Fallout
by Dylan
Rating: NC-17

Disclaimer: These characters do not belong to me, unfortunately. They are the property of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy and whoever the hell else owns them. I make no profit from this.
Timeline: Season 8. WARNING...season 8 spoilers.
A/N: So it seems I'm back to actively writing more than one story at a time again. Here's a new one, though it won't be too long. The next chapter to One Day will be up sometime in the next few days. What can I say though, I got inspired. Cheers.

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CHAPTER ONE

Faith gazed out of her apartment window, the soft rain dribbling down the glass to the dead plants in her window box. She'd put them there to make it feel like more of a home, but nowhere ever felt like home. Never had. They'd withered and died without her even noticing.

"Tell me the part where I have to go with you again, `cause I'm not getting it," Faith said, her arms crossed over her chest.

"You're going because I'd like you there. Things are a little prickly between Buffy and I right now; I could do with having you around, as a friend as much as a slayer," Giles responded, his voice drifting over Faith's shoulder as he stood by the kitchen table.

Faith looked away from the window and down to her scuffed boots. It felt nice to be called a friend, especially by Giles, but that didn't make her feel any less wary about making the trip to Scotland. She wasn't sure it was a good idea; her last meeting with Buffy hadn't exactly gone well.

"She's gonna be pissed," she told him.

"She'll have to deal with it; I informed her I wouldn't go without you."

Faith turned towards the man stood in her gloomy kitchen. His hair had more flecks of grey in it every day, and his clothes always seemed a little more winkled these days, but he still had an air of determined authority that Faith couldn't ignore. She'd rebelled against Giles on many occasions, but he was no longer her superior. . .he was a friend.

"You can deal with the fallout then, G. . .I'm just the backup," Faith said with a shrug.

She uncrossed her arms and held the back of the chair closest to her, trying to fight the dread inside at having to face Buffy so soon after their most recent fight.

"You're much more than that, Faith," Giles pointed out. "And really. . .I don't understand why the two of you are still fighting this way. I thought you were getting along ok when we were in LA. . .or better at least."

"Yeah, me too," Faith agreed.

She didn't have an answer as to why they were in a weird place again. After Sunnydale had imploded they'd been ok, or at least on the right track. Just before they'd started to move out, Buffy's attitude towards Faith had changed. Faith had tried to talk to her, but Buffy had closed down, insisted she was busy preparing to move, and ignored Faith for the rest of their time in LA.

"Shit happens though, G," Faith continued. "I learned to roll with it way back."

Giles pulled his glasses off his nose and gave them a swipe with the end of his jacket. He'd learned not to push the questions with Faith. It was always better to let her open up in her own time. If he probed deeper, she would cut him off completely. It didn't seem like she was any wiser about Buffy's change than he was anyway.

"They're expecting us in a few minutes," he said. "Let's hope Buffy decides to step down from her high horse enough to allow us to assist."

Faith nodded and grabbed her leather jacket from the counter top; she shrugged it on and made her way to get her bag. There wasn't much in it, just some essentials, a change of clothes or two. She didn't know how long they'd be there but she was sure it wouldn't be for more than a few days. A few days still seemed too long. There were other things she'd prefer to be doing, like helping out the few slayers she'd made contact with in the last two weeks or so. They needed her help more than Buffy, but here she was preparing to drop it all for her again. It hadn't taken much convincing on Giles' part to get her to shove some stuff into a bag and agree to tag along.

They stood in the kitchen together, bags in hands, a dark look on Faith's face that told Giles all he needed to know about how she felt.

"They'll be teleporting us any moment now so hang on to your hat," Giles informed.

Faith raised an eyebrow and wondered if she should tell him she wasn't wearing a hat. He was British, though, so she guessed it was just some weird British travelling phrase and let it go. He was getting more pissed at her constant jokes about his phrases every day, and she didn't want to irritate him right before they got zapped to. . .

Landing with a crunch, Giles and Faith arrived in Scotland, a fog of green mist swirling around them before it lifted to reveal the hub of Buffy's operation.

"Welcome to sunny Scotland," Xander said, greeting them with open arms.

"Yes, thank you. . .now please do pass a bucket," Giles spluttered, losing his lunch into a bright red bucket that was quickly pushed his way.

"Bucket, Faith?" Xander asked.

She shook her head, forcing down the queasy feeling that teleporting always caused.

"No thanks, five by five here," she insisted.

As Giles composed himself and Faith looked around - taking in the handful of slayers and the large screens and computers on the far wall - Xander stepped down from his platform.

"Glad you could both make it," he told them with a smile, instantly letting Faith know they were still cool, despite the spat with Buffy she'd had.

Faith dropped her bag to the floor and smiled back, feeling anxious through her resolve not to be. "So, some scrawny vamp has our scythe?" she asked, knowing that's why they were there, but eager to get right to it.

"My scythe," came a familiar voice as Buffy stepped out from behind some of the slayers in the room. She turned to Giles then and asked, "What is she doing here?"

Faith shook her head and bit her tongue. It wasn't her place to explain. It hadn't been her choice to come.

"Don't be impertinent, Buffy," Giles responded. "Faith is here because she can help."

Buffy looked Faith over, her green eyes piercing and questioning. Faith didn't speak, deciding it was better not to react. Reacting always landed her in trouble, and this was Buffy's turf. She would let Giles explain, and hopefully they could avoid another fistfight.

"I'm not happy," Buffy pointed out, "but we need the scythe back so. . .I guess we'll find space for her somewhere."

Buffy had been warned Faith was coming, but she still couldn't quite believe she was stood there – large as life – expecting to just fit right in again. It made Buffy edgy. She had her reasons; not least the fact Faith had almost drowned her during their last 'get together'.

"Right," Faith mumbled, feeling the urge to tell Buffy to fuck off, but holding it in.

"You'll do more than just find space, Buffy," Giles cut in, not planning to allow Buffy to get away with belittling Faith. "Faith has been more use to me than you probably know or could guess, and since the unfortunate incident with Lady Genevieve she's proven herself to be a very astute and important role model for some of the less fortunate new slayers."

Buffy opened her mouth to speak, but she couldn't find appropriate words to put Faith back in her place, not when Giles was backing her up so vehemently. It irritated her, but she wasn't ready to throw down with Faith again. It had shocked her that they'd fallen so easily into doing that the last time, but then. . .she'd also been under the impression that Faith had swapped sides again.

"Fine, Xander will get you settled, then we'll give you the run down on what we're gonna do," Buffy informed them. "And we'll talk tomorrow," she added in Faith's direction.

She hurried out of the room before she could fully catch Faith's eyes with her own. Buffy didn't have time for all the baggage that came along with Faith. Not only that, but her life was in a strange place lately and she didn't feel quite steady enough to keep from tripping over all that baggage. They had to talk however, and deal with their latest mess so they could get past it, at least to some extent. She didn't want bad feelings growing again. It was too destructive.

After Xander had led Giles to his room he continued on with Faith, rubbing under the string of his eye patch now and then as a slightly awkward silence descended over them. Faith hoped Buffy hadn't filled his head with lies about the fight; Xander had become somewhat of a friend in LA and she didn't want that to turn to shit.

"You look pretty good up there bein' all in-charge-guy, Xand," Faith said. "Suits you."

He smiled and looked proud. "I do what I can. Hell, it's the least I could do."

"She treat you good?" Faith asked.

"She's still Buffy, but she's our Buffy," he responded. "A little quirky sometimes, and quick to break my balls if I mess up. . .but I wouldn't change it."

Faith knew how much he loved Buffy. Not in the way that meant he wanted to get naked with her, but in the way that meant he was always there. . .taking her shit and turning a blind eye when needed. He'd always be by her side, and Faith couldn't fault him for that kind of loyalty, no matter how many slightly drunken nights they'd spent together in LA chatting up a storm about how insane Buffy could make a person.

She'd never told him how much Buffy had always had the ability to make her need to cross her legs and look for a quiet spot, but she had a feeling he kind of knew.

"This is your room," Xander said as they stopped outside a large door. "Not one of the best rooms, kinda chilly, but. . .Buffy didn't want you too close to her."

He shrugged apologetically and she chuckled. Yeah, same old Buffy, even after all the crap they'd gone through fighting The First, and the apparent bonding they'd done in LA. It was clear; whatever bridges they'd built had come tumbling down again.

"Thanks, Xand. Don't worry about me, I've stayed in crappier places," she told him, patting him on the shoulder.

He informed her of the small meeting they'd be having in the hall and pointed her in the direction to go, then he left. Faith ran a hand through her hair and pushed open the door to her room, trying to ignore the ominous creak.

It wasn't too bad inside. There was a bed at least, clean sheets, drapes at the window. The only other things occupying the room were a large chest of drawers and an old chair. On one wall there was a mirror and on the other a painting of a sinking ship. It reminded her of nowhere she'd ever been, yet felt familiar at the same time. Just another room. Another place that would never be home.

Once she'd pulled her clothes out of her bag, and tested the firmness of the bed, she checked her watch and left the room. Trying to fill the time before the meeting didn't seem possible when all she had to do was look out at mist-covered hills. There was only so much scenery she could stare at without finding her mind wandering into places she'd rather not go.

"Hi," a friendly voice greeted as Faith strolled down the corridor. "I'm guessing you're Faith."

Faith raised an eyebrow and gave a friendly nod back, glancing over the girl who obviously had a thing for teddy bears. She seemed nice. Unusual but nice.

"Buffy told me you and Giles were here already," the girl said. "Ready to kick some vampire butt?"

Faith held in a chuckle but couldn't help the smile. The girl was obviously trying to be nice, but Faith guessed maybe she didn't know a lot about her, or her past.

"Always ready for that," Faith replied.

She'd seen so many new slayers since LA, each one different in their own way, yet similar in their enthusiasm. It was only now and then that she came across slayers who seemed capable of crossing the line into not so good territory; much like Faith had done herself. This girl was clearly in no danger of disappearing into the possible darkness of being called.

"I know Buffy's kinda pissed you're here. . .but I think it's cool. The more slayers the better, and I hear you're one of the best," the girl continued. "I'm Satsu by the way."

She extended her hand towards Faith and Faith shook it.

"Some might say I'm even better than Buffy," Faith joked, "but most of `em probably didn't live past that."

Faith winked as Satsu's eyes went a little wide. She had no doubt Buffy's followers were all just as loyal as Xander. She was happy it was that way; it meant Buffy had good back up, and that she was safe. Safer than Faith was anyway.

"I'm glad you could come help," Satsu said, "but I just thought I'd better let you know that Buffy has a lot of friends here. Including me."

Faith took it as a note of warning, and Satsu's dark eyes left her in no doubt. She understood it to mean what it did; no matter how 'cool' anybody thought it was to have her there finally, she would never be held in the regard Buffy was, and one foot out of place would send a ton of angry slayers after her. Satsu had some balls, Faith couldn't deny that. . .and it was clear now that she probably knew at least some of the past Faith-Buffy rift. Just how much she knew Faith couldn't tell.

"Gotcha," Faith said, her smile still in place.

She wasn't about to feel threatened by anybody, but she respected the attempt. It was just another hammer, bashing away at Faith and keeping her down, in her place, below Buffy.

They parted as the corridor broke left and right further down, Faith heading towards the sound of voices. She felt out of place. Lost in a big castle. The place was full of slayers but she still felt like she was on the outside; like she didn't fit in. After rambling around the twisting corridors for a while she made her way to where she thought the meeting was being held, bumping into Giles on the way.

Once everybody in the know got situated in the hall for the meeting, Buffy breezed in with Satsu in tow. It was clear Satsu was Buffy's top slayer. Faith could only conclude that must be the case, as only a handful of other slayers were there, and none of them had a seat right by Buffy.

It'd been three nights since the scythe had been taken, and they'd done nothing but plan for their counterattack since. Every detail laid out. Every possible angle covered. Buffy went over the plan of attack, briefing the slayers and the scoobs on what their roles were. She gave Giles a spot next to Xander in the comms room, and told Faith she would be with the slayers outside, dealing with the guards and minions. Buffy and Satsu would break in and get the scythe, calling for backup if needed. Faith didn't need any more confirmation that Satsu was very much trusted by Buffy.

She looked away, staring out of the window into the fog, her thoughts slipping back in time to a place that hurt; to a place when Buffy had never given her the same amount of trust.

"So we'll be ready by tonight. Any questions?" Buffy asked as the meeting began to wrap up.

Giles cleared his throat and stood from his seat. "Though I have no doubt about Satsu's abilities, I was wondering if it would be more prudent for Faith to accompany you to get the scythe, Buffy. . .rather than have her outside with the rest of the slayers," he said.

"She'll stay outside. I'm used to working with Satsu," Buffy replied, clearly agitated by his question. "If anybody has a problem with that say so now."

A few of the slayers coughed uncomfortably, and Xander shuffled in his chair. Clearly there was some tension about something, but Faith couldn't tell what it was.

"I think everybody's fine with it, Buffy," Willow spoke up from the corner of the room.

Faith had avoided eye contact with Willow since bumping into her on the way in to the hall. They were still a little uncomfortable around each other, but that was to be expected considering what had happened in LA just before everybody took off. Still, it wasn't like they were enemies, or that they couldn't or didn't talk. . .it was just a little uneasy. She caught Faith's eyes as she moved further into the room, no hint of animosity making her feel unwelcome. It made Faith feel a little better, even if she was still confused about the obvious tension amongst everybody and the fact nobody had said much about how the scythe had been taken.

The room went silent again and Buffy glanced over at Satsu. She didn't want anybody questioning her authority because of what had happened on the night the scythe was stolen. She was aware that the girls were talking about it amongst themselves, petty jealousy raising its head a little as they grumbled about favouritism. She was still in charge, and Satsu was still her best slayer. . .regardless of whatever else had happened between them.

The hope to avoid any ill feeling in the camp had been shattered as soon as Xander – and everybody else - had walked in on them on their first night together. Word had spread quickly, and whispers behind hands were now commonplace. Buffy had wanted to quash it, stop the talking, and also stop any future involvement with Satsu that wasn't purely professional, but that had gone out of the window by the following night. They'd ended up in bed together again, twice.

"We'll meet back here then," Buffy said, wrapping it up finally.

The slayers began to filter out, leaving only the major players behind. Satsu remained, and Faith watched as Buffy leant towards her, whispering something in her ear.

"Just one more thing," Giles spoke up. "How exactly did Dracula manage to get past all the defences here?"

Buffy blinked and looked toward Xander, who looked toward Willow.

"Um, we're not sure," Willow replied. "It might have been Xander."

"Ah," Giles nodded, understanding. "I thought I'd ask just in case Dracula had been able to use his thrall on Buffy once more."

Faith listened in but said nothing as Xander scratched his head and Buffy fidgeted as if she was anxious about something.

"It definitely wasn't Buffy," Willow explained. "She was. . .busy, when they came."

"Too busy to notice you were under attack?" Giles asked, clearly a little dismayed that she'd allowed such a thing to happen.

Buffy stood from her seat next to Satsu and moved closer to Giles. "Hey, I've kept this place safe just fine. It just happened. Nobody's fault, nobody to blame. I was with Satsu. . .talking, and Willow was flying Andrew around, and Xander, well he came just as soon as he knew something was wrong. It couldn't have been avoided."

She looked directly at Giles, almost daring him to call her incompetent. Faith wondered if maybe he just wanted confirmation that she still needed him. She could understand that; everybody wanted validation from Buffy. The way Satsu had glanced away when Buffy had practically stuttered that they'd been talking rang a few bells inside Faith, but she doubted the bells made any sense, not where Buffy was concerned.

Giles nodded, seemingly placated, and the gang started making their way out of the hall. Xander had arranged a small meal for just him and Faith before the killing began and Faith was thankful for the thought. Something was going on and she didn't know what yet. Spending some time with Xander could only help clear things up; he'd never been very good at keeping things to himself.

As she followed him towards the kitchen she watched as Buffy walked some way ahead, side by side with Satsu. She thought that maybe they weren't aware anybody was paying attention as they spoke softly to each other, but Faith certainly noticed. She also noticed the way Satsu gently touched Buffy's back as they parted, and the smiles they exchanged.

"A lot's happened since we last spoke, Faith. . .I don't even know where to start," Xander commented as Buffy disappeared around a corner.

Faith wasn't sure she wanted to hear. There'd always been the idea of Buffy in her mind. Untouchable Buffy; the illusion of being out of reach had always been there. Even just the thought that another slayer had breached the barrier and reached in made Faith want to hit something. If her initial impression was right it made her feel jealous, angry, and sad all at once. It should have been her, Faith thought.

It should have been her.

CHAPTER TWO

Xander scooped some more spaghetti onto Faith's plate, telling her he remembered how much she liked to eat and that's why he'd been cooking up a storm. She chuckled and thanked him. She hadn't eaten anything all day and was grateful his memory was as good as it was.

"I'll just pretend like you didn't call me fat right there," Faith said, shovelling a large forkful into her mouth as his eyebrows shot up into his hairline.

"No, no, no," Xander protested, holding his hands up. "Not fat. Never fat. I mean look at you, you look. . .just as amazing as ever. I just know what you slayer types are like."

She smiled and winked, letting him know she wasn't in the least offended. She knew she could eat more than most. Her appetite for most things seemed out of proportion; like she could never get enough of anything.

"So, this Drac dude led an army of zoo types in here huh? How'd that go?" she asked, hoping to get more info than the little that had been shared during the meeting.

"We're not sure exactly what happened. One minute everything's fine, then. . .it's like Noah got pissed and dumped an Ark on the lawn," he told Faith as he mostly just watched her eat as he pushed spaghetti around on his plate. "I got sent to talk to him - what with being his pet monkey last visit - but he wasn't there. Seems like he's being forced to use his power for somebody else's benefit, as far as we can tell."

"Weird," she said.

"Yeah, and I gotta tell ya. . .wasn't the weirdest thing that happened that night," he said cryptically.

Faith slowed down her eating as she listened, hoping to learn more about what was going on with Buffy. She knew something was off, or different, but she was so far out of the loop there was no way she could really guess for sure what it was.

"You gonna fill me in or do I have to guess?" she asked, using her best smile on him.

Xander looked towards the door and back to Faith, scratching at his eye patch before continuing. "I shouldn't really say but you'll probably hear it from somebody else anyway," he told her. "When all hell was breaking lose with the misty vamp types, I walked in on Buffy. . .in the buff with Satsu."

He practically whispered the last part and Faith had to replay it in her head before it fully sunk in.

"Wait," she said, raising her eyebrow, "you tellin' me she got wriggly with a girl?"

"More than once," he confirmed, nodding, "though only with Satsu."

"Wow," Faith responded.

She didn't know quite what to say. She'd seen that there was something between Satsu and Buffy, but she couldn't have imagined it was quite like that, or had gone quite that far. Impressions were one thing; facts were another entirely.

Though the past told Faith that Buffy had never totally dismissed her flirting, she'd never imagined Buffy actually jumping from bi-curious to girl on girl hotness. It was a lot to take in. It was a lot to think about and not get totally jealous or pissed off about.

Faith pushed her plate aside and stared at the fork in her hand. There'd been a time she'd have done anything to be the girl Buffy took that road with. To be the one to hold her against her skin and feel the heat that would burn between them. It had never crossed from flirting into something more, and Faith had been sure during their time together in LA that it never would. She'd dropped a few hints, they'd gotten closer, but Buffy had always stepped back when it became more obvious there was at least an attraction between them.

After a while Faith had stopped dropping the hints and then. . .well, then Buffy had gone completely cold on her and she wasn't sure why.

"Took us all a little by surprise," Xander continued. "But if it makes her happy. . .who are we to judge?"

Nodding, Faith put her fork down and took a long drink of her glass of water. She knew now why Satsu had stopped her in the corridor; she obviously felt very protective over Buffy, and in more than just a friendly way.

"So she's happy then?" Faith asked quietly, staring into her empty glass.

Xander appeared to think about it, opening his mouth to speak but then stopping. He furrowed his brow and stood, lifting his plate from the table and taking it to the sink.

"Yunno, Faith," he began eventually, "I really can't tell for sure. Some days she seems fine, but others. . .it's like there's something missing."

As he stood by the kitchen sink, Faith could see that he was worried for Buffy. It seemed like he felt powerless, in no position to do anything for Buffy if she was unhappy. Faith knew how that felt; she'd been on the outside for long enough.

"I'm betting me being here sure as shit ain't helpin'," Faith said with a sad chuckle.

Xander shrugged. "She hasn't said much about you, `cept when she came back kinda mad that you'd tried to drown her."

"Was a weird sitch," Faith said by way of explanation.

"Sounded like it. And she was mostly angry at Giles I think," he told her.

They fell silent for a few moments. Faith had lost her appetite but didn't much feel like moving. Right where she was sat was as good a spot as any to wait out the few hours before they'd hit the place the scythe was being held. She didn't have anything to do other than grab a weapon and get her jacket when they were set to go.

"I think she kinda misses you, yunno," Xander told Faith as he handed her a cold soda from the fridge, opening one for himself before resting back against the sink again.

"I think you musta got hit in the head," Faith responded, a puzzled look on her face.

"No, seriously. She moped for weeks when we left LA, and whenever anybody mentions you she gets all. . .spacey."

"Spacey? Sounds like she's probably daydreamin' of ways she can kick my ass," Faith guessed.

She popped the ring of her soda can and gulped down half of it, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand as she lifted a foot up onto the chair opposite her.

"Probably, but I'm guessing she misses that about your relationship," he said with a smirk.

They both laughed; both knowing just how much Faith rubbed Buffy up the wrong way, and how Buffy always got Faith so mad she'd have to walk around for hours just to burn it off. At least in LA they hadn't come to blows, apart from the ones during sparring. They'd started to learn when to back off rather than fight, but Faith hadn't been given the opportunity to see where that would lead them.

"She kinda froze me out back in LA at the end, Xand," Faith told him. "Doubt she's exactly sad I'm not around."

Her voice cracked as she said it, the rough texture to it straining easily under the weight of her feelings. She hated that nothing was ever simple where Buffy was concerned. She hated that she was always looking for answers, for forgiveness, for any kind of sign that Buffy had the same thoughts and desires as her. Those thoughts and desires ran deep. Deeper than any wound Buffy had ever given her.

"Yeah, I noticed something was off. What was that about?" Xander asked.

"Beats me, Xand. One day we're cool. . .the next she won't even talk to me," Faith explained. "I got a feelin' it's got something to do with me pissin' off Willow just before we all split up, but B hardly spoke to me after that so. . ." She shrugged and took another drink.

"But Will's fine with you now, and to be honest I don't even remember her being mad at you after Sunnydale went underground," Xander remarked. "I doubt it's that."

"Then I got no clues over here, big guy," Faith said. "I just know I'm back to being the slayer she doesn't want around. I can deal with that, s'not like I'm used to it being any other way."

