Buffy barely managed to get her body out of the window before the blue sparks traveling down the metal wires reached the mayor and triggered the detonators of the silver canisters embedded in his skin. His mutilated eyes widened and he managed to say, "Well . . . darn!" before exploding into a million pieces, taking down a huge chunk of the school with him in a burny mess.
A heap of bricks and debris fell over Buffy and Faith who remained buried by the rubble for almost an hour before shouting could be heard above them. Buffy kept Faith tight against her, trying to protect the unconscious girl as best as she could. They were safe from the flames thanks to Willow who had conjured a last minute rain spell; they just had to wait for help to get to them. She kept pressing her lips to Faith's temple and whispering reassurances that everything was okay, but whether that was for her benefit or Faith's, she wasn't sure; it wasn't like Faith was awake to hear her anyhow.
It was Angel who reached them first, the smoke and dust not affecting him like it did everyone else. Buffy tiredly took his hand and let him lift her up and into the open air and to her waiting friends. The sun was still blocked by shadows and rain clouds but Buffy wasn't worried about it too much. It was already starting to get dark outside anyway. If the sun didn't rise the next morning, they could deal with it then.
For now, it was time to just . . . breathe.
Finally getting a lungful of fresh air, she began to cough and splutter, ash-filled water drops leaking down over her dirty face from her brown wig. She pulled it off and tossed it to the side, then watched anxiously as Angel dug through the debris. An immediate sense of relief washed over her when Faith surfaced looking dirty and tired but alive nonetheless – and finally conscious again.
That was it. They had made it out alive.
Some students had been lost and Buffy was sure she'd mourn them all, but the mayor was dead and his vampires were gone. It was time to just be human again; to celebrate their graduation and pick up the pieces of their lives that had been disrupted by the events of the past few months.
"We did it, Buffy," Willow said excitedly. Her hair and clothes were wet – in fact, everyone standing around the debris of the high school was soaked to the bone – but they all looked so incredibly happy.
They had every right to be!
"You guys were awesome," Buffy replied, smiling softly. She turned to Dawn who was standing beside Giles and smiled even more. "You did good, Dawn."
"Please, you were so lucky I was there to save your scrawny little butt. I did amazing," Dawn corrected, then directed her attention to the entire group. "So do you think that if I keep wearing this gown and swipe one of the diplomas from the rubble that I can stop going to school?"
"I don't think so," Joyce cut in, stopping to wrap her arms around Dawn and kiss the top of her head. She then made her way over to Buffy, stumbling a bit over the debris, and put her hands on her shoulders, looking her in the eyes. "I'm so proud of you, Buffy."
"Because we won or because I graduated?"
Joyce shrugged a little bit and laughed. "Take your pick, honey. How's Faith?"
Buffy turned so that she could ask Faith that very question herself. She looked left, then right, then behind Angel's ridiculously big trench coat, but she was nowhere to be found.
"I think the better question is - where's Faith?" Buffy said. "Did anyone see where she went?"
They all looked around at one another and shook their heads no, except for Cordelia.
"She hobbled off while you were all congratulating yourselves for blowing up the school. I'll have you know that I still had a pair of shoes in there. I'll never get those back now."
"Wait, you saw her leaving and you didn't say anything?" Buffy asked, irritated.
Cordelia raised her eyebrows. "I'm sorry, I wasn't aware that babysitting slayers who are perfectly capable of protecting themselves was one of my job duties today."
"Cordy," Xander began but Buffy shook her head and stopped him.
"No, it's okay, Xander. She's right. I should probably go and look for Faith though. She might have a concussion. It's not safe for her to be just wandering around town."
"Not a town like Sunnydale," Giles agreed. He reached down in the debris and pulled out a crushed diploma, then straightened it out as best as possible before handing it over to Buffy. "I believe you've earned that, Buffy. Perhaps once you've found Faith and, erm, settled any issues, we might be able to celebrate the occasion."
"That sounds like a great idea," Joyce agreed. "You're all invited over tonight. We'll have a big dinner and maybe a toast or two with the sparkling cider I've been saving for a special occasion."
