Buffy winced as the touchdown of the plane's landing gear jarred her broken leg, which was propped up in front of her. Luckily, the small Lear jet was well-equipped and spacious, so she could sit comfortably even in a full leg brace. Today was the last day she would be required to wear it, hopefully. Slayer healing was near miraculous, sometimes, but even she took a while to mend broken bone.
She sighed as she thought about her injuries yet again. She had been a little too slow. She and her team were cleaning out a vamp nest, and had been surprised to find a demon also holed up there. Demons and vamps didn't normally socialize, but the vamps must have been afraid to say no to this demon, because he had been a big bruiser. She had managed to distract the demon before he had crushed the skull of one of her troops, but he had smashed her leg with a big ironbound club before she could get clear of him. Luckily, one of the other team members had popped him with a full auto burst of incendiary bullets before his follow up stroke could snap her spine. Lucky her.
The bylaws of their little organization, which Xander had insisted be officially named 'Slayers, Inc.' stated that Buffy was required to take a vacation whenever injury put her out of action, unless there was an impending apocalypse. Which is why she had spent the last week in Hawaii, one of the few places in the world that was vamp free. It was just too hard for them to stay low profile, there, not to mention the difficulty for them in traveling there in the first place, while avoiding sunlight. Since her company had taken over security for the docks and the airport, vamps had given up trying. Which is why she almost ALWAYS vacationed in Hawaii.
But she always felt guilty about it. She knew that she needed the downtime just as much as anybody else, but it always seemed like she was running out on her duties when she left. Not that she would have been much good, action-wise, with a broken leg, but she worried. Which was why Willow would be waiting to give her a status report, first thing. Buffy just hoped they hadn't had too many casualties while she was gone. They hadn't lost anyone for a week before she left, but Buffy knew just how rare that kind of luck was, and she wasn't really expecting to make it two weeks without a death. But it was nice to dream. To remember a time when the people she failed to save remained anonymous.
These days, she liked to think she was doing a better job of cutting down the number of anonymous victims, but the flip side to that was the loss of people that she knew. People that she had hired, trained, and sent out to die. They were all volunteers, and they knew the risks better than anyone, but that didn't relieve her of responsibility when they died. Sometimes she thought it would kill her. But her own sense of responsibility, the thing that punished her for the countless deaths, also sternly reminded her how much worse it could be, without her. So she carried on.
* * * * * * * * *
Willow watched, a small smile playing around her lips, as the petite blond limped down the steps with the aid of an elegant black cane. The smile grew into a full-fledged grin as Buffy spotted her and limped over to hug her tightly.
"So, Will, did you keep a lid on things while I was away?" Buffy asked fondly, but with some worry hidden in the depths of her eyes. Willow saw it, and wished she had better news.
"Well, there is plenty of news, both good and bad. As usual. I'll give you the details when we get home, but, uh, we didn't keep up our casualty-free streak." Willow winced internally as she saw the guilt that immediately clouded Buffy's features, and wished, not for the first time, that she had more good news than bad. She could count the number of times that had happened on one hand. It seemed like there was always more bad news.
Buffy didn't say anything else, so Willow opened the passenger door and gestured for Buffy to climb in. She waited while Buffy carefully maneuvered her injured leg into the car, and then went around and climbed in behind the wheel. She made small talk with Buffy about her vacation activities while she drove them back to what had become known, amongst themselves, as Scooby Central.
Located on the site of what had once been Sunnydale High School, Scooby Central looked, to the outside world, like nothing more than another generic six-story office building, with the first floor converted into a strip mall. In actuality, the stores in the mall were owned, either collectively or individually, by the board members of Slayers, Inc. Buffy was the owner of the Summers Self-Defense Studio, which was a discreet nationwide chain of martial arts centers located in most major cities around the country. Willow was the president of Rosenberg Network Services, a low-profile but high-profit computer security firm, whose clients included seventy-five percent of the Fortune 500 companies at one time or another. Xander owned a construction company, who had offices in the mall and had built it, among other things. Harris Construction specialized in discreet, unusual renovations and construction. Willow still smiled every time she remembered Xander's excitement over being asked to bid for George Lucas's latest renovation of Skywalker Ranch.
Giles owned the Magic Box, although he didn't run it himself anymore, of course. It had been the first shop to open in the mall once it had been completed, and was now the largest and most discreet source for occult books and paraphernalia on this continent. The mall also contained a pizza place, which Xander owned because it was the only way he could afford to eat, so he said, a computer software store, owned jointly by Buffy and Willow, as well as a small boutique and an art gallery, which Buffy had had opened in memory of her mother. But it was all just a smoke screen, a distraction to excuse the unusual amount of activity which took place in the office building that the mall encircled. The home of Slayers, Inc. Of course, nobody knew it existed. You wouldn't find any letterheads with Slayers, Inc. on it, that was just their own, private name for the interlocking web of corporations they owned that allowed them to focus on their true task, which was, of course, battling evil and saving the world.
Willow smirked. Things sure had changed since high school.
* * * * * * * * *
Buffy limped to her desk, and flopped down in her chair with an irritated sigh. She was beginning to think she would walk better without the brace than with it, but she had promised Willow and her physician that she would wear it until they gave her the OK, which would hopefully be right after this status report. But because Buffy knew, from Willow's hesitancy, that this report would be bad, she took a moment to look around her office and prepare herself.
The floors were covered with expensive, thick, charcoal-gray carpet. The walls were wood paneled, with tasteful landscapes hung here and there. Since Buffy was not a researcher, she saw no reason for bookshelves filled with impressive looking but useless books, so the wall behind her desk was covered with pictures, instead. Photographs of various sizes covered every inch. There were pictures of her family, pictures of her and the gang in front of various historic and scenic places around the world. And there were pictures of her with her students, from the early days of the Studio, when she still had time to train some classes personally. Now she trained the teachers.
The massive desk always made her feel like a little girl playing in her father's office. She mostly used it for someplace to put her feet while she did business on the phone, or listened to reports. She didn't spend all that much time in here, anyway. It was just a convenient place to take one-on-one meetings. Besides, Willow had told her it was important for appearances. On the rare occasions she had to call one of her employees onto the carpet, it made it easier to be professional if she was chewing them out from behind that massive desk.
Willow sat down in one of the comfortable chairs in front of her desk, and Buffy stopped woolgathering and arched an eyebrow at her, inviting her to begin.
"We lost a team last night. Albuquerque." She said quietly.
Buffy covered her eyes, trying to keep her composure while her mind screamed the names of fifteen more dead men at her. "Hector?" she asked. Hector had been the team leader, and she knew him. She knew all the team leaders, she had trained them all herself. She didn't have time to train everybody, but nobody became a field commander without having the polish put on by the Slayer, personally. Hector had been good, and he had been a friend. Not close, she didn't allow herself to get to close to the field teams anymore, but he had been nice. She remembered the barbeque he had thrown in Texas, after cleaning out an especially tricky nest in Dallas. He had made good ribs.
She wiped the one tear that had managed to escape from the corner of her eye, and shook off the guilt as she looked at Willow, her expression grim. "What happened?"
