PART TWELVE: 5th October 2004 - 25th November 2004
Chapter Eight: The Now and the Ever After
Buffy checked in on Toni by peeking through her bedroom door. The Italian still seemed to be sleeping soundly so she didn't go in and disturb her. It was kinder than waking her for no reason and easier than explaining her wet nightdress. She couldn't go down to dinner dressed as she was though, wet or not, so, having no other options, she walked down the corridor to Faith's room.
Now this really was like a shrine! She knew it had been disturbed since Faith had left for Rome. She'd been in once or twice before leaving herself and Troy had been sleeping in there for the past month, but other than the bed every surface was coated in a thick layer of dust. It made her want to sneeze just looking at it.
Buffy looked through the closet - it was still pretty full because Faith hadn't been planning to leave for more than a week when she'd packed - and tried not to sob as the scent of Faith, albeit slightly musty after all this time, assailed her.
She bypassed the leather pants and picked out some blue jeans that should fit. Working on the same principal, she ignored the wifebeaters and chose a modest, for Faith, red shirt. She changed fast because it was cold and left Faith's bedroom as quickly as she could.
Downstairs, it was chaotic and cosy. Dawn and Xander were setting the large dining table they only used for special meals - Buffy was pretty sure the last time had been Christmas Day in fact - and nearly everyone else was ferrying bowls and serving plates piled high with piping hot food through from the kitchen. Squeezing past Kennedy and a dish of roasted sweet potatoes to get into the other room she felt immediately better. There was laughter and bright conversation and yummy smells and from the heat in there you'd never know it was minus-five outside.
"Sorry I didn't help, Andrew."
"No problem, Buffy. We are one hundred percent under control," he said, twirling a gas ring to a lower setting with one hand and ladling some green beans into a bowl with his other.
She smiled; in her time away - both in Greece and then the basement - she'd obviously been usurped as the resident chef. "I like your hat."
He touched his tall, white chef's hat with a fond smile. "Thanks, Buffy. You're a peach."
"Is Toni coming down?" Willow asked.
"She's going to sleep for a little longer but she asked me to save her some food, which I think is a good sign."
As Willow nodded, Kennedy came back in to grab the parsnips. "What about Faith?"
Avoiding everyone's eyes, Buffy picked a chunk of stuffing out of a bowl and popped it into her mouth. "She was still in the bath when I left."
"Well, Kennedy, probably because she's still pissed at me."
"Because you dumped her for Toni?"
"Kenny," Willow said softly. "It's Buffy's life."
"What she said," Buffy added. "Anything I can do to help?"
"You can take the turkey out of the oven," Andrew said, and then rubbed his lower back. "I think I strained something putting it in there."
Buffy did so and then helped him finish preparing it. Ten minutes later she carried it through as the last thing to go on the table. Everyone but she and Andrew were already seated and she was surprised to find Faith there too.
Dressed in comfortable grey sweats - which did nothing to disguise the ginormous baby bump - she was talking quietly with Xander and Willow. She glanced up at the turkey as Buffy set it down but didn't lift her eyes higher to see her. Troy was sat beside her, at the other end of the table to Giles, but she didn't seem to be including him in her conversation. Buffy tried not to be happy about that; it shouldn't make any difference to her now.
She took her own seat between Giles and her sister and handed him the carving equipment. "Wanna play Head of the family again?"
Smiling, he stood up to begin. "Of course."
Buffy joined in with everyone else, taking dishes as they were passed to her and leaning across the table, all getting in each other's way, to dig serving spoons into bowls. It was fun, relaxed, until she and Faith both tried to grab the small dish of cranberry sauce at the same time. Neither of them did the polite thing and relinquished it.
Buffy almost did. After all, she had just broken Faith's heart, kinda; she could at least let her have the cranberry sauce first. But then she remembered that it hadn't been that long ago when Faith had broken her heart and a lot more callously. So she held on to the dish. . . and so did Faith.
Faith tried to tug it out of her hand. "Give it!"
"No. Wait your turn."
"It is my turn. You can have it when I'm done."
"It was closer to me," she argued.
"So? I touched it first," Faith argued back.