"I'd say this is a special occasion," Xander said. "Special and horrifying. I think I just stepped on someone's face."
He grimaced and began wiping the bottom of his shoe off on a splintered two-by-four nearby. Everyone else grimaced and Oz looked over curiously at the nearly unrecognizable pile of mush near their side.
"Do we know who it is?" Willow asked, taking a big step back.
"Bald spot. Frown. Definitely Snyder," Oz confirmed, joining Willow a few feet away.
"Buffy, do you think we should do something with him?" Willow asked.
When no answer came, they all looked up to see that Buffy was nowhere to be found. Her maroon gown was draped carelessly over the debris with the diploma balancing precariously atop it. Joyce bent down and picked the wrinkled parchment up, then smiled out across the schoolyard where Buffy had likely passed by just moments before.
Buffy didn't need to focus on her slayer connection to find Faith this time; she knew exactly where she'd run off to. Faith had really only ever had one place of her own since she came to Sunnydale – her apartment from the mayor – and that was where Buffy found her nearly twenty minutes later.
The door to the apartment was ajar and Buffy listened quietly from the hallway before pushing it open the rest of the way and walking inside. She was only a few steps in when she spotted Faith sitting at the elevated area in front of the big windows. Her feet were dangling off the ledge and her elbows were on the rail, a beer bottle perched between her hands. She had only a fuzzy black towel wrapped around her body and her hair was wet, a clear sign that she'd had a shower.
Her gaze met Buffy's and she held up her beer bottle in toast, then tipped it back and took a few sips.
Buffy walked closer and closer until she was only a step or two away and then stopped, her eyes searching Faith's.
"You left," she said.
Faith shrugged. "Job was done and I needed a shower. Figured it was a good time to split."
Buffy reached out and gently touched the swollen bruise on Faith's forehead, her fingertips just barely brushing against her skin.
"You could have a concussion. Going off on your own probably wasn't the best of ideas."
"I'm fine," Faith said quietly, tilting her neck to the side just a little so that Buffy was no longer touching her. "But most of my shit's gone. That well and truly blows."
Buffy winced a little; god, with the craziness of the last two days, she'd never told her about Angel's plan!
"Actually, it's not gone. It's just moved." At Faith's raised eyebrow, Buffy continued. "Angel's leaving for LA today. You wanted your stuff out of here and seeing as that his place was going to be vacant, he thought it would be a good idea to put it there. For you. Because you'll need it, and you can use it. There. At his place, which is now yours."
And when exactly had things gone back to awkward between them? Buffy held her breath, waiting for some kind of reaction from Faith. Every new second was more awkward then the one before it and just when Buffy thought she was going to burst, Faith took a deep breath and finished off her bottle of beer, then set it down beside her on the ledge.
"So he took all my underoos but left my beer? Guy needs a priority check," Faith said. The corners of her lips curled up in the tiniest of smiles and Buffy let herself smile back, feeling some of the awkwardness ease away.
"Is that why you're wearing that complete lack of outfit?"
Faith shrugged. "It was this, the shower curtain, or my dirty clothes."
"And the towel won because?"
"Because my clothes have chunks of mayor on them, B," Faith said with a wry smile.
"Oh, right," Buffy said, shaking her head a little when she realized that. "That."
She walked slowly around and up the small steps up to the raised area and slowly sat down next to Faith, leaving nearly a foot of space between them. Faith continued to look forward out into the apartment, an unreadable expression on her face. Buffy sat quietly for a few minutes, waiting for Faith to take the initiative to say something. When it started feeling awkward again, Buffy decided to initiate.
"Is that why you're here?" she asked quietly.
Faith looked over at her, confused. "Is what why I'm here?"
"The mayor," Buffy replied and Faith looked away again. "Are you here because you're sad that he's really gone?"
"Fuck no," Faith replied. "As much as I try to twist it in my mind to make the picture prettier, it just ain't. He used me, he tried to kill me . . . and now he's dead. Bitch deserved it."
