Chapter Seven

The trees rushed by Faith as she ran, jumping over mossy mounds and trickling streams, her lungs burning with the cold air as she gulped it in. Her hair – tied back to keep it from tangling around her face - whipped behind her in the breeze. She felt free, alive, every muscle finely tuned to the way her body moved; to the way she could push it further, faster, harder than the last time.

Running wasn't a way to get away from her troubles any more, but it was a way to escape them, even if just for a short time. She wouldn't be heading for the nearest freight train, or the airport, or a highway she could hitch along; that kind of running was over with. She'd be heading back once her body began to finally tire. Back to the castle. Back to where Buffy would now be, having completed her errand with Willow.

Faith glanced at her watch as she slowed to a soft jog. The forest was thick and misty, but the challenge of finding a path to run around the castle through it had been too compelling to ignore. She'd needed to get out, taste the air and run the endless thoughts out of her mind. Over-thinking had never been her thing, and it wasn't sitting well. Pulling her sweatpants out of a hastily packed bag, she'd taken off into the evening - into the chill that encased their Scottish retreat – leaving all that weighed her down at the door.

The forest was quiet now her feet had stopped pounding the fallen leaves and the slippery moss into the earth with each stride. She'd moved further away from the castle than her previous circuits, following the meandering veins of an icy stream. There was a faint fog hanging over the tress like a net, dousing the leaves and cobwebs that hung between the branches in a thin sheen of moisture. Each breath she took left its mark in the air, puffs of steam with every pant as her lungs adjusted to being still. It was peaceful yet wild and untamed. A clash of calm reflection and haunting possibilities.

Allowing the calmness to seep into her, pushing out the threat of her mind becoming overcrowded with Buffy again, Faith looked deep into the shimmering forest up ahead. It was bathed in the delicate touch of the moon, the stream reflecting the light as it widened down the gentle roll of a hill.

She saw movement; a brief shudder of brown against the misty white background. Squinting as she stood with her hands on her hips, her breathing finally at ease, Faith watched as the leaves parted by the stream a few meters from where she'd stopped. Stepping out into the moonlight, a young deer – its own puffs of breath filling the air - approached the water's edge. Faith kept still and silent as the deer tasted the fresh flowing water, its head and antlers bowed, eyes still searching for danger.

It spotted Faith and their eyes met, dark on dark, the wild running through both of them just as much as the peace and the serenity of the moment. Neither moved; no threat, no fear.

Faith had never been much of an animal lover; never had a pet, never been taken to the zoo or told stories about how beautiful a wild creature could be. She wanted to reach out, to feel his coarse fur, to run her fingers over the proud antlers he shook as he finished quenching his thirst. They regarded each other with intrigue, the breeze cooling them both in their stillness. He seemed to be judging Faith; judging if she was a threat, a risk to his solitary existence. He was scared, but he was brave, his black eyes looking deep into Faith and daring her to look with him.

He was magnificent, strong and wild, yet there was a softness to his gaze as he puffed a snort of air and gave Faith another shake of his antlers before turning to disappear back into the forest. Faith smiled, gentle, barely visible, a gesture of gratitude for being allowed to share the forest with him. Whatever it was he'd seen within her, whatever it was he'd found. . .it hadn't made him turn in fear.

Keeping her eyes fixed to the spot between the leaves where he'd appeared, Faith wondered if she'd ever be strong enough to look within herself and not run in fear. Her new friend in the forest could do it, even Buffy seemed to be able to do it now. . .but Faith didn't know if she had that kind of bravery. She held so much inside; so much hurt, so much anger, and so much more love for Buffy than she knew how to stand and face. Maybe running was the only thing she'd ever been good at.

It had certainly always seemed easier to run than to face the things she feared. Though it wasn't so much a physical thing she did these days, she knew she was always still running in her head. Running from herself, from her past, from all the good things that could be waiting for her.

Taking a deep breath, Faith turned back towards the castle and started jogging. She realised she was turning from what Buffy was offering - not because she was uncertain about its truth, or about Buffy, but because she was afraid it was everything she'd always wanted, and Faith still didn't think she deserved everything she'd wanted. Buffy was offering too much.