The dish was pulled back and forth across the table, threatening to dump the cranberry sauce everywhere. Another hand shot into the middle of their tug of war, strong enough to be a contender and surprising enough to actually win the dish.
Kennedy dumped some of the red sauce onto the side of her own plate and then doled out some to first Faith and then Buffy before passing the dish to Dawn.
"Why did she get the first spoonful?" Buffy muttered petulantly.
"Are you for real?" Kennedy asked without sparing her a glance.
"No," she muttered and made do with accepting some turkey from Giles instead.
"My girlfriend, the diplomat," Willow grinned, leaning to the side to kiss Kennedy's cheek.
The meal was far from silent but Buffy found it harder to join in with the merriment now that Faith was there. She kept thinking back to their conversation in the bathroom, and the other stuff that had happened, especially the other stuff, and it was making it hard to concentrate on what everyone else was talking about. She kept glancing slyly at Faith but never once caught her looking back. She knew that was a good thing, if Faith pushed the situation between them it would just make it awkward and ugly and would feed the doubts already flying around in her head about her decision. So Faith ignoring her was the best outcome, but. . . would one little look really kill her? Proof that she was suffering in any way over this? One sign that Faith hadn't taken what she'd said and just rolled right on through it? Maybe it was selfish - and maybe there was no maybe about it - but Buffy had spent the better part of the year angsting over Faith in one way or another and it didn't look like Faith was going to return the gesture, even for the length of a meal.
She wanted to take her plate up and eat in her room. A sleeping Toni was about the only company she felt up to dealing with right now, but it was Thanksgiving and she'd been AWOL on her family enough this year. She owed them this meal even if she wasn't outstanding company right now.
She took a little pleasure in noticing that Troy seemed as downhearted as she felt. He was eating steadily but his eyes were going to Faith as much as hers were, and Faith wasn't paying him any attention either. She wondered if that would change over the course of the evening, or the next few days. Would Faith's attitude towards him thaw? Would she realize, as Buffy had, that things were the way they were because that's how they had to be? Not for the greater good; not because Troy's son was truly a miracle that needed to be born, but because they had no other option but to make the best of the bed they'd all made.
Eventually the main meal was over and Andrew went to get the pumpkin pies for dessert.
As he sat back down and people started to help themselves to slices, Dawn asked, "So, what's everyone thankful for this year?"
She said it with a slightly sarcastic chuckle and Buffy rolled her eyes as she turned the question around, "What are you thankful for, Dawnie?"
"Well, I'm thankful that I got to spend some time in Europe. And that Christian didn't dump me when I disappeared on him. And that you didn't die when you jumped out of Angel's plane. And, obviously, that Faith came back from Tartarus safe."
Around the table there was a chorus of, "Me too" and "Yes, that's what I'm thankful for" and "I'm thankful Andy made more than one pumpkin pie." Okay that last one was only said by Kennedy.
Faith looked embarrassed by their answers and tucked into her pie as she murmured, "Thanks, guys."
"So what are you thankful for, Buffy?" Dawn asked again, noticing that she hadn't joined in the chorus.
She sighed inwardly, not liking being put on the spot in this situation. "I'm thankful that Toni was able to save Faith. Very thankful. And that they're both alive and here with us. What about you, Troy?"
He didn't look put on the spot at all; in fact her looked glad that she'd asked. He reached over and covered Faith's hand with his own.
"I am very thankful that Faith has been returned to me. That I have been given this chance to realize how much I do love her. Toni was wrong; I should have married you, Fai."
Faith took a deep breath and then shook his hand off. "So, my go now right?"
"Uh huh," Dawn said eagerly. In fact everyone around the table, and not least Buffy, was waiting with baited breath to see what Faith might find to be thankful about right now.
"Okay, here goes. I give thanks that Buffy didn't end up in hell instead of me. And that Toni loved her enough to come down there for me. I'm thankful that I finally got to change out of that stinkin' wedding dress and take a bath and I'm real thankful that today's Thanksgiving and Andy cooked all this food and I finally don't feel hungry again. Mostly though," and now she looked at Troy for the first time since the meal had begun, "I'm thankful that you didn't marry me. Even if I had to go to Hell for it."
