Of all the things Faith doesn’t get about the Scoobies, the fact that they still hang out in the library pretty much tops the list. Willow claims it took them a year to even realize that they were sitting on top of a Hellmouth, and Faith believes her, since Willow lies like a thing that’s spent its entire life standing up. But she wonders. Because, personally, just being there too long makes her itch; from her heels on up through her back, a pain in the ass and the everything else and the soft little hairs all upright, on her arms.
“You’re making this up,” says Buffy, laughing, the first time Faith bugs her about it. “No way,” says Faith, watching light gloss the curve of Buffy’s lip; she can smell Buffy’s chapstick, sweet and thick and shading pink-to-clear. “It’s the mouth of hell, B, why wouldn’t we feel it?”
“Gee, I don’t know, maybe because it’s closed?” says Buffy. She’s sitting on the counter, legs crossed, the hem of her skirt skimming up to bare her brown knee. Willow said she spent the summer in L.A., but Faith can’t imagine her in a city, can’t believe that she existed in the shadow of ugly buildings just the same as here in the September light.
“Closed ain’t gone,” Faith tells her, meaning, I see you, too, and Buffy’s eyes slip sideways. Up.
Faith thinks Buffy’s so set on her normal and her friends and her dead boyfriend, who wasn’t always a monster, that she convinced herself the world was always this way, that that was just how living was: itchy. That she held Angel and didn’t notice the sting because she wanted to believe that that was how her skin should feel. That she pretends her body is a scar. Faith thinks but she doesn’t know, because there’s also… Buffy, perched at the lip of the pit; and the light picks out the hairs on her arms where they lie, small and smooth and golden.
“The Master, huh,” says Faith, and, “Where did you die?”— wanting to know, wanting to see it, wanting to watch Buffy go still. Buffy’s friends keep asking her for more stories; they run raw over Buffy’s every half-formed answer, and Faith recognizes protection when she sees it, along with some kind of fear. They’re afraid Buffy will tell her something she’s never told them, or Buffy will fall sputtering-silent in the middle of a sentence, her eyes unfocused, the shadow of her jaw shallow on her throat.
Faith doesn’t give two shits about what scares Xander and Willow deep in their friendly little hearts. But she cares about the big cold thing they’re trying to protect. So she tells them about alligators, and nakedness; and watches Buffy shifting in her seat.
Later, there’s a fight, underground. A vamp sticks Buffy’s head in a pool, and Faith thinks for one shitty minute that this is it, this is the place, after all. It’s not, but— when Buffy comes up streaming and stark-eyed, she looks like a virgin, sixteen years old again, with her hair full of water and her hands full of dust.
There was a girl between Buffy and her.
Faith works out the math, figures that other Slayer’s life in terms of twelve months’ time slumming it, back in Boston, back when Faith still thought she might live to see thirty. No one talks about her, though. They’ve still got Buffy, and with her around it doesn’t matter so much how many shadows she casts when she’s in direct sun.
Which: the first few weeks of kissing, they keep to graveyards and gas station bathrooms and the dark. Buffy doesn’t seem to notice things like wet tile and ugly graffiti and the crumble of moss under their legs when they make a picnic of it behind a tombstone. Buffy, if she doesn’t think she has someone to impress, is a lot like the drummers Faith used to date, down to the obsessive haircare and the total indifference to real estate.
But one afternoon during training, Buffy pins Faith to the sunny floor.
There’s no one there; Giles is recuperating from a bad case of the Mars bars, and the rest of the gang are out acting like real people. There’s nothing but them, and the books, and the Hellmouth, somewhere deep.
“Nice feint,” says Faith, honestly. Buffy smiles like she has a secret, her back curved up and her head held low and close.
“I work out,” she murmurs, and Faith doesn’t know what to do with the heat of her, the white light on her open neck.
Then they’re making out on the floor of the library, rolling around like dogs. Buffy pulls off Faith’s gloves with her teeth. Faith arches up to kiss her ear, her hair, the complex edge of her bright face.
When Buffy sits up and pulls away, they’ve migrated halfway across the room, piling up by the base of the check-out counter. Buffy rubs her mouth with the back of her wrist, the dark smudge of Faith’s lipstick like a bruise on her honey-colored cheek. She is soft as a memory of June. And Faith thinks, with clarity, that this is where that other girl died, the one they don’t talk about anymore; that she lay here ungainly and never got back up.
“We should spar,” says Buffy, but when Faith pulls on her shirt she bends to touch Faith’s stomach, and lay her mouth on the unbroken skin.