Previously on Walk The Line:
Faith eagerly clicked over to the other line and took a deep breath. "B?" When met with silence, she tried again. "Buffy?"
The only response this time was the sound of a dial tone.
Buffy had hung up on her.
"God dammit," she cursed to herself, clicking the phone shut and flicking it onto the bedside table.
She laid back on the pillows, grabbing the one from the left side of the bed and holding it against her chest. Sighing loudly she closed her eyes, hoping that sleep would take her soon. The cool pillow case licked at her naked warm skin as the scent of Buffy's shampoo from a few weeks back still managed to assail her senses.
It wasn't sex but it'd have to do.
"Maybe because you don't know how to practice voodoo?" Andrew suggested, trying his best to keep out of her way as he put together his brand new Dyson vacuum.
"Oh, I practice it alright. I've been practicing it for two whole weeks now and this still doesn't work. Make a doll, put some fashionable little clothes on it, then stab it viciously and cause pain to someone you dislike. It all seems a lot easier in theory than in practice." She paused for a moment and took a deep breath before continuing. "Besides, I have to do something. While I've been sitting around harassing you all, Spike was finding a way to become corporeal again. I have to do something truly excellent so I can bribe the Powers That Be to give me back my body."
And Andrew knew firsthand that Anya had been trying to go above and beyond the call of duty over the last few days. Since she'd found out about Spike, she was determined to be more helpful and overall invaluable.
To her, that meant creating a voodoo doll of The Last and poking him to death, apparently.
"You probably shouldn't keep trying if it doesn't work. Voodoo isn't something the layperson should meddle with," Andrew tried warning again.
"Well maybe if you'd let me use the doll I'd originally wanted this could have all been over and done with already and I could be able-bodied and having copious amounts of orgasms and winning a fortune at blackjack right now."
"At the same time?" he asked with a grimace, and then shook his head and decided to focus on something less icky. "I already told you, if I remove Darth Maul from his original packaging he's no longer a collector's item." When Anya began to protest, he held up his hand and stopped her from continuing. "I don't care how much he looks like The Last, the answer is still no. Now either make He-Man work or go and put him back in my bedroom where you found him."
Anya scoffed and continued to arrange the clothing on the doll in her hands, mumbling about pushy nerds ruining her fun. The doll was just about ready for a test run again; its new hair pinned to its head and a little smear of red on its cheek.
Andrew looked over casually and noticed that He-Man was no longer a striking blonde but a mousy brunette. What had she used to get that real hair to stick to his head? And . . . was that blood on his face? Poor He-Man, so helplessly violated. Andrew couldn't just stand by when things were about to go terribly wrong.
"Not to be a Debbie Downer but . . . where did you get the hair from? And the blood? Because I don't think The Last would stand still long enough for you to take samples from him. And also? I don't think he has hair."
"Well of course he doesn't," Anya answered huffily. "It just felt wrong, the doll having plastic blonde hair. Voodoo dolls have real hair. I simply had to make do with what I had around me."
Andrew was pretty sure he didn't have to ask but he did anyhow. "Well then whose hair is it?"
Anya's smile was maniacal as she pulled her finger back and flicked the doll in the arm, waiting to see what her test would yield. She didn't have to wait long; a loud howl sounded from the kitchen and Xander ran out clutching his upper bicep with his hand.
"I don't want to alarm everyone -- or hey, maybe I do -- but I think we may have a non-Anya poltergeist." He waited for a response from his friends but Anya was too busy fidgeting with the doll again and Andrew was looking in her direction, concern on his face.
"Anya, you can't use Xander's hair and blood. It associates the doll with him. I don't practice voodoo and even I know that much," Andrew said.
"Oh, settle down, booknerd. I've got it all figured out now," she said. She held the doll up and focused on it intently, "I declare you The Last."
She nodded in approval of her own cleverness and then she was yanking on the doll's leg excitedly. Xander dramatically fell to the ground, his right leg going out from underneath him. He writhed around uncontrollably as Anya gave the doll a few good shakes and pulls, ignoring him completely.
"Grown . . . man . . . spazzing . . . uncontrollably . . ." he stammered.
When Anya finally realized that Andrew had been right, he was already busy trying to take the doll away from her careless hands. She tried to slap his grabby hands away but her focus was spent on holding the doll and her ghostly hands went right through his. Xander continued to writhe around on the ground, calling out for someone to explain to him what was going on.
"Hey, let go!" Anya said, finally pulling the doll away from Andrew. "Now that I know how it works I'm going to use it for interesting and innovative sex games."
And then Andrew's hands were firmly at his sides and nowhere near the soon-to-be sexdoll. Xander's eyes widened comically as he was finally able to lift his head over the table and see what was going on.
A mini-Xander sexdoll in the hands of his ghostly ex-fiancée sex addict.
Xander gulped loudly. Things were about to get very interesting.
The church parking lot was completely empty when Faith pulled into it. She still didn't feel right going there; churches and religion in general still freaked her out and made her uncomfortable. Fact of the matter was that Father Shannon had helped her though and it was the right thing to do to check in on him now and again and make sure that he was in good health after his concussion.
And if she was being completely honest with herself? It was kind of cool to talk to someone that wasn't a Scooby or a stripper that made her have naughty thoughts when all she wanted to focus on was her growing friendship with Buffy.
Well, that was if Buffy was still speaking to her after their last phone conversation.
Swinging her keys around her index finger as she walked through the parking lot and into the church, Faith entered the front doors and bypassed the holy water this time around. Funny thing about tradition? It was pretty easy to fall out of again.
She made her way back toward the sacristy where she was sure she'd find Father Shannon but stopped halfway down the aisle when she heard a cough from the confessional. It was a familiar cough so she had no problem walking up and knocking on the door.
"Room service," she said with a grin.
A moment later the door opened and Father Shannon poked his head out, a smile brightening his face when he saw who his visitor was.
"Room service would be wonderful right about now."
"How long you been in that box, padre?" Faith asked as he stepped out and stretched his weary muscles.
"Just about two hours. There's open confession this afternoon."
"Yeah, but couldn't ya like . . . I dunno, take a game in there with ya or something? Not exactly like people are breakin' down the doors to get in there."
They walked over to the pews and took a seat, Faith sitting in the row in front of Father Shannon, turned to the side with one knee on the bench so she could see him. He knew not to ask her into the confessional after the first time; Faith wasn't a religious person so she didn't have any sins to confess, as she put it.
He didn't mind; he was happy just to talk to and get to know the girl. Sometimes it was nice to simply be a friend instead of a priest.
"I don't mind the silence," he said with a shrug, the tiniest bit of an Irish accent escaping him. "It's good for the soul."
Faith studied him for a moment before a big smile appeared on her face.
"You totally sleep in there, don't you?"
Father Shannon's only response was a small grin of his own. Faith laughed aloud and an air of comfort settled around them.
"What brings you by today, Faith?" he asked in a friendly tone.
Faith's smile faltered just a little but she tried to keep a casual air around her. "Remember that bad guy we killed?" At Father Shannon's nod she continued, "He ain't so dead anymore."
"I see," he answered after a moment, looking down at his folded hands. "How can you know for certain?"
"People are still getting infected," Faith answered with a shrug. "And as much as I really appreciate what you did for us the last time around, I'm not here askin' for help. I know it didn't work so we're kinda back at square one."
Father Shannon nodded in understanding but decided to offer a bit of hope the only way he knew how. "Let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. Galatians 6:9."