"They got hit at the staging area. It looks like the vamps spotted one of the surveillance teams, and followed them back. They hit the whole team that night. They took out the staging area first, we still don't know how, and then hit the van, which was apparently watching an empty nest at that point. We don't know how they made us."
Buffy tried to think, tried to avoid letting her guilt cloud her own thoughts too much. She had planned to hit that nest earlier this week, but the strike had been delayed while she recovered from her leg injury. The nest had been too large to send in a team without her. She just couldn't be everywhere at once, and it was killing her people. She needed help. She needed another Slayer.
Willow was surprised at the resolve in Buffy's eyes when she looked back up. She was used to giving these kind of reports to Buffy, and she knew how much pain they caused her friend. That was why she didn't show her pictures, anymore. It was bad enough that Buffy felt responsible for every one of their people who died, without showing her just how grisly those deaths were. She was used to seeing guilt, and pain, in those eyes after giving one of these updates. But this time, there was more. The pain was there, but it was overlain with resolve. Buffy had made a decision, and Willow knew instantly that Buffy didn't think she would like it.
"Willow, call the others in. We need to meet, because I'm going to be gone for another day or so."
"Gone?" Willow asked in surprise. This was definitely not what she expected. Buffy was still on the injured list, and she knew better than to think that Willow or the others would let her go into battle before she was back to her full strength. "Where are you going?"
"To get some help."
* * * * * * * * *
Xander had been out of the building when he received Willow's message regarding a board meeting, so he was surprised to find he was the first arrival in "the boardroom." Intentionally built to resemble the central area of the Sunnydale High school library, a point of nostalgia that Xander had insisted upon, it was located in the center of the fourth floor. The large oak conference table was surrounded by more comfortable chairs, but the table itself was almost identical to the old one from SHS. Xander had tracked it down himself. The low shelves surrounding the table contained a number of Giles' more commonly used reference books, mostly for nostalgia these days, because the entire library had been digitized and stored on computer. But it felt good to have the books around. A large multimedia center had taken the place of the stacks, containing a number of flat-panel displays which provided status reports from various ongoing operations, as well as the laptops on the table, which gave all of them access to any information they had available.
Xander grabbed a Coke from the small fridge in the corner, and sat down to check the latest reports from the field teams while he waited for the others to arrive. He had taken over command of the day-to-day field operations after Riley had been killed. Before that he had been Riley's second in command, as well as managing a rapidly expanding construction company. Once again he considered how far he had come. Six years ago, he had been convinced that he would be a pizza delivery boy for the rest of his life. Now he was moderately wealthy, not that that was really important to him, and he was intimately involved in the fight against evil and the defense of the innocent.
Not bad for the black sheep in a family of abusive, underemployed alcoholics.
Xander smiled as he read an e-mail from Will, explaining that she and Buffy had been delayed by Buffy's checkup. The meeting had been postponed for thirty minutes, which explained why he was the first one here. He took the opportunity to catch up on some field reports, and was surprised at how much he had gone through when the doors finally opened to admit Buffy, Willow, and Giles.
"Well," he said with a slow drawl and his trademark smirk, "look who finally decided to join us. I will have you know that you dragged me out of a fascinating discussion about the merits of various concrete mixes with one of my contracting partners, so this had better be good."
He was pleased to note that Buffy was no longer wearing a brace, so her X-rays must have been good. She was still limping, however, and she was still using the slim silver-handled black cane he had bought for her the first time she had fractured her ankle. He had not meant for her to get so much use out of it, at the time.
Buffy smiled a greeting at him, but he couldn't help but notice the weariness and pain that surrounded her like a cloud, and he knew that she had heard about the Albuquerque team. He hoped she wasn't planning anything rash. The follow-up team had reported the nest abandoned, so for now there wasn't much they could do.
Buffy took her usual seat at the head of the table, with Willow to her left and Giles to her right. Xander was sitting next to Willow, and he noticed she was more subdued than usual. Before he could ask her about it, Giles spoke up.
"Buffy. Wonderful to have you back. I trust your visit to the doctor went well?" he asked. Xander knew that he was actually asking when the doctor had cleared her for duty, but he was far too polite to just ask flat out like that.
"Yeah, Buff, when can you get back into the game?" He wasn't too polite to ask. He felt just as responsible for those deaths as she did. He knew them all, probably better than she did. He just hid it better.
"She said Monday. Provided I don't over-stress it in the next four days." She sighed. "That's sort of what I wanted to talk to you about. Willow told me about Albuquerque."
"Buffy, I know how you feel. But you can't blame yourself. There was a security breach on-site, and there's nothing we could have done to prevent that. It was a fluke," Xander said.
"Maybe. But if I hadn't been out of commission, we would have hit that nest last week, and this wouldn't have happened."
"Buffy," Giles began in his 'reassuring voice,' "You cannot regard every mishap and casualty as a personal failure. You know that nothing else could be done. You received your injury saving the life of one of your soldiers. Do you think that perhaps, if you had let him die, the those men in New Mexico might still be alive? Do you blame him for their deaths?"
"No, Giles. It's not like that. I know that I can't stop them all. But that doesn't mean we can't try harder. If we hadn't delayed, if there had been some way to make the hit without me, those men would still be here. At least, maybe some of them."
"But, Buffy," Willow began, "you know that nest was too large to take on without you. You're not thinking about experimenting with super soldier formulas, are you? 'Cause, y'know, we haven't had very good experiences, what with the Initiative and all."
"Don't worry." Buffy reassured the red-head. "I remember. No, I was thinking how much better off we'd be if we had another Slayer. I want to track down Faith."
She was greeted with a stunned silence, followed by vocal outbursts from both Xander and Willow.
"What!" Willow shouted. "You can't be serious. Faith! I mean-"
At the same time, Xander was shouting, "Do you really think a psychotic killer is the solution to--"
"HEY!" Buffy's shout cut them both off. She noticed that Giles had refrained from commenting, and she shot him a look. He returned it with a nod that told her he understood, and would support her. "Look, this is not a debate. I need her. For a lot of reasons, but she could really help us. I'm not suggesting that we call her up and say, 'Hey, we've got a lot of heavily armed people we want you to lead into battle.' But let's find out if she's capable and interested. Besides, I would like to talk to her."
"You would?" Xander asked, surprised.
"Of course I would. I have a lot of guilt about how things worked out between us. Faith wasn't the only one with problems in high school. I could have been far easier to get along with, if I hadn't been so self-absorbed back then. I felt that I had my reasons, but I'm old enough now to admit that I was just too fucked up to help her when she needed it. And when she finally reached out to me, in LA, I lashed out. I'm sure that did her lots of good."
"But what I don't understand," she continued, "is why you guys are so down on her. I mean, she repented. She went to prison, and from what Angel told me, she stayed in prison even when they would've let her out. She declined an attorney, and didn't speak in her own defense. I certainly wasn't ready to believe her at the time, I admit, but she's earned a second chance, hasn't she?"
"But--" Xander began.
"But nothing!" Buffy said heatedly. "Why do you do this, Xand? Yeah, she choked you almost unconscious. That was six years ago! Since then, you've dated a vengeance demon who spent 1200 years killing, torturing, and maiming men. And she wasn't even apologetic about it! How is it that you didn't have any trouble forgiving her?"