Facing what she felt - and what Buffy felt - was just too much, but running wasn't the answer. Understanding it, touching it, knowing it. . .that was the only way forward, even if that still meant holding back just a little while; like a deer at the waterside checking for danger.

When Faith finally reached the castle she was coated in sweat, sore and cold. She felt tired, but her mind was busy fitting all the pieces together in a much neater puzzle than when she'd left. She felt better, ready to see Buffy, ready to let her know that even though she was sure she could do her best to face what they both wanted, she still needed a little time to reflect, to check for danger. She wasn't going to hide away and then leave without letting Buffy know she was feeling the same and wanting the same. Faith had to face it head on.

She bounded up the stairs heading for Buffy's room. There was a slight worry that she'd find Satsu there; maybe Buffy and Satsu making up, kissing each other all better after their fight. It was fleeting, and Faith pushed it aside. She couldn't afford to allow jealousy to steal her resolve, or her sanity. She had to trust in Buffy.

Knocking on Buffy's door, trying not to be too loud in case the other slayers were already in bed, or trying to relax at least, Faith yanked her hair out of her ponytail and shook it free. Her hair was a little damp with sweat, her pants muddy, sneakers even more so. She looked dishevelled but felt great.

Buffy's door opened a crack and she peeked out.

“Hey,” Faith said, flashing Buffy a genuine and flawless smile.

Buffy smiled back and opened the door wider, then her smile dropped as she took in the state Faith had arrived in.

“Wow, did something drag you through the woods by your hair?” Buffy asked.

“Yeah,” Faith replied, stepping forwards despite Buffy's wrinkled nose as she left a trail of mud on the carpet. “She was pretty tough, but I beat her down. Told her she had to stop being a pussy.”

“Wait. . .who?” Buffy asked, looking a little worried.

Faith watched as Buffy closed the door to her room. She was wearing Faith's old tee shirt from the night before, and some baggy sweatpants that looked two sizes too big.

“Do you steal all your clothes?” Faith asked with a chuckle, pointing out Buffy's ensemble.

Looking down at herself Buffy furrowed her brow. “No, just. . .your tee shirt was comfy so. . .don't change the subject, who did you beat up this time?”

Faith grinned and sat herself down in a nearby chair, resting her elbows on the plush arms.

“This time? Wow, B. . .you got a lot of faith in me huh,” she quipped, the grin still on her face as Buffy studied her intently.

Narrowing her eyes and walking closer to Faith, Buffy crossed her arms over her chest. She wasn't sure what was going on, but she felt uneasy. Faith had been upset earlier, and now she seemed positively euphoric; it was a little unsettling considering Faith's past.

“You said you'd beaten somebody down, now unless. . .oh God, it wasn't Satsu was it?” Buffy blurted, her eyes widening and hands falling back to her sides. “She doesn't deserve that. She's leaving so there was no reason to. . .”

“Hey, B. . .hold your horses, I didn't touch your honey,” Faith assured, her smile still in place as Buffy began to panic. “Glad to hear she's leaving, though.”

“Ex-honey," Buffy corrected. "We talked earlier and decided it's best if she leaves for a while,” she explained, getting sidetracked. “It won't be permanent 'cause she is my best slayer, but for now she's going back with Andrew to Italy. Tomorrow.”

Faith nodded, feeling good that Satsu wouldn't be around to mess things up, but not feeling too happy that she'd be back in the future. It wasn't as if she couldn't respect the girl as a slayer, or even like her as a person, but Faith had always been the jealous type around Buffy.

“So if it wasn't Satsu, who was it?” Buffy pressed, trying to ignore the small beads of sweat that were still rolling down Faith's neck and into the low scoop of her shirt at her cleavage.

“Wasn't anybody, B,” Faith clarified. “I was talking about me. I guess I was a deer caught in the headlights and needed time to work it out, and I think I have.”

Buffy looked hopeful at Faith's words, a little smile creeping out as she gazed down at her.

