Angel held Faith’s hand; small within big. She used to pull away when he did that, but after a while she grew to accept it, and to like it. If she was attached to him then she was grounded. If she kept hold then she wouldn’t float away on the many memories that troubled her, and thoughts that tempted her. Angel helped her stay where she needed to be.
“Do you wanna talk about it?” Angel asked as they strolled slowly away from the grave they’d come to see – to see for themselves that Buffy was really gone.
“Not exactly,” Faith replied, giving his hand a squeeze.
She knew he wouldn’t push her, but sometimes he could sense when she needed a little coercing so she’d open up instead of brood about whatever was troubling her. And he knew all about the brooding thing; the guy practically had trophies in it.
“It wouldn’t upset me, Faith,” he told her, the slight tremor to his voice clearly indicating otherwise. “Me and Buffy were. . .”
“Romeo and fucking Juliet,” Faith pointed out, with only the slightest of grimaces. “No way are you gonna be happy with me telling you how much I wanted her way back, when she was still your girl.”
The leaves sprung up and floated away as they stepped through them across the path. A lone bench offered them a place to sit and just be for a while so they headed towards it, the hairs on the back of Faith’s neck bristling as she struggled not to keep turning around to read Buffy’s name on the small headstone. Every muscle in her body wanted her to turn around and throw herself over the chiselled stone, as if she could hold onto Buffy that way. As if she could keep from trembling just by being near.
“I was going to say we were complicated,” Angel continued, resting down on the bench as Faith took a seat beside him.
With her hand remaining in his, Faith gave Angel an arched eyebrow that he had no trouble seeing even in the shadows they were currently enveloped within.
“That sounded pretty lame, huh?” he asked, knitting his thick eyebrows together.
“Didn’t exactly cover all the bases either,” Faith indicated. “You were a lot more than just complicated.”
“Yeah,” he agreed – voice soft and barely audible over the quickening breeze.
“That’s it? Just. . .yeah?” Faith mocked “That’s all you gotta say about the love of your life, the girl of your dreams? Hell, the girl that fucked out your soul?”
She hadn’t meant to sound quite so bitter, but her emotions were trying to find steady ground, and though she’d had practice at swallowing down her jealousy and rage it was still there somewhere. Underneath the recent changes in her life and how she dealt with her conflicts and trauma, she was still a fighter. She was still volatile. Still Faith.
Angel hung his head, the darkness to his eyes glistening with the hint of yellow as he fought his own emotions.
“Sorry,” Faith said quietly, removing her hand from his and placing it on his sturdy shoulder. “Me an’ my big mouth.”
“No,” he responded, shaking his head. “You’re right.”
“It took a long time for me to accept that what I had with Buffy was. . .impractical. And dangerous,” he said. “And I never really allowed myself to remember what I felt. It was better to push it down.”
“I hear ya,” Faith chipped in. “Done a lot of that myself, especially over. . .her,” she said, reluctant to say Buffy’s name out loud.
He chuckled and shook his head, running a hand through his thick hair and taking an unnecessary breath.
“We probably shouldn’t care and share over this,” Angel said after a moment’s silence. “It’s like opening a can of worms and throwing them over each other. I’m not a fan of worms; they like to burrow in places that. . .”
“Yeah, gonna stop ya there, big guy,” Faith interrupted, giving his shoulder a pat. “The less I know about what the hell’s been inside you, the better. I mean, I got those wicked crazy dreams about you an’ Spike after that story you told me one time, and that’s enough.”
“It wasn’t like that,” Angel contested, his brow furrowed even more than usual. “I told you, Spike and I were just. . .”
“Doing what Darla wanted? Yeah I know, you told me a hundred times, but I still don’t believe you both chickened out – or at least my dreams don’t believe it,” she stated. “It gets kinda mixed up in here.” She indicated her head and gave him a shrug.
“I don’t think we should share about that either,” he suggested.
