Everything happened so fast. Buffy’s best weapon was far out of reach, the distance between herself and Riley too far to bridge before Faith would be dead, but there was a clang behind her and more dust suddenly poured through the door. In the blink of an eye Buffy saw a shape move into the doorway. It raised something, pointed at Riley. A whooshing noise preceded a guttural growl from Riley’s throat and Faith dropped heavily to the floor.
Riley clutched at his neck, an arrow embedded deep within its thick mass. Blood was pouring across his exposed chest and Buffy felt momentarily sick. This was Riley. He had been human. He had once been kind, gentle. Now he was falling to his knees, a stricken look in his bulging eyes.
Ignoring the guilt in her chest Buffy rushed towards Faith’s limp body on the floor. She pushed at Riley, knocking him sideways, wanting to check on Faith before she finished him off. He sloped away into a corner, leaving her room to pull at the chains around Faith’s neck, tugging them free.
“Faith!” Buffy called, holding Faith’s face in her hands. “Please, don’t. . .”
Faith’s eyes fluttered open, her mouth opening to take in much needed breaths. She was alive. Hurt but alive.
“Don’t mind me,” Spike said as he stepped out from the doorway.
In his hands he held a crossbow, and on his face was the smuggest grin Buffy had ever seen. She wanted to rush up to him and kiss that grin for saving Faith, but that would have been all kinds of gross so she thanked him instead for now, giving him her genuine gratitude.
“It was nothing,” Spike gloated. “Big, bad demon like that. . .well, it’s nothing that a smart, ruggedly handsome vampire like myself can’t handle.”
Buffy rolled her eyes.
“I’m never gonna hear the end of it, huh,” she grumbled as Faith tried to chuckle. “Give me a hand with her,” Buffy instructed.
She put her hands under Faith’s arms, helping her to her feet, but Faith was too weak to stand. With Spike’s assistance they were able to sit her on a rather grubby looking desk and Buffy tried to check her everywhere at once for wounds.
“B, you don’t have to keep gropin’ me like that,” Faith forced out, her voice rough and quiet. “Though it is kinda distracting me from the completely unarousing kinky stuff your ex was trying to do to me with those chains.”
“Stop talking,” Buffy told her, practically feeling the pain in Faith’s throat as if it were her own.
“So bossy,” Faith quipped, giving a nod to Spike as he grumbled an agreement.
“This is no time for banter and witty remarks, you’re hurt, you could have been. . .” Buffy felt tears sting her eyes as she gently placed her fingertips on the bruises around Faith’s neck.
“I’m ok, B,” Faith assured, though Buffy was almost certain there were also tears in her eyes. “Just glad you showed up when you did.”
“We’ll talk about all that later. Giles is waiting with his car,” Buffy said, letting Faith drop her feet to the floor. She placed her arm around Faith’s waist and took most of her weight.
As they turned, ready to get Faith to safety, a final gurgle left Riley’s lips.
“I’m sorry,” he uttered, his red eyes now his normal colour, the softness in them showing through whatever had happened to him.
His head slumped, his last breath shuddering from his body. Buffy felt a mix of emotions she wasn’t ready to deal with just yet. She’d come back and deal with his body later. Deal with the pain and the guilt. At least Spike had saved her the job of having to kill him; she knew she’d always be secretly grateful to him for that small mercy. At some point, somebody somewhere would pay for what they’d done to Riley, but that was for another day.
“Let’s get out of here,” Buffy said, moving Faith towards the door.
“Darla,” Faith mumbled, her gaze landing on Darla’s body. “She didn’t turn to dust when he killed her.”
“We’ll come back for her,” Buffy said. “We’ll bury her.”
“Thank you,” Faith all but whispered. “She was just trying to help.”
Buffy saved her thoughts about that for later. There would be a lot of explaining to do. A lot of talking that Faith wouldn’t be up to right now because of her throat. She felt tears begin to float in her eyes again and cursed her weakness for Faith. There certainly was no denying now what she felt for the other slayer. She loved her, cared for her, and wanted to protect her.
When they reached Giles and the others a flurry of movement ensued. Faith was placed in to the car, refusing a trip to the hospital in favour of just going home. Slayer healing would get to work quickly, and a good nights rest really was probably all that was needed, but Buffy understood Giles’ concern. There would be no arguing, however, Faith would not budge on the decision.
Turning to Spike, who wouldn’t be able to fit into the car with them, Buffy stepped close to him, noticing for the first time a gentleness to his eyes that he couldn’t hide this night.
“Thank you, Spike,” she told him again. “For once I’m glad you were stalking me.”
“I wasn’t stalking, I was. . .yunno, I just happened to be in the area and. . .”
“You were stalking,” Buffy said with a slight smile.
