It was Buffy's turn for a white-knuckle ride this time around, one hand clasped on the dashboard and the other hand gripping a small handle to the side of her seat the entire time. If there were any bears nearby they didn't see them but they did nearly run over an unfortunate raccoon who'd decided to try to have a snack in the middle of the road. Sending the poor critter scurrying back into the woods, Buffy decided that keeping her eyes closed for the remainder of the ride was a good idea and didn't even so much as steal a peek until she felt the golf cart slow down and come to a stop.
When she opened her eyes, what she saw stole her breath away.
They were parked next to their cabin which she couldn't even bother to check out because she was too busy gawping at the sun setting into the mountains behind it, casting an orange glow into the lake below. It was like something off a postcard, but she'd never actually seen a postcard that beautiful before.
"Is this for real?" Faith asked, unable to look away from the beautiful scenery.
"If it isn't, you veered off the path somewhere and drove us into Oz," Buffy replied.
She stepped off of the golf cart, her legs still wobbly from the scary ride, and took a few steps down the gently sloping hill behind their cabin. Faith followed a few minutes later and they stood silently side-by-side in ankle-deep grass, unable speak or even move.
"I don't care if I ever go back to Sunnydale," Faith finally said. "Leave me here with some food and a chair and I'm set."
Buffy finally managed to look away from the sunset and glanced over at Faith. It was like looking at a different person. Gone was the mask of cockiness and toughness, leaving only the real Faith in the open. It was almost as beautiful as the sunset and Buffy quickly looked away, afraid she'd get caught staring.
She didn't know what was going on with herself but Buffy knew she needed to get her act together before Faith caught on and twisted it into something it wasn't.
"We're losing daylight pretty fast. We need to get inside and see what we're dealing with before we're stuck in the dark together for ten hours."
"You say that like it's a bad thing," Faith teased, finally managing to pry her gaze from the sunset.
"Being around you is scary enough in the daylight," Buffy teased back, grinning to herself as she headed back toward the golf cart. "Come on."
Faith followed just a few steps after her and swooped in, gathering up all of the bags before Buffy had the chance. Buffy would have argued but her hand was aching even more now after holding onto the golf cart so tightly. Instead she reached into her pocket and took out the old brass key and made her way up the three stairs to the wooden porch that wrapped around the cabin. There was some old wooden lawn furniture around the deck and a little painted ceramic gnome that seemed strangely right at home against the old wood shake siding. The wooden boards creaked under her feet but they were strong; the entire outside of the cabin appeared in pretty decent shape despite her fears.
The key stuck when she slid it into the lock but after a bit of finagling, it finally turned and the door popped open with a loud creak. She was afraid to look into the cabin but with Faith pressing against her back and ever-so-gently urging her forward, she finally took a few steps until she was fully inside. It smelled of wood and nature but it wasn't exactly unpleasant; it was just something she'd never quite known being a city girl.
She held her breath when she saw a light switch on the nearby wall; electricity meant hot showers, and hot showers meant a much more agreeable Buffy. Deciding to try her luck, she flipped the switch and smiled when an overhead light came on in what turned out to be the open living area.
The cabin was basically one large room with a big sofa and fireplace in the living room, a few area rugs over the wooden plank floors, and a small kitchenette at the far end. There were two doors against the left wall which Buffy guessed was a bedroom and a bathroom, but where was the second bedroom?
Faith walked in beside her and looked around, whistling low.
"Well ain't this somethin' outta Little House on the Prairie," she said. "I get the top bunk."
"Top bunk? What are you talking about?"
Faith pointed up to the open loft area that Buffy hadn't noticed yet. There were no stairs that led up there, just an angled ladder that came down near the kitchen area. "There's gotta be a bed up there. It's mine. You can stay in the room down here."
"Wait, why do you get the good room?"
"Just figured you'd want the room with the door," Faith said with a shrug. "Whatever. I'll take the room down here then."
She strolled across the room, looking around as she went, and flicked on another switch upon entering the bedroom. Buffy followed after her, curious to check out the accommodations. There was a decent-sized bed inside and a small dresser and bedside table. There was nothing in there that made the room especially spectacular . . . except for the picture window that faced the mountain lake perfectly.