Xander took a deep breath and shook his head, the slight look of pity making Faith feel just a little uneasy. She didn't want to be pitied; she just wanted to be treated like she was human, with human feelings. Sure, she'd done some pretty fucked up and inhuman things in the past, but she'd dug herself out of that pit and was well on her way to atonement.

"Whatever, though," she added. "I'm doin' good and righting wrongs in the world so who gives a fuck what Buffy thinks?"

She raised her soda can and Xander got the hint, clinking his own can off it and drinking to her little declaration.

"Actually, quite a lot of people 'give a fuck' what I think," Buffy pointed out as she entered the kitchen behind Faith.

Xander cleared his throat uncomfortably and Faith felt her entire body tense up.

"Hey, Buff. . .we were just. . .catching up," Xander explained as he fidgeted.

Buffy strolled past Faith and headed towards the fridge, pulling it open and bending down to grasp a can from the back. Faith watched, her eyes travelling over Buffy before she could stop herself or remind herself that Xander was right there to see it. She glanced over to him and he gave her a knowing grin as he nodded his head in acknowledgment of what he'd just witnessed. It wasn't Faith's fault if she'd always taken every opportunity to check out Buffy's cute little backside when she could. It was instinct.

"Xander, could you give us a few minutes?" Buffy asked as she turned towards him and nudged the fridge door shut with her rear.

"Sure, I've got stuff to do anyway." He made his way towards the door. "It's great to have you with us, Faith," he added with a smile as he left.

Faith appreciated the comment. It made her feel welcome despite the fact she knew the person that really mattered didn't welcome her at all.

Buffy took Xander's place, leaning against the countertop facing Faith. She looked beautiful: her blonde hair just brushing the tops of her shoulders, dark clothes clinging in all the right places, showing off her perfect little body and making it hard for Faith to focus. Faith had always thought Buffy was hot, sexy, desirable, perfect. . .and now wasn't any different. She wanted to press Buffy up against the kitchen counter and kiss her hard, to feel her body flush against her, to know how wet she could make her from the first touch to the last. There was no getting away from the way Buffy had always turned her on. . .even through the worst of times, it had been there, burning under the surface.

The silence in the kitchen was almost deafening as they just stared at each other. Faith could hear everything that was going on all around her. The girls chattering, doors opening and closing, footsteps, the slight gust of wind against the old brick of the castle, Buffy's shallow breathing as she stood and watched Faith's every move as their eyes locked.

"We don't have time for fighting," Buffy said eventually, almost making Faith jump at the sound of her voice. "You can either try to kill me again and get stomped on by every other slayer here. . .or we can get over ourselves and forget the last fuck up ever happened."

Faith hadn't expected two such simple options. She'd been sure Buffy would drag out their latest spat long enough for her to feel suitably shoved back into the doghouse, maybe even for good. She wasn't sure if she trusted Buffy's motives.

"Didn't plan on being stomped on by anybody," Faith said, being purposefully noncommittal.

"Then I guess we should put it down to crossed wires. . .unless I'm going to have to watch my back around you," Buffy responded.

Faith shook her head, her boot scraping on the wooden chair as she dropped her foot to the floor. "You don't have to watch your back, B. Not as long as I don't have to watch mine."

Buffy placed the cold can of soda on the back of her neck, feeling the need to cool down, as she watched Faith shifting position in her chair; her legs stretched out in front of her as she lounged back, the very picture of confidence and unbridled power. She hadn't wanted to speak with Faith until after they'd completed their mission - not wanting to distract herself from the plan and the fight ahead - but she'd heard her voice from down the hall and found her feet carrying her towards it before she could change direction.

Faith waited for Buffy to roll out the accusations and reprimands for their last encounter, but Buffy stayed silent as she held her cold can to her neck and dropped her gaze to the ground in front of Faith.

"Didn't mean to. . .yunno, get all grabby with ya at Gigi's, it just kinda got outta hand," Faith said finally, taking the opportunity to get in some kind of an apology.

"Yeah," Buffy responded, not looking up. She placed the can back onto the counter and hopped up beside it. "We have a problem of falling into old habits I guess."

Faith nodded, catching Buffy's eye once again as she now sat on the kitchen counter opposite her.

"We ever gonna get past that habit?" Faith asked.

She instantly regretted the question. It was too loaded. Too easy for Buffy to use against her and tell Faith that she'd done too much to her for them to ever get over anything. Buffy didn't answer right away, however. She looked away and took an obviously tired breath before turning back to Faith.

"I'd like us to be able to," Buffy answered. "I thought we had after The First but. . ."

"Something changed before you left LA huh," Faith finished for her, wondering if now was a good opportunity to clear up what had happened. She doubted any time was exactly the right time, and she was done guessing what the fuck had gone on.

Buffy furrowed her brow; she couldn't think of a way to answer without giving too much away. She wasn't sure if she even cared if she gave it away or not now. It was Faith, though. . .and things never went easy with Faith. Buffy's thoughts never sat still, her certainty wavering every time they spoke.

"I didn't mean for it to change; what you did was just. . .surprising," Buffy said softly.

"And it pissed you off `cause of Red?" Faith pressed, needing to figure out if there was any way to salvage a friendship between them.

Without looking away from Faith, Buffy opened her soda can and brought it to her lips. She closed her eyes and tipped her head back, taking a long gulp, feeling her throat drying and stopping her from telling the truth. She didn't even know where to start with the truth.

"Can't think of anything else I did," Faith said, sitting forward as Buffy played with the can in her hand. "But you gotta know I wouldn't have slept with Ken if she'd still been with Will. Far as I knew they'd split; least that's what Kennedy told me that night."

She'd fallen drunkenly into bed with Kennedy a week before they'd all moved out, having spent the night with her helping her forget the fact Willow had dumped her. Of course, they'd gotten back together again not long after as far as Faith knew, and Willow hadn't held any hard and fast grudges against her. Still, it was the only reason she could think of for Buffy's sudden change. Willow was Buffy's best friend after all, and she'd always been very protective of her.

Buffy didn't speak, her eyebrows knitting together and making Faith feel on edge. She didn't want to be made to feel bad for something that had happened just once; something that really had nothing to do with Buffy. It wasn't like Buffy was a saint, as Faith now knew for sure. She was getting impatient and stood from her chair, stretching her legs out as she walked to the far side of the table, running her fingers along its edge.

"It wasn't about Will," Buffy admitted, her voice quiet compared to the scrape of Faith's boots on the stone floor.

Stopping and turning back towards Buffy, Faith ran a hand through her thick hair, grasping at thin air as she searched for clues.

"But it was about me sleepin' with Ken?" she asked, thinking she at least had that part right.

Buffy looked down to the floor under her feet, her shoulders slumping as if she really didn't want to tell Faith what had caused her sudden change.

"Dammit, B, just tell me," Faith demanded, her patience wearing thin. She wasn't in the mood for games. "It's not like it was anything outta the ordinary. . .seems slayers like to sleep around together, as you just proved yourself. I don't know why I gotta get hit with shit for it."

Faith felt her anger boil to the top, threatening to spill as she turned away from Buffy and rested her hands against the wall as if she was holding it up, her muscles twitching as she counted to ten. She hated when Buffy was so dismissive, ignoring her and her questions. Ignoring everything that flowed between them in order to hold tight to whatever false reality she needed to in order to feel better about herself.

"You heard about that then huh," Buffy said with a resigned chuckle, watching Faith from her perch on the counter.

She could tell Faith was agitated, her body tensing and skin probably prickling as she tried to calm herself. Buffy had always found Faith at her sexiest when she was riled up. Her gaze swept over Faith, stopping at her dark eyes as she slowly twisted so she was now leaning with her back against the wall, one hand rubbing at the back of her neck. She couldn't be angry at Faith for knowing about her and Satsu, and she couldn't even be angry at her for using it to dig out why she'd closed Faith off back in LA; it was Buffy's jealousy that had them on the brink of never fully reconciling so she didn't have any right to judge her on that.

"Word gets around, especially about something as big as that," Faith explained, not wanting to drop Xander in it.

"It wasn't a big deal. Isn't a big deal," Buffy told her, hoping she sounded convincing.

She knew herself that it was big. Big for her at least. She'd never been with another woman before. Never intentionally had sex for the sake of sex and nothing else. It was new, but Buffy didn't feel bad about that part.

"And it's not because all slayers sleep around together. . .I mean, we never did," Buffy pointed out, her eyes locking on Faith's as she used her hand to indicate them both.

Faith chuckled and shook her head, stepping away from the wall and moving back to her chair. She sat down, a little grin lifting the corners of her lips as she studied Buffy's face and watched for reactions.

"I woulda tried harder if I'd known you'd eventually cave," Faith said coolly, the rough tone to her voice practically sending shivers through Buffy as brown eyes burned into her.

Buffy licked her lips, a small smile easing the tension but causing a whole different kind as she allowed herself to drown in Faith's gaze and provocative words.

It was like old times; like they'd been during their short time in LA. . .the boundaries of flirting being tested as they regarded each other, with more than friendship fuelling their thoughts and words.

"It would never have happened," Buffy responded after a moment's hesitation, not wishing to be pulled into the indulgence of flirting with Faith when it would only confuse matters.

Faith looked away, seeing something other than truth in Buffy's eyes. She didn't want to look too deep, however. She could never be sure if Buffy would ever have, or ever could allow them to step over the line and into bed with each other. Faith had been disappointed in the past and wasn't about to go to that dark place again.

"So why are you giving me shit for screwing Kennedy?" Faith asked, bringing them back on topic.

"I'm not giving you shit, it's just. . ." Buffy sighed, not ready to divulge why it had affected her the way it had.

Buffy had fooled herself into thinking it was for noble reasons, because Kennedy was her best friend's girlfriend, even if they had broken up for a short time. She'd tried to convince herself she wasn't jealous, that it hadn't hurt for Faith to run off and sleep with Kennedy when they'd been getting on so well, heading towards something more themselves. The faηade hadn't lasted long and Buffy had eventually had to concede to herself that she'd expected Faith to make a move on her, and that one day. . .she would have said yes. Jealousy had thrown a large spanner in the works and caused Buffy to pull away completely, making that "one day" disappear from view.

They fell into an awkward silence again.

Faith was done trying to figure Buffy out. She now knew for sure Buffy had been angry or upset with her for sleeping with Kennedy, but she didn't feel like spending the rest of the night trying to hammer the reason why out of her. It was pointless, much like most of their misunderstandings and arguments.

She decided to lead the conversation away from them and towards something that might actually give her some insight into Buffy, and possibly her – thus far – ambiguous feelings about sleeping with women.

"So, you and Satsu. . .it serious or are you just screwin' around?" Faith asked bluntly, still feeling the sting of envy.

Buffy was glad they'd stopped treading on unsteady ground by talking about her and Faith's relationship, but she wasn't sure this new alternative was any easier to speak about with her.

"She's in love with me," Buffy admitted, "but she knows it's not. . .how I feel." Buffy finished her sentence far less confidently than she'd started.

It wasn't nice to admit you were sleeping with somebody to basically just get your kicks when they felt so much more.

"Everyone's always in love with you," Faith remarked with a soft laugh, not wanting to count how many people she'd known to be crazy over Buffy.

"Not everybody," Buffy said quietly. "You weren't."

Their eyes stole truths from each other as they locked, no words being exchanged to deny or persuade. Faith tried to breathe normally, willing herself not to show any sign that Buffy might be wrong. She wasn't ready to remember how hard she'd fallen for Buffy before the world had chewed her up and spat her out. She certainly wasn't ready to let Buffy in on that little secret either.

"Buffy?" Willow's voice filtered through the rigid air, breaking Buffy's gaze from Faith's.

"In here, Will," Buffy called, jumping down from the counter.

Willow entered the room a little out of breath, her smile landing easily on Faith before she spoke to Buffy.

"Xander needs you to check over the weapons and I could use your advice about the spells I'll mostly be using," Willow informed her.

"Sure," Buffy responded. "We'll do that now."

Willow nodded and turned to leave the kitchen with Buffy following. Just as Willow moved out of sight Buffy turned back to look at the other slayer, smiling as she felt the tension lift.

"We'll be leaving soon," Buffy noted. "Thanks for coming to lend a hand, Faith. I appreciate it."

It wasn't easy having Faith around. It had never been easy, for many different reasons, but Buffy felt just a little glad she was there. No matter how much it could make the world feel less solid, having Faith nearby didn't suck. She'd gotten used to it at one point - before convincing herself it was stupid and destructive - and those memories were hard to quash or disregard. Faith was hard to disregard, even through Buffy's stubborn resolve.

"No worries, B," Faith replied. "Always had a soft spot for hot blonde chicks."

They both laughed softly, the last year seemingly drifting from their shoulders as they dropped back into how they were best together. It felt better, but never just right. Never quite complete.

Faith knew what they needed, but she also knew it was something too big to ever expect or ask. As she watched Buffy leave she doubted they'd ever step past each other's barriers enough to claim each other the way they should. She still had hope, especially now she knew Buffy wasn't totally averse to sleeping with another girl, but that hope had taken such a beating over the years it was hard to cling to without it seeming pointless.

Yet still she clung, unable to do anything but. Unable to ever just let go.

CHAPTER THREE

Faith ran her finger along the sharp axe blade in her hand as the truck carrying her and most of the other slayers bumped them along the winding country roads. She watched as a small trickle of blood dripped to the floor. She brought her finger to her mouth and sucked before inspecting the tiny slither of a cut. It would heal before they'd be jumping out of the truck; it was good to be a slayer.

They were making their way to an old stone mansion that lay nestled in amongst forest-covered hills not too far from the castle, prepared to retrieve the scythe for Buffy. Faith never questioned the fact it was Buffy's scythe and not hers, despite the fact she was the rightful owner. She wasn't about to take it from Buffy. . .the girl had earned it.

She was also happy to go along with Buffy's plans, agreeing to stay outside the mansion and its layers of mystical barriers in order to fight the expected vampire army protecting the scythe. It felt a little grim to have Satsu going in her rightful place, but Satsu had never tried to kill Buffy, or had fucked her boyfriends, or generally tried to make her life hell at any point in the past so Faith couldn't really complain. As much as Buffy had put the past to rest when they'd been in LA, Faith knew that kind of scarring didn't fade easy. It was always there, reminding them both of who they could become.

"You'll be there in a minute or two so get ready girls. . .it's time to put the animals back in the cage," Xander said over the headset.

Faith wiggled it on her ear, not feeling too comfortable listening to any other voices inside her head other than her own. It was necessary though, and she was playing by Buffy's rules. She'd have Xander talking to her and giving her updates; they all would. Faith had used her charms on Xander to add a little extra something to her running commentary, however. Telling him that she needed to know if she was required to help further, Faith also now had Buffy's headset wired to direct her conversation to her. She'd be listening in once Buffy and Satsu were inside the mansion.

Buffy wasn't aware of that fact, and Faith was grateful Xander understood why it was necessary not to say anything. He wanted Buffy safe as much as Faith did.

The truck came to an abrupt stop and the girls got to their feet and started jumping from the back. They were close to the large house, but far enough away from the clearly visible, glowing red magical shield around it. Willow had done some reconnaissance and discovered the house had several barriers, the toughest one being directly around the scythe itself. Willow devised a series of spells to take down the barriers one at a time so as not to destabilise the surrounding area and cause all kinds of chaos. She had a few trainee witches to help her, and the slayers were ready to protect them as best they could.

As they all readied their weapons and formed up they saw the big doors to the mansion open up. A horde of vampires filtered out, clearly not affected by their own force field.

"Take `em out quick an' easy, girls," Faith shouted. "It's party time."

They advanced on the quick moving vampires and Faith heard a crackle in her ear; Xander had routed her into Buffy already.

"Ok, guys," Xander said over the headset, "time to get the scythe back. Far as I can tell there's only a handful of vamps in the room with it, and Will's working on the barrier around it right now. Good luck, we'll be teleporting you in any second now."

Buffy confirmed they were ready. "Lets hope Will got the spells right and we don't end up turning into icky flies when we go through," Buffy said, commenting on the new teleportation spell Willow had to concoct due to the barriers. "Stick with me, Satsu, we've done this a hundred times and will do it a hundred more."

Faith heard Satsu agree, her voice muffled but just audible over Buffy's headset microphone. She then heard the distinct sound of a kiss, and though it didn't linger she couldn't help but clench her jaw and feel her insides boil.

"Fuck," Faith said to herself, knowing Buffy wouldn't be able to hear her.

Aiming her axe at the first vampire in her way, Faith swung and sliced his head clean off. The momentum took her forward, she leapt into the middle of the pack, swinging and thrusting as the other slayers answered her resounding battle cry. The fight was on.

The vampires were all Japanese or Chinese as far as Faith could tell, and they were all dressed smartly, in black suits and ties. They were a well-organised bunch, but weren't really a match for the slayers, especially as Willow's apprentice witches were stopping them being able to transform into anything that wasn't quite so damageable. It was amazing what a few days research could do.

"What is this. . .a training camp for Japanese waiters?" Buffy said down the line as Faith listened in, her grunting clearly indicating they were now fighting the vamps inside.

Outside, the slayers kept the vampires from getting to the back line of witches, dust flying everywhere as heads rolled and stakes whizzed through the air. Faith was having fun as more vampires rushed from the building, giving her more to take out her frustrations on. Engrossed in the battle, Faith almost missed Buffy calling out Satsu's name as she breathed hard and fast.

"Crap," Buffy said wildly, "get up, Satsu."

Buffy sounded like she was having a harder time of it, the clunking of fists and ringing of blades filling Faith's head. Buffy called Satsu's name again and it didn't seem like she was answering. Faith wanted in there. . .before things went from bad to worse.

"Xander," she said down the mic, "get me in there, now!"

There was a moment's pause, then he answered, "We can't, they've blocked us out. You'll have to wait for Will to. . ."

"We can't wait, Xand, she needs help," Faith made clear.

"I'll talk to Will," was his reply.

Faith cut a path through the vampires to the swirling red barrier that engulfed the house. She was ready to hack her way through no matter what, hoping Willow could do something to get her inside, and quick.

"Faith, if we bring down the barriers all at once the place is gonna get very unstable. It'll be like running through an earthquake, and that old house isn't gonna bend and sway with it. . .it's gonna crack and fall," Xander explained. "You've got minutes to do your thing before all three of you get buried alive."

Faith took a deep breath and told him to do it. She wasn't about to leave Buffy in there alone against God knows how many vamps.

As she waited, listening to the fight going on around her as well as the fight inside, she heard a distinct crackling sound. The barrier in front of her ripped open and then burst, sending a shower of sparks over her head.

Xander yelled, "Go! I'll tell you where."

Faith hopped up the steps and burst through the front doors, swiftly taking out the few vampires who dashed towards her. She held her axe aloft and charged forward under Xander's instructions, twisting down the corridor until she met the large wooden doors of the room Buffy was trapped in. The building was shaking, chunks of the wall slithering to the floor as cracks appeared. Faith heard the floors above starting to shatter and split, the creaking and grinding making it almost impossible to hear Buffy down the headset. She was sure she was still holding on; Buffy had never gone down easily in any fight, Faith knew that first hand.

Running the last of the distance towards the room, Faith launched herself into the air and struck the doors with her foot, sending them crashing inwards. She came to a rest on top of one, pining two vampires beneath. Quickly scanning the room and assessing the situation, she front-flipped from the fallen door, spinning a well-aimed kick at the vampire advancing her way. He flew backwards, bursting into pieces as he became impaled on a splintering beam in the center of the room. Faith had time to throw the heavy door from the vamps on the floor, staking them before they had time to recover.

Satsu was at one side of the room, laying in a puddle of her own blood, partially conscious. Buffy had three huge vampires beating her down to her knees, her face and clothes spattered red.

Faith had to make a choice. . .help Buffy, get the scythe, or save Satsu. Time was limited as the ceiling began to crack, the ground beneath their feet crunching and moaning as it shook.

"Buffy, get the scythe," Faith yelled, throwing her last stake towards the largest vampire. He was dust before he had time to complete his plan to bring his blade down on Buffy.

Buffy looked past the cloud of dust and her eyes locked with Faith's. She felt charged again, the fight springing back inside her as she shook off the two vampires holding her down on her knees. Leaping forwards, Buffy sprang towards the scythe, gripping it firmly before tumbling backwards and swiping it through the air. She struck both vampires at once, their heads rolling free, bodies exploding into particles.

As a chunk of the ceiling collapsed, sending dust and brick everywhere, Faith ran towards Satsu. She scooped her up, lifting her to her feet as she moaned in protest.

"Come on, Slayer, wake up. . .you're gonna walk outta here," Faith told her. "Clear a path, B," she shouted to Buffy as she noticed more vampires running down the corridor.

Buffy nodded and met the new arrivals head on, taking out the now confused vampires as they did their best to get back the scythe. The building rocked and shifted, the floor no longer level as the air became thick with dust. An explosion above them caused more panic amongst the vampires and they began to scatter.

Buffy dusted as many as she could as she jumped over fallen bricks and furniture, heading towards the chink of light ahead. More explosions rocked her almost from her feet as she looked back to make sure Faith and Satsu were following. She could faintly see them both running towards her with Satsu leaning heavily on Faith.

"Go!" Faith yelled.

Buffy turned back towards the light and ran. She felt the ground beneath her feet give way and jumped through the crumbling stone archway of the door. Rolling on the gravel drive until she was upright she spun back towards the mansion, watching as Satsu flung herself free of the splintering building. She tumbled to a stop beside Buffy and a handful of the other slayers picked her up and carried her away to safety. Buffy didn't budge as Willow yelled for her to get back. Faith was still in there.

"Faith!" Buffy called out, stepping forwards.

She winced and shielded her eyes as a booming explosion ripped through the remains of the mansion. A ball of flame shot upwards, showering the area around with debris.

"Come on, Faith," Buffy pleaded quietly. "I can't lose you again."

As the walls buckled in, booms and crashes ringing out into the night, it seemed there was no hope of Faith coming out alive. Buffy wiped at her eyes, dust and tears marring her face as she watched the front portion of the building finally collapse with the rest. Just before the stone arch of the doorway gave out, a dark figure shot forwards, arms outstretched as it headed towards Buffy.

Faith barrelled into Buffy, sending them both rolling towards the grass a little way from where the others were huddled for safety. Behind them the last of the building caved inwards, sinking in to a deep hole as the disrupted magic left its mark.

Breathing heavy, Faith looked down on Buffy as she lay on top of her, her dark eyes searching as she noticed the tears.

"You never lost me," Faith whispered, having heard Buffy over the headset.

Buffy didn't answer as they gazed at one another, their hearts pounding together as neither of them moved. Faith was about to lift her hand to wipe away the fresh tear from Buffy's cheek, but their little bubble was soon penetrated as Willow came hurrying towards them, with Satsu limping behind.

"Are you ok?" Willow asked promptly, directing her question at Buffy.

"I'm ok," Buffy said softly as Faith removed herself from her body.

Faith stood and brushed herself down, wondering how the hell she'd gotten out in one piece.

"Are you ok?" Buffy asked, repeating Willow's question.

