PART ONE: Battle Scarred
You and I have something different
And I'm enjoying it cautiously
I'm battle scarred, I am working oh so hard
To get back to who I used to be
I'm so close to being yours
Won't you stay with me please
- A Fine Frenzy, "Near To You"
The stake slid in easily. Too easily. He wasn’t expecting it. Neither was I, of course. Why would I expect that what should have been slightly-tough vampire flesh yielded so easily. The blisters on my hand gave a half-hearted sting as the wood slid into his chest like he was made of so much butter.
Humans are surprisingly soft.
Instinctually I gripped the stake tighter as he stumbled backwards and only then did it hit me what I had just done. I took a step back, my head spinning. The blood rushed to my ears and my hand grabbed uselessly into the empty air in an attempt to undo what I’d done.
It was too late. I felt Buffy push me aside and her face mirrored his as a thin stream of blood flowed over his lip.
My voice sounds small even to my own ears as I choke out, “I didn’t know.. I didn’t know.” The stake rolls away without my even noticing I’d dropped it.
Buffy’s eyes are wide with fear and her lips move, but all I can hear is a dull buzzing.
I *am* trying to protect you. Look, if-if we don't do the right thing, it's only gonna make things worse for you..
Worse for you. Worse for me. Like we weren’t there together and she hadn’t thrown him at me in the first place. Like she knew all along he was human.
Faith, what we did was...
And then she said it, "we". But it was too late. She'd pointed her finger at me and the "we" was nothing more than an attempt to placate me. I said something ominous, something about her going down with me, and left.
And left, and left..
I gave one last, long moan as we separated, my body still shaking violently. Sinking into the bed next to her, I noted breathlessly that her face was covered in a sheen of sweat as well. I smiled before rolling onto my back, closing my eyes and trying to catch my breath.
"Is it just me, or does it get better every time?" she says shyly, rolling onto her stomach and laying her head down to look at me.
I smile back, totally sated. "Definitely not just you."
Without much fanfare she slides over and rests her head on my chest, closing her eyes. Instinctually my arms wrap around her, the feel of her body pressed against mine causing my hips to give a tiny involuntary jerk.
She laughs lightly. "Already?"
I blush a little. "Shaddup."
We lay there quietly for a while, the world calm and quiet around us. Some of the girls charge down the hallway outside, giggling and shrieking. This turns me a bit somber, and I glance down to look at her face.
"B?" I ask softly.
Her eyelashes flutter slightly as she mumbles a half-coherent "Hmm?"
I take a deep breath and change my mind; this isn't a conversation to have with someone who's barely conscious. "Never mind."
She opens those crystal clear green eyes and stares at me intently, knowing something's up. "What is it, Faith?"
I bite my lip. "Well.. the thing is, yunno, that I busted outta prison to go help Angel and stayed out to help in Sunnydale."
She props her head up, a playful smile on her lips. "No, really?" Something in my face must give me away then, because the smile disappears and her brows knit together, her voice full of concern. "What are you thinking, Faith?"
I close my eyes briefly, the heat of her bare skin against mine trying to derail my train of thought. "I'm thinkin'.. the world's all saved now. Soon the school will be getting started up.. probably real soon, since I don't think Angel's gonna put up with his hotel bein' a dorm room for too long. But.. everything's kinda fallin' into place, so I was thinkin' it's time for me to.. go back."
Her face tightens a little. "Like, go back to Boston, you mean?"
My voice is quiet as I meet her eyes. "B.."
"No." She pulls away from me and sits up, yanking the sheet up around her chest. "You're being crazy right now."
I sit up as well, not bothering with the blanket. "You know I'm right. It's where I'm supposed to be. I'm a murderer."
She's out of the bed, rummaging through the tangle of blankets and pulling on her clothes quickly. "We're not talking about this. This is insane."
"They're gonna be looking for me. They're not just gonna shrug and say oh, well. They'll get me anyway. And then it won't be my choice."
"So Willow will do some kind of spell, get rid of it." She whirls on me. "You're a part of this now. You and me, we're responsible for these girls. You'd rather go hang out in prison than take even an ounce of responsibility for anything!"
I sit there, stunned, as she storms out of my room and snaps, "Asshole," under her breath before slamming the door behind her. I sit for over an hour trying to make heads or tails of her reaction before it hits me.
She likes me.
This thing between us wasn't just post-apocalyptic horniness and a history of being naked together.
She actually likes me.
She lay sleeping beside me, a sheen of sweat still visible on her tanned skin. It was a heat wave and the air conditioner in my motel room was broken. We'd opened the window to let the cooler night air in. I'd begged her to go to her house after patrol, where there was air conditioning and a full fridge.
No way, Faith.
Cause then you'll just leave when we're done. But you won't kick me out.
I smiled, reaching out and pushing a few strands of hair off her forehead. Her eyelashes fluttered slightly in her sleep. Her plan had worked of course—what was I gonna do, wake her up and throw her out when she was lying next to me all naked and sleeping?
Truth is, I'm glad she came to mine. Cause I probably woulda left afterwards if we'd gone to her place and then I woulda missed out on this bit.
It wouldn't kill you, Faith, to make some kind of human connections.
I make connections all the time, B.
I mean real connections, ones that last longer than a commercial break.
So was this a connection? Did this count? Nobody's ever spent the night before. Hell, I haven't even had anyone at my place since I got to Sunnydale. Somehow, though, I don't think "not beatin' a path outta town after fucking" is the kind of connection she had in mind.
I sit up and light a cigarette, glancing at her to see if it bothers her in her sleep too, but her nose remains unwrinkled so I guess it's okay. Out of habit, I pull the shoebox out of the nightstand. There hasn't been a night since I was about five that I haven't gone through this box.
