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If I don't belong

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Faith didn't know where they were headed, once the few survivors of the Sunnydale war finally re-boarded the bus. In fact, although Giles was the driver, and usually one to always have a plan for the future or at least be engaged in diligently working towards making one, she was fairly sure he had no clear destination in mind, at least for today. It didn't matter to her. After everything, she was just along for the ride, wherever that happened to take her.

It still threw her a little, sometimes, to realize that she was actually part of something that could be called a team. A badass survivors' team, more of them than not now gifted with supernatural abilities of some kind, but still, Faith had never been a joiner, and she had long ago gotten used to being unwelcome in any kind of group. Growing up in Boston, surviving public high schools- what little she had attended of it- and definitely in prison, she had preferred to stay away from that kind of "we" mindset, preferring to watch her own back instead of relying on anyone else to have it. Or at least, that was what she had told herself, for so long that it almost seemed like truth. Being part of Buffy's team, actually invited in and tolerated, was still sometimes new and strange enough to not quite feel right.

In the past few days, enough shit had gone down that any remaining veiled or open hostility towards Faith from anyone, even Buffy herself, had faded or vanished entirely. Tolerance of her presence had become acceptance, even expectation. Still, even now some part of her held onto the persistent expectation that this could change at any time, with one fuck up on her part or shifting of mood from someone else's.

But for now, she was here, one of the remaining few. Tired, achy, her clothes ripped and stained with grime and blood, some of it her own, but definitely, shockingly, alive and present. She was beginning to suspect that she and Buffy both may have been cats in past lives, because they definitely were running through their share of should-be-deaths.

From her selected seat in the very back of the bus, Faith's eyes came to find and focus on Buffy, several seats ahead of hers and to her right. Of course, Buffy was sitting with her little sister, seeming to want to be close to her after it all. Maybe Buffy was still amazed and grateful for the kid's survival, given her lack of powers. Faith was herself; the kid was all right, all grown up from the brat she remembered from before. And Buffy didn't need to take in one more loss, not after whatever the hell crazy thing had been going on with her and Spike.

She noted the sisters' hands, loosely entwined, Dawn's head resting against Buffy's shoulder. She couldn't see either girl's expression, but she could read the trust and relaxed posture of Dawn's frame, the comfort she seemed to get from Buffy's closeness. Buffy, as usual, was more closed off, harder to read, but the brief squeeze she gave her sister's slightly larger hand showed a gentleness that was rare in this older, harder Buffy's gestures. It seemed obvious that towards Dawn, at least, the tension and hurt between them in the night of Buffy's banishment had been forgiven. Faith wasn't going to place any bets towards anyone else, victory over battle or not. She hadn't missed that when it was all done and over with, Buffy's super leap onto the bus bringing her back with the rest of the gang, Dawn had been the only person Buffy chose to hug, and no one else had made even an attempt of an affectionate gesture with Buffy herself.

Faith wasn't sure how much time passed before she noticed Dawn gently shifting away from Buffy, saying something to her that she couldn't quite hear over the low buzz of conversations around her. She had zoned out, lulled by her own weariness and the gentle movement of the bus beneath her, but she snapped back to attention when she saw Dawn stand, moving away from her seat with Buffy and sliding in beside Xander, where he sat alone, not very far from Faith in the back of the bus. She watched Dawn say something to him, softly enough that again she could not hear, and rest a hand on his leg for a moment before twining his fingers with hers, giving his fingers a squeeze in much the same manner that her sister had done with her. Faith observed Xander's bowed head come up, the slump of his shoulders straighten slightly as he turned to focus on her, giving her a small but genuine smile that nevertheless barely touched his remaining eye.

Right…Anya. Faith had almost forgotten that the ex-demon, and Xander's maybe-ex-girlfriend, had not been a part of the survivors. It didn't seem to have occurred to anyone else that Xander had kept himself apart as Faith herself had; only Dawn seemed to see his subdued demeanor.

Faith eyed them for a few more minutes, taking in the way Dawn's body tilted in towards him, the incline of her head and the tenderness of her expression, the way that Xander too seemed to soften and relax with her presence. She realized with faint amusement that she was witnessing what very much resembled the beginnings of a spark between the two, and maybe not for the first time.

Well, well. Little Dawnie had definitely grown up, though maybe only Faith and Xander had noticed or approved. Faith wasn't one to judge Dawn's choices or attractions by her age- she was what, sixteen, seventeen, to Xander's 22, and that, compared to the usual age difference in her sister's relationships, was basically nothing at all.

With a small smile and shake of her head, Faith turned her attention back to Buffy, in the wake of her sister's departure. With her sister's presence and attention absent from her, Buffy seemed to have let down her tightly guarded emotional shields, just enough for Faith to recognize the slight shift in her demeanor. Buffy's posture had slumped, her head coming to rest heavily against the window of her seat, and though her eyes were not closed, they were heavily lidded, her hands in tight fists on her thighs. She probably assumed that no one noticed, and she was probably right, with the exception of Faith. When it came to Buffy, Faith always noticed.