"But, Fai. . ." Troy started, looking distraught. "I know now how much I love you."
"Good for you. Back before though, it was all a lie, right? You didn't want me, you just wanted this." She pointed to her stomach. "I was just a means to an end."
"No! If I didn't care who bore my child, I would have chosen her!" He pointed disparagingly at Buffy. "She would have been far less of a challenge and much less worth the effort I put in to woo you."
"Hey!" Buffy said.
"Don't talk about her like that!" Faith snapped over her. "Don't talk like you're better than her. 'Cause you're not. You might be the god, but she's twice the person you'll ever be."
"Fai. . ."
"No, I'm serious. You used me, Troy! I let my guard down and fell in love with you, dude! Do you know how often I've done that? Twice in my life! And I chose you. I fuckin' chose you! I turned my back on the woman who was everything to me for you. And you fuckin' screwed me over. So I'm real sorry that you've suddenly realized that you actually love me, but I can't look at you right now anymore than Buffy can look at me."
"Faith, I am sorry."
"I don't care. Did you even think about just asking me? You coulda just said 'Hey, Faith, we're hot together and there's this baby I have to have so. . .?'"
"You would not have been susceptible."
"Maybe, maybe not. I hear you had some shit to sweeten the deal though. A ticket to Heaven might have been enough to make me say yeah to being a womb-donor; chicks have done it for less."
"Then I apologize for not doing so, but it is irrelevant now."
"No, it's not. You should have asked or at least told me up front what was going on." Faith took another deep breath before blurting out, "That way you might have gotten to see your kid after it was born."
"What are you saying?" Troy suddenly sounding a lot less appeasing.
"I'm saying you gave up any rights to your kid when you denied he existed."
"You cannot keep me away from my son!" he thundered.
"You wanna place a wager on that?"
Troy stood up and Buffy could feel the angry power radiating from him. It permeated the room in a physical sense and as Faith pushed up to her feet to defiantly face him down, everyone else, even Andrew, stood up too.
Buffy held her breath, seriously fearing that this confrontation was going to end in death for all of them, except maybe Faith. He could wipe them all out with a wave of his hand. Despite knowing what he was capable of better than perhaps anyone here, Buffy didn't let her stance falter or her glare waver and the others were equally valiant in their defiance.
Faith must have been on the same wavelength. "If you touch any of them I'll force you to kill me. And if I die so does your brat."
Troy glowered at her. "I will have my son!"
"No you won't, and if you try I'll personally hand your ass to you on that turkey plate."
"You are a mortal; you cannot hope to best me!"
"But I can give it my best shot," Faith said, doing a great job of pretending to be calm.
Troy glared at her, at a loss for words for once.
"I think it's time you left my house now," Giles said quietly.
"You do not tell me what to do! I will take my son now. Marco!"
Magic-boy had disappeared soon after Faith and Toni had returned. Buffy didn't know if he'd simply stepped outside, or was hiding in the walls or if he'd teleported himself back home but she knew from experience that Troy simply had to say his name to make him reappear. She readied herself to jump on the kid as soon as he showed up and she saw Willow subtly twisting sigils in the air with her hand by her side, preparing a spell. Between them they probably had his arrival covered.
Faith beat them to the chase, snatching up the sharp carving knife and holding the point to her large stomach. "He shows up your kid is a shish kebab!"
Troy tried to call her bluff. "You would not stab yourself."
"Been stabbed in the gut before. Doesn't hurt that much."
Silence fell, everyone holding their breath even more than before.
Eventually, Buffy couldn't take it anymore, and through gritted teeth, said, "Get out of our house!"
Troy glared at her, and then Faith, and then the knife pointed at her belly. "I will have my son, Fai. This is not over!"
As he stormed from the room she called after him, "Oh goody, I love sequels!"
The front door slammed so hard the whole house seemed to shake. Slowly, one by one, they all sank back into their chairs.
"Are you okay?" Willow asked Faith.
"Yeah," Faith chuckled tiredly and dropped the carving knife onto the table. "Not the first ugly break up I've had today."
"Ours wasn't that ugly," Buffy said quietly.