Faith raised an eyebrow at him.
"Yeah, well how about this one: ‘Thou shall be frustrated as shit and have a mental breakdown before ya even figure out how to beat the bad guy.' That one's from the Book of Faith. It's pretty much the whole first chapter."
And Father Shannon couldn't help but chuckle at the girl, smiling as he studied her face.
"I don't think I've read that one."
"I'll send ya a copy, it's a real doozy."
Father Shannon took a deep breath and sat forward, his elbows resting on the back of the seat in front of him.
"Faith . . . I don't know much about you or what it is that you actually do -- and before you start -- I'm not asking for you to tell me. I know that you do good things; I can sense that. And like most good things, they don't always come easy. We have to fight for them and more often than not, we give in to our fears that we're going to fail."
Faith was silent for a few moments, deep in thought pondering his words.
"I'm not really afraid that I'm gonna fail. I'm just kinda stuck on the fact that I'm not good enough to get this done. This guy is like the penultimate evil right? Well dude, I've been there. I walked on the dark side and got nice and comfy there. Times change, I changed, but really . . . I don't think there's enough good in me to beat the fucker." She winced then and looked up with an apologetic look on her face. "Uh, shit . . . sorry. I meant guy."
Father Shannon chuckled quietly at her correction but didn't let himself get distracted by her little slip up.
"There's a delicate balance in life, Faith. If sin is inherent in humans then so is good in equal amounts. There is sin in the world and there is also virtue. You don't have to believe in religion or God to see it. Your mistakes in the past remain in the past. You're doing good things now, and you will continue to do good things and you will persevere."
"How can you be so sure?" she asked quietly.
Father Shannon smiled at her then, a genuine smile. "Because I have faith."
Faith couldn't help but snort at that, despite his sincerity. Her name had long been subject to witty and non-witty puns, but for the first time it felt sincere. And it felt good having someone on her side who believed in her completely.
"So, you wanna offer up any tips on beating this guy? Cos really, I'm open to all suggestions," she joked, changing up the tone a little. Too much sincere mumbo jumbo made her itchy.
Father Shannon shrugged one shoulder and tilted his head to the side just a little bit.
"Balance the equation. He uses the seven deadly sins; you have to counter that. The seven virtues are a great place to start."
And Faith was raising her eyebrow again, looking like he'd just spoken to her in Japanese. Father Shannon could only laugh and continue explaining.
"The seven heavenly virtues: Faith, Hope, Love, Justice, Courage, Restraint, Prudence."
Faith thought about it for a moment before asking, "Can't I just like . . . stab him in the eye with a big fancy cross?"
"You could always try," he answered with a smile.
Sometimes there was just no getting through to people when it came to religious discussion; they had to figure it out on their own. In the meanwhile, he was just going to try to figure out a way to convince Faith not to steal the cross she was eyeing up on her way out.
Faith was on her way back to the house when her cell phone rang. The silly ringtone Buffy had programmed in there on their fake date let her know that it could only be one person calling. And even though their last conversation had ended abruptly, she couldn't help but smile as she opened the phone and held it to her ear.
This was sure to be an interesting conversation.
"Hey you. What's up?" she asked casually.
"My car insurance premium, probably," Buffy replied, sounding a bit flustered.
"Shit, who'd you hit now, Crash Test Buffy?" Faith asked jokingly, not expecting the sigh Buffy gave her nor the answer that followed.
"I swear up and down it wasn't my fault; that tractor trailer came out of nowhere. I literally mean that too. I didn't see him in the rearview mirror the whole time I was putting on my lip liner."
Said so innocently, like putting on makeup while driving was perfectly normal and safe. Multi-tasking was not Buffy's forte especially while driving. She could barely handle the driving part alone even with her whole attention focused on it.
"Think it's time ya hang up that driver's license and switch to public transportation, B. Seriously. Are you okay at least?"
"Yeah, but my car isn't. I'm stuck in a diner off the highway and I let my triple-A expire last month."
"Want me to call a tow truck or Giles or somethin'?"
"No, I already called a tow; they'll be here later to take it to a local shop. Think you could come and pick me up in the meanwhile though?"
Faith raised her eyebrow at that. Sure she was willing to do pretty much anything for Buffy but hauling her ass all the way to LA to drive Little Miss Bumper Car back home when Giles could do it in five minutes was just kind of . . . well, ridiculous.
"Don't you think Giles is a bit closer? I mean, not that I won't come there but . . . you're gonna be waitin' for a while," Faith said and laughed.
"I'm about an hour outside of Vegas. I was . . . coming to see you," Buffy said after a moment, her voice small and a bit unsure. "And to see how I can help," she added the last part quickly.
Faith couldn't help but smile. She'd dealt with Angry Buffy before, as well as Sad Buffy, Happy Buffy, Butt-Kicking Buffy, and even Horny Buffy on one occasion.
Jealous Buffy was a whole new story.
"Gimme directions. I'll be there in a half hour."
It was nearly an hour later in the middle of a dusty old diner off the highway when Faith was busy finishing off a large plate of French fries loaded with ketchup and a double-cheeseburger big enough to make a grown man's eyes water. Buffy was already finished with her more modest toasted chicken sandwich and could only sit and watch, amused, as Faith did what she did best: eat.
Or maybe it was second best. Or third best. Then again, Faith did eat pretty well the last time they'd . . . bad thoughts!
Biting on her lower lip to fight back the blush that was fighting its way to the surface, Buffy looked down to her plate and then back up to Faith. She tilted her head to the side and just watched the girl. And yeah, she knew that maybe she should feel like a creeper for staring at the brunette while she ate so contentedly but Buffy just couldn't help it. Whoever this new Faith was and whether she'd been buried under many layers even years back, Buffy just couldn't stop being amazed by her.
Yep, something was definitely wrong in Buffyville, Buffy mused. She wasn't quite sure what she was feeling but she knew she hadn't felt it since Angel, and even then it was something different than that.
Maybe being here again with Faith would help her figure out what it was.
"Thanks for the grub, B. That was wicked tasty," Faith said as she wiped her full lips with the white paper napkin her fork had been resting on.
"It's the least I could do," Buffy answered easily, a friendly smile on her face. "It's not like I intended to crash my car so I didn't really have a back-up plan. Thanks for coming through."
"Not a problem. But B? I think it's pretty obvious that you crashed on purpose just so I could swoop in and save the day," Faith teased.
Buffy held up in hands in mock surrender. "Yup, you've got me there, Faith. I purposely trashed the car Giles is still paying for just so I could get a little quality one-on-one Faith time. My nefarious plan is coming to fruition!"
"If you wanted a little quality Faith time all you had to do was ask," Faith said with a grin, the underlying meaning not lost on Buffy who merely gave her a sugary-sweet smile in return.
"Well, I kinda did . . . and then I was put on hold."
Faith winced a little at that, even though Buffy's tone had been playful. She wasn't used to screwing up, especially when it came to anything sexual, but she was pretty sure that her folly from that night would go down in infamy.
"Speaking of that," Faith began awkwardly, "I should probably apologize. It was stupid to answer the other line like that. Keep wonderin' why I did it and the only thing I can come up with is that I'm tryin' to sabotage myself. Totally not used to gettin' anything I want."
"You wanted it to happen then?" Buffy asked then nearly kicked herself for asking so bluntly. She wasn't even sure herself if she'd wanted it to happen!
"Duh," Faith said, a playful grin on her face before looking down at her now empty plate to hide her sudden case of bashfulness.