Without letting herself overthink the decision, Faith stood, making her way down the aisle, and settled herself in the empty seat in front of Buffy, turning around on her knees to face her as she leaned her elbows on the back of the seat. Sitting beside her had seemed too invasive of Buffy's mood, and definitely of her personal space, even though things had changed between them.

It had been a pretty gradual thing, the shift of their relationship- whatever that happened to be, and hell if Faith had ever really known. With the discovery of the scythe, and the brief conversation after, there had been a tentative truce of sorts, a laying down of any verbal and physical assaults. Faith had assumed it was a temporary kind of peace, driven by the end of the world approaching, her recent near death, and the fact that, as Buffy most preferred, her plan of action had been wrong, whereas Buffy's had been right. That, she figured, was enough to mellow Buffy in her attitude towards her for at least a day or two, especially considering that ever since coming back to Sunnydale, Faith hadn't tried to kill anyone non-evil, not even once.

But the tentativeness of their truce had changed in the Sunnydale battle, in the moment that Buffy had handed Faith the scythe. As Faith had looked into Buffy's eyes, she had seen past the physical pain and despair from her clearly serious injury- seen the trust, the full expectation that Buffy had for her. She had not just hoped, but known that Faith would go on for her, should Buffy be unable, to be the leader that she had been. She had looked at Faith as finally good, and good enough, to be able to replace her. Faith had physically felt the change between them in that moment, a near physical jolt of connected energy and trust.

That hadn't changed, since the battle, even with all the chaos and adrenaline during and in the aftermath. It wasn't as pronounced, and it had not been voiced, but Faith somehow knew that the trust, the expectation, was still there. She was terrible with defining words, worse with feelings, but she knew for the first time with certainty that Buffy wasn't judging her or hating her, wasn't holding back the urge to hit her or expecting her to screw up or betray her. . They might not be friends, exactly, but they were comrades in battle, equals in a way Faith had never felt that Buffy viewed her before.

Now, they were both literally in the same place, headed to the same destination, wherever that might be. They were both tired, dirty, steeped in their own blood and the strange feeling of victory and loss all at once. They were both too in the present to be stuck on things of the past.

Still, that didn't mean Faith was going to push it by actually sitting next to her uninvited.

"Hey," Faith greeted her, going for the simple approach. "Pretty sure that's one stain that's never coming out."

She nodded towards the large bloodstain on Buffy's white shirt, now dried to the point of stiffness. As though noticing it for the first time, Buffy blinked, then touched it gingerly, not flinching despite the contact with the stab wound beneath.

"Unfortunate, since I'm pretty sure the only clothes any of us happen to own at the moment are the ones on our back," Faith continued, when Buffy gave no verbal response. "I have a feeling a shopping trip is definitely soon in our horizons. Whenever that comes, just keep me far away from the Potentials and their Hello Kitty type selections and I'll be good."

When this failed to get a sarcastic response, or even a weak smile, Faith sighed, adjusting herself to a more comfortable position on her seat. She was opening her mouth to try again, just to fill the silence, when Buffy suddenly spoke.

"Your arm is bleeding."

She nodded towards a large cut in the sleeve of Faith's jacket, heavily streaked with darkening blood. Faith glanced at it, giving an experimental touch with her other hand, and then shrugged, turning her attention back to Buffy.

"Nah, it's almost stopped. You're the one who got the serious skewering. How you got up from that is beyond me."

As casual as they sounded, the words were somewhat prodding, a gentle effort on Faith's part to ask about just what, if Buffy knew, had pushed her back on her feet and into the chaos of the fight once more, when Faith had been almost certain she was done for. Was it some kind of vision, some kind of surge of strength that only Buffy Summers, Super Slayer, could have summoned? If that was the case, that spark of renewed power seemed sapped from her now, and Buffy just looked somehow faded, almost frail, her once bottle blonde, carefully styled hair lank around her shoulders, her cheekbones sharp. Faith had noticed from the first day of her return to Sunnydale how Buffy had lost weight, her always toned frame now all sharp collarbones and sinewy muscle, but this was the first time that she had seen her as genuinely small.

Buffy didn't answer Faith's comment, nor did she shift her eyes up to look into Faith's face. Faith frowned, uncomfortable and growing increasingly concerned at the other woman's lack of animation or response. Where were the barbed comebacks she was accustomed to, whether genuinely holding anger or just playful sarcasm? Where was the steely assurance that had always defined Buffy in Faith's view?