"I can't disagree with you there," Buffy said quietly, her smile falling when she saw that Faith wasn't sharing her smile. "So if it's not him, what is this?"
"What's what?" Faith asked easily but Buffy could hear the effort behind her words; she was trying to keep her emotions in check.
"This," Buffy replied. "Faith, we've been stuck to each other's side for over two weeks now. Why did you just take off like that?"
Faith ducked her head under the rail and hopped down from the ledge, moving over to sit on the edge of the bed. It was one of the only few items left in the mostly bare room. She looked up at Buffy and shrugged, the perfect picture of nonchalance.
Buffy could tell she was anything but.
"I guess it's cos we don't need to be stuck to each other anymore, B. Mayor's dead, Council's off my back; the danger's gone. We can go on with our merry lives now, right?"
Buffy immediately felt her heart sink. She always knew they'd move on; she just kind of figured that they'd be moving on together. Everything that had happened between them up until that point had kind of hinted at that, at least. Or had she been reading things wrong?
Was she just another notch on Faith's bedpost? Had every feeling that had passed between them been a lie?
She couldn't speak for Faith but she knew it hadn't been on her part. She really did have feelings for Faith.
"Yeah, I guess we can," Buffy said. She chewed on her bottom lip a little but then looked up at Faith again. "I guess I just kind of thought that things would be different now. Between us, I mean."
"Well ain't they?" Faith asked with a shrug. "I mean here we are, totally not tryin' to kill each other. I'd say that's an improvement."
"That's not what I mean and you know it," Buffy said quietly, her voice just above a whisper. Faith held her gaze and Buffy was sure that she saw something in her eyes but Faith was fighting it.
Faith shook her head and looked away.
"We had a good time together, B, not gonna deny that. You're wicked hot and I probably owe my life to ya ten times over, but my life really ain't worth all that much so I'm just gonna say let's call it even for now. Point is, there's nothing forcing us together anymore. You're gonna spend the summer with your friends and have a great time, and I'm gonna do . . . what I do. You don't have to keep taking pity on me and . . ."
"It's not pity," Buffy interrupted. She slipped down off of the ledge and walked slowly over to Faith . . . then proceeded to pace manically in front of her. "God, it's so not pity. It would be easier if it was. I wouldn't have to worry about this sudden gayness, or maybe it's just a you-ness, but regardless, it's a 'ness' and I have to deal with it. But what I'm feeling?" She stopped pacing and looked directly at Faith. "It's not easy and it's a little bit scary, but it's definitely not pity."
Faith regarded her for a moment and then swallowed loudly, seemingly making a conscious effort to remember to blink as they stared at one another.
"Then what is it?" she asked. "Tell me what it is, B, cos I have no fuckin' idea. This thing?" She stood up and pointed to the area over her heart. "The only thing it's ever done is pumped blood around my body, usually to parts down south that usually get me in trouble anyhow."
"Faith," Buffy began but now it was Faith's turn to pace.
"But then there you were, tellin' me that you were gonna keep me safe and BAM! It starts doin' the fucked up little twitchin' thing that it used to do back when . . ." she stopped speaking and looked up into Buffy's eyes, then shook her head and continued. "And then there was kissin' and other shit, and yeah – blood pumping south big time – but it was still doin' the fucked up little twitchy thing."
"That's a good thing, Faith," Buffy assured her, but Faith wasn't buying it.
"How can that possibly be a good thing? Nothing good can come from fucked up little twinges in my chest that make my heart hurt and my head all confused."
"Well, something good obviously came from it because I've been feeling the exact same thing and I'm pretty sure it means that I'm falling for you, Faith. That I fell for you. And that there's nothing more that I wish right now than for that towel to start doing some falling too."
Faith went from looking panic-stricken one moment to amused the next. She grinned a little bit and ran her thumb under the towel at her chest.
"That's what you want most right now?"
"Well," Buffy thought about it for a second, "maybe second most. What I'd most like is for you to admit that you feel the same way so that we can make that towel falling a reality."
