The cold morning air settled over Faith as she raised a hand to her head and swept her dark hair from her face. She prized her eyes open, feeling the day wake her, feeling her skin tingle as it brushed against the cool sheets next to her as she moved. Her body was aching a little from the previous day's jaunt into a building that had tried its best to crush her. A few stretches would soon sort that out, but the other sensation - the one that ran deep through her - wouldn't be shaken so easily.
She couldn't deny that Buffy had made her horny, had wound her tight so that her muscles twitched and mind slipped easily into thoughts about how much she wanted to finally take that step with the other slayer. Faith couldn't afford to allow herself to believe what had always seemed impossible, however. It just didn't sit right. She had to be sure.
Without having to turn herself to see, Faith could already sense that Buffy was no longer with her. She slid a hand under the sheet, feeling the cold instead of a warm patch where Buffy had been. It wasn't as if she'd expected Buffy to be there, to stay with her until she woke; share the morning mumbles, and the shy smiles she imagined Buffy would give her. No, that was expecting too much, and Faith had promised herself not to expect anything good when she'd finally agreed to make the trip to Scotland.
She'd already gotten more than she'd bargained for, so anything else was. . .well, it was something she didn't want to think about. Faith had been let down too many times in the past.
Sitting up and glancing down to the crumpled bed where Buffy had spent the night elbowing her, laying on her, and stealing the sheets, Faith sighed and fought the urge to lean down and clutch the pillow to her face. She doubted it smelled of Buffy anyhow - musty castle scent being the main aroma clinging to the soft furnishings – but the small desire to do it was there, and that told Faith she was in trouble once again.
“Dammit, B. You've fuckin' got me again,” Faith mumbled as she shook her head and untangled herself from the sheets.
She pushed herself off the mattress and made her way to the shower. There were a thousand names she could have called herself for being stupid enough to fall again when she knew it would only bring her pain. . .but none of them seemed to sum it up quite as nicely as dumbass.
After showering and trying to convince herself that she didn't give a rat's ass about Buffy's late night confession, Faith made her way downstairs. Her stomach was rumbling and her main priority was to fill it. Her thoughts about Buffy would have to go on hold until she felt full. Of course, that was never as easy as it seemed; she couldn't help but replay the night's events over and over in her head.
Faith felt just as confused and unsure as she had at the time, in fact more so given the fact Buffy hadn't stayed around until she woke up. She didn't know why Buffy had left so early; maybe it was shame, or maybe she was wishing she could take everything back that had been said and done. Whatever it was, Faith wasn't planning to ask about it. She wasn't going to chase after Buffy and make a fool of herself. There had been a time - back in Sunnydale the first time around - when Faith would have laid herself on the line a little more readily, but “once bitten twice shy” had become a saying she clung to. She didn't need to feel like all the progress she'd made over the years was for nothing. She wasn't going to let Buffy rule her every thought and action.
There was no way Faith was going to risk everything she'd fought so hard to build up; her confidence, the respect she'd gained from the few people that took the time to understand her, and also her job. It was all too important to lose just because Buffy had the ability to make her feel like less of a person – less of a slayer - without even trying. It wasn't going to go that way. Faith wasn't going to let it.
As she got further down the steps to the main part of the building, Faith could hear the unmistakable sound of girls training; sneakers squeaking on the hard floors, shouts and giggles bursting up from the large areas within the castle that served as indoor arenas and gyms. Faith wasn't used to the noise, having spent most of her time alone since jail, and the fall of Sunnydale. It made her edgy. Or at least more edgy than she already felt.
“Morning, Faith,” Xander called as Faith walked past one of the busy rooms on the way to the kitchen.
She turned to look his way and nodded, a small smile slipping across her lips as he waved at her warmly.
“Sorry if the noise woke you,” he said. “We get up pretty early around here.”
“Yeah, I noticed,” Faith muttered, not bothering to tell him the noise hadn't woken her.
“There should still be enough left over from breakfast for you. Just take what ya need from the kitchen,” Xander told her. He winked with his good eye when he heard Faith's stomach growl.
Faith thanked him and carried on towards the kitchen, her mind pushing out all thoughts of Buffy as she imagined what treats she could find to eat. As she neared the kitchen, voices caught her attention. Buffy was somewhere up ahead. Giles too. She couldn't make out what they were saying, but she made her way towards the sound of their voices anyway.
Reaching a narrow stairwell that headed down into darkness, Faith slid her hands into the pockets of her jeans and descended the steps. She could get breakfast once she'd seen Buffy; just to see if there was weirdness like she was afraid there would be.
