Part Three: Stealing Home

Being stuck at the Cleveland Marriott on a Saturday night in a stuffy and overly decorated banquet room wasn't exactly Faith's idea of a good time. She could have been at one of her favorite clubs dancing the night away or out on a hot date. Still, when she'd received an invite for Dawn's surprise birthday party, she'd accepted immediately.

Something about finally being accepted among the Scoobies had her coming back to each and every one of these lame parties again and again. Maybe it had to do with the fact that she actually liked them once they'd let her in. Maybe it had to do with the fact that Buffy got hotter and hotter every time Faith saw her, and the eye candy was a nice distraction.

Or maybe it was the fact that Faith finally felt like she'd grown some roots with these people her friends, and she didn't want to lose that feeling, no matter how dull their parties were when compared to her average weekend nights.

Whatever the reason, Faith stood with her elbow resting on the bar, nursing a bottle of Budweiser while playing the role of the quiet observer at the party.

Dawn and about thirty of the new slayers were running around the hotel in their bathing suits, trying to find the luxurious pool area, the whole reason why Buffy and Willow had planned the party at the hotel in the first place. The young girls had invited Faith to join them, but she had a hard time telling them that the reason she hadn't brought her bathing suit was because she didn't own one. The only swimming she liked to partake in was naked swimming, and that was mostly in her bath tub.

She hardly thought that the hotel staff would enjoy her parading around nude in front of the other guests, though she couldn't understand why. Faith reasoned that with a body like hers, people would be lining up to sneak a peek.

With most of the younger crowd off and causing trouble, the small banquet room was left with the usual crowd a cell phone clutching Buffy, Willow and Kennedy, Xander, Andrew, and Giles, of course. Andrew had tried to follow the younger girls to the pool, but after a threat or two of drowning, he decided to stay back in the banquet room.

"This party would be so much better if everyone stopped threatening to hold my head under water," Andrew said under his breath as he plopped down on a tall chair next to Faith.

He reached carelessly behind him on the bar to grab some cashews and hit a glass full of some type of fruity concoction, nearly toppling it over before Faith reached out and steadied it.

"New rule," she said evenly, "you spill anything on me tonight, I fill up a bucket with some beer and hold your head under it for an hour or two. It'll be a whole different experience from the water."

Andrew looked at Faith with a crooked grin, but it faded away when he saw that she wasn't smiling back.

"Noted," he said quietly, squirming uncomfortably.

Faith looked off across the room, watching over the rest of the Scoobies. Willow and Xander were excitedly telling stories of the past, keeping Kennedy and Giles thoroughly entertained. Buffy, however, looked like she was on another planet, checking the silent cell phone in her hand every few seconds.

An annoying crunching noise next to her grabbed Faith's attention.

"These cashews are the best I've ever had."

Faith looked over to Andrew, who was now holding the small crystal bowl of nuts on his lap, inspecting each one before he popped them in his mouth. After a moment or two he looked up at Faith, smiling unsurely before offering up the bowl to share.

"After you've had your mitts in it? Think again, Spock."

"I'm clean for the most part," Andrew said with a frown before shrugging and digging back into the bowl.

He, too, took his time observing and watching the people in the room, taking his own personal notes.

"She should just accept the fact that he's not going to call."

"What?" Faith asked, gazing from Buffy to Andrew.

"Buffy. She and James had the fight to end all fights last night. It seems he's tired of being kept in the dark about her personal Buffy-life, and she's not ready to share those intimate details as of yet," he explained.

Faith quirked an eyebrow as she glared at him.

"And you know the fine details how?"

He shrugged as he continued to watch Buffy.

"Thin walls. Her phone conversation wasn't entirely private. Everyone heard it, that's why they're not saying anything."

Faith scratched her head, confused.

"Where the hell was I when all this was going down?"

Again, Andrew shrugged. "It was Friday. You were out, just like always."

Faith thought about it for a moment. He was right. Friday and Saturday nights she made herself scarce around Scooby central and did her own thing.

"Well maybe I'll have to stick around a bit more if all the good stuff's happenin on the weekends."

Faith finished off the last of her beer just as the bartender was bringing her another bottle. She accepted the fresh drink from the girl with a smile and a wink before abandoning her spot at the bar to go and finally join the Scoobies in their lively conversations.

Her first instinct was to grab a chair next to Xander and again play silent observer, but seeing the melancholy look on Buffy's face, she grabbed a chair and plopped it next to her, turning it so that she was straddling it backwards.

"What's up?" she asked, pulling Buffy's attention from her still silent cell phone.