Faith wasn't sure the question was directed at her until Buffy reached out and touched her arm, holding her there gently. Her eyes flicked from Satsu and back to Buffy, noticing the slight slump of Satsu's shoulders, uncomfortable with how it made her feel. She liked that Buffy was concerned, liked that her question hadn't gone to Satsu first. . .but that was wrong, and unfair.

"I'm five by five, B," Faith answered finally. "Nothin' but a few scrapes. Your girl there's got a nasty cut to the side, though. You should go get her patched up."

Buffy dropped her hand from Faith's arm, a flicker of sadness briefly flitting across her eyes before she turned towards Satsu.

"Let's get you checked over, Satsu," Buffy said as she moved towards her and away from Faith. "You gave me a hell of a scare in there."

They walked slowly away as Faith watched, Willow remaining beside her.

"I don't know how you got out, but I'm glad you did," Willow said with a soft smile to Faith. "And I don't think they're serious," she added, indicating Buffy and Satsu before making her way towards the truck to join them.

Faith breathed deeply and coughed as the dust in her lungs shifted. She didn't know if they were serious; she couldn't really tell. She knew Buffy said they weren't, but Satsu was in love with her and it wasn't like Buffy to screw around with just anybody. There had to be something more. Even if there wasn't, Faith didn't intend to go breaking a young girl's heart by making a move on Buffy. She'd somehow been able to see in Buffy's eyes - unguarded as tears flowed and worry lingered as they'd laid in the cold grass together - that Buffy saw her as more than a friend. Faith felt that they could have more, but their chance had passed; there was no way she was going to fuck up Buffy's life again by pushing things further.

It was over. She had to let go.

The truck carried Faith back to the castle as Buffy went with Satsu and a few of the other slayers to the nearest hospital. They had a contact there that never asked questions; he would patch the girls up and send them off without issue.

Faith showered and coughed up a few buckets of dust before tending to the handful of cuts and bruises she'd sustained. Her hair finally dry and stomach grumbling, she made her way down towards the kitchen. It was creeping into the early hours of the morning now, but Faith had never been able to ignore the need to eat.

As she scuffed her boots on the hard stone floor, walking slowly down the corridor to where she hoped she'd find some easy food, Faith rounded a corner and crashed into Satsu. She'd been deep in her thoughts and hadn't heard anybody coming her way.

"Whoa, Slayer," Faith said, noticing that Satsu was out of breath from walking fast. "We're makin' this kind of a habit. What's the mad rush?"

"Nothing, I'm just. . ." Satsu tried to calm herself, her eyes boring into Faith, "going to my room."

Faith looked Satsu over, noticing the large bandage under her shirt as she held her side. She wondered where Buffy was, expecting her to have been with Satsu for the rest of the night.

"Where's Buffy?" Faith asked, trying not to sound strange.

Satsu glanced away, her eyes sad, looking ready to shed tears. "She went for a walk outside. Said she needed air."

Faith furrowed her brow, tilting her head as she heard the distinct rumble of thunder from outside.

"It's shitting it down out there. . .shouldn't she be with you, playing nurse?" Faith asked.

There was an awkward silence as Satsu studied Faith for a moment. She clearly wanted to say something and Faith wasn't sure she really wanted to hang around to hear it. She didn't want to be pulled into any dramas.

"She'll never love me, yunno," Satsu finally said.

Trying to kick-start her brain so she wouldn't say something insensitive or dumb, Faith rubbed at her forehead with her fingers.

"What makes you think that?" she asked, not sounding like she fully believed Buffy would ever love Satsu. "Buffy's a complex kinda girl, you dunno if. . ."

"She won't," Satsu interrupted. "She loves you. I can't compete with that."

Faith opened her mouth, trying not to let her jaw drop to the floor. She didn't know why Satsu had said what she had, but deep inside. . .she had a spark of recognition. Still, it was too crazy to even contemplate.

"Think you got your wires crossed, kid," Faith pointed out. "Buffy doesn't love me."

Satsu chuckled sadly and shook her head. "You're wrong."

She said no more as she passed by and made her way up the corridor, a sombre smile making Faith feel for her. Another heart crushed under Buffy's step, as she walked through life without thinking about how easily she broke into people's lives and stole every ounce of sense from them.

Faith stood for a minute or two, trying to understand what Satsu had said. She knew Buffy had always had a little thing for her, a very much buried and ignored thing but a thing no less. Not once had Faith thought it went beyond the physical, however much she'd grasped at the little signs way back.

She knew nothing of love, had never really had it or wanted it. . .but despite that, and despite knowing Buffy would and could never feel the same, Faith'd had feelings for Buffy that went beyond just wanting to get horizontal with her. It'd taken years trying to wrangle with the feelings so she didn't feel strangled by them, but Faith had never been able to kick them to the curb entirely. Buffy was scorched into her, Faith's heart unable to push her out.

A loud crack of thunder broke Faith from her thoughts and she instantly headed for the door out. She knew it wasn't her place to go and search for Buffy, or even dare to offer her a shoulder to lean on or a friendly ear to talk off, but that didn't stop her.

The rain struck Faith hard in the face as she pulled open the heavy door at the back of the castle. It was the tradesman entrance, with steps leading up to the stone covered path that ran round most of the castle. She squinted into the inky black of the night, her clothes already growing wet as she strode out along the path. There was a portion of the castle up ahead that jutted outwards, like a turret or tower, the path winding round it out of view from anybody that might glance through the windows. That's where Faith found Buffy. . .huddled with her arms around her legs, back against the cold wall, completely naked.

Faith blinked, noticing Buffy's clothes strewn around her. She almost turned to walk away, not wanting to startle or embarrass her, but she decided against it as Buffy clearly shivered from the rain dripping over her.

Walking slowly, pushing her damp hair out of her eyes, Faith approached Buffy.

"Gotta be a dumb question but. . .watcha doin', B?" Faith asked quietly.

"Feeling the rain," Buffy answered, not looking Faith's way.

"How's it feel?" Faith asked, droplets of water dripping from her nose, just as it was from Buffy's.

She tried not to stare at Buffy, but it was pretty damn hard considering she was naked. Even though Faith couldn't see anything of importance due to how Buffy was hugging her legs to her chest, there was a lot of skin on show. Perfect, flawless, temptingly touchable Buffy-skin that Faith had always wanted to explore.

"Wet," Buffy replied, shivering once more.

"You cold?"

"Yeah." Buffy hugged herself tighter as the wind swept the rain over both of them.

Faith thanked herself for bringing her jacket and promptly took it off. She stepped closer to Buffy and draped the jacket over her shoulders. Buffy didn't try to shrink away from it, nor did she ask Faith to leave as she sat beside her on the wet stone, resting back against the wall.

They sat for a moment in silence, the only sounds littering the peace being the splash of rain and rumble of thunder. It was almost nice, but the cold and rain wouldn't be ignored.

"Well it's definitely wet," Faith said, agreeing with Buffy as her clothes began to stick to her.

She glanced over to see a small smile lift Buffy's lips, noticing how she pulled the jacket tighter around herself, her nose disappearing into the collar. She looked beautiful, despite her wet hair and goosebump covered skin. Faith had never been able to see Buffy as anything but beautiful, even in their darkest hour.

As nice as it was to finally see a little more of the girl she wanted so much, Faith knew she had to get them inside, or at least try to figure out why Buffy was really outside in the rain. It didn't seem like the kind of thing Buffy did normally. . .if ever. Something was definitely wrong, and Faith couldn't ignore the fact she cared enough to want to find out about it, and help. There was no escaping her feelings for Buffy, and no escaping the fact she'd always be ready to get slapped back for trying to bridge the gap between them.

She hoped this time – as Buffy laid herself bare for the elements – that there was a chance they could finally make some kind of connection that didn't end with their fists.

CHAPTER FOUR

Faith watched the puddles mix to form small rivers on the stone patio not too far ahead of where she sat beside Buffy. The constant sound of rain kept the silence at bay, but it didn't keep it from pressing in on Faith, making her feel awkward.

"So," Faith began, struggling to keep herself still, "you normally come out here and sit naked in the rain, or is this a special occasion?"

Buffy shook her head, little splashes of water tumbling over Faith from her blonde hair. She didn't really know why she was sat out in the rain. She'd needed to breathe. Needed to feel what it felt like again just to. . .feel; to know that life was still going on, still turning, despite how stuck in place she felt.

"Pretty much a first," Buffy answered, feeling strangely glad that Faith had found her there.

Sweeping a wet strand of hair out of her eyes, Faith nodded. She had an idea why Buffy was there. She'd done similar things herself when all she wanted to do was step away from everything that was causing pain, hurt, anger. Faith was good at walking away and finding a space to just be; to listen to the turning of the world, alone. It didn't seem like leaving Buffy alone was the best thing to do, however. She didn't want to just leave her there.

"You have a fight with Satsu?" Faith asked quietly, hoping she wouldn't stir up Buffy's temper.

Buffy let out a small sigh. "Yeah. No. . .kind of."

Faith raised an eyebrow, glancing over at Buffy. "Doesn't sound like you're sure. Either that or you got knocked over the head earlier," she chuckled.

"I messed up," Buffy said, almost too quiet to hear.

Resting her head against the cold stone behind them, Faith looked up into the falling rain before closing her eyes and letting the water drip over her face. "We all mess up, B. Some of us more than others," she pointed out. "Trick is to know when to stop before it's too late."

Buffy knew what Faith was alluding to. She also knew how sorry Faith was for everything that had happened in the past. She'd allowed Faith to say sorry in LA, to let them both try to move past it all. It had helped and Buffy still recalled the night they'd sat down and talked it out. It hadn't been easy, but they'd struggled through it, sticking Band-Aids over the places they'd hurt each other. Of course, Buffy hadn't told Faith of the biggest place it had hurt her. That would have been one conversation too far at that point. One emotion too much. She'd been glad of her decision not to reveal anything major to Faith considering how quickly she'd jumped into bed with Kennedy, despite how close they'd been getting. It hadn't stopped Buffy feeling it, however.

"I hurt her," Buffy said, lowering her head so her chin was almost touching her chest. "I shouldn't have. . .led her on."

Faith turned her face from the rain again, her eyes settling on the small girl beside her. "Yunno, somehow I don't think she really believed Buffy Summers – Queen of Angst – was gonna live happily ever after with her."

Buffy narrowed her eyes and looked at Faith, noticing a small grin at her lips, the soaking rain trickling over her. "I'm not the Queen of Angst," she huffed, knocking her shoulder into Faith. "I'm just. . .really bad at all the relationship stuff."

"So what happened?" Faith asked.

Buffy wiped her hands over her face, feeling a few tears mingling with the rainwater. "She said some things. . .I said some things back. It wasn't a fight, it was just. . ."

Faith didn't push Buffy, though seeing the few stray tears made her feel the need to pull Buffy to her. She didn't of course; they weren't that type of friend. Never had been.

"She found out there's something wrong with me," Buffy continued.

Faith knitted her eyebrows together, watching Buffy intently as she asked, "And what's that?"

"I'm defective," Buffy replied with a resigned sigh.

With a soft chuckle Faith looked Buffy up and down. "You don't look defective from here."

"Not like that, pervert."

They both laughed lightly, the tension slipping from them as Buffy once again knocked into Faith, staying close this time instead of pulling away again.

"I gotta tell ya, B," Faith began, trying to lighten the mood a little, "I never pegged you for a muff diver. Thought I saw the signs when you'd be ogling my goodies, but I guessed that was more of just a curiosity thing than something you'd act on."

She grinned at Buffy, seeing the wheels turning in her head.

"Hey, I never ogled your goodies. . .intentionally. Your goodies are pretty much out there expecting attention, wasn't like I could just not look at you," Buffy explained, hopelessly.

"Sure, B," Faith said with a wink.

"Anyway, nobody ever said I was a hundred percent straight, I just never mentioned it, or acted on it. . .or admitted it to myself," Buffy confessed with a wry smile.

"Yeah, it can be one hell of a shock. Can't say I took to it that well at first either," Faith admitted, sharing more of herself than she'd initially planned. "There ya are digging nothing but guys, then some chick comes along and fucks with your world. Not easy to deal with. Can getcha freakin' out big style."

Buffy looked up once again at Faith, studying the side of her face as she stared out into the darkness. Her skin was wet, dribbles of water running over her as if she was stood under the shower, her dark eyes so full of life, yet still so clouded by sadness. Buffy wondered who it was that had "fucked with her world", which girl had made Faith realise she wasn't exactly totally straight. Deep down Buffy guessed it was her, but she couldn't ask, and thought it better not to comment on it.

"Still, it didn't take me as long as you to jump in and get to the action," Faith continued with a smirk. "You always were kinda slow."

Buffy struck Faith on the arm with the back of her hand, stifling a chuckle. "I'm not slow I'm. . .ok, so the whole girly-parts thing used to freak me out. I couldn't help that. It was easier to block it out."

"Girly-parts used to freak you out?" Faith asked, grinning wildly. "Wow, I knew you were repressed, but I didn't know it was that bad. Did you have to shower with your eyes closed?"

"Silly," Buffy said, shaking her head in amusement.

She couldn't blame Faith for being a little confused about recent events. She'd done her best to repress her desires where Faith was concerned; always trying hard not to look too long or too much at her, stopping herself from touching, being close to her. She'd fought the battle right from the start, probably messing up any hope they'd ever had of a true friendship. It was hard to be any kind of friend to somebody you wanted but never allowed yourself to have. It had fucked up everything about them, keeping them ripped apart, walking on eggshells, doing their best not to overstep the boundary. Buffy wasn't sure where that boundary was anymore. She didn't know if she could ever step over it, or if Faith would even want her to now.

When they'd gotten back to the castle from the hospital, Satsu had asked some uncomfortable questions. She'd wanted to know why Buffy had always done her best not to talk about Faith but failed miserably at it. Why she'd get a distant look in her eye whenever Faith was mentioned. Why she'd changed since she'd come there. They were questions Buffy hadn't been able to answer. She'd stuttered and shook her head, telling Satsu not to look too deeply into anything. Satsu had called her bluff, asking Buffy if she'd been involved with Faith in the past and if she loved her still.

It had stumped Buffy. . .taking any words of denial from her as she'd stood, open mouthed, trying to think of a way to placate Satsu without outright lying or deceiving her. She'd made it clear that they hadn't been lovers, stumbling on the word and fighting not to blush. She'd tried to tell Satsu that she'd never loved Faith. . .but the sentence never left her mouth, the words not even forming in her brain. All she'd been able to do was slump down onto the bed, head in her hands as Satsu told her she wasn't going to compete with Faith.

Buffy had never expected her to compete with Faith; it had never been about that. Hell, she'd been sure her feelings for Faith had gone, slipped away just like they had the first time she'd fallen for her. It went deeper, however. Much deeper than she knew how to deal with.

Buffy knew - could no longer deny - that she'd fallen for Faith back in Sunnydale, before Finch, before the Mayor. It had all gone sour, though. Anything she'd felt had shrivelled and died with the betrayal and all that followed. Her feelings had turned to anger and hurt. Though she'd never truly hated Faith, her heart had hardened towards her. At least that's what Buffy had believed. When Faith had turned up back in Sunnydale, so long after everything that had happened between them, after everything that had happened to Buffy, she'd felt it stir again. Buffy had felt her heart warm to Faith once more, despite her struggle not to allow it to thaw. She hadn't been able to put it down to just being a crush then either.

Once the gang had all settled for the short stay in LA, Buffy had tumbled headlong for Faith again. It was as if she just couldn't stop herself. Like nothing would stop it. Nothing could stop her wanting Faith, her heart yearning for her as much as her body. It'd scared her less the second time, but any chance of finding out if Faith could – or did – feel the same got lost as soon as Kennedy had spent the night yelling her name in ecstasy for all to hear.

That night, Buffy had cried herself to sleep, vowing not to allow Faith to break her heart again. She shut down, hardly talking to Faith; waiting for the day she could leave so she could finally move on from her. But Buffy wasn't sure if she'd ever moved on. She felt nothing but lonely. . .any attempt she made to quash the feeling failed badly.

"I feel so lost," Buffy whispered, her heart feeling heavy, her body tired and cold.

Without thinking too much about it, Buffy rested her head on Faith's shoulder, holding the jacket tight around herself as the cold finally started to make her feel uncomfortable.

Faith didn't know what to say at Buffy's declaration. She felt just as lost, always had. Despite all the progress she'd made, all the good things she'd done, the only time she'd ever truly felt right, good about herself, was fighting by Buffy's side.

She lifted her arm and draped it over Buffy's shoulders, holding her to her as she rested her head back down. It seemed like a natural thing to do. . .even if it wasn't. They'd never been very tactile with each other, always holding back, unless they were sparring or fighting. And they'd done too much fighting over the years.

"I didn't mean to hurt her; I just wanted to feel connected to something. To just feel," Buffy continued quietly. "Know what I mean?"

Faith nodded, looking down on Buffy as she felt her body prickling from being so close. "Yeah, I know what you mean, B."

"It didn't work," Buffy said with a sigh. "There was connecting. . .plenty of connecting. But I just didn't feel. That can't be right can it? I mean, I like her, I really do. . .it's just not. . ."

Buffy didn't finish her sentence, swiping at her eyes as she felt tears start to fall. Her heart was raw and splintered, searching for something to strap it back together. It'd taken too many knocks, too many bruises, and she wasn't sure if it would ever be fixed.

"Dunno what to tell ya, B. Only thing I ever felt was you," Faith confessed quietly, the words tumbling from her mouth before she could stop them.

Stiffening, Faith waited for Buffy to pick up on what she'd said; to ask her what she meant, or get angry at her for saying anything. But Buffy didn't speak; she wrapped her arm around Faith's lower back and snuggled closer.

The little confession from Faith had made Buffy's heart swell just a fraction. She felt a twist in her stomach that indicated there could be trouble ahead, or something else entirely. She'd never been sure if Faith had felt more for her than just attraction and desire, but the pieces were coming together. They always had been, but Buffy had never been willing to see the finished product before. Things were different now.

Faith had told Buffy she'd never lost her. . .and the words wouldn't leave her alone. Buffy wanted to touch them and see them; she needed to know what it meant - what any of it meant - but nothing had ever come that easy between the both of them. They'd always had to fight for every step forward.

"When did everything get so crazy?" Buffy asked through her sniffles, not really expecting an answer. She already knew the answer.

"Right from the first moment we met," Faith replied with a soft laugh.

Buffy chuckled through her tears, letting more of them fall as she melted into Faith, finally feeling something after far too long. She let herself go, allowing the sensation of having Faith so close - so warm and soft beside her – wash over her. Buffy could smell Faith's distinct scent, the scent that she'd never forgotten. Faith's hand was stroking softly at the top of her arm, a tender touch that she'd never received from her before. It made Buffy want more. She'd always wanted more, but now she was finally able to see it for what it was, and accept it.

They fell into silence again, neither girl moving as they sat with their arms wrapped around each other, fighting back the cold that was quickly making its presence felt.

"I'm cold," Buffy eventually said through the steady flow of tears she couldn't seem to stop.

"I can tell."

Faith could feel Buffy shivering beside her, her smaller body doing its best to meld into her side for warmth. She didn't know how to console her, didn't want to ask why there were so many tears and such sadness. She could practically sense how sad Buffy was and it was clawing at Faith's heart in a way she knew was dangerous.

"Let's get inside, B," Faith said softly, gathering Buffy's clothes in a pile.

She placed the wet clothes on Buffy's lap, tucking them past her knees as she sat hugging them to her chest. There was no way Buffy could put them back on; they were drenched.

Ignoring the squelching of her boots and the stickiness of her clothes, Faith moved so she could slide her arm under Buffy's legs. She didn't wait for protests before scooping Buffy up as she stood, cradling her to her chest as Buffy slid her arm over her shoulders.

The move had surprised Buffy a little as she hadn't expected Faith to pick her up and carry her. Her clothes were unwearable however, and her only other option would be to wait around in the cold for Faith to bring her some dry ones. Holding onto the younger girl, she allowed her to take her back inside the castle and its relative warmth.

"This is a little weird," Buffy remarked, a slight smile to her lips as Faith tried to ensure her jacket would stay on Buffy, at least partially.

Faith raised an eyebrow, her dark eyes soft as she regarded Buffy with a smile just as unsure.

"You wanna walk back naked, or wait around outside getting colder? Pretty sure your skinny ass'd freeze to death real quick," she pointed out, her voice low and sensual.

"Point taken," Buffy agreed, wiping at her nose.

Faith was happy Buffy wasn't going to argue with her or get all stubborn. She wanted to help, and given the fact Buffy didn't seem to be able to stop crying it seemed like a good way to do it, so she continued on with Buffy in her arms.

They hadn't gotten far before Faith had noticed the pile of clothes in Buffy's lap was now only covering her lower half. Her breasts, though partially hidden by Buffy's arm as she clung to Faith, were much more visible now. It was definitely distracting, and Faith almost tripped over the first steps heading up to where the bedrooms were.

"Hey, don't drop me, clutz," Buffy said with a mock glare.

"Trying not to, B. . .but you've got really nice tits and they're all kindsa distracting me here," Faith informed her with a grin, getting her back for calling her clutz.

Buffy felt her cheeks redden as she pulled her soggy clothes further over herself. It wasn't that she minded Faith looking really; it was just a little embarrassing. She wasn't exactly an exhibitionist so flashing her intimate parts wasn't something she did normally, though she had to concede that it was nice that Faith had paid her a compliment in a round about kind of way. She could tell Faith still liked her that way, and it was good to know.

Faith continued to grin as she noticed the flush to Buffy's cheeks. It'd been a while since she'd had the opportunity to make Buffy blush with a rude comment. It felt good. It felt nice to be able to do that with her again and not worry so much about going too far. She knew where the boundary was, and somehow. . .she knew they were kind of ok again, like they had been in LA.

There was still some stuff to deal with, things to move past, but it looked promising.

As Faith took them towards the next set of stairs that would lead to Buffy's room, Buffy stopped her. "Could we go to your room?" she asked.

"Sure," Faith said with a nod, changing direction to head to her room, which was higher and further out of the way. "Any reason why?"

With a small shrug Buffy replied, "Don't feel much like being in mine, or alone."

Faith smiled softly at Buffy and continued, keeping Buffy pressed against her in her arms as she rounded the last corner and headed for her door. She had to force herself to concentrate on anything other than the way it felt to have Buffy against her. There had been a few stumbles, a slight knock to Buffy's head on the way. . .and a distinct sensation of arousal that Faith couldn't ignore.

Luckily they hadn't bumped into anybody, avoiding any awkward questions or looks; it was late, and Faith had taken the back stairs. They approached the door and Faith looked at the handle and back to Buffy. She'd either have to let Buffy drop down from her, or get Buffy to open the door. . .which meant getting another eyeful of her breasts now that her pile of clothes had slipped further down once again, and reaching for the door handle would cause Buffy to remove her arm from over her chest.

"Oh, the door," Buffy said, almost reading Faith's mind as she reached down for the handle.

