Title: Life in Baby Steps
Disclaimer: The characters and show do not belong to me. The story contains love between two women.
Author's Note: This takes place in an AU where Faith is the only Slayer residing in Sunnydale. Buffy moves to the small town with her boyfriend and quite suddenly finds herself enmeshed in the supernatural goings on of the community. This story contains explicit sex between a man and a woman as well as between a woman and a woman.
Pairing: Buffy/Ben, eventual Buffy/Faith
There are certain fundamental tenets that one should always live by -- tenets that are so mind-bogglingly simple, they seem embedded in to the very part of our psyche that's been around since our ancestors still thought loincloths were a fashion do. These rules are like "Road Closed" signs on the highways of our mind that divert us away from doing something we know is ridiculously stupid. For example, poking a stick at a hornet's nest? Dumb. Driving around in a Minnesota snowstorm in a Gremlin? Suicidal. Admitting an undying, obsessive love for William Shatner? Social leprosy. And the biggest don't of them all, at least if you're like me and living in a bunghole of hell like Sunnydale, you don't take your dog for long walks in the middle of the night.
For any reason.
But I didn't know this. You see, I'd only just moved there the day before. I hadn't even gotten around to unpacking all my varied and mismatched plates before I realized with the horrible certainty that only comes when your life is in jeopardy that real estate prices aren't dirt cheap without a darn good reason. As I stared at the tonsils of the gaping mouth that was all set on devouring me, I thought of all the things I hadn't done yet -- all the things I'd put off doing because I thought I had all the time in the world. Now, as the time ticked closer to the end of my life, I wished I'd at least gotten up the nerve to make my boyfriend go down on me. I think that experience, though not exactly helpful at the moment, would've soothed the pain of my impending death.
These scattered thoughts raced through my mind, as they're wont to do in panic situations even as I closed my eyes. I didn't want the last image of the world I take with me to be a pair of tonsils. But before my attacker's bad breath overwhelmed me, a voice called out breaking the unnatural silence around us.
"Hey! Don't you know midnight snacks are murder on your diet?"
"Slayer!" My attacker hisses before abruptly shoving me away.
What proceeds to happen next is the stuff of TV plots and Hollywood special effects.
In less time than it takes to nuke some popcorn, I see my would-be attacker kicked around, head-butted, and finally dusted. At least I'm assuming that's the right terminology for turning someone into a big pile of dust. And left standing triumphant like some sumo wrestler in the ring, minus the extra 300 pounds, is a slight brunette in a skimpy top, leather pants, and clunky boots. When her eyes finally settle on me, her look of surprise lets me know she probably hadn't expected me to stick around.
She finally puts away the stake she was still holding -- yes, that's right. I haven't seen many stakes in my life but I know one when I see one -- and she finally asks, "You okay?"
"Taking in the fact that I thought I'd be a corpse by now, I'd say I couldn't be better," I quip back.
She looks unsure of what to make of my admittedly too flippant response but nods as if she understands completely.
"You should go now." She backs up the words with some none too subtle gestures for me to leave.
I decide that now would be a good time to pick myself off the ground and as I brush the dirt from my pants, I suddenly remember that something is missing.
"My dog!" I cry, gesturing at the little bit of leash still clutched in my hand as if that would convince her there once was an animal attached to the other end. "I lost my dog!"
She looks at the leash, then at me, and back to the leash again.
"It's not safe looking for your dog at night," she states as if a moron should know better. I would've been more offended at the tone if she hadn't just saved me from an imminently gruesome death. She gets some leeway there but I resolved that the next condescending remark would earn her a glare.
"I know that *now*. That's why you have to help me."
She's operating in a brave new world of bafflement now and she eyes me like I've just recently resided in a mental ward far, far away.
I try not to roll my eyes and instead try reasoning with her. "Look, you didn't just go through all the trouble of saving my life just to let me wander off unsuspectingly into danger again, did you? Because if you did, you've really got to brush up on that hero thing."
Her eyes furrow up with distaste. "I never said I was a hero."
This wasn't getting us anywhere and for all I know, my dog's serving as the appetizer for some sicko as we're standing here arguing on the finer points of hero etiquette.
"Fine!" I throw up my hands in defeat. "I'll look for my dog by myself." I don't wait for her reply as I walk off but before I've even taken ten steps, I hear a very loud, very melodramatic sigh behind me and then the soft tread of footsteps following. I ignore it, concentrating instead on what I hope will turn out to be a short search and especially now that I'm in the company of a very reluctant savior. "Terror! Here boy! Come on, baby. Come here and I promise I'll buy you that little doggie toy I've seen you eyeing."
We spent close to half an hour walking around and backtracking the area where I lost him. Even though my reluctant knight in shining leather is still trailing behind me, I can feel the waves of irritation literally beaming off of her on a subsonic level. I was afraid if my dog didn't come soon, she really would leave me to fend for myself. Just when I got the distinct feeling that she was about to do just that after another fruitless circuit, an excited barking heralded the ball of white fur that hurdled towards my legs from out of the bushes.
"Terror!" I shout happily as my near-sighted dog ran right into my legs and bounced off only to get up and run around me in circles. I bend down, taking my squirming pet into my arms. "You're all right. Thank God." He gave me several enthusiastic licks as if making up for disappearing for so long. I was so caught up in fending off his pink tongue that I forgot all about my erstwhile hero until she spoke up.
"That's Terror?" She asks, indicating the diminutive furball in my arms with the closest I've seen to a smile on her lips.
"You haven't seen him in my neighbor's flowerbed yet. In fact, I've got to give credit to Mrs. Fogleman for naming him."
She returns my smile with one of her own and for the first time all night, I notice that she'd look very pretty if not for that ever-present scowl on her face. But wouldn't you know it, just when I'm thinking that, the infamous scowl returns in full force as if making up for the momentary lapse.
"You got your dog back," she says. "Now are you going home?"
"Well, of course I'm going home. You don't really think I make a hobby of walking around in the middle of the night looking for trouble, do you?" I meant that as a joke but she saw none of the funny. "Okay, I'm going to go now " She looks almost relieved. "As soon as you tell me if that was really a vampire I saw you stake." The relief turns to surprise and then to annoyance in rapid succession.
"No, it wasn't," she says steadily, looking straight into my eyes.
If she thought I was going to let this drop then she would be sadly mistaken. I take it really personally when something tries to kill me.
"If it wasn't a vampire, what was it then?" I interrupt as she opens her mouth to reply. "If you're going to say I imagined the whole thing, just stop right there. I might not be up on my supernatural beasties' lore but that guy had fangs. And he said he was going to suck my blood only without the accompanying bad Bulgarian accent. And his face changed to all bumpy and gross. And you pushed your pointy stick into his heart. And he turned to dust. So don't treat me like my IQ's lower than the temperature in a freezer and tell me that that wasn't a vampire."
She continues to scowl at me for several long seconds before she asks, "If you're so damn sure already, why are you asking me?"
This girl redefines the term infuriating. "Maybe because you saved my life? Maybe because you seem to know how to handle yourself? Maybe because you carry stakes in your pocket in addition to your keys? Maybe because I just moved here yesterday and I think my realtor's laughing all the way to the bank at my expense? Maybe because you've got the answers to questions I haven't even come up with yet? Does that answer your question or do you need me to elaborate?"
She shakes her head wearily and mumbles something about blondes that I'm sure I wouldn't appreciate if I had heard it. Finally she looks up at me and says two words: "Magic Box."
"Is that some sort of code? Do I have to mail away for some secret decoder ring or something?"
"It's a store," she explains, exasperated. She should try holding a conversation with herself like I'm trying to do if she really wanted to know what exasperation feels like. "In town," she further elaborates in one of those simple sentences she so seems to prefer. "Four o'clock. Be there tomorrow." And without even a decent good-bye, she turns around and walks away.
"My verbose hero," I mutter sarcastically, cradling a very sleepy Terror in my arms as I walk off in the opposite direction. All the way home, I wondered if someone was going to pop out of the shrubs and announce 'You're on Candid Camera'. If they didn't do it soon, I'd be forced to accept the unbelievable fact that vampires or, at the very least, monsters very much resembling vampires exist in my otherwise perfectly sane world. And although I wouldn't predict a lifetime of psychological scarring caused by this new development, I wouldn't bet against a little trauma either.
What am I saying?
How can I take everything this calmly?
Why am I not screaming at the top of my lungs and waking the whole neighborhood up?
I've just been attacked by a freaking vampire! I've just escaped death by the thinnest of margins! How can I be so blasι about all this?
Then again, maybe I'm suffering from shock although I don't feel any different than normal.
Automatically, I fish out the keys to the front door as I near my house. The lights are all out, save for one lamp in the living room. Ben is most probably asleep by now, given that it's already two in the morning and that's probably just as well. I can just imagine what he'd say if I brought up the strange night I'd just had. First, he'd probably take my temperature and then he'd ask for a detailed list of what I ate that day. The last thing he'd do is believe me. Ben's just like that. He doesn't believe in anything that's not quantifiable and scientifically proven by at least two reputable sources. Vampires, unfortunately for me, fall into the neither category.
So telling Ben is out.
I settle Terror into his little doggie bed in the kitchen. He yawns but otherwise stays asleep -- something I should try doing too. There's an obstacle course of boxes and packing material standing in between me and a soft bed but I skirt them all like a seasoned pro, only tripping once in my quest for sleep. As I expected, Ben is sprawled on the bed but a pointed nudge gets him to roll over onto his side. From the very start of our relationship, I've made it very clear that the left side is my side and I will not hesitate to employ the judicious use of a couple of elbows to enforce my personal space.
Ben found it strange in the beginning. For some reason, he'd got it into his head that all girls liked to cuddle. Maybe that holds true for all the other girls he's met but I wasn't one of them. No offense against anyone that likes that sort of thing but I just don't get the appeal. It feels too confining, too restricting, too too uncomfortable.
Stripping down to only my panties, I crawled under the covers and let out a tired breath.
Ben stretched, waking up next to me. "Honey?" He mumbled, rolling back again and throwing an arm across my chest.
His hand had almost instinctively found my breast and he started gently fondling the sensitive flesh. "What time is it?"
"Um around two o'clock " I answered. My breath hitched as his fingers grazed across the aureole, all the while, keeping up a light kneading motion on the rest of my breast. "Don't you don't you have to get up early for your shift?"
"Uh-huh," he muttered as he moved closer. His mouth found my collarbone and delivering a flurry of light kisses all the way to an unoccupied breast. His lips immediately clamped onto my nipple and began suckling with increasing urgency, drawing more and more of my flesh into his mouth. His hand rolled the now hard nipple on my other breast, occasionally pinching the sensitive nub and eliciting an involuntary moan from my throat with each unexpected squeeze. My hands grabbed the back of his head, keeping him in place as he laved over both breasts.
After a few minutes of this pleasurable torment, I could feel the growing wetness between my legs soaking through the thin fabric of my panties. My hips started rocking as I tried to find something, anything to rub against. Ben moved above me, his hard bulge giving me some relief as I rocked myself against him.
"Oh, God Buffy " he moaned, trying to slip my underwear off with hands that lacked the coordination they usually possessed. After a couple of fumbles, both of us were finally naked -- our underwear lying somewhere on the floor.
His breath was hot on my cheek as he brought one hand down between us. I felt him slip a finger into my slit, occasionally rubbing deliciously against the tight bundle of nerves at the top. My hips bucked erratically, hoping for more contact. My legs spread wider to accommodate him as I brought them around his waist, bringing him down on top of me and feeling his delicious weight. We both moaned in need as our bodies slipped fully against each other. My breasts rubbed against his chest and each little movement caused my hands to clench tighter across his back.
