The bus pulled up to a halt in the empty car park of a roadside diner. The cloud of dust that had been perpetually following its yellow streak across the barren countryside fell to the floor, as its chase came to an end.
The day’s heat snaked its way across the gravel towards the occupants of the school bus, as they descended the steps, leaving the temporary haven of their escape vehicle. The injured were being taken care of, mainly by Giles. The girls were battle weary and fatigued, beginning to stretch their legs. The Scoobs were licking their wounds and grieving their losses. And the chosen two were quiet, reflecting on all they had been through in the town that was now no more than a crater of rubble and memories.
Buffy couldn’t quite take everything in. Although she had been positive in the end that they would triumph over the First, she had also been prepared to lose far more of them in the process. She felt upset about Anya, and she felt deep pain at the loss of Spike, but she had been ready to lose many more of her close friends, and family. The reasons for her being the person she was.
Buffy still felt responsible for every injury, and every loss, however. She couldn’t help but feel that way; she was the Slayer. She had to be responsible. Of course, Faith had also been there, fighting alongside them, alongside her. A Slayer too. A true Slayer, unlike the new breed that Willow had unleashed on the demon world.
Even with old feelings of mistrust, hurt and betrayal, Buffy had been glad for Faith’s unreserved backup. And she knew, or at least had an idea, that the dark Slayer would also be feeling some of that responsibility. How could she not?
Before Faith had come back, and proven herself as willing to fight the good fight again, to put her misdeeds behind her and risk all, Buffy would never have put the word responsible and Faith in the same sentence. The only thing Faith had been responsible for was pain. Buffy knew better now. She had her eyes far more open than she had in the past.
Buffy had changed, and so had Faith. The once rogue Slayer didn’t seem to be fighting against the world so much, she was fighting for it instead, and Buffy had been so much more grateful for that this time around. She had been glad to have her there, with them, with her. Along with the safety of her family and friends, Buffy was glad Faith had been one of the survivors.
“Come on, some of us need to pee,” Dawn griped, as she tried to hurry Buffy down the aisle of the bus.
The blonde Slayer had been so busy musing over the recent fight, recent events, and the return of Faith to her life, that she had slowed her disembarking of the bus to a full stop. She was holding up some of the girls behind her, including Dawn.
“Sorry, go ahead. . .but be careful,” she said, touching Dawn lightly on the shoulder before letting her go.
Dawn smiled at her sister. “Buffy, I’m just going to the toilet, and then getting something to eat. I’m sure I’ll be ok with all these new Slayer types around. It’s over Buffy, you beat him,” Dawn left the bus and made her way into the diner along with Willow and Kennedy, calling over her shoulder, “so I think we can chill a little now.”
Buffy watched as everyone that could walk, or wasn‘t too grief stricken to venture off the bus, like Xander, made their way into the diner, and over to a small patch of worn grass under the shade of a large awning. “Yeah, we can chill, for now,” Buffy muttered.
“Until the next one right, girlfriend?” Faith said, as she made her way down from the back of the bus towards Buffy.
Faith smiled wearily at the older girl. She was tired, feeling a little lost now she was effectively free, but also elated. Not only did she have the energy of the slay running through her veins, but she also had the overwhelming sensation that she had done the right thing. That she had redeemed herself somewhat. She had proven her loyalty to Buffy, and that just felt great.
She didn’t take her eyes from the small blonde as she eased her way down the aisle. Despite the sadness that had enveloped the group, Faith couldn’t help but feel like she was walking on air. She finally had hope for a better future bubbling inside her, and she could almost physically feel Buffy’s new acceptance of her.
When she had first arrived, all she had sensed was mistrust, even a shadow of hate. That shadow seemed to have lifted. Maybe they had both managed to move on from the complete mess they had made of things the first time. Faith could only hope.
“We’ll keep beating them. Now we have an army, the nasties have no chance,” Buffy replied to Faith’s question. Watching as the younger girl moved closer.
For some reason, Buffy didn’t have the instinct to turn and walk away from Faith like she would have done previously. She wanted to talk to Faith. Take a little time out to get more comfortable with just having her around again.
Things had been pretty hectic in the run up to the battle with the First, but what time Buffy had spent with Faith had encouraged her to really believe that she was on the right path now. Of course, she still had the cocky attitude, and an uncanny ability to say the wrong thing at the wrong time, but it didn’t matter so much. It was just who Faith was, and Buffy had finally accepted that.