Faith just barely suppressed a small moan as Buffy stretched to the handle, revealing herself once again. She had a perfect body, slim and athletic, every muscle toned, yet not to the point she looked hard and masculine. There was nothing masculine about Buffy's figure; she was soft and feminine in all the places she was supposed to be.

It took a huge effort on Faith's part not to rush into the room and throw Buffy down onto the bed to devour her. She doubted Buffy would react too kindly to that, so she took a steadying breath and strode in, trying not to look at Buffy's soft white skin.

Buffy noticed how Faith was now avoiding looking at her. It made her want to chuckle, and maybe tease her a little. But now wasn't the time for that; she felt too sullen, too sunk into her own self-made depression.

"Thanks," Buffy said softly as Faith placed her on top of the bed with care. "My knight in. . .really wet clothes."

Faith smiled at Buffy before turning to head for the towels in the small bathroom attached to the room. "No problem," she called to Buffy, "but I better get a pay rise for hauling your ass up all those stairs."

When Faith got back into the room she noticed right away that Buffy had pulled on the big old tee shirt she had laid on her bed to wear that night. She wasn't keen on wearing anything normally for bed, but Scotland was cold so she'd made an effort. It now had damp Buffy skin within it, not that Faith minded. She said nothing and threw a towel towards Buffy, keeping one for herself as she attempted to dry her hair at least a little.

Buffy sat and watched Faith from her position on the bed. Her wet clothes were now in a pile on the floor, and having sat on the tee shirt she was now wearing she saw no reason not to put it on. It smelled like Faith, her perfume, a hint of her sweat, the slight aroma of soap and shampoo. It was obvious Faith had worn the tee shirt at least once, and Buffy had held it to her nose and inhaled before sliding it over her head. Her stomach had flipped, butterflies making it clear she wasn't as over Faith as she'd always tried to convince herself. There was no getting over the girl stood before her.

Her eyes remained fixed on Faith as she ruffled her blonde hair with the towel, easing out the rain. She tried not to make it obvious she was watching as Faith began to peel her wet clothes off; it was dammed near impossible to look away altogether, however.

"Gonna take a week for these to dry," Faith murmured as she stepped out of her jeans and pulled her top off, throwing them to the floor.

She was stood now in nothing more than her black bra and tiny little matching panties. Buffy licked her lips subconsciously, her heart rate having doubled as she stared at Faith. She was stunning, always had been; every inch of skin perfect, lightly tanned, toned and tight. Buffy had almost forgotten just how attractive Faith was, but it was clear the past year had done nothing to dent her beauty. There had been a time Buffy would have looked away, embarrassed by her thoughts, but she was no longer embarrassed, only entranced and aroused.

"You really are sexy," Buffy said, her own words giving her a little shock. She hadn't quite meant to say them aloud.

Faith turned towards Buffy, giving her a puzzled look and a raised eyebrow.

Buffy felt her cheeks reddening once more. "Sorry, didn't mean to. . .say that," she mumbled.

Laughing and shaking her head, Faith threw her towel onto the nearest radiator and bent to pull another tee shirt out of her bag. "No problem, B," she said, grinning. "Can't blame ya for having taste."

Faith flicked her hair over her shoulder after slipping on her clean shirt and taking her bra off from underneath it, noticing that Buffy was having a hard time not staring. She'd shuffled backwards on the bed and was leaning against the dark wood of the old headboard, her towel discarded as she sat with her legs crossed in front of her. Buffy's hair was still damp and straggly, skin pale from the cold, but she looked younger, freer than she had earlier. The sadness was still in her eyes, but they seemed less hollow despite how tired she appeared to be.

"Do you mind if I stay here tonight?" Buffy asked after a few minutes of silence.

Faith had been striding around the room in nothing but a small tee shirt and panties, shaking out wet clothes and placing them over the radiators and furniture. She hadn't thought about what Buffy wanted to do, or if she was going to leave. The thought hadn't crossed her mind that she'd ask to stay.

"Sure. . .I mean no, you can stay," Faith replied, running her hand through her hair as she glanced at Buffy.

She watched as Buffy yawned and smiled softly before getting up from the bed and padding over to the bathroom. The tee shirt just about covered Buffy's backside and Faith groaned internally. How had things gone from their recent bout of animosity to Buffy striding around half naked in front of her? It was just another one of the things about their relationship that always had Faith confused. They'd always been stepping around the obvious, wobbling on the edge, yet never letting go.

Whatever was going on, she didn't want to find herself stuck in Buffy's trap again. . .not knowing if she should make a move, or stay the hell away when Buffy made it clear she'd been reading the signals all wrong. She wasn't Buffy's toy and had no intention of being some kind of filler between boyfriends, or other slayers. Faith didn't want half-hearted gestures or scraps from the table, she knew she deserved more than that. They deserved more than that.

Pulling on the blankets on the bed, Faith took a sheet for herself and left Buffy with the majority of the more cosy looking ones. She threw a pillow onto the old comfy chair that sat near the bed and decided that's where she'd be spending the night.

She took her turn in the bathroom when Buffy came out and crawled into bed, giving Faith and the chair an odd look as she noticed the blanket strewn over it. Faith didn't tell her she planned to sleep in it, closing the bathroom door quickly to avoid any questions.

"What the fuck, Faith?" Faith said quietly to herself in the cracked bathroom mirror.

Her mind was a torrent of conflicting emotions and thoughts, each one crashing into the next and giving her a headache.

When she left the bathroom she saw that Buffy was under the covers, her small frame looking lost in the big bed. Without saying anything Faith switched off the light and made her way over to the chair, clambering onto it and pulling the cover over herself. She could see Buffy was watching her, her eyes shining from the low light of the moon.

"You don't have to sleep there, Faith," Buffy practically whispered.

"I do, B," Faith corrected. "It's easier this way."

She didn't want to elaborate on why it was easier, and she was glad that Buffy didn't ask her to. Things had taken a turn for the surreal and Faith wasn't quite ready to find the steady ground that seemed to be shaking under her feet. When she'd arrived in Scotland, the last thing she'd expected was for Buffy to offer the hand of friendship. . .but there seemed to be more than that running under the surface once again. Was it friendship Buffy wanted, or more? Faith couldn't tell, and she wasn't about to ask. She didn't like getting burned.

Buffy tried to relax her muscles, straining to keep her eyes open enough to continue looking at Faith. She didn't want to turn away, afraid that she wouldn't be there when she woke. There was something inside her telling her that she couldn't just let things go this time; that they had to jump, or never look back. Buffy wanted to jump, but she also didn't want to make a fool of herself or push Faith away.

Their relationship had always been a complex dance, a tango they'd both tried to lead only for them to stumble and fall. Buffy could feel that it was time to stop the dance. It was time to find where they stood with each other, side by side, or hand in hand. Whatever the outcome, she knew they'd be ok. If it was too late for them there would be the sadness that Buffy couldn't seem to step out of, but she'd get by, she'd do what she did and survive. She always had.

As the clock ticked loudly from its place on the wall, each minute chiming out a rhythm that kept Buffy awake and wanting, she felt the need to do something. . .to do anything. From the rustling and the shuffling coming from Faith's direction she could tell that the other girl wasn't yet asleep, and didn't sound like she would ever sleep in the confines of her chair.

"Faith," Buffy whispered.

Faith held her breath, begging herself not to answer.

"Faith," Buffy said again, a little louder this time as she lifted her head from the pillow. "Come to bed."

She pulled the covers back and waited.

"I don't think it's a good idea, Buffy," Faith responded finally, staring at the empty space in the bed beside Buffy.

"I'm not. . ."

Buffy was about to say she wasn't expecting anything, but that would be lying; she did expect them to stop fighting what they had for so long. It wasn't as if she was asking for them to forget who they were or why it was so difficult for them, but there had to be some room for movement.

"You just look so uncomfortable on there," Buffy continued, trying not to make a big deal out of it. "I can't sleep with you fidgeting."

She smiled and hoped Faith could see it.

Faith knew that wasn't the reason Buffy had asked her to move from the chair. She wasn't sure how, but it was clear to her. If she were to get up and get into bed with Buffy, everything would change. Even if nothing happened - and Faith was certain nothing would, as she wasn't ready to deal with that – things would change. It would either be a good change, or push them both back further than Faith ever wanted.

Seeing the soft light streaming over Buffy, her green eyes looking at her with gentle persuasion, Faith had to accept that there was no way she could turn her back on what was on offer. And it wasn't about sex, or wanting, or needing to have. . .it was about trust, and friendship. It was about them - putting down the weapons, laying down the barriers and just being.

Faith got up from the chair, pulling the pillow from its spot and placing it beside Buffy's. She took a second just to gaze at the other girl, her heart pounding in her ears, blood gushing through her veins with each intruding thud. Buffy laid her head back down, the sweet smile still on her lips as she kept her eyes locked on Faith's as she got onto the bed and pulled the covers over herself.

They settled down, facing each other, probably closer than necessary given the size of the bed. It felt strange, but not wrong. Neither of them felt that it was wrong.

The atmosphere seemed to thicken as they breathed hot air over each other, their eyes refusing to close, just looking, searching, finding the truths that lay hidden. The silence wasn't awkward, the space between them only a small distance to cross rather than a chasm to leap.

"Wanna know why I'm defective, Faith?" Buffy asked in a hushed tone, going against her better judgment. Taking the risks she should have taken long ago.

Faith furrowed her brow, unsure of where Buffy was taking this. "Why?" she asked in response.

"Because I can't stop wanting you," Buffy said, her voice small yet sure. "Even after everything you did, after all we went through, there was still a part of me that wanted you, wanted to be with you. That's why I'm defective. . .because it never stopped, and I fucked it up every chance I got."

A tear rolled from Buffy's eye to the pillow, and Faith watched it drop. She could never have expected Buffy to say what she just had, but somewhere deep inside she'd always known it was coming, or hoped that it would.

There were chances in life that passed by so fast they were almost impossible to spot. . .but this one wasn't speeding by, it was right there, holding them both still as they gazed through the darkness into one another. A shared thought, a shared feeling. . .a shared connection that now had them back on the edge of the cliff once again.

CHAPTER FIVE

Sighing deeply, her heart twisting and turning in her chest, Faith turned to lay on her back so she could free herself from Buffy's gaze. The other girl's words were reverberating around her head, making her dizzy. She didn't know what to think, let alone what to say.

"I know, it's probably too late and I shouldn't have said anything," Buffy said, subtly moving closer to Faith under the covers. "You can think I'm crazy – people often do – but I just couldn't keep it in any longer."

Faith sighed again. It didn't sound like a good sigh to Buffy and she rested her forehead on Faith's shoulder. She felt like she'd blown it; any chance they may have had. Maybe too much had happened; too much of the past getting in the way.

"I don't get it," Faith eventually said, the low bur to her voice sending a shudder through Buffy.

Lifting her hand to her head, Faith rubbed at her brow as Buffy rested against her. Her mind wouldn't clear; all Faith could think was "why now?" She also didn't have a clue why she wasn't taking Buffy in her arms and kissing her so fully it would make them both pass out. That's not something she could do right now, however. Faith was too busy trying to understand what Buffy had said - what it meant. What it really meant.

"I heard you right, right?" Faith asked, her voice higher than normal now. "You said you wanted me."

Buffy nodded against Faith's shoulder. "I did. I do," Buffy confirmed.

Shaking her head a little Faith sat up, taking the covers with her and letting the cool air wash over Buffy.

"You can't say that now," Faith told her. "I mean. . .I got used to the whole idea of it never fucking going there. Of you never having the balls to say anything. You're screwing with things. With my head."

She was talking more than she wanted to, her mouth opening and closing to allow words to fall out. Her stomach muscles clenching as she tried to fight the fluttering sensation in her stomach. She couldn't do this again. She couldn't fall – couldn't lay herself open – just to land flat on her face once more.

Buffy sat up so she could try to look into Faith's eyes, but Faith wasn't allowing her to look. She glanced away, turning slightly from Buffy.

"Faith," Buffy began softly, resting a gentle hand on Faith's back, "I know it makes no sense for me to say anything now. We haven't exactly been getting along lately, or ever. . .but, I dunno, it just feels. . ."

"No, no it does make sense," Faith said, louder and sharper than she'd spoken before as she tried to find the logic of it in her head.

Faith pushed the covers back and got out of bed, leaving Buffy to watch her run her hand through her hair as she started to pace.

"It makes total sense," Faith said firmly, her eyes catching Buffy's now and then as she strode up and down. "I get that you got down with a chick. . .and it's a pretty fucking kickass experience, so you're bound to wanna explore that more, and not necessarily with the same person."

Faith spoke like she was trying to convince both herself and Buffy, her arms becoming active as she gestured to make her point. She wasn't sure if she was ready for Buffy's big confession. She wanted it - had dreamed of the day it would happen - but she wasn't prepared.

"Faith, it's not about that," Buffy said, moving to the edge of the bed, resting on her knees as she fought not to just reach out and grab Faith to make her stand still. "It's not about sex. . .well, it kinda is, but that's not all it's about. And I get that it's weird I'm saying it now, but it's also not."

"Huh?" Faith murmured, stopping for a second in front of Buffy before beginning to pace again, but a little slower this time.

"Ok, I'm not great at the making sense thing right now obviously," Buffy sighed, "but you and I both know this has been coming for a long time. It's always been there. . .and yeah, I'm only now getting the 'balls' to say anything."

Coming to a halt Faith gazed out of the window for a moment, watching the drizzle slide down the glass, peering past it into the mist of the Scottish night. There was a war raging inside her, pulling her this way and that. She wanted to turn to Buffy and pour her heart out, tell her how long she'd loved her, how much she'd always wanted to know every inch of her, spend every moment she could making her forget how shitty life could be. She wanted to push her down onto the bed and show her what passion and desire really was, and how it burned deep - deeper than any knife had ever gone. But she also wanted to run, to escape the very real possibility of it all turning to crap again. They were too volatile. Too wrapped in the impossibility of any kind of happy ending.

Buffy waited for the disbelief and doubt to wash through Faith and out the other side again. She could see the thoughts twisting and turning in her head, the need to give in, the need to run. Faith's shoulders were tense, her body stiff as she stood in the glow of the moon. Buffy wanted to stand, to move behind Faith and slide her arms around her taut stomach. Her body wanted to feel her presence, her fingers the softness of her skin. She looked stunning in the hazy shaft of light coming through the window - her hair tumbling in waves down her back, the tight tank top fitting to her curves and stopping just above the skimpy underwear that hugged her firm backside. There was nothing in that moment that told Buffy she was wrong to want Faith, or wrong to tell her so.

"Faith, I didn't mean to mess things up again. I wasn't planning to. . .God you look so beautiful right now," Buffy blurted, her speech forgotten as she allowed herself to truly look at Faith and desire her the way she'd always tried to stop herself from doing.

Faith stiffened momentarily, her jaw clenching and unclenching as she tried to keep control. It was no use, it was Buffy and she wanted her more than she could ever explain. It went beyond the physical. It went beyond rationality and reason.

Buffy almost gasped her next breath as Faith spun around, her eyes darker than she'd ever seen them. She felt the wave of desire coming from the other girl hit her before being swept up and kissed deeply. Faith took Buffy's face in her hands, her lips firm and demanding as they both moaned at the contact. Eyes fluttering shut, Buffy opened her mouth, giving herself up to Faith, inviting her in without hesitation, her body on fire and lips yearning.

Their lips teased and danced, and their tongues met in a slow slide into destiny, seeking gratification, tasting, touching. Buffy slid her hands up over Faith's sides, holding on, pulling her closer as she fell back to the bed, taking Faith with her.

Another soft moan drifted from Buffy as Faith slipped between her legs as they laid widthways on the bed. She'd forgotten she wasn't wearing panties – having left them on the pile of wet clothes on the floor - but that fact became very clear when Faith's underwear brushed against her. She could feel Faith's heat and she wanted to wrap her legs around her. She wanted to rip Faith's clothes off and know what it felt like to have her so intimately close, but she didn't do either as she was far too preoccupied being thoroughly kissed senseless.

The best she could do was hold on, her hands disappearing into thick dark hair as Faith sucked and nibbled, and then twisted her tongue over and around Buffy's in a delicious dance.

Faith didn't want to think beyond Buffy's lips and tongue, her heart hammering in her chest as she finally tasted Buffy Summers; as she pulled little moans and sighs from her with the unadulterated need of her kiss. She could feel herself getting wet, her body charging itself up to take what she needed, and give what she'd dreamed about for so long. Faith could tell she wasn't the only one getting wet either, as a very distinct moist feeling soaked through the front of her panties, coming from Buffy.

The fact Buffy didn't have on anything but the shirt wasn't helping Faith's mind to slow them down; she could feel the softness, the heat, and she wanted to feel Buffy wet against her. She wanted to slip her fingers through it, her tongue through it. There was nothing more in the world she wanted right then and there. . .but she couldn't do it. They couldn't do it. There was a world of reasons to stop and step back.

Lifting herself up – with great determination and difficulty – Faith pulled her mouth away from Buffy's. They were both breathing hard, their eyes locked, lips tingling and desperate for more.

"Don't stop," Buffy implored breathlessly. "Kissing is good."

She tried to pull Faith back down to her lips, and to her body, but Faith resisted despite the desire in her eyes.

"B, this isn't right," Faith said, almost stumbling over the words as she fought against how much she wanted to continue.

She was practically trembling, every muscle burning and tense, everything inside her screaming at her to lower herself back to Buffy. She looked deep into Buffy's eyes, getting lost, getting found, standing on the edge of something that'd always seemed far beyond her reach.

"Why isn't it right, Faith?" Buffy asked, her skin aching for Faith to touch it.

"It's just not. Not after everything. . .the last time we met, the way you. . .it's the wrong time, wrong reason," Faith tried to explain, getting lost within herself and her fear that they could be headed down the wrong path; a path that could lead her to more heartache than she could stand.

Buffy lifted her hand to Faith's cheek, touching her gently; fingers stroking, soft and reassuring. She could see the fear in Faith's eyes. She shared the same fear, the same doubts, but they'd let those fears and doubts have control for too long.

"Faith, I don't know what more to tell you other than it's time. I'm right here, not running, not fighting, just wanting you."

Faith took a shaky breath, wanting to look away from Buffy but failing as her thumb stroked over her cheek, keeping her focused.

"And last night you were right there with Satsu. You have a fight with her and suddenly you're all over me?" Faith's words weren't harsh, but they were clear, and they cut right to the chase.

She didn't want to blow their chance at friendship again for the sake of hormones or false ideas.

Tucking a stray lock of brown hair behind Faith's ear, Buffy tried her best to reassure Faith with her eyes and her soft smile. She wasn't there because she'd fought with Satsu. Sure, Satsu had played her part; she'd shown Buffy that being with another girl wasn't so scary. Satsu had given her the spark that she'd needed to finally act on what she'd always wanted from Faith - more than friendship, more than a slaying connection, and definitely more than awkward conversations and stupid fights.

"That has nothing to do with it and you know it," Buffy stated confidently.

"How do I know it? Hell, how do you know it?"

"Because it's right here," Buffy said shakily, taking Faith's hand in her own and placing it over her heart.

Faith felt her insides squirming and quivering, her head pounding from the rush of blood that had hit it full force. Satsu's words about how Buffy loved her ricocheted around her mind. She didn't speak, flicking her gaze from her hand as it sat perched between Buffy's breasts over her heart, back to Buffy's eyes.

"And if you don't believe that," Buffy plucked Faith's hand from her chest, keeping it tenderly in her own as she pushed it downwards, "then believe this, `cause it's right here too."

Buffy slid Faith's hand between her legs, guiding her fingers into the slippery wet truth of how much she wanted to be with her. Her breath caught in her throat, a small sigh of air releasing slowly as Faith's fingers remained inside her moist folds as she removed her own hand. She kept her eyes locked on Faith's, her lips parted and muscles tense as she felt the world exploding around her just from the soft touch of the girl she'd never been able to stop wanting and loving.

"Buffy," Faith practically growled, her tongue slipping out to moisten her lips as she searched for her resolve.

The sensation – the very real, sensual, and completely fucking amazing sensation – of having her fingers covered in Buffy's slippery arousal did its best to steal Faith's need not to jump headlong into disaster. She wanted to whip her hand away and jump off the bed, but she was caught in the moment, bound by years of desire, of fantasies that had haunted her as much as aroused her.

She brushed her fingers over Buffy's pussy as she indulged herself, drowning in the feeling, in the heat and the hunger. Buffy quivered, her eyes drifting shut, lips tempting Faith back down until she was right there again, kissing Buffy with everything she had and wanted. She swept her tongue into Buffy's mouth, hot breaths flowing just as much as the liquid desire seeping over Faith's fingers as she touched Buffy softer than she'd every touched anybody.

As Faith's delicate caress swept Buffy up in its teasing temptation, she sighed her name. All she could feel was Faith, all she wanted was Faith. Her whole world in that second was Faith. Her hands glided over Faith's back, body beginning to move for the fingers now stroking so seductively over her swollen clit. It felt like forever, it felt like she could stay there forever. . .basking in Faith's warmth and scent, in her safety, in her – just her.

"Faith," she whimpered, as lips were suddenly gone from hers, fingers slowing to a stop. "Why are you stopping?"

Buffy held Faith's gaze as she saw a multitude of emotions cross her dark eyes. They were so close; so close to the truth, to everything they'd ever ran from.

"I can't do this, B," Faith said, her voice trembling as she took her hand from Buffy and rolled onto her back beside her.

Buffy filled her lungs and tried to calm her breathing. She'd been so completely lost to Faith's touch, drifting on its promises, her body needing Faith more than she'd ever dare to admit. Now she felt empty, at a loss, her mind spinning in circles to find the words to make Faith believe she wasn't just fucking around, or using her, or. . .whatever it was that Faith thought.

Doing her best to ignore the throb between her legs, Buffy turned to her side so she could look at Faith. The other girl looked in pain, troubled, her hand in her hair as she flexed and tensed. Her breaths were ragged, but it was obvious she was trying to regain control of her composure. Buffy wondered when Faith had become so stoic, so able to hold back instead of just take what she wanted. It was an interesting discovery, even if it was leaving Buffy incredibly horny, high and not so dry.

"I thought you wanted. . ." Buffy began, watching Faith's jaw clench and unclench. "I thought I was all you could feel. What you wanted."

"It's not about what I want, B," Faith clarified, her tone low and calm, a direct contrast to the battle going on inside her. "And it's not about what you want."

Sitting up, demanding her gaze not to search out Buffy, Faith told herself she was doing the right thing.

As much as it felt like the perfect opportunity, as much as they both wanted the same thing and were finally showing it, saying it. . .something didn't feel right. Faith didn't want to just fuck Buffy to have her switch on her the next day, use it against her, or play the victim. She knew Buffy too well, had studied her more than she cared to admit to. There was no way that things would end well if they just took what they both wanted in that moment.