"Bet you're kickin' yourself right about now, huh," Faith said with a grin as they both stared out the window. She dropped the bags on the floor and jumped up onto the bed, taking a test bounce or two.
Not wanting to show her disappointment, Buffy sucked it up and walked back out into the main room of the cabin. She gripped one of the rungs of the ladder and gave it an experimental tug to make sure that it was sturdy, then climbed up to the small loft. A smile crossed her face as she looked around, all disappointment gone. The bed was easily king-sized and even though the basic linens weren't her idea of glamorous, it still looked so inviting. There was a viewing window cut into the side of the sloping roof so that you could see out into the mountains. There was even a little bench seat along the window for comfortable viewing.
"Ka-ching!" she said aloud, happy to have finally been the one to hit the jackpot. She walked over to the bed and flopped down, sprawled out across the mattress.
She could still hear Faith jumping on the bed downstairs and would have ignored her if not for the sound of creaking springs giving way to a loud thump. There was some rustling, followed by Faith cursing under her breath, and then Buffy heard the unmistakable sounds of someone coming up the ladder. A moment later Faith plopped down beside her.
"Don't ‘hey roomie' me. You have your own room," Buffy said easily.
"Bed's broken. I'm stayin' up here with you."
"Maybe in another universe," Buffy grumbled , then turned so she could push her feet against Faith's leg. "Get out!" She was whining more than anything, which was probably why Faith was grinning and not budging an inch.
In fact, Faith folded her arms beneath her head, the perfect picture of relaxation.
"You've been my roomie for like three days, B. You should be used to it by now."
"I'll share a room but I'm not sharing my bed. You can sleep on the couch."
Faith adjusted so that she was laying on her side just a few inches away, head propped up on her hand so that she could look down at Buffy.
"You didn't have too much of a problem with layin' next to me last night."
Buffy opened her mouth to reply but she hesitated, finding that she really didn't know how to reply to that. What had happened between them, well, she couldn't explain. It was a thing. They got caught up in the danger and the heat and emotions and things had happened.
"We were both scared and we needed something solid to cling to. We were lucky we stopped before it went any further," she said shakily, unable to look away from Faith's penetrating gaze.
Faith nodded a little and pressed her lips together, then leaned in until their faces were just a few inches away and said,
"Yeah, thank god I stopped us, huh. No tellin' how far you woulda took it." She winked and got up from the bed and headed back downstairs where she began unloading the bags.
Buffy lay there stunned, completely unable to come up with any coherent thoughts. One thing rang through though: Faith was right. Had Faith not pulled back from their kiss, there was no telling if Buffy would have stopped what was going on. While she liked to believe that she would have had enough sense to stop it, something inside of her knew that she wouldn't have done anything to do so.
Staying up in the loft and hoping that some time would let the awkwardness clear, Buffy finally joined Faith in the room below after a few minutes had passed by. Faith seemed to be completely unaffected, pulling towels and toiletries out of the bags and stashing them in the bathroom. Buffy met her in the living room and helped her go through the remaining bags, sorting out which clothes were whose and everything else that needed to be put away.
Faith tossed the clothing bags up over the railing of the loft, ignoring the glare that Buffy gave her as they landed with a thud on the floor above.
"Well now that all that's settled, what's for dinner? I could eat a bear."
As Buffy finished rummaging through the cupboards she stood up straight and sighed. "You might have to. There are no pots and pans and we didn't exactly think to bring any."
Faith looked at the cans and boxes of food they had stashed on the countertop and tilted her head to the side. "We got a can opener at least?" Buffy nodded and held it up for Faith to see. "Then we're five by five. Go and plug in the golf cart and I'll get dinner started. Won't exactly be gourmet but I know a few tricks of the trade."
Allowing to let Faith take the lead on this one – Buffy had never really had any luck in the kitchen anyhow – Buffy did as she was told and walked outside to plug in the golf cart. She decided to take a few minutes to get to know the lay of the land, walking around the cabin and the immediate area to check everything out. There were almost no remaining signs of daylight so she was careful, watching every step she took. Only when she heard some nearby bushes rustling did she run inside, locking the door behind her.