Luckily for them a busboy walked over with a big plastic tote and took their empty dishes, leaving them with only their arms and drink glasses on the table. They both awkwardly reached for their glasses, their fingertips brushing halfway across the table. Faith quickly pulled her hand back but Buffy grabbed her beverage and slid it back toward her. She pursed her lips and took a sip from the plastic white straw, her eyes anywhere but on Faith who was watching the simple act with a look of amazement on her face.
Buffy's lips sure were pretty. And pink. And just begging to be kissed.
Deciding that a change of subject was needed to break the almost awkward tension, Faith opted to make things a little bit more lighthearted.
"So you've been racking up the frequent flier miles lately," she began but quickly realized that it would lead to the same kind of conversation. "Uh, well not flier so much but…yunno. Driver. Whatever."
Buffy smiled and finished swallowing her Diet Coke before pushing the glass back to the center of the table. She let her hand linger there, her fingertips collecting the condensation from the sides of the glass.
"Well, it's not like I'm exactly missing out on anything back at home. I'm retired, Dawn is back in school, and Giles has forbid me from doing any further research until he can figure out a way to get cranberry juice stains out of ancient texts. I swear, you have one accident around him and you're forever banned from boring books." She paused and thought about it for a moment. "You know, come to think of it, that was probably my best accident ever." They shared a laugh and Buffy continued, "Besides, if I tell him I'm here on business the Council pays for my gas mileage."
"Ahh, so it's strictly business then," Faith said, the playful tone in her voice letting Buffy know that she wasn't bitter about it.
Trying to find something for her fidgeting hands to do, she reached out for her own drink glass and started playing with the cool drips of water on it like Buffy was busy doing.
"Well . . . it's mostly about business," Buffy said, her gaze fixed on her glass. "I mean, there's a big bad . . ."
"Still retired, B," Faith reminded her with a wink even though Buffy didn't see it.
"I know. But I was thinking of a retirement hiatus. You know, just until The Last is gone and the world is safe again. And maybe when the annual threat of world annihilation is over, Giles and I can discuss a part-time slay gig. Just to keep me in the loop. It's awkward being loopless when all of your friends are loopy."
"Not sure your friends would like bein' called loopy," Faith joked.
"Well you didn't seem to mind."
Faith ignored the fact that Buffy had included her in her group of friends for a moment just so she could really get to the bottom of why she was really there.
"So it's definitely a business trip then."
"There may be some non-business stuff too," Buffy replied. A shy smile appeared on her face as her fingers left her glass and slowly crept closer to Faith's. A subtle gesture; just testing the waters.
"Yeah? Like what?" Faith asked, her fingers leaving her own glass and inching closer to Buffy's as well.
Gesture received and returned in kind; the water clear and perfect for a quick dip. Now if only they could get over that last hurdle; take that last step . . .
"Like . . . I was thinking that maybe you and I . . ." Buffy began, her shaky confidence growing more and more as their fingers finally touched and neither of them backed away. The moment didn't last long however. They pulled away like they'd been zapped by lightning when the waitress appeared at their table with their bill in hand.
"There anything else I can get ya, darlings?" she asked as she set their bill down on the table, oblivious to the moment she'd barged in on.
"No, thank you," Buffy replied, her voice just a little shaky as she tried to compose herself.
"Okay, have a great day, girls. Come back and see us again some time, ‘kay?"
She left the table without any further ado, leaving a very flustered Buffy and Faith behind in her moment-wrecking wake.
"Saved by the bill," Faith said with a chuckle. Buffy began to say something but Faith just shook her head and smiled. "Another time, B. Come on, let's get back to Vegas and officially un-retire you."
And as much as Buffy wanted to finish the conversation, she knew that Faith was right. It'd have to wait for another time. She only hoped that now they knew they had to have a serious conversation, they wouldn't purposefully dance around and try to avoid it.
Sometimes it was really hard to break old habits.
"Home sweet home," Faith said aloud as she pushed the newly fixed front door open, giving Xander's craftsmanship an appreciative once over. She walked over the threshold with one of Buffy's bags slung over her shoulder -- the girl certainly had brought a lot of bags for such a casual trip -- and stood aside so that Buffy could follow.
Buffy walked through the door and looked around with a smile on her face. It felt good to be back, but probably not as good as Faith felt having her back, especially after that almost-moment they'd shared at the diner.
Really, the inconvenient interruptions were getting really . . . inconvenient.
"I'd say the place looks the same but well . . . that wall has been rebuilt and repainted and I'm pretty sure the door is new too."
"Damn. Thought Xan did a pretty bang-up job fixin' it too."
"Oh, he did. It's just that when you've had your house continually pummeled by the nasties and rebuilt more times than you could afford, you start to develop a keen eye for those kinds of things," Buffy pointed out.
"Pretty sure the upstairs is free from any massive rebuilds. Wanna go put your stuff in your room and see what defects you can spy?"
When had it gone from a guest room to Buffy's room, Faith asked herself and wondered if Buffy had thought the same thing. Instead she looked over and saw the girl chuckle at her and nod.
Phew, possible weird moment averted.
Buffy followed Faith up the stairs and to the room she'd stayed in last time. It looked exactly the same with the exception of the missing family photo she'd taken back to LA with her after her first visit. The photo had made the journey back to Vegas with her though and she promptly reached into her bag and placed it on the bedside table where she'd originally found it.
"There, now it's my room," she said, adjusting it slightly as she smiled at it. A few moments passed by and she finally turned and looked at Faith, still smiling. "So, what do we do now? This is your show; I'm just here to be helpful."
Faith shrugged and sighed loudly before flopping down onto the edge of the bed. She wished she knew what the next step was. The right answer was probably to research but they'd read every book over and over again and still they had been no help. Judging by the bag of books Giles had sent with Buffy though, she knew that they were probably meant to be going through them as well.
"Research," she finally said almost unwillingly, the word looking like it'd left a dirty taste in her mouth.
"Ugh, research," Buffy groaned, plopping down onto the edge of the bed next to Faith. "Could there be anything more boring than that?"
"Depends. You ever hear Andrew recite an entire Star Wars movie?"
"Tell me he didn't."
"Oh, he did. Used funny voices too. I swear, B, you'd die laughing if you heard his Yoda."
Buffy shrugged, "Dying is overrated. Tried it twice, didn't like it."
Faith smiled at her and their gazes met, a definite moment passing between them. She couldn't help but look down at Buffy's pink lips again, wanting nothing more than to feel them on hers. She couldn't do that, though; not until Buffy made it perfectly clear that she wanted it too. And judging by her impromptu visit after their case of near-sex by phone, she was pretty sure that the feelings were at least quasi-mutual.
"You're gonna try to avoid that whole death thing this time around, right B? Pretty sure only cats are supposed to get nine lives, and besides; I kinda like having you around."
There. A little bit of honesty on the table. It could either go really well or very badly. Judging by the warm smile that graced Buffy's face, Faith guessed that it went over well.
"You do?" she asked quietly.
"Well, yeah," Faith said and shrugged like it was nothing. "Hot chick? Check. Superpowers? Check. Fun? Check. Don't get much better than that."
Faith didn't know when they'd gotten so close, nor did she realize when Buffy's hand had snuck into hers or when they'd interlaced their fingers, but it had all definitely happened. And the way Buffy was looking up at her all shy and sweet?
Definitely going over very well.