All too soon though, Ben backed up slightly. I saw the desire in his eyes as he looked down at me. He reached between us, positioning the head of his hard cock at the entrance of my slit, asking with his eyes for permission. I gave it with a slight nod of my head and almost immediately, I felt him push into me. My breath caught in my throat as I felt myself stretched open. There was only a few seconds of discomfort before my muscles adjusted to him being inside me until he filled me completely.
He pulled back, almost slipping out before he pushed back again: pushing and pulling, back and forth, he set up a steady rhythm. I could feel the pressure building inside of me with every stroke, higher and higher until I thought I would explode if it wasn't released soon. I could feel the familiar clenching spasms as an orgasm began to roll over me, hard and fast. My whole body became taut as the sensations raced through me. Ben's breaths were coming in pants as he suddenly grabbed my hips and lifted up, pumping hard several more times as he came quickly, following me.
He collapsed on top of me after his convulsions and rested briefly before giving me a quick kiss and pulling out completely.
"Good-night Buffy," he said with a yawn.
"Night," I answered, languorously stretching out on my side of the bed, all thoughts of vampires and surly brunettes banished from my mind at least for the next few hours.
It shouldn't have surprised me that Sunnydale boasts its own purveyor of occult accessories considering it also seemingly boasts its own supernatural population. Promptly at 4 o'clock, I show up at the Magic Box's front door, sipping a lattι and trying to sneak a peek through the window.
"It's called a door," a familiar voice behind me drolly announces its presence. "See it. Know it. Use it."
I deliberately loosen each of the individual fingers of my right hand from around the paper cup which was perilously close to being crush in my tight grasp before turning around. The girl from yesterday is standing there in almost the exact same outfit as she had on early this morning except today, her top is red. Her posture screams relaxed vigilance if there is such a thing and she stares right through me as if I wasn't even there.
"Do you always sneak up on people?" I ask, indignant at having been surprised by her.
She cocks an eyebrow that was infuriatingly close to patronizing. "A herd of elephants walking on broken eggshells could probably 'sneak' up on you," she says, walking past me. "You can't blame me for your being deaf."
I trail after her through the door and almost step on her heels, angrily denying the insult against my physical prowess. "You might have saved my life," I continue, walking around her so we stood facing each other again. "But that doesn't mean you have the right to constantly insult me. All I ask is that you afford me the same respect any descent human being is entitled to receive. But if social niceties are too vague a concept for you to grasp, use this as a rule of thumb: when in doubt, keep your mouth shut. Those that have to bear your continued presence will thank you."
Her disinterest could not have been written more clearly on her but she said nothing in response. Walking by me once again, she moves towards a table at the back and immediately plops down in a slouched sprawl. I'm left speechless, standing in the middle of the store and wondering why I haven't just walked out already and put this whole unbelievable situation to the back of my mind.
"You gonna stand there all day?" She suddenly calls out. And since I seem to be the only one in here besides her, I'm assuming she's talking to me.
Wearily, I approach the table, ready to take off at the first signs of another insult.
"Sit down." She pushes a chair out with her foot. "Looking up at you makes my neck hurt."
It might not have been the most polite of offers but by now, I had a pretty good idea this girl didn't do polite.
Or nice either, for that matter.
I wondered if she weren't actually raised by wolves in the wilds of Tasmania and only recently been re-introduced into a human environment. It would go a long way in explaining the occasional grunts she seems so fond of issuing.
Her voice brings me abruptly out of my little reverie and I scramble to make sense of what she's just said. It's hopeless. I tell her as much and, surprisingly, she patiently repeats herself without complaint.
"In case you didn't get the memo last night," she begins in a well-rehearsed tone of voice. "Sunnydale isn't one of the safest places in the world after the sun sets. We have vampires. We have demons. We have apocalypse scares every year. Most people who choose to live here either know this already or they ignore it and help sweep the shit under the carpet. I don't really care if you believe what I'm saying or not but if you're going to keep walking your dog after midnight near large cemeteries, don't expect your life expectancy to crack three months. Any questions so far?"
I take a deep breath, wondering where to begin and decide to focus on the simplest first. "What's your name?"
Her eyes narrow slightly. Seems she hadn't expected me to ask that. "Faith," she answers and to my surprise asks, "What's yours?"
"Buffy." I wait for the amused flicker that always flashes across someone's eyes whenever I tell them my name for the first time but I'm surprised again to find none in Faith's. Seeing nothing else forthcoming, I continue, "So, are you like some kind of demon hunter?"
She breaks into a short chuckle and I'm oddly pleased with myself for making her laugh. "I guess you could call me that," she says with a lingering grin still on her face. "But most people just call me the Slayer."
I remember the vampire last night called her that. "Is there a story behind that? Do you have any super powers or anything?"
She opens her mouth to answer but is cut off by the tinkling bell above the front door as someone walks in. Faith glances up and abruptly shouts, "CUSTOMER!" No sooner said then a door on the side of the room opens and a woman of medium height and reddish hair with blonde streaks walks through.
"Hi! Are you going to buy anything?" The woman asks, walking straight towards the newcomer.
Faith turns back to me, completely ignoring the new arrivals. "So you wanna know what my powers are?"
I hesitate because the way she phrased that almost sounded like a come on but I quickly dismissed the idea. Instead, I ask, "Should we really be talking about this out in the open?"
"What? You mean cause of her?" She gestures towards the customer and I nod. "If she's shopping in here, chances are she already knows most of what's going on in this town. And as to what it means to be a Slayer -- all it boils down to is I'm supposed to kill a bunch of vamps, save a couple of lives, and die before I'm twenty."
I openly gape at her. The very casual way she states this makes my blood run cold. "Are you serious?" I ask, unable to believe she could be so callous about not only her life but those she saves as well.
She tilts her head to the side and it's disconcerting because I've seen Terror do the exact same thing when he's contemplating something curious and I wonder if she finds me curious. After what seems like an hour of this silent study but is probably closer to a minute, the tinkling of the bell interrupts us again. It couldn't have come at a better time since it breaks Faith from whatever creepy trance she was in and she turns to address blonde highlight girl.
"Hey Anya. Do you have still have that book about the Slayers here?"
"This is not a library," the blonde, Anya, huffs. "This is a place where monetary transactions take place."
Faith doesn't answer. She merely continues to stare at her until the other girl finally relents with a roll of her eyes. Im starting to get that this brunette can be very scary when she wants to be. I'd guess you'd have to be though if under hobbies, you include ramming pieces of wood into chest cavities.
Anya returns from the second level of the shop bearing a heavy looking book that she unceremoniously tosses onto the table in front of me. "You rip it, you buy it," she warns before returning to the room she came from. If all Sunnydale residents are like these two, they should just build a twenty foot wall around the whole town because it's obvious they're happiest when left alone.
I leaf through the book, aware of the brittle feel of each page.
"Slayers A to Z," Faith volunteers as I look at her questioningly. "Whatever questions you have, you'll find the answer in there. You can look through it while I go get lunch you want anything?" She asks, already halfway up.
I absently shake my head no, already absorbed in the little I've read.
"You 'bout done?"
I look up through bleary, tired eyes and see Faith standing there, leaning a hip against the edge of the table.
"Witches and Watchers and Slayers, oh my," I mutter, feeling wrung out. I close the book with a muted thud, the dust cloud it raises irritates my eyes even more.
"Funny," she says without even the hint of a smile. "That's exactly what I said when my Watcher first found me only your version doesn't have all the cursing."
"All of this " I struggle helplessly to summarize everything I've read and finally settle on nothing. "Is this all real?" I sound like a kid asking her parents if the Bogeyman really lives under her bed.
Faith nods but suddenly seems uncomfortable with this conversation.
"Look, it's seven already." I realize with a start that I've been reading for close to three hours. "You might want to start heading home now."
I shake my head. How does she expect me to do that? How does she expect me to pick up where I left off as if nothing has changed? She must've realized something was wrong when I made absolutely no move to leave.
She bends down so we're at eye level. "I know how you're feeling. Part of you wants to believe everything you've read, everything I've said, is a lie. Who can blame you? Stuff seems so much more simple before you knew, doesn't it?" I mutely nod in agreement. Faith continues, "You just need time for all of this to sink in. Believe me, you're gonna be fine."
I dredge up a wan smile for her benefit. At least, she's trying to be nice. Much better than the jaded, cynical self she's projected so far.
Faith smiles back -- a much more genuine one than I've produced. And again, I'm struck by how different she looks, how much more warmth she exudes by just smiling. But as usual, it disappears almost as fast as it forms, leaving behind an achingly empty expression.
The bell above the door tinkles and Faith straightens up. I wince, mentally preparing myself for the shout that never comes. Instead of "CUSTOMER!", she greets the new arrivals with a mild "Hey".
Two guys approach us. The only curious thing I note immediately is the size difference between these two. One is big -- football player big. The other isn't. He looks about the same size as me and nobody has ever accused me of being above average in height. He's dyed the tips of his short blond hair red. Football player has brown hair and a refreshingly welcome smile on his face.
They both stop in front of Faith.
Football player -- for I still don't know his name and Faith seems not at all inclined to introduce us -- asks Faith if she's ready to go. She hesitates, glances down at me and frowns as if she didn't expect to find me still there.
"You should go now," she tells me.
It's dιjΰ vu and last night all over again. Nothing in her brusque manner even hints at the understanding and genuine empathy I thought I saw her display just a moment earlier.
I can't take this anymore -- I can't take her.
I stand up.
I can't look at her.
I'll be all right if I can just make it home, surrounded by the things that remind me of what normal is.
I take one step and then another and then--
Stop because her hand comes to rest on my arm.
"I'll walk you home," she says out of the blue, taking any kind of choice out of my hands. "I'll meet up with you guys later," she tells the other two.
I still can't look at her.
She squeezes my arm a bit and moves me towards the exit. I walk with my eyes staring straight ahead, concentrating -- one foot in front of the other. It makes everything else irrelevant.
And this is how we arrive at my house. Her hand still rests on my arm as if she's guiding me which is stupid because I'm the one that's leading her.
I shake her hand off as we arrive at the front door, feeling more in control of myself and of the situation. I finally turn and look at her for the first time since we stepped out of the shop and almost stumble back in shock at the contrite expression showing plainly on Faith's face. She scowls a bit at my reaction but the contrition remains clearly visible. I might have only known her for a day but I bet that look doesn't come across her face too often. The fact that it does now and she's the one now skirting her eyes from mine makes me want to reach out and find some middle ground for the both of us to stand on.
"It's still a mess," I say with a grin, turning to unlock the door. "But if you promise not to mock, I think I can come up with something to drink."
I hold the door open, willing her to come in. She stands stock still for several long seconds, wavering on the threshold but finally takes a step inside. I release the breath I hadn't known I was holding and close the door behind her.
Terror yips happily as he barrels dangerously down the stairs and straight into my legs again. No matter how many times he does it, it still makes me chuckle. Faith doesn't try to hide that she's snooping around the room as I try to calm a very excitable ball of energy, intent on bathing every inch of my face with his tongue.
I whip my head up at the sudden exclamation, half afraid some rampaging vampire has snuck into my house somehow. Although, by all accounts, vampires can't just waltz in willy nilly, an afternoon spent reading about their feeding habits and sadistic tendencies have made me more than a little jumpy.
"Damn, B!" Faith crows yet again. From the clearly ecstatic expression on her face, I rule out any unexpected vampire sightings. She bends down and retrieves something from one of the boxes littering the living room. "I can't believe you have this," she gushes, holding up a Strawberry Shortcake doll. "I haven't seen one of these since I was a kid. I remember I was obsessed with getting one of these." She turns it around and around in her hand, inspecting every worn inch.
I can't help it. I grin at the unadulterated joy on her face and wonder if this was what Faith looked like as a child.