“So this is safer?” Buffy asked as she talked animatedly to Giles and Willow in the gloomy wine cellar Faith now found herself in. “I'm not a fan of dark, spider infested cellars, so if we put it here I want to know for sure no creepy vampires made of smoke are gonna get their. . .smoky hands on it.”
“It'll definitely be safer, once the spells are done and I make the hole go away,” Willow replied.
Faith noticed that the scythe - shining brightly despite the scant light from the dusty bulb overhead – was situated in a crude hole in the far wall of the cellar. They were obviously taking no risks and keeping it away from the rest of the weaponry, protected by whatever means Willow was concocting.
“Once we have all the ingredients nobody will even be able to tell it's here. These spells are very precise, and much more effective than the armory walls,” Giles assured.
Faith listened and watched from the foot of the stairs, her hands still in her pockets, her eyes fixed on Buffy.
As Willow told Giles exactly what they'd need as he wrote it in a small notepad, Buffy glanced Faith's way. She smiled, her little half-smile that always made Faith's heart skip a beat. Faith didn't smile back, keeping her face expressionless, her defences working overtime trying to keep her safe, to keep her steady.
“Hey,” Buffy said quietly as she walked towards Faith, leaving Giles and Willow to work out the details of their spells.
Faith nodded her head, her hands pushing deeper into her pockets, her eyes looking at Buffy in a new way. A way she wished she could stop.
Looking a little more apologetic, Buffy seemed to guess that something wasn't quite right. She furrowed her brow and moved closer to Faith, her mouth opening as she was about to say something. An interruption in the form of a slayer rushing down the stairs behind Faith halted any further attempt at conversation.
“Ma'am,” the slayer said, a little out of breath from all the rushing, “there's a delivery. He said he won't leave until you've signed this.”
A scruffy piece of paper was thrust Buffy's way.
“What the. . ? I ordered one, not ten,” Buffy grumbled. “I'll have to go deal with this.”
Buffy didn't say it to anybody in particular, but her eyes landed on Faith as she stepped past her to head up the stairs. She was sorry to have to go. Faith looked edgy and uncomfortable and that wasn't a good thing. Whatever was wrong, she'd have to deal with it later.
Faith listened to Buffy running up the stairs and dashing irritatedly down the corridor before she started up them herself, heading towards the prospect of food.
After filling her belly and spending several hours meandering around the old castle, looking at suits or armor and old swords, Faith decided she'd had enough of feeling out of place. She hadn't seen Buffy since their fleeting encounter in the wine cellar and it was lunch time now. Faith didn't want to go in search of Buffy to find out where they stood, so instead she decided she'd find Giles. . .and ask if they could leave as soon as possible. Obviously whatever had happened between her and Buffy had been of little consequence, otherwise Buffy would have spoken to her by now. Her early departure from Faith's room, and the fact she seemed to be avoiding her, told Faith all she needed to know.
Striding through the twisting corridors, Faith found that discovering where Giles had disappeared to was more difficult than she'd hoped. The place was big, and every room seemed to house a selection of slayers or trainee witches. Finding herself at the front of the castle in the large hall, she decided stepping outside for some air was probably better than driving herself nuts walking in circles.
As Faith made her way across the tiled floor of the large hall, the sound of fighting moves being practised by bunches of slayers echoed around her. She almost didn't hear Buffy call her name, as she walked past an open door that led into one of the large dining rooms that now served as a training area.
“Faith,” Buffy called, her head popping around the doorway as Faith came to a halt.
She didn't turn around fully, making Buffy have to practically talk to her back.
“I haven't seen you since this morning,” Buffy continued. “I was beginning to think you'd left without saying anything.”
Faith shook her head a little, keeping in the snort of exasperation that wanted to sneak out. She didn't know why Buffy seemed bothered at all about her leaving without telling her, after all. . .Buffy had done just that herself. Faith didn't know how to act or what to say now that she had even less of a clue about where they stood with each other.
Things had become clearer, only to drift back into weary confusion. And now that Faith had been left to stew in her own unappreciated vulnerability, she wasn't in the mood to be nice.
“Was right here all along, B,” Faith pointed out, her hands going back into her pockets again as she felt her walls slide back into place.
“Ok, you don't sound happy,” Buffy said, lowering her voice a little as she glanced back into the room she was still half in.
“I'm just fine, B. This place is a laugh riot.”
Faith took a step forward, planning to carry on her search for Giles and leave Buffy to whatever she was doing. There was no point in standing around a drafty hall, skirting around the fact they were back at square one with the weird tension and uncomfortable awkwardness.