"Guess I'll just have to try extra hard to remain with the living," Buffy said quietly as they inched closer and closer towards one another, their faces mere inches from one another now.
Faith licked her lips in anticipation, ready to taste Buffy's kiss; ready to accept whatever the girl was offering. She could feel warm breath soft over her face and her body hummed with excitement. This was how things were supposed to be. Sure they'd gotten off track once or twice before in the past but it was different now; they were different now. And they were finally ready to figure out whatever this thing was between them.
A shimmery chorus sounded in Faith's ears and for a moment she thought that maybe it was angels singing as she was only centimeters away from Buffy's parted lips. The sound of someone clearing her throat, however, clued her into the fact that it wasn't angels in her ears.
It was a devilish little ghost looking completely unsurprised at what she'd shimmered in on.
"Hello, Buffy. Welcome back. I'm not interrupting anything, am I?"
Buffy and Faith slowly pulled back from their nearly-was kiss and simultaneously turned toward Anya. Faith looked annoyed while Buffy merely looked a bit let down. Were they ever going to get a minute alone to finally work their situation out?
"Thanks, Anya. It's good to be back," Buffy answered, her fingers still laced through Faith's and seemingly happy to stay their despite the intrusion.
Anya looked down at their hands and then up at Buffy and Faith, expecting some kind of reaction or even a general freak out, but when it never came she continued with her reason for being there.
"It's time to get into research mode. The clock is ticking and it's time to get motivated."
"Yeah, it's probably time to get down to it," Buffy said. She stood up from the bed and tugged Faith up with her by their still-joined hands. Offering her a flirty smile, she continued, "Help me get Giles' books from the car?"
"Books?" Anya interrupted. "We don't need books. We need to figure out what Spike did to get his body back! First we should call Angel and then we may need to commit a little Grand Theft Vampire. Who's with me!"
Her enthusiasm was completely lost on Buffy who looked just a bit surprised.
Oops. So she hadn't gotten the memo yet on Spike's recent bodyness. Faith cringed just a little bit; she guessed this just wasn't meant to happen.
But rather than letting go of her hand and running off to find Spike, Buffy surprised Faith by holding her hand just a little bit tighter. Faith looked down at them and then up at Buffy to find the girl looking at her with a smile on her face.
"Maybe we can find something on re-corporation while we're researching The Last. It would be good to have another solid fighter on our side. Besides . . . I'm sure we could do without the shimmery interruptions she's going to continue with until we agree to help her."
Giving Faith's hand a quick squeeze, Buffy finally let go of it and made her way out of the room and downstairs to fetch the books from Faith's truck. Faith merely stood there feeling a bit awestruck at Buffy's reaction. Had Buffy really just chosen to stay there with her rather than running off to enjoy Spike's new body?
"In case you're wondering, that was Buffy choosing you over Spike," Anya said.
Faith was silent for a moment as she took it all in. Buffy wasn't her girlfriend but the opportunity was definitely there now and Buffy seemed as ready as ever to dive in and take the plunge with her. Grinning widely, Faith threw her arms up in the air and spun around once while she cheered silently. When she'd finally stopped to collect herself, she looked over at Anya who was watching her, amused.
"And in case you were wondering, that was my happy dance."
She strutted out of the room and down the hall, leaving a smiling Anya behind in her wake.
"Loving the enthusiasm!" she shouted after Faith, then did her own little awkward happy dance when she was safely alone. "I'm gonna get my body back!"
"I'm never going to get my body back!"
All enthusiasm gone, Anya took to complaining about her situation rather than being useful in any sense of the word.
It was hours later and they'd made no headway with her body situation. The living room was filled with opened books and pads filled with notes on every table and on parts of the floor as well. Even Xander and Andrew were helping, buried just as deeply into the research as Buffy and Faith were.
"We're supposed to be researching me, not The Last," Anya continued. "Why have we given up on my cause?"
"Because there's nothing about re-corporation in any of these books, hon," Xander offered.
"Yeah, sorry Ahn. We're gonna have to work on it another time when we can get some other resources. Besides, we're finally gettin' somewhere with The Last," Faith said.
And it was true; for the first time in what felt like ages, they were finally finding out some new things about their foe. Not all of it was great or incredibly useful information but every little tidbit counted for something.
"Where did you say Giles got these books?" Andrew asked as he copied some information from the book he was reading onto a notepad.
"From one of his otherworldly connections. A dimension jumper, I think," Buffy said. "The guy was able to smuggle some books through with him. Apparently his world had already experienced The Last."
"For real?" Faith asked. "How'd they beat him?"
"Didn't," Buffy replied grimly. "A bunch of people jumped dimensions before their world was taken over. Guess a few of them decided to document it."
"Good for us, bad for them," Faith said under her breath and buried herself back in the book she was reading.
While they'd been cheerfully optimistic during their research session with all of the new information, that latest little tidbit definitely dulled the mood. Hoping to keep the optimism floating, Xander sat forward on his chair and grabbed the notepad he'd been scribbling on, flipping it back to the first page.
"Maybe now would be a good time to compile our info, see what the bigger picture is starting to look like," he suggested.
It took a few moments for everyone to get back into a more positive place, but soon they all gathered around the coffee table with their pads in hand, ready to share their findings. Andrew decided to play secretary and collect all of the notes onto a fresh pad so everything was all in one place. He didn't even seem to mind when Faith made a few jokes about buying him a skirt and a typewriter.
"Okay, let's piece together the big scary puzzle. What did you guys come up with?" he asked.
"Well," Xander began, "it looks like he's getting stronger and scarier as time passes. This book says that people came up with a way to vanquish his essence -- kinda like we did with the stinky herbs and the Latin mojo -- but that he became resistant to it."
"That's probably why it used to work just fine and then when we tried it on Ryan's Ma it took a few tries," Faith said. "We thought the bastard was gone two weeks ago but he was just infecting more and more people and gettin' stronger and stronger the whole time."
"For what's it's worth, he probably would've kept getting stronger even if we'd known he was still alive and kicking," Andrew said.
Faith merely nodded and looked back down at her notepad, not wanting to let her remaining anger about that get the best of her. She never could quite control herself when she let her anger take over like that, and losing control was the last thing she needed right now. Not when they were finally getting somewhere with The Last.
Not when she was finally getting somewhere with Buffy.
She looked over at the blonde and found Buffy chewing lightly on the cap of her pink pen while pouring over her own notes. Despite Faith's best effort, she couldn't help but smile a little at the sight.
"What did you come up with, B?" she asked, making Buffy quickly look up and pull the pen from between her lips.
"Oh, umm . . ." she looked back down at her pad, covered with pink writing and doodles aplenty, "the amulet. That's where he collects the energy from the sin he infects people with. It was all swirly and dark when we saw him months back. I can't even imagine what it looks like now."
"I've got some info on the amulet too," Xander chimed in, eagerly flipping through his notepad until he found the right page. "It's most likely the source of his power. Without that energy, he's probably not half as scary as he is now. If we can get it away from him, we could probably fight him."
"How are we supposed to do that?" Faith asked. "Second ya get close to the fucker he turns into smoke. Even if we could get close enough to get the amulet -- which we'd have to pry outta his chest anyhow -- he'd probably turn to smoke before we could get our hands on it."
Once again, the optimism seemed to be slowly leaking from the room like someone had stuck a needle in an air mattress. They needed something more than dead ends and cases of other peoples' failures. Something solid that they could work with.