"Okay, Buffy, okay," Willow said, soothingly. "Maybe you're right. Maybe we just get upset out of habit. But are you sure you want to do this? I mean, you haven't even spoken to her since she went to prison. What makes you think she'll be interested?"
"Maybe she won't be. But I want to ask. Even if she says no, I want to talk to her. I've put it off long enough. Do you think you can find her for me?"
"Probably. I can hack into the parole records, they should have a current-"
"Ahem." Giles cleared his throat. Buffy, Willow, and Xander all looked at him, to see him polishing his glasses, and looking at the table. "She is in a small town in Oregon, called Silver Lake, I believe. I have an address."
"What?" three voices asked in unison.
"Well," Giles said defensively, as he put his glasses back on, "I was her Watcher, at least for a while. She passed word to me through Angel of her location when she got out. She said that if Buffy ever needed her, that was where she would be."
"How come you've never told me this, before?" Buffy asked quietly.
"Because you haven't needed her. Till now."
"So that's it?" Xander asked as he stood up and began pacing. "You're just going to run up there, say 'Hey Faith, we need you,' and bring her back here?"
Buffy looked him in the eye, and he stopped pacing. "Yes," she replied. "You have a problem with that?"
Xander clenched his jaw. "No," he replied after a moment. "But I'll be keeping an eye on her. I hope you are right, but I'd rather not get blindsided, this time."
* * * * * * * * *
Buffy had wondered, off and on over the last few years, what Faith might be doing when she found her. She knew that Faith had been released from prison shortly before she graduated from college, and had half expected her to show up in Sunnydale shortly after. But she hadn't, and Buffy had been too busy to really wonder why. She had thought about Faith occasionally after that, but had been hesitant to seek her out. She was glad, now, that she had waited. She hadn't really been ready, before, to be honest with Faith, and herself, about her actions in the past. She was now.
Whatever she had imagined Faith doing, it certainly hadn't been living in a tiny town in the middle of the forest in Oregon. Buffy had had the pilot land her helicopter at a small, private airstrip about two miles outside of town, and had taken the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors and the beauty of the forest by walking into town. She had an address, but she decided to look around for a while before seeking out Faith. So she walked around town, which took all of 10 minutes. Silver Lake was even smaller than Sunnydale. She had stopped in the only diner, bought a cup of coffee, and told the waitress she was looking for her cousin, who had moved here a few years ago.
Diane, the waitress, had replied that the only newcomer in a long time was the quiet girl who worked at the gas station.
Buffy had never pictured Faith as quiet, much less working at a gas station. So here she was, looking at the run-down old service station that seemed to be built to some kind of generic 'fifties design that went along the lines of 'Pumps out front, office behind the pumps, garage to the left.' From across the street, the place looked deserted, but Buffy's sharp eyes could clearly see the 'Open' sign in the window. There was no one visible in the office, but one of the doors to the garage was open, and the interior was too shadowed for her to see anything from here.
Taking a deep breath and wishing she weren't quite so nervous, Buffy walked across the street and approached the garage. As she got closer, she could make out a single figure working on a large Harley-Davidson. The grease-stained coveralls shrouded the figure's sex, but Buffy's Slayer senses were telling her this was Faith. And apparently, Faith's senses had gotten sharper in the last few years as well, because she stood up and turned around as Buffy stopped in the doorway.
"Faith." Buffy tried to be noncommittal, but she couldn't help smiling a little as she said the name. She was a little surprised at how happy she was to see her fellow Slayer. Not to mention how adorable she looked in those baggy coveralls, with her long brown hair pulled back in a ponytail, and a little grease smudge on her cheek. Buffy had to resist a sudden urge to hug her.
"B." Faith replied, raising her eyebrows. She had noticed the smile, and the slight edge of pleasure in Buffy's greeting. She had been wondering what would happen if Buffy ever tracked her down, but she certainly never expected a friendly greeting. She had been expecting moderately hostile, and would have been happy with that. Buffy looked good, she thought, although the slim black cane she was leaning on was a little out of character. Her hair was longer, and a few years had really brought out the elegance of her cheekbones. Her eyes, however, held shadows of pain and loss that hadn't been there, before. Her eyes looked beautiful, but haunted. Faith knew, because she saw echoes of that same pain every time she looked in the mirror.
"What – what are you doing here?" Faith asked after a moment. She tried to ignore the lump in her throat.
"Looking for you," Buffy replied quietly. Faith shrugged her shoulders, as if to say 'here I am.' "I never expected to find you in a little town in the woods. Not that I can argue with your choice, because the view here is beautiful, but, well, I just never pictured you-" she gestured at the magnificent wilderness that surrounded the town, "- here."
"What can I say?" Faith replied, looking at the floor and wiping her hands on a rag. "It's quiet, nobody bothers me, and best of all, no vamps. A guard I met in prison hooked me up with a job here, and I live in a trailer out back. It's more than I need, and better than I deserve."
"You deserve better." Faith looked up at that, straight into a pair of beautiful green eyes. She was surprised at the earnest sincerity shining out of them. "I came to apologize, Faith, among other things."
"What?" Faith couldn't hide her shock. "You don't owe me-"
"Yes, I do." Buffy stepped forward, and Faith noticed the way she limped and leaned on the cane. Once she was within arms reach, she reached out and took one of Faith's hands, and tugged on it, to get her to look up again. Once Faith made eye contact, she continued, "You weren't the only one who made mistakes. You weren't the only one that was fucked up back then. I don't know how you got this image of me as the perfect person in your mind, because I was a borderline basket case that year. Think about it. I had just run away that summer, gotten kicked out of school, and abandoned all my friends. Then, when I came back, right around the time I was pulling my shit together, Angel came back from hell and twisted me all up again. I didn't know why he was back, but I knew that my friends would insist that I kill him, so I hid him. Add to that the fact that I was still madly in love with him, in the way that only a naïve high-school girl can be, and knew that we could never be together, and I am surprised that I made it through the year. Then there was you."
"Then there was me," Faith said quietly. "I had to come in and make everything worse."
"You still don't get it, do you?" Buffy said. "You came in and made it better. I was the one who fucked it all up."
"What? No-" Faith began, but Buffy interrupted her.
"Let me finish. Please," she said, and Faith fell silent. "You came to town, and yeah, okay, rocky start, with Kakistos and all. Not to mention that I was jealous with the easy way all my friends took to you, when I still had a few rough spots left over from the summer. Not to mention my Mom, who liked you immediately. I had a problem with you from the start, but it was my problem. Later, I came to really appreciate the time we spent together. You were right, you know," she said, looking at Faith with a wry grin, "I really did need to find the fun. I like to think that I have, these days. But I had no clue back then. I was too wrapped up in all the shit in my life, and I didn't even pay attention to yours. And I don't mean just you, either, because I wasn't a very good friend to anybody back then. But Xander and Willow knew me well enough already to put up with it. I had just met you, and I really didn't do a lot to encourage you. Not really. I mean, I let you stay in that shitty motel on the opposite side of town from the rest of us, when I could have easily put you up with me and Mom. Or even with Giles. Then you would have been there, part of the group. Instead I just left you out there alone, and called you when it was convenient.