Faith gave him a quick smile and rested back against the hard wood of the bench, moving her hand down to rest on his thigh. The sky had a spattering of cloud now and it was moving at a rate that threatened rain. She could see the black daubs of a thunderstorm in the distance, and there was the faint sensation of electricity heading towards them.
When she was younger Faith would run out into a storm so she could dance in the rain and jump at every strike of lightning. It thrilled her and scared her all at once, but not the kind of scared that her daddy used to invoke. At least the fear of lightning came with no bruises. She had control of that fear. She went out and faced that fear head on instead of cowering away from it within her wardrobe.
“It’s going to rain,” Angel said as he too looked up at the sky.
“There’s a storm that way.”
Faith nodded towards the horizon and shivered. She didn’t normally feel the cold this much, but being back there; being back with the past she’d tried to understand and atone for made her feel thinner, smaller, weaker. Snuggling into Angel’s side, Faith ignored the fact he offered no actual warmth. What he offered far outweighed body heat. He offered a space she could rest, a place she could call home and feel safe. A chance to know something other than heartache or hurt.
“Maybe we should go,” Faith said, sounding far from ready to leave.
“We can stay until the rain comes,” Angel responded tenderly.
He moved his arm to gather Faith up underneath it, pulling her further into his side as they watched the clouds approach. Faith tried to stay in the moment and let the past rest in the ground with Buffy, but the recesses of her heart wouldn’t give up those memories. A small tear glistened in the moonlight as it rolled down her cheek. She’d been within reach of something special with Buffy at one point, but now it was just a dream long since past.
It was just a faded photograph in her mind. . .
As the door slammed itself shut, Buffy sat Faith down on her unmade bed and glanced around the small motel room, her hands now on her hips.
“No need to say it,” Faith said as she gritted her teeth against the pain. “I need to clean this mess up.”
“Well the words sty and pig certainly come to mind.”
Faith watched as Buffy turned back towards her; peeling her gaze away from the turmoil of scattered clothes, empty Pepsi cans, pizza boxes and other random debris to finally look at where Faith was still grasping her shallow wound.
“Is there any hope of finding something to treat that with in here?” Buffy asked.
“Bathroom,” Faith answered, pulling her hands away slowly and shifting her torn shirt out of the way.
“Ok, well you. . .” Buffy paused as Faith tugged off her bloody shirt and tossed it aside. “You. . .should probably. . .”
A small smirk drifted over Faith’s lips as she clearly caught Buffy staring at her cleavage as she sat there in her small, black bra.
“I should do what?” Faith asked, dropping her tone a little so her voice took on a sexy burr. “I should take more off?”
She slipped her thumb under a strap of her bra and began to tug it down as Buffy’s eyes went wide and her hands shot out, waving for Faith to stop.
“No!” Buffy yelped. “Definitely not that.”
“Why not?” Faith questioned. “If you’re not into me like that. . .what does it matter? I could lie here naked and you wouldn’t even notice right? Unless you are into me like that and it’d get you all hot ‘n’. . .”
“No, none of those things,” Buffy exclaimed, lifting a hand to her forehead as if she were about to pass out. “Just keep the rest of your clothes on and I’ll go get something to clean you up with.”
Faith just nodded and watched Buffy stumble over some sneakers as she made her way into the bathroom. Taking a glimpse down at her wound she was happy to see it already starting to mend. The problem was all the gunk and goo that was still in and around it. She didn’t want gross demon bacteria roaming about inside her, and she doubted there were antibiotics that could cope with orange, slime demon germs.
“Whadya think those things were?” Faith shouted towards the rummaging noises in the bathroom. “Never seen demons like that before.”
Shuffling backwards onto the bed, Faith kicked off her boots and rested back against her pillows, being careful to keep her wound from seeping onto anything she didn’t actually want to burn. She positioned herself so Buffy would be able to sit on the side of the bed and still get to her, but the night and the belly full of food was beginning to get the better of her. Despite the fact she was still feeling the horny tingles that came after slaying, Faith was wiped. She closed her eyes just for a little while as she waited for Buffy to stop clattering around.
