Forgive if not Forget

By

Janine

Disclaimer: All belong to Joss Whedon and the WB. Don't sue.

Part 2

As Buffy placed the cap on the water bottle and rested it on her nightstand table she remembered that Faith had indeed done their laundry. Buffy had left the brunette in her dorm room while she went to class instructing Faith to "watch some TV or something". When she had come back to the room, she had found the place cleaned to a likeness she hadn't seen since the day she moved in, and next to both of the closets laid a basket filled with lemony fresh clothing. Buffy must have looked as shocked as she was feeling, for before she could even say anything Faith had said, "so I got bored...sue me" and then she immediately took up staring moodily at the floor.

As she settled herself on her bed, Buffy admitted that she had found the entire display to be disarming and almost obscenely cute. She had pushed the thought away at the time, but it had been there, she was sure. Instead of touching Faith like she had wanted to, she had settled for saying thank you, to which Faith had grumbled the response "don't get used to it...I'm not a fucking maid". Buffy had found that equally as cute.

Buffy shook her head in consternation at the human psyche's ability to believe its own bullshit. In that room, at that moment, she had gotten a flash of possibility, a hint to the location of some secret prize, and she had dismissed it. She had decided that finding the display cute was not an acceptable response so she had formulated a more proper response and gone about entrenching it in her memory as an inexorable truth.

Now, lying on her bed, she wondered how things might have been different if she had just accepted those idle thoughts at the time instead of renouncing them out of some foolish desire for propriety. She figured that there would have been a night where she lay wake thinking--just as she was doing at the moment--but that this night would have been weeks ago, and she would have had her answer then.

"But then again," she thought, "you already know the answer; you just don't want to believe it." And, as her mind drifted back once again, Buffy continued to marvel at her ability to make things increasingly difficult on herself.

{Faith lagged behind Buffy as they entered the courtyard to Giles' house. As Buffy turned around to go get the stalling Slayer she sensed a pattern beginning.

"Everyone's in there," Willow said as the Slayers approached her. Unlike Buffy had predicted, Willow had told Tara to meet them at Giles' house instead of coming with her to get Faith and Buffy. She had told Buffy, Tara might feel better if everyone in her immediate area was having a stroke right along with her.

Faith looked at Willow with a hard expression. There was joy in that voice.

She was looking forward to seeing the rest of the Scoobs tear her apart.

"I'm not going in there," Faith said ceasing all movement.

"We have to go in," Buffy said looking over at Faith.

"Why? So that they can pounce on me like a Panda in heat and tell me what a horrible person I am and how you're insane for even talking to me? Been there, done that," she said looking at Willow.

"I'll admit, that's a likely synopsis of the beginning of the conversation," Buffy responded. "But we'll explain everything to them, and it'll work out.

If this is going to work you have to face them sometime," Buffy went on.

"Why?" Faith asked belligerently.

"Because you can't move on until you do," Buffy responded.

"Have you been taking a psych class?" Faith asked suspiciously.

"That's not the point," Buffy said. "You know I'm right," she continued looking Faith straight in the eye, daring her to deny it.

More words were spoken, but it ended with them entering Fort Giles.

* * * * * *

 Faith listened to the Scoobs bickering around her, barely controlling the urge to clamp her hands over her ears and curl up into a ball. Even the goddamn vampire was badmouthing her, as if he was a person of such impeccable personality. They were pointing and gesturing at her emphatically, and the looks they were giving her were seriously starting to piss her off. She was beginning to think that Willow was the saint Buffy had always said she was. Willow had practically welcomed her with open arms compared to what was happening now.

"She's a black widow!" Xander exclaimed.

"She made a mistake Xander, and I think she's paid for it," Buffy said turning around to face him. "I know that right now what I'm saying probably doesn't make much sense, but Faith and I have worked out and understanding...and if you'll just give this a chance, if you'll all just give this a chance, I'm sure we can work everything out."

"Do you have anything to say for yourself?" Giles asked turning around to face Faith.

Faith stared at him for a second before smiling. "Can't we all just...get along?" she asked.

This caused a whole new set of protests to be issued and the room erupted into chaos once again. Faith had actually found the response amusing until she saw the disappointed look Buffy sent her. The moment their eyes meet she felt ashamed and regretted the sardonic response she had given.

"Wait!" Faith yelled out over top of the others voices. "I do have something to say," she continued ignoring the look Xander shot her. "I know that I did a lot of shitty things to you guys, and truthfully I know that there's no explanation or excuse that I can give you to make it all better. I don't expect absolution. I just want you all to know that I really AM sorry, if you'll let me I'd like to try and make it up to you."

Things after that had gone smoother which wasn't to say that it was a particularly pleasant experience...because it wasn't. But at the end of it all, Buffy was certain that things would work out. It wouldn't be easy at first, especially between Xander and Faith, but if they worked at it, things could work out. And to Buffy, that was a good thing.}

And she considered, she had been right. Sure, things had been rough at the beginning, especially with Xander, but they had worked through their problems--surprisingly with a lot of help from Willow, who Buffy suspected was influenced to forgive if not forget by Tara. After a few days of listening to Buffy, Willow, and Faith complain about how cramped the dorm room was getting, Giles had even agreed to allow Faith to stay with him. He had grumbled about running 'a blasted boarding house', but had taken her in nonetheless.

Buffy could actually smile about the whole experience now; it had turned out to be a far better arrangement than any of them could have hoped for. Somehow, no one had figured out quite how yet, Giles and Faith had formed a mutual regard for each other over the time they spent together. Faith had aggravated Giles to no end when she first moved in, but the longer they spent together, the more Giles started to realize that she wasn't doing the things she was doing for the sole purpose of annoying him, she was doing them because that was what she did, it was part of what made her Faith. From that point on he was able to start to see a kind of beauty in it. Through no intention of her own, Faith had succeeded in lightening Giles up quite a bit, or as Xander referred to it "she had yanked the giant stick out of his ass". Buffy had actually come over one day to find the two of them playing Crash Bandicoot.

At the same time, Giles had had a rather calming sort of effect on Faith. Being in a stable environment, with a parental type figure had done her a lot of good. The role that Giles was playing in her life was a part that had been miscast to begin with and then missing completely after that. But, it was a role that needed to be filled, and Giles had done so excellently. And even though Faith still wouldn't admit that living with Giles had anything to do with her growth as a person, Buffy knew that she appreciated everything he had done for her, especially the mere fact that he was there for her. But that was classic Faith, and Buffy wouldn't have changed that about her. It was one of the things that she loved about her.

Buffy sighed and ran a hand through her disheveled hair. "It was one of the things I loved about her," she thought to herself. "Loved about her...love about her," Buffy's mind continued to ponder. Love.

The topic brought her mind back into the past.

{Buffy was walking leisurely across the campus grounds, though she wasn't quite as care free as her saunter seemed to indicate. The fact was that earlier that morning they had just finished moving Faith into Giles' house, and they--the statement had been directed at all of the Scoobs, but it only really applied to Buffy--were forbidden to return to the house for the rest of the day, so that Giles and Faith could get 'acquainted' without interruption. The thought of the two of them locked up in a house together with tensions still high didn't sit too well with Buffy, but it was a condition of the arrangement and she had to follow it.

"Buffy!"

Buffy turned around at the sound of her name being called from somewhere behind her. She didn't need to turn around to know who it was.

"Hey," Riley said catching up to her. "You sure can move fast for someone with..."

"You're not going to want to finish that sentence," Buffy said in warning tone that was undermined by the smile she had on her face. She had learned to sense short jokes coming from a mile away.

"I come in peace," Riley said holding up his hands in the universal sign of pacification.

"How are you feeling?" Buffy asked turning her attention to his side.

"Better," he said touching it self-consciously. "Not about to play some X-games anytime soon, but it's getting better," he went on. "I've been calling."

"I know," Buffy said dropping her head slightly.

"If this is about Faith..."

"It is and it isn't," Buffy responded cutting him off. "It's not about you and Faith, that's yester...a no fault zone," Buffy went on quickly. "It's just that things with the gang...Faith's return and all, have been kind of complicated to say the least and I've been kind of distracted," she continued. "You'd be surprised how NOT happy people were to see her."

"Five days ago you were one of those people, I mean when you got that call you were preparing to lead the troops into battle," Riley responded as they started to walk again.

"A lot's happened since then," Buffy replied.

"Yeah," he agreed. "Still, this seems like a complete 180. I've got to admit that I don't completely get it."

"It's a Slayer thing," Buffy responded.

