The sun was bright in the sky and for at least the third time that day Buffy wished she'd been smart enough to pack a pair of sunglasses. As it was, she had to use her hands to shield her eyes from the sun every time she looked up the trail to where Faith was about twenty yards ahead of her. They'd started out side-by-side but Faith kept running ahead, trying to find the magic spot that held a growingly elusive cell phone signal.
"Anything?" Buffy yelled as she noticed Faith holding the phone up in the air again.
"Nada," Faith replied. "Startin' to think we might have more luck with some string and two tin cans or a messenger pigeon. There are a shit-load of birds ‘round here."
"I think we'll save those ideas for our very, very last resort," Buffy replied as she approached Faith and looked over her shoulder at the phone.
"C'mon, we gotta get higher."
Faith began to continue up the path once again, walking a little bit slower this time. Buffy kept pace with her and took the phone back when they reached a boulder bigger than her house. She watched as Faith scaled it with ease, looking a little bit more than silly in the pink cotton pants and shirt Buffy had loaned her. Of course there had been an argument that morning over the clothes she'd pack for them but it wasn't as if Faith had many choices. She put on the matching pink pants and shirt and promised to get Buffy back for it.
Buffy was still trying to figure out exactly how Faith planned on doing that.
"Toss it up here," Faith said and Buffy did as she was told. Faith caught the phone without incident and opened it up, hoping to get a signal. The look on her face let Buffy know that there wasn't one.
"Still nothing?" Buffy asked, shielding her eyes from the sun once again.
"Not even a blip," Faith replied. She tossed the phone back down to Buffy and began to climb down. "You sure it's not just the phone?"
"It got a signal back in Sunnydale."
Buffy looked over the phone but still couldn't find anything wrong with it. The phone wasn't the problem; Montana was. Montana had it out for them, she was sure of that much. It was probably because she's said such unflattering things about it while still in California.
"Then we'll keep going. Maybe we'll have better luck once we get above the canyon walls."
"That means we're . . .?" Buffy began, unable to keep the whine out of her voice.
". . . headed to the top," Faith replied with a grin. "You're a slayer, B. Don't punk out on me now." She started off again with renewed zest in her step and Buffy watched her go, frowning.
"I'm not punking out," she said defiantly yet she made no effort to move.
When Faith was almost twenty yards ahead of her again, Buffy heard a noise to her side. She looked over and saw a little chipmunk hugging the side of a tree, watching her out of the corner of its eye. She couldn't help but smile; it was adorable! Well, that was if you could get past the fact that it looked a little bit like a rat. Actually it looked a lot like a rat. Frowning more, Buffy took a cautious step back.
Didn't rats spread the plague?
"Faith, wait up!" she called out and began jogging until she was walking alongside Faith again. Faith raised her eyebrows in question. "What? A chipmunk was considering making me a zombie. I'm sorry that the wildlife and I aren't exactly besties."
"Jesus chr . . . B, tell me you're not seriously afraid of a pansy-ass little chipmunk," Faith replied, shaking her head as they carried on up the trail.
"At least I'm not afraid of flying," Buffy said and Faith snorted.
"I'll push you off this mountain, we'll see how you feel about flyin' then."
"Ah, another threat you'll never come through on," Buffy teased. Faith opened her mouth to reply but Buffy cut her off, grinning. "Try up there?"
Though it looked like Faith still wanted to say something, she nodded and headed up another boulder. This one was less like a boulder though and more like a mountain atop another mountain. When Faith crawled over the ledge, she disappeared from Buffy's sight and didn't immediately reappear. Buffy waited for nearly a minute before she began to get nervous.
"Faith?" There was no reply, not a single peep. "Not a good time to mess around with me, Faith. I may or may not be carrying a zombie virus and I'm feeling vulnerable."
Still there was no response and when another minute passed, Buffy officially began freaking out. Rather than stand there and call out while Faith could be dangling for her life on the other side of the boulder, Buffy tucked the cell phone in the waistband of her pants and began to climb, trying to follow the same steps Faith had. When she reached the top, she found Faith standing just a few yards away, back turned to her and unmoving.