“Yeah well, the other slayer had disappeared on me so I got bored. Can’t blame a chap for wanting to help out, though.”
“No, I can’t, and you did help,” Buffy said, her smile wider now. “I’ll come back and move his body and deal with Darla. Could you stay here a while and make sure nobody gets to them first?”
“I’ll do better than that, seeing as I’m such a nice guy and all,” he said with a glint in his eye. “I’ll dump Riley in the water and bring Darla back with me. I know a little spot in the cemetery that just might suit her.”
He sounded wistful, almost sad, but he was soon smirking again as he hefted his crossbow up to his shoulder and turned to head back to the bodies.
“I think I deserve a little insight into your slayer-on-slayer activities, though, after all this good deed stuff,” he called back over his shoulder. “Maybe some piccies of you two in. . .”
“Not gonna happen, Spike,” Buffy interrupted him with a chuckle.
For one thing, she really doubted there would be anymore slayer-on-slayer action. Too much had happened. Too many lies had fallen between them.
With a sigh Buffy headed for the car, climbing into the back next to Faith, only just resisting the urge to pull her into her arms. She allowed her heart to hope just a fraction as Faith’s head rested gently against her shoulder, but she couldn’t get carried away.
During the ride back into Sunnydale’s centre Faith was able to explain – slowly and with some difficulty - how she’d tracked Riley with Darla’s help to the old warehouse he’d been holed up in. Apparently they’d been working together after Darla had expressed a desire to right some of the wrongs she’d done. Buffy felt awful for having judged Darla and her intentions so harshly, but how could she have known? Jealousy had coloured her opinion.
Once they’d discovered that Riley was a real threat, they’d decided to let Giles know, but before that could happen he’d kidnapped them with the help of some less than pleasant vampires he’d been feeding from. Riley had kept them for two days before losing his patience with Darla, then finally choosing just to kill Faith instead of lure Buffy to him with her.
Apparently Faith had done all she could to anger him so that he couldn’t use her to ensnare Buffy.
She’d put her own life on the line.
All the information had Buffy’s head spinning, her thoughts in disarray. There could have been so many bad conclusions to the tale had Riley gotten his way. She closed her eyes, dropping her cheek onto that top of Faith’s head, unable to still the throbbing in her heart at just the thought of losing Faith.
“And I didn’t sleep with Darla, B,” Faith added quietly so only Buffy would hear. “She was just. . .easy to be around.”
Buffy felt her heart squeeze in her chest. Jealousy was not a pretty colour on her and she was glad she wouldn’t have to now think the worst, not that it was really her business if Faith had slept with Darla or not. At least now she wouldn’t have to wonder about it and twist herself into knots.
She almost chuckled to herself; if somebody had told her months before that she would be feeling this way about Faith she would have called them insane. It certainly was insane to suggest that she’d ever allow herself to care for Faith in the way she was now. But Buffy had to accept that things had changed. She’d changed just as much as Faith seemed to have.
As the car neared Faith’s apartment, Buffy suddenly realised that Faith wouldn’t be able to stay there. She wasn’t sure if Faith knew that her place was in a state so she gently shook Faith from her light slumber, trying to look into her eyes in the dimly lit car.
“Faith,” Buffy said, smiling briefly when Faith’s eyes blinked open. “Did you know that your apartment has been. . .well, kinda trashed?”
“Trashed?” Faith questioned sleepily. “What do you mean?”
She lifted her head from Buffy’s shoulder, ignoring the curious gaze from Willow beside them.
“I mean it looks like Riley took out a few frustrations on your possessions, and your walls,” Buffy answered.
“Oh great,” Faith mumbled.
“It’s ok, we’ll help you fix the place up,” Willow cut in, nodding her head vigorously.
Buffy realised that they really would, all of them, including her.
“Will I be able to stay there tonight?” Faith asked with a slight cough.
With a shake of her head Buffy answered, “I don’t think so.” She paused only a moment before taking a leap. “You could stay with me. . .if you wanted. I mean, we could work something out or. . .”
“Yeah,” Faith answered, looking slightly puzzled at her own answer, but optimistic. “Thanks.”
Buffy thought that Faith seemed confused; maybe wondering why she’d accepted so readily. Buffy was just as confused, but she wasn’t going to second guess herself now. She wanted to be there for Faith this time.
“I’ll take a look at the place tomorrow, Faith,” Xander offered. “We’ll have it ship shape in no time.”
“Ok, but don’t go crazy, I might just get a new place,” Faith said, looking sleepy again. “Too many bad memories there anyway.”
Buffy felt a pang of guilt and slid her arm around Faith’s shoulders, pleasantly surprised when Faith closed her eyes and fell further against her without hesitation.