"We need to. . .take a step back," Faith told Buffy as she felt the other girl shifting to cover herself with the blankets, moving to lay the right way on the bed.

Faith's back was to Buffy, her head in her hands, her heart in her mouth.

"We've been 'taking steps back' since day one, Faith. I thought we could finally move forward this time. I want to move forward," Buffy explained, her tone soft, her voice barren of the usual authority it held.

Inhaling deeply and regretting it instantly because of the scent of Buffy on her fingers, Faith rubbed at her temples. She couldn't believe Buffy, didn't know how to let herself get to that point again. She'd been burned in the past. Her trust in Buffy had been shattered one too many times, and now she didn't know what to think. All she knew for sure was that continuing would be a mistake. At least for now. Buffy felt lost, but Faith didn't know if she was her map and compass or just somebody new to screw with.

"Look, B," Faith said as she flopped down beside Buffy, her head landing on the stiff pillow, "we both know I fucking want you in the biggest way – always have. But this is new for you. . ."

"It's not so new," Buffy corrected. "The accepting it and saying anything is new, sure. . .but not the feeling it."

"It's still new though, in some way," Faith pointed out, trying to keep on track. "Tomorrow you could totally regret the whole thing; the whole saying anything or doing anything. I don't wanna be on the end of that."

"You won't. I won't regret. . ."

"You can't say that, and I can't believe it," Faith said with a soft sigh as she turned to face Buffy. "If we're ever gonna be. . .together or whatever the fuck, then we can't just jump in at the first chance. I don't want us to be more screwed up than we are."

Faith didn't know from where her strength was coming, or her insight; she just knew she didn't want to lose Buffy forever. She didn't want to sleep with her then have it blow up in her face and ruin anything they could ever have between them; even if all they could have was some kind of friendship or understanding. She wasn't turning her back; she just wanted to make sure it wouldn't make things worse. Faith had taken a long time - put a lot of effort in – to find her own place in the world, and now she had it. . .she didn't want anything to mess it up. She needed to keep control.

"Do you understand where I'm coming from, B?" Faith asked, her hand defying her resolve a little as it snuck up to brush softly through Buffy's hair as they once again lay facing one another.

Buffy wanted to understand. She wanted to trust in Faith even if Faith couldn't yet trust in her.

"I think so," Buffy replied quietly. "And you're probably right. . .not that you should go gloating about it or anything. I mean, let's make it clear, I'm normally the one in the right."

Faith smiled as Buffy looked at her sternly, clearly making sure Faith wasn't about to go feeling all superior. She knew Buffy didn't mean it. There had been a time – most of the time in fact – that Buffy had done her best to make Faith feel like she was less special, or that she was less worthy of what power she had, but Faith could see through it now. She knew Buffy's insecurities. She knew Buffy. That's not to say a lot of the time she didn't still confuse the hell out of her, however.

"I like that smile," Buffy told Faith sleepily. "I like you. . .yunno, when you're not punching my face or trying to drown me."

They both laughed quietly and Faith shook her head. They'd always been a complex pair, and tonight had done nothing to refute that. Nothing was ever easy. Nothing ever had been for Faith.

"That last time was. . .kinda fucked up. Lotta stuff was goin' on in my head, didn't know what I was doing let alone thinking," Faith explained, her eyes closing as the night wore her down.

"Yeah, I know," Buffy nodded, also closing her eyes. "It's always best to leave the thinking to me. I mean, if you did that. . .we'd both be naked right about now."

Buffy smirked and Faith cracked open one eye just enough to see it.

"Remind me to leave you out in the rain next time, Twinkie," Faith chuckled. "See where your thinking gets you then."

"Huh? Oh sorry, still thinking naked thoughts." Buffy's smirk grew wider before a yawn stole it from her.

Faith groaned lowly, her hand moving from where it had been resting on Buffy's shoulder, down to the mattress between them.

"Seriously, B. . .stop talking about being naked, I'm trying to be fucking resolve-girl here," Faith complained, finding it hard to stop thinking about how good it had been to touch Buffy in the few minutes she had.

"I'd rather you be fucking me," Buffy teased, unable to hold back from winding Faith up.

She knew she shouldn't, but she was horny, and hell. . .she'd just confessed a whole lot of stuff to the girl only to be rebuffed; it wasn't Buffy's fault if she felt a little grumpy about it.

Faith squeezed her eyes shut and breathed steadily through her nose, counting down from ten before everything she'd said got trampled on by her desire to just take Buffy. It wasn't like she didn't just want to rip both their remaining clothes off and feel every inch of Buffy against her. Buffy was close, close enough for Faith to feel her warmth, to smell her skin and the arousal she'd caused. It wasn't going to be easy to sleep, or to hold herself back when all she really wanted to do was sweep aside her reasons for stopping at all.

"Believe me, B," Faith began, getting a little closer to Buffy and practically whispering in her ear, her dark hair tickling over Buffy's shoulder, "there'll be plenty of fucking when the time's right. You'll wonder why the hell we haven't been doin' it all along; why you didn't let me suck the come right outta ya the first night we met."

It was crude, and effective. Buffy shuddered as she felt a wave of arousal course through her, making her stomach twist into a knot; yet she slapped Faith with the back of her hand for being so lewd.

Faith grinned and turned onto her back, feeling happy with how well she'd been able to handle herself throughout the night, and pleased that she'd been able to get the last tease in before deciding sleep was the best way to halt any further temptation.

"Just for that. . ." Buffy said cryptically, before making her intentions clear by shuffling up closer to Faith and draping herself half on her.

"That's not fair," Faith whined, her blood beginning to rush through her veins again as she felt the distinctive brush of Buffy's wet pussy against her thigh. "So not fucking fair, B."

Faith did her best to keep in control, ignoring the delicious sensation of having Buffy pushed up against her, her soaked sex almost too tempting. It was like torture; evil, sexy, soft wet torture.

"Tough," Buffy mumbled as she settled her head down on Faith's shoulder. "It's what you get for leading me on, oh. . .and for trying to drown me."

She pushed further into Faith, ensuring she had full contact in all the places she wanted. Of course, it was a double-edged sword, because now all she wanted to do wash rub up against Faith in order to get some relief.

"Never gonna let that go?" Faith asked as she tried to settle herself and her pounding pulse.

"Not until I think you're suitably sorry."

Both girls smiled softly, no hint of malice left to their words.

It'd been a strange day, and an even stranger night. It seemed like they were moving forwards, even if they weren't currently performing some acrobatic bedroom athletics. Faith hoped the next day wouldn't bring it all crashing down around her. Buffy had been known to give with one hand and take with the other before; Faith had been on the receiving end of her switching mood too often now not to expect it.

Still, Buffy had shown herself to Faith on many levels, both emotional and physical, and that had to count for something even if Buffy had been a little on the wacky side after sitting in the rain all naked. Faith hoped it did, because she wasn't in the habit of giving her own secrets away either, and she most definitely wasn't in the habit of turning down sex when it landed in her lap.

As she shifted a little so her arm was around Buffy, holding her gently, Faith relaxed to the sound of the other girl's breathing as she slept. A little snore drifted up to Faith's ears and she shook her head and chuckled soundlessly. She wasn't used to spending the night with people - though it wasn't unheard of – and she'd never have guessed when she'd arrived there that it was ever even possible with Buffy.

It was funny how the world could switch, handing out nothing but crap most of the time. . .but then thrusting a sparkling gem into the mix.

Hell, it was funny how easily Buffy could duck under her barriers, even after Faith had promised herself never to fall again; never to want and hope only to be left on the sidelines with her heart in her hand as Buffy moved on to her next catch. She knew she was crazy to even contemplate allowing herself to trust in Buffy this time, but despite knowing it was a bad idea. . .she just couldn't help but feel her heart swell as Buffy slept soundly against her.

She was done for, and it wasn't a good thing. She'd always hoped for this moment, but now it was here it felt like make or break, and she couldn't break again. Breaking was not going to keep her on the right path, and she knew she wouldn't survive straying from it a second time.

Faith had to decide to either keep her resolve and stay at arms length until she knew for sure Buffy meant what she'd said, or take the chance on offer; providing that offer would still be on the table when the harsh light of day filtered through the window.

CHAPTER SIX

The cold morning air settled over Faith as she raised a hand to her head and swept her dark hair from her face. She prized her eyes open, feeling the day wake her, feeling her skin tingle as it brushed against the cool sheets next to her as she moved. Her body was aching a little from the previous day's jaunt into a building that had tried its best to crush her. A few stretches would soon sort that out, but the other sensation - the one that ran deep through her - wouldn't be shaken so easily.

She couldn't deny that Buffy had made her horny, had wound her tight so that her muscles twitched and mind slipped easily into thoughts about how much she wanted to finally take that step with the other slayer. Faith couldn't afford to allow herself to believe what had always seemed impossible, however. It just didn't sit right. She had to be sure.

Without having to turn herself to see, Faith could already sense that Buffy was no longer with her. She slid a hand under the sheet, feeling the cold instead of a warm patch where Buffy had been. It wasn't as if she'd expected Buffy to be there, to stay with her until she woke; share the morning mumbles, and the shy smiles she imagined Buffy would give her. No, that was expecting too much, and Faith had promised herself not to expect anything good when she'd finally agreed to make the trip to Scotland.

She'd already gotten more than she'd bargained for, so anything else was. . .well, it was something she didn't want to think about. Faith had been let down too many times in the past.

Sitting up and glancing down to the crumpled bed where Buffy had spent the night elbowing her, laying on her, and stealing the sheets, Faith sighed and fought the urge to lean down and clutch the pillow to her face. She doubted it smelled of Buffy anyhow - musty castle scent being the main aroma clinging to the soft furnishings – but the small desire to do it was there, and that told Faith she was in trouble once again.

"Dammit, B. You've fuckin' got me again," Faith mumbled as she shook her head and untangled herself from the sheets.

She pushed herself off the mattress and made her way to the shower. There were a thousand names she could have called herself for being stupid enough to fall again when she knew it would only bring her pain. . .but none of them seemed to sum it up quite as nicely as dumbass.

After showering and trying to convince herself that she didn't give a rat's ass about Buffy's late night confession, Faith made her way downstairs. Her stomach was rumbling and her main priority was to fill it. Her thoughts about Buffy would have to go on hold until she felt full. Of course, that was never as easy as it seemed; she couldn't help but replay the night's events over and over in her head.

Faith felt just as confused and unsure as she had at the time, in fact more so given the fact Buffy hadn't stayed around until she woke up. She didn't know why Buffy had left so early; maybe it was shame, or maybe she was wishing she could take everything back that had been said and done. Whatever it was, Faith wasn't planning to ask about it. She wasn't going to chase after Buffy and make a fool of herself. There had been a time - back in Sunnydale the first time around - when Faith would have laid herself on the line a little more readily, but "once bitten twice shy" had become a saying she clung to. She didn't need to feel like all the progress she'd made over the years was for nothing. She wasn't going to let Buffy rule her every thought and action.

There was no way Faith was going to risk everything she'd fought so hard to build up; her confidence, the respect she'd gained from the few people that took the time to understand her, and also her job. It was all too important to lose just because Buffy had the ability to make her feel like less of a person – less of a slayer - without even trying. It wasn't going to go that way. Faith wasn't going to let it.

As she got further down the steps to the main part of the building, Faith could hear the unmistakable sound of girls training; sneakers squeaking on the hard floors, shouts and giggles bursting up from the large areas within the castle that served as indoor arenas and gyms. Faith wasn't used to the noise, having spent most of her time alone since jail, and the fall of Sunnydale. It made her edgy. Or at least more edgy than she already felt.

"Morning, Faith," Xander called as Faith walked past one of the busy rooms on the way to the kitchen.

She turned to look his way and nodded, a small smile slipping across her lips as he waved at her warmly.

"Sorry if the noise woke you," he said. "We get up pretty early around here."

"Yeah, I noticed," Faith muttered, not bothering to tell him the noise hadn't woken her.

"There should still be enough left over from breakfast for you. Just take what ya need from the kitchen," Xander told her. He winked with his good eye when he heard Faith's stomach growl.

Faith thanked him and carried on towards the kitchen, her mind pushing out all thoughts of Buffy as she imagined what treats she could find to eat. As she neared the kitchen, voices caught her attention. Buffy was somewhere up ahead. Giles too. She couldn't make out what they were saying, but she made her way towards the sound of their voices anyway.

Reaching a narrow stairwell that headed down into darkness, Faith slid her hands into the pockets of her jeans and descended the steps. She could get breakfast once she'd seen Buffy; just to see if there was weirdness like she was afraid there would be.

"So this is safer?" Buffy asked as she talked animatedly to Giles and Willow in the gloomy wine cellar Faith now found herself in. "I'm not a fan of dark, spider infested cellars, so if we put it here I want to know for sure no creepy vampires made of smoke are gonna get their. . .smoky hands on it."

"It'll definitely be safer, once the spells are done and I make the hole go away," Willow replied.

Faith noticed that the scythe - shining brightly despite the scant light from the dusty bulb overhead – was situated in a crude hole in the far wall of the cellar. They were obviously taking no risks and keeping it away from the rest of the weaponry, protected by whatever means Willow was concocting.

"Once we have all the ingredients nobody will even be able to tell it's here. These spells are very precise, and much more effective than the armory walls," Giles assured.

Faith listened and watched from the foot of the stairs, her hands still in her pockets, her eyes fixed on Buffy.

As Willow told Giles exactly what they'd need as he wrote it in a small notepad, Buffy glanced Faith's way. She smiled, her little half-smile that always made Faith's heart skip a beat. Faith didn't smile back, keeping her face expressionless, her defences working overtime trying to keep her safe, to keep her steady.

"Hey," Buffy said quietly as she walked towards Faith, leaving Giles and Willow to work out the details of their spells.

Faith nodded her head, her hands pushing deeper into her pockets, her eyes looking at Buffy in a new way. A way she wished she could stop.

Looking a little more apologetic, Buffy seemed to guess that something wasn't quite right. She furrowed her brow and moved closer to Faith, her mouth opening as she was about to say something. An interruption in the form of a slayer rushing down the stairs behind Faith halted any further attempt at conversation.

"Ma'am," the slayer said, a little out of breath from all the rushing, "there's a delivery. He said he won't leave until you've signed this."

A scruffy piece of paper was thrust Buffy's way.

"What the. . ? I ordered one, not ten," Buffy grumbled. "I'll have to go deal with this."

Buffy didn't say it to anybody in particular, but her eyes landed on Faith as she stepped past her to head up the stairs. She was sorry to have to go. Faith looked edgy and uncomfortable and that wasn't a good thing. Whatever was wrong, she'd have to deal with it later.

Faith listened to Buffy running up the stairs and dashing irritatedly down the corridor before she started up them herself, heading towards the prospect of food.

After filling her belly and spending several hours meandering around the old castle, looking at suits or armor and old swords, Faith decided she'd had enough of feeling out of place. She hadn't seen Buffy since their fleeting encounter in the wine cellar and it was lunch time now. Faith didn't want to go in search of Buffy to find out where they stood, so instead she decided she'd find Giles. . .and ask if they could leave as soon as possible. Obviously whatever had happened between her and Buffy had been of little consequence, otherwise Buffy would have spoken to her by now. Her early departure from Faith's room, and the fact she seemed to be avoiding her, told Faith all she needed to know.

Striding through the twisting corridors, Faith found that discovering where Giles had disappeared to was more difficult than she'd hoped. The place was big, and every room seemed to house a selection of slayers or trainee witches. Finding herself at the front of the castle in the large hall, she decided stepping outside for some air was probably better than driving herself nuts walking in circles.

As Faith made her way across the tiled floor of the large hall, the sound of fighting moves being practised by bunches of slayers echoed around her. She almost didn't hear Buffy call her name, as she walked past an open door that led into one of the large dining rooms that now served as a training area.

"Faith," Buffy called, her head popping around the doorway as Faith came to a halt.

She didn't turn around fully, making Buffy have to practically talk to her back.

"I haven't seen you since this morning," Buffy continued. "I was beginning to think you'd left without saying anything."

Faith shook her head a little, keeping in the snort of exasperation that wanted to sneak out. She didn't know why Buffy seemed bothered at all about her leaving without telling her, after all. . .Buffy had done just that herself. Faith didn't know how to act or what to say now that she had even less of a clue about where they stood with each other.

Things had become clearer, only to drift back into weary confusion. And now that Faith had been left to stew in her own unappreciated vulnerability, she wasn't in the mood to be nice.

"Was right here all along, B," Faith pointed out, her hands going back into her pockets again as she felt her walls slide back into place.

"Ok, you don't sound happy," Buffy said, lowering her voice a little as she glanced back into the room she was still half in.

"I'm just fine, B. This place is a laugh riot."

Faith took a step forward, planning to carry on her search for Giles and leave Buffy to whatever she was doing. There was no point in standing around a drafty hall, skirting around the fact they were back at square one with the weird tension and uncomfortable awkwardness.

Buffy frowned, then she gestured to somebody within the room full of girls before stepping fully out of it and closing the door behind her.

"Are we back to being weird? Even after all we said – well, mostly what I said – last night?" Buffy asked, moving closer to Faith.

Buffy tried to catch Faith's gaze with her own, but Faith wasn't in the mood for sharing. She was pissed. Mostly with herself.

"We are what we are, Buffy," Faith said, looking out of the nearby window, wishing she could just walk away.

It had never been easy to just walk away. . .certainly not without receiving a scar or two.

Buffy sighed and moved even closer, invading Faith's personal space. "We could be so much more," Buffy said softly, her hand reaching out to touch Faith's.

Faith pulled back as she noticed Buffy's hand creeping towards her own. She wanted to stay in control. She wanted to remind herself that she couldn't trust in what Buffy wanted, or thought she wanted.

"It's not that easy," Faith told Buffy.

"I know, you don't trust me. You think I'm going to change my mind, come to my senses, treat you badly and hurt you," Buffy responded as she watched Faith walk over to the large window that looked out to the front lawn. "But I won't do any of those - or anything like that – intentionally. I know what I want now. I'm sure. I'm ready. I'm asking you to trust in that."

Faith held her breath for a moment, her back to Buffy as she searched for her strength of mind. Buffy was asking more than she probably knew. Letting go of all the fear of rejection, the fear of losing control, wasn't an easy task; and that's what Faith would have to do to believe Buffy.

"How am I supposed to just. . ?" Faith began, her hand brushing through her waves of hair as she felt Buffy move up behind her. She didn't know what she wanted to say, couldn't stop her heart from drumming a different beat to her mind.

"Faith, it really doesn't have to be the way it's always been. I know it won't be easy. . .but don't we both deserve to try?" Buffy asked, stopping close behind Faith, just wanting to be near her.

She had no idea why or how she was being so brave, so forthright. It wasn't as if she was used to being candid with Faith, but there didn't seem to be any holding back now. This was too important. Too big to ignore again. She'd fallen in love twice with Faith, probably had never actually been 'out of love' with her, and she couldn't run from it any longer. Buffy wasn't going to allow Faith to shy away from it either, no matter how long she had to push. She knew Faith felt the same, it was thick in the air, it always had been between them.

"Tell me what I can do or say to make you believe me," Buffy asked, her hands wanting to reach out and pull Faith to her, but her instincts clearly letting her know it would be a bad idea.

"I dunno, B," Faith told her honestly. She wasn't being intentionally awkward, she was just wary of letting go. "You not being there this morning kinda didn't help."

It seemed silly to say anything about it, and Faith instantly cringed at her own words. She'd left so many beds before morning, and kicked most people out of hers before any chance of the morning-after uncomfortableness came about. . .and now here she was being the typical 'girl' and whining about being left before she woke up. She felt dumb for feeling the way she was about it.

A little light bulb dinged on in Buffy's head and she realised right away why Faith was being evasive despite what they'd both revealed. She was upset about being left, and probably more upset about feeling upset. Buffy wanted to kick herself for not finding Faith earlier to put her mind at ease. She'd been rushed off her feet however, dealing with delivery mistakes, slayers in need of training, and Satsu.

"Faith, I didn't leave this morning because of what you're probably thinking. I didn't change my mind about you, or how I feel," Buffy explained, trying her best not to sound patronizing, yet reassuring at the same time. "I'm sorry I left so early."

"No big deal really, B," Faith lied with a shrug.

Buffy couldn't help but smile as Faith tried to be all proud and aloof as she stood with her hands firmly planted in her pockets again, her back still to Buffy. She could see through it. There was a vulnerability, a soft and squishy part of Faith that she was revealing despite her act.

"I didn't leave because I didn't want to wake up with you, Faith," Buffy told her honestly, sliding a hand up Faith's arm until her fingers disappeared into thick dark hair. "I just didn't want to do anything that would go against what you said. You looked so. . .and I was still all. . .if I hadn't left I would have. . ."

Buffy could feel herself blushing as she remembered how much she'd wanted Faith that morning as she'd slept beside her. The urge to ignore everything Faith had said the night before had been too great, and leaving had been her only option.

Faith chuckled and shook her head, mad at herself for jumping to conclusions, yet amused at Buffy's confession. "You left 'cause you wanted some action?" Faith asked, not needing to hear an answer.

She turned towards Buffy, their eyes meeting properly this time.

"Pretty much," Buffy replied with a nod, still feeling embarrassed.

No matter what she'd been through with Faith, and what they'd shared so far, she still had the ability to leave Buffy feeling completely inadequate and shy. It wasn't as if Buffy was even close to being the virginal type any more, it was just something about Faith that made her blush.

"You didn't have to go," Faith said, a little chink appearing in her armor once again. "You coulda done your thing right there, the show woulda been appreciated."

Faith gave Buffy a big toothy grin, all kinds of images running rampant through her head even though she was doing her best to suppress them.

"I really did have to go, and no. . .there would have been no show, just me taking advantage of you while you slept," Buffy informed Faith, her own grin coming out to play.

Raising her eyebrow, Faith contemplated the idea, and it didn't suck. That still didn't make her feel any less uneasy about the situation as a whole, however. She was still trying to protect herself.

"But I didn't want to make what you said last night seem unimportant," Buffy continued. "I need you to know I'm willing to do things your way."

Faith nodded a little and Buffy's hand travelled back down her arm until it settled in her own. She didn't pull back, allowing Buffy to subtly slide their fingers together as they faced each other. Time seemed to stop momentarily as the echoing sounds of the slayers in the room nearby drifted away. Faith felt the urge to lean in to Buffy and kiss her, but she didn't. It still felt too risky.

She'd once been all about the risks in life; jumping into situations without looking, without thinking. Those days were over. Faith was much more responsible now. She had to be. She did things her way; it was the only way.

"This isn't a simple thing for me yunno, B," Faith said, a soft sighing breath escaping her as she tried to understand her own reasoning.

"I know," Buffy assured.

She gave Faith's hand a small squeeze, wishing she could go for more; a hug, a soft kiss. A kiss that would take them where she now needed them both to go.

"I was just getting used to my life."

"I'm not asking you to change anything," Buffy pointed out. "You can do your thing with Giles from here."