Spike. That had to be it. Faith would never understand Buffy's apparent thing for vampires, or how she happened to fall into relationships and "relationships" with them, or how exactly the sex thing worked, exactly. How was it that guys without a beating heart could somehow summon up enough blood flow to get an erection, let alone keep it long enough to bring a girl coming back for more? Faith would always have a love and gratitude for Angel, and Spike had been kind of cool, for an undead dude with enough of a complex to actually seek out the return of his soul. Still, the sex thing? Even with Faith's admittedly bad track record in sexual choices, that wasn't one she'd ever played with herself.

Still, Buffy and Spike had history, crazy as it was, and obviously some level of feelings too. Maybe that accounted for the lifelessness Faith was watching, more than Anya or the baby Slayers or the gaping wound in her side.

"Sorry about Spike," she blurted, her words kind of rushed and blurred together, to get the words out in the air and over with. "That sucks, but…I guess it was what he wanted, right? To be the hero? He did kind of have a measure-up-to-Angel complex, but he kinda outdid him this time."

Kinda like Faith herself, when it came to Buffy. But she wasn't about to blurt that out, when she'd said far too much already. Faith had never been great with the apologies, even those that were more based on social niceties. She'd had a little too much practice, in the last few years, at those based on her own fuck ups and betrayals, but still, they weren't getting any easier or less awkward, and this one was no exception.

She waited for Buffy to tell her to shut up, or something harsher, to inform her in some Buffy-like, self-righteous way that Faith knew nothing about Spike, or Angel, or Buffy, that she had no right to try to sympathize or empathize with her pain. However far they might have come, she still wasn't sure just where the limits to this very new trust came about. But Buffy surprised her.

Turning her head towards her, just enough for Faith to see the flatness in the surface of her eyes, Buffy looked up at her, shifting slightly in her seat.

"I didn't love him," she said quietly. "I told him that I did, in the end, but it wasn't true, and he knew it. I didn't love him, but there was something there. I guess now I'll never really know exactly what."

Faith's brow furrowed slightly as she tried to think of what to say. Like the apology thing, she wasn't great with talking feelings, and the last thing she wanted to do was say the wrong thing to Buffy, just when she was starting to talk to her, to say something real.

Buffy didn't seem to notice her pause. She shifted again, and the numbness of her gaze eased. She relaxed her expression, giving a small twitch of a smile, but Faith could see that it was forced, an effort rather than a true gesture.

"I thought you were going to sleep for a week. You seem pretty alert and talkative to me."

"Eh, I've slept way too much lately," Faith shrugged, keeping her tone light, in an effort to match Buffy's. "Between the mystical coma mojo and the bombing, I'd probably better stay up a while. You never know, try to sleep now and I might never wake up."

"I don't know, that might not be such a bad thing," Buffy said softly.

Faith's eyebrows shot up, stiffening with her assumption that Buffy was indicating she would be less than devastated at Faith's death. But again Buffy surprised her when she completed her thoughts aloud.

"It might be nice, to just go to sleep and not wake up. Peace and quiet at last, no suffering. Just being finished, finally."

Faith's raised eyebrows lowered slowly, but her expression didn't relax. She felt her heartbeat quicken, her chest getting tight with her growing wariness of Buffy's comment, her very demeanor. What exactly did she mean, being finished? Finished with being a Slayer? Or finished with life, period?

She watched her, waiting for Buffy to crack a smile and roll her eyes, to indicate some of the light-hearted, slightly ditzy, if in deep denial, sort of comments she might have made several years ago, something that would defuse the implications of what she had said. But Buffy said nothing further. She turned her face back towards the window, seeming finished now with her words too, but Faith couldn't just leave them, suspended in the air.

"What do you mean, go to sleep and not wake up, being finished? You talking about dying? It would be nice to die? 'Cause it seems to me like we just went to a whole hell of a lot of effort to make sure that didn't happen."

Buffy's eyes slid back towards her, but her face remained pointed towards the window. Her lips smiled, but again, Faith could see that it was a gesture more than a true expression.

"Of course, Faith. That's what we do, isn't it? Save the world. Save people's lives. Some of them, anyway. I'm just saying, it would be nice to have a break."

When Faith just stared at her, eyes narrowing as she attempted to determine the seriousness of the other girl's previous response, Buffy slid a little bit further down into her seat, not meeting Faith's eyes with hers.

"I'll take the opportunity now, for a break. I'm going to get some sleep, while I can. You may have changed your mind on that, so I'll take your slot for the resting."

Buffy closed her eyes then, her head leaned against the window at what looked like a distinctly awkward and uncomfortable angle to Faith. Faith watched her for the next couple of minutes, not yet turning around in her seat, and Buffy's eyes remained closed. But although Buffy held still and silent, showing all the implications of a napping state, Faith noticed that her chest rose and fell too quickly and unevenly to indicate true rest, and her hands occasionally twitched on her lap. Buffy was a lot of things, avoidant being one of them, but she had never been a good actress.