"That's kind of a cop-out as far as answers go," Riley responded frowning.

"It's just that I don't have any irrefutable, scientific response that will magically explain it all," Buffy responded sighing. "It's a feeling that I've got...and before you give me that look...my 'feelings' have saved my ass a number of times. I've learned to trust them. When we switched bodies, we made this connection, Faith and I, and I know that she's changed and I have to help her stay on this road."

"She's wanted by the police...what are you going to do about that?" Riley asked hesitantly. Buffy knew that the question was asked to gently remind her that Faith was a dangerous criminal wanted by the authorities, but it was of no consequence. She knew Faith, and her circumstances, better than he could ever hope to.
"No...she's not," Buffy responded evasively.

"But you said..."

"I was wrong."

"Oh," Riley said knowingly. "This is one of those things I don't want to know for my own safety right?"

"I could answer that but then I'd have to stake you," Buffy responded seriously. "Listen," she continued a moment later. "You're going to have to trust me on this, because I'm not going to stop helping her. I promise, I won't let her kill or maim you."

"That's...only slightly comforting," Riley responded finally.

"That's been a common reaction," Buffy said glancing over at him.

"What are you doing later?"

"Nothing, I'm free for the rest of the day," Buffy responded with a smile.

"How do you feel about Italian?"}

Buffy ruefully smiled into the darkness of the room. "When things were simple," she pondered, and then shook her head. It said a lot about her current situation if she was now thinking that things back then were simple.
"At least you thought you knew what you knew," she sighed as she rolled over onto her back. At that time she had at least thought that she

understood what was going on in her life. Even if things were complicated she was on top of it. She had it all under control. But now, now it was her that was out of control, her feelings that were complicated, and she didn't know what she knew anymore.

Things with Riley had been fine for a time after that encounter. They hadn't really grown closer, but they hadn't really started to drift either. If anything, after that day it had been like their relationship was inside of a stasis chamber. Cryogenically frozen in the spot where it had been before Faith had woken from her coma.

Admittedly, that wasn't a bad place and it was fine for where they were when they first entered that stage, but it wasn't a place where you wanted to be stuck. But that's what had happened, they had gotten stuck in the middle of the book and inevitably things had started to go down hill. Buffy knew that she had no one to blame for that situation but herself. The thing was that she couldn't regret what had happened, because it was beautiful and special. She didn't want to regret it, and at the time she hadn't been able to forget it.

{Buffy watched Faith with a weary expression. The brunette was smiling, it was a mischievous smile, and Buffy knew that it meant trouble. The look also caused a fluttering excitement to rise inside of her that she would deny if anyone asked.

"Seems like no creepy crawlers are out," Faith commented casually.

"Looks can be deceiving," Buffy responded.

"Yeah," Faith agreed. "I mean you LOOK nice," she continued an impish grin spreading across her face. Buffy backhanded her playfully in the stomach. "Then you start in with the man-handling," she said in response to the hit.

"I'll show you man-handling," Buffy responded fixing Faith with a stare that was supposed to be intimidating but was actually the opposite.

"You promise?" Faith asked with a lecherous expression. "Cause I'll stick around for that."

"I'm beginning to think that slaying is just an excuse for your perpetual state of horniness," Buffy responded breaking the surprisingly intense look that Faith had engaged her in. There was a light in the other girl's eyes that was making her uncomfortable.

"Beginning?" Faith questioned.

Buffy smirked.

"I'm going to assume that you brought up the lack of action for a reason besides assaulting me with a barrage of sexual innuendoes," Buffy responded.

"Never assume B, it makes an ass out of you and me," Faith said chuckling.

"No, it just makes an ass out of you for thinking, let alone saying that," Buffy replied starting to walk again.
"Let's get the hell outta here," Faith said placing her hand on Buffy's shoulder. "Seriously, this blows! It b-l-o-w-ssss."

"So what you're saying is that this blows?" Buffy asked saucily.

"That's what I love about you B, you're always on the ball," Faith responded sarcastically. "And yes that is what I'm saying."

"Well, as the resident expert on things that don't...as you so artfully put it 'blow', what would you suggest we do?" Buffy asked. "And if you say 'get the hell out of here' I will bitch slap you."

"I might like it," Faith said with a look identical to the one she wore earlier.

Buffy bit her bottom lip thoughtfully and regarded Faith.

"It never ceases to amaze me," Buffy commented finally.

"What?" Faith questioned. "My brains? My beauty? My..."

"Ego? No," Buffy said interrupting Faith. "You're incessant ability to turn the most innocent of comments into something sexual."

"Incessant, huh?" Faith asked thoughtfully. "I'm not really into that...but hey, whatever floats your boat, B," she finished smiling.

Buffy responded by playfully running at Faith and ramming into her. Faith replied by looking at Buffy with a raised eyebrow and slamming back into her. Buffy responded by pushing the other Slayer and winking at her. Faith replied by pushing Buffy back and smiling cockily at her. Buffy placed her hands on her hips.
"You wanna piece of me? Huh, chump!"

"Nah, baby," Faith responded bouncing on her heels. "I want the whole pie!"

And next thing Buffy knew they were laughing and rolling on the ground. She wouldn't quite describe what they were doing as wrestling--well maybe if they were in mud--but it was something very close. They certainly weren't using any of their slayer skills cause if that was how they fought they would have died a long time ago.

Finally they came to a stop, Faith on top of Buffy straddling her hips.

"Guess I'm king of the castle," Faith announced proudly.

"I let you win," Buffy responded.

"Oh, I'm so sure," Faith, retorted.

They stayed like that for a moment, Faith sitting on top of Buffy looking down at her, both of their breathing slightly erratic. As they sat there, Buffy became increasingly aware of Faith's weight on top of her. But more importantly of the warmth of Faith's body nestled against her hips. Then, as soon as those thoughts started to appear, Buffy became aware of the smell of the other girl--something sweet and spicy that made her nostrils flare hungrily--and of the way Faith's chest rose and fell with each breath.

She needed to move.

Buffy bucked her hips slightly as a signal for Faith to get off (excuse the pun). But Faith either didn't get the hint or didn't take it for she simply rode out Buffy's movement with the skill of a rodeo cowboy. Buffy tried again, this time harder.

"The native is getting restless," Faith commented looking down at Buffy. Despite the casualness of her voice her stare was intense and just made Buffy want get away even more.

"Faith," Buffy said softly, and if she was completely honest, a little pleadingly.

Faith held her gaze for a moment longer, some indefinable emotion passing through those dark eyes. Something tender, and sad...a longing. But as soon as it appeared it disappeared and Faith gracefully moved herself from atop the other Slayer and stood up offering her hand to Buffy.

"What..." Buffy started, her voice hitching for a moment as their hands connected. "What do you want to do?"

"It's not what I want, B, but what I can," Faith responded softly.

"Alright," Buffy responded refusing to meet the other Slayers eyes despite the fact that every cell in her body was telling her to look up.

"Point 'n' Put," Faith responded a rakish grin spreading across her face.

"Seriously?" Buffy asked suspiciously. Mini-golf was a decidedly un-Faith-like thing to do.

"Hey," Faith said shrugging her shoulders. "When in Rome, do as the Romans do."

Buffy smiled.

"You've got yourself a date."

* * * * * *

Buffy, her right hand over her eyes, peaked through two separated fingers. Faith looked over at her and scowled at the display before turning back around to line up her shot. Pausing, the dark Slayer licked the tip of one of her fingers and held it up in the air, testing for wind velocity.

"Just take the shot," Buffy said hardly able to contain the laughter that was threatening to bubble out of her throat.

"Yes, mom," Faith responded sarcastically, lowering her arm nonetheless. Looking down, she returned her attention to the ball in front of her.

As Faith started to swing Buffy grimaced, this was going to be interesting. Faith brought the club forward and the ball went flying, ricocheting off of the perimeter of the hole and flew back in their direction hitting Faith in the shin.

"God-fucking-dammit!" Faith exclaimed reaching down to rub her shin after throwing her club down in a miniature hissy fit. "I HATE this game."

"Come on," Buffy said once again trying not to laugh. "It's fun if you..." she was interrupted.

"Can get the ball in the hole?" Faith asked her darkly.

"Well...yeah," Buffy agreed.

Faith glared at her.

Buffy broke the gaze and walked over to where Faith was sulking. "Listen, this is a game of finesse and precision. You can't just use brute force; you have to plan your shot in an advance using angles and stuff."