Buffy convinced herself she was right, and that it wouldn't mean anything would really have to change for Faith. Deep down she knew that wasn't the case, and she knew why Faith was hesitating. It was clear what they both wanted, but the logistics weren't simple, the timing was bad, the desire they felt. . .was nothing compared to the job they had to do in the world. Still, that didn't mean Buffy couldn't hope, plan, persuade. She wanted it to work.

Looking down at their gently clasping hands Faith wished she could look beyond the possibility of it all going to hell. It was hard, maybe impossible altogether. She wanted it to be easier. She'd wanted this day, this moment, this outcome to happen many times before; now it was here she realised she was completely unprepared for what it meant. Relationship. Commitment. Buffy in her life, in her business, in her bed, all around her. Some of it sounded pretty good – especially the "in her bed" part - but lots of it also sounded way beyond her. The reality of what she'd always wanted was more of a scary prospect than she'd ever imagined.

Faith wished she could leap, take the chance that it really would all work out ok; her heart battling with her fears. Maybe if she just let go to see where she landed it wouldn't be too bad.

Leaning forward just a little, her eyes fixed on Buffy's - soft and hopeful – Faith pushed past her stubborn apprehension. She wanted to kiss Buffy more than she'd ever wanted to before; the real, inescapable need to connect pulling her in.

A noise to the side – a door squeaking open loudly – jolted Buffy from the daze Faith had suddenly trapped her in. She'd been waiting, wishing for Faith's lips to fall on her own. Her stomach was a menagerie of wild butterflies, her hands moist and body pleading for contact. It all fluttered away as soon as they were disturbed, and she let go of Faith's hand.

Turning to see one of the slayers coming from the room to look for her, Buffy chastised herself for not taking Faith somewhere a little more private to talk than the main hall.

"Crap," Buffy muttered as she waved at the young slayer across the tiled entrance, watching as she shuffled back into the training room. "I think I need to get back before they all kill each other."

"Yeah," Faith said distractedly.

She knew Buffy was all about the slayer training, and it didn't bother her - in fact, she thought it was pretty awesome. Having Buffy suddenly jump a mile away from her and drop her hand like a hot poker wasn't so awesome. She knew it was stupid to expect anything but that kind of reaction, but it still stung just a little. It made her wonder if she'd been that way with Satsu around the others, or if it was just her. If Buffy wasn't ready to be with Faith in front of other people - the people that mattered. . .then how the hell was Faith meant to be with Buffy at all? How could she trust her heart to her?

Faith didn't have an answer, and she was back at square one.

"I have to make a trip out with Willow soon, but I'll be back by dinner," Buffy told Faith. "Will you still be around? I mean, could we maybe. . .get together?"

Faith nodded slowly, her heart sinking a little, mocking her for daring to open herself up. It wasn't as if Buffy's reaction was really all that of a big deal, or surprising considering their history, and Buffy wanted to see her later at least. . .but still, Faith now felt fully justified in her caution.

There was a moment's hesitation before Buffy turned to go. A moment where Buffy almost took a chance and kissed Faith without leaving it up to her. Their eyes locked; questions, desires, deep feelings that were hiding behind all the defences they could find, passed between them. Nothing was said.

Watching Buffy make her way back to the slayers, Faith felt her heart longing in a way that felt like a kick while she was down. She remembered the feeling well; it had burned its way into her consciousness years ago. She didn't want to feel that way again, had promised herself she'd never allow herself to feel it again. There was no escaping it, however. Faith wanted to give Buffy a chance - give them both a chance – but she couldn't say for sure if the risks were too high. They felt high, yet deep inside she was frantically searching for ways to tell herself not to care.

She left the hall with more questions than answers, pulling herself this way and that trying to decide what she'd do next. Of course she wanted to be with Buffy, but at what cost? Was it worth it? Was it really worth the risk if in a week's time Buffy suddenly decided it wasn't for her, or they realized they were on a path to destruction, or if they just couldn't be more than what they were and it all went to shit - leaving them further apart than ever?

It was too much to think about. Faith felt isolated and claustrophobic all at once. She didn't feel comfortable there and needed to find her solid ground. She thought maybe it was best to leave, to step back and look at everything from a distance. If they were going to go for it, to take the plunge, she didn't want to rush in blindly. . .not after waiting so long for it to come about. If they were going to finally do it, it had to be done right.

Faith finally found Giles tinkering with some of Xander's favourite gadgets in one of the small rooms attached to the communications area.

"Hey, G," she said, giving him a nod hello as he smiled her way.

"We should invest in some of these," he told her, waving around some kind of cellphone with a funky looking glass spindle on it. "I bet they're very useful in the field."

"Sure, if you want me to look like some kinda loser Trekkie," Faith replied, looking unconvinced at the array of gadgets. "We don't got the money they have, and I don't think I'd know what the fuck to do with most of this crap."

Giles nodded, resigned to the fact Faith liked to do things her way, and that it was pointless to try to sway her. She knew what she was good at – and was extremely good at lots of things – and nothing stood in the way of her and her goal. No silly contraptions were going to make life any easier for either of them when it came down to it.

Faith picked up a headset, fiddling with it, remembering what Buffy had said the day before while she'd been running for her life to get out of the building alive. "I can't lose you again," Buffy had said. There had been tears, and Faith had felt in that moment that everything she wanted to come true would be possible. It had all seemed possible and she'd told Buffy that she'd never lost her. That would always be the case. Falling in love with Buffy didn't come with an expiration date; Faith had learned that the hard way.

Whatever happened, there would be no going back to how things had been. They both knew more about each other now. More about how they felt.

"So," Faith said, catching Giles' attention again as she placed the headset back down, "when can we leave? We got a shit load of stuff to do before we pick up that girl Simone."

She hoped he would say right away, tonight, any time that meant being able to slip away without having to explain to Buffy that she needed time. She knew the look Buffy would give her; it's not like they hadn't had plenty of time after all. Faith was sure her decision was for the best, no matter how much every part of her that wanted Buffy – which was pretty much all of her – wanted to take her in her arms and never let go.

"Ah, yes," Giles said, removing his glasses. "I expected you'd prefer to leave tonight, however. . .I feel it's of great importance I stay to help Willow conceal the scythe as best we can. We've uncovered the culprits motives and it's not a pleasant discovery. She'll be making a short trip with Buffy later to collect what we need. The process could take a while and. . ."

"So when can we leave?" Faith interrupted, not really interested in spells.

"Tomorrow afternoon. It's been arranged," Giles informed her.

Faith nodded, her gaze landing on the headset she'd discarded.

It wasn't good. She'd probably have to find some way to explain to Buffy that she did want to be with her. . .but just not yet. It sounded simple, it made sense in her head, yet it was so obviously not what most of the rest of her wanted going by the uneasy feeling inside her. Her choice had been made however, and though it went against everything she'd dreamed of, she knew she had to walk away for now.

Buffy needed time to adjust to the wanting girls thing and not being afraid of what others thought, and Faith needed to come to terms with the fact Buffy really did want them to be together. It was a big change, and she hadn't been ready for it.

Leaving Giles to the gadgets, Faith made her way up to her room. She planned to pack, and to avoid Buffy for the rest of the night.

CHAPTER SEVEN

Dedication: For Electra...always x

The trees rushed by Faith as she ran; jumping over mossy mounds and trickling streams, her lungs burning with the cold air as she gulped it in. Her hair – tied back to keep it from tangling around her face - whipped behind her in the breeze. She felt free, alive, every muscle finely tuned to the way her body moved; to the way she could push it further, faster, harder than the last time.

Running wasn't a way to get away from her troubles any more, but it was a way to escape them, even if just for a short time. She wouldn't be heading for the nearest freight train, or the airport, or a highway she could hitch along; that kind of running was over with. She'd be heading back once her body began to finally tire. Back to the castle. Back to where Buffy would now be, having completed her errand with Willow.

Faith glanced at her watch as she slowed to a soft jog. The forest was thick and misty, but the challenge of finding a path to run around the castle through it had been too compelling to ignore. She'd needed to get out, taste the air and run the endless thoughts out of her mind. Over-thinking had never been her thing, and it wasn't sitting well. Pulling her sweatpants out of a hastily packed bag, she'd taken off into the evening - into the chill that encased their Scottish retreat – leaving all that weighed her down at the door.

The forest was quiet now her feet had stopped pounding the fallen leaves and the slippery moss into the earth with each stride. She'd moved further away from the castle than her previous circuits, following the meandering veins of an icy stream. There was a faint fog hanging over the tress like a net, dousing the leaves and cobwebs that hung between the branches in a thin sheen of moisture. Each breath she took left its mark in the air, puffs of steam with every pant as her lungs adjusted to being still. It was peaceful yet wild and untamed. A clash of calm reflection and haunting possibilities.

Allowing the calmness to seep into her, pushing out the threat of her mind becoming overcrowded with Buffy again, Faith looked deep into the shimmering forest up ahead. It was bathed in the delicate touch of the moon, the stream reflecting the light as it widened down the gentle roll of a hill.

She saw movement; a brief shudder of brown against the misty white background. Squinting as she stood with her hands on her hips, her breathing finally at ease, Faith watched as the leaves parted by the stream a few meters from where she'd stopped. Stepping out into the moonlight, a young deer – its own puffs of breath filling the air - approached the water's edge. Faith kept still and silent as the deer tasted the fresh flowing water, its head and antlers bowed, eyes still searching for danger.

It spotted Faith and their eyes met, dark on dark, the wild running through both of them just as much as the peace and the serenity of the moment. Neither moved; no threat, no fear.

Faith had never been much of an animal lover; never had a pet, never been taken to the zoo or told stories about how beautiful a wild creature could be. She wanted to reach out, to feel his coarse fur, to run her fingers over the proud antlers he shook as he finished quenching his thirst. They regarded each other with intrigue, the breeze cooling them both in their stillness. He seemed to be judging Faith; judging if she was a threat, a risk to his solitary existence. He was scared, but he was brave, his black eyes looking deep into Faith and daring her to look with him.

He was magnificent, strong and wild, yet there was a softness to his gaze as he puffed a snort of air and gave Faith another shake of his antlers before turning to disappear back into the forest. Faith smiled, gentle, barely visible, a gesture of gratitude for being allowed to share the forest with him. Whatever it was he'd seen within her, whatever it was he'd found. . .it hadn't made him turn in fear.

Keeping her eyes fixed to the spot between the leaves where he'd appeared, Faith wondered if she'd ever be strong enough to look within herself and not run in fear. Her new friend in the forest could do it, even Buffy seemed to be able to do it now. . .but Faith didn't know if she had that kind of bravery. She held so much inside; so much hurt, so much anger, and so much more love for Buffy than she knew how to stand and face. Maybe running was the only thing she'd ever been good at.

It had certainly always seemed easier to run than to face the things she feared. Though it wasn't so much a physical thing she did these days, she knew she was always still running in her head. Running from herself, from her past, from all the good things that could be waiting for her.

Taking a deep breath, Faith turned back towards the castle and started jogging. She realised she was turning from what Buffy was offering - not because she was uncertain about its truth, or about Buffy, but because she was afraid it was everything she'd always wanted, and Faith still didn't think she deserved everything she'd wanted. Buffy was offering too much.

Facing what she felt - and what Buffy felt - was just too much, but running wasn't the answer. Understanding it, touching it, knowing it. . .that was the only way forward, even if that still meant holding back just a little while; like a deer at the waterside checking for danger.

When Faith finally reached the castle she was coated in sweat, sore and cold. She felt tired, but her mind was busy fitting all the pieces together in a much neater puzzle than when she'd left. She felt better, ready to see Buffy, ready to let her know that even though she was sure she could do her best to face what they both wanted, she still needed a little time to reflect, to check for danger. She wasn't going to hide away and then leave without letting Buffy know she was feeling the same and wanting the same. Faith had to face it head on.

She bounded up the stairs heading for Buffy's room. There was a slight worry that she'd find Satsu there; maybe Buffy and Satsu making up, kissing each other all better after their fight. It was fleeting, and Faith pushed it aside. She couldn't afford to allow jealousy to steal her resolve, or her sanity. She had to trust in Buffy.

Knocking on Buffy's door, trying not to be too loud in case the other slayers were already in bed, or trying to relax at least., Faith yanked her hair out of her ponytail and shook it free. Her hair was a little damp with sweat, her pants muddy, sneakers even more so. She looked dishevelled but felt great.

Buffy's door opened a crack and she peeked out.

"Hey," Faith said, flashing Buffy a genuine and flawless smile.

Buffy smiled back and opened the door wider, then her smile dropped as she took in the state Faith had arrived in.

"Wow, did something drag you through the woods by your hair?" Buffy asked.

"Yeah," Faith replied, stepping forwards despite Buffy's wrinkled nose as she left a trail of mud on the carpet. "She was pretty tough, but I beat her down. Told her she had to stop being a pussy."

"Wait. . .who?" Buffy asked, looking a little worried.

Faith watched as Buffy closed the door to her room. She was wearing Faith's old tee shirt from the night before, and some baggy sweatpants that looked two sizes too big.

"Do you steal all your clothes?" Faith asked with a chuckle, pointing out Buffy's ensemble.

Looking down at herself Buffy furrowed her brow. "No, just. . .your tee shirt was comfy so. . .don't change the subject, who did you beat up this time?"

Faith grinned and sat herself down in a nearby chair, resting her elbows on the plush arms.

"This time? Wow, B. . .you got a lot of faith in me huh," she quipped, the grin still on her face as Buffy studied her intently.

Narrowing her eyes and walking closer to Faith, Buffy crossed her arms over her chest. She wasn't sure what was going on, but she felt uneasy. Faith had been upset earlier, and now she seemed positively euphoric; it was a little unsettling considering Faith's past.

"You said you'd beaten somebody down, now unless. . .oh God, it wasn't Satsu was it?" Buffy blurted, her eyes widening and hands falling back to her sides. "She doesn't deserve that. She's leaving so there was no reason to. . ."

"Hey, B. . .hold your horses, I didn't touch your honey," Faith assured, her smile still in place as Buffy began to panic. "Glad to hear she's leaving, though."

"Ex-honey," Buffy corrected. "We talked earlier and decided it's best if she leaves for a while," she explained, getting sidetracked. "It won't be permanent 'cause she is my best slayer, but for now she's going back with Andrew to Italy. Tomorrow."

Faith nodded, feeling good that Satsu wouldn't be around to mess things up, but not feeling too happy that she'd be back in the future. It wasn't as if she couldn't respect the girl as a slayer, or even like her as a person, but Faith had always been the jealous type around Buffy.

"So if it wasn't Satsu, who was it?" Buffy pressed, trying to ignore the small beads of sweat that were still rolling down Faith's neck and into the low scoop of her shirt at her cleavage.

"Wasn't anybody, B," Faith clarified. "I was talking about me. I guess I was a deer caught in the headlights and needed time to work it out, and I think I have."

Buffy looked hopeful at Faith's words, a little smile creeping out as she gazed down at her.

"And is it good news, or something I don't wanna hear considering I totally spilled my guts to you last. . ."

"Come 'ere, B," Faith told Buffy, jerking her head in a gesture for Buffy to get closer.

Giving Faith a wary glare before giving in to the sexy grin on her lips, Buffy moved closer to the chair. She let out a little gasp as Faith grabbed her and pulled her onto her lap. She was straddling Faith now, facing her as she became completely aware of just how hot and sweaty Faith was.

"You're gonna get me all stinky," Buffy fake-grumbled, at least attempting to sound like she was protesting.

"Thought you liked my stink," Faith said with a smirk. "You're wearing my shirt."

"Because it's comfortable. Has nothing to do with the fact it smells like you," Buffy pointed out, her little smile giving her away.

"Sure," Faith chuckled.

It felt good that Buffy wanted her scent around. Weird, but good.

She moved her hands over Buffy's thighs, holding her there and feeling like Buffy was completely comfortable sat on her. There was no awkwardness now, no agitation or tension other than the obvious sexual kind. Faith liked it; the feeling of closeness, of just letting the barriers slowly peel away. They were connecting in the way they always should have.

Raising one hand, Faith softly stroked her thumb over Buffy's cheek as their eyes did all but melt each other. She'd always loved Buffy's eyes. The color always seemed dependant on her mood; a subtle green or definite hazel. They were more green now in the lamplight, searching Faith's eyes, Buffy's heart almost visible through them. She wanted to see more, to know more.

"If we're gonna do this," Faith began, lowering her hand to rest on Buffy's shoulder, wondering when she'd become so gentle, "we gotta have some ground rules."

Buffy gave Faith a puzzled look. "Didn't think you were a rules kind of girl."

"I am when something's important," Faith clarified, dropping her hand back to Buffy's thigh.

She needed Buffy to understand her, and to agree with her. She didn't want to feel backed into a corner, or have Buffy expecting too much; it would only lead to confusion and hurt, and they'd both caused each other enough of both.

"Ok, go ahead," Buffy told her, wanting to give Faith what she needed.

She also wanted to lean in to Faith and just feel her against her, but it wasn't the time. Fighting the urge, doing her best to ignore how good it felt being perched on top of Faith, Buffy put on her best understanding expression. She took one of Faith's hands gently in her own, stroking her thumb over it, noticing how Faith seemed to stiffen just a little before relaxing again. Buffy doubted Faith was the type to hold hands, but she needed the contact.

Faith glanced at their hands before continuing, her skin tingling under Buffy's touch. Nobody had ever tried to hold her hand past the first attempt. Robin had persisted at first, but Faith just wasn't the type; it had never felt right. She didn't like feeling possessed, or like she was being controlled. With Buffy it didn't feel like that; it never had. The very few times Buffy had grabbed her hand for them to run, or to lead her away from some guy while they were dancing, had always stuck in her mind. It had always felt nice, comforting even if it was a little controlling. There was just something about Buffy taking her hand that made Faith's stomach lurch as if she was on a roller-coaster. It had once made her want to let go for fear of falling too far. . .but she didn't need to let go now.

"Number 1," Faith began, trying to focus. "I need to know why. Why you want this. I know what you said last night. I heard it. . .but it's still. . .I just wanna know for sure."

Buffy nodded, she understood the apprehension and disbelief.

Faith continued when Buffy gave her a sweet smile. "Number 2: I still need time to adjust, so I'm gonna stick with the plan and go tomorrow," she said, noticing how Buffy's smile slipped away, leaving her looking a little sad. "I got a job to do, and I don't want you making me feel like I'm walking away. I'm not walking away, it's just a big deal. . .if we're gonna do it right."

Buffy stared at their hands for a moment before looking back up at Faith. She knew Faith wasn't fond of relationships. She wasn't known for her positive views on monogamy and all that went with being with somebody for more than the fucking. It was something Buffy had considered, had worried about, but she knew she had to take the chance. Too much time had been wasted on worrying about the 'what ifs'. And she knew what Faith meant by doing it right; it wasn't just going to be about fucking or scratching the itch that had always been there for them both.

"I understand," Buffy assured, but her eyes were still tinged with sadness.

"I'm not used to people being clingy, so you're gonna have to give me space," Faith told her, making sure Buffy really did understand.

She wasn't trying to be mean, and she knew Buffy would get pissed if she pushed it, but they both needed to know the best way forward. Even if the way forward was around a few curves, it was better than standing still completely, or sliding backwards. They'd done that long enough.

"I'm not clingy," Buffy muttered. "I won't be clingy."

Faith almost lost her resolve and cracked up at Buffy's pout, but it was a serious thing she was asking so she kept it together.

"I'm not saying it'll be a bad thing once I'm down with the whole being with you thing, but for now. . .I gotta ease in slow. We both do." She gave Buffy's hand a squeeze, trying to reassure her.

Buffy's pout didn't go, but she nodded anyhow.

She hadn't planned on smothering Faith, but she did want to ask her to stay, to trust her, to let her love her. If she had to do the 'time' thing though, she knew she'd have to deal with it or risk pushing Faith away. If they were going to do it, they had to do it right. They couldn't afford to fail again.

"And 3: we can't get our naughty on, as much as I want to," Faith declared, looking like she wasn't exactly sure of that one herself.

"Now you're just being mean," Buffy whined.

"If we do I ain't gonna want to leave, and like I said already. . .I got a job to do, just like you," Faith said firmly. "We gotta keep it above the clothes."

Taking a deep breath, Buffy held in her protests and questions. She wondered if Faith was feeling all right. Buffy was there, ready and waiting for them to take that step, to take each other. . .and Faith didn't want them to. It just didn't seem plausible.

"I think you've been possessed or something, but ok, I can deal," Buffy said, trying to sound like she agreed. "Is kissing allowed?"

Faith chuckled and shook her head, finding Buffy's attempt to please her adorable with the accompanying pout.

"Kissing's allowed," Faith replied, against her better judgement.

It's all Buffy needed to hear. She smiled softly, her heart beginning to pound as she leaned forward, feeling Faith's hands slide round to her back. They were kissing before either of them could stop themselves.

Their lips were full of need, tongues tasting answers to questions that had been there since the start. It was all clear now, coming into focus; the desire, the feeling, the depth of what they'd both been running from. It quickly moved from soft kisses and whispered breaths to a passionate hunger for more. Buffy's hands began to explore just as Faith pulled her closer, the desperate need for more contact trying to make them forget their plans.

As Faith broke her mouth free to place wet kisses down Buffy's neck, she moaned as a grinding rhythm was begun. Buffy couldn't help but move over Faith, trying to feel more of her, wanting to consummate what they'd discovered between them. She was acting on instinct, flying in the face of how she'd always been around Faith, and finally letting go.

But Buffy knew it wasn't fair to so quickly discount her promises, so she held herself still, using all her willpower to pull back.

Faith groaned, physically needing Buffy in a way she wasn't sure she could ignore. It felt so good to finally be getting closer, edging towards what she'd spent too long only thinking and dreaming about. Her own words were rattling around inside her head, mocking her, teasing her, telling her she was crazy to think she could ever hold back.

"Ok, kissing is probably not a good idea," Buffy said breathlessly as she forced her hand to stop searching for the soft skin inside Faith's shirt.

Taking a steady breath and counting to ten in her head, Faith fought with herself, trying to remember just why it was best not to jump in to things with Buffy. She knew what was best, but trying to stick with it was going to be damn near impossible.

"Yeah, about that last rule," Faith said shakily, doing her best not to push up against Buffy, "maybe we can bend it a little."

They both grinned, acceptance and understanding turning the grins to soft smiles.

Buffy was all for bending the rules, but she didn't want to trample on Faith's need for space. She really didn't want to turn into cling-girl, and it was very likely to happen if they took things further right now.

"We can wait," Buffy said quietly, pushing Faith's damp hair behind her ear as she gazed down at her. "But. . .am I allowed my own rules?"

Faith chuckled and nodded, her throbbing need for Buffy calming but not disappearing altogether.

"You've gotta be honest with me about how you feel." Buffy said decisively. "That's rule number one."

Faith's brow furrowed slightly, a faint look of dread crossing her features as she fully understood what Buffy wanted.