"Oh . . . not much. Are you enjoying yourself?" Buffy asked, smiling to cover her previous frown. At Faith's nod, she continued, "The girls are swimming. You should go and join them."

"Wow. Only been here fifteen seconds and already you're tryin to get rid of me. I'm wounded, B," Faith joked.

"Oh stop it," Buffy said with a smile, "if I was trying to get rid of you, you'd be stationed with Andrew in the Czech Republic right now."



A moment of silence passed between them and Buffy took the opportunity to glance down at her cell phone again, flicking it open quietly before closing it, disappointed.

Faith watched the small display and couldn't help but feel bad for Buffy. She didn't like seeing the girl hung up on some jerk who'd abandon her after such a short time merely because she was taking her time opening up. Faith knew all too well how hard it was to open up sometimes.

She still had problems with it after all these years.

Hoping to give Buffy a bit of solace, Faith spoke up again.

"Buildings like this always get shitty reception, yunno. Bet he's been tryin to call and just can't get through."

Buffy looked over to Faith, a hopeful look on her face.

"You think so?"

"Definitely," Faith lied. "Maybe you should take a trip down to the lobby and try giving him a call from there. He's probably totally worried that you're not answering."

She didn't like lying to Buffy, but she didn't like seeing her so sad. Never had, and would never get used to it, either.

"Yeah," Buffy said, not sounding completely convinced. She stood from her chair anyway, ready to take Faith's advice.

Faith stood too, grabbing her jacket.

"Mind if I hitch a ride down with ya? Gonna run outside and have a quick smoke before the girls get back."

Buffy stopped and glared at Faith, but the glare was only half serious.

"Dawn's gonna freak if she finds out you're still smoking. You're obviously forgetting how she used to try to randomly stick those nicotine patches on you when you slept."

Faith could only laugh in response. Dawn had indeed tried that, and it had actually worked. Faith successfully quit smoking. Still, it didn't stop her from having a smoke or two in social settings.

"No way I'm forgetting that. I thought some patch-sticking demon was comin after me in my sleep. I'll make ya a deal though; you let me finish this pack off tonight, only two left in there, and I'm done for good."

Buffy thought it over for a few moments before holding out her hand to Faith. They shook on it, then excused themselves to the Scoobies and made their way toward the elevator.

The girls stepped in the small elevator and hit the lobby button, then leaned back against the cool metal wall. Piano music played softly from the speakers as Buffy and Faith stood silently, Buffy still looking down at her phone every few seconds. The lights flickered once, causing both girls to look up.

They flickered one more time before turning off completely as the elevator came to a sudden halt between floors.

"What's going on?" Buffy asked as the emergency light came on, barely illuminating the small elevator. She reached out and started randomly punching the now darkened buttons.

Faith held up her hands, both eyebrows raised high.

"I didn't do it."

"Of course you didn't," Buffy said as she fumbled with the door to the emergency phone. "The elevator broke. We're trapped in here. We're gonna run out of air."

For a moment Faith thought that maybe Buffy was right, but then she closed her eyes and used her slayer hearing to see if she could pick up on any noises that might indicate what was going on.

"Shh, close your eyes, B, tell me what you hear."

Buffy surprisingly did as she was told and closed her eyes, focusing on the sounds of the large hotel.

"Nothing. I hear nothing besides a few voices."

"Right," Faith said and opened her eyes. "There are no electrical hums anywhere in this building. It's a power outage. No need to freak, they'll get it sorted."

"Yeah, but who knows when," Buffy said dismissively. She finally pried the box open and reached the emergency phone. After a few moments, she hung it back up in defeat. "It's dead."

"Course it is. But hey, least we got this little emergency light . . ." Faith began, but her voice trailed off as the light dimmed, then fizzled out. "Least we have each other," she corrected.

Even with their enhanced slayer vision, it was still almost too dark to make out anything in the dark elevator. Faith heard rather than saw Buffy slide down the wall into a sitting position. She followed suit, moving over to the same wall and sliding down it to the cool floor.

She kept a bit of space between them, however, as she didn't want to make Buffy feel more claustrophobic than she already likely was.

After a few minutes passed, Faith chuckled to herself as she saw the faint glow of an opened cell phone illuminate the space next to her.

"If it didn't work in there, it ain't gonna work in here," Faith teased.

She could see the sad smile on Buffy's face just before she flipped the small phone shut.

"It was working in there. He's just not calling. Guess I was silly to think that he would," Buffy said sadly.

"You don't know that for sure, B. Besides . . . why are you gettin all bent outta shape about some guy that isn't patient enough to give you time to be open? You told him you do dangerous work and that you'd explain it when you knew how; why the fuck is he pushing?"