All gazes landed on Faith as her cell phone rang from the table. She silently prayed -- yes, prayed -- that it wasn't Camryn. No way did she need to explain that to Buffy right now. The caller ID revealed that it wasn't Camryn though. It wasn't, in fact, any number that she recognized. She opened up the phone and held it to her ear, waiting for the other person to speak.
"You're on the right track but you're focusing on the wrong things."
"Says who?" Faith asked with a frown.
"Don't tell me you don't remember me, princess."
Faith thought about it long and hard. It certainly wasn't Giles, and really, how many other people had her phone number? That accent was pretty familiar but had been a while since she'd heard it. Could it be . . .?
"Good guess; just do me a favor and don't say it aloud again. I'll be banished to some kind of infierno if The Powers find out I'm meddling, but what can I say? I've grown an affinity for your kind."
"Yeah, well I hope ya got some kinda amazing plan up your sleeve cos even with all this new info we're still in the dark. We've got some serious issues here."
"Honey, you don't have issues; you have the whole subscription."
"You're tellin' me. Got any great advice?"
"You've already been given a direction to start with from an invaluable ally. Why aren't you heeding his advice?"
Faith thought about it long and hard, wondering exactly who he was talking about. She didn't have to wonder for long though; Jil'hanesh knew that she wasn't following along.
"Your priest. He set you in the right direction but you dismissed his advice as religious propaganda and moved on. It's not about religion, princess; it's about the balance between good and bad, dark and light, sin and virtue."
"You're right, it does sound like propaganda," she said flatly, ignoring the gazes from around the room.
"The universe is founded on balance; that's a simple fact. He's a big vortex of evil . . . and he's winning. You want to stop him? Balance the equation."
Faith chuckled despite herself and flopped back in her chair, completely at a loss.
"What am I supposed to do, love him to death? Hope he goes away? Fuck, I don't even know what prudence is but I'm pretty sure it's gotta be something kinky and completely useless against his kind of power."
"You can't use virtue as a weapon, but that doesn't matter; the most difficult part of the coming battle will not be a physical one anyhow. Virtue is inside of you whether you realize it's there or not. You need to have faith, princess. And stop rolling your eyes; listen to me on this. Sometimes faith isn't about religion, so stop getting your little atheist panties in a bunch and focus on good rather than on God."
Faith stopped her eyes mid-roll and tilted her head to the side just a little.
"I'll do what I can. Can't promise it'll be worth anything but I won't go down without a fight. Oh, and one more thing: I ain't a princess."
She heard a teasing chuckle come from him before he replied, "That's what you think, princesa. Buena suerte."
The line went dead before Faith could say anything more. She clicked the phone shut after a minute and chuckled to herself. Well, at least this conversation with him hadn't gone as badly as the last.
"Well . . .?" Xander asked, sitting on the edge of his chair in anticipation.
"It was our old buddy Jil'hanesh." Suddenly remembering his request not to say his name aloud again, she winced and internally scolded herself. "Or, yunno . . . just some guy that liked calling me princess." She ignored the puzzled glares and continued, "Said we need to focus on balancing the equation. The Last is evil so we need to pile on the good. Not sure how we do that but I think it has to do with virtue."
"Virtue? Like, samurai honor?" Andrew asked, confused.
"Think more biblical, buddy. Faith, Hope, Love . . . blah blah blah. Ahn, what do the big guys upstairs have to say about all this?"
"They're surprisingly silent. Not that I'm not thankful for the lack of annoying beckoning but I feel like they should be giving you some kind of a sign here." She looked up toward the ceiling then and held out her arms pleadingly. "Hello? Is anybody listening? We could use some advice. And since we're asking favors here, I'd love to be a real girl again!"
It seemed they all waited with bated breath for some type of a reaction but after nearly a minute of awkward silence, Faith exhaled and shook her head with disgust.
"It's all crap. Pretty sure we're just chasing our tails with all this," she complained. "It's the only thing we've got though, so we gotta give it a try."
"Not the only thing we've got," Andrew said eagerly as he flipped the page on his notepad. "He's not completely invincible. It looks like he's momentarily vulnerable when he opens himself up to collect energy. We've got a window of opportunity to try to get to the amulet."
"Great, so we'll just sneak up on him when he's chillin' in his lair suckin' up some evil and, what . . .? Hug him to death?"
"I haven't exactly worked out the details yet," Andrew said, frowning just a little.
"Yeah, well maybe the answer to that will just fall into our laps in a nice neat package," Faith said sarcastically.
There was a loud knock on the front door then and everyone looked toward it but made no effort to get up. Was this the sign they were looking for? There was another loud knock, followed by,
"I've got a package for Faith Lehane."
Not wasting any time, Faith jumped up from the seat and hurried over to the door. She opened it to find not an otherworldly currier with good tidings but an anxious FEDEX man with a dirty shirt and a beat up package that looked like it had seen better days. It was post-marked from Los Angeles which pretty much sealed the deal that it was not, in fact, some kind of kickass gift from the Powers That Be.
Hastily signing her name, Faith flung the package onto the dining room table as she closed the door behind her. It traveled through Anya's ghostly body on its way to the table, making the ghost scoff with displeasure.
"Standing right here!" Anya waved her arms about, annoyed.
"Yeah, and not doing much else by the look of it," Faith said as she picked her notepad up and sat back down. "Make yourself useful and see what's in the box?"
Anya narrowed her eyes at Faith but swallowed her pride and walked over to the table, fumbling with the brown cardboard box to get it open. It was going to take a lot of concentration to do the job but she was determined to prove her use. If she had any hopes of getting her body back, she had to demonstrate that she was an invaluable member of Team Faith.
Apparently, that included more than just shimmering in on the girl when she was in the shower and offering to wash her back. A friendly gesture, sure, and one that sent Xander to his happy visual place every time it was brought up, but not the kind of deed that registered on the radar of the Powers That Be.
In fact, they'd told her more than once that it was a flagrant misuse of her powers and that she could be penalized for it but, hey . . . the visual rewards were just too plentiful in this case.
"You really should try to be nicer to her," Buffy said quietly, her chair closer to Faith's than it had been just minutes before. "She's trying really hard."
"I know," Faith said, glancing sidelong at Anya who was cursing under her breath as she tried to open the package. "I start acting all nice though and she knows that I'm doing it just to make her happy cos she's never gonna get her body back."
"That's probably true," Buffy said.
"Least I can do is make her feel like she's helping in some way. Gives her hope."
"And that's a good thing," Buffy replied, smiling at her now.
Faith smiled back and they locked eyes, finding themselves in a similar predicament that they had earlier. They couldn't seem to look away, nor did they want to. Had they not had an audience, Faith was sure she would've leapt out of her chair, pulled Buffy against her, and kissed the heck out of her.
As it was, though, they did have an audience, and it was definitely going to have to wait until another time.
"A-ha!" Anya cheered, pulling Buffy and Faith's attention from one another as all eyes looked in her direction.
The packing tape finally removed, Anya pulled back the flaps of the box . . . and was promptly thrown back against the nearest wall by a bright flash. Buffy and Faith were instantly on their feet and running to her aid, but not even their slayer speed could top Xander who was already at her side and pulling her up into his arms.
She was momentarily dazed but came to a few moments later to Xander's hand softly tapping her cheek and trying to get her to focus.
"Anya!" he was saying anxiously, trying not to yell despite his nerves. "Can you hear me?"