And then, it happened." Buffy didn't have to say anymore than that. Faith knew what she was talking about. "And we ran, and I left you alone. I've thought a lot, these last few years, about how things might have gone if I had stayed with you that night. That's probably my single biggest regret, out of all of it, that I ran off in a different direction from you.
And sure, you made mistakes. Everybody makes mistakes. But I gave you a bunch of talk about how good a friend I had tried to be, when I hadn't, not really. I wasn't a very good friend to anybody that year, but especially not you. I never opened up to you, all those talks we had about Angel, so why should I have expected you to open up to me? But I did. I don't know why, I guess I just thought that nobody deserved to shut ME out, never mind what I was doing." Buffy sighed, and looked at Faith. Faith was surprised to see unshed tears in Buffy's eyes. "I wanted you to know that I'm sorry. Sorry for not being there when you needed me, and for not being forgiving when you finally asked for it. I told you, I was fucked up."
Faith couldn't help but smile, because in all the time she'd known B, this was the first time she had heard her curse.
"You know you ain't getting' off that easy, B," she said. "I was the one that killed him. I was the one that hitched up with the Mayor, and tried to destroy the whole damn town. Maybe you don't think you did much in the way of reaching out the hand of friendship, but it was still more than I had ever had in my life. I think that I was so used to hate, I didn't really know how to handle anything else. I felt a connection to you, a bond. And you did try to be my friend, even if you don't think so. But since I didn't know how to handle that, I turned it into what I knew. Hate. Abuse. I drove you away, because I didn't know how to do anything else."
"Well, I'm here now," Buffy said. "And I forgive you. For everything. And I ask your forgiveness in return."
Faith couldn't stop the tears that sprang to her eyes. Buffy reached for her, and Faith didn't resist as Buffy pulled her in for a tight, comforting hug. Faith hugged her back, and hoped Buffy didn't notice as she tried to blot the tears from her eyes. "I forgive you, B," she whispered. Buffy didn't reply, she just squeezed her a little tighter, then released her and stepped back.
"I also came to ask you to come back with me."
"Really? Why? Don't think I don't appreciate the invite, but why me, and why now? I don't know that I'd be much help to you, and I know that your friends will freak. Why cause more problems for yourself, B?"
"I need you, Faith. Nobody has ever understood me like you do. I'm tired of doing this alone. I miss you."
Faith hoped the shock of hearing those words wasn't written on her face, so she turned back towards the motorcycle she was working on to give her some time to think. She tried not get her hopes up, but she had never expected a chance like this again, and she wasn't going to give it up without a fight, this time.
"Okay, Buffy. I don't know what you want with a broken-down ex-con like me, but if you need me, I'll come."
* * * * * * * * *
Two hours later, the two Slayers were roaring down the road out of town. Faith had called her boss, thanked her for the job, but informed her that something had come up and she was leaving town. When questioned, she had looked at Buffy and said, "Family Business."
Then she had reassembled the Harley she was working on, shocking Buffy with the information that it was hers. "Yeah, B," she had said. "It's the only pleasure I've allowed myself in a long time. I take her out on the highway at night, and open her up, with the wind in my hair and the sky all around, and I can forget, for a while."
It only took ten minutes to pack the few personal items and clothes she had acquired since her release from prison, all of which fit neatly into the saddle bags on her bike. Then she had asked Buffy how she came to town.
"I walked," Buffy had replied.
"From about two miles down the road. I have to admit, I'm kind of regretting it, right now."
"I've been meaning to ask-"
"I broke it. Actually, a big demon with a steel club broke it. A week or so back. I just got the cast off yesterday."
"Yah, broken legs suck. Even with Slayer healing. Well, you won't be walking back. You ready?"
Buffy had looked at her doubtfully, and Faith had laughed. "Let me guess, you never been on a chopper before."
"Enough said. This-" she said, making a sweeping gesture towards the now-reassembled motorcycle, "-is a Harley-Davidson Dyna Wide-Glide Custom, with stretched forks and ape-hanger handlebars. It is my pride and joy, the one pleasure I have allowed myself, and the only valuable possession I have ever owned. Her name," she said, suddenly shy, "is Buffy."
Buffy stared at her with disbelieving eyes. "You're kidding."
In response, Faith gestured to the deep purple gas tank, and Buffy saw her name painted across it, on both sides, in a flowing script. In gold.
"You named your motorcycle after me?" Buffy hope the squeak at the end of that question wasn't too noticeable.
"You don't mind, do you?" Faith said, suddenly concerned. If she had offended B already, this wasn't going to get very far.
"No! I mean, no, it's just, well, ah" Buffy babbled, "-kind of a surprise."
Faith had grinned and winked at her. "Wait 'til you ride her."
So here they were, riding out of town on Faith's big chopper. Faith tried to ignore the effect that having Buffy's arms clasped around her waist was having on her, but she couldn't resist goosing the throttle, reveling in the way that Buffy clutched her a little tighter each time. Buffy's chin was resting on Faith's shoulder, and the wind was blowing their hair out behind them, the blonde and brunette strands intermingling.
Faith couldn't help but wonder, again, if this was all some strange, really pleasant dream that she would wake up from any moment. She vowed to sleep forever, if that was so. It was definitely the best dream she could remember in a long time.
She snapped out of her reverie when Buffy tapped her on the thigh and then pointed to the dirt road on the left, and Faith slowed to a reasonable speed, and made the turn. A minute later she brought the bike to a stop and leaned over so she could look back at Buffy in surprise. "You came here in a helicopter? Where did you get a helicopter?"
Buffy winked at her and replied, "Things have changed, a little bit. You'll see. I want to surprise you."
"Well, color me surprised. What's next, a Lear Jet?"
"How did you guess?"
* * * * * * * * *
In this time, in this place, he was known as Alistair Caine. He had gone by many other names in different times, different places. Three thousand years ago, when he was still a breather, he had been the younger son of a minor nobleman. In the years since his change, he had ruled empires, been an advisor to kings and popes, and feared by men both great and powerful. His enemies, some of whom were viewed by history as conquerors and rulers without compare, were all dead and gone, while he still walked.
And yet, he had more influence and control in this time, hiding behind a mask of anonymity, than he had ever had as an emperor or king. In this time, no one knew him, no one feared him. Unless he wanted them to.
He sighed as his thoughts returned to the vampire standing before him, and the news he brought. "And you are sure than none of them survived to tell the Slayer what they had discovered?" he asked.
"Yes, my lord. They fought well, but they were no match for us. We killed all of them in the warehouse they were using as headquarters, and then killed the ones watching the nest. We lost half the fledglings, but the elders and neonates survived, and have cleaned out the nest."
"Very well. Where did you send them?"
"A small ski town in the mountains, called Red River," came the reply. "There are numerous abandoned mines in the surrounding mountains, and with the skiing season just beginning, there should be a steady stream of fresh prey passing through the town. I have issued instructions for some of the elders to 'get friendly' with the locals, and to prevent the others from feeding on them. If they can stick to feeding on the tourists, no one should notice them."