"Depends which end of the bath you're jumping out of, I guess." Faith shook her head with a small smile and then started eating her pie again.
Upstairs Toni suddenly jolted awake. Half sitting up, she wondered what had disturbed her but there was no further evidence of it. She lay back down, hoping to fall back to sleep, but found she was wide awake. She even felt refreshed.
Smiling, she sat up again. She hadn't expected to feel okay so soon, if ever, but she felt almost normal now. She held her arms out in front of her, moving them around to the sides and over her head in a stretch. They still felt clumsy and slow, as if the air in the room was thicker than it had been before, but inside she felt alive, in perhaps a way she never truly had as a goddess, with or without her powers.
She left the bed and went to Buffy's closet. After dressing she would go downstairs, join everyone in the celebrations and have something to eat. Now that she didn't feel sick and weak anymore she remembered that she was starving. Si, a decent meal and Buffy's company was exactly what she needed now.
"So, what are you planning to do now, Faith?" Giles asked the question on everybody's mind.
"I dunno," she admitted. "I don't have a clue. But, I guess, getting ready to have a baby should be top of the list, huh?"
"You do look pretty far along," Willow agreed. "You must be nearly at full term already."
"That's what a month in a hell dimension will do to ya," Buffy mumbled around a mouthful of pie.
"We'll get you in to see an antenatal specialist as soon as possible," Giles promised. "If not tomorrow then Monday. They'll be able to determine how many weeks you are and give you a due date."
Faith nodded. "Sounds good." Although she didn't really look like she meant that. "Can they. . .? I mean, will the doctors be able to tell if it's okay? I haven't had any of the scans or the drugs you're supposed to have, that can't have been good for it."
"Do you really care?" Kennedy asked softly.
"'Course I care, bitch! It's my kid."
Although Kennedy's question might have been insensitive, Buffy had been thinking the same thing. Wouldn't Faith want a chance to be free of this burden? Obviously not.
"Kennedy was just asking," she said soothingly. "This is a lot for all of us to take in."
"Yeah, I get that," said Faith, "What with you all not being the ones carrying this kid in your gut."
"We're just trying to help," Buffy said, annoyed but trying not to be.
"You don't want to help. You don't want anything to do with me, remember?"
"I never said that!"
Faith made an obvious attempt to rein in her temper. "Look, whatever, this isn't your problem, B." She looked around at everyone's expectant faces. "You wanna know what I'm gonna do? I don't know long term. Short term I'm gonna go see whatever doc G-man sets me up with. Then I guess I gotta get my act together."
"In what way?" Xander asked.
"Well. . ." Faith shoved another forkful of pie into her mouth as she thought about it. "I can probably arrange a few gigs at Matrix. Christmas is coming up, I can advertise for office parties and shit."
"I think he meant what are you going to do about the baby," Dawn said.
"That is what I'm doing for the baby! I'm going to need somewhere to live once it's born."
"Your home is here," Giles said immediately.
Faith smiled, "And I appreciate that, Giles, really, but you guys ain't gonna wanna live with a baby crying and puking and shitting all over the place."
Buffy's nose wrinkled but she ignored her distaste. "Faith, no one expects you to move out."
"Yeah, we'll deal," Dawn said, smiling. "Besides, babies are cute."
"What's not to love," Willow agreed.
"As long as the puking and shitting part stays in your room," Kennedy added and Xander nodded his agreement.
Giles summed it up, "Faith, this is your home, and your child's home, for as long as you want it to be."
"And again, thanks, but I can't dump this on you. I'll start looking for some place else."
Buffy sighed, "Effie, don't be difficult."
"I'm not! Look, ideally you'd be going through this with me, and then you'd get a say, but you're not, so don't criticize the way I wanna do it."
"What do you mean?"
Faith laughed, "You know what I mean. I wanna be with you, Buffy. More than anything. . ." Buffy glanced at their friends, worried, but while they were all listening avidly, none of them looked shocked by this revelation. ". . .I shoulda waited for you. Hell, if I'd known it was only gonna take you a few weeks to come around I would have waited. But I didn't know, and I screwed up. Man, did I royally screw up!" Faith laughed again as she looked at her stomach.