Anya moved languidly, her limbs feeling heavy and weighed down as she came to. She lifted her hand and held it to the back of her head where she'd hit the wall and was surprised to find it covered not in blood but in drywall plaster.
"I broke the wall," she said, craning her neck back to look at the damage.
"Forget about the wall; how's your head?" Xander asked anxiously.
Andrew was already checking out the box for any signs of where it came from or what exactly the bright flash had been.
"There's no card or anything inside. I can look into it, see if I can trace the return address."
"We can worry about that later, we need to make sure she's okay first, "Xander said quickly.
He was so busy fretting over her that he didn't realize that he was still holding her and that she hadn't slipped through his arms. And that she'd broken the wall. And that she had plaster in her hair, her very real and very soft hair that was currently slipping through his fingers like cornsilk.
"I think I'm freaking out," he said in wonder.
"I don't think you are, Xan," Faith said, poking Anya's arm simultaneously as Buffy did the same.
"Hey, hey! Hands off the merchandise!" Anya griped as she tried to stand upright again.
In a moment of no longer needed tradition, she reached out for Xander's hand for assistance. It wasn't until her hand was in his and being held tightly did she realize that she was being touched. In various places. And by various people.
She quickly stood on her own and put a little bit of distance between herself and the others who were busy gawking at her. Placing both of her hands on the back of a chair, she pulled it out from under the table. Satisfied, she kicked it over with her foot, hobbling a little when that long forgot pain kicked in.
"Oh, balls," she griped as she hobbled around.
That wasn't the end of her testing though. Spying a bottle of water on the table, she picked it up and quickly twisted off the cap, anxious to feel the cool liquid in her throat. She put the bottle to her lips and took several deep chugs, smiling as the coolsplash hit her stomach.
Using the back of her hand to wipe away the small droplets of water that had escaped the corner of her mouth, Anya turned her head and grinned as she prepared for her third test. She took a running leap and jumped up into Xander's arms, kissing him with all that she was worth.
The surprise of the action, though not unwelcomed, sent Xander fumbling backwards and almost into the very same spot Anya had landed just a minute before. The only thing that saved them from going through the wall and spilling out onto the front lawn was Faith and Buffy who simultaneously reached out and steadied the kissing duo.
"I'm real! I'm real!" Anya mumbled against Xander's lips.
He continued to stumble around as he vigorously kissed her back, not willing to let go of her again now that he finally had his arms around her. With a little bit of effort -- and guidance from Faith -- they ended up in her office with the door promptly shut behind them. It wasn't that Faith wanted them to use her office for the sexual escapades that she was sure they were about to set out upon, but there was no way they were going to make it up the stairs to a guest room and she wasn't about to let them bump and grind on the living room sofa.
Dude. She liked to eat her breakfast on that thing.
"What just happened here?" Faith asked, moving back the hair that had fallen into her face.
"Think that the Powers decided to play nice and grant a good little ghost her wish," Buffy answered easily, picking up the chair that Anya had kicked over moments before.
"Yeah, maybe. Or maybe they just realized they don't have anything to offer in means of help and figured she could have her body back since we're all probably fucked anyhow."
Buffy stood up and put her hands on her hips. She shook her head in a mock scolding way and stepped closer to Faith, probably closer than was safe if they were trying to keep their cool around one another.
"Okay, Depresso Girl. Enough with the doom and gloom. Anya has her body back. We've made progress on research. I mean, we've learned more about The Last in the past four hours than we have in the past four months. We don't have a solid plan but we know the direction we have to go in. All in all, I'd say it's been a pretty good day, so I think it's about time we leave the pessimism at the door and have ourselves a little celebration."
Buffy was probably right, Faith thought. But with the ever-present threat of certain doom and the fact that they were still unprepared despite their best efforts, Faith felt like it was anything but a time for celebration. Still, how could she resist Pep Talk Buffy, especially when the girl was looking at her so hopefully?
Letting the weight of the world slip from her shoulders for just a little while, Faith finally smiled and chucked a hunk of drywall back against the wall it had come from, sending several more showering down onto the hardwood floors.
"What kind of celebration?"
The office door came flying open then and Anya and Xander came running out hand in hand, a look of pure glee on their faces. Anya held up her hand for them to see a bent-up paperclip shaped into a crude ring adorning her finger.
"We're getting married!"
"It's my wedding!"
The lime green wedding veil on Anya's head attracted almost as much attention as her loud shouts as they drove down the Strip in a stretch limousine. She was standing with the upper part of her body out of the sun roof while drinking directly from a bottle of chilled champagne. Xander popped up through the sunroof and joined her in her celebration.
"We're getting married!" he yelled excitedly when they came to a stop at a red light. A few people walking by on the street cheered them on and even the men on the corner handing out flyers for escorts stopped and looked at what the commotion was all about. "It's my wedding day!" he yelled again, his smile radiant as he watched Anya chug from the bottle. "I love my fiancé!"
Anya handed the bottle over to him, gasping for breath as she wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and let out a little belch.
"I love champagne! I love drinking!" she whooped. "And this guy right here!"
She threw her arms around Xander's neck and started to kiss him passionately, the bottle of champagne long forgotten. The limousine took off as the light changed and the bottle slid off the top of the vehicle, shattering into a million pieces on the pavement below. The forward momentum sent Xander and Anya tumbling back down into the limo where they landed in a giggling heap. Buffy and Faith were busy trying to open up another bottle of champagne while Andrew tried to relay the good news to Giles over the phone. Xander and Anya were back to kissing again, oblivious to the people around them.
"This is the best day ever!" Anya exclaimed as she finally pulled back, looking so happy and radiant in her lime green dress.
Or maybe radioactive was a better word, but it was the best they could come up with on such short notice. They'd stopped in the first boutique they could find once the limo had picked them up and it was either the green disaster or a normal white dress which she'd immediately cringed at.
They'd already tried the whole deal with the white dress and it hadn't gone exactly as planned. Maybe it was time to think a little outside the box.
So the lime green dress won out in the end. Buffy had helped her get dressed in it in the dressing room at the boutique while Faith and Andrew tried to stuff Xander into one of Andrew's suits in the back of the limo. It was short, tight, and made him look like a James Bond reject, but none of that mattered. The only thing he cared about was that Anya was back, for real, and that he had to be with her forever this time around.
"So are we lookin' for any place in particular or are we just drivin' til we see neon wedding bells?" Faith asked.
"That would be up to my future wife," Xander said with a big grin, his hand holding tight to Anya's like he was afraid to let her go.
"This marriage is going to work out excellently if you learn to repeat that answer for every question," Anya said, her smile getting brighter every second. "My vote is for The Elvis Wedding Chapel. Priests are creepy."
"But a grown man dressing up as a dead dude isn't?" Faith asked. At Anya's glare, she held up her hands in mock surrender, "Okay, I'm obviously wrong. It'll be great. Viva Las Vegas."
They all held out their freshly filled champagne glasses and clinked them together before downing the bubbly liquid. Anya cheered happily, her usual snark gone. She had her body back and she was marrying the man she was always meant to be with. Life was good!
Andrew gave the driver their new destination and they were headed off down the strip towards the nearest Elvis Wedding Chapel. There were several of the same chapels littered throughout the Vegas area which gave everyone but Anya and Xander the impression that they were in for an interesting evening of pure tackiness.
In less than ten minutes they were in the parking lot of the chapel and Anya was doing her last minute primping with Buffy and an unwilling Faith's help. Xander was pacing alongside the limousine with Faith's cell phone pressed to his ear, trying to explain to Willow why he couldn't wait for her to get there to tie the knot.