“And is it good news, or something I don't wanna hear considering I totally spilled my guts to you last. . .”

“Come 'ere, B,” Faith told Buffy, jerking her head in a gesture for Buffy to get closer.

Giving Faith a wary glare before giving in to the sexy grin on her lips, Buffy moved closer to the chair. She let out a little gasp as Faith grabbed her and pulled her onto her lap. She was straddling Faith now, facing her as she became completely aware of just how hot and sweaty Faith was.

“You're gonna get me all stinky,” Buffy fake-grumbled, at least attempting to sound like she was protesting.

“Thought you liked my stink,” Faith said with a smirk. “You're wearing my shirt.”

“Because it's comfortable. Has nothing to do with the fact it smells like you,” Buffy pointed out, her little smile giving her away.

“Sure,” Faith chuckled.

It felt good that Buffy wanted her scent around. Weird, but good.

She moved her hands over Buffy's thighs, holding her there and feeling like Buffy was completely comfortable sat on her. There was no awkwardness now, no agitation or tension other than the obvious sexual kind. Faith liked it; the feeling of closeness, of just letting the barriers slowly peel away. They were connecting in the way they always should have.

Raising one hand, Faith softly stroked her thumb over Buffy's cheek as their eyes did all but melt each other. She'd always loved Buffy's eyes. The color always seemed dependant on her mood; a subtle green or definite hazel. They were more green now in the lamplight, searching Faith's eyes, Buffy's heart almost visible through them. She wanted to see more, to know more.

“If we're gonna do this,” Faith began, lowering her hand to rest on Buffy's shoulder, wondering when she'd become so gentle, “we gotta have some ground rules.”

Buffy gave Faith a puzzled look. “Didn't think you were a rules kind of girl.”

“I am when something's important,” Faith clarified, dropping her hand back to Buffy's thigh.

She needed Buffy to understand her, and to agree with her. She didn't want to feel backed into a corner, or have Buffy expecting too much; it would only lead to confusion and hurt, and they'd both caused each other enough of both.

“Ok, go ahead,” Buffy told her, wanting to give Faith what she needed.

She also wanted to lean in to Faith and just feel her against her, but it wasn't the time. Fighting the urge, doing her best to ignore how good it felt being perched on top of Faith, Buffy put on her best understanding expression. She took one of Faith's hands gently in her own, stroking her thumb over it, noticing how Faith seemed to stiffen just a little before relaxing again. Buffy doubted Faith was the type to hold hands, but she needed the contact.

Faith glanced at their hands before continuing, her skin tingling under Buffy's touch. Nobody had ever tried to hold her hand past the first attempt. Robin had persisted at first, but Faith just wasn't the type; it had never felt right. She didn't like feeling possessed, or like she was being controlled. With Buffy it didn't feel like that; it never had. The very few times Buffy had grabbed her hand for them to run, or to lead her away from some guy while they were dancing, had always stuck in her mind. It had always felt nice, comforting even if it was a little controlling. There was just something about Buffy taking her hand that made Faith's stomach lurch as if she was on a roller-coaster. It had once made her want to let go for fear of falling too far. . .but she didn't need to let go now.

“Number one,” Faith began, trying to focus. “I need to know why. Why you want this. I know what you said last night. I heard it. . .but it's still. . .I just wanna know for sure.”

Buffy nodded, she understood the apprehension and disbelief.

Faith continued when Buffy gave her a sweet smile. “Number two: I still need time to adjust, so I'm gonna stick with the plan and go tomorrow,” she said, noticing how Buffy's smile slipped away, leaving her looking a little sad. “I got a job to do, and I don't want you making me feel like I'm walking away. I'm not walking away, it's just a big deal. . .if we're gonna do it right.”

Buffy stared at their hands for a moment before looking back up at Faith. She knew Faith wasn't fond of relationships. She wasn't known for her positive views on monogamy and all that went with being with somebody for more than the fucking. It was something Buffy had considered, had worried about, but she knew she had to take the chance. Too much time had been wasted on worrying about the 'what ifs'. And she knew what Faith meant by doing it right; it wasn't just going to be about fucking or scratching the itch that had always been there for them both.