Buffy frowned, then she gestured to somebody within the room full of girls before stepping fully out of it and closing the door behind her.
“Are we back to being weird? Even after all we said – well, mostly what I said – last night?” Buffy asked, moving closer to Faith.
Buffy tried to catch Faith's gaze with her own, but Faith wasn't in the mood for sharing. She was pissed. Mostly with herself.
“We are what we are, Buffy,” Faith said, looking out of the nearby window, wishing she could just walk away.
It had never been easy to just walk away. . .certainly not without receiving a scar or two.
Buffy sighed and moved even closer, invading Faith's personal space. “We could be so much more,” Buffy said softly, her hand reaching out to touch Faith's.
Faith pulled back as she noticed Buffy's hand creeping towards her own. She wanted to stay in control. She wanted to remind herself that she couldn't trust in what Buffy wanted, or thought she wanted.
“It's not that easy,” Faith told Buffy.
“I know, you don't trust me. You think I'm going to change my mind, come to my senses, treat you badly and hurt you,” Buffy responded as she watched Faith walk over to the large window that looked out to the front lawn. “But I won't do any of those - or anything like that – intentionally. I know what I want now. I'm sure. I'm ready. I'm asking you to trust in that.”
Faith held her breath for a moment, her back to Buffy as she searched for her strength of mind. Buffy was asking more than she probably knew. Letting go of all the fear of rejection, the fear of losing control, wasn't an easy task; and that's what Faith would have to do to believe Buffy.
“How am I supposed to just. . ?” Faith began, her hand brushing through her waves of hair as she felt Buffy move up behind her. She didn't know what she wanted to say, couldn't stop her heart from drumming a different beat to her mind.
“Faith, it really doesn't have to be the way it's always been. I know it won't be easy. . .but don't we both deserve to try?” Buffy asked, stopping close behind Faith, just wanting to be near her.
She had no idea why or how she was being so brave, so forthright. It wasn't as if she was used to being candid with Faith, but there didn't seem to be any holding back now. This was too important. Too big to ignore again. She'd fallen in love twice with Faith, probably had never actually been out of love with her, and she couldn't run from it any longer. Buffy wasn't going to allow Faith to shy away from it either, no matter how long she had to push. She knew Faith felt the same, it was thick in the air, it always had been between them.
“Tell me what I can do or say to make you believe me,” Buffy asked, her hands wanting to reach out and pull Faith to her, but her instincts clearly letting her know it would be a bad idea.
“I dunno, B,” Faith told her honestly. She wasn't being intentionally awkward, she was just wary of letting go. “You not being there this morning kinda didn't help.”
It seemed silly to say anything about it, and Faith instantly cringed at her own words. She'd left so many beds before morning, and kicked most people out of hers before any chance of the morning-after uncomfortableness came about. . .and now here she was being the typical 'girl' and whining about being left before she woke up. She felt dumb for feeling the way she was about it.
A little light bulb dinged on in Buffy's head and she realised right away why Faith was being evasive despite what they'd both revealed. She was upset about being left, and probably more upset about feeling upset. Buffy wanted to kick herself for not finding Faith earlier to put her mind at ease. She'd been rushed off her feet however, dealing with delivery mistakes, slayers in need of training, and Satsu.
“Faith, I didn't leave this morning because of what you're probably thinking. I didn't change my mind about you, or how I feel,” Buffy explained, trying her best not to sound patronizing, yet reassuring at the same time. “I'm sorry I left so early.”
“No big deal really, B,” Faith lied with a shrug.
Buffy couldn't help but smile as Faith tried to be all proud and aloof as she stood with her hands firmly planted in her pockets again, her back still to Buffy. She could see through it. There was a vulnerability, a soft and squishy part of Faith that she was revealing despite her act.
“I didn't leave because I didn't want to wake up with you, Faith,” Buffy told her honestly, sliding a hand up Faith's arm until her fingers disappeared into thick dark hair. “I just didn't want to do anything that would go against what you said. You looked so. . .and I was still all. . .if I hadn't left I would have. . .”
Buffy could feel herself blushing as she remembered how much she'd wanted Faith that morning as she'd slept beside her. The urge to ignore everything Faith had said the night before had been too great, and leaving had been her only option.
Faith chuckled and shook her head, mad at herself for jumping to conclusions, yet amused at Buffy's confession. “You left 'cause you wanted some action?” Faith asked, not needing to hear an answer.
She turned towards Buffy, their eyes meeting properly this time.
“Pretty much,” Buffy replied with a nod, still feeling embarrassed.