"I would never have pictured you as a doll person," I tease.
She looks at me and quickly tries to reign in her emotions but it's like trying to box up light -- it'll always find the cracks. I figure I've embarrassed her enough so I retreat to the kitchen to find something for us to drink. Since we haven't gotten around to getting groceries yet, it's a meager selection I'm presented with when I peer into the fridge. It was either soda or bottled water.
When I get back to the living room, I note with some amusement that Terror has recruited himself another admirer. He was lolling on his back, his short legs sticking up in the air as Faith dutifully scratched his furry belly. She looks chagrined that I've caught her doing something else that doesn't quite mesh with the bad girl image she seems so fond of portraying but continues scratching Terror's belly anyway. The more time I spend with her, the more I think there's someone really worth knowing under that often infuriating faηade.
"Soda or water?" I ask, presenting her with one of each in my hands.
She immediately makes grabs for the soda and grunts a thanks.
"So " I say after a few minutes of awkward quiet, punctuated by sounds of sipping. I rack my brain, trying to come up with something to say because we don't know each other nearly well enough to pull off a comfortable silence yet.
"So what do you do when you're not busy walking your dog around at night?" She asks, taking up my very lame lead-in.
Her genuine curiosity makes me more comfortable. "I'm a freelance web designer. It lets me make my own hours and be my own boss so I can walk my dog whenever without worrying about waking up in time for work in the mornings. How about you? What do you do?"
"I slay," she answers with a droll grin.
"That actually pays?"
"No." She's clearly amused by my puzzled expression. "But slaying's a full time job. For actual money, I do a little bartending on the side."
I light up at this new information. "I always wanted a bartender for a friend." I'm not lying either. I really had mostly while I was still in college and beer was still something forbidden to my little underaged hands. "Does that mean you'll spot me some free drinks if I come into your bar."
She snorts out a "Yeah, right" and then takes a look at the clock on the wall. "I gotta get going," she says, suddenly all business again and putting down her can on one of the boxes.
I follow her to the door, not quite ready to let her go yet. I still have so many questions. She opens the door and slips through.
"Wait!" I finally call out before she can disappear. "Can I see you tomorrow? Are you free?"
She doesn't seem very surprised by my request and actually smiles back at me. "Magic Box. Four o'clock." And then she takes off, blending into the night so well, I lose sight of her after only a few seconds.
I guess that's what you call progress.
Ben spoons some more fried rice onto his plate, never pausing as he continues telling me about the different cases he saw in the emergency room today. My ears perked up when he mentioned that there was an inordinate amount of patients coming through with blood loss on their way to the morgue. Aside from that however, I basically zoned out on all the blood, gore, and hospital politics. There's only so much I can take while I'm trying to eat and my limit was reached sometime in the second month we started dating.
I pretended I was interested at the start because he was nice and smart and good-looking. He was the perfect guy -- the guy every parent wants their daughters to marry. Now I pretend to be interested because our work is so much a part of our lives that if we didn't talk about that, we wouldn't have much to talk about. I've wondered on more than one occasion if this is what my life will be like if we were married. Will we keep talking without ever listening?
Ironically, as I'm asking myself this, I realize Ben's been waiting for me to answer a question I completely missed.
"I'm sorry, what did you say?"
Ben's brow puckers as he repeats himself. "I asked what you did today."
I'm momentarily floored by the question and seconds of silence tick by before I find my voice again. "I spent some time with a friend," I tell him, dragging out the words a little so the answer will hopefully sound more substantial than it is.
His brow furrows even more before he finally says, "Oh that's good. You met someone already? Is it a neighbor?"
"Not exactly." I pick through some mixed vegetables, trying to come up with something to tell him. I was never good at lying so that's not even an option. I go for the partial truth, leaving out some pertinent details. "I met her while walking Terror and we hit it off almost right from the start."
"Oh that's good," he says, again repeating himself. "I'll have to meet her sometime."
I knew from the way he said it that it was just an empty sentiment, something to say because it's polite, not because you actually meant it -- something we were both used to by now. But I didn't mind. Instead, I was relieved he was only taking a superficial interest in what I was saying, almost immediately lapsing back into his favorite topic of discussion, namely the hospital. And I immediately lapse back into what I was doing, namely daydreaming.
I save the file on my laptop and test it once again. With a few more minor tweaks, I'll be able to send it to the client and hopefully, this time, he won't decide to redo his whole 'vision' for the project and make me start from scratch again.
Oh well. Either way, it's his money.
I flip down the lid on the computer and stretch with a groan, feeling the muscles in my shoulders protest.
"Another productive day at the office."
Lying on the sofa cushion beside me, Terror agrees with a bark.
Ben's in the bedroom, still sleeping off his eighteen hour shift at the hospital. Obviously he likes being a doctor and I'm sure the rewards when you do your job right are immeasurable but I don't know how anyone can work on that type of schedule and not drop dead within the first month. I've worked a couple of long nights myself but you'd have to hook me up to an IV dripping nothing but coffee and liquid crack to put up with those hours on a daily basis.
But he's used to it by now.
And I've long ago accepted the fact that he's used to it. This arrangement has worked surprisingly well for the both of us.
It's two o'clock now. Still two more hours until I'm supposed to be at the Magic Box. Am I crazy for looking forward to going there all day today and most of last night too? I know part of it's because I want to learn more about this frightening new world that's opened up before. The other part though
The other part of me is intrigued by the Slayer: both the myth and the person.
But I'm leery of which Faith I'll find waiting for me today. Who will show up? Will it be the moody Faith or the pleasantly engaging Faith? This toss up reminds me of that box of chocolates I got for Valentine's Day a couple of years back. Each bite-sized chocolate piece had a surprise filling inside. All well and good but if you can't stand coconut and coconut just happens to be one of those surprise fillings then every time you pick a candy, you're chancing either nummy goodness or vile evil.
So I guess what I'm trying to say in a roundabout sort of way is that surprises are good so long as neither is of the coconut or irritable Slayer variety.
Not willing to waste two hours contemplating either, I start in on some much needed unpacking.
I'd set up my desktop computer, my CD collection, and my books before I noticed how much time it had eaten up. I decided to take the car to the Magic Box because I didn't want to be any more late than I already was. I idly wondered a couple of times on the drive over how many vampires Faith had slayed in her chosen non-traditional career and if she would tell me if I asked her.
By the time the bell tinkles on my arrival, it's already thirty minutes past four. I must be interrupting something because as soon as I walk in, all the talking stops and five heads pop up and turn to look at me. There's Anya, the two guys, some new girl I haven't met yet, and Faith.
She's the first to find her voice. "I was beginning to think you'd come to your senses and left this town in the dust," Faith says with a smirk.
I walk further in. "And miss even a second of your charming company?"
The football player guffaws and I think I catch the new girl giggling but she ducks her head too quickly for me to tell.
Faith ignores the laughter. "This is Buffy," she finally introduces me to the rest of her friends. "You've already met Anya."
She indicates the big guy and the guy with the red dyed hair. "That's Larry and Oz. And this is Tara," she finishes, placing a hand on the blonde's shoulder.
"Hi." I wave to everyone and they wave back and is it just me or does everyone seem much friendlier today?
"I heard you just moved here," Larry says conversationally. "Aside from the vamps and soulless demons, how do you like Sunnydale so far?"
"It's going to take some getting used to, what with not having the convenience of a McDonald's on every block. But I think I'll survive."
"If you're into meat on a bun, we do have the Doublemeat Palace," Oz suggests.
"Double Meat Palace?" I ask, wondering if he's putting me on. "That sounds like the title of a porn film."
Larry's brows crinkle. "It could be I'll have to check and get back to you on it."
"This is all very uninteresting," Anya thankfully interrupts our conversation whose ickiness quotient was rapidly rising. "Does this mean the meeting's over? I have inventory to check and books to balance. This store doesn't run itself, you know?"
"Yes, we know," Faith says. "You remind us everyday Tara, I'll see you tonight. The rest of you, go do your thing."
Everybody but Anya leaves but she doesn't pay us much attention as she putters around the store. Faith sprawls out in the same chair she sat on yesterday and just like yesterday, she pushes a chair out for me with her foot.
"I got a little carried away with the unpacking," I say as soon as I sit down. "That's why I was late."
Faith waves a hand dismissively. "If I apologized every time I was late, I'd never shut up."
I chuckle. Faith seems in a good mood today -- another coconut catastrophe averted. "Did I miss much? Or is this something you can tell me but then you'd have to kill me?"
"No, nothing like that. But I make no guarantees that some ritual scarring won't be involved," she replies with a completely straight face but the twinkling in her eyes gives her away.
"Afraid I'll have to pass then. Pain doesn't sit well with me -- makes me break out in a cold sweat very uncomfortable."
We stare at each other for several moments until she cracks a wry smile. I'm beginning to really like that smile.
"We were just talking about what times we had free," she explains. "For some reason, they think I need company when I'm on patrol so every other day, we all sit down and see who draws the short end of the stick and winds up spending more time with me."
"So who got the shaft today?"
Faith hums in agreement as I try not to openly laugh.
"So what changed between yesterday and today?" I ask, driving down the road.
"What do you mean?"
We were on our way to Faith's part time job. Since she didn't say I couldn't come along, I'd taken that as an open invitation and even convinced her to let me drive her.
Now how to say this without offending? "You weren't the most easy person to get along with yesterday," I say judiciously. "And today, you just seem so "
"Much less bitchy?" She finishes for me.
I glance over at her. She doesn't seem upset. That's good.
There's a touch of bitterness in her voice as she continues. "It's amazing how a couple of hours of torture can mess you up for life. I almost died that time and since then, I haven't played well with strangers."
Okay What do you say to something like that? I settle for the old stand by. "I'm sorry."
She shrugs it off. "Not your fault -- Pull up here. This is the place."
I follow Faith into a decent looking bar called "The Fifth Meridian". It's still kind of early so the place isn't too crowded. The room is divided roughly in half with the bar on the left and tables on the right. I take a seat on one of the barstools and order some fries and a beer.
Faith smiles as she places a bottle in front of me.
"On me," she says with a wink.
"Not that I don't appreciate this because, believe me this fulfills one of my childhood dreams, but I thought you said you weren't going to spot me any free drinks if I ever came into your bar?"
"I usually wouldn't," she says. "But I'm hoping you can do me a favor." She gives me a smile that I'm not entirely sure I like.
"So now you're trading free beer for favors?"
"Yeah. What of it?"
"Nothing." I shrug. "Just making sure. So what do you need?" I ask, taking a sip of the beer.
And that's how I ended up standing guard over an enraged werewolf chained up in the back of the Magic Box for two hours. Who knew moving to a small town could open up such new and diverse experiences for a city girl like me?
The first night, I experienced vampires. Tonight I get to experience werewolves.
What's next? Mummies.
God, I hope not.
Every time Oz rattles his chains, I get a vision of my mauled and disfigured body bleeding all over the floor. I look into his face, trying to see him in there somewhere but there's nothing human left in his eyes. The tranquilizer gun they left me is no comfort. I've never shot anything in my life and I don't think a life or death situation is the greatest place to start learning.
Not to mention that he keeps staring at me and that's just creepy.
When the two hours pass and Faith still hasn't shown up, I can't help but think I've been screwed. When she finally steps through the door an hour later, I was all ready to give her the rant to end all rants when I notice there's blood running down her arm. Oz notices the blood too and becomes even more agitated.
"Sorry I'm late." She slumps down on the bench next to me. "We ran into a gang of demons with really sharp claws."
"Is Tara all right? Are you all right?" I try to take a look at her arm but she pulls away.
"We're fine -- still not dead yet at least."
"You need a doctor--"
"NO!" She shouts before I even finish.