They had clashed, in the past week, but they hadn’t tried to kill each other, and to some degree had come to a kind of understanding. That day stood in her room looking down at Faith in her bed, as she attempted to tell Buffy that she understood how hard it was for her. . .that day gave Buffy some hope that they could maybe build something of a tentative friendship. Albeit, one no doubt constantly fraught with some kind of tension or other, but a friendship all the same. She had surprised herself when she’d realized that’s what she wanted now.
It was a good surprise though, because now she felt a little bit lighter. Buffy felt something inside herself shine just that little bit more. Before she had had time to analyze what that meant however, the time had come for the fight, so she was still unaware of her true feelings as far as Faith was concerned. Buffy did have a notion somewhere deep inside, that whatever she was feeling would not be quite so easily ignored this time around. Whatever it was.
“It’s kinda weird though don’t ya think? You not being the only chosen one anymore,” Faith said, breaking Buffy out of her reverie, as she stopped in front of her in the middle of the almost empty bus.
Giles was still tending to Wood at the front, and Xander was asleep a few seats up from them, exhausted in his grief. Apart from those three, the Slayers were alone together, amongst the lingering dust of the journey.
Buffy turned to face Faith fully, not wanting to hold any of her usual barriers up around the younger girl anymore. Willing finally to cut her some slack, and to give her the encouragement she should have given her a long time ago. To give her some kind of endorsement of her own place as a Slayer. Buffy had seen too many people come and go in her life to knowingly push any more away.
“I haven’t been the only chosen one for some time, Faith,” Buffy pointed out, smiling gently at her fellow Slayer.
“You were always the chosen one, Buffy. Kendra, me. . .especially me, we weren’t really meant to be. I wasn‘t meant to be.” Faith looked out of the window, feeling every word to be true, as she had never felt quite right. Quite. . .enough.
There had always been a ghost of something over her, holding her down. It had caused her to kick out in the past, and to go to extremes in order for people to notice that she was a Slayer too. That she had a destiny, but didn’t know how to fulfill it when the position had already been filled.
It had made her hit out at Buffy, challenging her way of doing things, pushing the limits of their friendship just to get a reaction. To get Buffy to open up to her, so she in her turn could open up too. It had backfired horribly of course, and Faith wished, more than anything in her shitty life so far, that she could take back what she’d done to Buffy, and her friends.
Faith’s dark, enigmatic eyes appeared sad in the dull light of the school bus, and Buffy wanted to reach out and touch her. Her fear for what that meant, as always, held her back however. That didn’t stop her understanding, now that she was older, what Faith must have felt all those years back. She had acted out of place, because that’s exactly how she had felt. Buffy could see it now in the slight glint of gold in Faith’s eyes. Her own opinion of herself had always been lower than anybody could have imagined.
Faith must have felt lost back then. Without her own watcher, friends, her own true destiny. It had all helped push her over the edge. Buffy had helped push her over, and she was done being a bitch to Faith. She realized they would never be the best of buds. . .but there was something they could be. There would always be something.
“You were meant to be, Faith. I couldn’t have done this. . .” Buffy looked out of the window, over to the group of new Slayers eating sandwiches and burgers on the worn grass, “without you. So thank you.” Buffy looked deep into Faith’s eyes, hoping she would see that she meant every word.
“I didn’t do anything, B.” The taller girl ran a hand through her dark hair, trying her best to keep from looking away from Buffy. She didn’t want to fall for those heartbreaking green eyes again. She couldn’t.
“You’re wrong.” Buffy placed her hand on Faith’s arm, doing it without even realizing it was what she wanted to do. “You did a lot more than you think. You came through for me, and that means a lot. Probably more than I’d care to admit,” Buffy said.
She glanced down at her own hand resting gently on Faith, then back up to meet eyes that she would swear were glistening with unshed tears.
Before she had time to work that out however, or hear what Faith was about to say, the two girls were interrupted by Giles.
“I’d suggest you have your little talk with one another later, Buffy. I don’t want to set off too late, we still have quite far to go, and Robin really does need proper medical attention. If you want to use the bathroom, and go get something to eat, it’d be best to do it now,” Giles said as he removed his glasses, pinching his nose in the sure sign he had a headache, and that Wood was less than fighting fit right now.
“Yeah, sorry. I’ll go now. It looks like the rest of the guys are all outside, no queue at the bathroom at least.” Buffy turned back towards Faith then, shocking the hell out of the girl. “You coming?” she said, almost cheerily.
“Uh, I’ll be along in a while, B. Just gonna see how the big guy’s doin,” Faith answered, unsure why Buffy was all of a sudden being so friendly with her.
