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Too Much Distance

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They’ve fought the war, they’ve saved the world, and still, something’s off. They’re too far apart, is what it is… there’s always distance between Faith and Buffy. There’s always too much distance.

Right now, the distance is about three feet. Faith is leaning against the window of the bus, not caring that her head is bouncing against the glass, and Buffy is in the seat opposite her, mirroring the position exactly.

Faith wants to go sit with Buffy, to ask her how she’s doing, if she needs anything. But she can’t. There’s too much space between them. Faith thinks she’ll never get close.

That night, she and Buffy share a hotel room. There are two beds, and they barely say a word as they get ready to go to sleep. The beds are too far apart.

Finally, they’re both lying in the dark, Faith facing Buffy, Buffy facing Faith. With her fancy Slayer night vision, Faith can just barely see Buffy, and she knows Buffy can see her the same way. Their eyes meet.

“You okay?” Faith asks. Her voice feels kind of rusty. She hasn’t said much today. Not since dropping Robin off at the hospital.

“Are you?” Buffy whispers back. But that’s beside the point, because Faith can hear Buffy’s voice breaking, and that answers her question. She wants to get out of her bed right now, swing her legs over the side and walk right over, but she doesn’t. There’s still a pretty big chance that Faith is the last person Buffy wants to be near.

“I’m never okay,” Faith says. In any other context, it would be a joke, but here, it’s so painfully true.

“Me, either,” Buffy admits, her voice somehow even softer than before.

“We’ve got time,” Faith says.

“It’s not just today,” Buffy says.

“I know,” Faith answers.

Buffy doesn’t say anything, and Faith rolls over. She’s so tired. She didn’t expect to be this tired.

She hears the other bed creak, and then she hears footsteps. She doesn’t look; Buffy’s probably just going to the bathroom or something. She’s not expecting it when she feels her own bed dip under Buffy’s weight, or when suddenly there’s another pair of legs under the covers. She rolls back over to see Buffy lying with her back to Faith.

The distance is smaller, but still, not small enough.

Buffy doesn’t say anything about it the next morning. Faith doesn’t, either; Buffy’s due her weaknesses, and what happened last night was definitely a weakness. Faith’s spent years wanting to protect Buffy for some weird, undefinable reason, and this is her opportunity to finally follow through, sort of.

They eat their continental breakfast and are on their way, still in their bloody battle clothes. They stop at a mall to find new clothes and some food. It’s been a while since Faith’s eaten at a food court; she sits next to Buffy at a table with a bunch of still-shell-shocked baby Slayers and devours cheeseburger after cheeseburger while Dawn tries to get them to talk logistics. Finally, she looks Dawn right in the eyes and says, “I don’t care where we go next, kid, as long as it’s got a shower.”

“Seconded,” Buffy agrees, sounding so completely exhausted that Faith turns a little to look at her. She’s eating just as much as Faith, and her eyes have glazed over a little bit as Dawn’s been talking. Faith wants to put a hand on her back, to support her or comfort her or something, but the distance is still there, like a barrier between them, or like two magnets with the same pole. Like, if Faith’s hands get this close to Buffy, they’re sure to bounce away again, so why even try?

It’s for the better, really. If Faith put her hand on Buffy’s back in some weird attempt at friendship, Buffy would just wrench away, or grab Faith’s wrist and twist it around, and it’s better for both of them if Faith keeps her hands to herself.

They leave the mall with bellies full of food and bags full of clothes and pile back on the bus. Buffy sits next to Faith this time, and Faith wonders if maybe last night closed the distance between them a little bit.

“You don’t want to sit with your friends?” she asks.

“You’re my friend,” Buffy says, some reproach in her tone.

“I mean your… your other friends,” Faith says. “Your real friends.”

“You’re real,” Buffy says. “And I like them, but they don’t get it.” She looks at Faith. “I think you get it.”

Faith looks back at Buffy. For a moment, she feels the distance close even more. “Get what?” she asks.

“What it’s like,” Buffy says. “To be the leader. To have all those eyes on you.”

Faith thinks. She does get it, kind of. But she doesn’t struggle with it as much as Buffy does. She didn’t spend six years as the leader. She was a late bloomer in the leadership arena.