"Wills, you're my best friend; of course I want you here! I can't wait any longer though. All of the time we wasted before, and then she was gone . . . I know. Yeah, I know. Of course I will. We'll get the best photo package there is. It'll make your secret Tina Fey photo collection look paltry in comparison. What? . . . no, I didn't mean it. Your Tina Fey photo collection is great, Wills. I promise. I . . ." his voice trailed off as Anya finally stepped out of the limousine looking oddly exquisite in lime green. "I have to go, Willow. Yeah, sure. I love you too."
He quickly flicked the phone closed and tossed it blindly over to Faith, his eyes never leaving Anya.
"You look beautiful," he told her as he took her hands in his.
They didn't pay any attention to their friends as they made their way into the chapel, laughing excitedly. Faith and Buffy were eying the chapel warily but Andrew couldn't get the wistful smile to leave his face.
"Isn't love awesome?" he asked before quickly following after Xander and Anya. Someone would need to help them pick their wedding package since the bride and groom to be were too busy making googily eyes at each other.
"You thinkin' what I'm thinkin'?"
"I guess that depends. Are you thinking that we're about to walk into a scary and cheesy time warp?"
"Nah, I got past that one when they decided to come to this place. I'm thinkin' . . . I dunno. Maybe they're jumpin' into this a little too fast. Anya ain't even been corporeal for two hours and they're already gettin' hitched."
Buffy smiled and looked down at her feet before turning to face Faith while walking backwards toward the door of the chapel.
"I don't know," she said with a shrug, the soft smile never leaving her face. "I mean, after you've loved someone that long and you finally have them after being separated by death and time and inconvenience? Maybe it's just me being a romantic but I think it's all pretty appropriate." She offered Faith one last dazzling smile before turning around and heading into the chapel, leaving the brunette standing there along and looking more than a little surprised.
The parallels in Buffy's little speech weren't lost on Faith; Buffy had been talking about Xander and Anya but she could've been talking about her history with Faith for what it was worth.
"Yeah, well . . . no way am I lettin' you sucker me into gettin' married by Elvis, B. Even I have standards."
Unable to fight the small smile that crept up onto her face, Faith finally made her way into the chapel. She was immediately greeted in the foyer by her friends as well as a few showgirls wearing huge blue feather hats and boas and a rather friendly looking Elvis impersonator who was busy getting down to details with Andrew.
"We're gonna take the Blue Hawaii package, but we don't want any of the plastic lei's . . ." Anya's loud cough interrupted him and Andrew sighed, "Okay, fine. Lei us. And we'll take the Hula Girls, not the Priscilla. And seeing as that we provided our own limousine transportation, I feel it's only fair that you provide the limousine transportation for our newlyweds to the airport." He looked over to Xander and Anya then, "You are leaving to go on some kind of honeymoon, right?"
Xander and Anya just looked at each other and shrugged before looking back at Andrew.
"Hawaii?" Xander suggested.
Anya squealed excitedly and jumped into Xander's arms, "This is why I'm marrying this man!"
Andrew turned back to Elvis who held out his hand to shake to seal the deal. Before even one firm shake, they were all being whisked away into another room decorated with palm trees and flowers and a gaudy painting of a Hawaiian lagoon and sunset on the walls. A different Elvis was standing at the front of the room with a hula girl on either side of him.
Deciding against Anya walking down the aisle alone, Xander waited for his friends to take a seat before linking his arm through his bride's and walking down the short aisle with her. Elvis began singing ‘Can't Help Falling in Love' and both Buffy and Andrew dissolved into puddles of gooey soppy messes. Faith watched them with an eyebrow raised as she handed them both tissues.
"Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to join this man and this woman in wedded matrimony. If anyone has any objections, please say . . ." Elvis gyrated his hips and struck a pose, "uh-huh."
Faith rolled her eyes and chuckled but said nothing. How could she? Xander and Anya were obviously crazy in love and this was what they wanted. She was just happy to be a part of their celebration.
Elvis continued with the ceremony and Faith watched on with a small smile on her face, her fingers interlaced with Buffy's.
Maybe this wedding crap wasn't so bad after all.
The ceremony was over, the paperwork was signed, and Mr. and Mrs. Alexander Lavelle Harris were in the limousine and on their way to the airport. They stood up through the sunroof again and waved at their friends as the limo pulled away from the chapel.
"You realize we're deserted here now, right?" Faith said to Buffy and Andrew through her smile, her eyes not leaving the happy couple as they sped away.
When the limo was safely out of sight, Faith lowered her arm and looked up and down the street, trying to figure out some kind of plan of action. She was more than happy to spend a bit of time with Buffy. In fact, she was looking forward to it. She just hoped Andrew didn't take offense when she asked him to scram for the night. Possibly for a few days. Heck, maybe he could just crash at Xander's until the newlyweds got back from their honeymoon.
"We can take a cab," Buffy suggested.
"Yeah, I guess," Faith said sounding a bit disappointed.
No way did she want to squish in the back seat between Buffy and Andrew. That meant she couldn't tell him to scram cos Buffy would be right there listening.
"Actually," Andrew began, "you guys can get a cab. It's a nice night and I have a few nights credit comped at Excalibur. I think I'm going to head over there."
Faith tried her best not to jump around happily. Could it be possible that Andrew was reading her mind? If so, he should probably be blushing right about now cos Faith was thinking about all kinds of naughty things she was hoping might happen between her and Buffy later that night.
If that's what Buffy wanted, anyhow. Faith still wasn't sure just how far Buffy wanted to take this thing. Sure, the hand-holding and smiles and glances were nice, but something had to give eventually.
"Yeah. It'll be nice to get out of the house for a while," Andrew replied, a knowing smile on his face. "Call me if you need me but I don't expect to hear from you for a few days."
He looked at Faith, then at Buffy, then back at Faith again before smiling to himself and walking away down the sidewalk towards the main section of the strip. He didn't need to read Faith's mind; he knew what was going on between the two of them, and no way did he want to come between that. "Didn't see that coming," Buffy said, earning a chuckle from Faith as they watched him disappear down the sidewalk. "Did you still want to get a cab?"
She hiked her thumb over her shoulder toward the general traffic of the strip but Faith was too busy looking at the lot next door. She could tell by the smile that crept up on Faith's lips that the girl was plotting or scheming; possibly both at the same time. Following Faith's gaze, Buffy's eyes widened just a little.
"What d'ya say? You up for it, B?"
Buffy audibly gulped but there was no way that she could let Faith see her apprehension. Instead she took a deep breath and nodded confidently.
"Let's do it."
The motorcycle roared loudly down the darkened desert highway, the small headlight and the stars in the sky the only illumination for miles around. Buffy and Faith had ditched their helmets as soon as they were clear of the lights of the city, opting instead to let the desert air blow through their hair.
Buffy was behind Faith with her arms wrapped around her waist, not because it made her feel close to the girl but rather because it turned out that Faith was a bit of a daredevil on the bike. She took turns hard and fast and the speed limit was merely a guideline, not something to be followed.
"You know, I'm perfectly capable of driving this thing," Buffy yelled over Faith's shoulder.
"Not according to the rental place, B," Faith shouted back over the sound of the engine and the wind. "You can barely get car insurance with all the accidents you've racked up. Forget rental insurance! You're strictly backseat driving."