Now she addressed everyone else. "When I met Troy I. . ." her confidence faltered and she hesitated, but only for a moment before her shoulders straightened and she started again. "Fuck it, I can admit it, I was vulnerable. I was just a few months outta prison and you guys were all bonding over Sunnydale going south and I couldn't really join in. The whole tryin' to be friends with you people and opening up was new and when I tried to put myself out there. . ." Her eyes swung back to Buffy, as if everyone else was forgotten. "I tried to tell you how I felt and you shot me down." She kept talking as Buffy opened her mouth to argue. "Not a big deal, I don't blame you or nothin'. I know I sprung that on you. But, yeah, mentally, I was in an ideal place to do something stupid."
"So you did," Buffy said, "You fell for Troy."
"Nah, I started dating him then."
"So when we nearly got together at Christmas. . .?"
"I'd have dropped him like a hot brick!" Faith rushed out. "But then you did something stupid."
"I didn't mean to! You just never gave me a chance to put it right."
"I know that. Hey, none of this shit matters anymore; that's my point. You chose her. Game over. Good for fuckin' you. I don't give a crap. Now I gotta concentrate on me and this. Wasn't exactly my plan to become a single mother at twenty-two but shit happens, ya know. Guess I'm destined to repeat my fuckin' mother's fuckin' life after all." Her fork violently stabbed at her empty plate, making a high pitched screech that hurt Buffy's teeth. "Can I have some more fuckin' pie, please?"
"Of course, Faith." Andrew's hand shook slightly as he tried to slide a wedge onto the pie server.
Faith saved him the bother by snatching the whole dish away and tucking her fork into the middle of the two thirds remaining.
"There is more, right?" Kennedy whispered to Willow. Even she wasn't brave enough to provoke Faith directly right now.
Buffy watched her, the remains of her own slice already long forgotten. She didn't know how Faith was keeping it together when there was obviously so much rage and resentment bubbling away under her surface. On a normal day this would be where Buffy talked her out of the room, out of anywhere breakable, and did something energetic until she'd worked through her frustration enough to calm down. Obviously her preferred method of doing that these days was no longer an option but before it had even been an option in the first place they'd used sparring as a distraction from everything else. Getting Faith in the training room now and letting her work some of her anger out through her fists and feet was probably a good idea, but. . . Buffy's eyes dropped to where the swell of Faith's stomach was just visible above the edge of the table. . . How was she supposed to spar with that? She couldn't, which meant both choices were out and Buffy could do nothing but wait for the pie dish to be thrown so hard it bored straight through the wall, or for the table to be overturned, sending food, plates and cutlery everywhere.
It never came though. Faith just trembled to herself and kept her eyes on the pie and for several minutes there was just the sound of forks scraping china and people chewing.
When Faith had finished the entire dish she carefully set her fork down and leaned her elbows on the table, staring down at her place mat. Surprisingly she started talkin again. "Like I said, I was in a bad place and Troy made me feel better about myself. I started feeling good, confident again, ya know? Now, looking back on it. . ." Faith raised her eyes to give Buffy a brief smirk. ". . .maybe that had more to do with you throwing yourself at me every five minutes." Buffy blushed hard but didn't deny it. "But at the time it was all tangled up with Troy helping me turn my life around. Everything was. I started thinking he was the key to all this redemption crap that Angel filled my head with. I was so scared of screwing it all up and losing everything again and he made me feel safe, so, I guess I clung to him for that."
"Safe?" Kennedy scoffed. "You're a Slayer; you don't need a man to make you feel safe."
"That's not the kind of safe she means," Buffy interjected quietly. "When you already have anger management issues it's safer to stick with the person who doesn't make you want to smash the furniture up."
"Exactly. But it turns out I was just cheatin'. Took me a long time to realize it. Maybe it was when I saw Troy about to snap your neck, or maybe it was when you wouldn't run with me the night before the wedding or maybe it was something Tone said when we were down there, I don't know. But if I wanna make good what I did in the past, I can't hide in a bubble. I don't wanna escape going back to Hell just because I was tricked into being Troy's glorified egg-hatcher. I wanna earn it. And that means I shoulda been honest with myself from the start. And I should have taken that risk," she added to Buffy.