"No, B. No doctors." She softens her voice. "Look, I'm gonna be fine. Slayers heal fast."
"Fine, we don't have to go see a doctor. But at least let me clean that up for you." She looks ready to protest so I quickly beat her to it. "It's either that or I keep bugging you about it. All night. Which one will it be?"
We engage in a battle of wills that resembles nothing so much as a staring contest. It doesn't take long to decide a winner.
"First aid kit's under the counter out front," she grumbles.
I'm back in a minute with the supplies. Five bloody grooves reveal themselves on Faith's upper arm as I wipe away the blood. But as far as I can tell, it's stopped bleeding. The best I can do with the supplies we have is to put some antiseptic on it and bandage her up.
"Believe me," she assures. "It'll be all better by tomorrow."
"I believe you, Faith. It's just that I'm not used to my friends regularly putting themselves in danger and getting hurt."
"It stresses me out too," she sarcastically replies.
I huff and stand up to replace the first aid kit but she pulls me back down.
"I'm sorry," she quickly says. "I never know when to shut up."
"No. As strange as it sounds, I'm beginning to get your brand of freeze-dried humor."
She smirks. "Don't tell me I'm beginning to rub off on you."
"More like contaminating," I smirk back. "So how much longer before Oz loses the fur?"
"In about four more hours you wanna stick around for it?"
I hadn't planned on staying on Oz watch for the entire night and Ben will probably wonder where I am when he gets home. There'll be questions no doubt but for some reason I don't want to leave yet. It's probably just because I want to make sure that Faith really is all right.
Yep. That sounds reasonable.
"Okay," I tell her. "But if I'm going to keep you company, you're going to have to entertain me. Do you have any slaying stories?"
I was right about Ben. He was waiting for me when I got home in the morning. The gist of what was said is that he was worried when he got home and I wasn't there. I promised him in the future, I'd leave a note or a message on the phone for him if I knew I was going to be late. He also asked me what I had been doing. I couldnt very well tell him that I'd been watching a werewolf all night. So I stretched the truth a little, explaining that I was helping my new friend with her pet situation. He must've been more tired than I thought because he accepted the flimsy explanation without question.
After that incident, the days fell into a sort of routine. I'd usually work from ten to three, eat lunch at noon, go to Magic Box at around four, maybe go to Faith's bar if she was working that day, and then I'd go home and catch up with Ben on how our days went. Unbelievably, even though I'd only been there for a week, I feel more comfortable being around the Sunnydale gang than any other of the friends I'd left behind in LA. There's no pretensions. No pretending that they're anybody but who they are. Maybe it's because they literally put their lives in each other's hands each night that they've become such a tight knit group. And, for some reason, they've decided to include me in their circle.
Surprisingly, the person I've become closest to so far is Faith. Surprising because I'd have never believed you if you'd told me that when I first met her, I'd actually come to like her.
But I do.
I'm not sure how I can describe it. It's almost like she has this magnetic charm hidden under all that rough exterior. The more time I spend with her, the more it shines through. It pulls me in -- even before I realized it, I was already caught.
Don't get me wrong, there are still times I just want to strangle the girl. Take for example the fact that she refused to take me on patrol with her not once, not twice but thrice.
Oh no now I sound like Shakespeare.
The levels she pushes me to
Anyway, the reason she always gives is that it's too dangerous and she doesn't want me to get hurt. I understand that. I do. But when she has no problem taking Larry or Oz or Anya or Tara with her, that's when I want to ask 'Huh?'
If I'm going to be included in their group, I want to be included completely.
I dragged this point out in front of her so often, I'm sure she's wished more than once she'd never run into me or my dog that night. My persistence paid off eventually though. Tonight is the first night I'm going with her.
God, am I nervous.
She gave me a stake before we left. I'm gripping it so hard, I think I might get splinters. Faith started me off on some self-defense lessons a couple of days ago but when the time comes and there's an ugly vampire coming at me, will I remember what to do?
She must've seen the panic I was trying so hard to hide because she places a reassuring hand on my shoulder.
"It'll be all right," she says, the heat from her palm and the warmth of her voice melting away some of my tension. "I won't let anything hurt you, B. You have my word on that."
I smile back, ready to tell her I'll be fine but the words haven't finished forming before her eyes widen and she whips around. There's a moment of sheer horror when I realize a trio of undead are rushing towards us in game face. Then that moment dissolves as they all charge Faith, ignoring me.
She's in danger.
If I concentrate on that then I don't have any room left to be afraid. I grab the nearest vamp, twisting him around as hard as I can and pray the stake goes in the right place as I ram it in his chest.
There's a look of confusion on his face.
It disappears then he disappears. Along with my stake. And there's nothing left but dust.
Faith easily takes care of the other two. If I looked at it objectively, I'd call it almost beautiful -- the way she moves, the way her hair whips around, the gleam in her eyes, the muscles in her arms, the
Okay, what the hell am I thinking?
I must be cracking up under all the stress -- only way to explain why I'm cataloguing each and every one of Faith's features.
"Hey, you all right?"
I almost jump when Faith speaks. Luckily she thinks I'm just wigged by my first kill. I do nothing to correct this mistake.
"That was wicked, B," Faith continues. I've never seen her this giddy. "I gotta say you're a natural at this."
"Thanks you weren't so bad yourself."
She seems very pleased and almost takes my arm off as she pulls me along. This is certainly a change from her earlier attitude.
"Buffy, I think we need to talk."
We'd been in Sunnydale for more than a month now. Sometimes, it's seemed longer. I can't even remember a time when supernatural forces weren't a part of my daily life. How many people can say that without heavy medication? I've been devoting more and more of my time exploring this new aspect of my world. In fact, this is probably why Ben wants to talk now. He's already hinted several times that he's unhappy about not seeing me as often.
"Uh, sure." I'm anything but. I take a seat next to him. "What do you want to talk about?"
He takes my hands in his and looks into my eyes. "We've been here for a month, Buffy. And I think in that month, we've spent maybe a total of ten hours actually talking just being together like we used to be."
"And I'm not including sleeping and making love. You've been spending so much time with these new friends you made, I feel like we're becoming strangers. "
"I see your point," I say, trying to contain the growing irritation at his reproach. I pull my hands away. "But aren't you just being a little hypocritical? Just between you, me, and the wall, I'm not the one working fourteen-hour days." I keep on speaking even as he opens his mouth to disagree with me. "When we first went out, I had to accept the fact that your career came first. And I did because I loved you. So I put up with not seeing you or hearing from you for days at a time. I put up with lonely dinners and missed dates and I've never complained. You never seemed to think we weren't spending enough time together then. Now that I've made some friends and I want to spend some time with them, you're complaining and placing the blame on me."
Now that the words are finally between us and not festering unvoiced, I feel a giant weight lift from my shoulders. I guess I've always resented him for placing me such a distant second in his life. It's just taken this last straw to get me to say it.
"I don't understand where this is coming from," he angrily says, standing up and pacing. "You seemed happy before."
"Ben, don't fool yourself. I could've been clinically depressed and you wouldn't notice," I say, unable to keep the bitterness from my voice.
He stops right in front of me. "So what do you want me to do, Buffy? You know I've wanted to be a doctor since I was a kid. This is my dream. Do you want me to give it up?"
I stand up too. "When did I ever say for you to quit? I would never ask you to give up something so important to you. That's not the point Ben."
"Then what is the point?" He asks, throwing up his hands in exasperation. "What do you want me to do? I want things to be how they were before. How can we fix this?"
"I don't think we can!" I shout. The words echo in my ears and I want to take it back so much. But yet, at the same time, I'm glad I finally said it. "It's broken, Ben. Whatever we had is broken. It's been that way for a long time and I think you know that as well as I do."
He slumps down on the couch, all the fight having gone out of him.
"We've been together for two years, Buffy," he says softly. "You moved here with me so I could do my residency. Why did you come if you didn't think our relationship would survive?"
"I didn't want to admit it to myself." I look down at him and wonder when I stopped loving him. It doesn't seem to matter much anymore. "It was easy being with you. It was safe having someone beside me, knowing that I wasn't alone. But that's not enough anymore."
"So that's it?" He asks with a resigned air. "We're through? Just like that?"
I hesitate. It's two years. Two years of my life with this man. Am I throwing away a good thing? Can I go on without this crutch?
"I'm sorry, Ben." I can't pretend anymore. "We're through."
"You what?" Faith looks at me as if I've lost my mind.
"I'm moving out of Ben's house and I need a place to stay for awhile until I find another apartment."
"And you're telling me this why?" She asks with a mischievous glint in her eyes.
"Because I was hoping someone would be nice enough to offer," I say, playing along.
She quirks a half smile. "Well, good luck on that, B."
Slapping her on the arm gets me a chuckle.
"All right. All right," she says, raising her arms in mock surrender. "Don't have to get violent Yeah, you can stay with me if you want."
"Oh, thanks most generous one."
Faith's apartment isn't very big but it's not cluttered either so it balances out. She has exactly one room, one sofa, and one bathroom -- perfect for one person. Two people are pushing it but it's bearable. I move in that afternoon with just one bag of stuff for myself. Terror has his own bag. Faith frowns when she notices him. I guess that's the first time she truly realizes what she's gotten herself into. But she doesn't comment and soon, she's even on the floor playing with Terror, teasing him with his squeaky toy.
I figure I won't be staying there too long. As soon as I find some place to rent, I'll be out of there and then I can move the rest of my junk out of Ben's place. It's lucky that I finished with that big project so I don't have anything work related to worry about for the next few weeks at least. Faith still hasn't asked why I've moved out so suddenly and I'm not sure I want to talk about it either but, inexplicably, that night, after dinner, I'm the one that brings up the subject.
"Aren't you curious?" I start off.
"Usually not. I just take things as they are."
"No, you dunce." I blow out an exasperated sigh that only makes her smirk. "I was talking about why I needed to move so suddenly. Aren't you the least bit curious?"
"Now that you mention it, yeah," she admits. "But I don't want to seem like I'm butting into your business."
"Faith, I think we know each other well enough that you don't have to worry about butting into my business. In fact, butt away." I'm really hoping she takes me up on this seriously even though I said it in a lighthearted way. I want us both to feel comfortable sharing these types of things with each other.
She looks strangely at me but then asks, "Okay. So why'd you move out?"
"I broke up with Ben. And since it's his house " I shrug, leaving the rest unsaid.
""Must be tough."
"No, it's all right." I try putting actual words to the swirl of thoughts and feelings in my head, wanting her to understand. "It just wasn't going to work out between us. I did love him once upon a time. But he's a different person now than the man I fell in love with. I'm a different person too. Things just change, I guess and there's no one to blame for that. We were together for so long that it just became easier to stay that way than to separately find our own paths. Does that make any sense?"
I look over at her and wait for her reaction, only to see that she looks uncomfortable.
"I'm not really the greatest person to talk to about relationships," she awkwardly tries to tell me. "I've never had one. Sex is easier. No work. Instant gratification."
Now it's my turn to feel embarrassed. Way to make us feel closer by alienating her, Buffy. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to dump all this on you."
She quickly shakes her head and places a hand soothingly on my arm. "No, that's not what I mean, B. Feel free to dump all your relationship issues on me. Trust me, I'm used to it -- Larry's always telling me about his wheel-o-boyfriends. It won't be much of a change listening to you talk about boys too."
"I wouldn't say it if I didn't mean it." She gives me a brilliant smile that makes me feel warm inside.
I don't get it. How can someone like Faith be such a neat freak? It's like she's Felix to my Oscar. In what alternate universe have I fallen into? I've never considered myself a slob before. Sure a couple of my socks are lying around in odd places that socks shouldn't reside but isn't everybody's home like that? And is it really my fault that one just happened to have migrated in between the sofa cushions? For God's sake, it's under the sofa cushions -- who looks under there anyway?
