Faint whispers of leaves rustling across hard stone and ruptured earth filtered through the darkness, tainting the otherwise silent night with an aching eeriness. It was almost too loud despite its faintness. Almost too intrusive. A graveyard shrouded in darkness and death; the scent of soil and musty old tombs leaving Faith with no doubt about her surroundings even though her eyes were shut and her heart lay dead in her chest.
Her heart still thudded with every beat, pushing blood through her veins around her body in a vain attempt to warm her skin, but the reason to beat - for anything other than the necessity to stay alive – was gone.
She’d been gone a long time for Faith, but this was the real kind of gone. The gone that meant never getting to see her with sorrow filled eyes again. Never getting to utter the words that had yearned to come out for years now. Words like sorry, and please. Words like. . .ones Faith had never said before, and never felt until her. Until Buffy.
Now Buffy was dead. A sacrifice for her sister. A true slayer ‘till the end.
Faith stood at the foot of her grave with no tears to shed and no heart to feel the pain within. She read the name on the headstone over and over in her mind, and it was meaningless. She’d said it so many times. Hoped so many times to put everything right. Nothing made sense anymore, and as much as she wanted to throw herself onto the broken soil and weep. . .she couldn’t. She didn’t have the right.
“Are you ok?” Angel asked from behind Faith, his voice close, comforting.
“Yeah,” Faith replied, barely a whisper above the breeze blowing through scattered leaves.
She wasn’t ok – how could she be? But as much as he knew, he didn’t know everything. He didn’t know all her depths. Not yet.
“If only she’d asked for help,” he said, stopping close behind Faith, his strong arms wrapping around her in a now familiar way. “Stubborn,” he mumbled accusingly down at the grave.
“Slayer,” Faith corrected him, placing her hands over his across her belly, forcing back the shudder his cold skin sometimes initiated.
She was used to his touch now, but when she was cold it didn’t help to have even colder skin against her own. His arms and hands were always comforting, but never warming. Never quite. . .enough. It wasn’t something she’d ever complain about – not after everything he’d done for her and everything they’d become. He was her saviour, her lover, her hope now that all other hope was gone. She could deal with icy skin in exchange for what he gave her.
He’d given her freedom – ensuring she had the best lawyer, the shortest sentence, a place to go to and grow. He’d given her a home, a job, a clear direction. She’d never have his love but she didn’t want that. She’d never love him, and she also knew that he didn’t want that either. They had something less fragile than love. They had something strong, open, safe. Their hearts would always be with the girl in the earth beneath their feet, but what they had left they shared with each other.
Maybe it was a morbid way to cling to their mutual love for Buffy; Faith didn’t know. It didn’t seem to matter and neither of them questioned it. She was fairly certain that Angel wasn’t aware of just what her feelings for Buffy had been, but he wasn’t stupid, and she wasn’t naïve enough not to imagine he had thought about it. They’d just never spoken about it – choosing to ignore what lay under the surface and just live each day as it reared its ugly head to meet them.
They did that well – live each day. From job to job, demon to demon, night to night where they’d cling to each other, biting and scratching and fucking away the past. He would never lose his soul with her, and she’d never lose her heart with him. It worked for them both, and Faith saw no reason to analyze it further.
“Are you cold?” he asked as Faith shivered in her thin denim jacket.
There wasn’t a cloud in the sky; a naked blanket of blackness dotted with a spatter of stars that flickered and shimmered at each other – communicating in code, sharing secrets of the universe between themselves. The breeze quickened and swept up strands of Faith’s hair, sending them swirling over her face. She tried to tuck them back behind her ear but it was pointless; there was a storm coming.
“We should head back,” Angel suggested when Faith didn’t answer.
His arms slackened around her waist but she held them firm, keeping him pressed behind her as she leant on him, her eyes still fixed on the name chiselled in to the solid and stoic face of the stone before them.
“Just a little bit longer, big guy,” she said quietly, standing firm.
She sensed him nod and he embraced her tighter. A faint smile slipped easily across her lips before it disappeared on the breeze now swirling around them.
They looked a strange sight; both dressed all in black, huddled close over a small grave that still looked fresh despite the fact it had been there for quite some time. Months in fact. Months that had slouched by, piled up, poked at Faith for ignoring for as long as she could the fact that Buffy was dead.
It wasn’t until yesterday – until a vampire on one of their nightly patrols through LA had sliced open a long healed scar on Faith’s stomach – that full realisation had hit. Watching the blood flow over her fingers like a sticky, congealed memory, Faith had grabbed at her stomach. As Angel continued to fight, Faith had slumped to the ground, to her knees; her chest straining to feel and her heart trying to remember. Only then – with an old scar open and sore – did she want to revisit the past. Only then did she decide she needed to see Buffy one last time.
Angel had agreed without hesitation – probably eager to say goodbye himself despite his resolution not to mull over what couldn’t be changed. They didn’t ask each other why, didn’t feel any pangs of jealousy or fear of what awaited them in Sunnydale; they just waited for the sun to set and then drove in silence, listening to each bump of the road as it carried them closer.