But Buffy needs the support, so she just says, “Yeah.”

“And we still don’t get a break,” Buffy says. “All the Potentials-- the Slayers-- these girls-- they’re not trying to figure out where to go next, or what to do, or anything.”

“They’re just trying to figure out how much power they have,” Faith says. “Too bad we already know.”

“Does this make us adults?” Buffy asks.

“Don’t know if you noticed,” Faith says, “but we’re kind of already adults. That’s what they call it when you lead an army into a Hellmouth.”

Buffy laughs softly. The distance between them is getting smaller and smaller, metaphorically speaking. (Literally speaking, they’re still sitting a few inches apart. But Faith likes the metaphor better.)

“I don’t feel like an adult,” Buffy says. “I feel like a kid still. I kinda wish the rest of the world were on the same page.”

“You and me both,” Faith agrees. She leans her head against the side of the bus and closes her eyes, feeling every bump in the road in her scalp. “Where are we headed?” she asks.

“I don’t care,” Buffy says.

Faith smiles a little, feeling her cheek press into the cold window.

“Is that a first, B?”

“No,” Buffy says. “But it’s the first time I’ve been able to say it.”

They wind up in another motel that night, and Willow says she’s going to call Angel’s people and ask if they can crash at their headquarters until they figure out what’s going on. Apparently she and Fred are super tight now-- Faith’s not quite sure when that happened, but she’s grateful that it’s Willow and not herself (or Buffy) who has to make the call.

This time, the room Faith and Buffy wind up in only has one bed, and Faith is kind of wondering why Buffy doesn’t just go get a room to herself. It’s not like Faith would mind-- she’s been alone plenty. She’s used to it, and so is Buffy.

But it’s nice to be together, too, and so Faith doesn’t say anything when Buffy comes out of the bathroom in a brand new pair of yummy sushi pajamas and takes over one side of the bed.

Or, she doesn’t say anything about their rooming situation. She does say, “Good look on you, B,” and she laughs at the glare she gets in return.

“They’re comfortable,” Buffy says, leaning against the headboard with a magazine from the mall and somehow managing to retain more dignity than anyone should while wearing raw fish cartoons.

“Whatever,” Faith says. She grabs the (unpatterned) tank top and shorts that she got for herself earlier and goes into the bathroom.

Is that what friendship is like?

When she comes out of the bathroom, hair still wet, Buffy is lying on her side, facing the wall. Her breathing is even and she looks asleep, so Faith tiptoes to the bed and turns off the light-- it’s a little earlier than she’d like to sleep, all things considered, but she’d rather lie awake in the dark for hours than wake up Buffy. If anyone needs the rest, it’s B.

She falls asleep more quickly than she expects. As she drifts off, she realizes that she needed the rest, too.

When she wakes up, it’s still dark out, and Buffy is still asleep. Her breathing is less even than it was-- it sounds like she’s having a nightmare, maybe, a thought that is further supported when she cries out in fear. Faith isn’t sure what to do, but she knows that if she were having a nightmare, she wouldn’t want to be having it for very long. So she rolls over and puts an awkward hand on Buffy’s shoulder, giving her a gentle shake.

“Hey, B,” she whispers. “You’re dreaming.”

Buffy quiets a little, which is good, Faith figures. She’s never actually slept this close to someone before, so she’s not really sure what the protocol is. She shakes Buffy again, and Buffy rolls over. In the darkness, Faith can barely see Buffy’s eyes fluttering open. Suddenly, she realizes how close they are to each other-- how small the distance between them is-- and she holds her breath, waiting for Buffy to make the space between them bigger.

“What happened?” Buffy asks, still half asleep. “Where’s-- where’s the vampires?”

“You were dreaming,” Faith says. “Sorry to wake you, I just--”

“Thank you,” Buffy says.

“No problem, B.” Faith squirms a little. She’s not sure what to do now that Buffy’s woken up and now they’re facing each other, so close that their breath is mixing, and in a perfect world this is when-- well, Faith’s not sure what would happen in a perfect world, but she does know she’s too afraid to do it, and Buffy’s eyes flutter shut again, and all Faith can think to do is lie there, not daring to fall asleep in case Buffy needs someone to wake her up again.