But all that aside, Faith does have her good points too when it comes to being a temporary roommate. For one thing, she's got the whole sharing thing down. She lets me borrow her stuff -- rings, clothes, medieval weaponry -- y'know, girl stuff.
The other great thing about living with her is the fun factor. We don't even have to be doing anything and I'll still have a great time because she'll always have just another joke to crack, just another story to tell, and another doctrine from the church of Faith she's just come up with and has to share.
Ultimately, although I wasn't aiming for it at first, my decision to move in with Faith for a while has really been the angst-free experience I needed after breaking up with Ben.
That Saturday night, we decided to go out to this club called the Bronze. Apparently, it's a regular hangout for the gang but it had been closed for remodeling by new management until that week, the previous owners having unexpectedly developed a case of the dead. We had just finished dealing with a new vamp group trying to make Sunnydale its own personal playground so tonight is exactly what we need to wind down. I borrowed a pair of Faith's leather pants for the occasion and, not to toot my own horn or anything, but I think I look pretty good in them.
There are just some people who were born to wear leather -- this girl is one of those lucky, fortunate few. This isn't a new observation on my part, just something that bears repeating because it's so very true. On top of that, she's wearing one of her patented tiny tops -- a black one this time -- which perfectly showcases the tattoo on her right arm.
All in all, she looks like the spokesmodel for Bad Girls Inc.
I might even believe the image if I didn't already know her and seen her all squinty eyed and adorably grumpy in the mornings. She threatened to toss me out in the street if I ever leaked a word of this to anybody, especially since she refuses to believe she has one adorable bone in her body. Maybe next time, I'll just take a picture. That way, I'll have photographic evidence. I figure that'll be worth a couple of free cocktails.
Living with someone does present convenient blackmailing opportunities.
It's already crowded by the time we arrive at the club. Faith takes me by the arm and we make our way slowly through the human wave that seems bent on pushing us the other way. After what seems like an eternity of pushing and shoving, we make it to the table the gang's staked out. We have to yell to be heard over the live band that's playing on stage.
"Hey! What took you guys?" Larry shouts as we sit down.
Oz helpfully adds, "We were just discussing whether buying one of you a watch would be too subtle."
"You guys are too thoughtful," Faith sarcastically yells back. "Thanks but no thanks. I like living a free and carefree life."
"And getting a watch would completely shackle you to a timetable, right?" Tara teases.
Faith smiles brightly. "You're the only one that understands me, T. Sometimes, it's like you can read my mind."
After a few minutes, I go to the bar to get a drink. Everybody else takes this as their cue to dance. The area around the bar is as crowded as the rest of the place and it takes me an annoyingly long time to catch the eye of one of the bartenders. It's times like these that being short has some definite disadvantages.
Once I get my Kamikaze, I settle back in a less crowded corner to look around. It looks like they have enough people in here to cause a fire hazard. The energy is frenetic, the music is loud, and Faith is right in the middle of everything, putting on a show without even trying.
That magnetic charm I was talking about earlier? Men are literally trampling themselves to get closer to her. If she's anymore magnetic, she'll develop her own gravitational field. It's not like I'm blind; I know Faith is a very attractive girl. But before tonight, I've never seen her as a sexual being. And now it seems I'm not the only one who sees her that way either. I see one guy after another try to dance with her and with each new guy, a growing uneasiness settles over my stomach. I'm seriously beginning to think I'm getting a bad case of indigestion when I suddenly spot Ben and then my stomach plummets altogether.
This is the last place I'd expected to see him. He'd always complained he didn't like clubs and he was always so tired from work, I'd eventually stopped asking him to go out at all apparently, he's found his energy now. It's only a matter of time before he sees me and I'm almost tempted to sneak off but the side of my brain that's still working rationally tells me I have as much right to be there as he does so I stand still, hoping I'm not acting too nonchalant. I turn and flash him a tentative smile when he finally sidles up.
He gives me a nod. "Buffy how are you?"
I nod back and wonder if we're not looking like a couple of bobbleheads right about now. "I'm fine and you?"
"Good good." He gestures to the crowd. "I just felt like getting out tonight. I wasn't bargaining for it being this packed though."
"Yeah. This is quite the crowd."
Small talk depleted, we stand awkwardly together but the blaring music from the speakers more than makes up for it. Finally he makes some excuse to go and wades back into the crowd, leaving me blessedly on my own and wallowing in my aloneness. My eyes automatically look for Faith on the dance floor, feeling an irrational anger that she's out there having the time of her life while I'm over here, not. But I don't see her anywhere and she's not an easy person to miss.
I'm still looking around, growing more and more angry when she appears out of nowhere next to me. She wraps an arm around my waist and quirks a half smile.
"You don't look like you're having fun, girlfriend." She pulls me towards the dance floor. "Come on. Let's dance."
I don't get a chance to refuse and once I'm out there, moving with her, I don't feel much like refusing anymore. She's right. I do need some fun. And dancing with Faith is without peer in the scale of fun.
There's a loose circle of guys around us but they don't matter. For this song and for this moment, there's only Faith and me. Our hands have somehow entwined and I can feel different parts of our body tantalizingly coming into contact as we move to the beat. It feels wonderful -- this closeness. I bask in it, feeling my earlier anger melt away to nothing.
Somebody suddenly bumps me hard from behind, sending me flying into Faith. She catches me -- great things those Slayer reflexes -- and I hold onto her instead of immediately letting go. But I can't help it. It feels so incredibly good right where I am. Her arms are wrapped loosely around me, her breasts pressed against mine, and our faces are so close, I can feel her breath coming out in hot bursts. I can't tell you how long we stood there. She looks at me strangely and I realize with a jolt that if I don't back away soon this will start getting weird.
I miss the intimacy almost immediately after we separate. Soon after that, I beg off any more dancing and leave her to return to our table. Something definitely happened back there. I'm just not sure what. Tara is sitting at the table and she smiles as I come up.
"Hey, having fun?" She asks.
"The funnest," I quip back. She was really shy when we first met but she's opened up the more time I spent with the group. Out of everyone, she seems the most mature and grounded.
After a while as we sit chatting, my eyes inevitably track back to Faith who's still dancing with as much energy as when she first started. I'm not even aware I zoned out until Tara taps me on the arm, giving me a knowing grin.
"Sorry," I say, feeling embarrassed at being caught. But what do I really have to feel embarrassed for?
"Don't worry," Tara says. "She has that affect on people."
I can't argue with that. But I can't say I'm comfortable with the fact that I'm one of those affected people either. When did that happen? I'm almost positive I wasn't affected yesterday. And what exactly are these affects? How do I get rid of them?
No answers are forthcoming.
We end up staying there for another two hours. By the time we leave, I've had three more drinks, danced with Oz, Larry, and Tara -- sometimes all at once -- and seriously started to freak at not being able to stop my eyes from wandering to Faith every chance they get. I'm seriously thinking of investing in a pair of blinders by the time the evening rolls to an end. It's almost a relief when Faith decides to leave with some guy.
On the one hand, it'd leave me some time alone to sort through some of what I'm feeling without her unnerving presence influencing me. On the other hand, she's leaving with some guy she just met!
Why is this making me so crazy? It's not like she's made it a secret that she likes sex period. So why can't I stop thinking about it and agonizing over some picture in my head of that guy all over her?
I think there's a point somewhere in between admiring a girl friend's attributes and wanting to run your hands all over those same attributes that you realize you've got to seriously re-evaluate some of your beliefs. I was at that point.
Slowly, I've come to accept my attraction for Faith. When I first realized this was what I was feeling, I tried rationalizing it. Faith's beautiful, I reasoned, so some attraction is just natural. That was all fine and good. I could work with simple appreciation without further delving into my own mind. But then came the 'running of hands over her' thoughts. Those became harder to rationalize. Finally, I just had to admit it.
I'm sexually attracted to Faith.
Me. Buffy Summers. Heretofore, straight girl.
I've never been attracted to a woman in my life. Why am I starting now? I so need someone to talk to about this and the closest person I know who's gay is Larry. I finally screw up my courage and ask him to meet me for lunch. We decide to meet at a bistro. As anxious as I was, I arrive way too early and fill up on complimentary bread for thirty minutes until he shows up.
"Hi. Been waiting long?" He asks when he arrives.
"Just a couple of minutes," I lie.
"Great. I'm starving." He smiles widely as the waiter hands over a menu. He keeps up a running conversation at the same time he's looking it over. "You wouldn't believe this guy who walked into the lot today. Guy was in classic midlife crisis mode. I got him talked into a sweet cherry convertible. The commission alone will keep me in pork rinds and scented candles for months."
I can't help but giggle at his excitement. "You're a very complicated man, Larry."
We continue talking about nothing until the waiter brings our food. I order light because I'm way too nervous to keep a heavy meal down. And besides, I'd already filled up on breadsticks.
"Larry," I say getting his attention. "I've got this problem and I thought you might be able to help me out."
He immediately looks concerned. "Of course I'll help if I can. What is it Buffy?"
I hesitate and stutter through an explanation of my predicament. He remains quiet throughout but gives me some sympathetic looks. "So you see," I finish. "I've never felt this way about another woman before. And now, I can't get it out of my mind. I have no idea what to do."
Larry places a comforting hand over mine. "When I first came out, I felt like, for the first time in my life, I was finally being honest with myself. I always knew on some level that I swing the other way but what you just described, it doesn't sound like that. You can be attracted to someone who just happens to be a woman -- you don't necessarily have to be attracted to all women. Just like, if you're attracted to one guy, it doesn't mean you're attracted to all guys. But Buffy, you have to be sure about this. Is it just lust or do you feel something for Faith too?"
"Of course I feel something for her, Larry. It's crazy just how much I feel for her considering the short time I've known her."
He seems satisfied with my answer. "Good. Now that we've established that you care for her and want her hot body, the only thing now is to tell her that." He suddenly screws up his face in a frown. "You do realize she's the original Teflon kid, don't you?"
"I know she dates around a lot--"
"No," he interrupts. "I wouldn't call what she does dating. She gets what she wants out of the sex and then she kicks 'em out of her bed. That's what she does." There's no censure in his voice as he says this. "I don't know anything about Faith before she came to Sunnydale; she's been pretty closed mouthed about that part of her life but In all the years I've known her, I've never seen her hook up with the same person more than a couple of times. As far as I know, she's never had a relationship."
"So if I tell her I have these feelings for her "
"She'll probably freak," he succinctly finishes for me.
"Ugh!" I bury my head in my hands. "Why does this have to be so damn complicated?"
"Well, look on the bright side," Larry says, fishing for the last of his fries. "At least she won't freak over the whole girl lust thing. I've seen her taking home women before."
I peak through my fingers. "Yeah?'
"At least that's something it's not totally hopeless then," I mumble to myself. I look up at Larry and return his supportive smile. "Thanks Larry. You've been a great help with this." Even if nothing's been resolved yet, the picture's starting to get clearer in my head.
"No problem. I'd love to see you two together -- you'd make the cutest couple. But I'm kind of confused though," he adds. "I would've thought you'd go to Tara first for this type of advice."
"Tara?" I ask. "Why would I go to Tara first?"
He looks at me as if I'd just declared Reagan as the greatest President ever.
"Because she's a girl," he slowly says, enunciating each word. "And she's gay."
My eyes pop open so wide, I'm surprised my contact lenses didn't fall out. "She is?!"
After my talk with Tara -- I blame asbestos for not knowing her orientation sooner. It's the only way to explain how I could be so dense without admitting I'm an idiot. -- I was ready to start making my move. It seems that I've been trying all sorts of new things lately. Pursuing a woman will just be one more in a long list. No biggie. Or at least that's what I tell myself over and over to stop from freaking out.