Piece by piece I lift my treasures out, laying them on the bed. A handful of washed out polaroids of me as a baby—in the hospital, taking a first step, sitting in the middle of a living room I don't remember naked as a jaybird and screaming.
A few school pictures, all with the photo company's tagline stamped on them. DO NOT DUPLICATE. Tell me about it, I think. The world couldn't handle more than one of me.
The boots Tommy gave me before he left town had fallen apart after a tough night of slaying some kind of slime monsters, but the laces were coiled neatly in the corner of the box, reminding me of the night we climbed through a window and scaled the catwalk to watch our favorite band, Freak Wharf, perform. He'd given me the boots earlier that day for my birthday. A few weeks later after some guys kicked the shit out of him for being a fag and I put one of them in ICU, he left and I've never seen him again. All I have left of my first and only best friend, are some dingy shoelaces and the letter he left me about how my violence scared him.
Freak Wharf tickets. A drawing from when I was maybe 8 of Alex, my imaginary friend. My diary. Tickets from the first movie B and I saw together. A photo of my mom; the only one ever taken where she's smiling and isn't drunk.
It always throws me how much I look like her.
There's more, but I stuff everything back into the box and put it away. I put the cigarette out, lay back. Inspect the marks across my body. Cigarette burns, cutting scars, all sorts of healed wounds. Some vampire-inflicted, some self-inflicted, some Mom's-Asshole-Boyfriend-Of-The-Week-inflicted.
Making connections hasn't ever seemed to work out in my favor. Everyone I connect with ends up dead or worse. If B had any idea what my connecting with her could lead to for her, she wouldn't be telling me to do it. She'd be running for the hills. So if I really give a shit about her, I'd scram, get lost, disappear. I hurt everyone in the end.
But her skin, prickled with goose bumps now in the slightly cooler night air, and the wild tendrils of blonde hair sprayed across the pillow are too tempting.
I put out the cigarette and lay back next to her again.
Tomorrow. Tomorrow, I'll tell her we can't do this anymore, that I don't wanna hurt her, that I like her too much for this to end the way it has to end, the way it always ends for me. I'll tell her I'm too broken and damaged, and there's no way to undo it, and I don't know how to need someone anyway. Right now she just feels too good as she shifts in her sleep and wraps an arm over me. Everything just feels too good and I can't open my mouth and ruin it like this.
Yeah. I'll tell her tomorrow.
I sat on the balcony pulling hard on the bowl I'd borrowed from Gunn. Two weeks from today I was scheduled to go up to the state prison and surrender myself. That was the deal my public defender had worked out for me. Given that everyone who knew anything about the murder(s) and the arresting officer and pretty much the entire Sunnydale police force are either dead or crazy, there wasn't too much evidence against me. Even my confession had mysteriously disappeared. Nobody wanted to go to trial, but they didn't wanna let me walk away either.
So I copped to a couple charges of assault of an officer and resisting arrest in exchange for a way-reduced sentence. I'll be out in two years, maybe sooner if I can keep my nose clean.
I thought they'd cuff me and haul me away right then and there, but apparently it takes some time to organize all this shit. So here I am, with two weeks of freedom stretching in front of me. B's barely spoken to me. The day I came home with the proof of the deal wedged into my pocket, she'd asked what happened. I told her and she'd just stared at me for a minute before walking away and hadn't talked to me since.
Which is why I jump when a voice behind me says my name. I glance back, my feet propped up on the gate around the balcony, and there she is. For a minute my brain fogs up and all I see is the expanse of tanned skin showing above the sweats tied loosely around her hips, stretching up to the edge of her tanktop. My eyes follow her curves up until they meet her eyes, which are totally unreadable.
"Uh.. hi." I manage to get out before I start choking on the smoke I hadn't even realized I'd inhaled.
"That's smart, "she says, dropping onto the bench next to me. "Maybe they can add a few years for drug charges to your sentence."
I wave her off, still coughing. "It's fine. It's not like they're gonna show up on my doorstep and piss test me tomorrow or something."
Her eyes flash for a minute before she looks away from me, out at the night sky. "Sorry I've been MIA lately." Her voice is barely a whisper, and without Slayer hearing I probably wouldn't have even caught it. It's an olive branch, and I better be real careful about how I accept it so I don't break this tenuous peace she's offering.
"I get it," I finally decide on. "No reason to apologize."
She nods a little and props her feet up on the guardrail as well, slouching down and putting her hand out. I hand her the bowl and she takes a couple hits before handing it back to me. We sit in silence for a while as the weed kicks in, making the edges of everything duller.
"Are you afraid?" she asks quietly after ten minutes or so.
I open my mouth, expecting a snarky answer to come out, but surprise myself. My voice sounds childlike as I quietly say, "Terrified."
She looks at me. "Even though you've been there already?"
I nod a little and light up a cigarette. "More terrified than I was the first time. Now I know what to expect."
She bites her lip and reaches over into my lap, taking the cigarettes and lighting one herself, her hand brushing my thigh. I shiver a little.
"So what happens? You just.. walk in there and they lock you up?"
"Pretty much. Angel already sent a check out so I'll have some money for the commissary. I go, sign some papers, they take my clothes and shit away, slap me in one of those god-awful jumpsuits and that's it."
She sits back, looking up at the stars, her hand still resting on my thigh. "I'll come visit you this time."
"I'd like that," I say quietly, resting my head back. She continues smoking the cigarette, stroking my thigh lazily.
"You know what we ought to do? You ought to make a list of things you wanna do, yunno, over the next two weeks. Like a bucket list. And then we should do them."
I look over at her, a small smile forming. "We should?"
She nods, squeezing my thigh lightly.
I nod as well and rest my head back again, smiling this time.