Faith does fall asleep, though, maybe twenty minutes later, and when she wakes up again, it’s to see Buffy’s eyes, looking right at her, brow furrowed a little like she’s trying to figure something out. Pretty much just as Faith is thinking this, Buffy flicks her eyes away and rolls onto her back, and Faith thinks maybe she imagined it.

“Morning, B,” she says.

“Good morning,” Buffy says, sitting up. She’s distant again. Faith wonders what it will take to close the distance between awake-Buffy and the rest of the world.

“Big day today,” Faith says, rolling onto her back and knowing she’s being a little nonsensical. Really, what she wants to do is talk to Buffy about her nightmares, but she doesn’t know how to start that conversation. “Lots of sitting on a bus to do.”

From where Faith is still lying on her back, she can see the side of Buffy’s mouth curve into an almost-smile. Better than nothing.

“I’m sorry if I woke you up last night,” Buffy says, still facing forward, not looking at Faith.

“It’s all five by five,” Faith says. “I was awake anyway. Not your fault. Glad I could help.” What she doesn’t say is that she knows what it’s like to be so afraid that she can’t even get away in her dreams.

Buffy does look at her now, her gaze completely inscrutable.

“You’ve changed a lot,” she says.

“Nah,” Faith says. “I’m still a mess. Just better at hiding.” She rolls off the bed and stands up, stretching. “Anyway, I’ve done the whole nightmare thing. Gotta help when I can.”

Buffy doesn’t answer for a long moment. She gets up and picks some clothes out of the shopping bags in the corner of the room.

“I’m going to take a shower,” she says, and she disappears into the bathroom.

Faith takes the opportunity to change and then to go outside, where Giles, Willow, Kennedy, and Xander are all hanging around with a few new Slayers. On the ground next to them is a giant bag from some fast food place, and Faith immediately goes for that and grabs a hamburger. She straightens up, takes a big bite, and asks, “So, what’s going on?”

What’s going on is Willow called Angel, or Fred or whoever, and now they’re planning on taking the bus to LA and hanging out in Angel’s hotel until they work out something more long-term. Some of the new Slayers are talking about going home, which no one seems willing to deny them. Part of Faith wishes she had a home to go to, but-- maybe if she sticks with the Scoobies long enough, one day she’ll wake up and have a home.

She barely even admits to herself that she wants that, though. She just listens to the Slayers talk about home and tries to figure out why it feels like there's such a big hole in her heart.

Buffy comes out a few minutes later. Her hair is up in a ponytail, impossibly dry, and she jogs up to the group, stopping next to Faith.

“What’s the sitch?” she asks.

“Red got us a ticket to LA,” Faith says.

“Sounds good,” Buffy replies. “When do we leave?”

“As soon as everyone’s ready,” Giles tells her.

They’re ready fairly quickly-- they’ve gotten used to moving fast. It turns out that the skills you use to fight an apocalypse can also in come in handy when you’re trying to get out of a motel by the check-out time. And then they all pile into the bus again, and, again, Buffy sits next to Faith. Something in Faith snaps, now, because Buffy has all these friends, and all these people who she’s always liked better than Faith, and what’s she doing hanging out with Faith all the time when she could be with her friends?

Of course, Faith doesn’t say any of this. She just looks away from Buffy, out the window, until Buffy asks, “Is something wrong?”

Faith’s head snaps around to look at Buffy. “No,” she says. “I’m five by five. Why?”

“You seem even farther away than usual,” Buffy says.

Huh. Faith never considered that Buffy thought she was far away, too. She takes a moment to figure out what to say.

“I’m not good with the whole feelings crap,” she says.

“Hey, I just asked a simple yes-or-no,” Buffy replies.

“Doesn’t work like that,” Faith says. “Why do you sit next to me?”

Buffy stares at Faith. “What?”

“If it’s a pity vote, I’m not interested.”

“What? No! It’s not-- I like being around you,” Buffy tells her.

Faith looks out the window again. “Didn’t always.”

“Well, you were killing people,” Buffy says. “To be fair.”

“Can’t argue with that logic.”

“But I liked you before that. And now, we share this whole thing, and, I don’t know. The others kind of bug me sometimes. They don’t get it.”