First thing I figure I have to do is let Faith know I'm interested. I agonized over the perfect place and the perfect time to do this so that everything would end up perfectly. Of course, all the planning in the world will leave you with egg on your face if you just happen to be talking about your insatiable desire for the love that dare not speak its name with your friends while oblivious that said love is right outside the room, able to hear each and every word of your confession.
Stuff of nightmares and daytime soap opera -- who'd have thought that kind of stuff happens for real?
When she stepped into the room just when I was expounding on the many and varied levels of cuteness of 'morning-Faith', my heart almost stopped not only because I'd sworn on a stack of Bibles never ever to talk about that with anyone, not only because I'd unknowingly exposed my heart and in the worse way possible, but because she looked utterly unaffected. This isn't to say I was expecting her to be furious or, on the other end of the spectrum, declare her undying love for me -- although that wouldn't have been a bad. But the last thing I was expecting was for her to act indifferent.
"It's no big deal, B," she explains with a shrug. Everybody else had already vacated the room, leaving us some privacy. "It's attraction -- nothing but hormones and id. I don't mind. Seriously, if you really want to, we can do it."
"Do what?" I ask, hoping she isn't suggesting what I think she is.
"Have sex." She looks at me expectantly and I wonder if she's actually waiting for me to strip naked so we can have hot monkey sex on the floor.
"Faith, no. That's not what I want I mean, it is but it's not the only thing." She's starting to look less indifferent. I think that's good. "I want everything with you. I want intimacy. I want to understand you. I want to know all the little things that make you laugh. I want to kiss you in the mornings when you're all rumpled and you have no idea where you are. I want to hold your hand in public just so I can feel connected to you somehow. I want all those things because I want to love you."
I quickly snap my mouth shut. I hadn't expected all of that to come pouring out so suddenly. I venture a glance at Faith but she has no discernible expression on her face. In the course of trying to explain that I didn't just want to be one of the many nameless individuals warming her bed, I think I went too far the other way.
"Say something," I plead when she continues to quietly stare at me.
"I don't do relationships," she says, once again repeating what's fast becoming her motto. "You're my friend, B. I don't have many of those and I know if we try to do what you want, I'm gonna fuck up and I'm gonna lose you." I try to tell her that won't happen but she stops me with a raised hand. "No, hear me out. I know you don't think that'll happen but you don't know me, B. If it's just sex than fine. We could do it and move on -- that doesn't hurt anybody. But what you want is something I can't give you. I just I can't deal with this. I'm sorry." She abruptly turns around and leaves
I don't know how long I stand there staring at the door she left through but it's long enough for Tara to come in and ask if I'm all right. I didn't need to say anything. She knew as soon as she looked into my eyes. I take as much comfort as I can from her soothing words and presence but I feel devastated by what just happened. On some level, despite constantly reminding myself not to get my hopes up, I was still foolishly expecting a happy ending. I was expecting at least a chance. Now, I've made a mess of things and I have no idea how to set it right again.
It hurts so much more than it has a right to. Simple infatuation isn't supposed to make my heart clench and my stomach drop. It shouldn't feel devastating. It shouldn't leave me absolutely empty inside.
So why does it?
I hadn't seen Faith for a week, not since I'd moved out of her apartment. It just didn't feel right to still be living with her after what happened. But I also didn't want her to think her rejection was driving me away. That was the last thing I wanted her to believe and the last thing I wanted to happen. Faith was right. No matter what, -- we are friends, first and foremost. So after procrastinating and making excuses for my absence over the last few days, much of that time spent licking my wounded pride, I decided enough was enough.
I wasn't going to turn my back on Faith just because she didn't return my feelings for her. It had hurt -- still did -- but I had to get over it. There's no way I'm going to lose her over this.
I heard from Tara that Faith was on werewolf watch again tonight and it would give me the perfect opportunity to speak with her alone. So as soon as it got dark enough, I drive over to the Magic Box. Miraculously, I get there without incident -- a first if there ever was one.
My palms are sweating as I make my way over to the back door and I have to stop and take a couple of deep breaths before I get up the nerve to knock. Shifting from one foot to the other, I wonder why it's taking so long for Faith to answer when the door's abruptly pulled open. She's there, backlit by the light in the room behind her and it takes me a second to make out her face. She stares at me, her initial surprise quickly changing to apprehension. I don't blame her -- I've basically been avoiding her for days. I'd be suspicious of me too.
"Can I come in?" I ask when she still hasn't said anything. Her silence is unnerving.
She steps aside after a brief pause but still doesn't say anything. I flinch when Oz growls from the other side of the room as I move around Faith.
" I just thought I'd drop by." I try to act cheery but she just folds her arms across her chest. "And if you wanted company while you're watching Oz, I could be company. I'm good at being company. I've been company many many times. And maybe, if you didn't mind, we could talk even if you'd like."
She falters a bit after I finish my incoherent greeting and then her head dips. She mumbles, "Why're you here, B. I thought you were still mad?"
She looks so insecure standing there. I've never seen this side of Faith before and I never want her to look like that again, especially if I'm the cause it.
"Why would I be mad?" I ask, surreptitiously edging closer to her. "I still like you, Faith. I care for you. A lot. These last few days, I had to get my head together, that's all. But I've done that and I'm here now. Whatever happens, you have to know that I will always be there for you Believe me?"
She shrugs. "Well, when you put it like that " She looks up and smiles slightly and I feel my world start righting itself again. "I'm glad you're here, B. Oz is great and all but he's not much company when he's baying at the moon."
"What kind of friend would I be if I left you to languish in boredom?" I tease, following her to the bench.
I take time out in between listening to her crack jokes to breathe a sigh of relief that everything seems back to normal again.
Standing on a low rise in the cemetery -- one of several in this little burg -- I watch a severe one-sided ass kicking in progress. It would be really entertaining in that bloods 'n guts sort of way if you didn't have a personal stake in the outcome. I, however, was anxiously waiting for Faith to finish off the vamp instead of playing with him like a cat with a dying mouse. She's the Slayer; she's very good at killing off demony bad guys. In fact, she could've finished this off much earlier but she prefers to brutalize them first. I get nervous when she plays around with things that can kill her. I'm scared that one day, she'll let her guard down and she'll get hurt or worse.
Every day I spend with her, the fear grows stronger and every day, I wish I had to power to protect her against herself.
She finishes pummeling the vamp's head against a headstone and takes a stake, preparing to drive it into his heart. A negligent twirl of her weapon of choice follows the dust cloud that showers her clothes and makes her nose twitch. She turns, giving me a cocky grin, which promptly drops off when she sees the serious expression on my face.
"What's the matter?" She asks, putting her stake away.
I walk towards her, feeling irrationally angry that she's so casual about risking her life every single night but most of all that she has to put her life on the line at all.
"Why do you do that?" I ask, allowing all the anger I feel at the situation get the better of me. "Why do you always have to beat them to a pulp first? While you're distracted, some other vamp might have gotten the drop on you. You've got to think first before you act."
Her expression immediately darkens. "I'll do things my way, B," she growls. "In case you didn't get the memo, I'm the Slayer. I know what I'm doing."
"When it comes down to a fight, yes you do. But there are times -- times like just now where you don't know how to control your anger. You let it get the better of you."
"Thanks for letting me in the know, Yoda," she scoffs, turning her back on me. "You don't know what it's like, B -- when it's you against them and you see the fear in their eyes. You can't know because you're not me. So don't try and get into my head and don't try to tell me how to do my job."
The words hurt, reminding me once again that, no matter how hard I try, I would always be kept at arm's length.
"I just don't ever want to see you get hurt," I say to her back, the words coming straight from my heart. "I worry that every time you go out will be the last. I try to tell myself I'm worrying over nothing, that you'll be just fine. I know you're the Slayer, Faith. Do you think I could ever forget that? That's even more reason for me to worry. I try not to. I really do. But I can't help it, Faith."
She slowly turns back around and I could almost believe I saw a flicker of something cross her eyes. Is it just my imagination that I saw her look at me with something more than friendship? Am I just seeing what I want to see?
"You shouldn't worry about me that much," she says with a melancholic half smile that softens up her whole face. "Whatever happens will happen no matter how much we want it not to."
"I can't help it," I repeat in the same tone.
"And I can't help what I am, B."
I have a feeling she's talking about more than being just the Slayer.
"Can you at least promise me you'll try to be more careful?" I ask, hoping to strike a compromise. Faith would never be completely prudent or even particularly cautious when slaying; she takes too much joy in the act. But I need her to try -- I need to hear the words come from her mouth if only for the selfish reason of easing my own mind.
She strides towards me until she's standing right in front of me. Her eyes gleam from the little moonlight above and for a minute, neither of us speaks. Then her hand reaches out, landing neatly on my hip. I can feel the heat of her palm hot against my skin even through the material of my pants. My breath comes faster as her hand starts wending its unhurried way onto the small of my back.
"Faith?" The name comes out an exhalation, losing steam at the end.
She gently shushes me, cupping my cheek with her free hand and rubbing her thumb on the corner of my mouth. Ever so slowly she leans in, giving me every opportunity to turn away. But how can I when possibly every rational thought in my head has abandoned me for greener pastures elsewhere? As her lips descend on my own, I willingly close my eyes, giving her silent permission and waiting for the softness to overwhelm me. Every sense immediately heightens -- I can feel every point of contact between our bodies. Her touch burns me and when her lips finally press on mine, I know this moment will stay with me forever, branded into my memory as surely as any hot poker would mark my flesh.
My body unconsciously leans towards her and the hand on my back wanders under the hem of my shirt, her fingers raising goosebumps as they lightly trail over my skin. I press closer. My tongue forces its way into her mouth and finds itself in unfamiliar territory that only lasts as long as it takes me to map out every groove, recess, and surface I can reach. Everything around us fades away. Nothing else matters. Nothing except Faith, her scent, her touch, her heat.
Too soon, she pulls away, her hands sliding from my cheek and from my back.
"Let's go get something to eat," she says, her voice pulling me through the haze fogging my mind like the beacon from a lighthouse. "I'm wicked hungry."
I follow her without knowing what to make of the sudden kiss or the change of subjects. I was already feeling off kilter and her casual comment comes like a splash of cold water -- like a dismissal and a rejection all rolled up into a tight little ball.
Having spent the last few days in exhausting meetings with a client, I'd just flown back cross-country from Florida to LA on the Red eye. Although the trip resulted in a steady diet of productive ideas and significant headway on the new project, I was incredibly glad to finally be home. Or at least a car's ride away from home. With the help of an extra large cup of coffee, I was able to make the car ride without driving off the road or crashing into a ditch. But once I got home, the caffeine in my system wouldn't let me just drop down and fall asleep like my mind so desperately wanted to. So I decided I'd pick up Terror from Faith and hopefully by then, my jittery nerves would have time to settle down.
The kiss we'd shared still weighed heavily on my mind because, to me, it was still unresolved. She hadn't explained why she did it and neither did she seem very concerned about it. And to top it off, I'd had to leave on my trip right afterwards so I hadn't spoken to her since the day after that night.
It's still early in the morning when I knock on her door. I can hear Terror barking excitedly from inside and an involuntary smile pops up on my face. Faith doesn't exactly wake up in a pleasant frame of mind so when she finally opens the door some minutes later with a scowl on her face, it's not unexpected. Terror, however, greets me with his usual enthusiasm, completely offsetting his grumpy companion.
"Hi boy. How're you doing?" I bend down, giving him a good scratching while Faith slumps against the doorframe. I was trying very hard not to stare at her but I had the perfect vantage point to view her legs -- sleek and tan and muscular and perfectly exposed since she was wearing only a pair of boxers and a white tank top.