"You have done well, Lucius. A ski town. I like it." Caine paused, tapping his finger idly against his lips while he thought. Lucius studied his master while he waited for his orders. He had served the vampire known as Alistair Caine for well over a century, and could tell that Caine was not happy about Albuquerque. Neither was he, for that matter. He had been called by one of the nest elders, who had been panicked that the Slayer had discovered them and would burst in to destroy the nest with fire and sunlight at any moment. Never mind that it had been the middle of the night at the time.
Lucius had ordered the evacuation of the nest and the hit on the Slayer's little 'commando' squad. Caine had been 'unavailable.' He had been worried that the master might feel he was overstepping his bounds, but he knew that Caine valued initiative more than blind obedience. And he knew that Caine was tired of the Slayer's interference in his activities.
"Well." The master's voice snapped Lucius out of his reverie, and he listened attentively. "I do believe I am getting very tired of this Slayer and her little friends. While I will remain forever grateful to her for eliminating The Master for me, she has come too close to discovering my activities too many times. I believe we can dispense with her. I have some ideas about how we can accomplish this, but first I need to know whether they are aware of me, and if they have put together the connections between any of our little ventures they have upset. I think we need to, ah, 'interview' one of them. Personally. Send a team."
"Yes, my lord."
"And call Natasha."
"My lord?" Lucius tried to ignore the sudden urge to shiver. "Do you wish her to come here, my lord?"
"Yes, for now. I have a feeling we might need her, when we go up against the Slayer and her friends. Besides, I have missed her. Prepare quarters for her, and make sure to acquire the," Caine paused briefly, "ah, refreshments, that she likes."
"At once, my lord."
Lucius bowed and hurried out to carry out his master's orders. Caine smiled, thinking of how nervous the mere mention of Natasha's name had made his young assistant. He couldn't wait for the Slayer to meet her. The Slayer. Again and again, she had hampered his efforts. The Last Days were approaching. He could almost feel it. Already there was a new plague in Africa, and, from what his sources overseas had told him, possibly another one shaping up in India, as well. Sometime within the next decade, two at the most, and the gateways would open, and the Old Ones would return. Armageddon. He smiled to think of it. What vampire wouldn't? Chaos and destruction on a grand scale. But he was no fledgling, craving destruction without purpose. The Old Ones would bring a new order to this world, one built around them, and if he intended to maintain his power, there were steps to take. Preparations needed to be made. Yet somehow, the Slayer always seemed to interfere at just the wrong time. Not enough to stop him, not completely, just enough to delay him, force him to change some plans, cancel others.
He was tired of it. He didn't think she was aware of him, it just seemed as though she were determined to rid every city she could of vampires. And since he was trying to increase their numbers, he was one whose plans kept getting upset. It was time to end it.
Natasha would handle it.
* * * * * * * * *
Buffy watched in amusement as Faith's fingers clutched the armrests even tighter. The dark-haired Slayer hadn't shown any discomfort on the short helicopter flight, but once they boarded the small private jet for the flight back to Sunnydale, her eyes had gotten a little wide, and her forehead had acquired a faint gleam of perspiration. She had buckled herself securely into one of the luxurious leather seats, refused all offers of refreshment, and shown no more curiosity to Buffy about how she had arranged for a private jet.
She had simply hunkered down in the seat, taken a death grip on the armrests, and waited. Buffy had expected her to calm down somewhat once they were actually in the air, but she had not said a word the entire flight, other than negative responses to questions. And she hadn't opened her eyes once while they were in the air.
Buffy found it strangely adorable. The Faith that she had known in the old days had hidden herself behind an invulnerable mask of sarcasm, bitterness, and rage. The very suggestion of the kind of 'weakness' implied by being afraid of flying would have made her furious. But not anymore. She had been, well, not polite, but not hostile. She was obviously terrified, but she wasn't lashing out, she was simply enduring. Obviously, Buffy hadn't been the only one to grow up a little bit over the last few years.
Faith felt Buffy's eyes on her, as they had been for most of the flight. Buffy couldn't help but grin when Faith opened her own eyes, met Buffy's gaze, shrugged and smiled rather sheepishly. Then she closed her eyes again and gripped the armrests even tighter as they struck some mild turbulence.
Once they touched down in Sunnydale, Faith pried her fingers out of the indentations they had made in the arms of the seat, and walked down the steps behind Buffy. She was only moderately surprised to see long white limo waiting for them on the tarmac. She turned to Buffy with a raised eyebrow and a questioning look, but Buffy simply shook her head and opened the back door for her, gesturing her inside.
"What about my bike?" Faith asked.
"Don't worry, I've left instructions for them to unload, uh, 'Buffy,'" Buffy couldn't help but grin when she said it, "and bring her to the offices. It will probably take them an hour to get, uh, 'her' out of the cargo hold, anyway."
Faith nodded and climbed into the waiting limo. Once Buffy had joined her, Faith decided she had had enough surprises. "Okay, B. Color me surprised. So, you've had your fun, now spill!"
"Okay, okay!" Buffy laughed. "It's kind of a long story, so I'll just hit the highlights. Basically, right around the beginning of my third year in college, I decided that we needed some kind of organization. Something that would let us all make a living, and still fight the forces of darkness. And, hopefully, leave enough time left over for some kind of personal life. So we started planning, and learning. And working. By the time Willow and I graduated, Giles, who had bought a magic shop, had made enough money to give us some capitol. Xander, meanwhile, turned out to be some kind of genius when it came to construction management and organization. He was already a junior partner in a construction company by the time I graduated, and with Giles's help, he bought out the owner and re-named it Harris Construction. Willow went into business as a network security consultant and started making money hand over fist. Giles became the biggest importer and dealer in magical and occult resources on the continent, and I opened a nationwide chain of martial arts studios. However, the backbone of our organization, and the largest, manpower-wise, is the private security company that Riley started, at my request."
"Riley, huh? Does he still hate me? You guys didn't get married or anything, did you?" Faith tried not to show just how anxious she was when she asked that question. It wasn't like she really expected Buffy to fall in love with her. She would be happy with friendship. Hell, at this point, she would be happy with mild antagonism. But she didn't know if she could stand to watch Buffy be all lovey-dovey around Beefstick. It made her stomach turn.
"No." Buffy answered quietly. Faith saw the look of pain that flashed across Buffy's features, and guilt washed over her.
"Hey, B. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to open old wounds."
"It's okay, Faith," Buffy replied with a sad smile. "He died, last year. You see, Global Security Services, the company he started, isn't just another rent-a-cop agency, although we pretend to be. But mostly, our personnel are ex-military, or vamp attack survivors. Hell, we've even got some disgruntled former Watchers. We hire out to major corporations, city and state governments, wherever. But that's all a front. Really, we try to locate and destroy vamp activity wherever we find it. That's how Riley died, cleaning out a nest in Orlando."
"I'm sorry, Buffy," Faith said, and meant it. She didn't like to see Buffy in pain.