"Well, thank you very much Bill Nye," Faith responded still pouting. "'Angles and stuff', that makes it all so clear." She paused. "Besides, even if your advice HAD been good, I was never really a fan of the math's."

Despite Faith's highly caustic tone, Buffy smiled.

"I'm not exactly Gerald Bull either, but I manage," Buffy responded fondly. "I'll show you."

Faith looked over at Buffy through her eyelashes, then nodded her head. Despite that fact her general demeanor would still have had to have been described as glowering.

"Okay," Buffy said once Faith had picked up the club she had not so gracefully disposed of moments ago. "Look at the entire hole and tell me the shot you think would be most efficient."

Faith opened her mouth as if she was about to make some comment, but she promptly shut it and did as Buffy instructed. "Just hit it straight," Faith responded finally. There was a shed with a hole at the bottom about three meters in front of her and a meter behind that was the hole.

Buffy shook her head. "The shed is just there to trick the young and gullible," she responded unable to help herself. "The ball never goes through it." Faith turned around and looked at the blonde with an expression that clearly illustrated that she was not amused.

"Enlighten me," Faith drawled.

"You can't get this hole in one shot," Buffy said holding up the score card.

"See, par 2. What you want to do is hit it off the side just before the bend and get the ball in the open so that you can...at least theoretically, tap it in on your next shot."

Faith looked at the ball, then turned her attention to the hole, then she looked back at the ball, then up at Buffy. All of the looks held the same skeptical expression.

Buffy responded by placing Faith's ball down on the green, then moved so that she was standing behind the other Slayer. Hesitating for a moment, but only for a moment, Buffy then reached around Faith and encircled the other girl in her arms, placing her hands over Faith's, which were holding the club.

"B?" Faith questioned tensing slightly.

"Do you want to learn or not?" Buffy responded willing herself not to tense as well.

Faith merely inclined her head slightly in response.

"Are you loose?" Buffy asked a moment later.

"Yeah...I think so," Faith replied in an amused tone, grinning.

Buffy shook her head once again, astounded at Faith's ability to give everything a sexual overtone. "Alright, just relax and follow my lead."

With that Buffy shifted her hips back slowly causing Faith's to shift with her. As she did this, she moved their arms back, and then shifted them forward again hitting the ball. They stayed wrapped together like that as the ball rolled forward bouncing off of the wall just as Buffy had said it should. And as they stood there Buffy felt her breathing increase, and her eyes flicker shut as she became acutely aware of the feeling of Faith's body pressed against hers.

Her eyes opened.

She removed her arms from around Faith's waist and stepped back.

"Very...effective, demonstration," Faith said softly as she turned around to face Buffy.

"Your turn," Buffy responded not trusting herself to say anything else at that particular time. She bent down and placed her ball on the green so that Faith could try it herself this time.

Faith continued to look at Buffy for a moment, once the blonde Slayer was standing again. Her face was shadowed and Buffy couldn't exactly make out the expression on it, but she did detect a brief flicker in those dark eyes.

But then Faith turned away, and Buffy was relieved.

Her eyes on the ball, Faith brought the club back slowly shifting her hips as Buffy had done. Then she started the motion forward. She was right on track to hit the ball perfectly, but just as she was about to make contact with the ball her mind flashed back, remembering the feeling of Buffy's hips moving against her own and the ball went shooting off the end of the club contacting the side of the hole violently and flying off into the bushes.

Faith cursed silently. Fucking hormones. Just once she wished that her body would be able to come up with a different response to every situation other than the standard old horniness. Buffy had only been trying to help her, and as usual she had to go thinking with her lower instincts.

"B," Faith said walking over to the bushes, trying to put some space between her and Buffy. "I really appreciate the tutorial," she continued grimacing a little as she reached into the prickly bushes. "But, I think I'll stick with brute force if it's all the same to you."

Despite that statement however, by the last hole Faith was matching Buffy shot for shot.

* * * * * *

"Okay," Buffy relented smiling. "I'll admit, it beat the hell out of patrol."

They were approaching Giles' house, and Buffy was certain that it was well after midnight. After they had finished with the mini-golf they did the batting cages, then they went to the 7-11 for slurpees.

"Say it with me," Faith responded. "Responsibility, somonsibility!"

They had finally reached Giles' doorstep. Once they got there they were quiet for a moment. They both knew that it was time to say their good-byes, but neither of them really wanted to leave.

"Isn't this the part where you kiss me goodnight?" Buffy asked jokingly, and more for the sake of saying something to break the now uncomfortable silence than anything else. Although, the moment it was out of her mouth she realized that it probably wasn't the smartest idea she had ever had. It had come out sounding more like a genuine inquiry than she had intended.

Faith leaned back against Giles' front door and observed Buffy thoughtfully.

There was an odd quality to her voice and Faith was having trouble deciding just how to interpret the question. Also, she guessed Buffy wasn't exactly sure how she meant the question either. She knew how she wanted to respond to it though. Finally she decided on a course of action. Buffy was, after all, the one who asked.

Swooping forward before either of them had a chance to think about what was happening Faith brought their lips together. Another time, another place, with any other person she could have turned the situation into a seduction. She could have attacked their lips, pressed her advantage weakening their resistance to her, making them crave her. And, she was fairly certain that she could do the same to Buffy, but she wouldn't. She wouldn't because it wasn't another time, another place, or another person. It was here, now and with Buffy.

The kiss was soft, tender, and brief. It couldn't have lasted more than two or three seconds but that was more than long enough.

"You should be careful what you ask for B," Faith said quietly as she reached behind her for the door knob.

"Sweet dreams," she murmured, then she disappeared behind the door.

Buffy stood there for long moments staring at the door.

"What..." she started to say before dropping into silence again. She felt like her brain's batteries were dying, slowing down so that everything around her became fuzzy and unclear.

She continued to stand there, looking at the spot Faith had vacated, with an utterly bewildered expression on her face. After a moment she reached up and touched a shaky finger to her lips. Lips that Faith had kissed minutes before. Lips that could still feel the other Slayer upon them.

She lowered her hand and turned away from the door and in the direction of campus. As she walked she made a concerted effort to push the memory of the kiss into the basement of her psyche, and pushing the feelings it had caused within her down even deeper. She didn't have the strength to deal with the ramifications of what had happened. She simply didn't want to deal with examining what the kiss could mean or not mean. So, she took a page from the Sunnydale Handbook and denied, denied, denied.}

"You were scared," Buffy thought to herself. "Correction, ARE scared," she amended. If she wasn't scared she wouldn't have been laying in bed for the past hour or five, reliving memories and trying to re-work the equation to gave her the wrong answer. Fact was, she knew the truth very well, but was scared of it. She blew out a frustrated breath. She was going to get nowhere if she just kept thinking about it. She needed an outside opinion. She needed to talk. She needed...

"Willow," Buffy said, watching as the door to their room opened, momentarily illuminating the figure in the doorway before plunging the room back into darkness.

"Buffy," Willow greeted softly.

"You don't have to whisper," Buffy responded. "I'm awake," she added smiling.

"Why are you? Awake I mean?" Willow asked. There was a suspicion in her voice.

"It's not what you think," Buffy responded. "I wasn't waiting up to quiz you on your extra-Tara-iculars," Buffy continued smiling at her own wit. "I've just developed a case of insomnia."

Willow was silent for a minute as she crossed over to her bed.

"Are you alright?" she asked finally.

"No," Buffy responded honesty. Her former thoughts were still running through her head, fresh and invasive. "Everything's changing," she continued in a softer tone as she shook her head in disillusionment.

Willow was silent for a moment. If the room had been better lit, Buffy would have been able to see the knowing look on the Hacker's face.

"Is this about you and Faith?" Willow asked.

Buffy looked up at her sharply, but Willow couldn't see her.

"What do you mean?" The Slayer asked guardedly.

"Why don't you tell me?" Willow suggested gently. If they were going to talk about what was going on Buffy had to be the one to broach the subject. She had some idea what was happening between the Slayers, but she couldn't know exactly. What she did know was that if there was one person in the world who could understand what was happening between the two of them and how confusing it could be, it was her. She could relate because the same thing was happening to her.

Buffy was silent and Willow knew that there was going to be a subject change. As unpredictable as Buffy was, she was predictable in that way.

"You don't have to keep sneaking back in here at all hours of the night, you know," Buffy said finally, changing the subject as Willow had guessed she would. "You could as well enjoy the sleeping part of the sleepover."
"I'm not the one who's sneaking around," Willow replied softly.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Buffy asked for the second time in about as many minutes. Her posture stiffened, became more rigid, and she stared intently at what she could see of Willow's figure.

