Faith pulled up a chair next to Buffy, noisily clattering it on the wooden floor as the rest of the gang round the table furtively looked up from their books. She ran a hand through her thick hair, waiting to see if anybody had heard her fumblings with Buffy downstairs. Nobody seemed to be suspicious or freaked out, so Faith was fairly certain they hadn’t given the game away.
She felt a little uncomfortable, sat in moist panties with the urge to throw Buffy up onto the table and fuck her senseless. Faith knew she had to keep herself in check, however. She doubted Buffy would be too keen on revealing all to her friends just yet. At least not in such an unsubtle way. She could wait. Buffy was worth it.
“So, what’s the what?” Buffy asked, looking at Giles, ready to fight another day.
Buffy did her best to ignore the fact that Faith was right beside her, causing her to struggle against the need to leap onto her lap. She was glad she’d chosen to sit near her; it showed how far they had come to the others, but it was also incredibly distracting.
“There may be a possibility that the spell we did the other day was completely. . .wrong,” Giles answered, placing his glasses down on the table as he paced a little beside it.
“Wrong how?” Willow spoke up. “We did everything you said, and. . .we have two slayers sat right here.” She smiled their way.
“Well that’s just it; I’m not really certain how they’re here if I’m right about this.” Giles picked up the small leather-bound book the slayers had fetched and handed it to Willow. “Right there in the text it says we needed the Essence of Gardok to transfer their bodies back in one piece – I’m paraphrasing – yet they came through just fine.”
Willow mulled over the book, handing it to Tara as she looked up at Giles. “You didn’t say we needed it when we were preparing.”
“Yes, a large. . .very large oversight on my part. I should have researched it a little more,” Giles mumbled, rubbing his brow as five sets of eyes bored into him.
Buffy glanced over at Faith, watching her brown eyes as she listened to Giles. “Then how are we here?” Buffy asked, cutting to the chase.
“I’m not exactly sure, Buffy,” Giles replied. “Maybe if you tell us more about the dimension you were caught in we might be able to piece it together. Any information could help, especially if you can tell us if you bumped into any demons or similar there.”
Buffy nodded and was about to begin, only to be interrupted by Xander.
“Does it matter? I mean, they’re here, safe and in one piece as far as I can see,” he pointed out.
“Yes, but by my calculations, we did indeed open a rift into this other world, and that rift is quite possibly still open,” Giles explained gravely.
“That doesn’t sound good,” Buffy noted, stating the obvious. “Where did it open?”
“We’ll need to do another spell to determine that, if I’m correct in my assumptions,” Giles replied.
Faith shuffled in her chair, feeling her slaying impulses kick in. If there was trouble, she was ready. She’d sat idle for long enough, and she was born to slay. There was an instinctive part of her that needed to be out fighting vampires and demons and all things evil. She had been torn when she’d gone to the Mayor, her instincts battling with self-preservation.
“More spells?” Xander asked uneasily. “I don’t know about anybody else here but. . .I’m a little wary now. One wrong ingredient and we could all be cake mix.”
“This one wouldn’t be as complicated, Xander. It’s a simple locating spell,” Giles reassured.
They all nodded, knowing whatever they had to face, whatever they had to do, they’d do it together. They were a unit. They’d proved that much against Adam.
Giles sat down on the only comfy chair around the table and indicated for Buffy to tell them about where they had been and what they’d seen. Buffy complied, recounting the tale of how she’d woken up with Faith unconscious, how they’d kept safe in a cave until they could go out and search for signs of life. She told him about the bones and the incident in which she’d almost been eaten alive. How they’d followed directions to the valley and been greeted by the resident demon Garashk. That he’d asked them to kill the old woman to get them back home.
The gang listened intently with Giles making notes as she spoke.
“And when she spoke to you, did she infer that she would send you home?” Giles asked, aware that the old woman they now knew to be called Estella could be the only reason they had been freed.
Buffy once again looked over to Faith, wondering how much she should gloss over. They had agreed not to say much, and not to place the blame on Buffy like the old lady had, but Buffy knew Giles needed to know everything. She had to be honest.
“She said a bunch of stuff,” Buffy began, turning back to the group. “Stuff about guilt, and about us being bound in some way. She said it was my fault we were there, because of what I’d done to Faith. . .and she was right.”