"It's okay. We weren't together like that, anymore. But he was still a friend, part of the team. He did a lot to get us started. He had contacts in the military, government, all over. He really helped us get this thing off the ground. We couldn't have done it without him, and I never really got a chance to tell him how glad I was to have him as a friend. We were always so busy. And then he led a team in to clean out a nest that turned out to be bigger than we thought, and I was in Baltimore, taking out a demon who was trying to steal the souls of a bunch of newborn babies. I wasn't there to back him up, and he died."
"Was it quick?" Faith asked quietly.
"No." Buffy replied, looking out the window.
Faith watched her for a moment, seeing the grief, and pain, then tentatively reach over and silently clasped hands with the blonde Slayer. Buffy squeezed her hand tightly, and they rode the rest of the way in silence.
* * * * * * * * *
Faith's eyebrows had gone up when the limo stopped in front of a six-story office building. Her eyes had widened when she read the names of some of the stores and businesses located within, and she had turned to Buffy in shock.
"Damn, B. You guys own all this?" she asked.
"The whole building. Not me, personally, of course. The company. I am chairman of the board, although I tried to get Giles to do it; and the rest of the old gang, and a few new people, are the board members. Mostly, it's just on paper, anyway. We have some very smart businessmen, who we met when a seminar for innovative entrepreneurs was attacked by vamps. Apparently it was a setup by some major corporate executives who felt threatened. Anyway, we got wind of it just a little too late, and most of them were killed. Most of the survivors, however, joined the cause and have taken good care of handling the day-to-day aspects of running the business. Leaving us free to concentrate on our real work."
"Real work?" Faith asked, although she thought she knew.
"Saving the world, silly!" Buffy replied with a grin. "C'mon, the others are waiting to say hello."
Suppressing a hint of trepidation, and trying not to fall back into her old defensive habits, Faith followed Buffy to a small glass door located between the pizza place and Buffy's martial arts studio. Looking through the window of the studio, Faith could see what looked like an advanced class being coached through some pretty heavy sparring. They were fighting full contact, in light pads, and she saw a lot of finishing moves involving rubber training knives thrust into the heart.
"You teaching the citizens to fight vamps, too, B?"
Buffy glanced through the window. "No, that's an early level training class for recruits. We don't actually have many civilian training classes this late. Although we have this town covered pretty tight, now, this is still Sunnydale. Vamp activity here is three-hundred percent higher than just about anywhere else in the world, so I don't encourage the populace to wander at night. Especially not kids, which is who you get, in a lot of my regular classes." She turned back to the door, which Faith noted bore lettering identifying it as the offices of W.K.V. Inc., and punched in a number code on the small keypad next to the door. Faith heard a loud metallic CHUNK! from the door, as bolts retracted into the doorframe, then Buffy opened the door and waved Faith in past her.
"WKV?" Faith said.
"We Kill Vampires. Xander." Buffy explained.
Buffy led Faith down a long, bare hallway that led between the two businesses on either side, into what she guessed to be the middle of the first floor of the office building. The hallway ended in a small but elegant lobby, with a door on the walls flanking the hallway and an elevator facing her. Buffy extracted a small keycard from her purse, and swiped it through the reader on the wall, and the elevator doors opened immediately. Faith silently boarded the elevator behind Buffy.
As soon as the elevator doors closed, Faith began whistling the theme from James Bond. Buffy burst out giggling, throwing her hand over her mouth in embarrassment at how silly she sounded, which caused Faith to burst out laughing as well. By the time the doors opened on the fourth floor, Faith and Buffy were leaning on each other for support, clutching their ribs in pain, with tears running down their faces, they were laughing so hard. Xander, Willow, and Giles were standing still, with expressions of polite confusion, staring at the two young women. Faith and Buffy took one look at them and burst out in an renewed fit of giggles, and fell to the floor.
A few minutes later, they had regained their breath, if not their dignity. The only explanation they could give was, "You had to be there," delivered in unison. Faith took a moment to examine her surroundings. The elevator had delivered them to a large and well-appointed lobby, which looked more like it belonged in a mansion. There were comfortable and expensive looking chairs and loveseats, arranged in small groups, like a hotel lobby. Antique mirrors and artwork decorated the walls, which were dark wood paneled. It looked much like she had imagined the Watcher's Council headquarters would look, aside from being on the fourth floor of an office building. There were two hallways, with much the same décor, leading off to her left and right as she stood in front of the elevator. Giles led the group down one of them to a door, which led into a room with a startling similarity to the old Sunnydale High library, if you ignored the large multimedia center where the stacks should be, and the comfortable couches and well stocked bar in place of the old checkout desk.
Giles held open the door and the group moved inside, heading for the big table that was, as far as she could tell, identical to the one from the library, but Faith stopped when Giles put his hand on her shoulder. She turn to look at him.
He smiled at her and said, "Welcome home, Faith."
She startled the group by sweeping him into a fierce hug, then stepped back, coughed lightly, and quietly replied, "Thanks, Giles."
They all took chairs, and Willow greeted Faith. "So," she began, "you look good."
"Yeah," Xander chimed in. "Happier, or something." He smiled.
Faith smiled back at them all, surprised to realize how much she had missed them. Missed having a group of people who cared about her, or at least, potentially. She silently vowed not to screw it up this time, and said, "Thanks. I am, now. It's good to be back. Good to see you guys, again. Under, uh, better circumstances. Y'know?"
"So, what were you doing up in Oregon? Any good naked alligator wrestling I should know about?" Xander asked with a grin. Faith was surprised at how calmly confident he had become, and noticed the lack of leering as he asked the question.
"Waiting." She replied.
"Waiting for what?" Willow asked with a puzzled smile.
"I'm not sure, but I think I was waiting for this. For, y'know, the right time. Meanwhile I worked in a service station, rebuilding engines, working on boat motors, stuff like that. Just… waiting."
"I'm glad it finally came," Buffy said with a quiet smile. Faith smiled back.
"So, Faith, you want to have dinner tomorrow night?" Willow asked. "Buffy has a video-conference with a bunch of the field offices, so I thought we might, uh, catch up?"
"Sure!" Faith said with a surprised smile. Buffy smiled at her encouragingly.
"Drink?" Xander asked, walking to the bar.
"Sure." Faith replied. She half listened to Giles and Willow tell Buffy who had called for her and what she had missed, and watched Xander mix what she recognized as a Blue Kamikaze, which he downed before mixing drinks for the rest of the group. She guessed the Scotch rocks was for Giles, and figured the Long Island Iced Tea was for Willow. He opened a beer, for himself she supposed, and mixed two Jack and Cokes. She was surprised, therefore, to see him walk back over with the tray of drinks and place the beer before Willow, hand her one of the Jack and Cokes and place the other by his seat, and give Buffy the Long Island Iced Tea. At least she was right about Giles and the Scotch.
She picked up her drink and took a swallow, then coughed. The others looked at her in surprise, and she smiled in embarrassment. "Sorry, it's been a while." They smiled back at her, and Xander nodded. Buffy took a large drink, then looked at Faith.
"So," she began, "this is it. However, it's late and I'm tired, so if you guys don't mind, I don't want to talk shop all night." She looked at the others, and they all nodded back in understanding and said things about their own schedules. Buffy took another drink and looked back at Faith.