Even though Buffy had just kind of blown her away with telling her that she had really counted back in the fight, the friendliness was still a little unnerving. She wasn’t used to it. . .from anybody, let alone Buffy.
“Ok, I’m gonna get something to eat, I’m starved,” Buffy said as she smiled at Faith, a small memory of something flashing before her eyes.
It turned the smile down a little, making Buffy look regretful, because that’s exactly how she felt. She knew things could have been so much different. Her whole life could have been completely different with Faith fighting by her side. If only things hadn’t gone the way they had. If only she had known then what she knew now. The possibilities were endless, but there was no point dwelling on it all, not now.
Maybe later when realization sank in about what they had all just achieved and been through. What they were all going to do now. What they had all lost, and gained.
Buffy couldn’t help but hope she had gained Faith with the loss of Spike. And with that thought confusing her weary mind more than she had the energy to deal with, she stepped off the bus into the hot sunshine, taking a deep breath to cleanse her lungs of the dusty and grief ridden atmosphere of their getaway vehicle.
“I’ll catch up with ya, B. Save some food for me?” Faith called out as Buffy dawdled away.
The blonde girl turned back to look at Faith to answer, and was stopped in her tracks. The brunette was stood in the doorway to the bus, the sun shining down on her, and despite the grime of the fight and the journey, Faith had never looked more beautiful. Buffy had recently had to admit that Faith had blossomed in the few years since she’d last seen her. Faith was stunning.
Faiths dark brown hair was tumbling down over her shoulders, golden flecks highlighted in the sun. The slight tan of her skin glowing with the rush of strong Slayer blood just under the surface. Her firm body held confidently in a provocative pose, with one hand gripping the side of the door. She could take a person’s breath away. In fact, she had.
“Um, yeah. . .I’ll save some,” Buffy practically whispered, her mind reeling from the more or less complete lack of understanding at why she had just felt her heart almost leap from her chest.
Shaking her head and forcing herself to walk away, Buffy made her way into the diner, waving to Willow and Dawn as they sat with the others. She couldn’t really deny that Faith had always fascinated her, and had always stirred something within her, but Buffy had always pushed it away, not looking too closely at the way Faith made her feel. And right now, she needed to do that very same thing. She didn’t have the energy to think about how attractive Faith was, and how that affected her.
She needed to get used to the idea of Faith as a friend before ruminating on anything else, and that was going to be hard enough.
Buffy made her way into the diner, the smell of grease hitting her as she got through the door. It was old and dilapidated, with the blinds on the windows hanging limply, looking forlorn in the heat of the sun streaming through. The chairs looked like they’d never seen an ass in years, and the sticky counter appeared to be harboring unknown life forms.
It was far from a nice place, but they had all been thirsty, and hungry, and in need of the toilet, and thankfully for them, the diner had cropped up at just the right time.
Buffy leant over the counter, careful to avoid the majority of the ook, and smiled at the waitress that looked about as greasy as the burgers. She ordered plenty of food for both her and Faith, hoping that the other girls had left enough for them. She needed to deal with the hungry part of the slaying after effects, not even beginning to think about what she was going to do about the other half of the problem.
It had been one hell of a fight after all, and judging by the amount of junk food the other girls were wolfing down their necks, it was getting to them a little too. Buffy could only imagine how worked up Faith felt right now.
Deciding not to think about Faith, and refusing to acknowledge that as soon as she had her horny state had multiplied by a factor of. . .uncountable, Buffy looked around. There was nobody else in the diner, and their food was still being prepared. She spotted a door to a bathroom near the back, almost hidden in a little alcove.
Buffy looked from the door to the window, counting to make sure everybody was outside, then over to the bus to check that Faith wasn’t yet on her way, then back to the door to the bathroom. She ran a tidying hand through her hair, trusted that the wound in her side wasn’t as bad as it had first appeared, and told the waitress she would be right back.
She doubted it would take long. As long as she didn’t get interrupted, she knew it would make her relax more, and make her more able to help out the others with their small injuries. Plus, with the way she was feeling right now, she knew it would be impossible to sleep, and the place Angel had arranged for them all to stay at was going to take several hours to get to. Sleep was the only way she knew she would get through the journey without allowing her mind to wander over all that she had just lost in Sunnydale.
Her mind was made up, she had to go and take matters into her own hands if she was going to get through the next few hours without either going nuts, or breaking down.
She reached the bathroom door and made her way inside, thinking to herself that it would only take a minute so there was no way anybody would catch her.