“I understand,” Buffy assured, but her eyes were still tinged with sadness.

“I'm not used to people being clingy, so you're gonna have to give me space,” Faith told her, making sure Buffy really did understand.

She wasn't trying to be mean, and she knew Buffy would get pissed if she pushed it, but they both needed to know the best way forward. Even if the way forward was around a few curves, it was better than standing still completely, or sliding backwards. They'd done that long enough.

“I'm not clingy,” Buffy muttered. “I won't be clingy.”

Faith almost lost her resolve and cracked up at Buffy's pout, but it was a serious thing she was asking so she kept it together.

“I'm not saying it'll be a bad thing once I'm down with the whole being with you thing, but for now. . .I gotta ease in slow. We both do.” She gave Buffy's hand a squeeze, trying to reassure her.

Buffy's pout didn't go, but she nodded anyhow.

She hadn't planned on smothering Faith, but she did want to ask her to stay, to trust her, to let her love her. If she had to do the 'time' thing though, she knew she'd have to deal with it or risk pushing Faith away. If they were going to do it, they had to do it right. They couldn't afford to fail again.

“And three: we can't get our naughty on, as much as I want to,” Faith declared, looking like she wasn't exactly sure of that one herself.

“Now you're just being mean,” Buffy whined.

“If we do I ain't gonna want to leave, and like I said already. . .I got a job to do, just like you,” Faith said firmly. “We gotta keep it above the clothes.”

Taking a deep breath, Buffy held in her protests and questions. She wondered if Faith was feeling all right. Buffy was there, ready and waiting for them to take that step, to take each other. . .and Faith didn't want them to. It just didn't seem plausible.

“I think you've been possessed or something, but ok, I can deal,” Buffy said, trying to sound like she agreed. “Is kissing allowed?”

Faith chuckled and shook her head, finding Buffy's attempt to please her adorable with the accompanying pout.

“Kissing's allowed,” Faith replied, against her better judgement.

It's all Buffy needed to hear. She smiled softly, her heart beginning to pound as she leaned forward, feeling Faith's hands slide round to her back. They were kissing before either of them could stop themselves.

Their lips were full of need, tongues tasting answers to questions that had been there since the start. It was all clear now, coming into focus; the desire, the feeling, the depth of what they'd both been running from. It quickly moved from soft kisses and whispered breaths to a passionate hunger for more. Buffy's hands began to explore just as Faith pulled her closer, the desperate need for more contact trying to make them forget their plans.

As Faith broke her mouth free to place wet kisses down Buffy's neck, she moaned as a grinding rhythm was begun. Buffy couldn't help but move over Faith, trying to feel more of her, wanting to consummate what they'd discovered between them. She was acting on instinct, flying in the face of how she'd always been around Faith, and finally letting go.

But Buffy knew it wasn't fair to so quickly discount her promises, so she held herself still, using all her willpower to pull back.

Faith groaned, physically needing Buffy in a way she wasn't sure she could ignore. It felt so good to finally be getting closer, edging towards what she'd spent too long only thinking and dreaming about. Her own words were rattling around inside her head, mocking her, teasing her, telling her she was crazy to think she could ever hold back.

“Ok, kissing is probably not a good idea,” Buffy said breathlessly as she forced her hand to stop searching for the soft skin inside Faith's shirt.

Taking a steady breath and counting to ten in her head, Faith fought with herself, trying to remember just why it was best not to jump in to things with Buffy. She knew what was best, but trying to stick with it was going to be damn near impossible.

“Yeah, about that last rule,” Faith said shakily, doing her best not to push up against Buffy, “maybe we can bend it a little.”

They both grinned, acceptance and understanding turning the grins to soft smiles.

Buffy was all for bending the rules, but she didn't want to trample on Faith's need for space. She really didn't want to turn into cling-girl, and it was very likely to happen if they took things further right now.

“We can wait,” Buffy said quietly, pushing Faith's damp hair behind her ear as she gazed down at her. “But. . .am I allowed my own rules?”