There was no easy way to say goodbye, for either of them. Angel was sad, choosing not to talk, choosing just to hold and touch Faith as much as he could for some kind of comfort. For some kind of link. And Faith – sad wasn’t the word. There was no word for what she felt deep down inside. It didn’t sting, or burn, or tear at her. All that had come before; the last time she’d seen Buffy, the last time she heard the cold hate in her voice. No, there was no way to describe what Faith was feeling; it went beyond words. It went beyond pain, and regret.
“You loved her,” Angel said after several more minutes slipped by.
It wasn’t a question, but it didn’t sound certain. Faith felt her heart flicker to life for just a beat, but it didn’t last. She could never keep hold of the flicker long enough. It was always out of reach, and now it was too late. It didn’t matter that she loved Buffy; it wouldn’t do her any good now. It wouldn’t matter if he knew.
“Yeah,” she replied.
Once again she sensed him nod behind her.
“I was in love with her,” Faith added, her voice devoid of emotion as her own words mocked her.
The shadows seemed to crawl closer; gathering up the ground as they bled out from every corner, every tree, every secret. She wasn’t sure how he’d react to hearing her say it out loud. It was one thing to think something but it was another to have it sat out in the open. She wouldn’t blame him for being angry at her. She’d done a lot of bad things to Buffy despite being in love with her; things that he didn’t judge her for, but things that he expected her to atone for every day. How would he feel about her now, knowing that she’d hurt and hated in the name of love?
“Did she know?” he asked, his voice cracking ever so slightly. “I mean, were you two ever. . .”
“Are you seriously gonna ask me if Buffy and I ever got down and dirty?” Faith asked with a chuckle that cut through some of the tension.
He stammered and Faith felt the unease in his strong muscles as he moved against her. Through the months they’d been together the subject of Buffy rarely – if ever – came up. For months they’d sidestepped, ignored, and forgotten. This was new territory for them and though Faith realised now that they should have spoken about it all much sooner, there was still a big part of her that wanted to keep the secrets safe and hidden. There was no hiding from it now, though.
“I know you were both close at one point, before. . .”
“Before I went psycho and fucked it up,” Faith interrupted.
She turned in his big arms, looking up into the guarded brown eyes that still held the warmth of life despite the fact that Angel was very much dead.
“We’ve never talked about this,” he stated unnecessarily.
There had been good reason not to talk about it, but they couldn’t avoid this forever. Faith could no longer avoid the stupidity of all she’d done – not that she hadn’t steeped in it since the very first mistake.
“I was fine with ignoring it,” she joked, giving him a half-hearted grin. “Not sure you really wanna know all the details anyway.”
He furrowed his brow and seemed worried about what she meant, but his arms never left her, his body keeping close in a silent display of trust. There wasn’t much to tell, but she doubted he’d be happy to know just how close Buffy had once come to falling for her charms before Finch, before every dark part of Faith had shredded her sanity.
The seeds of something – something tentative and subtle – had developed between her and Buffy before the mistake in the alley with Finch, and though Faith couldn’t be certain where it had been headed. . .it had clearly been more than just friendship. She could remember every look, every touch, every almost that had just slipped from her grasp. It had never really been enough to start anything solid, but Faith knew Buffy had felt something. She knew when somebody was attracted to her and Buffy – though she’d tried to hide it as best she could – hadn’t been very good at disguising that fact.
A few nights before Faith had killed Finch they’d been patrolling – tag-teaming the local vamps with Faith’s trash talking and Buffy’s wise cracks running freely. Their moves flowed in beautiful symmetry, instincts bouncing off one another like they’d been slaying together from day one. As if they were one. As if they were closer than they were.
Faith remembered that night with a wistful smile and a slow burn of regret. There was no going back, but every now and again she’d allow herself that memory. She’d rest in its inviting warmth and long lost promise.
Her mind drifted, back to that night. . .
“That was fun,” Buffy squealed as she jumped down from a dusty old tomb, her stake twirling in her hand as vamp dust settled in her wake.
“Damn right it was,” Faith agreed.
She grinned widely as she watched Buffy adjust her top back over her belly where it had slid up during the tumbling fight.
“Food now?” Buffy asked with a grin just as wide as Faith’s.
She had pre-empted Faith’s next thought and they both laughed, feeling giddy on the slaying, and giddy on the vibe they produced between them.
It was hard to ignore the vibe, and every night Faith swore it grew stronger. It pulled them together and sent them down the same path. Even through their differences it was clear that they worked well together; maybe because of their differences.
Buffy balanced Faith in a way that she needed. Though she pushed the boundaries and the strength of Buffy’s comparative naivety and righteousness she never went too far. Buffy never allowed her that luxury and as frustrating as it could be. . .Faith was happy about that. She didn’t want to break Buffy, she just wanted to bend her a little.