"I can think of worse places to be," Buffy shouted and noticeably tightened her arms around Faith's waist and rested her chin on her shoulder.
Faith grinned and gave the bike a little more gas, sending them flying off into the night. They didn't know where they were going or how long they'd been riding but neither girl seemed to mind. The cool desert night air licked at their skin, making their bodies feel that much warmer against one another.
Maybe they should've been out drinking and dancing like normal girls. They weren't normal girls though; never were and never would be. They'd seen things, done things other people would never have thought imaginable. Sometimes an escape like this into the unknown with nothing but some good company was exactly what they needed in their lives.
Dancing could come later. Drinking could come later. Now was about peace and quiet and a place with no interruptions; a place where they could just be.
They eventually reached a stretch of highway that was practically deserted and home to one of the most beautiful and picturesque skies they'd ever seen. Thousands upon thousands of bright stars shimmered in the heavens making the night sky look almost lighter than its usual pitch black. The canyon walls which normally looked red when the sun was out were nearly black and blending perfectly into the skies above them.
Faith slowed the bike down and eventually stopped along the side of the road, wanting to take some time to just take it all in. She revved the engine once or twice before killing it off. The keys were left in the ignition though; there was no way she wanted to risk dropping them in the pitch black of the desert and getting stuck out there until first light.
"Wow," Buffy said from behind her, her eyes fixed on the same spot in the sky as Faith's.
"Been livin' here for months now and this is the first time I'm seein' all this," Faith said.
"There should be a tent out there somewhere," Buffy pointed to a vague place before them underneath the starry blanket above, "where people can lay back and just . . . bask."
"Camping in the desert? Never knew you were one of those corny romantics, B," Faith joked. Buffy pinched her side and she laughed a little bit more.
"What can I say? Walks on the beach, picnics at the park, late night motorcycle rides through the desert; I'm a fan of it all."
Faith's smile became a little bit softer then, much less confident and much more nervous. Buffy's arms were still around her waist and didn't seem to be budging. Not that Faith was complaining, but she wasn't sure if that was her sign to push for more or if it was just Buffy being all wistful and romantic in general.
A few moments of silence passed as they stared out at the stars, both girls waiting for something, anything, but too afraid to take the plunge. They'd already had their almost-moments and near-kisses; why was it so hard to have one of those moments now that it was finally an appropriate time?
Maybe they were both too nervous because they knew that this time there would be no interruption to save them.
Faith steadied herself and the bike as she felt Buffy wriggling around behind her. Suddenly the girl's leg was around Faith's side, then around her front as Buffy maneuvered from sitting behind Faith to sitting in front of her, face to face. Faith looked a little taken aback by the bold move but she wasn't complaining. Especially not with the way Buffy was smiling at her all soft and shy now.
"Hey," Faith said just as softly.
"So," Buffy began, "I've been waiting all night for you to make some kind of a move on me, but you haven't, so here I am. And . . . hi."
Faith laughed quietly, one of her hands finding Buffy's in the space between them.
"Sorry about that. I've just been tryin' to read ya B and . . . Christ, it's like tryin' to figure out hieroglyphics or something. Didn't wanna blow it."
"Well, you don't have to worry about it anymore because here I am, first-moving and feeling good. It's new territory but new territory is good," Buffy said nervously. "I'm like Lewis and Clark. They were all about new territory. And I mean, they weren't so sure where they were going but they had Sacajawea to guide them. You're like my Sacajawea, but less Native American and, well . . . on a motorcycle. But that's not the point. The point is . . ."
Buffy continued to babble on, each word making her look less and less sure of herself but impossibly cuter with every syllable. It was impossible for Faith to sit there and watch the girl suffer any longer in her awkwardness.
". . . and I mean, I don't know when it happened because I can barely keep track of the days of the week let alone my feelings, but I really like you, Faith, and I think . . ."
And then Faith's lips were on hers, soft yet insistent, and Buffy couldn't do anything but kiss her back just as enthusiastically. Buffy's arms immediately wrapped over Faith shoulders while Faith's hands wandered over Buffy's hips and finally to her back, slipping underneath the fabric of her shirt to feel her warm skin.
Buffy sighed into Faith's kiss, completely overwhelmed by everything she was feeling. Everything about the kiss felt right, from the kissing itself to Faith's hands on her skin and the way she felt herself being pushed back a little so she was resting back against the front of the bike.
[In Los Angeles, Sara awoke with a start, a thin sheen of sweat covering her body. She immediately sat up, her bright blue eyes wide with fear in the moonlight shining through her bedroom window.]
True to form, Faith's cell phone began to ring from within her jacket pocket. Both girls groaned aloud and pulled back, resting their foreheads against one another. They were breathing hard and fast and couldn't believe they'd come all the way out to the desert to be alone and still managed to get disturbed!
Buffy grinned and reached into Faith's pocket. Before Faith could stop her, she grabbed the phone and threw it out into the darkness of the night, then pulled Faith back against her for another kiss.
Faith chuckled against her lips and kissed her a bit deeper this time, earning a soft moan from the girl before resting her forehead against hers again.
"That coulda been important," Faith teased, her hands sliding from Buffy's back, around her sides and finally over her stomach with her hands still under her shirt.
"I think getting felt up is a bit more important at the moment," Buffy breathed against her lips, trying to catch them in another kiss. The phone stopped ringing and Buffy smiled victoriously. "See? Obviously not too important."
They began to kiss again and Faith let her hands roam up over Buffy's bra-covered breasts. Buffy began to arch into her hands and Faith felt like the kid at the carnival that finally won the big stuffed teddy bear.
Dude, the teddy bear had a fuckin' great rack!
Sure enough, the phone started ringing again and Faith looked out into the desert, seeing its faint glow off in the distance.
"Let's make a deal," Faith said, pulling back a little. "I go get my phone, tell whoever's callin' to piss off, then we, uhh . . . we get outta here; head back to mine."
Buffy looked like she was thinking about it for a moment before she nodded and reluctantly unwrapped her arms from over Faith's shoulders. Faith grinned and gave her a quick kiss on her lips before getting up from the motorcycle and stumbling out into the dark to fetch her phone.
[Sara gasped, her breath coming much quicker now. "No!" she said aloud.]
It didn't take very long for Faith to find the phone half buried in the loose dirt. She bent down to pick it up and used her thumb to brush the dust off the display. The number was familiar . . . Jil'hanesh?
She stood up straight and when she did, she found herself looking directly into blood red eyes.
She made a move to turn and run but the thick black smoke had already surrounded her, perfectly camouflaged by the night around them. In an instant the smoke began to swirl and enter her through her eyes, nose, ears and mouth, choking down the warning that she tried to yell to Buffy.
She fell to the ground and stayed there only for a moment before standing up and coming face to face with The Last again. Her eyes were as black as the smoke that infected her.
"Get to work, my baby. I've been waiting for you," The Last drawled, a content smile upon his face.
Faith didn't say anything; she merely turned around and began to make her way back toward the motorcycle.
Buffy was still sitting on it the wrong way when Faith reached her. The blonde looked up at her and smiled, fidgeting with the zipper on her jacket.
"Sorry about that. Sometimes I get a bit impulsive," Buffy said sheepishly.
She looked up at Faith and didn't see until it was too late that her eyes were black like the night sky; and it was definitely too late to defend herself from the punch that caught her under her jaw and sent her flying off the bike and into the desert darkness.
Faith walked the few steps over and stood above her, sneering in an almost feral way down at the unconscious girl.
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