Faith chuckled and nodded, her throbbing need for Buffy calming but not disappearing altogether.

“You've gotta be honest with me about how you feel.” Buffy said decisively. “That's rule number one.”

Faith's brow furrowed slightly, a faint look of dread crossing her features as she fully understood what Buffy wanted.

“I know it won't be right away. . .you can have time – we both need time,” Buffy continued. “I just need to know we're on the same page for once. If we are. . .I mean, I'm not trying to push you into a corner or. . .”

“We are, B,” Faith assured, halting Buffy's flow. “Same page, but you're right - I need to get comfortable with the whole. . .thing.”

Her heart was beating all irregular, wondering if Buffy really did love her, wondering if she loved Buffy. When she didn't think about it or let it fester in her mind, Faith was sure. . .she knew in the moments of unthinking clarity that she felt something deep for Buffy. It was being in love. It was beyond physical need, friendship, caring. It was there, weaving its way in and around her, and she suspected it was the same for Buffy; something that was just there, but not something you could ever really touch or see for fear it was too much to understand.

Taking Faith's hand in her own once again, Buffy continued; her insides a ball of squelchy mush as she replayed Faith's words over and over in her mind.

“Next rule: no pushing me out if you get scared.” Buffy wasn't trying to imply Faith was afraid, but she knew too well herself that fear could hold them apart. “You need to learn that you can talk to me. I know I screwed that up big style in the past - we both did - but we can do better this time.”

“I hear ya,” Faith responded.

She agreed. They had to work out how to talk to one another. Faith wasn't a big talker, especially about her feelings, but they'd already begun to set themselves on the right path with it this time. It was down to them both to stick at it, to challenge themselves and each other to keep in control of their fears, and share them when needed.

“And rule number three,” Buffy said, a little smile making her look sweet and mischievous all at once. “I want you to stay with me tonight.”

Faith raised her eyebrow.

“It won't get in the way of your third rule,” Buffy assured. “I just want some more time with you before you leave. I think we need it.”

It wasn't exactly what Faith had in mind in order to avoid getting too hands-on with Buffy, but the sad and hopeful look on her face was hard to resist. Satsu was leaving tomorrow as well as herself, and Buffy had already taken to sitting out in the rain naked. Faith didn't want anything else to happen, or anything to get in the way of any future relationship between them. There was no use saying no, especially as she really wanted to say yes despite how hard it was going to be to keep things from escalating into x-rated territory.

“Ok, I'll stay,” Faith replied.

Buffy's smile warmed Faith's heart as she was pulled into a strong embrace.

As they broke apart from the hug they began to kiss again. It was impossible to resist the tug, the easy feel of how perfectly they fit together. Lips that had longed, finally finding a home, finding what they'd always wanted. It was too easy to give in to the temptation. It felt right.

Faith ignored the nagging in her head, pushing it out in favour of the good sensations. She once again encouraged Buffy forwards on her lap, the small movement of Buffy's hips entrancing her. Her hand slipped under Buffy's tee shirt, tickling over her skin at her lower back, needing to feel the warmth. It wasn't enough and Faith knew they both wanted more. She groaned as Buffy nibbled on her lower lip, her panties growing damper by the second as the heat between them intensified.

It was obvious they were both holding back, muscles twitching and straining, lungs trying to fill with air between each hungry kiss.

“Faith,” Buffy said breathlessly, her fingers tripping softly over Faith's shoulders and arms, “if we don't stop. . .it's gonna go beyond kissing.”

“Yeah,” Faith confirmed, kissing over Buffy's chin and jaw, tasting her skin, “doesn't sound like a bad thing right now.”

Scratching her nails lightly over Buffy's back, Faith pushed into her, kissing her deep and long. Buffy moaned softly, every inch of her body reacting to the sensation of Faith pressing against it. Soft breasts, strong arms, eager hands. . .all making her wet, making her want without question.

There was the question of Faith's rules, however. . .and what they meant to the future stability of what was possible between them.

They couldn't let go, not just yet.



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