Faith continued running her thumb under the top of the towel, her smile faltering a little the longer the silence between them lasted.
"Is that what it's gonna take?" she finally asked.
"Yeah-huh," Buffy said easily.
But Faith's hand suddenly snagged on the towel and when she looked down, she saw the hemp bracelet tangled up in an errant loose string. She freed it from the black thread and then smiled wryly once again, holding up her hand for Buffy to see.
"What if it's all part of the magic, B? What if we take off these bracelets and the niceness and the fucked up little heart thing go away?"
"It won't," Buffy answered simply.
"But how can you know that? How can anyone know that?"
Without any further ado, Buffy looked down and yanked the hemp bracelet off of her own arm, haphazardly tossing it down onto the floor. A yellow haze suddenly surrounded and was absorbed by her body and she smiled, meeting Faith's gaze again.
"Because I was already staring to feel it before we even left Sunnydale."
Faith opened her mouth to say something but instead stopped herself and looked down at her wrist. She stared at it very hard, then looked up at Buffy and smiled a little.
"Ah, fuck it."
She grabbed onto the bracelet and yanked it off of her arm, then closed the space between them and pulled Buffy into her arms, kissing her long and deep. Buffy sighed into her mouth, letting Faith direct the kiss . . . and the two of them down onto the bed. Buffy smiled against her lips and Faith pulled back, smiling at her.
"So F . . . was it the bracelet?" Buffy asked with a grin.
"Nah. Pretty sure it's all you, B."
"It's all us," Buffy corrected.
"Well can ya blame us? We're hot chicks with superpowers."
"Can't blame us at all."
Chuckling, Faith leaned down and gave her a soft kiss on her lips, then on both of her cheeks, and then on her chin. Buffy felt the twinge in her heart and the tickle in her stomach and she knew that she'd been right; that it had nothing to do with the magic but everything to do with them.
When Faith leaned up, Buffy couldn't help but stare into her sparkling brown eyes. Her breath caught in her throat and she smiled, the scratchy material of Faith's towel tickling her skin where her shirt had ridden up.
"I think I kind of love you," she said in wonder.
"Yeah, well if we're gonna keep stickin' around each other, ya better," Faith replied, then laughed when Buffy pinched her side. "Fine, fine. I get the message, ya punk."
"Oh, I'm the punk?" Buffy asked, unable to help her laughter.
"Yup. Pretty sure there was some talk of towel removing yet here I sit, fully . . ." suddenly Faith frowned a little, then grinned when she felt the obvious breeze over her bare backside. She looked down between them to see that she was indeed naked and that Buffy was holding the towel off to the side. "Yo, I didn't even feel anything. How'd you do that?"
"Oh, it was just a little sleight of hand," Buffy said cockily, making Faith laugh aloud. "You should stick with me. I can teach you all kinds of cool things."
"But not as cool as cooking Spaghettios right in the tin can."
"Well no, that was cooler than even I can contend with."
"Speaking of Spaghettios," Faith began, "I think we earned ourselves a vacation. Think Montana will have us back?"
"Well, we have another apocalypse to deal with, but that's like two years and many stress wrinkles away. A vacation does sound nice, and I don't think Montana exactly has a choice. We'll just go there and make it our bitch if it gives us a hard time."
"Hot. I ever tell ya it makes me kinda horny when you swear?"
"Lately it makes you horny when I blink, Faith."
"True. Yunno what B?"
"I think I kinda love you too."
Smiling softly, Buffy slipped her fingers over Faith's shoulders, up her neck, and to the sides of her face where she gently held her. Her thumbs traced over Faith's lips and Faith gave them a soft kiss. She felt her breath catch in her throat and she totally had to ignore the little twitchy thing her heart was doing again.
"And that right there is the best magic ever," she said and then pulled Faith down until their lips met in the gentlest of kisses.
They'd defied the odds, beaten death, and had changed fate all by sticking together. Buffy knew in her heart that they'd be able to beat anything that life or magic threw at them in the future.
Together they could take on any twist of fate.
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