Faith was about to interrupt, uncomfortable with allowing Buffy to take the blame when she understood why she’d plunged the knife into her.
“It’s ok, Faith,” Buffy assured, smiling at Faith.
Giles chewed on the end of his glasses, listening and learning, making sure he had everything written for future reference. “So you both got transported there because of your slayer link? I’m presuming that’s what she meant by you being bound,” he mused.
“I don’t know,” Buffy said with a shrug, not certain she was telling the truth. There was much more to it than their slayer link. “But she did say she couldn’t fix it. That it was down to us. . .to heal.”
“That’s very interesting,” Giles said, sitting forwards. “If Estella didn’t have a hand in you coming back, however did you manage it?”
He looked from Faith to Buffy, clearly waiting for some kind of further explanation. They were both sure they had been freed because of the love they’d expressed by being in each other’s arms, and because of the apologies they’d made, but saying anything about it would divulge more than they had agreed on.
Buffy fought a monumental war within herself, knowing what had to be said yet fearing the reactions.
“She said we were damaged, and that we’d done it to each other,” Faith explained, speaking softly, wetting her lips before saying more; knowing what she had to divulge would change everything. “Just before we got pulled back Buffy let me tell her how sorry I was for everything. And I told her I love her. I think maybe that kinda fixed us, or me at least.”
The room became a hush of stalled brain activity. They all looked wide-eyed between Faith and Buffy, waiting for Buffy to say something. To explain.
Faith didn’t want to make life difficult for Buffy, but Giles had to know what was going on to figure out what had happened. She had a feeling that her confession, their act of love, had brought them home. She knew Buffy would be mad at her for saying too much, but she hadn’t incriminated Buffy in any way with her admission. She’d merely told the truth. That she loved Buffy.
Giles opened and closed his mouth a few times, and Xander fidgeted like he had ants in his pants. Faith wanted to stand up and hide away from their eyes. She knew what they would be thinking; she could see it behind the stares. They wanted to know how she dared say she loved Buffy after all she had done. They wanted to tell her she didn’t have the right. That Buffy didn’t need her love. She knew they were right. She could feel that they were right with every passing second. She had been stupid to say anything.
Faith looked down, unable to meet their stares any longer; feeling like the world was about to come crushing down upon her once again.
Buffy could sense that Faith was being judged and that all eyes were on her. Disbelieving eyes that only saw how much she had hurt Buffy and her friends. She could see through their stares, she could tell how much it must have hurt Faith to know what they were thinking. She couldn’t allow it to go on. She couldn’t leave Faith to cope alone with her feelings anymore. . .not when Buffy shared them.
“It wasn’t just that,” Buffy spoke up, her voice shaky yet her heart sure. “Just before we got sucked back we. . .we made love.” There was an audible gasp from Willow, and Xander turned a very pale shade of pale. “Whatever it was that was damaged in us because of the past, we fixed.”
Buffy could feel her own hands shaking. She needed an anchor. She turned to Faith, looking up into brown eyes that were full of love and admiration. Reaching out, she took Faith’s hand in her own, bridging the gap, making it clear that they were indeed ‘fixed’, and that whatever her friends said it didn’t take away from the fact they meant more to each other than anybody could possibly understand.
Willow was the first to break the suffocating silence as they all stared in disbelief at the pair holding hands. “You. . .you made love? Of the sex kind?” she asked, her voice sharp and high like she was sitting on a pin. “With the nakedness and the. . .oh, that’s why you came back without your clothes on.” She paused. “I’m gonna stop thinking about that now.”
She was clearly flustered, and she wasn’t the only one.
“I’m pretty much stuck on the thinking about it thing,” Xander mumbled, his eyes glassy as he blinked. “And. . .yeah. . .” he was lost for words.
“Well, that’s a first, you’ve rendered Xander speechless,” Giles said with a sly smile. “It does indeed seem like you freed each other from damnation’s clutches, and stumped us all in the process. What with you err. . .having. . .”
“Don’t say it, Xander might explode,” Willow warned, as she perched on the edge of her seat wanting to know more about the revelation.
Buffy chuckled, squeezing Faith’s hand a little as she felt her remain rigid and prepared for attack beside her.
Giles pushed his glasses onto his nose, smiling gently at the two slayers before him. “I can’t say I’m not a little surprised, but it’s not my place to tell you who to. . .” Xander twitched. “Yes quite,” Giles finished up, leaving his sentence unfinished in order to allow the rest of the gang to cope with the change.