"God, why didn't you answer me? I was starting to worry about you. It's becoming way too frequent a habit."
Faith didn't reply and Buffy just stared at her unmoving form. A bug flew in front of her face and Buffy promptly swatted it away, then began to slowly approach Faith, her brow furrowed. Only when she got closer did she realize why Faith had stopped and wasn't responding: they'd reached the top of the mountain.
They were looking out across the most gorgeous landscape she'd ever seen. There were mountains and hills spotted all over the valley and some of the tallest trees she'd ever imagined possible. Birds were swooping around between the rocky peaks and she wasn't positive but she thought she could hear water running nearby.
The only thing this place was missing was a rainbow and a unicorn and Buffy was fairly sure the unicorn was there and just hiding out of sight, possibly frolicking with some other mythical creatures.
They stood in silence for several minutes, just taking it all in. Here Buffy had thought the sunset the previous night was gorgeous. This was definitely better.
Faith was the one who finally spoke first.
"Did you get a signal?"
"Huh?" Buffy replied, suddenly remembering why they were up there in the first place. "Oh, right. Uh," she pulled the phone out of her waistband and flipped it open, her eyes widening when she realized that one of the bars were lit up. "We've got a bar!"
Faith looked over her shoulder as she hit the number Giles had programmed into the phone, then listened as the line connected and began to ring. It only rang two times before he picked up.
"Buffy? Is that you?"
"Yeah, it's us. You can thank Xander for sending us someplace where phone signals are about as common as leprechauns," she replied.
"Thank god, we've been worried. We've tried locator spells to see if you and Faith arrived safely at your destination but with the protection and cloaking spells in place, Willow's magic is as useful as pants on a penguin."
"We've been climbing a mountain all morning to find a signal and I don't know how long we'll have it for, but we're here and we're safe. Not exactly prepared to rough it in the woods but we're making do."
"Excellent," Giles replied. "You're fortunate you made it out when you did. The council is sending operatives over to continue searching for Faith. They're aware now that they've been duped as a new slayer hasn't been called so they've begun the magical phase of their operation. Soon they'll realize she's magically protected as well."
"Well have you figured out what we're gonna do next? Faith and I can't exactly hide forever." Faith was watching her and Buffy looked up, staring into her eyes.
"I'm afraid not," he said regrettably. "Willow and I are looking for ways to clone the slayer essence – make a magical doppelganger of Faith, if you will – but the magic is quite advanced and neither of us is equipped to pull it off as we are. I assure you, we're working round the clock to find a way to rectify the problem."
"What about our other problem?" Buffy asked, unable to look away from Faith's penetrating gaze.
"I've asked Angel to use his connections to aid us in our research. Whatever Mayor Wilkins is planning, it seems that it will take place on graduation day. We still have twelve days to figure it out and Angel has told me he thinks he has a lead."
"Faith and I need to be there," Buffy replied, finally managing to look away from Faith. "We're the slayers; we do the slaying. If the mayor is planning something demon-y, you're going to need us there."
"Buffy, what we need is for you and Faith to stay where you are until we can rectify the situation with the council. If we manage to do so before graduation, we can surely use your help against the mayor, but I'm afraid Faith must remain absent until we can eliminate both threats. Do you understand?"
Buffy took a deep breath and exhaled loudly. The thing was, she did understand; but if they got the Council to back off, there was no way that Faith would willingly stay behind. Not when she was trying so hard to prove that she was on Team Buffy again.
"I do," she finally replied. "I'll try to come back to this spot every day or two to check in. Could you please call my mother and let her know I'm safe?"
"Of course. Anything else?"
"Yeah," Buffy replied after a moment. "Can you also tell her that there's a chance she won't be able to see her only daughter walk across the stage at graduation?"
Giles sighed and she heard the phone rustle softly. "I'll do everything in my power to make it safe for you to return before then. Please tell me you'll be careful until then?"