"I think that you know what it means," Willow replied trying to keep her voice from wavering. She loathed confrontation scenes, she had gotten better at them, but she still hated them, hated fighting with Buffy. She hated the tightening in her stomach that it caused, and the general feeling of ickiness that it left her with, but sometimes you just have to do what you have to do.

"Well, I don't think that I do, and since I think what I think, I should know what I think, but I don't know what you think I think, so...there," Buffy responded her own brows drawing together in consternation about halfway through the sentence.

"You're the one who said that you weren't okay," Willow pointed out trying to contain the weary sigh that was threatening to escape from her lips. Sometimes trying to help Buffy was a task of biblical proportion and difficulty. Even when the Slayer wanted your help, she had to make it supremely difficult for you to give it to her. It was almost as if she resented needing to be helped, or at least resented being in a position where she wasn't the one in charge.

"I didn't mean it," Buffy responded while simultaneously wondering what the hell was the matter with her. She had been beating herself up over her current situation for, literally, hours, and now when the opportunity she had been waiting for finally presented itself, she started to behave like a big stupid jerk.

Willow didn't respond. She just remained on her bed, silently staring over at Buffy, who eventually stood up and began to pace.

[Tell her] the voice at the back of Buffy's head screamed at her. Buffy really hated that voice...because most of the time it was right.

Buffy responded to herself.

[Why?]

[She's going through the same thing.]

[I'll bet it's fun]

[Hey, you're the one that thought it]

[You're afraid that she'll tell you what you already know.]

[Well, if that's true then just tell her.]

[Fine...coward.]

[I called you coward, Coward.]

"Listen buddy," Buffy started poking her finger into thin air.

"Buffy?" Willow questioned worriedly walking up behind her friend who had been pacing and just basically acting like a weirdo for the past few minutes. "This is not healthy."

"So it fits perfectly with everything else that has ever happened to me in life. Great! ...we should go for ice-cream," Buffy responded.

"Tell me. What's going on?" Willow asked reaching out and resting her hand on Buffy's shoulder. Buffy's shoulder shagged dejectedly as soon as the hand was placed there.

"What do you want me to tell you?" Buffy asked. "I'm messed up. It's finally happened, I mean it was bound to. I'm cracking up, loosing my marbles, my sanity has left the building, I'm outta my mind, I'm two tacos short of a fiesta platter, I'm falling for Faith, I've fallen and I can't get up, I'm the one who flew over the cuckoos nest."

"You're falling for Faith?" Willow questioned hesitantly once Buffy had finished.

"You picked that one out, huh?" Buffy asked.

"You know me, I'm a picker," Willow responded, then frowned as she realized that the response sounded rather odd, which wasn't really new for either of them.

They both moved over to their respective beds and sat down.

"So...Faith?" Willow asked. She had had an idea where this had been going, but having an idea, and being told something were completely different animals. When it was just in her head, it was just that. It was speculation, and while it may have been based on some pretty good observations, it wasn't proof and it wasn't true. But now it was true.

"Yep," Buffy responded looking at her feet.

"Faith."

"Yep."

"Whoa."

"Yep."

"Falling?"

"'Fraid so."

"In love?"

"That would be the one."

"Percentage 'til completion of download?"

"Close...very close."

"Really?"

"Yep."

"Whoa."

"Yep."

"I need a minute," Willow replied.

"Take your time," Buffy responded.

"Wow," Willow said finally.

"I know," the Slayer said shaking her head. "I sure can pick 'em, huh?"

"What about..."

"Riley?" Buffy guessed interrupting Willow. "Good question...you know if I had let you finish."

"Well?"

"I like him," Buffy said knowing that it wasn't much of an answer. "He's a great guy, sweet, caring, sensitive, sexy, yadda, yadda, yadda," Buffy continued.

"But?" Willow questioned.

"I don't wonder how his day is going; I don't think it's cute that his writing doesn't touch the lines of the paper; the way he says 'chowder' doesn't make me smile. He doesn't have this innate understanding of my feelings even when I don't; he can't look into my eyes and tell what I'm thinking. I can't look into his eyes and tell what he's thinking," Buffy responded. "He's like oatmeal."

"Oatmeal?"

"Yeah. Everyone likes oatmeal, you know, but nobody really LOVES it. It's like when you're a kid and you come down for breakfast and you see oatmeal. You're like 'oh, oatmeal'. You're not disappointed but you're not exactly thrilled either. It's just kind of...there."

"Oh," Willow said. "Oatmeal."

"Yeah," Buffy responded.

"And Faith?" the hacker questioned a moment later.

"Like a Grand Slam breakfast at Denny's," Buffy responded.

"You love those things," Willow stated.

"That's kinda the point Will," Buffy said smiling as she looked up and over at her friend.

"Oh," Willow said.

"Yeah," Buffy responded.

"Seems like the choice is pretty clear," Willow responded a moment later.

"What do you think?" Buffy asked, a bit of the uncertainty she felt creeping into her voice.

"It's not my life," Willow responded softly. "Only you can really know what the right decision is."

"You think I should stay with Riley," Buffy said still looking at Willow.

"I didn't say that," Willow responded.

"But that's who you would choose," Buffy said not relenting.

"Buffy it doesn't matter who I would choose. The truth is, I wouldn't choose either of them," Willow responded.

Buffy frowned. "Who do you think about when you wake up in the morning?" Willow asked.

"Both of them. In the morning is when the worrying begins," Buffy responded.

"But whose face flashes into your mind and makes you smile when you first get up?" Willow questioned.

Buffy was silent for a moment.

"Faith," she responded softly. She could see Willow's back straighten out the corner of her eyes, and she could hear the hacker's intake of breath. "You still don't like her, do you?" Buffy questioned changing the subject for a moment.

"I like her fine," Willow responded. "In time, I'm sure I'll even like her good. I can see the change in her, and I know that she's not the same person she was before. Still, she's...Faith...and I don't want to see you hurt."

"You're assuming that she wants me too," Buffy said in response to the 'hurting' comment.

"I don't think that's a very big assumption," Willow responded rolling her eyes. "And you know it." Willow paused for a moment. "You'd need ten Slayers to hack through the bulk of sexual tension between the two of you."

Buffy smiled. There was an undeniable electricity in the air, crackling between her and Faith whenever they were around each other. Even back when things were bad and they were on opposite sides of the fence; there was a connection, an attraction between the two of them.

"You think she'd hurt me?" Buffy questioned softly.

"She's never struck me as the most monogamous of individuals," Willow responded gently. Buffy dropped her head down again so that her eyes were facing the floor. Willow wasn't saying anything that hadn't crossed her mind already.

"I think she loves me," Buffy said a moment later. "Sometimes, when we're together, she looks at me...and in her eyes there's this...this...tenderness and infinite longing."

"I could believe that," Willow said. Two months ago, if Buffy had said this, Willow would have thought that she was insane, but she had seen a softer side of Faith since the darker Slayer had returned. She imagined that what she had glimpsed was nothing compared to what Buffy had seen, but it was enough to make her believe that Faith was capable of genuine emotions, and that if she could love anyone, that person would be Buffy.

"And?" Buffy questioned anxiously.

"Buffy you know her better than I do," Willow responded desperately trying to get out of answering the question.

"Will, please."

"I don't know if--"

"It'll be enough," Buffy finished for her. Once again this was nothing new.

Buffy stood up and began to pace again. "There are a million reasons I should just try to forget about this."

"If you could, wouldn't you already have?" Willow asked.

Buffy glanced back at her but didn't say anything. Willow was right, if it was that easy she would have done it already. But she couldn't just shut off her heart, she couldn't shut out the love that she felt. She felt her mind begin to wander.

As the vampire combusted into a pile of smoke, the branch Buffy had used to stake him, which also happened to be the branch she was using to balance herself with, was freed from the mass of his body, and she went tumbling down to the ground. As her ass hit the ground, rather painfully, an 'oomph' made its way out of her, before she decided to just sit there and hurt. Not only was she now convinced that she had broken her ass, but she could feel that blood from the cut on her leg was oozing out, saturating her pants, and running down her leg. Overall, she did not feel good.

"Buffy!" she heard Faith yell her name with a touch of panic in her voice. 'Though,' she considered, 'laying motionless in a pool of your own blood usually didn't inspire calm in people. Panic is a perfectly reasonable response.'

"Buffy," Faith said again dropping down beside the injured Slayer.

Buffy's brow creased.

"You called me Buffy," she said. "Not, B or Short Stuff, but Buffy. You used my whole name," she went on. "Am I dead?"