"Do you want to stay with me?" she asked with a slight pleading look in her eyes. "We can put you up in a nice place if you want, but I've got plenty of room, and we could, uh, hang out for a while…"
"I'd love it. Thanks, B."
* * * * * * * * *
Lucius studied the folders laid out on the table before him. Finally, he selected one and looked up at the group of vampires standing before him.
"This one," he said, handing the folder to the leader of the group. "is the most exposed. If you leave now, you can be there before sunrise. Setup surveillance, and go tomorrow night, if possible."
"Yes, Lucius," the leader of the vamps replies. He was East German, and looked like a terrorist stereotype from a Bruce Willis movie, to Lucius. Still, he was modern, relatively intelligent, and expendable. He would do.
* * * * * * * * *
Faith followed Buffy back down the hall to the elevator. Faith noticed there was a card reader here, too, as well as the more-to-be expected button. Buffy swiped a security card through the reader, and noticed Faith looking at her.
"The reader is for me and the others. There are some places in the building that you can't get to without one. I'll get a card for you tomorrow."
Faith smiled at her and replied, "No rush. I'm not going anywhere."
Buffy smiled back, and the elevator doors opened and they stepped in. The doors closed, and Faith felt the elevator begin to rise, although Buffy had not pressed any of the six buttons that Faith could see. She tried to step on her curiosity, but couldn't contain her shock when the doors opened to deposit them on what she realized, after a moment, was the roof.
"My God, B. It's amazing." She said, her eyes wide as she took in her surroundings. The elevator had deposited them in an atrium with a glass ceiling and no walls, and before her was a large patio area. The floor was a beautiful Spanish tile, and she noticed a hot tub almost large enough to qualify as a pool, as well as several umbrella-covered tables with comfortable chairs. She guessed that it would be great for small parties with close friends. To her right, a covered walkway led to what Faith realized was a large penthouse built on the roof. Buffy led her to a large sliding glass door facing the patio, and opened it to reveal an enormous living area, with a large flatscreen TV and a huge stereo rack. The room was decorated in the same tasteful style as everything else she had seen, although this place had a much more personal touch, and she recognized pictures from Buffy's old room on a shelf on one wall. Walking over, she noticed the pictures of the gang from high school. She was even surprised to see a picture of her and Buffy standing together, that she vaguely remembered Xander snapping one night when they were dancing at the Bronze after patrol.
"What ever happened to the Bronze?" she asked, struck by a sudden curiosity.
Buffy, who had been standing by the door watching Faith examine the room, smiled and replied, "We bought it. Remodeled it a little bit, added LOTS of exterior lighting to make the alleys safer, and Willow cast a protection spell that basically turned it into a residence, which keeps the vamps out. It's still there, and busier than ever."
Buffy walked to the kitchen area that was next to the living room, opened some cabinets, and began mixing herself a drink. Faith watched her pour a couple of tequila shooters, a Jack and Coke, and a rum and Coke. She joined Buffy in the kitchen. Buffy handed her a slice of lime, gestured to the saltshaker, and they did shooters simultaneously. Buffy then picked up the rum & Coke and handed the other drink to Faith.
"C'mon, I'll show you the bedrooms." Buffy led her down a hallway, past a bedroom that was obviously Buffy's, judging by the few articles of clothing hanging here and there, to the bedroom next door. Walking in, the first thing Faith noticed was the Japanese style sliding panels connecting this bedroom to Buffy's. There was also a king-size bed, identical to Buffy's down to the sheets, several dressers, a walk-in closet, and a well-equipped bathroom. Opening the closet, she was surprised to find it stocked with clothing.
"What are these, last year's outfits?" she asked.
"No, those are yours. If you like them. I, uh, wasn't sure what you might be bringing with you, but, y'know, one of the advantages to owning clothing stores is that you can deck out all your friends." Buffy smiled at Faith, then walked through the connecting door into her own bedroom. "We didn't do all this to get rich, you know. That was sort of an unforeseen side-effect. We were just trying to find cover jobs that would let us do what we needed to. But I have to admit, I enjoy the perks."
"Yeah, I can see how you could get used to this. I guess I got used to living simple while I was in prison."
"What was it like?" Buffy asked, sitting down on the bed. "If you don't mind talking about it. I mean-"
"It's okay," Faith interrupted. "I kind of want to, actually. After… Seeing you in LA, I knew I had to do something. Something for me. Angel wanted to help me, and he did. But I had to accept responsibility for myself, like you said. Never mind any extenuating circumstances, the fact remained that I had hurt a lot of innocent people, and I needed time to deal with that. So I turned myself in, confessed." Faith began to pace slowly as she talked, becoming more animated. "I didn't really understand any of it. I felt guilty, and I didn't even know why. Isn't that crazy?" she asked, turning to look at Buffy. "I mean, I knew WHAT I felt guilty for, but what I didn't understand was why I felt guilty THEN. As opposed to before it got out of hand, I guess. So I wanted to go somewhere where I couldn't get myself into anymore trouble while I tried to figure out what happened to me.
At first, I was near catatonic. It all started to pile up on me, and I spent a lot of time just thinking about my life. All of it, not just the Slayer stuff. It…it's still pretty hard to talk about…"
"You don't have to," Buffy said quietly. "Not now, not if you don't want. We have all weekend, more or less, and plenty of time after that. I'd like for you to tell me, but there's no rush. Just talk about what you want."
"Yeah," Faith said with a sigh, and smiled half-gratefully and half-bashfully at Buffy. "So after the trial, they put me in CIW. That's the California Institute for Women." Buffy nodded that she knew it, and Faith continued. "It's a hell-hole, literally. That's where all the weirdoes in the state wind up, and I guess they figured I fit right in. I was borderline suicidal by then, and I got into a few fights in the yard. Being fresh meat, all the Butch Predators came after me. I spent a lot of time in solitary, recovering from beatings."
"Beatings?" Buffy asked, wondering who had managed to take down Faith.
"Yeah, well, I didn't take any shit off the inmates, but I vowed not to fight the guards, so they would kick the shit out of me every time I put somebody in the infirmary."
"Oh, Faith," Buffy said, sadly. "I still feel like it was my fault. I was so angry when I saw you in LA, I just sort of flipped out. I felt really bad, later, not that it did you any good. I'm so sorry."
"Hey, B, don't be like that. It was my choice. Besides, it worked out. Being in solitary is how I met Julissa."
"Julissa?" Buffy said, and was surprised at the effort she had to make to keep the edge of jealousy out of her voice.
"Yeah. She was a guard. She was temping at CIW, and since I was the only person in solitary on my block, she would come down at night and talk to me. She really helped me pull it together. She got me transferred to Valley State, where she normally worked. It's a much better place than CIW, and she convinced me to take the GED, talk to some shrinks, and start taking control of my life. She's the one who got me that job, when I got out. She and I had a lot in common, and somebody had helped her straighten out her life before she went off the rails. She became a prison guard so she could return the favor. She kind-of made a project of me."
Faith looked up from the floor, which she had been staring at, to find Buffy gazing at her…fondly. Faith blushed and smiled, then looked back down at the floor. "Anyway, there's a lot of stuff I could talk about, but it's a little heavier than I want to get into tonight."