Faith's agitation was clear in her voice. She'd met James once, and though he was a nice piece of eye candy, there wasn't much else to him. She couldn't understand why Buffy seemed so hung up on him.

"He just wants to know me," Buffy explained. "He says that I'm not telling him stuff because I'm trying to keep him at arm's length. I dunno. Maybe I am."

"Or maybe you're just scared about his reaction. Understandably. Most people don't know how to react when they find out that there really are things that go bump in the night."

"Maybe. Or maybe I'm not opening up because I don't think he's the one for me."

Faith chuckled at Buffy's words.

"B, you've known the guy for all of what . . . like three months? Sometimes it's not about happily ever after. It's about the here and now. The after can come later. You don't hafta walk down the aisle with the guy next week or anything."

"I know that," Buffy said, chuckling a little bit too. "But every person I've ever dated, I've done so saying, 'I can see myself ending up with him' or something similar. I can't do that with James."

Buffy didn't need lights to know that Faith was raising an eyebrow at her now.

"You seriously thought you were gonna end up with Angel? Or Riley? Or . . . Spike? That's comical, B. You went out with all of them because you knew that there was no happily ever after with them. You thought you were gonna die young, so you picked these guys that you had no chance with."

"I had a chance with Riley," Buffy interrupted.

"Yeah, and I have a chance with Andrew," Faith replied, earning a laugh from Buffy. "You've got a pretty normal life now, B or at least as normal as it gets for us. Betcha that you can actually see the finish line now . . . the thee-bedroom house, the white picket fence, the dog and the gerbils . . ."

"Don't you mean kids?" Buffy interrupted again.

"Same difference," Faith answered quickly, glad that the dark hid her grin. "You've got this whole relationship self-destruct button that you're itching to push. Ya gotta learn to avoid it, cos you're gonna drive yourself nuts. Possibly the rest of us too."

Buffy sat and thought about what Faith said for a few minutes, letting it all sink in. Maybe Faith was right. Maybe she did have a habit of hitting the self-destruct button whenever things were looking promising.

"When did you get all logical?" she asked Faith, nudging her with her elbow.

"Somewhere between LA and Cleveland. Guess being around all you goody-goodies rubbed off on me a bit, huh."

"Not a bad thing as I see it," Buffy said honestly and reached out, slipping her hand around Faith's.

"Yeah, you're probably right."

Faith laced her fingers through Buffy's and gave her hand a light squeeze, silently thanking her for the compliment that was never directly said.

It didn't need to be. Faith heard it loud and clear.

"You honestly don't think that I'm just fucked up in the head?" Buffy asked, half joking but half serious.

She felt Faith scooch a little bit closer to her, then felt Faith take her other hand in hers.

"Do I think you're fucked up in the head? No. And to be perfectly honest, B, I think you're one of the most stable, rational, and collected people I know. You're like . . . driven, and strong, and you have the biggest heart I've ever seen in any person, no doubt about it. I noticed it the first time I met ya, and you've affirmed my thoughts again and again. You're a beautiful person, Buffy, inside and out. And yunno what? You deserve to be happy."

Faith waited for some kind of response. Several minutes passed, but they sat in silence still, and Faith began to wonder if maybe Buffy had fallen asleep or something.

"You still there, or am I holding someone else's hands here?" Faith asked, giving Buffy's hands a light squeeze.

After a moment or two, Buffy finally said quietly,

"You really think all of that?"

"And then some," Faith answered immediately. "You're the ultimate package, B. Also helps that you're wicked hot."

"Shut up," Buffy said, letting go of one of Faith's hands to smack her arm.

"I mean it. You ever decide to give the ladies a try, you holler my way and I'll be first in line," Faith joked.

"Now you're just being silly."

"Totally serious here. You ever start hitting for the home team, I'm gonna be right there vying for your affections and for some serious pillow time. I came here cos the Scoobies did, but I stay for you."

Faith stopped then, aware of what she'd just said. She'd never allowed herself to say those words before, let alone think them, but there they were out in the open and unable to be taken back.

For a minute she thought about jumping through the emergency hatch in the ceiling and climbing to a much more Buffy-free area, but a hand on the side of her face stopped her.

That hand on the face, though, couldn't hold a flame to the soft feel of lips brushing over hers, slowly, tentatively. Faith thought about deepening the kiss; about taking what her mind and body apparently wanted more than even she'd known, but instead she found herself pulling back and resting her forehead against Buffy's.

"B . . . I think there's someone in here with us," she said, trying for humor to break the awkward moment.