They gave Giles instructions to go to Buffy’s dorm and they arrived just as Faith’s eyes fluttered open once again. Helping Faith out of the car, Buffy reassured Giles that she would call him if they needed anything or if Faith took a turn for the worse. He also informed her that he would check to ensure Spike had disposed properly of Riley, vowing to help Buffy discover what had happened to him.
She said goodnight and thank you to her friends – knowing they would have many questions tomorrow - with Faith giving them a wave and her own thanks. It felt odd watching them drive away leaving just the both of them standing alone together, but Buffy fought back the slight rumble of panic threatening her and began helping Faith to her room.
They walked in silence, Faith leaning on Buffy less and less as they went. She was already gaining strength.
When they closed the door behind them, safely in Buffy’s room things suddenly became awkward and strained. Buffy didn’t know what to say, plucking her phone from her pocket and remembering that she had to call Tru.
“Tru will be worried, I’d called asking if you were there,” Buffy explained, indicating the cell phone in her hand as Faith sat gingerly on the chair by the desk. “Do you want to speak to her?”
“No,” Faith declined, “you should. My voice is pretty beat.”
Buffy nodded and understood; Faith didn’t feel comfortable talking to Tru with Buffy’s so near.
It only took a few minutes for Buffy to reassure Tru that Faith would be ok, and that she would make sure she got plenty of rest. Tru also reminded Buffy that she should tell Faith how she feels. Buffy muttered that she would, her cheeks going a little red as Faith watched her out of the corner of her eye.
“Tru says hello, and that she’s happy you’re ok,” Buffy told Faith once she ended the call. “She also said that you need to stop getting into trouble.”
Faith chuckled, shaking her head.
Buffy wanted to push and ask how things were between Faith and Tru, but she decided not to go there quite yet. They’d talk about it all in good time, she was sure.
“You should rest now,” Buffy continued when she noticed Faith’s heavy eyelids.
She was still perched precariously on Buffy’s desk chair, looking completely uncomfortable and out of place. She watched as Faith’s gaze flicked to the bed, then to the floor, Faith’s shoulders drooping. Buffy saw shame on her face and instantly wanted to stop the dark thoughts forming in Faith’s mind.
“We’ve both made mistakes,” Buffy said quietly, hoping to draw Faith’s eyes back to her own.
“We have,” Faith agreed. She paused a moment before continuing, the rasp to her voice making Buffy’s skin tingle. “Just so you know. . .I don’t count sleeping with you as a mistake, but the note. . .that was a fucking huge one.”
Not knowing what to say to that, Buffy wrapped her arms around herself, trying not to feel once again the sting of the harsh words on that note the morning after they’d lain naked and sated in each other’s arms. She dropped her own gaze to the floor, willing words from her mouth that would ease this tension. None came.
“I didn’t mean it,” Faith finally said after what felt like forever. Buffy looked up and instantly felt warmed by Faith’s soft, brown eyes they held her own. “It meant. . .it meant more to me than just a fuck, just a. . .”
“I know,” Buffy soothed, realising that she did know. She knew Faith had just been trying to hurt her back the way that she was hurting because of Tru. “Can we. . .can we start again?”
Buffy’s heart skipped in her chest as she said the words. As she willed them both to take another chance.
Stepping closer to Faith, Buffy waited for Faith’s response, seeing moisture ready to spill from Faith’s eyes. She reached out, brushing a stray strand of hair away from Faith’s brow. She wanted to take Faith in her arms, but they both needed to know where they stood, and where they were headed.
“I’d kinda like that,” Faith finally responded, her voice cracking not only from the soreness in her throat.
As the tension threatened to engulf them both, Buffy forced herself not to grin like an idiot. This was by no means going to be easy.
“Ok, good,” Buffy muttered, finding it difficult to keep her hands to herself.
She could see that Faith was growing ever tired, however. She really did need to sleep.
“Do you want to shower before going to bed?” Buffy asked, getting to the business at hand of finding a way for them both to get more comfortable, though she imagined that she’d have to sleep on the floor to allow Faith to stay in her bed.
“Yeah, I need one, do you mind?”
“Of course not, I have a clean towel and you can use my shampoo and stuff,” Buffy said, quickly moving around the room to collect what Faith might need. “I have some sweat pants and a tee shirt too if you want.”
Faith smiled up at Buffy, more than a hint of confusion in her eyes. She was probably wondering why Buffy was being so accommodating. It almost made Buffy want to laugh, then cry, but the tragedy of all they’d lost and all they’d done to each other kept her from confusing Faith even more.