"I will. Bye Giles." She hit the power button and closed the phone, tucking it back away in her waistband. Faith was looking at her expectantly. "The council knows you're alive but Giles and Willow are all over it. Angel is working on dealing with the mayor. We're stuck here until at least the council has backed off and even then, Giles doesn't want you coming back until the mayor has been taken care of."
Faith thought about it for a minute and nodded. "I'm just glad that he wants me come back at all. After everything that happened, I can't really bitch about that, yunno?"
"I guess," Buffy replied quietly. The sun was shining even hotter now and she had to wipe a bit of sweat from her brow. "I'd give anything for a pool or some air conditioning."
The grin on Faith's face didn't really put her at ease, nor did the way she grabbed her arm and practically dragged her off the boulder and back down the path.
Buffy covered her face as Faith jumped into the cool mountain lake for what had to have been the twentieth time. Water splashed all over the protruding flat rock she was sunning herself on but instead of complaining, she just ignored it this time. Complaining led to more jumping. She'd learned that the hard way the first dozen times she'd yelled.
Her pants and shirt were bundled up under her head as a makeshift pillow and the warm sun felt oh so good on her skin. She didn't see any problem lying around in her bra and panties; honestly, they covered more than her bikini did anyhow. Besides, Faith seemed to think the same thing and was currently swimming around in just her bra and panties too. She'd wanted to go in completely nude but Buffy had vetoed that idea. Compared to that idea, the bra and panties were the best thing ever.
Buffy laid with her eyes closed, listening to Faith splashing away as she swam this way and that in the big lake. It was like their own private oasis, surrounded on three sides by mountain-ish walls and on the fourth by the slope that led to their cabin. The splashes started getting closer and Buffy looked over to see Faith resting with her arms on the rock, squinting into the sun as she looked up at her.
"You enjoyin' yourself?" Faith asked.
"Doesn't suck," Buffy replied. "I've had worse quasi-vacations."
"Well I haven't had any so I'm gonna enjoy this one. Thought you said you wanted a pool?"
"I did. And then I jumped in, and now I'm done."
"Shortest swim in the history of short swims," Faith said under her breath. "You sure you don't wanna have another dip? We can race. Even promise I won't dunk ya."
"I'll pass," Buffy said with a smile. She tilted her head back toward the sky and closed her eyes once again.
She'd expected to hear Faith swim away but Faith stayed where she was, her feet kicking slowly in the water while her arms rested on the rock. The water lapped quietly at the stone and Buffy took a deep, relaxing breath.
"Remember how you said you'd do anything for a pool and then I brought you here?"
"Uh-huh," Buffy said warily.
"Well I kinda figure that you might wanna come through on that whole ‘give anything' part."
Buffy opened her eyes and looked over at Faith, putting her forearm over her brow to block the sun from her eyes. "I'm not having sex with you, Faith."
Faith laughed and shook her head, a few droplets of water leaking down from her slicked-back hair. "Not asking you to."
"Oh." Buffy replied, trying to figure out what she meant. "Well what did you mean then?"
Faith looked at her for a few moments and seemed to be choosing her words. Finally the right corner of her lips cracked up into a crooked smile and somehow, she almost managed to appear innocent.
Okay, almost innocent. Maybe it wasn't controversial as what Buffy had expected, but still . . .
"Kiss me," Faith repeated easily.
"Why would I do that?" Buffy asked.
"Because I wanna kiss you, and sometimes I think you might wanna kiss me too."
"Faith . . ."
"Wait, hear me out. Two nights ago was our first kiss, right?"
"Second," Buffy corrected her. "At my house, in the bathroom . . ."
"Oh, right," Faith replied. "But here's the thing: it was our first – second – kiss, but it's not like it didn't almost happen like a couple dozen times before then. We always used to push each other, before things went to shit, I mean. I always kinda thought it might happen, but every time I pushed you'd get all freaked out. Not that I blame ya or anything; kissing somethin' this hot has gotta be intimidating."