"Not if I have anything to say about it," Faith responded gruffly. She didn't deal well with panic. She would have expected she'd have gotten used to it and been an old hand at it by now, but in spite of that, she didn't deal well with it at all. "Where are you hurt?"

"Well," Buffy said thoughtfully. "I'm pretty sure that I fractured my ass," she continued grimacing. "And my leg has been lacerated. I'm not sure how bad it is."

"I'm gonna need to take a gander," Faith responded, moving down from Buffy's side, so that she was kneeling by her legs. "If you're a good little girl, I'll get you a 'lolly affawords'," she continued, her voice dropping into baby speak.

Despite the pain her in her posterior end and her leg, Buffy smiled. It always amazed her how Faith could do that.

"Just check the frigging cut," Buffy responded. Faith smirked at her then looked down at Buffy's legs.

Tilting her head to the side, Buffy was able to see all of Faith's ministrations. With an endless tenderness Faith began to roll up Buffy's pant leg so that she could see the damage. The process took about twice as long as it should have, because of how careful Faith was being not to make contact with Buffy's skin. When she finally got the leg clear of material, so that she could see the cut, her hands were covered in blood.

Shifting back, Faith had then proceeded to remove her jacket. Once she had it off, she looked around them and then down at her tank top. She could hardly see Buffy's leg through all of the blood. She had to clean it away. Finally she shrugged and grabbed the helm of the top and started to rip it. She continued to do this until she now had a mid-rift.

"Faith," Buffy started to protest when she saw what the girl was getting ready to do.

"I got a thousand of these things," Faith had responded not stopping her motions. That wasn't quite true anymore, but that didn't matter to her. If it was her shirt or Buffy, she would have ripped the thing to shreds.
She managed to clear away the blood with a minimum of discomfort to Buffy, then she leaned back and observed the damage for a moment.

"Prognosis?" Buffy asked watching the almost scholarly look on Faith's face as she looked at her leg. Kneeling there, Faith didn't look like a vampire Slayer or a troublemaker, or bad girl or whatever else people would describe her as being. She looked like a surgeon before a big operation.

"B is a big baby," Faith responded turning her attention to Buffy with a smile. "You got a hang nail you want me to look at?" she went on before turning her attention back to the cut. "It's not that bad," she said seriously a moment later. "You'll need stitches."

"Damn," Buffy muttered. She hated getting stitches. Mostly because Giles had the sewing skills of a bricklayer.
"I got it covered," Faith said moving back up so that she was kneeling by Buffy's face.

Buffy looked at her dubiously. Despite the very knowledgeable gaze Faith had been giving her leg earlier she wasn't sure how she felt about the girl attacking her leg with a needle.

"Your mom home?" Faith asked when Buffy didn't respond.

"Not tonight," Buffy responded carefully. "Why?"

"She got a liqueur cabinet?" Faith asked ignoring Buffy's question.

"Yes," Buffy responded suspiciously. "Why?"

"Cause we're going to your house and we're gonna need some alcohol," Faith responded.

"I'm not sure I'm comfortable with you drinking before you try and stitch me up," Buffy responded.

"It's not for me," Faith responded giving Buffy a look. "Up we go," she then said, scooping Buffy up into her arms.

Buffy looked up at Faith's face, which was only an inch from hers, fully intending to protest but Faith quieted her.

"I've got you B," the dark Slayer said softly. "No worries."

Buffy watched as Faith cut the thread and leaned back to look up at her. Faith had carried her all the way, from the cemetery she had been injured in, to her house. Buffy knew how strong Faith was since she herself was in the same strata; she also knew that even with that strength, carrying her all the way home had to have been a strain. Still, not once did Faith act as if they were on anything but a midnight stroll.

They were now in her room, she was lying on her bed, and Faith was kneeling on the floor in front of the bed.
"This is a fine piece of work," Faith said looking at her handy. "Who the fuck needs an HMO?"

Buffy smiled and watched as Faith got up off of the floor.

"Where did you learn how to do that?" Buffy asked softly. Faith was right, she had done an excellent job. Buffy doubted a doctor could have done it any better. Not only would there not be a scar, but it had been a relatively painless experience.

"I have many skills," Faith responded. Buffy noticed a shadow cross over the Slayer's features, but as soon as it appeared it was gone again. Faith bent down and picked up the towels and bottles of alcohol she had used to clean the cut. "I'm gonna go take care of these...stay put." With that she was out of the door.

As soon as she had exited the room, Faith let out the breath she had been holding since Buffy had asked her the question. For a moment she hadn't been able to hold off the flood of memories that had attacked her upon hearing Buffy's query, but she had managed to get it under control. She didn't want to think about how she had learned to do what she could, she just wanted to be glad that she had been able to help Buffy, so that's what she was going to do, she decided as she headed for the stairs. She wasn't going to focus on the negative--that had gotten her nowhere in the past--she was going to focus on the positive. She had to.

"When's your mom coming back?" Faith asked perching on the edge of Buffy's bed.

"Tomorrow morning," Buffy responded. "This morning I guess. She was only going to check out a piece."

Faith nodded her head.

"How's your leg?"

"Good," Buffy responded. And it was true.

"How's your ass?" Faith asked smiling widely.

"Not so good," Buffy responded.

"I could take a look at it for you," Faith offered with a completely serious face.

"I think you've looked at it enough," Buffy replied.

Faith was quiet. That was perhaps the most direct Buffy had been referring to the attraction between them since that night in front of Giles' house--that night in front of Giles' house that Buffy had refused to talk about.

"Just a suggestion," Faith responded finally. She stood up. "I should get going."

"Get going where?" Buffy questioned sitting up. "You're staying."

"I am?" Faith asked. "Nobody told me this."

"I just did," Buffy responded.

"Your mom..." Faith said looking at the door and trailing into silence.

"Knows that you're back and she's wanted to see you for a while now. You have to face her sooner or later."

"Well, I'd rather it not be after her daughter almost bled to death and there's a pile of bloody laundry in her hamper," Faith replied.

"Oh well," Buffy said. "You're staying."

"It's not exactly like you're in a position to make me," Faith pointed out.

"That's true enough," Buffy responded. "But you're still gonna stay."

"Why?"

"Because I'm asking you to," Buffy said meeting Faith's gaze.

Faith sighed. She was going to stay. 

* * * * * *

"This isn't a good idea," Faith said as she pulled back the blanket to Buffy's bed.

"This is a sleepover, and this is sleepover procedure which makes it an excellent idea," Buffy replied patting the spot beside her.

"That's not what I meant," Faith responded still not getting into the bed. "And you know it."

Buffy sighed. "I trust you. Listen we're both adults here. We'll I'm an adult," Buffy said proudly, "and you're almost one."

Faith just looked at the bed uncomfortably.

"What the hell am I supposed to do? Just lay there? Beside you?" she asked as if it was the most ridiculous concept she had ever heard.

"Haven't you ever slept in the same bed with someone else without having sex with them?" Buffy asked.

"No," Faith responded. "And I don't want to get in there."

"If it makes it easier, we're not going to have sex," Buffy told her.

"Yeah, I figured as much," Faith said avoiding Buffy's gaze. "I'm not going to be able to sleep, just...laying there beside you."

"How do you know?" Buffy questioned. If asked why she was being so insistent she would have said that she didn't know. But the truth was she did know. She wanted to be close to Faith. She wanted to feel her warmth and her strength, and yes, her love. And she wanted to repay some of the tenderness Faith had shown her only hours before.

"You're like one of those little yippee dogs that just keep yipping until you want to kick them, you know that right?" Faith said sitting down on the bed but still not getting under the covers.

"You always know just what to say," Buffy responded smiling. "Lie down."

"I don't like these clothes," Faith said. "The pants are too short and they make me look like a 'Fame' reject," she went on. "They are very, very dorky."

"Lie down," Buffy said again ignoring the tirade.

"Fine," Faith responded. "But I'm doing this under protest."

"I'll take it," Buffy responded. "I'll take it."

"Faith," Buffy said softly in the quietness of the room.

"What?" the other Slayer asked moodily.

"You're supposed to sleep at a sleepover," Buffy answered.

"I can't," Faith responded. "Why don't you just go to sleep and I'll guard you?"

"You're tired," Buffy replied.

"No, I'm not."

"Yes, you are. I can feel it," Buffy responded. And it was true. "Do you want to talk about it?"

"You and your friends never get tired of the talking do you. You guys would mourn the opening of an envelope by 'talking' about it. I on the other hand would just toss the damn thing away," Faith responded.