When she opened them again she found Buffy partially lying beside her asleep; her head above Faith’s on the pillow, and her body sitting more upright than Faith now was.
Faith rubbed at her eyes and wondered how long she’d dozed off for, and how the hell she’d managed to keep dozing once Buffy had come back into the room. A quick look down at her abdomen made it obvious that Buffy had cleaned up her injured side and placed a tentative dressing over it. She had no clue how she’d slept through that; surely it must have hurt when Buffy had been wiping at it. She must have done it so gently, doing her best not to wake her.
Almost completely holding her breath, only letting air in and out slowly so she didn’t start breathing all heavy, Faith just looked at Buffy for a moment. She watched as a thin strand of loose hair danced up and down as Buffy’s breaths blew over it. Faith very slowly reached up and allowed the blonde hair to lie over the back of her fingers as she pushed it up and back into place, or out of the way of Buffy’s nose at least.
Her hand lingered, wanting to touch Buffy, to run her fingers through streaks of blonde, or feel the soft skin of her cheek, but Faith pulled away. She didn’t want to startle her or make a silly mistake. She couldn’t be sure why Buffy had allowed her to keep sleeping as she’d tended to her, but whatever the reason, Faith sure as hell wasn’t about to make Buffy take a backwards step by being too forward herself. Though she desperately wanted to lift her face up towards Buffy’s so she could graze her lips over the mouth she’d dreamed about since first catching sight of it, Faith didn’t move. She didn’t dare to move.
A little while later, after Buffy had slipped down the bed just a fraction and Faith had risked inching closer, she realised she should probably wake Buffy. Her mom was expecting her home, and she didn’t exactly feel like dealing with the consequences of letting Buffy piss Joyce off. Plus, she was getting cramp in her right thigh as it lay pressed under her other leg and the slight weight of the hand Buffy had placed on her about ten minutes earlier. Of course, Faith had been quite happy letting Buffy slide a hand over her until it rested just under her hip – even though her body had tried to react in ways that had Faith now all kinds of slippery between her thighs – but she needed to move. Unfortunately, she doubted she’d be able to move without stirring Buffy.
Taking one last look at Buffy’s sleeping face, Faith tried to remember every detail. She doubted they’d ever be this close again so her brown eyes swept over Buffy’s relaxed expression, memorising the cute curve of her lips and the shape of her nose, the little point to her chin, the gentle arch of her eyebrows and shape of her eyes as they began to blink open.
Just managing to contain a gasp of panic as Buffy started waking up, Faith slammed her own eyes shut and pretended she was still asleep. Expecting Buffy to quickly realise her position and yank her hand away, then bound from the bed, she held herself stiff. But Buffy didn’t yank or bound. In fact, she didn’t move for several more minutes and Faith wondered if maybe she’d fallen back to sleep again.
She was just about to open her eyes to check if Buffy was awake or not, when Buffy’s hand on her moved ever so slightly, up towards Faith’s hip. Gentle fingers dusted over Faith’s side, almost causing her to squirm under the soft touch. She held still, but her breathing was beginning to get a little erratic and she knew it wouldn’t be long until a moan escaped her lips, and that would definitely freak Buffy out. Trying her best not to react, she wondered if Buffy still had her eyes closed, or if they were open and gazing at Faith’s almost naked torso.
Faith wanted to know. She wanted to see what was in those green eyes that always made her tremble inside when they softened for her. She wanted to know what Buffy was thinking and feeling, if anything. Maybe Buffy was sleep touching or something. Maybe she was just. . .preparing to tickle the hell out of Faith. Her hand was certainly in the right place for a large case of tickle, but the only tickling seemed to be unintentional as Buffy’s fingers barely touched as they stroked over her skin.