Buffy glared at her and Faith grinned, but the grin quickly gave way to a softer smile. The kind of smile that Buffy liked seeing but rarely ever had the chance to. Faith continued.
"When you did it the other night though? You were okay with it. I think that's because it was you; your choice, your decision, whatever."
"But it isn't my choice if you ask me for it," Buffy replied, sitting up a bit so that she could look at Faith without having to squint.
"Still kinda is. Besides, if I don't do something I might be waitin' til I'm like seventy and I'm pretty sure slayers don't make it that long, B."
Despite the smile on her face, Buffy could hear the effort behind Faith's words. The girl was trying hard to make sense and clearly didn't want to be rejected now that she was kind of putting herself out there.
Fully sitting up, Buffy swung her legs around so that they hung over the side of the flat rock and into the water. Faith hopped up onto the rock and sat beside her, her wet skin touching Buffy's. Buffy took a moment, choosing her words carefully before looking over at the girl.
"I can't just kiss on command or by request. I mean, I can, but I'm not going to. It might be simple to you but . . . for me it's more involved. I don't know how to explain it, but . . . trust me when I say that if I feel it, I'll do it."
Faith seemed to accept that and looked out across the lake, nodding lightly.
"Okay. I get that. But you gotta answer me one question." Taking a deep breath, Buffy nodded and Faith continued. "Are you into me?"
Buffy looked over at her and searched her brown eyes, but for what she wasn't sure.
"I don't know," she answered truthfully.
"Okay," Faith replied. She looked confused for a second as she looked down at her lap but then met Buffy's gaze again. "But are you not into me?"
And as much as Buffy wished she could say yes, she just didn't know. Part of her wanted to yell ‘yes!' and be done with the flirty subtext once and for all, but she couldn't do that. She just wasn't sure.
"I don't know," she answered again, and this time Faith grinned. It was the kind of cocky grin that she was used to and she had to fight the urge to push Faith back into the lake.
"So what you're sayin' is – there's a chance."
Giving in to the urge, Buffy put her hand on Faith's back and pushed her into the cool water. What she didn't expect was for Faith to surface and grab onto the back of her calves, yanking her in as well. She paddled and kicked until she reached the surface, spluttering her discontent. Faith wrapped her arms around her and held her steady as they drifted away from the rocky ledge.
"I can't believe you did that!"
The look on her face must've been a murderous one because Faith held up one of her hands in surrender. Just one though. The other arm stayed wrapped firmly around her waist.
"Hey, I give. You can't hurt me though."
"Oh, I can and I will!"
Buffy was about to put her hands on Faith's head to push her under the water but what Faith said next took her by surprise.
"You wouldn't do that to a girl on her birthday, would ya?"
Buffy nearly slipped under the surface again but Faith caught her just in time. When she regained her balance, she looked at Faith with questioning eyes.
"Today's your birthday?"
"It's June 10th, right?" At Buffy's nod, Faith continued. "Then it is."
"Why didn't you tell me sooner?"
"Cos you were busy saving my life and I didn't wanna look needy or anything," Faith said, grinning softly.
"Well we should do something," Buffy said. What though, she didn't know. She needed to do something for Faith though. "Something special."
"Just you bein' here with me makes it better than most of ‘em have been. Haven't really celebrated the last few years so . . ."
Her words were cut off when Buffy leaned forward and kissed her, keeping it short and soft and as innocent as possible. When Buffy pulled back, Faith's eyes were still closed and she was smiling ever so subtly.
"Happy birthday, Faith," Buffy said quietly, then a huge grin formed on her face. "And now for your comeuppance!"
Taking Faith by surprise while her eyes were still closed, Buffy put her hands on Faith's head and shoved her under the water, laughing when she came up spluttering a moment later.
"You're in way more trouble than you can handle," Faith grumbled playfully.
"Gotta catch me first!" Buffy replied before taking off across the lake, laughing when Faith began chasing closely after her.
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