp, feeling her throat drying and stopping her from telling the truth. She didn’t even know where to start with the truth.
“Can’t think of anything else I did,” Faith said, sitting forward as Buffy played with the can in her hand. “But you gotta know I wouldn’t have slept with Ken if she’d still been with Will. Far as I knew they’d split; least that’s what Kennedy told me that night.”
She’d fallen drunkenly into bed with Kennedy a week before they’d all moved out, having spent the night with her helping her forget the fact Willow had dumped her. Of course, they’d gotten back together again not long after as far as Faith knew, and Willow hadn’t held any hard and fast grudges against her. Still, it was the only reason she could think of for Buffy’s sudden change. Willow was Buffy’s best friend after all, and she’d always been very protective of her.
Buffy didn’t speak, her eyebrows knitting together and making Faith feel on edge. She didn’t want to be made to feel bad for something that had happened just once; something that really had nothing to do with Buffy. It wasn’t like Buffy was a saint, as Faith now knew for sure. She was getting impatient and stood from her chair, stretching her legs out as she walked to the far side of the table, running her fingers along its edge.
“It wasn’t about Will,” Buffy admitted, her voice quiet compared to the scrape of Faith’s boots on the stone floor.
Stopping and turning back towards Buffy, Faith ran a hand through her thick hair, grasping at thin air as she searched for clues.
“But it was about me sleepin’ with Ken?” she asked, thinking she at least had that part right.
Buffy looked down to the floor under her feet, her shoulders slumping as if she really didn’t want to tell Faith what had caused her sudden change.
“Dammit, B, just tell me,” Faith demanded, her patience wearing thin. She wasn’t in the mood for games. “It’s not like it was anything outta the ordinary. . .seems slayers like to sleep around together, as you just proved yourself. I don’t know why I gotta get hit with shit for it.”
Faith felt her anger boil to the top, threatening to spill as she turned away from Buffy and rested her hands against the wall as if she was holding it up, her muscles twitching as she counted to ten. She hated when Buffy was so dismissive, ignoring her and her questions. Ignoring everything that flowed between them in order to hold tight to whatever false reality she needed to in order to feel better about herself.
“You heard about that then huh,” Buffy said with a resigned chuckle, watching Faith from her perch on the counter.
She could tell Faith was agitated, her body tensing and skin probably prickling as she tried to calm herself. Buffy had always found Faith at her sexiest when she was riled up. Her gaze swept over Faith, stopping at her dark eyes as she slowly twisted so she was now leaning with her back against the wall, one hand rubbing at the back of her neck. She couldn’t be angry at Faith for knowing about her and Satsu, and she couldn’t even be angry at her for using it to dig out why she’d closed Faith off back in LA; it was Buffy’s jealousy that had them on the brink of never fully reconciling so she didn’t have any right to judge her on that.
“Word gets around, especially about something as big as that,” Faith explained, not wanting to drop Xander in it.
“It wasn’t a big deal. Isn’t a big deal,” Buffy told her, hoping she sounded convincing.
She knew herself that it was big. Big for her at least. She’d never been with another woman before. Never intentionally had sex for the sake of sex and nothing else. It was new, but Buffy didn’t feel bad about that part.
“And it’s not because all slayers sleep around together. . .I mean, we never did,” Buffy pointed out, her eyes locking on Faith’s as she used her hand to indicate them both.
Faith chuckled and shook her head, stepping away from the wall and moving back to her chair. She sat down, a little grin lifting the corners of her lips as she studied Buffy’s face and watched for reactions.
“I woulda tried harder if I’d known you’d eventually cave,” Faith said coolly, the rough tone to her voice practically sending shivers through Buffy as brown eyes burned into her.
Buffy licked her lips, a small smile easing the tension but causing a whole different kind as she allowed herself to drown in Faith’s gaze and provocative words.
It was like old times; like they’d been during their short time in LA. . .the boundaries of flirting being tested as they regarded each other, with more than friendship fuelling their thoughts and words.
“It would never have happened,” Buffy responded after a moment’s hesitation, not wishing to be pulled into the indulgence of flirting with Faith when it would only confuse matters.