"I know it won't be right away. . .you can have time – we both need time," Buffy continued. "I just need to know we're on the same page for once. If we are. . .I mean, I'm not trying to push you into a corner or. . ."

"We are, B," Faith assured, halting Buffy's flow. "Same page, but you're right - I need to get comfortable with the whole. . .thing."

Her heart was beating all irregular, wondering if Buffy really did love her, wondering if she loved Buffy. When she didn't think about it or let it fester in her mind, Faith was sure. . .she knew in the moments of unthinking clarity that she felt something deep for Buffy. It was being in love. It was beyond physical need, friendship, caring. It was there, weaving its way in and around her, and she suspected it was the same for Buffy; something that was just there, but not something you could ever really touch or see for fear it was too much to understand.

Taking Faith's hand in her own once again, Buffy continued; her insides a ball of squelchy mush as she replayed Faith's words over and over in her mind.

"Next rule: no pushing me out if you get scared." Buffy wasn't try to imply Faith was afraid, but she knew too well herself that fear could hold them apart. "You need to learn that you can talk to me. I know I screwed that up big style in the past - we both did - but we can do better this time."

"I hear ya," Faith responded.

She agreed. They had to work out how to talk to one another. Faith wasn't a big talker, especially about her feelings, but they'd already begun to set themselves on the right path with it this time. It was down to them both to stick at it, to challenge themselves and each other to keep in control of their fears, and share them when needed.

"And rule number three," Buffy said, a little smile making her look sweet and mischievous all at once. "I want you to stay with me tonight."

Faith raised her eyebrow.

"It won't get in the way of your third rule," Buffy assured. "I just want some more time with you before you leave. I think we need it."

It wasn't exactly what Faith had in mind in order to avoid getting too hands-on with Buffy, but the sad and hopeful look on her face was hard to resist. Satsu was leaving tomorrow as well as herself, and Buffy had already taken to sitting out in the rain naked. Faith didn't want anything else to happen, or anything to get in the way of any future relationship between them. There was no use saying no, especially as she really wanted to say yes despite how hard it was going to be to keep things from escalating into x-rated territory.

"Ok, I'll stay," Faith replied.

Buffy's smile warmed Faith's heart as she was pulled into a strong embrace.

As they broke apart from the hug they began to kiss again. It was impossible to resist the tug, the easy feel of how perfectly they fit together. Lips that had longed, finally finding a home, finding what they'd always wanted. It was too easy to give in to the temptation. It felt right.

Faith ignored the nagging in her head, pushing it out in favour of the good sensations. She once again encouraged Buffy forwards on her lap, the small movement of Buffy's hips entrancing her. Her hand slipped under Buffy's tee shirt, tickling over her skin at her lower back, needing to feel the warmth. It wasn't enough and Faith knew they both wanted more. She groaned as Buffy nibbled on her lower lip, her panties growing damper by the second as the heat between them intensified.

It was obvious they were both holding back, muscles twitching and straining, lungs trying to fill with air between each hungry kiss.

"Faith," Buffy said breathlessly, her fingers tripping softly over Faith's shoulders and arms, "if we don't stop. . .it's gonna go beyond kissing."

"Yeah," Faith confirmed, kissing over Buffy's chin and jaw, tasting her skin, "doesn't sound like a bad thing right now."

Scratching her nails lightly over Buffy's back, Faith pushed into her, kissing her deep and long. Buffy moaned softly, every inch of her body reacting to the sensation of Faith pressing against it. Soft breasts, strong arms, eager hands. . .all making her wet, making her want without question.

There was the question of Faith's rules, however. . .and what they meant to the future stability of what was possible between them.

They couldn't let go, not just yet.

CHAPTER EIGHT

Dedication: For Electra.

Minutes passed by like they were seconds as Buffy became thoroughly acquainted with Faith's tongue. They couldn't seem to break free from one another, the heat between them driving them on rather than pulling them to their senses. It seemed like resisting was a pointless hope, but from somewhere within Buffy found a moment's clarity once again.

She moaned as Faith sucked on her lower lip as she tried to pull away, eventually freeing herself from Faith's mouth so she could speak.

"God you're a good kisser," Buffy sighed, her body basking in the luxury of being so close to Faith.

"The best," Faith responded with a grin.

They both licked their lips, their eyes burning into one another as they tried to hold off and cool down.

Faith wanted to pick Buffy up and carry her to the bed so she could give Buffy what she'd always dreamed of. She could see her own desire reflected back at her in Buffy's eyes. An echo of how much she wanted her, of how much they wanted each other. She'd made the rules for a reason however, and she knew breaking them would be a bad idea in the long run. They'd get to the good stuff eventually, but first they had to get fully past all the bad stuff. Faith knew it wouldn't take long.

"I should go shower if I'm staying," Faith said, attempting to clear both their heads.

"You can use my shower," Buffy told her. "It's much nicer than the one in your room."

Buffy looked a little embarrassed about sticking Faith in one of the crappy rooms in the castle, rather than giving her a decent one. Faith didn't mind, she knew why Buffy had done it. There had always been a lot of misunderstandings between them, and their last fight had done nothing to disparage that.

"I gotta go get what's left of my clothes at least," Faith pointed out, moving to get up.

Buffy dismounted, though she would have been happy sitting on Faith for the rest of the night.

"You can borrow something of mine," she said, wanting to keep Faith with her.

Faith gave Buffy a confused look, her eyebrows furrowing as they faced each other. She wondered if this was the start of Buffy being clingy. She also wondered if she'd be able to handle it if it continued, or got worse.

"I'm sorry," Buffy said quietly. "I'm not being clingy, it's just. . .you're leaving and I. . .I'm tired of missing you."

Buffy looked down at her feet, her hair falling over her eyes just a little. Faith didn't have it in her to mock Buffy or tell her to back off. She wasn't even sure she wanted Buffy to back off; it was all new to her, and whatever she was feeling it certainly wasn't anger.

"Hey, it's ok," Faith said softly. "I don't have to go anywhere tonight."

She stepped closer to Buffy and lifted her head with a finger under her chin, smiling so Buffy could see she wasn't about to get angry. It was time to put misunderstandings behind them.

"You can have your tee shirt back," Buffy told Faith, not expecting her to squeeze into something of hers if she was going to borrow some clothes.

"Keep it," Faith responded with a warm smile, "for when you miss me."

Buffy glanced away coyly, but she wasn't worried about Faith knowing how she felt any more. It was out there, and there was no taking it back. She didn't want to take it back.

"Get me something to throw on, I'm gonna go shower," Faith exclaimed. "Nothing pink, though. Not a pink kinda girl."

They both chuckled and Faith gave Buffy a quick kiss before heading towards the bathroom attached to the room.

"I bet you'd look sweet in pink," Buffy joked, watching Faith's ass as she walked away.

She was rewarded with a flipped finger over Faith's shoulder for her comment. Buffy wouldn't ever try to get Faith wearing pink - despite her joke – as she looked way too hot in red or black to be wearing anything else. Rummaging through her drawers, Buffy tried to find something that would fit Faith for the night. She didn't know if they'd be going right to bed, or if they'd sit up and talk a while, so she pulled out some sweatpants and a tee shirt - both as dark as she could get.

Faith closed the bathroom door and looked around. There were girly products all over, and some big fluffy towels hanging over a towel rail. After going to the toilet and then switching on the shower, she stripped out of her sweaty clothes and left them in a pile on the floor. Buffy was right, it was much nicer than the shower in her room, and much hotter. The steam began to fill the room quickly as Faith stepped under the water. For a second she thought it would be best to maybe take a cold shower, but her muscles needed warmth after her jog out in the cold mist. It felt good to have the water spilling over her in warm waves, the tension easing from her shoulders.

Her hands spread shower gel all over her body, washing off the spattered mud and the sheen of perspiration that had left her feeling clammy. As she reached for the shampoo she heard the door click open, knowing instantly that Buffy had entered.

Buffy had been pacing outside the door, wrestling with herself in order not to go in. She'd lost the battle. Faith was so close, and she needed her. Buffy needed the connection between them. Something told her that Faith wouldn't ask her to leave, and that she wanted that connection just as much. It was a risk, but she was sure it was only a small one.

Faith kept still, holding her breath and listening as she heard Buffy take off her clothes. There was a small voice inside her telling her she should ask Buffy not to step into the shower, but it went unheard. All Faith could think about was Buffy naked; naked and getting closer.

Pulling the shower curtain back a little way, Faith peeked out. Her pupils must have dilated to twice their normal size as she took in the sight of a very nude Buffy. There was no mistaking the fact Buffy was hot, and that Faith had no hope of turning her away now. Catching Buffy's gaze with her own, Faith pulled the shower curtain back some more, offering a way in for Buffy.

They took a second just to stare at each other, nothing between them but air; stripped down to all they were and all they wanted. Buffy's stomach was a flutter of nerves as she allowed herself the pleasure of just looking at Faith in all her glory. Her imagination had never come close to how gorgeous Faith actually was in the flesh, that was for sure. She felt somewhat inadequate stood before her.

The feeling didn't last long as Faith looked her over, licking her lips. "I've got great fucking taste," Faith said, her voice husky, coated in lust.

Buffy smiled shyly and stepped into the shower. "I just wanna be near you before you go," she explained.

Faith nodded, pushing the curtain back in place as Buffy stood before her in the tub. She couldn't take her eyes off her, wanting to remember every detail. Every curve and every strong muscle. The perfection of her skin and the temptation of everything she'd never seen before.

Their eyes finally met once they'd fulfilled their desire to just take each other in; the lust clear, the need obvious, the love shimmering on the surface. Lifting her hand slowly, Faith tucked blonde hair behind Buffy's ear, stopping it from hiding her slight embarrassment. She kept her hand soft, fingers brushing over Buffy's cheek as they gazed into one another's eyes. Green weaving into brown, fears drifting away on the steam around them. They were naked in more ways than one.

Stepping forwards, Buffy guessed that they both needed to feel, to finally come together in a way they'd always denied to themselves. It wasn't about sex, it was about forgiving, forgetting, and so much more. Her arms slipped around Faith easily, no resistance or questions.

They both shivered despite the heat in the room as they came together, skin brushing against skin, nothing between them to deny what they'd always wanted. Faith's hands glided smoothly over Buffy's back, pulling her tight into her body, holding her close. Not quite believing she was really there - Buffy naked against her – Faith had to steady her legs. She could feel Buffy all over, inside as well as out.

"Thank you," Buffy whispered into Faith's neck as she held her just as tight back, feeling Faith's every curve fitting snugly against her.

Faith couldn't help but smile and nuzzle her nose into Buffy's hair, before kissing her head softly and moving them a little further under the water of the shower.

Buffy's heart skipped a few beats, the feeling of coming home settling over her. She'd never realised she needed or wanted Faith quite so much, but it was unmistakable now.

"You wanted to know why," Buffy said, pulling away just enough to look up at Faith. "It's because when you're around, all I can feel is you. I feel completely connected to you. You make me feel warm. It's crazy, but even when we were fighting, hurting each other. . .it was hard to ignore how much I just wanted to hold on to you."

Faith moved her hand back to Buffy's face, her thumb gentle on her cheek, caressing softly as she listened with her heart as much as her ears.

"It hurt so much to let you go," Buffy continued. "I can't let go any more."

There was no need to speak, to tell Buffy she felt the same. . .Faith's eyes said it all. And if there was any doubt, the soft kiss she gave Buffy made it clear. The rules, their past, meant nothing when faced with how much they both needed to hold on to one another and to give in to what they felt.

As their mouths stole teasing kisses, hands began to require more. They wanted to know each other fully. They wanted to reach out over all the hurt and anger they'd caused within each other.

Softly, slowly, Buffy's hands travelled over Faith's back and sides as their kissing became deeper. Her thumbs nudged Faith's breasts as she became more daring, causing Faith to sigh just a little. It encouraged her on and she moved one hand between them; a gentle palm over Faith's stomach.

Faith slid her tongue over Buffy's, tasting her, teasing her, hands roaming just as much as Buffy's were. Her fingers drifted over Buffy's lower back to the curve of her backside, touching tenderly until she gave it a squeeze, making Buffy grin against her lips.

"Just testing the goods, B," Faith whispered huskily, her mouth moving over Buffy's chin and neck before she went back to kissing her again.

She had Buffy right where she'd always wanted her. There were so many things she wanted to do, wanted to feel. . .but she had no idea where to start now the moment was here. Sex was her thing, it always had been; but it went beyond that. Faith didn't want to miss a single detail. She didn't want to rush, but she no longer wanted to wait. It was stupid of her to think she could hold back. She wanted this too much.

It seemed like Buffy wasn't planning to wait either as her hand slowly made its way up over Faith's stomach to the swell of her breast.

"Can I touch you?" Buffy asked, her voice thick with desire as she pulled back a little to look into Faith's eyes.

Faith tried to keep her breathing under control, not wanting to look like a complete novice. It was tough, and her stomach was tense as she fought not just to throw Buffy to the bathroom floor so she could take her. The way Buffy was looking at her - every emotion and deep desire on show – had Faith fighting to keep in control of all her walls.

She kept her eyes locked on Buffy's as she removed one of her hands from her butt. Moving it up to settle over Buffy's – so close to cupping her breast – she encouraged Buffy to touch her the way she obviously wanted.

As Buffy's fingers started to glide over the soft skin of her breast, Faith removed her own hand and cupped Buffy's cheek. She leaned in to kiss her, feeling Buffy open up to her instantly as they became more passionate. She moaned into Buffy's mouth as fingers slid over her erect nipple and circled around it. It wasn't long before she became aware of Buffy's other hand on her breasts too. She was being thoroughly fondled by Buffy, and her body was burning up for more.

Buffy rubbed her thumbs over Faith's nipples, feeling them react, and enjoying the changes in Faith's breathing. She felt shy, unsure about what she was meant to be doing, but none of that mattered now they were finally at the point they should have reached long ago. Buffy wasn't certain her few times with Satsu would help her when it came to having sex with Faith, but at least she wasn't now a total fish out of water.

It wasn't like touching Satsu, however. . .this was different. It was more. More intense, more than just wanting to scratch an itch, and more than experimenting. She'd wanted Faith for a long time, and to finally feel the weight of her breasts in her hands, the sweet sensation of her skin against her, and have her scent and her heat wrap her up within it, was enough to make her dizzy.

All their fighting. All the heartache. Every time they'd pushed and pulled, trying to find a way to be comfortable with each other. . .it all came down to this. To the desire. To the way they were reacting to each other. To all they hoped to have.

Twisting her tongue over and around Buffy's, Faith decided it was time she got to be part of the act too. Moving her hands round to Buffy's front, she managed to dislodge Buffy from her breasts. It wasn't that she wasn't enjoying being fondled by the other girl - far from it – she just needed to touch as much as be touched.

"You feel so good," Buffy practically purred as her hands swept up over Faith's shoulders and up into the wet hair at the back of her neck.

Faith smiled and kissed over Buffy's jaw and down to her throat. "Always knew you were just dying to feel me up," she chuckled. "All that touchy-feely stuff when we sparred."

She felt rather than heard Buffy giggle. "From what I remember it was always you who tried to get us rolling around on the floor," Buffy corrected.

"Hey, never said I didn't always want your hot little body, Twinkie," Faith pointed out with a grin before teasing Buffy's nipples with her thumbs, her palms softly cupping her.

Buffy closed her eyes and sighed at the touch, every inch of her body feeling it. She wasn't sure exactly where they were headed with this, but she knew where she wanted it to go. Satsu had shown her that having sex with another girl was having sex of the mind blowing type, and she had no doubt that it would be even better with Faith. Not that she was discrediting Satsu. . .there was just so much more between her and Faith. So much history and long hidden desire. So much to make up for, and to heal.

"Faith," Buffy said softly as she clung to the other girl under the water as it splashed over them.

Faith didn't respond as she continued to place kisses over Buffy's neck, moving lower each time, reaching her collarbone. She was trying to take it slow; to savour every kiss and every sensation. It wasn't everyday you got to be naked with a girl like Buffy Summers. Though Faith had always been about rushing through sex and getting off as quickly as possible – and often as roughly as possible – she didn't want that with Buffy. Not this time at least. There'd be room for hard and fast another time, but that time wasn't now.

She wasn't certain how Buffy would feel about that, but she doubted the other girl wanted it to be a quick fuck.

"Faith," Buffy said again, nudging Faith's forehead with her nose. "I'm really having second thoughts on your third rule. . .in fact, I think the 'no sex' idea sucks."

Faith stopped kissing just before she reached Buffy's left nipple, her grin wide, her eyes sparkling as she looked up at Buffy.

"Sucks huh?" Faith asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Yep, pretty much," Buffy said with a pout.

She swallowed hard when Faith's grin turned decidedly sexy, her eyes darkening and nose flaring as she hovered close to Buffy's breast.

"You not in to the sucking thing?" Faith asked with a mischievous look, just before flicking her tongue out over Buffy's hard nipple.

Buffy shuddered, her hands tightening in Faith's hair, wanting to pull her forwards but holding back.

"Sucking?" Buffy mumbled shakily as she felt and watched the tip of Faith's tongue circle her nipple. "Depends what kind."

"How about this kind?"

Faith leaned closer and grasped on to Buffy's nipple with her lips, her hot breath easing over it before she started sucking nice and slow.

A sensual moan forced its way out of Buffy as Faith played with one nipple and sucked on the other. She could feel herself getting wetter by the second as Faith's teeth scraped over her. It was no use holding back. . .she wanted Faith. Wanted to be fucked by her. Wanted to fuck her. To possess her. To make love to her.

Buffy released one hand from Faith's hair, trailing it down her side to her stomach. She could sense how turned on Faith was, and doubted any move she made now would be rebuffed. It was her chance to take them further.

Sighing as Faith moved from one breast to the other with her mouth, Buffy took the opportunity to get to know Faith a little better. Her fingers drifted over Faith's stomach, feeling it tense under her touch. Heading downwards, listening over the tumbling noise of the water to Faith's now ragged breathing, she brushed her fingertips over the tiny patch of hair covering Faith's pussy. She wasn't quite low enough to be able to slide her fingers properly over Faith – given the fact Faith was also leaning down somewhat - but the move didn't go unnoticed.

"Buffy," Faith said, her voice low and sexy as she released Buffy's nipple and straightened up so she could look into her eyes. "What about. . ."

Faith gasped as Buffy's fingers slid between her folds now that she was standing. She arched into the touch, unable to stop herself as Buffy pulled her close and kissed her long and deep. There was no room for thoughts or words as Buffy discovered just how wet she'd gotten, slipping her fingertips over her pussy as she spread her open and explored. Maybe slow wasn't such a good idea after all. It certainly didn't seem to be Buffy's intention to take it slow.

Moaning a little as Buffy coated her fingers in her arousal, Faith gave up any hope of them stopping. Their eyes locked once more when Buffy pulled away so they could breathe. Faith was grateful, as she was starting to need a lot more air with Buffy's fingers slipping over her. She could see how much Buffy wanted her in her eyes. She could see deep, so much deeper than she ever had before.

Holding on to Buffy, her hands resting at her lower back now, Faith brought their foreheads together, feeling slightly overwhelmed with gazing into Buffy's eyes. She rested gently against Buffy, her soft moans coming in time to the finger circling around her pussy. Closing her eyes and rolling her hips just a little with each teasing caress of her clit, Faith could already feel the tension building inside her.

"I don't wanna wait, Faith," Buffy said softly. "I wanna be with you. I want to make love to you all night if you'll let me."

The words drifted over Faith, wrapping her up in a warmth she'd never felt before. It was almost too much. Too scary. She'd be giving herself to Buffy in a way she never had to anybody. Her hips stilled and Buffy's fingers followed suit; pausing as Faith opened her eyes to once again look at Buffy.

"Don't run," Buffy whispered, her green eyes pleading.

After a moment's hesitation Faith didn't answer, didn't nod; instead she brought their lips together and kissed Buffy tenderly. There was nothing more to say.

Moving one hand round from Buffy's back, Faith mirrored her – fingertips brushing over the short blonde curls of Buffy's small patch of hair. She smiled against Buffy's lips as a groan escaped her when Faith's fingers pushed between her folds.

Buffy's mouth dropped open, though she forgot how to breathe as Faith spread her arousal around, getting her fingers nice and slick. There was certainly enough moisture between her legs for Faith to do that; Buffy didn't think she'd ever been so wet. It had something to do with the fact her fingers were in the soft wet folds of the other girl, and now they were clinging to each other, exploring each other, shuddering and sighing with each touch.

"Oh, Faith," Buffy gasped as Faith put a little more pressure on her clit as she circled over it. "I'm so ready to come for you already."

"Not yet," Faith told her between open mouthed kisses.

She swirled her fingers over Buffy's clit and Buffy did the same back. They were almost in synch - every moan, every roll of their hips. Scraping her nails lightly over Buffy's back, Faith also felt herself edging towards climax much quicker than she wanted. In all her sexual exploits she'd never been so ready so fast. Never had it taken so little to rev her engine and almost have her skidding off the tracks. This was new. The soft touches, the panting sighs into Buffy's mouth, the way her whole body seemed to be vibrating, was all new.

"Buffy," Faith said through a strained groan as Buffy swirled her finger harder and faster, "I'm not usually this. . .this. . .oh, fuck."

Faith held tight to Buffy as her legs began to shake under the assault on her clit. She was barely able to concentrate enough to do the same back to Buffy, but she wanted them to do it together; to be at the same place, at the same time. It's not something she'd ever cared about with anybody before, and even though things were going a lot quicker than she'd guessed they would. . .she didn't want their first time to be any less than together.

Manoeuvring them subtly so Buffy's back was to the tiled wall, Faith pressed firmer against Buffy's clit. She was rewarded with a nice long moan as nails dug into the skin of her shoulder where Buffy was holding herself upright. Buffy was close, hips jerking forwards as her legs fell apart a little further, spreading for Faith's touch as she arched her back off the wall.

Their kissing stopped as breathing became an issue, ragged, panting breaths getting louder than the gushing water of the shower. Hard little clits, swollen and sensitive, being played perfectly; every fast swirl driving them to the edge.

"Fuck," Buffy panted. "Oh, fuck, fuck. . .fuck."

Buffy couldn't hold on much longer, but Faith kept easing off, then rubbing harder; making her quiver and shake in need of release. She tried to do the same, and discovered that Faith made the sexiest sounds when she was close to coming. Her cute little moans were intoxicating.

"Come with me, Buffy," Faith managed to say as her legs began to shake.

There was only so much of Buffy's super-fast circles over her clit she could take. She had to let go.

"I'm right with you," Buffy assured breathlessly.

She pushed in to Faith, giving her all she had as Faith did the same. Their fingers rubbed frantically, loud breaths and sighs echoing around the bathroom walls. There was nowhere to go but forwards, over the edge, crashing into each other as their bodies begged for release.

"Oh God, Faith," Buffy called out with a long shudder, her nose brushing against Faith's as they came together.