She waited as Faith went to shower away the grime of being held hostage for two days, pacing in her small room. She’d offered to help Faith but Faith had just raised an eyebrow and told Buffy that she would manage. A blush had crept over Buffy’s cheeks at the thought of helping Faith shower, but Faith had thankfully ignored it with nothing more than a small smirk.
Buffy had to keep her mind out of the gutter and on their friendship. If they couldn’t be friends, then they certainly couldn’t be anything more than that, so it was important for Buffy not to blur the lines, even though she wanted to.
“That feels so much better,” Faith said with a sigh as she came back into the room, throwing her towel over the back of the chair.
Her hair was still damp but she didn’t look as if she’d be able to stay on her feet much longer. Riley had run her ragged, and the bruises still visible around her throat made Buffy want to soothe them with soft kisses.
“Get into bed, Faith,” Buffy instructed, pulling back the covers for her and shaking any kissing thoughts from her head.
“You sure?” Faith asked, taking a tentative step forward.
“There’s no point in being shy now, Faith,” Buffy answered with a warm smile. “I think we should both be way past that at least.”
But Buffy’s words didn’t quite ring true as she felt just as shy. Not long ago she’d had Faith in this bed. She’d had her face buried between Faith’s thighs, had Faith clinging to her as they writhed together. Still, everything was different now and this was a new start.
“You’re right,” Faith agreed, a small grin lifting the corner of her lips as she got a twinkle in her eye.
Before Buffy could worry about that twinkle, Faith pulled off the tee shirt and sweat pants Buffy had given her and climbed into bed completely naked. She left the covers pulled back, her upper body completely visible and completely distracting.
“Thought you said we shouldn’t be shy,” Faith mocked, snuggling to one side of the bed. “Now get in, I’m gettin’ cold.”
“Get in?” Buffy stammered. “With you?”
“There’s nobody else here, Twinkie,” Faith reminded Buffy.
Buffy blinked, unable to quite wrap her mind around all the night’s events enough to understand just how she was now stood by her bed with Faith naked and waiting within it.
“I can just sleep on the floor or. . .”
“Buffy, seriously, just get in here,” Faith implored.
The look of hope, of vulnerability in Faith’s eyes decided Buffy’s fate. She turned her back and quickly undressed, ignoring Faith’s chuckle as she tried to hide her modesty, pulling on the tee shirt Faith had discarded.
She switched off the lights and got in to bed beside Faith, doing her best not to get too close, though the bed was far too small for her efforts not to seem ridiculous.
“Relax, B,” Faith urged.
“I’m trying,” Buffy practically whined. “This isn’t exactly. . .relaxing.”
Faith chuckled, turning fully towards Buffy.
Buffy could feel Faith’s breath on her face, the heat from her body so close it made her want to eliminate the distance between them so she could feel it against her skin. But it was far too soon for those kinds of thoughts, and Faith’s eyes were now drifting shut anyway.
“Shut up and get closer,” Faith said, her voice low as she reached out with a hand, pulling Buffy to her. “I’m too fuckin’ tired to argue, or to think.”
With a shudder, Buffy pressed herself closer to Faith, instantly regretting her choice to put a tee shirt on. It was extremely nice to have Faith so near, their legs entwining under the covers, Faith’s hand sliding a little way under her top to rest against Buffy’s lower back.
Pushing past the obvious arousal such close proximity with Faith caused, Buffy did all she could to relax, bringing her hand up to tuck Faith’s hair behind her ear as she gazed at her face in the dim light of the moon.
She wanted to kiss Faith’s eyelids, her cheeks, the soft corners of her mouth.
“Are you really here?” Buffy heard herself ask.
“Only if you want me to be,” Faith answered sleepily, keeping her eyes closed.
“I want you to be.”
“Then I’m here,” Faith said, her lips lifting ever so slightly in a smile.
“Good,” Buffy whispered, thinking about what Tru had said; to be honest with Faith. “I need you.”
Faith took a deep breath, her hand pulling Buffy even tighter against her. Their faces were close and there was only a brief pause, a brief stutter in time before their lips brushed together, soft, slow. The full lips against Buffy’s sent a flood of warmth through her and she embraced it, knowing it was far more than desire.
They parted; just enough for Buffy to take a breath, to tell Faith what she should have told her long ago.
“I love you, Faith,” she whispered against Faith’s lips, feeling those lips curl into a smile before she accepted another tender caress from them.
They kissed softly until Buffy was sure Faith was almost asleep, their bodies relaxed and entangled, their hearts beating against one another. She felt like they could finally truly escape from the clutches of their shared history. She felt content. Hopeful.
“I love you too,” Faith murmured into Buffy’s neck as her breaths slowed and she allowed sleep to fully claim her. “Always.”
Buffy’s heart soared. She could ask no more from Faith than that.
They finally both understood each other.
Somehow, they would be ok.