“You’ve got a bunch of little Slayers now,” Faith says. “To share your burden.”

“Faith, we have to train them,” Buffy says. “You and me. We’re the only Slayers with any experience.”

“You have experience,” Faith says. “I have jail time.”

“That’s an experience, too,” Buffy says. “You’ve been a Slayer for years. That makes you different.”

“I don’t think I can train anyone.”

“You can help them not do what you did,” Buffy says. “And you can help the ones who do. The point is, we have all this loneliness that the others don’t.”

“And we’re still lonely,” Faith finishes, finally getting it. “Yeah. So that’s why you want to be with me?”

“It’s not the only reason,” Buffy says. “I want to be your friend. Especially since I messed it up so bad the first time around.”

“I messed it up first,” Faith says. “If we’re counting.”

“Yeah, but you were all troubled.”

“We’re both messed-up,” Faith says. “Some days I think you had it worse, you know? You had a lot more to live up to. But then again, you never tried to kill anybody--”

“I tried to kill you.”

“Doesn’t count, I was evil.”

“I was going to kill you to save my vampire boyfriend,” Buffy says. “Who was two hundred and forty years older than me, and who had just broken up with me in a sewer . It counts.”

“Whatever.” Faith shrugs. “So, we’re friends now because you feel bad that you fucked it up four years ago?”

“That’s oversimplifying,” Buffy says, frowning.

“Whatever, B. Point is, you’re trying to right some wrong that doesn’t even matter anymore. I’m over it.”

“It’s not just that,” Buffy says, and her voice becomes softer, somehow. More emotional. She’s closer, now, Faith thinks. This is what her voice sounds like when she’s being honest. “I feel safe around you.”

Faith hesitates. Truth is, she feels the same way around Buffy-- like nothing’s going to go wrong, even though probably it already has. But she doesn’t know how to say that in a way that won’t make her feel weird.

“Yeah,” she says, shifting in her seat. “I get that.”

Maybe this is what she sounds like when she’s being honest.

“Yeah,” Buffy repeats. She’s looking at Faith weirdly. Critically, almost. “I don’t feel that way around my friends anymore.”

“Oh.” This is bigger than Faith thought.

“I mean, I’m sure I will,” Buffy backtracks. “Eventually. But not right now. Right now I just kind of have to step aside a little bit. And, I don’t know, if stepping aside means I run into you, it’s not so bad. Our history is weird, and complicated, but, I don’t know, I feel like it kind of brings us together.”

Faith doesn’t say anything. Instead, she takes a risk. Still looking at Buffy, she slides her hand over Buffy’s. Buffy doesn’t say anything, but she flips her hand over and laces her fingers with Faith. They hold each other’s gaze for a moment, and then someone is yelling over the seats for Buffy.

Buffy yells back, but she doesn’t let go of Faith.

Faith has the whole rest of the ride to get used to holding Buffy’s hand. She’s actually never held anyone’s hand before, not even as a kid-- her mom hadn’t really worried about her in crosswalks or anything. The contact is comforting, even as she freaks out a little bit at the whole idea. Slowly, she realizes she likes it-- she feels safe. Which definitely freaks her out majorly, because whenever she feels safe, it turns out that she wasn’t safe all along, and she can’t start to rely on Buffy or anything because then Buffy will leave her at the worst possible time and she’ll be all alone, but--

It doesn’t have to be like that. She doesn’t have to rely on Buffy. She can just… hold hands, and feel better, and not need Buffy for anything else.

But when they get to LA and Buffy lets go of her hand, Faith feels a definite sense of loss. She doesn’t know why, really, or maybe she does and she won’t admit it to herself.

They get there in the early afternoon, and so they have time to waste in Angel’s hotel. Faith ignores the little pang she gets when Buffy and Angel talk, even though it’s so clear that they live completely different lives these days. Instead, she sits with Wesley, of all people, and Gunn, who seems pretty cool. She’s farther from Buffy than she’s been in days.

But that night, after Faith has claimed a room, Buffy knocks on the door and asks if she can share.

“I’m not ready to sleep alone,” she says.

And Faith gets it, so she says yes. She’s not going to talk about what happened earlier, though. (Except that the number of times she tells herself she’s not going to talk about what happened earlier is starting to make her think that she needs to talk about what happened earlier.)