No matter what she'd been through with Faith, and what they'd shared so far, she still had the ability to leave Buffy feeling completely inadequate and shy. It wasn't as if Buffy was even close to being the virginal type any more, it was just something about Faith that made her blush.
“You didn't have to go,” Faith said, a little chink appearing in her armor once again. “You coulda done your thing right there, the show woulda been appreciated.”
Faith gave Buffy a big toothy grin, all kinds of images running rampant through her head even though she was doing her best to suppress them.
“I really did have to go, and no. . .there would have been no show, just me taking advantage of you while you slept,” Buffy informed Faith, her own grin coming out to play.
Raising her eyebrow, Faith contemplated the idea, and it didn't suck. That still didn't make her feel any less uneasy about the situation as a whole, however. She was still trying to protect herself.
“But I didn't want to make what you said last night seem unimportant,” Buffy continued. “I need you to know I'm willing to do things your way.”
Faith nodded a little and Buffy's hand travelled back down her arm until it settled in her own. She didn't pull back, allowing Buffy to subtly slide their fingers together as they faced each other. Time seemed to stop momentarily as the echoing sounds of the slayers in the room nearby drifted away. Faith felt the urge to lean in to Buffy and kiss her, but she didn't. It still felt too risky.
She'd once been all about the risks in life; jumping into situations without looking, without thinking. Those days were over. Faith was much more responsible now. She had to be. She did things her way; it was the only way.
“This isn't a simple thing for me yunno, B,” Faith said, a soft sighing breath escaping her as she tried to understand her own reasoning.
“I know,” Buffy assured.
She gave Faith's hand a small squeeze, wishing she could go for more; a hug, a soft kiss. A kiss that would take them where she now needed them both to go.
“I was just getting used to my life.”
“I'm not asking you to change anything,” Buffy pointed out. “You can do your thing with Giles from here.”
Buffy convinced herself she was right, and that it wouldn't mean anything would really have to change for Faith. Deep down she knew that wasn't the case, and she knew why Faith was hesitating. It was clear what they both wanted, but the logistics weren't simple, the timing was bad, the desire they felt. . .was nothing compared to the job they had to do in the world. Still, that didn't mean Buffy couldn't hope, plan, persuade. She wanted it to work.
Looking down at their gently clasping hands Faith wished she could look beyond the possibility of it all going to hell. It was hard, maybe impossible altogether. She wanted it to be easier. She'd wanted this day, this moment, this outcome to happen many times before; now it was here she realised she was completely unprepared for what it meant. Relationship. Commitment. Buffy in her life, in her business, in her bed, all around her. Some of it sounded pretty good – especially the “in her bed” part - but lots of it also sounded way beyond her. The reality of what she'd always wanted was more of a scary prospect than she'd ever imagined.
Faith wished she could leap, take the chance that it really would all work out ok; her heart battling with her fears. Maybe if she just let go to see where she landed it wouldn't be too bad.
Leaning forward just a little, her eyes fixed on Buffy's - soft and hopeful – Faith pushed past her stubborn apprehension. She wanted to kiss Buffy more than she'd ever wanted to before; the real, inescapable need to connect pulling her in.
A noise to the side – a door squeaking open loudly – jolted Buffy from the daze Faith had suddenly trapped her in. She'd been waiting, wishing for Faith's lips to fall on her own. Her stomach was a menagerie of wild butterflies, her hands moist and body pleading for contact. It all fluttered away as soon as they were disturbed, and she let go of Faith's hand.
Turning to see one of the slayers coming from the room to look for her, Buffy chastised herself for not taking Faith somewhere a little more private to talk than the main hall.
“Crap,” Buffy muttered as she waved at the young slayer across the tiled entrance, watching as she shuffled back into the training room. “I think I need to get back before they all kill each other.”
“Yeah,” Faith said distractedly.
She knew Buffy was all about the slayer training, and it didn't bother her - in fact, she thought it was pretty awesome. Having Buffy suddenly jump a mile away from her and drop her hand like a hot poker wasn't so awesome. She knew it was stupid to expect anything but that kind of reaction, but it still stung just a little. It made her wonder if she'd been that way with Satsu around the others, or if it was just her. If Buffy wasn't ready to be with Faith in front of other people - the people that mattered. . .then how the hell was Faith meant to be with Buffy at all? How could she trust her heart to her?
Faith didn't have an answer, and she was back at square one.
“I have to make a trip out with Willow soon, but I'll be back by dinner,” Buffy told Faith. “Will you still be around? I mean, could we maybe. . .get together?”