"When did'ya get back?" She slurs with a yawn.
I stand back up and follow her into the barely there kitchen where she immediately puts on a pot of coffee.
"I drove back this morning," I tell her, leaning against the counter that effectively separates the kitchenette from the living room. "Thanks again for taking care of Terror for me while I was gone. I hope he wasn't too much trouble."
She turns around and smirks. "The little furball's all right. We even bonded over some Slim Jims and pizza."
"Oh, great," I say, rolling my eyes. "Now you've spoiled him and he'll give me those soulful puppy dog eyes when I give him his dog food later. Anything else happen around here while I was in Florida?"
Faith let out a disgusted grunt. "You won't believe how dead it's been -- a couple of vamps, one dumbass demon, and nothing else. Fucking summers are always so boring."
I let none of my happiness show but inside, I was quietly rejoicing. Boring equals safe and safe equals an alive and kicking Slayer.
"Not that I want the world to end again," she continues, pouring both of us a mug of coffee. "But give me something to kick around, y'know? I haven't gotten in a good fight for so long, I think I'm gonna bust and take it out on the next drunk who gropes my goodies like it comes with their drinks."
"They grope you?" I squeeze hard on the mug in my hands. How dare some scummy guy even think about touching her?
"Well usually it's only when they're sloshing drunk and dumber than a motherfuck," she says, carelessly gulping down a few mouthfuls of black coffee.
By now, I was used to the incredible heights of foul language she could achieve and especially so in the mornings when it seems her brain wasn't awake enough to censure her thoughts before they leave her mouth.
Unexpectedly, she puts down her cup and says out of the blue, "By the way, welcome back, B. I missed you."
I smile widely. "I missed you too and I've been really meaning to ask you. Before I left " Her eyes widen and she looks almost scared. It would've been funny in any other situation. "Faith, we didn't get a chance to talk about this before I left but why did you kiss me?"
She backs away from the counter but there's really no more room to back into. "Would you believe me if I said I don't know?"
"If you said that Faith, then I'd believe you." I hold my breath, waiting for her to make a decision. But I can already see the answer in her eyes -- the attraction, the fear, the warmth, the panic. They're all there like an open book for me to read and not one of those emotions is an 'I don't know'. The only question now is if she'll say it out loud.
Her jaw works for several seconds as she leans back against the fridge. Then, as if finally coming to a decision, her eyes flicker to the side and she says tonelessly, "I dont know why, B."
I look down at the dark liquid in my cup, feeling my jaw clench so hard, it takes all the control I have to tell her, "I believe you, Faith."
One lie deserves another.
You don't really know the meaning of disgusting until you've trudged through the sewers and felt the mucky water seeping further into your boots with every step you take. It isn't exactly on the list of top five things I'd like to do on a Saturday night but those are the drawbacks when you're dealing with evil. It turned out that Faith's declaration that summers were boring was a little too premature.
A gang of Juniro demons have come to Sunnydale and destruction and mayhem have naturally followed their arrival. From what we've already seen of them, they range in size from six to seven feet. Pale gray, wiry, and fast, their razor sharp teeth are their greatest weapons but luckily for us, they're not very smart.
Following a tip Faith had gotten from one of her sources, we were now on our way to their den where at least seven of them would be holed up. I was less nervous tonight, carrying a short sword than I was the first time I patrolled. I guess that could be because the whole gang was with me this time. That's not to say I don't feel safe with just Faith because I do. But it's not really the same. Tara and the rest of them are like me -- they don't have super strength, they don't have super speed and yet they're still here because, when it comes right down to it, this is the right thing to do. It's comforting to know we're all in this together.
We'd walked for about ten minutes in the muck when, seemingly out of nowhere, our demons appeared, coming at us fast from the front and the back. It was too narrow and darkly lit in the corridor to move easily. I couldn't tell what was happening. I only knew one thing: hack at anything that wasn't human.
The tunnel rang with the noise of the fight. Screams, cries, clanging metal -- they all meshed into a chaotic symphony, only drowned out by the loud thumping of my heart in my chest.
Oz stood at my side, driving off one demon. I saw my chance as he distracted it with a couple of feints of his axe. I raised my own sword, bringing it down on the unprotected juncture between the gray skinned demon's neck and shoulders, feeling the blade sink in deeply. It let out a scream so loud, I flinched back, allowing Oz to swing his blade into its sternum.
With that threat gone, I glanced up ahead to see Larry, Tara, and Faith taking care of three other demons. Oz ran forward to help out and I'd just taken a step to follow when something bumped into me from behind. Before I had time to react, an excruciating pain lit up my side and I was falling, feeling the splash of cold water on my knees and hands as I stumbled forward. It felt like a burning fire was scorching through my entire body, leaving me screaming for it to end. I had never felt anything even close to this and I was sure I was dying. I would welcome anything if it would just end the pain. Another flash of raw agony tore through me and it felt like my flesh was being stripped from my body, piece by piece.
Distantly, I heard my name through the cloud settling rapidly over the part of my mind that hadn't yet shut down to protect itself. It sounded familiar but it was too hard to think right now.
Maybe later, I'd remember.
I woke up in a world of pain.
Pain. Pain. Pain. And an itch on my back.
Lying on my left side and having no idea where I was or why I couldn't move without wanting to pass out could be one of the worse experiences in my life. I could tell I was in the hospital; one glance around pretty much confirmed that. The memories of what happened in the sewer tunnels started trickling back and I winced as I remembered the all comsuming pain -- the last thing I remember. As least now, the burning on my side is more like a constant throb so I won't be praying to God to kill me now.
Just then the nurse enters my room and I ask in the most pathetic voice possible for some painkillers. What actually comes out of my mouth more resembles a bullfrog in the heat of mating season but luckily she seems to understand and shoots enough drugs into my body for me to fall quickly back asleep again.
I don't know how long I'm out for but when I wake up again, the light in the room has dimmed and it feels a little more bearable to be alive. That lasts as long as I try to move which brings me back to a jarring, teeth-gritting halt.
"Buffy, are you all right?" Ben's voice reaches my ears before I see his shadowed form coming to stand at the side of my bed. "Don't try to move. You might injure yourself again." He places a cool hand on my forehead, gently running his fingers through my hair as I settle back down.
"Ben? How long have I been here?" I croak out.
"You were brought in last night," he explains, turning around and grabbing a plastic cup off a table next to the bed. He places a straw in it and holds it to my mouth. "Here drink this."
I gratefully sip the water into my parched mouth as Ben continues stroking my hair in a soothing manner.
"What happened Buffy?" He asks, the concern evident in his voice. "They brought you in with severe blood loss and lacerations on your side. I didn't even know until I started my shift today that you were even here. Do you remember what happened?"
"I don't know," I tell him honestly. All I know is that something hit me from behind and then I passed out from the pain.
"It doesn't matter. You're here now and you're safe."
He gives me one last pat and starts to get up but I grab his arm, ignoring the stab of pain the sudden movement causes.
"Who brought me in?" I ask. "Was anybody else hurt?"
"No one else as far as I know. The group that brought you in one of them, Faith, said to tell you she'll be by early tomorrow to see you."
I heave a sigh of relief, glad that all of my friends seem to be fine. Once my worries are eased, my eyes droop closed as I feel exhaustion creeping up on me. Ben smoothes down my hair one more time, promising he'd be by later before leaving the room. It doesnt take long after that for me to fall asleep again.
The next time I swim towards consciousness, I feel someone's hand touching my forehead. At first I thought it was Ben but for some reason, that felt wrong -- the touch was too delicate. Curiosity finally rousing me, I opened my eyes and watched the face above me swim into view.
"Hey, B," Faith says, giving me a little grin. "How's my girl doing?"
"Faith, you're here." I happily grin back, feeling infinitely better that I can see with my own eyes that she's all right.
"Of course I'm here. Those fucking doctors told me to come back tomorrow but I wasn't going anywhere until I got to at least see you first." She suddenly grimaces and her voice lowers. "Last night, I was so fucking scared, B. I saw you lying there with all that blood on you and you weren't moving -- not even a little don't ever scare me like that again. I thought I could take anything after all the shit I've been through but I can't take that."
She looks at me earnestly as her eyes shine bright with unshed tears. If I could I would get up and take her into my arms and never let go. Instead, I grab her hand, bringing it to my lips for a gentle kiss across the knuckles.
"That's exactly how I feel about you, Faith. Every time we go out there, we're putting ourselves on the line. But I will promise you I'll take all the precautions I can so I won't wind up back here again. Will you promise me the same?" She nods but I can see from the look on her face what she'll say next so I cut her off. "And if you're going to suggest I don't come with you anymore, save your breath because we're all in this together -- you, me, Tara, Oz, Larry, all of us. And there's no way in hell I'll leave your back unwatched." I review the last sentence in my head and realize it didn't really come out sounding right but my head was starting to feel fuzzy again.
Faith bends down closer, nuzzling her nose in my hair as her breath tickles my ear.
"You can watch my back whenever," she whispers hoarsely. Pulling back a little, her lips slowly brush across my cheek, my eyes, my nose, and finally my mouth. She lingers there, drawing me deeper into a kiss I could feel down to my feet. I groan when she pulls away but she shushes me gently.
"I'd better go before Mongo the nurse comes around again; that woman scares even me. But I'll be back bright and early tomorrow, okay?" I nod reluctantly and she kisses me briefly one last time before walking to the window and climbing out.
I think there might be two or three Faiths lurking out there, each one its own distinct and separate entity. How else to explain how she could be kissing me one minute and the next act as if nothing had happened? I guess I shouldn't be surprised. She's done it before. Doesn't make me less disappointed though. Knowing what I do about Faith, I can guess that this type of reaction is her way of dealing when there's any type of emotional overload. But again, knowing doesn't make me feel any better when she refuses to even make eye contact with me the next day.
They had all come to visit me, piling into my room with flowers and even a get-well card.
"How are you feeling?" Tara asks first with some concern. "You really had us all scared."
"I feel a little better." I make a face, feeling a twinge in my side just as I say that. "I got my first look at my wound when the nurse came in today to change the bandages. Not pretty. I don't think I'll be wearing any bathing suits in the near future. What happened to me?"
"You were attacked from behind. It bit you on the side and latched on," Oz explains, the tensing around his mouth and the narrowing of his eyes the only indicators of his distress.
I swallow with some difficulty, imagining what it must've looked like.
"Faith went homicidal when she saw you go down," Larry adds. I didn't miss his subtle wink but I'm not sure whether he meant it for me or for Faith. "She took out both the demons we were fighting and stomped yours into the ground."
I look over at Faith but her eyes are staring fixedly at the floor. The only indication she was listening at all was the hint of a slight flush on her cheeks.
"We're so glad you're okay, Buffy. Do you know when the doctors are letting you out?" Tara asks, breaking me from my scrutiny.
"Well, Ben said it was going to be another two or three days. But I really hate staying in hospitals so I'm hoping I can talk him down. Oh!" I cry out, inadvertently making Tara jump. "Will one of you guys take care of Terror for me while I'm here?"
"Already taken care of, B," Faith says, her eyes staring at something above my head. "The little mutt's staying at my apartment right now."
Larry smiles reassuringly. "So don't worry about anything. We'll take care of whatever you need. You just concentrate on getting better so you can get out of here and get back to kicking demon butt again."
I laugh along with them, feeling equal parts relieved I'm not dead and happy they're all here semi-celebrating that I'm not dead. It all feels surreal somehow, living on the edge. I've never been a 'living on the edge' type of person. The closest I've flirted with death before moving here was that time I left the gas on at my house and forgot about it for a whole ten minutes. Not exactly the stuff of legends.