"Well," Buffy started slowly. "Since my friends like to talk so much, and you're one of my friends, you must want to talk. So...what's bothering you?"

"Besides you?" Faith asked regretting it the moment it came out of her mouth.

Silence greeted her, and then stretched on until she couldn't take it anymore.

"I'm sorry B," Faith said finally. Still nothing. "I just don't want to talk about it. It's not exactly a fuzzy memory."

"But it's part of you," Buffy responded. "And it's hurting you...which hurts me."

"You want to know where I learned to how to stitch up cuts like a pro?" Faith asked flipping the blanket off her. "Fine I'll tell you!"

"Faith," Buffy started to say. This wasn't how she wanted to do it.

"No! You want to know, fine. I'll fucking tell you," Faith said her voice hitching. "My father was an alcoholic bastard, with rage issues or whatever the fuck you want to call them, and would go out and get drunk every night. Since he was such a little fuck he could never beat the hell out of the people who really pissed him off so he'd come home and let off the steam. He'd beat or cut my mom with whatever was handy when he walked in the door before passing out like the useless waste of space that he was. It's not like we could have afforded to take her to the hospital every time he went at her, and even if we could have he never would've gone for that. So it became my job to clean her up and take care of the serious injuries.

"The work on your leg is the result of too many fucking years of practicing on my mom, and my own goddamn self."

Buffy, who had gotten out of the bed as well when Faith started to speak, came up behind the brunette and placed her hand on her shoulder. She didn't know what to say. She didn't think that there was anything that could be said. So she did the only thing that she could think of. She wrapped her hands around Faith's waist and pulled her into what she hoped was a affectionate embrace that conveyed that despite all that happened, and despite what Faith thought she deserved or didn't deserve, that she was there for her.

"Why the hell do you do that?" Buffy heard Faith ask even as the other girl relaxed into the embrace.

"Because you need it, and because I want to be the one to do it," Buffy responded gently.

"I'm not worth the effort," Faith replied stiffening.

"I think you are," Buffy responded.

"I'm a pain in the ass," Faith told her.

"Not compared to the pain in my ass," Buffy responded chuckling. And though she couldn't see it, Faith smiled too.

Faith was silent for a moment, then she turned around in Buffy's arms so that they were facing either other.

"Thank you," she said softly. Buffy could tell it was an effort for her.

"Your welcome," Buffy responded.}

"I can't help it," Buffy said finally, turning around to face Willow again, "I can't help loving her."

"Then I think your decision's been made", Willow said, standing up and walking over to where Buffy had stopped pacing. "I hope you're right about her", she continued softly once she was in front of Buffy.

"You and me both, sister", the Slayer responded dryly.

Willow hugged her.

"Can we go to sleep now?" the hacker asked.

"I don't think so," Buffy said, reaching out her hand and stopping Willow's retreat, "it's your turn now. Spill."

Willow tensed, visibly. The term "deer caught in headlights" immediately popped into Buffy's head.

"Time to take your own medicine", Buffy went on cheerily as Willow fidgeted in front of her.

"Hey," Willow said, "what's with the peppy? I was completely devoid of pep."

"I apologize," Buffy responded, "but you've still got to dish. How's thing's with you and Tara?"

"Good", Willow responded, not able to contain the smile that worked it's way across her face as she thought of Tara. "Like...ya know...good", she continued.

"How good?" Buffy asked.

"Buffy!" Willow exclaimed.

"Don't Buffy me," Buffy responded, "you know what I want to know."

"Well we haven't...yet", Willow responded, blushing feverishly. She was never so glad that the room was dark.
"Yet?" Buffy asked, "So that means you're going to?" Buffy asked.

"Not necessarily", Willow responded, not really wanting to discuss it.

"If I said to you 'I haven't seen American Beauty, yet' you'd think that I was planning on seeing it, right?" Buffy asked. "Right?"

"No", Willow responded dropping her head down.

"Yes," Buffy replied smiling, "Willow", she said drawing the word out wickedly.

Willow backed up and fell back on her bed. She deserved this. After all she did push Buffy when Buffy didn't want to be pushed, and by doing so she had opened herself up to the same treatment.

"Can she kiss?" Buffy asked moving back over to her own bed.

"Can Faith?" Willow asked.

"Touch�," Buffy responded, "and yes, she can. So, let's have it."

"Yeah", Willow said finally, her voice dropping a bit as she answered.

"That good, huh?" Buffy asked.

Willow didn't respond.

"Whoa", Buffy commented.

"Yep."

"Tara?"

"Yep."

"Ice-cream?" Buffy asked hopping up. It was going to be a long night.

"I think so", Willow said, following Buffy's lead.

As they exited the room, Willow observed Buffy shaking her head.

"What?" she questioned.

"How did we both end up with possible girlfriends?" Buffy asked genuinely perplexed.

"I've found that it's best not to question why", Willow responded.

Buffy nodded and together they headed out in search of ice cream.

Buffy let out a drawn out sigh and agitatedly ran her right hand through her hair. She had to do this, she knew that, it was the only fair/just/honorable/right thing to do until she had decided what she was going to do about the things going on. She knew that Riley would probably be crushed, not to mention probably think that she had gone completely insane, but she owed him this. Even if nothing came out of her feelings for Faith, he deserved to know. It was just going to be a serious unfun telling him, that was all.

"Hey", Riley said slipping into the booth across from her.

Buffy looked up and offered him a little smile.

"Hey", she responded her gaze flittering across to the waitress coming their way. "You want something?"

"No", Riley said shaking his head and watching her closely. "Well yeah," he added a moment later, "I wanna now what's up."

"Right", Buffy said, once again running her hand through her hair.

"I'm not going to like this am I?" Riley asked, leaning back so that his back was resting against the back of the booth. He had to resist the urge to cross his arms defensively.

"Oh, all variables compiled and considered, I'd say not", Buffy responded, leaning back as well. She had formerly been hunched over the table nursing a cup of coffee.

"This doesn't have anything to do with the apocalypse or demons does it?" Riley asked almost regrettably. "Cause you seem to deal with those two things a lot."

"Unfortunately," Buffy said, giving him a short glance, before returning her eyes onto the table, "not this time."
They were silent for a moment, looking around the caf� at everything but each other.

"Well, let's have it", Riley said finally. His voice was more distant, Buffy could almost see him constructing the wall to help him deal with the bomb they both knew she was going to hurl at him.

"I..." Buffy started to say but she halted, the words catching in her throat. "I think that we should spend some time apart", she continued a few moments later in a rush.

"Okay", Riley said, not bothering to suppress the urge to cross his arms this time. "Why? I mean I know things have been kind of... monotonous lately, but I hardly think avoiding each other is the way to fix things."

"I know that this isn't what you want to hear, but...it's not you, it's me. There are things going on with me right now that are confusing as hell and...and I just need some time alone to work things out", Buffy responded.

"What things?" Riley asked. "Maybe I can help. I know that your life is all complicated and 'Shaft' like, so maybe I can be your woman."

Buffy quirked an eyebrow.

"Well, man. Shaft had a woman and I'd be the man to your woman", Riley added.

"It's not really something that can be helped with by talking," Buffy responded, "it's kind of an obsessive, depressive fire, raging inside of me."

Riley was silent and Buffy decided to just wait and hear what he had to say.

"It's someone else", he stated a moment later.

"I don't want to..."

"You've got feelings for someone else."

"It's not that simple, there's all this history...and...and I don't even want to. It's 'go away you!' but it won't, it comes back with teammates."

"History", Riley muttered to himself. That meant it was someone Buffy had known for a while, probably someone he knew through her. "Xander?" he asked, making a face.

"Oh God no!" Buffy responded scrunching up her features.

"That mystery man who 'done you wrong'?"

"Not this time," Buffy responded, not quite able to contain the sardonic little smirk the topic of Angel brought to her lips.

"Then who?" Riley asked, leaning forward. "Who?"

"Does it matter?" Buffy asked, leaning as far back as she could, to get away from him, from what his answers were forcing her into.

"Yeah," Riley responded, "it does. If I'm going to get dumped I'd at least like to know who I'm being dumped for. Maybe I'm masochistic, I don't know...but I want to know."

"I didn't say anything about dumpsters, just that I needed some time", Buffy told him.

"It's all the same to my ears", Riley responded. "I love you Buffy, I've said it before and I'll say it again, but I won't be put on hold so that you can explore your feelings for some other guy. I couldn't do that to myself."
Buffy dropped her head down.