He stood, shuffling his books into a pile as he tried to work out why he hadn’t noticed what was between the slayers before. He thought maybe he had seen something; a tension between them that couldn’t have been put down to hate or hurt. Something under the surface that he realised had always been there just ready to bubble over. Giles hoped they were making the right decision. They’d caused each other so much pain in the past.
Glancing as he noticed Buffy move Faith’s hand into her lap, he smiled gently. He watched for a second from his place behind the counter as Buffy’s thumb traced patterns over the back of Faith’s hand. Something very important had obviously passed between them while they’d been away, and he could see the love Buffy had for Faith. A blind man could see it.
Faith was stunned into silence, much like Xander. She couldn’t quite believe Buffy had told all. That she had laid herself on the line in front of her friends. She would never have expected her to tell them, not so soon. She would never have put any pressure on her to do it, even though being kept a secret would have hurt. Faith felt herself smiling just a tad despite trying not to. She let Buffy hold her hand in her lap, and allowed the feeling of complete calm to wash over her before all the questions began.
“I’m happy for you b-both,” Tara stated quietly, her eyes smiling as much as her lips.
Willow took heed of her girlfriend’s words. She of all people shouldn’t be judging Buffy’s choice to be involved with another girl after all. It couldn’t have been easy for Buffy to tell them what she had. Not only did it break the boundaries of ‘normality’, but there was also the fact that Buffy and Faith had been mortal enemies to take into consideration. Whatever it was between them, it had to be pretty major.
“Were you always? I mean did you before?” Willow asked, not quite managing to get a full question out.
Buffy chuckled and took pity on her friend. It was a lot of information to take in all at once. “I’ve always liked Faith, yeah, but no. . .there was no before. I was in denial. Big style,” Buffy said, hoping Faith was ok with everything that was happening.
“We both did the denial thing,” Faith continued, leaning forward, keeping tight hold of Buffy’s hand. “It kinda screwed us up, but I think we’ve put that behind us.” Faith hoped that to be true more than anything.
“Wow, and that was certainly a lot of screwing. . .” Xander swallowed hard “up,” he said, correcting himself quickly; his face still pale as he looked back and forth between the two slayers.
Faith smirked, fighting the urge to laugh. It was serious stuff. Buffy had just basically outed them both, telling her nearest and dearest that she was sleeping with a girl that had done some pretty bad things. That had killed, and been on the brink of evil. She tensed up, wondering why she had allowed Buffy to be so forthright. Wondering why she thought she had the right to claim her and expect everything to be ok. Xander was right, there was a lot to make up for.
Buffy felt the change in Faith. “Hey, are you ok with this?” she asked gently, turning to Faith and gauging her reaction through her eyes. “I didn’t mean to just blurt it out, but I thought. . .”
“You thought right,” Faith reassured, lifting her free hand to tenderly stroke her thumb over Buffy’s cheek.
“Wow,” Xander murmured slowly, his mouth unable to shut as his jaw kept firmly attached to the floor. “I wanna be a lesbian too.”
Willow smacked him on the arm but he didn’t flinch as he kept his gaze fixed on the slayers.
“I don’t really know if that’s what I am,” Buffy said, looking puzzled in her own confusion. “I just know I really, really like Faith in all the un-Catholic ways.” She kept her eyes fixed on Faith’s, unable to look anywhere else. Not wanting to look anywhere else.
Faith smiled, her dimples leaving striking marks down her face as she gazed into Buffy’s eyes. She felt her heart thudding deeply for Buffy; each beat a notation of how much she truly did love the girl before her. She wanted to kiss her. She needed to, despite the enthralled audience.
Before she leaned forward and captured Buffy’s lips, the shop chime rang out, disrupting the quiet atmosphere.
“Riley!” Willow practically screeched.
Buffy quickly pulled away from Faith, releasing the grip on her hand. Faith allowed a calm mask to slip over her face, and shook her head at Willow as she opened her mouth to ask if he knew. Xander’s mouth finally closed shut with a clunk, and Giles stopped his tidying as Riley strode forwards toward Buffy.
“Did I interrupt something?” Riley asked, looking around the shop at the faces turned up at him. They were unusually quiet, and he wasn’t happy about Faith being near Buffy at all.