They go to bed at the same time, and tonight, Buffy finds Faith’s hand under the sheets. In the dark, Faith thinks maybe she can talk about what’s happening.

“What’s happening?” she asks. She’s not really one with the subtlety.

“What do you mean?” Buffy asks.

“With us,” Faith says. “This isn’t how friends are, is it?”

“Will and I cuddle all the time,” Buffy says. “Or, we used to. We grew out of it a little. But I think if two people are friends, and also happen to share a lot of feelings and experiences, and also are really sad and kind of messed-up, I think holding hands is pretty normal. Helpful, even.”

Faith isn’t so sure, but, then again, it’s been a while since she’s had a good friend. And she’ll do anything for the distance between herself and Buffy to close.

Eventually, Faith rolls to face away from Buffy, but she keeps her arm awkwardly behind her, still holding Buffy’s hand. When she wakes up, her shoulder is sore, and Buffy’s hand has slipped out of hers, but she still thinks maybe it’s worth it.

And there’s another thought she has to suppress. Damn.

Buffy’s not awake yet, so Faith gets up quietly and goes downstairs, still in the tank top and shorts that pass as pajamas for her. Fred’s down there already, and Willow, and they’re talking to each other animatedly about some prophecy or another over bowls of cereal. When Faith comes down, Fred gets up, saying, “Oh! You’re up! Do you want breakfast?”

“Sure,” Faith says, sliding into a chair next to Willow. “Cornflakes?”

“Sure thing,” Fred agrees, and she grabs a box and a bowl off a nearby table. “We kind of had to do some last-minute shopping to get enough for everybody, but we sure have it.”

“Thanks,” Faith says. “It’s cool that you all could take us in.”

“We help the helpless,” Fred says, pouring the cereal. “And sometimes the temporarily homeless.”

Faith accepts a bowl and spoon from Fred and digs in.

“So, where is everybody?” she asks around a mouthful.

“It’s still early,” Willow says, checking her watch. “They’ll be down.”

“How early?” Faith asks. She didn’t bother checking before leaving her room, of course.

“Seven,” Willow says.

“Damn.” Faith never used to get up that early. “B’s sleep schedule is messing with me.”

Willow gives Fred a look. Faith looks between the two of them.

“What?” she asks.

“She’s affecting your sleep schedule?” Willow asks.

“Yeah, I mean, we keep sharing a room,” Faith says.

“Even though there are clearly enough for all of you,” Willow says.

Fred leaves at this point-- Faith gets the distinct impression that she’s taken a hint, or maybe a signal, from Willow. Willow turns to face Fred.

“Look,” she says. “Buffy’s my best friend, and she won’t talk to me. And I’m not really your biggest fan, but I need to know-- what’s up with you and Buffy?”

“We’re friends,” Faith says. “I guess. Weren’t always, now we are. We’ve got a lot in common.”

“Yeah,” Willow says. “See, here’s the thing. When I first-- when I was first into Tara, I didn’t admit it for weeks. We were cuddling-- hell, even kissing-- and I still thought we were just friends. And I don’t want you and Buffy to go through the same thing.” Before Faith can respond, Willow adds on, “And I saw you holding hands on the bus yesterday.”

Faith sighs. “Look, Red. I’m into dudes.”

“Have you ever had a long-term relationship with a man?” Willow asks. “Have you ever wanted to hold hands with a man?”

“No,” Faith admits, “but I’m kind of the queen of commitment issues, so, um, it’s not really a surprise.”

“Anyway,” Willow says, “I’m not saying you’re not into men, although I guess I have my suspicions. I’m just saying, it’s really hard to tell sometimes when you’re into women. And for what it’s worth, I think Buffy’s into you, too.”

“And you know this because you’re a magical lesbian?” Faith asks.

“No,” Willow says. “Although, yes. But she looks at you like she used to look at Angel. And for a while when we were younger, we had kind of the same thing that I had with Tara, except no kissing and neither of us acknowledged it, and we’re both way over it now, and I sure don’t regret anything, but I don’t want her to not acknowledge it this time. Because when I had it with Tara, and I acknowledged it, it-- it gave me some of the happiest years of my life.”