Vampires she could handle. Monsters, demons; fine. There was no way she wanted to face any bears though. There could be fleas, and that was just full of no.
She turned around from locking the door and was surprised to find Faith working away in the kitchen, a small kerosene lamp lit to give her some extra light. She had two cans of Spaghettios opened and was slicing the paper labels off of them with a small pocket knife she'd bought at the store along the way from the airport. Buffy had said it was a frivolous purchase. Now she knew that it hadn't been.
Faith was smarter than she let on.
"Need any help?" Buffy offered as she walked over and took a seat at the small wooden table.
"Nah, got it covered," Faith replied.
When she was done cutting the labels off, Faith took the box of long wood matches that were near the old stove and easily lit two of the burners. She placed the tin cans directly on them and then took a step back, smiling victoriously as they began to cook.
"How'd you learn to do that?" Buffy asked.
"Ate a lotta Spaghettios when I made the trip from Boston to Cali. Bums might be smelly but they don't mind sharing trade secrets of outdoor living if you're willin' to share your dinner with ‘em."
She pulled one of the other chairs out from the table and sat down, her eyes already dancing with excitement as she remembered her journey. Buffy smiled and decided to bite; there were few things Faith liked more than story-telling.
"How long did it take you?"
"The trip?" Faith asked and Buffy nodded. "Coulda taken a bus but I wasn't exactly rollin' in funds, yunno? Decided to hitchhike and walk, mostly. Took me almost four weeks but that was because I ended up stoppin' a few places along the way to help out."
"Vamps?" Buffy asked.
Faith shrugged. "Sometimes. There was a hellhound causing havoc in Owasso. Some werewolves in Albuquerque. A wraith in Flagstaff. Shit, I'd never even seen a wraith before. Didn't know its ass from its head but I took it out with a bit of luck. Was laid up there for a few days before I was able to walk again."
"You did all of that without a watcher?"
"Kinda had no choice."
"But you did have a choice," Buffy replied with a smile. "Faith, you were running for your life but you still stopped to help people. Even more than that, you did it without knowing what you were even getting into."
Faith looked suddenly uncomfortable and she stood up from the table. She walked over to the stove and began to stir the cans, her back toward Buffy.
"Don't go playin' like I'm some kind of hero, Buffy. We all know I screwed things up first chance I got."
Buffy stood up and walked over to Faith, putting her hand on her shoulder. Faith didn't turn around which was probably a good thing.
"You've made mistakes; we all have. But you're not a bad person, Faith. In fact, you're probably one of the better ones out there."
She waited for Faith to respond but Faith just kept right on stirring. When Buffy pulled her hand away, Faith finally spoke up.
"If that's true, the world's fuckin' doomed."
Buffy could almost hear the tiny smile in Faith's voice and it made her smile too. Instead of saying anything, she went and sat back down, letting the air settle around them again. Faith stood at the stove for a few more minutes, stirring until the tins were heated enough. She grabbed two dish towels and grabbed the cans, carrying them quickly to the table before they could burn her hands.
"You want bread with that?"
Buffy nodded and Faith grabbed the loaf from the countertop, doling out two slices apiece before twisting the bag and tossing it back on the counter. She gave a spoon to Buffy and kept one for herself, eagerly tucking into her can of Spaghettios. Buffy followed suit, carefully blowing on her spoonful of steaming pasta before finally taking a taste. They tasted just like they were supposed to, no surprises. Humming happily, she began to eat spoonful after spoonful, a comfortable silence surround them.
"Thanks for making dinner. It's good."
"Least I can do. I probably owe ya after everything that's happened, right?"
"Maybe, but that's something we can work out another time," Buffy replied playfully. She smiled when Faith stole a glance up at her but noticed that Faith didn't exactly smile back. In fact, a sadness seemed to cross Faith's face before the girl realized it and quickly went back to her food.
Buffy decided to let it go for the moment, silently hoping that wasn't a sign of things to come.