Faith looked away, seeing something other than truth in Buffy’s eyes. She didn’t want to look too deep, however. She could never be sure if Buffy would ever have, or ever could allow them to step over the line and into bed with each other. Faith had been disappointed in the past and wasn’t about to go to that dark place again.
“So why are you giving me shit for screwing Kennedy?” Faith asked, bringing them back on topic.
“I’m not giving you shit, it’s just. . .” Buffy sighed, not ready to divulge why it had affected her the way it had.
Buffy had fooled herself into thinking it was for noble reasons, because Kennedy was her best friend’s girlfriend, even if they had broken up for a short time. She’d tried to convince herself she wasn’t jealous, that it hadn’t hurt for Faith to run off and sleep with Kennedy when they’d been getting on so well, heading towards something more themselves. The façade hadn’t lasted long and Buffy had eventually had to concede to herself that she’d expected Faith to make a move on her, and that one day. . .she would have said yes. Jealousy had thrown a large spanner in the works and caused Buffy to pull away completely, making that “one day” disappear from view.
They fell into an awkward silence again.
Faith was done trying to figure Buffy out. She now knew for sure Buffy had been angry or upset with her for sleeping with Kennedy, but she didn’t feel like spending the rest of the night trying to hammer the reason why out of her. It was pointless, much like most of their misunderstandings and arguments.
She decided to lead the conversation away from them and towards something that might actually give her some insight into Buffy, and possibly her – thus far – ambiguous feelings about sleeping with women.
“So, you and Satsu. . .it serious or are you just screwin’ around?” Faith asked bluntly, still feeling the sting of envy.
Buffy was glad they’d stopped treading on unsteady ground by talking about her and Faith’s relationship, but she wasn’t sure this new alternative was any easier to speak about with her.
“She’s in love with me,” Buffy admitted, “but she knows it’s not. . .how I feel.” Buffy finished her sentence far less confidently than she’d started.
It wasn’t nice to admit you were sleeping with somebody to basically just get your kicks when they felt so much more.
“Everyone’s always in love with you,” Faith remarked with a soft laugh, not wanting to count how many people she’d known to be crazy over Buffy.
“Not everybody,” Buffy said quietly. “You weren’t.”
Their eyes stole truths from each other as they locked, no words being exchanged to deny or persuade. Faith tried to breathe normally, willing herself not to show any sign that Buffy might be wrong. She wasn’t ready to remember how hard she’d fallen for Buffy before the world had chewed her up and spat her out. She certainly wasn’t ready to let Buffy in on that little secret either.
“Buffy?” Willow’s voice filtered through the rigid air, breaking Buffy’s gaze from Faith’s.
“In here, Will,” Buffy called, jumping down from the counter.
Willow entered the room a little out of breath, her smile landing easily on Faith before she spoke to Buffy.
“Xander needs you to check over the weapons and I could use your advice about the spells I’ll mostly be using,” Willow informed her.
“Sure,” Buffy responded. “We’ll do that now.”
Willow nodded and turned to leave the kitchen with Buffy following. Just as Willow moved out of sight Buffy turned back to look at the other slayer, smiling as she felt the tension lift.
“We’ll be leaving soon,” Buffy noted. “Thanks for coming to lend a hand, Faith. I appreciate it.”
It wasn’t easy having Faith around. It had never been easy, for many different reasons, but Buffy felt just a little glad she was there. No matter how much it could make the world feel less solid, having Faith nearby didn’t suck. She’d gotten used to it at one point - before convincing herself it was stupid and destructive - and those memories were hard to quash or disregard. Faith was hard to disregard, even through Buffy’s stubborn resolve.
“No worries, B,” Faith replied. “Always had a soft spot for hot blonde chicks.”
They both laughed softly, the last year seemingly drifting from their shoulders as they dropped back into how they were best together. It felt better, but never just right. Never quite complete.
Faith knew what they needed, but she also knew it was something too big to ever expect or ask. As she watched Buffy leave she doubted they’d ever step past each other’s barriers enough to claim each other the way they should. She still had hope, especially now she knew Buffy wasn’t totally averse to sleeping with another girl, but that hope had taken such a beating over the years it was hard to cling to without it seeming pointless.
Yet still she clung, unable to do anything but. Unable to ever just let go.