"Are you going to tell me or do we keep playing twenty-questions?"

"Faith."

"What?"

"Faith."

"What about her?" Riley asked irritably, figuring she would have something to do with it.

"That's the answer to your question", Buffy answered, looking up to meet his eyes as she dropped the second bomb.

Riley's eyes went as wide as saucers.

"Her?!" he asked incredulously. "Psychotic, 'I'm gonna kill your mother and all your other loved ones' Faith?"

"Not how I'd choose to describe her, but that's the one", Buffy said, her eyes jumping from him to the things around her and back.

"Well that's fantastic," Riley declared crossly, standing up, "if I go and knock around some of your friends and pull a knife on a few strangers, would you consider taking me back?"

"That's not fair", Buffy said softly, standing up as well and reaching out a hand to stop him.

"Yeah, tell me about it", Riley said. "I've gotta go", he continued, pulling away from her grasp. "You'll understand if I don't call."

With that he began to walk away.

Buffy flung herself back into the booth once he was out of the caf�. Throwing her arm over her eyes she leaned her head back and sighed.

* * * * * *

"B?" Faith questioned coming to a stop in front of Buffy. "You alive under there?" the brunette asked poking at the arm that was covering half of Buffy's face.

"Go away", Buffy mumbled not moving the arm.

Faith was silent for a moment as she entered the booth across from Buffy.

"I saw Beefstic-...Riley," she corrected seeing Buffy tense slightly, "storming out. Bad date?"

"Oh, I think that is an understatement of biblical proportions", Buffy responded taking her arm off of her face and looking over at Faith. "That was the aftermath of a blowout break-up."

"Break-up?" Faith questioned.

"Uh huh", Buffy confirmed still staring at her dark companion.

Faith leaned back in the booth. Buffy and Riley were history. Sayon ara, adi�s, bon voyage. Buffy was a free woman...free to be pursued. For the first time since they had met, Buffy was available. Buffy liked her, was attracted to her. And she was in love with Buffy. Did she have a chance? Would it seem inappropriate to get up and dance?

Faith's emotions were all over the place.

"Say something", Buffy said a moment later when Faith didn't respond.

"Why?" the brunette asked.

"That's a popular question", Buffy muttered under her breath. "I just needed some space", she continued, just loud enough for Faith to hear.

Faith merely nodded her head in understanding.

"You okay?" she inquired awkwardly a moment later. "With things?" she added in a similarly uncomfortable tone.

Buffy smiled; the first genuine smile that had appeared on her face all day.

"Yeah," she responded, "I will be."

Faith seemed relieved to hear this, for her posture immediately relaxed and a lazy kind of half smile spread across her face.

"Good", was all that she said however.

"That would be my interpretation too", Buffy responded. "You know," she went on a moment later, "it's not that I'm not glad to see you but...what are you doing here?"

Faith smirked.

"Giles is out of Earl Grey, and as the only free loader in the house that can go out in the day time, I've been designated 'errand girl'. This place has got the best tea...at least according to my cultured palate."

"Cultured palate?" Buffy asked smiling. "We've gotta get you out of that house."

"Hey, I'm open to suggestions", Faith replied. "Though I have to warn you, I'm still broken up about that gig at the animal rights centre not working out. Seriously, I don't know what it could have been." Meanwhile, as she was saying that, she was fingering the material of her leather jacket.

"Shut up", Buffy responded laughing.

"That's my girl", Faith replied with a self-satisfied smile.

As Faith went on, to detail the latest reason Giles should be made an official member of the 'Snooty Stuffed Shirt Society', Buffy found herself considering what they could really do to get Faith out of Giles' house and out on her own. She knew that they could get her some court appointed housing but first she needed a job, and --Buffy considered-- she knew someone that was looking to hire. Her mom. This invariably sent Buffy's mind reeling back to the morning on which her mom and Faith had met for the first time since Faith's return from the dark side.

{Joyce Summers entered her house to the sounds of a washing machine going and loud banging in the kitchen. This meant one of two things: either Buffy was home, or she was being robbed by an extremely polite thief. She placed her bet on Buffy.

"Hey mom", Buffy said, not turning as Joyce entered the kitchen.

"Buffy", she greeted somewhat suspiciously.

"I heard that", the young blonde responded turning around to face her mother. "How'd the art getting thing go?"

"The 'art getting thing' went excellently", Joyce responded. "Not that I'm not thrilled to see you..."

"But what am I doing here?" Buffy finished for her.

"Besides messing up my kitchen."

"Right, what am I doing here besides messing up your kitchen", Buffy repeated. "We needed a place to clean up last night after patrol."

"We?" Joyce asked out loud even as her brain answered the question. "Where is she?"

"Fixing the dryer", Buffy responded, carefully watching her mothers reactions.

"Really?" Joyce asked in a surprised tone.

"Apparently she's very good with her hands", Buffy answered, trying not to let her mind wander and think about the other ways that statement could be interpreted.

Joyce was quiet as she observed her daughter. Buffy was nervously shifting her weight form foot to foot, and she was looking at everything in the immediate area except for her mother. There was an obvious tension in her body. Joyce wasn't sure what the cause was, in fact she wasn't entirely certain that there was an exact cause. However, the pose that she saw Buffy in at that moment reminded her of something, it was a nagging bit of memory at the back of her brain that she just couldn't seem to access.

Then it hit her, they had been in a position similar to this before. Buffy had been eight and they had still been living in Los Angles then, they had still been a family then. Buffy had been hiding something and though Joyce hadn't known what it was, she had known that there was something. After a few minutes of probing she had gotten Buffy to tell her what it was. Buffy had found a bird with a broken wing and had been hiding it in her room feeding it Cheerios and bacon bits. After she had spilled the beans she had adopted a pose just like the one she was wearing then.

Joyce now recognized the stance; it was moral indignation veiled by resignation. Buffy would stand docile until the morality of her action was called question, once that happened she would launch into a pious, philanthropic speech, aimed at converting her accuser over to her side and making them feel bad for making her feel bad. They had already had this argument about Faith before too many times over the phone to count and Joyce didn't want to have it again. Buffy would not retreat from Faith's side, this much was clear to her. That meant that she had to at least feign objectivity on the subject.

"Is she going to come out here or are you going to have her pitch a tent in there?" she asked finally. Buffy looked up at her mother with a look of surprise and suspicion. If Joyce didn't think that the situation was no laughing matter she would have laughed at the squinty eyed, open mouthed look her daughter was giving her. Keeping one eye trained on her mother Buffy turned her head to the side and called out.

"Faith!" she yelled. There was a clattering sound in the laundry room, then silence. Buffy ran a nervous hand through her hair as they waited and eyed her mother, who was standing almost serenely on the other side of the room. The look disturbed her.

A few seconds later a head appeared in the doorway. The scene looked like something out a bad spy movie. Had Buffy not been so sure that this situation was-as her mother was so fond of saying-no laughing matter, she wouldn't have been able to contain her laughter at the look Faith was giving them.

"She does still have a body, doesn't she?" Joyce asked, looking over at Buffy. Buffy's eyes narrowed, she was now very suspicious, very very suspicious, because her mother kept making witty remarks and looked serene. She wasn't supposed to be any of those things, she was supposed to be uneasy and agitated.

Faith for her part just stayed where and as she was, and left the talking up to Buffy. She was sure that was how the blonde would have wanted it anyway.

"Heh", Buffy said breaking the silence after her mother's questions. "Heh", she said again a nervous grin spreading across her face before she dissolved into a fit of neurotic laughter. Once she managed to regain control of herself she bit her bottom lip and looked at her mother and Faith. They were both eyeing her wearily.

"It'd be much easier if you came all the way into the room", Joyce said, turning her attention to Faith, who for her part looked as if she might just object but stepped forward nonetheless. "Yes, that's much better", Joyce commented, waving the brunette further into the room. Faith came to a stop beside Buffy and then proceeded to stare at her feet as if she had suddenly discovered that they were made out of solid gold.

Joyce was very amused by the sight. The two girls standing in front of her were arguably the two most formidable people on the planet, yet they were standing huddled together in front of her, cowering like a couple of weak puppies.

"So," she started, deciding against telling them not to slouch, "Buffy tells me that you've decided to take a stroll on the road of redemption and righteousness." Her tone was casual, even friendly but there was a hardness hidden somewhere underneath it all --maybe in her eyes, maybe in the set of her jaw or the tightness of her smile-- that they were all aware of.