Faith’s ability to stay pretend-asleep slipped; she let out a shaky breath and shuddered under Buffy’s caress as it strayed yet further up her side towards the material of her bra.
The fingers stopped moving and Faith allowed her eyes to slowly open. When she glanced up they caught each other’s gaze and Buffy looked almost transfixed, as if in a daze. Not knowing what to do or say, Faith yawned and began to stretch. The stretching caused Buffy’s hand to slip to her stomach and another shudder from Faith made it blatantly obvious what it was doing to her.
As quick as she probably could without looking like a complete spaz, Buffy snatched her hand away and sat up. She acted confused for a moment, and sleepy, but Faith was sure now that Buffy had been awake for several minutes at least. She’d just been lying there, touching her. It would have been weird and creepy if Faith wasn’t into her and actually wanting to be touched.
“When did I fall asleep?” Buffy asked, rubbing at her eyes and then pulling her ponytail tighter where it had begun to fall out.
“I could ask you the same thing,” Faith mumbled.
She watched Buffy from her position still resting on the pillows as Buffy swung her legs around, placing her feet on the floor so she was perched on the edge of the bed. Buffy couldn’t see Faith and didn’t turn around, possibly feeling a tad awkward, and Faith was happy not to bring up the obvious.
Of course, if she had any real guts she would ask Buffy about where her hand had just been, and about why she’d practically curled up beside her on the bed in the first place. But Faith didn’t ask, and she wanted to kick herself for being too scared. She was fairly certain Buffy wanted more than just a friendship, but Faith’s lips remained closed and she let Buffy stand up from the bed even though every inch of her wanted to pull her back down and kiss her – until neither of them were scared about this any more.
“You were asleep when I came back in,” Buffy said softly, straightening out her clothes and turning to look at Faith. “I tried to wake you but. . .the snoring drowned me out.”
Faith raised an eyebrow and wondered if Buffy had really tried to wake her, or if she’d enjoyed the fact that she’d been out of it so she could ogle her goodies, all in the name of cleaning up her wound.
“You tried to wake me?” Faith asked, hoping to see the lie on Buffy’s face.
“I did,” Buffy replied, looking down and covering her face with her arm as she pretended to play with her still wonky ponytail. “But you were just. . .really. . .peaceful, and I didn’t wanna make you grumpy.”
With a disbelieving nod, Faith thought about how far she could push Buffy until she got irritated and just came out with the truth. Either that or until she told Faith to back off as she ran as fast as she could away from her, never to be seen again.
Yeah, it was probably safer not to keep asking questions.
“You did a pretty good job on this,” Faith told her, indicating the bandaged wound, changing the subject and once again wishing she could take herself outside and give herself a good kicking for being so chicken shit.
She had no idea when she’d become so afraid of being who she’d always been. Before Sunnydale – or before Buffy – she’d say what she wanted, when she wanted, and damn the consequences. She still had some of that in her, and there was no doubting that she was more upfront than Buffy, but she was still holding back. Faith was caught between prodding at Buffy with the truth, and watching her step as she walked on a whole farmyard of egg shells.
“You winced a few times but I tried to. . .yunno, not hurt you,” Buffy said, sounding embarrassed.
Her ponytail now back in place and her clothes all arranged back to how they were meant to be, it left Buffy with nothing to fidget with as she did her damndest not to look in Faith’s direction. It was suddenly getting very awkward and Faith could see why. She was lying on her bed with no shirt on. The bed they’d both just been sleeping together on whilst practically canoodling. Awkward wasn’t quite a strong enough word.
When Buffy’s gaze finally did creep up to greet Faith, there was a subtle hint of pink to her cheeks that made Faith wish she could be just that little bit braver.
“I should probably go,” Buffy said in a rush after neither of them spoke for what felt like an eternity.
“Yeah it’s. . .” Faith glanced over at her clock as she shuffled to the edge of the bed. “Damn, we slept for over an hour. Your mom’s gonna be so pissed.”