Faith nodded slowly, her heart sinking a little, mocking her for daring to open herself up. It wasn't as if Buffy's reaction was really all that of a big deal, or surprising considering their history, and Buffy wanted to see her later at least. . .but still, Faith now felt fully justified in her caution.
There was a moment's hesitation before Buffy turned to go. A moment where Buffy almost took a chance and kissed Faith without leaving it up to her. Their eyes locked; questions, desires, deep feelings that were hiding behind all the defences they could find, passed between them. Nothing was said.
Watching Buffy make her way back to the slayers, Faith felt her heart longing in a way that felt like a kick while she was down. She remembered the feeling well; it had burned its way into her consciousness years ago. She didn't want to feel that way again, had promised herself she'd never allow herself to feel it again. There was no escaping it, however. Faith wanted to give Buffy a chance - give them both a chance – but she couldn't say for sure if the risks were too high. They felt high, yet deep inside she was frantically searching for ways to tell herself not to care.
She left the hall with more questions than answers, pulling herself this way and that trying to decide what she'd do next. Of course she wanted to be with Buffy, but at what cost? Was it worth it? Was it really worth the risk if in a week's time Buffy suddenly decided it wasn't for her, or they realized they were on a path to destruction, or if they just couldn't be more than what they were and it all went to shit - leaving them further apart than ever?
It was too much to think about. Faith felt isolated and claustrophobic all at once. She didn't feel comfortable there and needed to find her solid ground. She thought maybe it was best to leave, to step back and look at everything from a distance. If they were going to go for it, to take the plunge, she didn't want to rush in blindly. . .not after waiting so long for it to come about. If they were going to finally do it, it had to be done right.
Faith finally found Giles tinkering with some of Xander's favourite gadgets in one of the small rooms attached to the communications area.
“Hey, G,” she said, giving him a nod hello as he smiled her way.
“We should invest in some of these,” he told her, waving around some kind of cellphone with a funky looking glass spindle on it. “I bet they're very useful in the field.”
“Sure, if you want me to look like some kinda loser Trekkie,” Faith replied, looking unconvinced at the array of gadgets. “We don't got the money they have, and I don't think I'd know what the fuck to do with most of this crap.”
Giles nodded, resigned to the fact Faith liked to do things her way, and that it was pointless to try to sway her. She knew what she was good at – and was extremely good at lots of things – and nothing stood in the way of her and her goal. No silly contraptions were going to make life any easier for either of them when it came down to it.
Faith picked up a headset, fiddling with it, remembering what Buffy had said the day before while she'd been running for her life to get out of the building alive. “I can't lose you again,” Buffy had said. There had been tears, and Faith had felt in that moment that everything she wanted to come true would be possible. It had all seemed possible and she'd told Buffy that she'd never lost her. That would always be the case. Falling in love with Buffy didn't come with an expiration date; Faith had learned that the hard way.
Whatever happened, there would be no going back to how things had been. They both knew more about each other now. More about how they felt.
“So,” Faith said, catching Giles' attention again as she placed the headset back down, “when can we leave? We got a shit load of stuff to do before we pick up that girl Simone.”
She hoped he would say right away, tonight, any time that meant being able to slip away without having to explain to Buffy that she needed time. She knew the look Buffy would give her; it's not like they hadn't had plenty of time after all. Faith was sure her decision was for the best, no matter how much every part of her that wanted Buffy – which was pretty much all of her – wanted to take her in her arms and never let go.
“Ah, yes,” Giles said, removing his glasses. “I expected you'd prefer to leave tonight, however. . .I feel it's of great importance I stay to help Willow conceal the scythe as best we can. We've uncovered the culprits motives and it's not a pleasant discovery. She'll be making a short trip with Buffy later to collect what we need. The process could take a while and. . .”
“So when can we leave?” Faith interrupted, not really interested in spells.
“Tomorrow afternoon. It's been arranged,” Giles informed her.
Faith nodded, her gaze landing on the headset she'd discarded.
It wasn't good. She'd probably have to find some way to explain to Buffy that she did want to be with her. . .but just not yet. It sounded simple, it made sense in her head, yet it was so obviously not what most of the rest of her wanted going by the uneasy feeling inside her. Her choice had been made however, and though it went against everything she'd dreamed of, she knew she had to walk away for now.
Buffy needed time to adjust to the wanting girls thing and not being afraid of what others thought, and Faith needed to come to terms with the fact Buffy really did want them to be together. It was a big change, and she hadn't been ready for it.
Leaving Giles to the gadgets, Faith made her way up to her room. She planned to pack, and to avoid Buffy for the rest of the night.