"The risk of giving in to temptation, the risk of going so crazy over you I strangle you in your sleep, B."
"Oh, that risk," Buffy deadpanned. "That wouldn't have happened, and even if it had I'd have stopped you."
"And I'm saying I should have trusted that. I've spent so long trying to pretend I didn't feel the way I did about you, thinking that's what I had to do to protect myself, and you, and all of you," she added to the whole table. "And I really thought I was doing the right thing." She shook her head, leaned back in her chair gestured at herself. "And look where that got me? Knocked up and alone," she chuckled wearily, "and did I mentioned fuckin' terrified?"
"Why terrified?" Willow asked. "If you're really worried about Troy we can come up with something to protect you from him. A way to stop him from reaching you."
"I thought you never found a no-entry spell for Glory, Will," Xander said.
"I didn't, but I'm stronger now, and there has to be something. If we can't keep him out maybe we can at least make it so we know when he's coming."
"Like putting a collar with a bell around his neck, only magically?" Kennedy asked, smirking at the idea.
"Something like that."
"I'm not scared of Troy," Faith told them exasperatedly. "He'll get over it when he calms down and we'll work something out."
Buffy rolled her eyes over how much trust Faith still had in the asshole. "You can't seriously be thinking about getting back together with him?"
"Hell no, we're way more than past tense now but. . . what else am I gonna do? What I'm scared of? Trying to raise this kid alone. I don't know what I'm doing. What if I fuck it up like my Mom did? Not like I'm gonna know any better, I only got my own experiences of being dragged up to go on, right?"
"So what are you suggesting?" Giles asked.
"I don't know." Faith shrugged. "But if Troy really wants his kid. . .maybe that's what's best for everyone."
"I'm not sure if that's such a good idea!" Willow said.
"Quick! Someone show her the prophecy," Kennedy said, already rising from the table to find Giles' books herself. "Read it and then tell me if you think your plan is okay."
Faith was ignoring them all, staring down at her bump again. Her eyes were dry but Buffy could read the distress in them all the same. She was still trembling slightly too and her teeth were worrying her bottom lip. Buffy stared at her for a long time while everyone else digested the news and argued about it. She was waiting for her expression to change, for something in her eyes or the set of her mouth to show her Faith had come to terms with this decision. That, despite her misgivings, she genuinely believed handing her child to Troy was the right thing to do. Maybe not for the world, but the world could suck it right now as far as Buffy was concerned. It was Faith that counted, she hadn't asked for this, she'd been manipulated into it, and she had the right to walk away from this if she wanted to. The rest of them could deal with Troy and the child at a later date if it came to it.
But Faith's expression didn't change in the way Buffy expected. She didn't look up in relief at a decision well made; her hand came to rest softly on her tummy and while her lips quirked in the smallest smile for a moment, the more everyone bickered about her, the more tense and trembly she became.
"No, none of you get to decide this." When nobody took any notice of her, Buffy stood up and slammed her hand down on the table top. "I said, no! All of you shut up. We're not talking about whether Faith should give away an ancient mystical artifact here, we're talking about a baby human. . ." she glanced at Faith's stomach. ". . .or possibly a baby elephant, time will tell. The point is, stop focusing on the prophecy. The prophecy isn't important."
"Bull-crap! Of course it's fricken important!"
"Kennedy's right, Buffy," Giles said, his voice calmer than the young slayer's but no less serious. "We can't let the prophecy come to pass."
"Newsflash, Giles, it's passing. Faith looks like she's about to pass it right now." Buffy walked around the table to take Troy's empty seat, putting her right next to her ex. "Effie, this is your decision, you know that, and if you think giving Troy full custody of your baby is the right thing to do, for you, I'll support you." Buffy ignored the clamor of disagreement from her friends and hurried on. "But, if you don't, if you want to keep it, if you want to fight Troy all the way, I'll support you in that too."
"But I don't know if I can, B," Faith muttered. "I don't know if I'm cut out for this. What if I. . .?"
Buffy took both of Faith's hands in hers and squeezed them. "You can, baby. You just have to take the risk. You won't fuck up, because you know what makes a good mom, you know the little things that were missing from your own childhood that made you unhappy. . ."