"That's it, B," Faith gasped. "Oh yeah. . .fuck, Buffy."

They both trembled and sighed, their voices carrying beyond the small sanctuary of the bathroom as they brought each other to climax.

Faith's clit was throbbing as she covered Buffy's fingers in her come, every inch of her body feeling like it had exploded and rearranged itself inside out. She was amazed at how little could have made her feel so much. . .but once she opened her eyes to see Buffy gazing back at her she knew why it was.

They'd both felt the same. Both had waited for the other's touch for so long that it felt like everything all at once; like every touch they'd ever had, every kiss, every sensation, all happening at once. Sliding their fingers from each other and groaning from the friction, they tried to gather their thoughts, and gain back control of their wobbly legs.

"Wow," Buffy said, attempting to breathe regularly.

"Yeah," Faith nodded, her forehead still resting lightly against Buffy's. "That kinda felt like I'd never had sex before."

They both laughed, feeling exactly the same.

"And that was definitely quicker than I'd planned," Faith added, moving back a little from Buffy so she could push herself off the wall and stand straight again.

There was a little awkwardness settling over them as they both tried to deal internally with what had just happened. It had come so naturally to them, but now was the hard part.

"Planned?" Buffy said with a little smirk. "Didn't know we were on a tight schedule."

Faith shook her head and ran her hands through her wet hair, the scent of Buffy on her fingers making her practically swoon. "You know what I mean, B. Maybe not planned. . .but definitely thought about a whole lot."

"That thought was mutual. . .in case you were still in any doubt," Buffy pointed out, her smirk turning into an adorable smile.

"No doubt here," Faith assured as she took a second to look Buffy up and down some more.

There was no way she was going to be able to get enough of Buffy being naked.

As the water began to run colder - the steam already filling the bathroom making visibility an issue - Faith decided it was time to wash up and get out. As nice as it was standing naked with Buffy in the shower, she wanted to lay her down. She wanted to explore, taste, to make her scream into the night in pleasure. Faith hoped Buffy wanted the same. They'd jumped the hurdle, and now she wanted to spend a while taking in all the sights.

Faith quickly washed and rinsed her hair, enjoying the sensation of having Buffy brushing up against her as she also showered quickly.

"So, B," Faith began after a few minutes of slightly uncomfortable silence, "we gonna take this to the bedroom? I mean, I didn't get to go down on you and I really. . ."

Buffy shushed Faith with her lips, kissing her affectionately before stepping back again. "We're definitely taking it to the bedroom, Faith. We have all night."

Faith smiled along with Buffy, the sudden awkwardness lifting again as she turned the shower off and pushed the curtain aside. Faith stepped out first and grabbed a towel. She offered her hand to Buffy, helping her out and wrapping the towel around her before pulling the other one from the rail for herself.

"You're sure you know this means more to me than just sex right?" Buffy asked as they dried off, rubbing the water out of their hair and off their skin.

"Yeah, I do, B," Faith replied, hoping she sounded like she meant it, seeing the seriousness in Buffy's eyes.

She was as sure as she could be. Looking past the doubt and the understandable disbelief - Faith knew it was about them letting themselves fall for each other again, and not allowing anything to get in the way this time.

"I just want to make sure you. . .yunno, know why I want this. I mean, apart from the fact you're totally hot," Buffy continued with a coy smile.

Faith wrapped her towel around herself and moved closer to Buffy, touching her face lightly as she spoke. "I know what it means, Buffy. And it means the same for me," she admitted as openly as she dared for now.

Buffy stepped into Faith's arms, holding her for just a moment. A perfect moment in time where they understood each other. Where they loved each other without fear, without worry, without thoughts about what happened next.

CHAPTER NINE

Dedication: For Electra, and the wonderful people who leave feedback :)

Holding tight to the headboard with one hand, Faith moaned Buffy's name, her breaths panting and deep as she fought for control. They'd been rolling around on Buffy's bed for most of the night, taking turns on top, learning every sigh and moan. Each time they'd come down from their climax, one or both of them would start it again – never getting enough. It was Faith's turn on top – on top of Buffy at least, as she straddled her face.

Buffy's tongue slipped inside Faith, spilling her juices over her as she lapped, as her fingers rubbed quickly over Faith's now overly sensitive clit.

Faith knew she couldn't take much more, every inch of her tuned to Buffy, needing its final release. It had been Buffy who'd initiated their current position, and she'd made Faith practically dizzy with her mouth; sliding over her clit, flicking, licking, then sucking and teasing.

"Fuck," Faith sighed as Buffy slowly fucked her with her tongue, speeding up as her hips moved in time.

She moved the hand not gripping the headboard to Buffy's head, fingers sliding into blonde hair. Their eyes met, so many wordless exchanges, secrets and signs. They were linked in a way they'd never felt. Never experienced.

Her heart drumming hard for Faith, Buffy tasted her as deep as she could, burning desire spilling over her lips and chin. She moaned into Faith's pussy, the sounds coming from Faith slipping over her like silk, touching her everywhere without fingers, without hands.

"Buffy," Faith gasped, beginning to shake. "Gonna come."

She didn't need to tell Buffy, Buffy could feel it. Her fingers worked faster on Faith's clit, tongue plunging into her tight hole, the hot scent of it making her dizzy. The taste making her insides ache with a deep desire she'd never felt.

"Oh fuck yes!" Faith called out, clinging to the headboard, her body shuddering as she came.

Buffy savoured every drop of her come, groaning in pleasure as Faith allowed her to lick and suck at her pussy. She would say she was in heaven, but she'd already been there. . .and it definitely wasn't there. Heaven was peaceful and serene. Faith coming in her mouth wasn't peaceful, it was pure, deliciously wicked ecstasy.

With her last tremble Faith collapsed down onto Buffy, trying to control her heartbeat and her shaking. It was like a bolt of cold steel had shot through her, ripping through her chest, striking at everything she was. It was love. It was years of longing. It was need and hope, and all about Buffy.

A soft kiss on her head pulled Faith from her temporary daze, and she looked up at Buffy and smiled. It was the most beautiful smile Buffy had ever seen, and Faith had always impressed her with her grins and smiles so that was saying something. She wanted to tell her she was in love with her, that she always had been – even through the worst of times. But Buffy didn't dare. Not yet.

As Faith pulled herself together she rolled to Buffy's side, one leg still draped over her.

"Damn, B," Faith said breathlessly as she rested beside Buffy. "You got mad skills with your tongue."

Faith's heart was still racing, her body vibrating, skin tingling as small beads of sweat trickled down between her breasts and over her stomach. It'd been quite a ride.

"Yeah?" Buffy asked shyly as she turned to face Faith, a smile settling on her lips.

"Hell yeah," Faith replied, tucking her arm around Buffy and pulling her closer.

Buffy tugged on the tangled sheet until it was partially covering them both, keeping the cold from chilling their damp skin. She felt proud that she'd been able to make Faith come every time, and especially proud that she'd been able to do it with her mouth. She'd done it once on Satsu, but it had been awkward and new. Satsu hadn't complained, but Buffy hadn't been as into it as she just had been with Faith. There had been something missing, making her not want to take the plunge completely. It hadn't been like that with Faith. Nothing was missing; the desire and the want was all there.

Buffy had spent as much time on Faith's clit as she'd needed to get ready for sliding her tongue inside her. Once inside, tasting her as deep as she could, fucking her as thoroughly as she could with her tongue, Buffy decided it was the most intimate she'd ever felt with anybody. She felt completely surrounded by Faith, and completely crazy about her. Knowing that Faith had more than enjoyed it made her heart sing.

She couldn't stop smiling as Faith looked up at her, the morning beginning to throw its soft light through the window. Leaning in to Faith, she was just about to kiss her when Faith stopped her.

"You're kinda messy," Faith chuckled, using her thumb to softly wipe at Buffy's chin. "Made me come so hard."

Buffy smiled even bigger before taking a swipe at Faith's thumb with her tongue. Once Faith removed her hand she leaned the rest of the way down and kissed her deep and long. She wasn't aiming for them getting worked up again, she just loved kissing her.

As the kiss turned to soft nibbles - little smiles being shared each time they pulled back - Faith felt her eyes starting to close. Daylight was seeping into the room and her body felt the need to rest.

"You getting sleepy?" Buffy asked quietly as she gazed down at Faith whilst resting on her elbow.

"Yeah," Faith answered with a yawn.

Buffy didn't much feel like sleeping. She knew that Faith would be leaving soon, and that didn't fill her with happy thoughts. She wondered if Faith had maybe changed her mind about going, but didn't want to break the mood and ask. Surely after what they'd shared she wouldn't just leave - not right away at least. Buffy wanted more time with her. She wanted to spend every night she could fucking her, and making love to her - and maybe on a few afternoons and mornings too. There was no way she was ready to let her walk out of her life again, even though she trusted Faith and the idea that they'd slowly get to the point they were together properly. Slow just wasn't what Buffy needed, however.

Snuggling into Faith, using her as her own personal mattress, Buffy rested her head down on her upper chest. She could hear Faith's heart thumping below, each beat making her own heart swoon as she indulged in being so close. It all felt so right. Faith was the connection she'd been missing. She was her constant; the one thing that always seemed to be at the back of her mind, lingering in wait, wanting Buffy to finally see why she could never move on from her.

It didn't take long before both girls were sleeping soundly, wrapped around each other. Sharing a pillow, sharing a destiny, sharing everything they always should have.

When morning slipped into lunchtime, Faith began to wake, her body being warmed by Buffy on one side and the sun streaming through the window on the other. She blinked, lifting a hand to rub at her eyes before placing it back down on the girl in her arms. There was no way she wanted to get up, not when it felt so good right where she was. There was the small problem of needing to leave in an hour or so, however.

Faith could already feel the tug in her heart telling her to stay, to keep by Buffy's side – her rightful place. She couldn't ignore the sensible part of her clearly telling her to stick to the plan, to do her duty and leave, but it was barely audible. Looking over at the clock by Buffy's bed she realised she had some quick thinking to do.

"Mmm, soft," Buffy mumbled as she snuggled her cheek into Faith's chest.

Faith chuckled and gave Buffy a small squeeze. She wasn't sure if she'd like every morning to start with Buffy draped over her, but it was undeniably nice. Faith had spent a good portion of her life waking up in places she'd rather not remember, places that held bad memories, with people she couldn't wait to get away from. She didn't want to get away from Buffy; it was perfect feeling her soft blonde hair tickling her, the warmth of her body, her scent filling her nostrils. The fact Buffy was naked also helped.

"Comfortable?" Faith asked, unable to hide her smile.

"Very," Buffy replied.

Buffy was glad Faith wasn't pushing her off, or suddenly turning into "too-tough-to-cuddle Faith". It had been nice sleeping on her, and even better waking up in her arms.

"Hungry now, though," Buffy continued, feeling her stomach on the verge of rumbling.

"Having crazy amounts of sex all night'll do that to ya," Faith said with a grin, her voice husky and cracking from sleep.

She could feel Buffy's smile against her chest, soft hands beginning to wander under the covers.

"Kinda liked working up an appetite with you," Buffy pointed out as she eased her hand up over Faith's hip.

With a smirk Faith said, "Didn't suck."

"Hey, last night you said I had mad skills," Buffy whined, a slight pout beginning to creep out.

"Oh, you definitely do, B," Faith confirmed. "I just like that cute little pout."

She pulled Buffy more on top of her, letting her slide between her legs as she kissed the pout in question.

Buffy responded, kissing back, melting in to Faith as their naked bodies became familiar with each other again. They fit perfectly, sliding effortlessly into place with one another, every point of contact tingling in anticipation.

The anticipation would have to go unresolved. Faith knew they didn't have time to start anything. She had to get ready to go. She had to convince herself it was still the best thing to do.

Pulling back from Buffy's lips, Faith stroked her thumb over her cheek, looking gently into her eyes. "Gotta get ready to go soon, B. Probably should get up," she pointed out.

The sadness and disappointment crossing Buffy's features was clear. Faith couldn't mistake it for anything else, and she felt a shift. Felt the world tip to throw her off balance once again.

"You could stay," Buffy said quietly, looking down between them, avoiding Faith's gaze.

"You know I can't," Faith responded. "Not right now."

Buffy nodded and took a deep breath. She'd known this was coming. Watching Faith sleep before falling asleep herself she'd thought about it, tried to prepare herself for it. She hoped maybe things would be different by morning, and that Faith would see they should stay together. They'd been thrown apart enough.

Feeling Faith trying to get up from under her, Buffy moved to her side, giving her room. She watched as Faith swung her legs out of the bed so she could sit on the side, her back to her.

"I'm not doing this to be a bitch, Buffy. Yunno that right?" Faith asked softly, turning a little so she could look at Buffy. "All my shit is at my place, and I've gotta go deal with that Simone chick like yesterday. . .I can't just sit around here and play lapdog right now."

Buffy scrunched her brow up, working the words through her mind. "Wait. . .who the hell said anything about you being a lapdog? That's not what I want, Faith."

Faith rubbed at her brow and shrugged. "Sorry, didn't mean it to sound. . ."

"No, I know what you meant," Buffy said, moving so she was also sitting on the edge of the bed. "You think I'm going to turn you into 'boyfriend of Buffy', making you do what I want and be what I want. I know I can't do that with you. I don't even want to do that with you."

She rested her hand on Faith's shoulder, looking deep into her eyes, hoping Faith could see she wasn't asking her to stay because she wanted to be the one in control.

"Pretty sure I couldn't qualify to be your boyfriend, B," Faith said with a little smirk.

"You know what I mean." Buffy rolled her eyes and shook her head.

A thought crossed her mind – maybe Faith didn't actually want to get involved and be her girlfriend now they'd slept together. She tried not to hear the doubts inside her, but she couldn't ignore them.

"You do want. . .yunno, to be my girlfriend don't you?" Buffy asked, feeling somewhat embarrassed, and slightly weird at the thought of having any kind of girlfriend at all.

Satsu hadn't been her girlfriend, and Faith didn't exactly seem the girlfriend type.

"What are we, twelve?" Faith chuckled. "We just fucked each other's brains out, got the whole fucking making love thing down too, which was totally new for me. . .so asking if I wanna be more than just friends is kinda pointless."

Buffy was glad Faith had acknowledged that it was more than fucking, and felt her heart skip a beat to know it was only her she'd shared that kind of connection with. It didn't help make her feel better about her going; it only made matters worse. She looked down, only just realising they were both still very naked. She wasn't used to sitting around naked with Faith. It was strange, but nice. . .despite the not so nice things they were suddenly insisting on saying.

"Just wanted to make sure," Buffy practically mumbled. "What with you planning to just leave."

Faith swept a hand through her dark hair, feeling suddenly claustrophobic. She was getting the sense that they were heading towards the point where they'd end up going round and round the same subject, not getting anywhere.

"I'm not 'just leaving', B. You heard what I said last night," Faith reminded. "I have a job to do, got slayers to get to, stuff to make up for. I'll be right back here with you soon as I know more about what I'm doing. When me and Giles get this gig on the road for real."

"Is it Giles that's making you leave?" Buffy asked, trying to hear Faith but unable to listen past the dull thud of her heart as it pined for her.

"You're not listening," Faith said firmly, standing as she rubbed at the back of her neck. "It's got nothing to do with anybody but me."

Trying not to stare at Faith as she stood before her completely naked, Buffy searched for words - for anything - that would sway Faith. She didn't want her to go. She didn't want to feel alone again.

"I thought after last night, after everything we shared. . .you'd decide you could stay here. We could get all your stuff. You could use some of the girls."

Faith sighed, turning from Buffy so she wouldn't keep getting distracted by how much she wanted to just lay her back on the bed and show her what her heart truly wanted. But it wasn't her heart she wanted to think with right now.

"I need to do this stuff without you, B." Faith stood by the window, the sunlight splashing over her skin. "You gotta let me go."

She knew if Buffy kept pushing she'd probably cave in, and that would only lead to disaster. The only way to avoid feeling trapped, and feeling like Buffy's new pet, was to carve her own way in the world of slaying. She had to do that before she could come back and stand – and lay – by Buffy's side.

It wasn't something Buffy could see for herself. All she could feel was the heavy sting of rejection about to slap her across the face. Despite what they'd agreed on, despite what they'd discussed, it felt like Faith had taken what she'd wanted, leaving Buffy feeling hollow inside.

Feeling the tears beginning to well up in her eyes, Buffy grabbed at Faith's tee shirt laying on the floor. She pulled it on, and swallowed the pain beginning to reach around her heart.

"I put myself out there," Buffy began, standing to be closer to Faith. "Laid all my feelings out on the line. And you're still going to walk away."

Faith could tell that Buffy was crying without having to turn and look. She didn't want to look, she had to stay strong. If she allowed herself to see her own pain reflected in Buffy's eyes. . .she'd stay. They'd be happy for a while, but Faith knew she'd always regret not taking her chance to prove herself first.

She had to believe Buffy could trust her enough to let her go, out of love. They hadn't told each other words of love yet, but it was there. It was clear. Faith had thought Buffy was about to say it just after she'd came the last time, but the words had gone unsaid. She knew for sure she would have said them back. Faith had no experience with saying those words, but she knew she'd have no choice but to tell Buffy how she felt if Buffy said it first.

Whether it was said or not. . .it was obvious what was between them, and Faith knew a lot more was at stake this time. They'd come close, so close to falling into place with each other, but it wasn't time yet. All she needed was a little more time. Time to heal herself, to prove herself, before falling into Buffy's arms forever.

"Last night I asked you not to tell me I'm walking away, Buffy," Faith said solidly, keeping her emotions in check. "I'm not walking away from you. From this."

She turned to see tears trickling down Buffy's face, her heart breaking to have to hurt her one last time.

"I need to do this," Faith continued, her voice cracking just a little as her control slipped for a second. "We need to do this."

Stepping towards Buffy she lifted her hand and gently pushed a blonde lock of hair from her face. She wasn't going to cry, not when everything inside her told her it was right to find her way before travelling back to the girl she'd always loved. It stung, ached, burned deep inside her heart, just like it always had when something she'd done had hurt Buffy, but she couldn't give in to it. It had to be this way. She had to believe in herself, and believe in Buffy's love for her.

"I'm sorry," Faith said softly before moving away from Buffy and gathering her clothes up.

Buffy watched as Faith got dressed, blinking past the tears she couldn't seem to stop. She wanted to stop them. Still wanted to find some way to get Faith to stay, even though she knew Faith was right in her choice.

As Faith pulled on the handle to leave the room, Buffy felt her insides lurch. She felt the connection getting further away and clung with all her will and strength to the hope that was left.

"Faith," she said quietly, her voice straining through the tears, "don't go."

Faith gripped the door handle almost hard enough to break it. Buffy sounded so small, so delicate. But Faith knew Buffy was tough, and if her love was true she knew their short separation would only make them stronger. She was sure of that.

Taking one last glance at Buffy, Faith pushed open the door and stepped out into the corridor, swallowing hard to stop the feelings welling up inside her. She heard Buffy follow as far as the doorway as she walked away in the direction of her own room to get her things, willing herself not to turn around.

"I should never have let you come here," Buffy called down the corridor to Faith, anger seeping out with her pain. "I hate you for how you make me feel."

The door slammed shut and Faith stopped before turning the corner at the end of the corridor. There was no need to turn around, Buffy was inside the room now, her anger taking over where love should only be. It was the same old fairground ride – spinning them round and round.

"I love you," Faith said under her breath, a soft whisper that nobody would hear.

She set going again, headed for her room, salty tears escaping her grasp as she tried to remember every touch and every kiss in case they would be the last ones she'd ever get from Buffy.

After showering and gathering her belongings, Faith slowly made her way to meet Giles. She was cutting it close, but didn't much feel like being around people. She just wanted to leave with as little fuss as possible.

"Ah, there you are, I was beginning to think we'd need to send a search party," Giles said cheerily as Faith entered the communications room.

Faith's grunt in response indicated to him instantly that cheer wasn't welcome. It was often best not to cross Faith when she was in a bad mood.

"Well then, let's get going. We have a lot of work ahead," he continued, speaking mainly towards Xander, who was coordinating their departure.

Xander checked some details with his helpful witches and assistants and stepped down from his podium. There was no sign of Buffy but Faith wasn't surprised. Maybe she'd made the wrong decision after all. Maybe leaving was the wrong choice.

Of course, she knew deep down past the ache in her heart that she wasn't wrong. If they were meant to be together they would be. . .maybe one day.

"Was great seeing you, Faith," Xander told her as he took her hand to shake it.

She smiled up at him, gripping her bag with one hand and accepting the handshake with the other. He didn't deserve her bad mood so she tried her best to keep it in check.

His smile was warm, his heart pure and full of acceptance and love for Faith. Not the sticky kind of love that would remind him Faith had taken his virginity, but a friendly love. He couldn't help but feel for Faith, even after all that had been said and done in the past.

"Maybe see you around sometime," Faith said, letting go of his hand so he could step back before she got zapped back to her apartment.

"You'd better, because we'll be waiting," Buffy called as she entered the room.

Faith looked towards her, expecting to see anger and hurt in her eyes.

But Buffy didn't look angry, she looked radiant. Her hair freshly washed and bouncing in blonde tumbles over her shoulders. Her slaying outfit, all tight black material and straps and buckles making her seem stealthy and sexy all at once. She was in control, powerful, beautiful.

Her eyes never left Faith's, and Faith didn't move from her spot as Buffy stopped in front of her.

"I didn't mean it," she said directly to Faith as the other people in the room kept quiet, and kept out of the way. "I don't hate you."

There was a whooshing noise and the ground beneath Faith's feet started to glow.

"Counter had started already, sorry," Xander called from his position at the communications desk.

Faith had seconds to just gaze at Buffy before being shot off through God knows what until she got to her apartment, but Buffy didn't waste those seconds just looking. Leaning in and taking Faith's face in her hands, she kissed her fully, softly, every ounce of love pouring from one another on tender lips.

Faith's eyes were closed as Buffy pulled away slowly.

"I love you," Buffy told her, the words floating out over the whooshing noise.

Opening her eyes to tell Buffy the same back, Faith found herself back in her apartment, the grey light from outside barely illuminating the dark corners around her. She heard Giles vomiting in the kitchen sink close by and bit back the desire to do the same.

Her choices had been made. Her path was set.

Glancing around, she noticed a small yellow flower tapping against the kitchen window as the wind brushed through its petals. It stood proud from the decaying plants beside it in her long forgotten window box.

She smiled, took a deep breath, and made a promise to herself that she'd make it back to Buffy soon. . .so she could tell her once and for all that she loved her, and that she was hers forever.

"Well, that was certainly a surprise," Giles mumbled as he wiped at his mouth beside her. "I didn't even know Buffy was. . .well, inclined towards females in that way."

Faith couldn't help but laugh as he began to fumble with his glasses.

"Been a long time coming," she said with a grin. "Now let's get this shit on the road. We got slayers to see. . .and when we're done with that, I got a whole lotta slayer to do."

The End

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