“Thanks for unnecessarily pointing out the obvious.”
“Hey, that’s what I’m here for,” Faith retorted, giving Buffy a wink.
“That and being demon fodder,” Buffy said, pointing to Faith’s side. “Speaking of which, make sure you clean it again soon. I got as much orange stuff out as I could, but you might wanna try yourself.”
“Oh great, I’ve got slime all inside me an’ you’re runnin out on me,” Faith jibed, sitting on the edge of the bed now. “This thing could sprout something.”
“Like an orange tree?”
“Like another fucking arm, or a little baby head with fangs, or. . .maybe we shoulda gone to see Giles,” Faith stated, getting herself worked up over something she’d dealt with many times before.
In truth, it wasn’t the wound, or the leftover demon gunk that was making her crazy, it was this situation with Buffy; always being afraid of saying the wrong thing, or doing the wrong thing. She didn’t want to screw up what they had, and even if Buffy was showing signs of wanting what Faith did she wasn’t sure enough. She wasn’t quite at the point where she could just come right out and say it. Hell, she probably never would be, and that just made her even more crazy.
“Do you wanna call him?” Buffy asked slowly, clearly hoping Faith said no.
Scratching at her head and then running a hand through her thick, dark hair to straighten it out a little, Faith shrugged.
“Nah, it’s too late now I guess,” she answered. “I’ll have him check it tomorrow. . .just as long as I’m not some kinda mutant by then.”
“Well look on the bright side,” Buffy began, turning and heading to the exit. “If you grow another arm you’ll be able to slay twice as efficiently.”
“Yeah, and I’d also be able to kick your butt twice as. . .wait, twice?” Faith queried. “You’re way worse at math than I thought.”
Buffy narrowed her eyes at Faith. “It’s not one of my strong points, but hey, at least I’m still in school so I can learn more, unlike some people.”
“I could still be in school if I wanted,” Faith stated confidently as she rose from the bed and moved closer to Buffy as she lingered by the door. “I just don’t wanna, and why the fuck are we talking about school?”
“You brought it up,” Buffy accused.
“No I didn’t, and even if I did I’m just tryin’ to avoid saying anything stupid or tellin’ you exactly how I fee. . .” She stopped talking abruptly as Buffy’s face noticeably paled.
The sudden silence hit them like a sledgehammer and their eyes locked; one girl daring the other to let her finish, and one pleading for the world to open up and swallow her.
“I’m gonna go,” Buffy said, each word coming slower and quieter than the last.
Looking away so Buffy didn’t see the disappointment in her face, Faith nodded. She was biting her tongue and forcing herself to keep quiet. All the wishing and hoping she’d done to be braver seemed to have paid off in this moment and she was so ready just to tell Buffy, but she knew she couldn’t. Not really.
“Be careful with that cut,” Buffy said when Faith failed to talk any further.
“I’ll see you tomorrow?”
Buffy stepped out onto the long wooden porch of the building, the door handle still in her grasp. She was taking her time leaving, and Faith was desperately trying to avoid looking into her eyes one last time that night. She failed when Buffy said goodbye just before turning to walk down the steps.
“Buffy,” Faith said, her brown eyes burning with the intensity of a night’s slaying and months of want and desire. She placed her hand over Buffy’s on the door handle. “You sure you wanna go?”
Taking a quick glance down at Faith’s hand, Buffy sighed, then the green of her eyes hit Faith’s and she gave a small nod.
“I have to,” she said. “I’m sorry.”
She gradually pulled her hand out from underneath Faith’s and made her way down the steps and out to the street, walking as if she were forcing herself not to look back.
If she had looked back, Faith wouldn’t have let her walk any further. She would have bounded down the steps and taken Buffy in her arms, kissing her until all Buffy could feel was Faith. Until all she wanted was Faith.
Buffy never looked back.