"That's okay. Like I said, we've got lots of time." Buffy walked into her own closet, still speaking to Faith, who was standing in the doorway between the two rooms. "However, if you don't mind, I think I'm going to go jump in the hot-tub. Want to come? Or you could watch a movie, if you prefer. Or whatever. I just need to relax." Buffy walked back out of the closet clad in a skimpy red bikini which immediately brought a lump to Faith's throat and send blood racing to various portions of her anatomy that she didn't want to think about. "My leg is killing me."
To cover her discomfort, Faith said, "Hot tub sounds good. I'd like to jump in the shower, first, though. Get some of the sweat and grease from the shop off me." Because she was looking away from Buffy, she missed the faint flush that appeared on the blonde Slayer's face at her words.
"Okay," Buffy said. "I'll see you out on the patio. Towels and everything should already be in the bathroom, and there should be several suits in one of those drawers." She gestured to one of the dressers against the wall, then limped out of the room.
Faith exhaled the breath she had been holding in a long sigh, then turned and went into the bathroom to take a cold shower.
* * * * * * * * *
Faith spent longer than she intended in the shower, discovering the joys of Bath & Bodyworks products, and then donned a white string-bikini she found in the drawer. She stepped out on the patio with a freshly mixed drink to see Buffy resting in the hot-tub with her eyes closed. Her eyes greedily drank in the sight of the blonde Slayer in her skimpy suit. She knew that Buffy didn't feel that way about her, but it didn't mean that Buffy couldn't fuel her shower fantasies.
"I'm not asleep, you know," Buffy said, and Faith jumped. "You can get in."
Faith climbed into the hot tub wordlessly, and settled across from Buffy, so she could watch the blonde Slayer's face. Buffy still had her eyes closed, and her arms were resting on the lip of the hot-tub, allowing her to float freely with her legs stretched out before her. A tiny corner of Faith's mind noted that Buffy's perfect toes were painted to match her fingers. She smiled at that.
"Something amuses you?" Buffy asked with an arched eyebrow, and Faith gave another guilty start, realizing she was a little drunk.
"Sorry, B. I guess I'm not used to the hard stuff anymore. I haven't really tasted any liquor since I got out."
"That's okay. You don't have to drink it. Just because the rest of us have become borderline alcoholics is no reason for you to emulate us." Buffy smiled after that to indicate she was kidding, but Faith wondered. She had noticed that Buffy had been hitting it pretty hard, but decided to wait until she was a little more familiar with the situation before making any judgments. Who was she to criticize, anyway?
"This feels good," Faith said aloud, to mask her inner thoughts.
"Yeah. Definitely required Slayer equipment from now on. Sometimes I can't sleep unless I spend an hour or so out here, just winding down."
Faith closed her own eyes, and emulated Buffy's position, resting her head and shoulders on the lip of the tub, and floating loosely in the hot, bubbling water. She felt the tension she wasn't even aware of beginning to seep out of her muscles, and she sighed.
* * * * * * * * *
Buffy, meanwhile, was thinking about Faith. The one look she had taken at the dark-haired Slayer in her white bikini had convinced her that keeping her own eyes shut was the only way to keep from embarrassing herself, but she couldn't keep her mind from replaying the image over and over in her head. Faith had obviously worked out a lot in prison, because her muscle definition was incredible. Which only emphasized the buoyant perfection of her breasts, not to mention making her calves and thighs look even better than Buffy remembered.
She sighed inwardly and reminded herself that these kind of thoughts could only cause her problems. Beyond the fact that she wasn't entirely comfortable with having these kind of feelings about another woman, a new experience for her in and of itself, there was also the fact that Faith had never expressed any interest in her anyway. She was, or at least had been, a 'get some, get gone' girl. A lifestyle that Buffy herself had become uncomfortably used to since Riley's death. She was honest enough with herself to admit that she had a sex drive, and enjoyed it, but she saw no reason to drag someone into the pain of a relationship with a person who risked death on a near-daily basis. It was easier to pick up a stranger in a bar, let him satisfy her physical needs, and kick him out without trying to remember his name. If only it would fill the emptiness inside.
Realizing that these thoughts were getting her nowhere, she sat up in the tub and began massaging her sore calf muscle, which was protesting quite a bit that she had overused it today. She must have torn it worse than she thought, for it to still be this sore after a week.
* * * * * * * * *
Faith opened her eyes slightly when she heard Buffy move, and watched the beautiful blonde Slayer wince as she began massaging her calf under the water. The bubble jets had kicked off, for the moment, which allowed her to see the uncomfortable position Buffy had to sit in to massage her leg properly. After a moment, she sat up and moved closer to the other Slayer. Reaching out, she wordlessly replaced Buffy's hands with her own, allowing the blonde to sit back with a grateful smile, and close her eyes again.
"Thanks," Buffy said quietly. Faith simply winked and nodded at her. She tried to keep her touch as impersonal as possible, but couldn't help the effect that the electric touch of Buffy's skin was having on her. It felt like warm silk, and she was thankful that Buffy had closed her eyes again, because she was blushing furiously and her nipples were as hard as rocks.
She knew she was wasting her time, because Buffy had to be one of the straightest girls she had ever met. She suspected that her own half-serious flirts with her fellow Slayer had been one of the early stresses in their previous friendship. She was content to worship from afar, this time around. She loved Buffy too much to lose her because she couldn't hide her desire.
She was too distracted by her thoughts to notice Buffy's own rock hard nipples, straining against the thin material of her top.
* * * * * * * * *
Buffy was ready for bed. Not that she was particularly tired, although she did feel relaxed enough for sleep, but because the feel of Faith's hands on her skin was driving her crazy, and if it didn't stop soon Buffy was going to throw herself at the other Slayer. She didn't want to drive Faith away just because she couldn't control her own feelings, so she reluctantly pulled her leg out of Faith's hands.
"I'm beat. You need anything before I call it a night?" she asked. Like a goodnight kiss, Buffy thought wistfully.
"No, I'm with you. It's been a busy day. Best one I've had in a long time," Faith replied seriously. Then she gave the old trademark smirk and said, "Want me to carry you, gimp?"
Buffy suppressed her immediate impulse. "No thanks," she said with a wry grin.
Faith hopped easily out of the enormous hot-tub, and watched closely as Buffy carefully followed. Buffy stood up carefully and then tossed a large towel towards Faith, then picked up one for herself and dried off. She hung the towel back on a rack next to the hot tub, and headed inside. Her weak leg buckled on her first step.
Faith was there instantly, catching her easily and sweeping her into her arms. Without a word she carried Buffy inside. Buffy held herself stiff, resisting the impulse to cling to Faith, because if she did she knew she would be unable to stop herself. The feel of Faith's bare skin against hers was electrifying. Faith carried her back to her bedroom and sat her gently on her bed, next to her cane, which she had left there.
"Need anything?" she asked.
"No," Buffy replied with a grateful smile. "Thanks. For the help."
"Anytime, B," Faith replied with a wink and a smirk. "Goodnight." She walked through the connecting door, sliding it shut behind her.
* * * * * * * * *