"Yeah, the little things," Faith smirked, uncomfortable with Buffy's intense speech. "Just food, clothes, sometimes a roof, nothing big."
Buffy smiled but didn't let herself be distracted. "Do you honestly think you'd ever let your kid go without any of that stuff? You're already planning to go back to work at thirty-two months pregnant so you can rent somewhere to live before the baby's born!"
"Can we knock off the fat jokes?"
"No." Buffy smiled and squeezed Faith's hands again. "If you want to keep your baby, Effie, you just have to take the risk that you'll make mistakes, just like every parent, but that you'll be able to deal with the aftermath without any lasting damage."
"I don't know. . ."
Seeing how unsure Faith still was Buffy took a deep breath and took a risk herself. "And you don't have to do it alone. I'll. . . I'll be here with you. I'll help you. We'll do it together. You won't be alone."
Toni swung around the bottom of the banisters, feeling in good spirits and very much alive.
Perhaps being human wouldn't be such a hardship. The loss of her 'gifts' was demoralizing but right now it seemed surmountable. And with Buffy so enthusiastic about making things work between them, rising to this challenge might be more enjoyable than she could ever have imagined. As soon as she had sated her ravenous stomach she planned to encourage Buffy back upstairs for some more alone time to test that theory.
She followed the sound of Buffy's voice down the hallway to the dining room, pausing for a self-indulgent moment outside just to listen to her and smile.
". . . I'll help you. We'll do it together. You won't be alone."
Toni's smile slowly slipped away as she realized what she was hearing. She had heard no one else speak but there could be only one person to which Buffy would promise such things.
Sure that they were speaking secretly and she was the only witness to their unfaithfulness, she wanted to fly into the room and force the confession from them, but she was suddenly so convinced that Buffy would use such a confrontation to reject her once and for all, that she could not walk towards the door
She went the other way instead, stealing back down the hall and up the stairs to Buffy's bedroom - the bedroom Buffy shared with her. Buffy might have been having those second thoughts after all, but in this moment she was still her girlfriend and she had told Faith in Hades that she was not going to be the one to change that.
And until Buffy did, she still had time to sway the blonde back in her direction.
Faith's eyes lit up with nervous excitement and she squeezed Buffy's hands back as she asked cautiously, "Does this mean ya changed your mind?"
"No," Buffy said softly. "I mean I'll be there as your friend. We all will. And I'll babysit when you need me to. I might even be persuaded to change a diaper or two," she added, trying to get a smile.
"Oh." Faith did give her a strained smile. "Okay. Thanks I guess." She took her hands back. "Not really what I was hoping for though."
"I know. I'm sorry."
"Don't sweat it." She sat back, trying to appear casual. "Not like I have time for you anyway if I'm keeping the kid."
Faith shrugged, not bothered by her hurt reply. "What? I got shit to do now. Like. . ." she shrugged again. ". . .I don't know, learning how to make fuckin' bottles and put up cribs and shit." She grinned slightly, "And I should probably be training myself to stop cursing too, 'cause that's probably frowned upon at mother and baby classes, huh?"
"Probably," Buffy agreed, smirking. "So you're keeping it?"
"We'll all help," Willow promised.
"A kid needs his mom," Kennedy added.
"Especially when his dad's an asshole," Andrew agreed.
"I can childproof this place," Xander offered. "Or if you get a new place I'll childproof that. I'll do both, I don't mind."
"And Christian and I will babysit too," Dawn sounded excited by the idea, which worried Buffy a little. The last thing she wanted was her seventeen year old sister getting broody. She made a mental note to arrange for Dawn to change the smelliest diapers as a precaution.
"And Faith," began Giles, "while I respect that you do not want to make your decision based on such a thing, I believe it really is in the best interests of everyone for you to be the one to raise this child."
"But no pressure," Faith muttered sarcastically.
Giles smiled regretfully but didn't refute it.
"It's not like I don't want it. . . him. . . Toni said it was a boy, is she right?"
"According to the prophecy she is," Willow said.