“No,” Buffy replied, shaking her head. “We were just setting Giles right about the dimension we were caught in. We explained, he took notes; it was pretty uneventful.”
Buffy rose from her chair, moving towards him as his eyes landed on Faith and stayed fixed there. She gazed back at Faith, sure of what she needed to do. The beautiful brunette she had handed her heart to was waiting for her. Waiting for her to have the guts to take what she truly wanted. She knew Faith wouldn’t pressure her into anything, but Buffy couldn’t lie. She couldn’t hide. She couldn’t deny her own heart.
“Riley, we need to talk,” Buffy said quietly, looking him in the eye.
“Sure,” he nodded, not quite certain why she was looking at him the way she was. “I have a little while before I have to get back, but I can’t push it after everything that happened. They’re really on my case, and I have to prove that I am the soldier they thought I was.”
Buffy smiled sadly at him and lead him to the far side of the shop, away from the others. She parted her lips to speak, but the words wouldn’t come. She just looked at him, knowing what she was about to say would hurt him.
“Buffy, what is it?” he asked impatiently, reaching out to gently grab hold of her arm so she would focus.
Faith rose from her chair, her eyes cutting like steel into Riley as she watched him grab onto Buffy. She was willing herself not to listen, but she hadn’t been able to just turn away. At the very slight hint that he was getting agitated she stepped forward, making sure he knew she wasn’t going to allow him to even try to intimidate Buffy.
“Faith, it’s ok,” Buffy called before turning back to Riley. “We should go outside,” she told him.
“What is it?” he asked again, his heart rate increasing as adrenaline pumped through his veins. Faith was the last person he wanted having anything to do with Buffy, yet there she was. . .dark and dangerous eyes piercing through every inch of him as Buffy failed to tell him what was going on.
Buffy didn’t answer. She pointed him to the door, walking with him as she felt Faith watching. It wasn’t fair on either of them, so one had to go, and there was no competition. As they made their way outside, Buffy breathed deep, filling her lungs with the cool evening air. She turned towards him, stopping him as he tried to reach out to hold her.
“Is this about Faith?” he asked. “You know it meant nothing to me. I look at her and. . .I hate what she did to you.” His gentle eyes hardened as they darted about, looking for answers.
“It may not have meant something to you, but it meant something to me, Riley,” Buffy said calmly, trying to will the words out. “And not in the way it should have.”
He scratched his head, confusion clearly evident on his boyish face. “I don’t understand,” he said, shrugging.
Buffy had to bite the bullet. It was now or never. Things hadn’t been right with Riley since Faith had woken up from her coma. She’d thought too much about her. She’d thought less and less about him. There was no future between them, despite the fact she really did wish she could love him. He was the easy option; the simple option. But she didn’t want that, or him.
“It is about Faith,” she confessed, looking deep into his eyes and wishing there was an easier way. “You touched her,” she continued slowly. “You touched a part of her that I hadn’t and it hurt.”
A tear rolled from her eye as she recalled how much it had hurt to know her boyfriend had slept with Faith.
“I don’t understand,” he repeated, looking down at his feet.
“Neither did I, but I do now. I’m sorry,” she said, her voice practically a whisper as he looked up at her, eyes heavy with unshed tears.
It was sinking in. He knew what she meant and his heart was breaking. His eyes began to shed their weight as he looked from the shop door back to Buffy.
“Do you love her?” he asked quietly, no sign of the strength she knew he had inside him.
“I’m sorry,” she said again, nodding.
He wiped at his nose, pulling himself up to his full height, swallowing all the pain she had just caused. There was nothing he could do. He had been waiting for this day. He had never expected it to be Faith who took Buffy away, but he had known he was just a filler. A stop along the way as she moved through life, affecting everybody she ever touched. He couldn’t fight. He couldn’t argue. Buffy loved Faith. He could see it in her glistening tears as they slid down her cheeks.
He nodded, clenching his jaw and taking a steadying breath.
“Please, be happy, Buffy. That’s all I ask,” he said, reaching out to wipe away a tear from her cheek before turning to leave.
He didn’t look back as he got into his jeep and she was grateful. He was a good man and she’d hurt him. She didn’t want to see it, she felt guilty enough. But it had been the right thing to do. For both of them.
She whispered goodbye as he pulled away and turned the corner, leaving nothing but tracks in the dust.
She could move on now. Fully. Finally.