“I’m thinking hotdogs, then burgers. . .then pizza,” Faith suggested as they tucked away their weapons and made their way out of the cemetery.
“Sounds like a plan,” Buffy agreed. “I better call my mom and tell her. . .what?” Buffy stopped and stared at Faith with her question. “What are you shaking your head at?”
“You, princess,” Faith informed her, still shaking her head. “So fucking whipped.”
For a moment Buffy didn’t seem to have an answer. Her mouth opened several times, but no sound came out.
“I’m not. . .how is that even. . .” Buffy spluttered. “It’s my mom; I have to let her know I’m. . .”
“You’re what? Done with playing in the park and now you’re asking if it’s ok to go have tea at your friend’s house?”
“I wasn’t gonna ask her anything, she just worries,” Buffy whined, following Faith out through the large iron gates.
“Worries? You’re a fucking slayer, B,” Faith stated, as if that made everything just fine and dandy.
“Exactly,” Buffy responded, hoping Faith would understand.
Faith shrugged and pushed her hands into her pockets as they headed towards the nearest diner.
“I don’t get it, but whatever. . .my head can’t think past the growlin’ in my stomach. Might have to add pancakes to the list,” Faith muttered.
They walked the rest of the way mostly in silence, Faith thinking about filling her belly with food, though her mind would wander to Buffy now and then. It was hard not to think of Buffy for too long. Faith had found an ally, a beacon in the dark, a friend. She wanted to hold on to her but was always afraid of messing it up. She tried to be what they all expected her to be – especially Buffy – but it wasn’t easy. Now and then she’d falter, but Buffy was always lingering around her mind, pulling her back.
She felt like she could do anything by Buffy’s side.
She could put up with the stinking motel. She could put up with Giles and his rules. She could even put up with the brand spanking new watcher they’d sent her. Weakly; that’s what she called him in her head, though his name was actually Wesley.
Faith wasn’t his ‘cup of tea’, and he sure as shit wasn’t her idea of somebody she could rely on, but she was trying to be civil, for Buffy. For everything that she saw the ‘Slayer’ stand for as it shined from within Buffy.
It was her duty to do good, and Faith was damn well going to try and stuff her square peg in to that particular round hole.
“You can’t blame her for worrying,” Buffy finally said, breaking the silence as they entered the brightly lit diner.
They made their way towards the back, sliding on to faintly sticky, garish red plastic seats at the booth next to the window.
“Sure,” Faith responded with another shrug.
“That’s what moms do,” Buffy said, giving her own little shrug by way of explanation.
“I wouldn’t know,” Faith stated, grabbing the menu and sliding it noisily across the table towards her.
Her mother wasn’t the caring type. She wasn’t about to cry a river over it, it was just a fact. One she’d come to terms with long before arriving in Sunnydale.
“Sorry,” Buffy said quietly.
“No big,” Faith replied with a short, sharp smile. “Now. . .let’s fucking eat like fat kids about to go to fat camp.”
Buffy raised her eyebrow with a questioning look but chose to just gaze at her menu, fingering each line even though she’d pick the same things she always did.
She never ate quite as much as Faith, but it was definitely more than just yogurt. It wasn’t quite like that to begin with but it had taken only a short while for Buffy to catch on to Faith’s idea that eating a large amount of food after slaying was immensely more satisfying than it was easy to imagine.
They ordered and began to eat, the sound of munching and crunching leaving little room for words. Faith was happy with that, she liked to concentrate on food when eating, though it was difficult to concentrate on anything but Buffy as she switched from delicately grazing on her fries to scarfing down two whole cheeseburgers in the space of just a few minutes.
“Wanna slow down there, Porky?” Faith asked, chuckling at Buffy with her own mouth full of food.
“Hey, you caused this so shut up,” Buffy instructed, crumbs dropping from her mouth in a way that she’d never allow Willow or Xander to witness.
Faith feigned indignation, hand held to her chest as if her feelings had been mortally wounded. “Me?” she asked, her voice comically high as she mocked Buffy. “How exactly is you eating twice your own body weight every night my fault? I’m not the influential type.”
Buffy narrowed her eyes, obviously not believing for one second that Faith actually thought that of herself. She was the master of manipulation. Or mistress in fact - but not in a kinky way.
“It just is your fault,” Buffy stated by way of explanation.
Faith shook her head no.
“Nu-uh, not cutting it, B. Explain,” she demanded.
Looking down at her now empty plate Buffy seemed reluctant to answer. Faith would swear she saw a hint of pink at Buffy’s cheeks, but even her own lewd mind couldn’t quantify that. Surely Buffy was only eating so much now because she saw that it had no effect on Faith’s figure, despite the vast amount of food she ate. Surely it was because she felt a little more comfortable with revelling in the slaying after effects around Faith rather than around her friends.
Surely it had nothing to do with compensating for a whole different kind of appetite.
Faith raised an eyebrow as Buffy failed to hide a naughty little grin; something quite clearly crossing her mind as she thought of her answer.
Something was about to give.