But Buffy wasn't having any of that.

"No more talking," the blonde whispered before slowly leaning in and kissing Faith again, just as soft and as slow as before.

Faith was confused. She didn't know what was happening nor how or why . . . but she couldn't fight it. Her arms wrapped around Buffy's waist and pulled her closer, right up onto her lap. Buffy had the advantage then of kissing Faith from a higher seat and effectively took control of the sudden and unexpected kiss.

She tilted Faith's head back a bit and kissed her deeper, both hands on Faith's face keeping her exactly where she wanted her.

Faith immediately took note of how soft Buffy's lips were, and how her kisses tasted like understanding and forgiveness and nothing like the pure lust she tasted when she had kissed other people before.

She ran her hands down Buffy's sides, stopping them to rest on her slightly moving hips.

"I never imagined it could be like this," Faith whispered as Buffy was kissing lazily along her jaw.

"Shhhh," Buffy hushed her as she let her fingers work on the buttons on Faith's shirt.

Try as she did not to speak, alarms started going off in Faith's head then and she had to find out what was going on.

"Wait wait wait wait wait," she said, putting her hand on Buffy's and stopping it. "Hold up for a sec. What's goin on here?"

Buffy tried to lean down and kiss her again, but Faith ducked her head to the side and looked up at Buffy, trying to read her face in the dark.

"I just . . . everything you said. I thought it meant . . . did you not like it?" she asked breathlessly.

"Course I liked it, what do you think I am, some kinda nun or somethin? But soon as the lights go on you're gonna freak out and I don't wanna be on the other end of that. We're finally working on the friend thing, B. I don't wanna fuck it up."

"Sometimes friends kiss, too," Buffy said innocently.

"You go around kissing Willow like that? Shit, no wonder she sticks to your side like glue," Faith joked.

"No, there has never been and will never be any Willow kissing. But . . . I don't know. I just felt . . . it felt different with you."

Silence passed between them again, but it didn't last long.

"I just don't want there to be any regrets," Faith said quietly, resting her head back on the cool metal wall. She closed her eyes when she felt soft lips press to her forehead before Buffy moved off of her lap and sat at her side again.

It wasn't long before the lights flickered back on and the elevator started up its usual quiet hum in its unmoving state.

"Let there be light," Faith said as she looked around and stood up, dusting herself off. She held out a hand to Buffy, who looked at it for a moment before accepting it and being helped up.

They moved to their opposite corners again after Faith pressed the lobby button. The elevator grumbled and groaned as it prepared to move.

"You gonna call him then?" Faith asked casually, trying to play the part of the friend again.

"I probably owe him a proper chance," Buffy answered with a shrug. "Can't say I really tried that hard before."

Faith nodded in agreement.

"You should."

"I will."

The elevator began its slow descent then, carrying them down the remaining way to the lobby. Surprisingly, the silence wasn't as awkward as it should've been.

"I've never been good with the whole sport analogy thing," Buffy began as the elevator slowed just before reaching the lobby floor, "but who knows; maybe if I strike out, we can talk about that whole 'switching teams' thing." She offered Faith a flirty smile.

Faith grinned an honest to goodness Faith grin.

"Yeah, maybe once we get the whole friends gig down, I could coach ya a bit."

The doors finally opened as they smiled at one another, letting a fresh breath of air into the now stuffy elevator. Buffy took a step out and began to walk toward the front doors, but she turned around when she noticed that Faith wasn't with her.

"You going outside?" she asked as she indicated the front door with her thumb.

"Nah, think I'm just gonna . . . go on back upstairs. Don't wanna incur the wrath of Dawnie on her birthday and all," Faith explained.

Truth was that she felt like she needed a smoke now more than ever, but she needed some alone time even more than that. She needed to process everything that had just happened.

"Oh, okay," Buffy said with a smile. "I'll see you upstairs then?"

"You've got it," Faith smiled back.

Buffy turned around and began to walk further into the lobby, but the sound of the familiar sound of the elevator chime sent her running back toward Faith yelling, "Hold the door please!"

Faith stepped forward and put her hand between the doors, stopping them from closing. She was more than surprised when she felt Buffy run into her arms, lean up, and plant one last kiss on her still tingling lips.

It didn't last long. It didn't sweep her off her feet. It wasn't about love, or passion.

It was a promise.

Buffy stepped back after a moment and smiled all big. She held up her hand still clutching around her cell phone and waved at Faith as she walked backwards.

Faith could only manage to smile and wink before the door chimed and closed once again. Backing up against the cool metal wall, she closed her eyes and let out a happy sigh.

James was as good as gone.

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