"For the most part that's right", Faith started after taking a deep breath. She had to be careful, she doubted she was going to get another chance. "But I plan on taking more than a stroll, I was thinking more along the lines of taking up a permanent residence. As for righteousness I don't want it and lots of people would be better off without it. Besides, I'm still a along way off from gaining that as a virtue or a vice."

Joyce regarded her silently for a moment, quite impressed by the girl's answer, though she wasn't quite prepared to admit it. She sighed.

"You know what my problem with all of this is Faith? I like you; I always have really. You've got what we used to call 'charisma' in my day. I want to believe you, but everything I know --which isn't to say everything that I feel-- tells me that I shouldn't, because the path to redemption is often turned to but rarely followed. After all, if it were easy, everyone would do it. Alcoholics, gamblers...abusers, whatever their vice is, they tend to go back, and I don't think I could survive it, literally, if you did." Buffy opened her mouth to protest but Joyce quieted her. "I know what you're going to say, and you're right. It's not really my business, I'm in no position to judge, and it would be a terrible world indeed if we all just forsake people because of the fear of possible wrongs.

"That being said," Joyce continued moving over towards them, "I have reservations about this entire situation. However, there's nothing that I can do about it, that much I am sure of, so I'll do what I have to, which is to accept the situation and hope that it in time I'll understand it and that I'll be proven wrong", she turned to Faith. "In the meantime, I have a vested interest in keeping you from the darkside. After all, my daughter seems to be so completely devoted to your cause, so, if you ever need anything my door is open...figuratively of course", she concluded with a little smile.

"Mom", Buffy started to say, but her eyes met with her mothers and she knew that the message was already received.

Joyce smiled and turned to look at Faith who still looked somewhat apprehensive, but had gained back some of her color. "I expect my dryer to be in working order before you leave", she said lightly.

"Yes ma'am", Faith responded with a salute.

"I've got some pieces to bring in from the jeep. Be good." And with that Joyce Summers was gone.

Buffy moved over to where Faith was standing and placed her hand on the small of Faith's back. They stood like that in silence for a moment or two until Faith turned so that they were facing each other.

"See," Buffy said softly, "as easy a fighting a Turnac."

Faith smirked.

"We once fought one of those for over half an hour", the brunette replied.

"Alright," Buffy responded slowly, "not easy, but at least over."

Faith stood still, no part of her body moving, not even her eyes, which were focused on Buffy's. She was very relieved, and she felt lightheaded at the moment, free and giddy. Mrs. Summers had always held a special place in her heart, the woman had been really good to her, had welcomed her with open arms. She was, Faith considered, the mother that she had always wanted, the shoulder that she could have but never did cry on, and many other things that Faith knew but didn't want to acknowledge before. Besides Buffy herself, it was Joyce's forgiveness that Faith had secretly craved. The conversation they had just had wasn't the sweeping reconciliation accompanied by violins and bright lights that Faith had dreamed about but never really expected to happen, but it was a start and she wanted to dance.

"I want to kiss you", Faith said suddenly.

Buffy looked up into Faith eyes and knew that she wanted Faith to kiss her. And that she couldn't let it happen. She recognized that for all the progress they felt they had just made, they had only jumped one of many hurdles to come. She placed her left hand of the left side of Faith's face.

"Then give us a kiss", Buffy said, almost a whisper, not releasing Faith from her gaze. Faith regarded Buffy for a moment not moving a muscle. She understood the words Buffy did not speak. She leaned forward and pressed her lips to Buffy's forehead.

"I'd better get back to work", Faith said once she pulled back.

"Faith", Buffy started to say, feeling bad for knowing what she wanted but not being able to accept it yet, therefore hurting Faith in the course which was the last thing she wanted to do. "It's..."

"Five by five", Faith said, interrupting. With that she headed back into the laundry room and Buffy leaned against the island and let out a breath she didn't know she had been holding. It had been quite a day and it wasn't even noon.}

Faith stood in the hallway of the second floor of Stevenson Hall, staring at the door of room 214. Her brows were scrunched together in either concentration or consternation and she was flicking the nail of her index finger with the nail of her thumb nervously. She jutted out her bottom lip in a pout as she considered her options. She could, of course, always just walk inside. But, if she had really just wanted to walk inside she would have done that already, so she really didn't consider that an option at all anymore. Her other choice was to begin pacing to and fro. She was particularly fond of this option because she hated the other option so very, very much, and also because this plan was flexible. If she got bored she could always begin to pace fro and to.

As she embarked upon her frivolous campaign, the door opened and Willow walked out of the room.

"Faith?" she questioned, surprised to find the brunette standing outside.

"Red", the Slayer responded, flashing her a smile before resuming her pacing.

"What are you doing?" Willow asked, watching her curiously.

"Pacing", was the answer she got from Faith who didn't seem to intend to break her stride.

"Why?"

"Why not?" Faith replied before shrugging. "It seemed like a good idea at the time."

Willow nodded to signal her complete understanding and approval of the situation to Faith. Anyone looking at the two of them at that moment would have seen one person vigorously agreeing with another person. The catch was that Willow really didn't have the faintest idea what Faith was talking about therefore she couldn't understand, and if she couldn't understand she couldn't approve.

"Big date tonight?" Faith asked, eyeballing Willow for the first time since she had came into the hallway.
Willow knew where this was going and she wasn't going to allow it to go there. Even though she and Faith had settled their differences she still found conversations with the other Slayer to be an utterly exasperating experience. It had however, taught her two things: 1) how to deal with smartasses in a polite and expedient manner, and 2) that when talking to Faith all roads led to the discussion of either food or sex. Frankly, Willow wasn't in the mood at that time to discuss either of those things so she decided that a change of subject was in order.

"Buffy's inside", the redhead offered. She had discovered that mentioning Buffy was a good way to distract Faith.

"Oh I already knew that", Faith replied, seemingly content to let her former query go.

"Then why are you..." Willow stopped speaking, suddenly dropping into silence. Before she completed her question she had to ask herself if she really cared. Then once she had asked herself that, she had to ask herself if she really cared enough to listen to Faith's answer, which was sure to be as irritating as their previous conversation. Once she had asked herself these questions, the course of action she had to employ became painfully obvious. "I'm going now", she stated.

Faith looked at her as she walked by. "Don't do anything I wouldn't do," she responded winking lecherously.
Once Willow was out of sight Faith sucked in a mammoth breath of air. She was going in.

"I thought I had heard you out there", Buffy said as Faith walked into the room. "I see you managed to scare Willow off with the accuracy of a grandmaster once again."

Faith didn't reply verbally or at all really, she just stood there uncomfortably, looking at Buffy and blinking a lot. She wasn't at all used to feeling this way. Buffy always seemed to bring out new emotions in her, but she didn't like this one, it was making her palms sweat. Before Buffy could inquire as to what the hell was wrong with her and before she herself lost her nerve, Faith reached into her right-hand breast pocket and removed a single yellow rose which she then promptly shoved in Buffy's direction.

"I got this...and it's for you", she said quickly as she internally chastised herself for such a lame explanation and gesture. She however couldn't think of anything better to say at that moment, so she let the statement stand.
Buffy, who was initially shocked, quickly recovered and took the rose from Faith's hand.

"It's beautiful", Buffy said, bringing it up to her nose.

"Yeah", Faith agreed. "That's why I bought it. It's for you...because you're beautiful too. But not beautiful like a flower, you're beautiful like a person. Which is different."

Buffy gaped at Faith who was too busy trying to kick her own ass to notice. 'Of all the dumbass, motherfucking, idiotic, fucked up, moronic, asshole thing to say', Faith thought to herself, 'you had to go and say that!'

"Faith..." Buffy said finally.

"What?" the younger Slayer asked peevishly, not quite finished trying to kick herself. She felt that this was a real black eye for her.

Buffy reached up placing her hand under Faith's chin tilting her head up so that Faith was looking at her. Then without pause, without comment, and without hesitation she brought their lips together.

"You kissed me", Faith breathed out as they pulled apart.

"And you kissed me", Buffy responded.

"Of course I did", Faith replied, as if the mere suggestion that she wouldn't have kissed Buffy back was as distasteful to her as broccoli.

Buffy smiled.

"Come on," she said taking Faith's hand, "there are vampires waiting."

"Can't they wait a bit longer?" Faith whined.

Buffy placed her hand on the side of Faith's face and looked up at her contemplatively for a moment before breaking out into a breathtaking smile.

"I suppose so," leaning forward so that her face was only centimeters away from Faith's. "After all even vampire slayers need a night off." And with that she brought their lips together once more.

~End~

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