And now Red looks like she’s going to cry, and Faith feels kind of bad, but she really doesn’t know what to do. Not like with Buffy where she kind of knows what to do.

Shit . Willow’s right. Faith is into Buffy. And she’s been into Buffy since day one.

And just like that, she closes the distance between them in her mind. Everything fits together, like a perfect puzzle. She thought she was just trying to be friends. She thought everyone left class in the middle of the day to go on an adventure with their new friend. She thought it was normal to have dreams where she was living with her friend-turned-enemy, making beds like everything was fine.

She wanted to be with Buffy. She wants to be with Buffy.

And Buffy doesn’t know.

“Shit,” she mutters. She shoves another spoonful of cornflakes into her mouth, trying to give herself time to think.

Before she can think, though, Buffy herself comes down the stairs. There aren’t any chairs left, so Buffy just leans against the front desk, plucking a few cornflakes out of Faith’s bowl.

“Gross,” Faith says absently.

“You can have my chair,” Willow says, giving Faith a look.

“Oh, I don’t want to take it from you,” Buffy says.

“I was leaving anyway,” Willow replies. “I told Kennedy I’d come back up and help her train.”

“I’m sure you will,” Buffy says, wiggling her eyebrows a little.

Willow blushes. “Shut up.” She hops off her chair, gives Faith another look, and walks off up the stairs.

“There’s cornflakes,” Faith says, holding up her spoon.

“I noticed,” Buffy says. “I’m not really hungry yet.”

Faith does half a laugh. “Maybe a good Slay would help.”

“What?”

“I was just remembering when we met,” Faith says. “My hungry and horny line. I thought I was so cool.”

“God, so did I,” Buffy says. “Like, a non-fat yogurt? What an obvious lie.”

Faith laughs. “I’m serious, B. Go stab a vamp, come back, eat some cornflakes.”

“It’s daytime,” Buffy says, “and I’m okay with not needing food right now, thanks.”

That’s fair, but Faith has no idea how to phrase what she wants to say next.

“I was talking to Willow,” she says, tentatively.

“Oh, yeah?” Buffy asks, grabbing more cornflakes out of her bowl.

“Damn, B, get your own cornflakes already.”

“What did Willow say?” Buffy asks.

“It’s weird,” Faith says. “Um, she thinks we’re into each other.”

Buffy freezes mid-crunch. “What?” she asks, eyebrows raised.

“She thinks we like each other,” Faith says. “In the elementary school sense of the word.”

“Huh,” Buffy says. “What did you say?”

Faith shrugs. “I don’t know. I never thought about being into girls before.”

“I did,” Buffy says. “But I was dating Riley, and it didn’t really matter at the time. I kind of forgot about it after that, I guess. Until now.”

“Yeah, well, I just screw any damn guy I meet,” Faith says. “But, I don’t know, I don’t really like any of ‘em. It’s just fun.”

“But you think you might like girls?” Buffy asks.

“I think I might like one girl,” Faith says, eying Buffy. The instant the words leave her mouth, she regrets them. What if Buffy doesn’t agree? What if she ruins a perfectly good friendship? What if Buffy goes around and tells everyone that Faith’s a huge lesbo creeper and they never want anything to do with each other ever again?

But just as she’s finishing that last thought, Buffy says, “Me, too.”

She’s looking at Faith in a way that Faith hasn’t ever been looked at before, and suddenly Faith wants her in a way she’s never really let herself want anybody before. It’s not about sex-- not like all the other times. It’s about something… else. Faith can’t put her finger on what. But she likes Buffy.

“Damn,” she breathes. “Guess maybe I am into girls.”

“One girl,” Buffy says, a smile dancing on her lips.

“One girl,” Faith agrees.

Just as her lips meet Buffy’s, closing the distance between them for the first time, she they hear footsteps on the stairs, and then, as they pull away, Dawn saying, “I knew it!”

Faith and Buffy look at each other and laugh.

“Damn,” Faith says again. “Can’t believe it was so obvious to everyone but us.”

That night, still in the hotel, they cuddle for real, with kisses and everything. Faith falls asleep with her arms wrapped around Buffy, thinking that for once, there’s just the right amount of distance between them.