A few minutes later, after promises of coming back tomorrow, everyone starts to leave -- everyone except Faith. I'm kind of surprised she's still here. By the way she was acting all morning, I'd have thought she would be the first one to run out the door. Instead, she shuffles over to the bed, grabbing a chair on the way and sits down still without once meeting my gaze.
After a brief but entirely too awkward silence, she suddenly blurts out, "I hate hospitals too." She looks up almost shyly after the abrupt announcement, giving me a crooked grin. "The food sucks and it smells like cheap cleanser."
Not sure what to make of this Faith I'm seeing now, I settle for a nod. We settle back into silence and I feel the incredible urge to fidget.
Finally, she bites her bottom lip and sighs, pinning me down with liquid brown eyes that look as confused as my own.
"Buffy," she begins, using my full name in one of the few rare instances since she's known me. "I'm going to say this and I want you to wait until I finish before you say anything, okay?"
She waits for me to nod before continuing. "I'm the Slayer. It's my job to go out every night and risk my life to save the lives of people I don't know. I do this shit not cause it's right and not cause some old men sitting over in England tell me to. I do it cause it's who I am; it's what makes me feel like I'm worth something. And I'm not gonna lie to you. It's also a hell of a lot of fun beating up on vamps and demons. If I can't do that, I'm just some nobody fuck up from Southie. And now I have another reason to thank the powers that be that I'm the Slayer -- I want to protect my friends. I want to protect you. But you've got to understand -- one day, my luck will run out and some demon's gonna get the drop on me. It's just a matter of time. I've probably got a few years more till that happens if I'm lucky and I want to make the most of it. I want to spend it making you happy. It sounds corny but when you're happy, I'm happy. So what I'm trying to say in a real shitty way is, if you still want to hook up with me and for more than just some horizontal action, then I won't say no this time. If you still want to, just nod."
My chest feels like someone's sitting on it. Whatever I expected her to say, this wasn't it. I'm momentarily speechless, my thoughts jumbled, and for one brief moment, I wonder if I'm in some dope induced fever dream. Then everything inside me completely stops when I notice Faith's expression darken and her eyes grow cold. She begins to back away, the noise from the chair scraping across the floor snaps me into action and I quickly nod. Despite the dizzy, nauseous feeling the action causes, I nod like a crazy woman.
Her face immediately brightens up as a chuckle emerges, low and deep in her throat. "Okay B. Stop before your head falls off." She reaches out, brushing aside some hair that had fallen across my forehead. "I have no idea what I'm doing, B. I've never done anything like this before."
"I'll help you," I say, reaching for her hand and reveling in the warm weight of it in my own.
She smiles a self-deprecating grin, looking distant for a second. "I'll need all the help I can get. You'll probably get so sick of me by the end of the week--"
Instead of finishing whatever self-condemning thing she was about to say, she yelps, looking down at me with an unbelieving expression that quickly turns wicked.
"You bit me," she states, lowering her head so we're at eye level.
I try not to smile as I say as seriously as I can manage, "Only on the finger."
She smiles an evil little smile that makes me start worrying about what she's got on her mind when she suddenly licks me on the nose.
Faith laughs, smug in her vengeance. "Nobody bites me and gets away with it," she crows and I think if I hadn't grabbed the front of her T-shirt just then, she would've gotten up and done a little victory dance.
Still looking way too amused with herself, she leans back in, licking my lips this time. I was only too happy to let her in, feeling her tongue slipping against my own and willingly losing myself in the kiss. I don't need to have kissed any other women to know that Faith is a good kisser. My fingers bury themselves in her thick hair, pulling her closer, loving that I can now do this whenever I want.
I don't know how much time passes when a strangled gasp outside our little world breaks us apart. We back off slowly and glancing over at the doorway, I see a stunned and slightly embarrassed Ben.
"I'm sorry I just needed .. um I'm just going to check your chart and get out of your hair."
Ben couldn't have left fast enough, occasionally shooting us both furtive glances while he was in the room. But I couldn't dredge up any shame for what I did. It wasn't how I'd wanted him to find out but neither was I seeking his approval.
Faith's finger ran down my cheek, effectively expelling all thoughts of Ben as well as everything else of any significance.
I really thought the first time I made love to Faith would be wonderful. I would know exactly what to do because I had instincts. And what are instincts good for if not to bring your girlfriend to orgasmic heights again and again? That's what I thought. What actually happened bore little resemblance to the passionate and mind shattering idealized first encounter I had built up in my head.
I think it might have been made worse because we rushed into it a little too soon. My injuries were still tender and Faith seemed really worried about hurting me more. She was really gentle, almost too much so. I could feel her holding back, kissing me but without the raw passion thrumming underneath the surface, touching me but with uncertain hands, making me come but leaving me so empty afterwards.
And when I tried kissing my way down her throat after my breathing slowed down to a normal pace, she stopped me, pushing me gently back.
"Maybe later, okay B? I'm kinda tired right now."
Not exactly the perfect moment I'd dreamt about. And yet it was exactly where I wanted to be -- next to Faith, next to the person I was falling in love with -- and I wouldn't have changed a thing about what happened even if I could.
When she looked at me afterwards, lying beside me, I could see the fear lurking behind her eyes.
"What's wrong?" I ask, smoothing down the furrow on her brow.
"Nothing," she answers with a smile so big, I know it's fake. But I decide not to press the matter as she tucks me under her chin. My head comes to rest on her shoulder. I almost open my mouth to protest. After all, I'm not the snuggling type -- just ask anyone who's ever slept with me. But, as insecure as I know she is under all that attitude, if I move away from her now, she'll probably take it as a rejection. So I settle in, hoping to make the best of it and end up falling asleep with surprising ease.
It was almost comforting waking up with her arms surrounding me, not confining like I'd feared. Her even breaths ruffle the top of my hair, letting me know she's still asleep. I breathe in deeply, absorbing the warm scent of her skin and feeling the incredible urge to taste it. Since nothing was stopping me, I turn my head, kissing her shoulder and allowing my tongue to peek out, tasting the still salty flesh. I had no idea what I was doing. I've never made love to a woman before, my earlier failed attempt notwithstanding. I know the basic technique but it's the practice I'm having trouble with. Despite that, however, I decide to go with the flow.
Backing away slightly, my eyes take in the gorgeous woman next to me. I shudder; seeing her naked flesh makes my own flesh crawl pleasantly. I wanted--no, I needed to possess her completely. I needed to be inside her, needed to hear her crying out my name, and I needed this now.
I move back in, planting nibbling, licking kisses from her throat to her breasts. I feel her moan under my lips but I don't stop to see if she's awake. My tongue, pointed and wet, lick the valley between her soft breasts. My lips planting wet kisses now and then on her hot flesh. Her breaths start coming in harsh and short the longer I play and I had no more doubt she was finally awake as her hands come around to urge my head to her breast.
I roll on top of her, straddling her so I could grind my knee into her crotch, which was already wonderfully wet. When I finally find her breast with my mouth, she immediately arches her back, surrendering herself in the language of gasps and sighs. I drive my knee harder and harder against the wetness between her legs and I'm not sure who it excites more, her or me. I keep on sucking her breasts, alternating from one to the other, feeling like I couldn't get enough of her. Faith shivers in delight as I gently tug on a nipple with my teeth. I was content to play with her breasts for hours -- they're just so perfect, spilling over slightly when I cup it in my hand.
Her voice comes in a whisper above me. "Lower. B. Lower. Now."
I hear the hint of desperation in her voice. I'm not about to disappoint her. I start to work my way down, kissing her flat stomach, pausing along the way and swirling my tongue in her belly button which elicits a sharp intake of breath. Her legs widen wantonly in invitation. I slide down even more, the ends of my hair tickling the bare flesh of her thighs and making them quake. I scoot down until my face is poised above her slit.
I feel slightly nervous once I'm there but the scent of her fills me, soothing away the fears and it allows me to return to my earlier confidence. I brush my fingers lightly across her sex, reveling at the sight of the arousal dripping from those lips like honey. Does it taste the same?
I look up and see Faith watching me intently with smoky, desire-filled eyes that beg me silently for more contact. Slipping a finger inside her, I watch her face contort and her eyes slip shut tight. I build a slow rhythm, working my finger in and out. I've never felt intimacy like this. I'm actually inside a person -- inside her. I add another finger and she bites down on her bottom lip even as her hips come up to meet me. I bow my head in something like reverence and get my first taste of her. It tastes musky and sharp and I know, I won't ever be able to get enough of her.
She whimpers in need. Her legs jerk as my tongue flicks across her swollen clit. As I continue to play with the sensitive bundle of nerves, her head thrashes violently from side to side and her legs fly around my back, pressing my face against her. My lips feel bruised as I struggle to drink her juices as fast as her body produces it. I could feel her inner walls clench around my fingers as her ass lifts off the bed. And then she's calling my name over and over again as she comes.
Something deep inside of me responds to her calls and I explode into her, my scream coming out muffled. I feel like I'm being torn apart as waves upon waves of pleasure rip through me. It takes me beyond thought, higher than I've ever been before until the only things in my universe are her and bliss. As the last tremor passes through my body, she gathers me up, pulling me on top of her. This time, I don't even think to protest as I snuggle into her arms.
I can honestly say that the next few weeks after that first night we were together, are the happiest in my life. I saw her most days, either at the bar, at the Magic Box, on patrol, or just hanging out wherever. The gang couldn't have been happier for us well, Larry, Oz, and Tara, anyway. Anya really didn't care one way or the other. As long as we didn't scare away any potential customers, we could set ourselves on fire and she'd happily bring the marshmallows.
That's not to say we didn't have our moments of friction. Oftentimes, when Faith's in that mood where all she wants is to be left alone, she'll go off who knows where for hours, even days on end without word. I don't know what's in her mind when she gets like that. She won't talk to me and when I try to push, she storms off. When she comes back, however much later, she acts as if we never had an argument. I realize I tend to nag a bit but it gets to the point when you don't even bother anymore because you've been through it too many times and the result is always the same.
On a lighter note, snuggling is still very new to me and especially awkward when I've spent so long telling myself it's over-rated anyway. But surprisingly, Faith is very adamant about holding me while we're in bed together. It's really cute when she has that determined set to her face and over of all things, a little cuddling.
But as I've said, despite the occasional arguments and blow-ups, we were basically happy renting a cottage in the land of Coupledom. The real estate property's high but you get a great view of the Estate of Commitment next to the Pond of Devotion just down the road
Okay, I'm going to stop with the land metaphors now before I freak myself out.
Anyway, it's now September and, every day that passes, it seems like more and more bad guys of the supernatural bent are showing up in town and stirring up trouble. Every spare moment, if we're not researching how to beat the monster of the week, we're actually beating up on the monster of the week. It got to the point where I was starting to think there was some kind of convention in town that nobody had bothered to tell us about. I couldn't believe when Tara said this was pretty much average by Sunnydale standards.
Can you tell that I can't wait for my very first Apocalypse?
Except that I can.
I've heard stories about how close my girlfriend came to dying those last two times. Not something I want to think about, let alone repeat. Sometimes when I'm alone in my bed and staring at the other side of the cold sheets where Faith should be, it hits me real hard.
I know I love her -- I don't even try to deny it anymore. It's the kind of love I never thought I'd have because I never thought it existed. And before Faith, it didn't. Not for me anyway. So how can I even think of losing her now?
I want more time. More time to find out all the little things about her. More time to go on dates with her. More time to just love her. And by now, it's more a question of need.
But even if that's not in our future to grow old together, I'll make sure we make the most of what time we do have together.
For now, I'll stay awake until Faith comes home because her face is the one I want to fall asleep to. And when she wakes up in the morning, cute and grumpy as usual, I'll be the first one she sees.