It was well after midnight when they decided to go to sleep, the boringness of having nothing around to entertain them finally giving way to drowsiness. Buffy found that she couldn't exactly sleep though; she still had far too much on her mind to be completely relaxed.
She'd finally given in to Faith's pleas to share the huge loft bed, and really, she could see Faith's point. There was no sense in one of them sleeping on the couch if the bed upstairs was big enough to hold eight people. They drew an imaginary line down the middle of the bed and stuck to their own sides, Buffy under the blankets they'd purchased at the store and Faith under the blankets that had already been on the bed.
They lay in silence though they were completely awake, neither girl even bothering to pretend to sleep. There was no point to it.
"That offer still stand to hit me over the head with your luggage?" Faith finally said after about an hour.
"We already unpacked the luggage," Buffy noted, looking over at the mostly empty bag now resting on the bench across the loft. "I could throw you off the balcony though if you'd like."
Faith seemed to think about it for a minute. "Yeah, but then I'd have to climb back up here unless I wanted to sleep on the couch. Sounds counter-productive."
"You're probably right."
Silence descended upon them again, although now that it was blatantly obvious that they were both awake, the silence was a bit less comfortable. Buffy pulled the blankets up to her neck and held them there, the cool mountain air making the cabin feel a lot colder than she'd believed possible. Tomorrow they'd have to light the fireplace and keep it burning throughout the night just to kill the chill.
No wonder it wasn't peak tourism season yet.
"We'll have to climb to higher ground tomorrow to see if we can get a phone signal. My mom's probably worrying out of her mind since I haven't checked in."
"We can do whatever ya need," Faith replied. "We should probably see if we can get some pots and pans, probably some more basic supplies too. Spaghettios ain't gonna cut it for long."
"There's a general store. We can stop there tomorrow. And for the record, I thought your Spaghettios a la Faith were pretty good."
Faith chuckled and Buffy smiled to herself. She liked making Faith laugh. It was nice to have things be a bit easier between then. That was the way it should have been from the very beginning.
After a few minutes of silence, Faith spoke again. "Hey B?"
"In case I didn't get my point across before, I just wanna say . . . thanks. Yunno. For taking my side. Still don't understand why ya did, probably never will. Doesn't really matter. I owe ya."
"No you don't. You don't have to make it a . . ." she stopped speaking when she realized that Faith had gotten closer, close enough to touch, and was now laying just to her side and looking down at her. ". . . thing."
She lost her train of thought and could barely remember to breathe as Faith got closer and closer, her eyes fixed on Buffy's lips until she was just a breath away from them. Buffy was helpless to stop her; for the second time in as many days she found herself lost in Faith's gaze and she couldn't pull away. Didn't want to pull away.
But the need for air became an issue and she quickly took a deep breath, putting her hands on Faith's shoulders and stopping her descent.
"Whoa whoa . . . Faith, wait. What are you doing?"
"Thanking you," Faith replied, her voice taking on a sultry note as she tried to lean back in again. When Buffy stopped her once more, Faith pulled back enough to look into her eyes.
"Not like that," Buffy said, shaking her head lightly. Hurt flashed behind Faith's eyes and when she began to pull away Buffy stopped her with a hand on her arm. "I'm not trying to . . . please don't be upset. I'm not rebuffing you; I just . . . it shouldn't be a thank you. It should be . . . something else."
Faith seemed to think about it for a minute, their eyes locked the entire time. When her gaze became a bit softer, Buffy knew that she understood; that she knew that Buffy wasn't that kind of girl; that she didn't want to cheapen something so important by marking it payback or a favor.
Taking a deep breath, Faith leaned in once again but this time pressed her lips to Buffy's cheek, letting them linger there for a moment before pulling away and finding her way back to the other side of the imaginary line.
"Sleep tight, B," Faith said quietly.
Buffy stared up at the ceiling, her fingertips briefly pressing against her cheek where lips had rested just a moment before. Her heart was beating like crazy in her chest yet she felt a sense of relief that she was alone again on her side of the bed.
"Yeah. You too."
What was going on between them?
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