Faith smiled and gently patted her tummy. Buffy tried not to look upset as she realised the decision was made. It wasn't like it would have made any difference to her if Faith had decided the other way. She still had to be with Toni. Wanted to be, she corrected herself, but it didn't make her feel any better.
At least this would make it easier. Faith would have the baby to keep her busy, as she'd so nicely said, and that meant she would be less inclined to torture her with what could have been. Buffy would be around to help as she'd promised but this gave her the perfect excuse to keep Faith at arms length, something she would need to do to prevent a relapse of her feelings getting the better of her.
She knew, deep down, that she was doing the exact opposite of what she had told Faith to do - to follow her heart, accepting the risks that came with it - but there were extenuating circumstances. Well, one anyway: Toni. If she didn't love her it would be easy to walk away, even after what Toni had been through for her, but she did and so she couldn't. It just wasn't an option. Buffy watched Faith, laughing with Willow and Kennedy about something, her hand still resting on her damn swollen stomach, totally at ease with the situation now apparently - and that wasn't an option for her either!
She stood up abruptly. "I'm going to take some food up to Toni."
No one paid her much attention so she left the table, taking as many dishes of the leftover food as she could carry, which, with the turkey being one of them wasn't many. In the kitchen she stopped to take a minute. It had been an exhausting day, not least the last hour of it. She wished she could enjoy the way Faith had sent Troy packing so publicly but the baby countered that pleasure. The baby countered everything.
She fetched a fresh plate from the cupboard and started to prepare it for Toni, adding everything she had carried out. Several slices of turkey, roasted sweet potatoes, some mashed potatoes with cheese and corn and a spoonful of green beans. It didn't look quite as fulfilling as the meal she'd just eaten but she wasn't prepared to go back into the dining room to get more. She needed a break from what had suddenly turned into a lovefest for Faith and her unborn child.
Going up the kitchen stairs to doubly avoid the dining room she slowly made her way through the corridors to her bedroom. It wasn't that she wasn't in a hurry to see Toni again, it was just that she really felt like she needed some alone time to process. Which was crazy and stupid when she'd basically spent the last month waiting desperately for Toni to pop out of that portal again. Of course there had been an unspoken clause in that desperate waiting - don't bring Faith out pregnant.
She shook her head, willing herself not to think of it. What was done is done, as her mom had always said. Time to get over it.
She opened her bedroom door to find Toni fully dressed and sitting on the edge of the bed. "Hey."
That was all she got out before Toni was in her arms. She only just avoided dropping the plate, holding it to one side quick, as she was pressed back against the wall beside her door and kissed.
Surprised but okay with it, she kissed back, pushing her free hand into Toni's hair as Toni devoured her mouth hungrily. When she felt a few buttons on her shirt come loose though she pushed Toni back, laughing.
"I take it you're feeling better?"
"I am feeling very good." Despite being pushed away Toni continued to undo her buttons.
Buffy didn't stop her but insisted, "At least let me put the food down!"
Toni seemed to notice the plate for the first time and looked at it as hungrily as she had been looking at Buffy a second ago.
"Do you wanna eat instead?"
"No," Toni said roughly and took the plate from her, pushing it onto the nightstand and shoving the alarm clock and the picture of Faith to the floor in the process.
Buffy watched the picture fall and was happy that the glass didn't smash but then she was pulled to Toni by the open sides of her shirt and then pushed against the wall again by Toni's body.
"What's gotten into. . .?" Buffy began but Toni kissed her before she could finish and a few seconds after her jeans - Faith's jeans - were vigorously unbuttoned and unzipped, she couldn't remember what she was going to ask anyway.
Thirty minutes later Buffy lay on her back, panting hard, and tried to figure out what had happened in the intervening minutes. Aside from the obvious. The obvious being that she was wiped out with erotic satisfaction to an extent she hadn't expected to be for a long time, if ever.
"You got your powers back?" she guessed. They'd made it to the bed at least. They were both lying sideways across it, their feet dangling off the edge, Toni's more than Buffy's. "How?"
"My powers have not been returned. I am still very human," Toni said, as smugly as someone could talk who was that out of breath. "That was all me."
"Well, I was some of it," Buffy said, laughing.
"You were all of it!" Toni rolled onto her side, cupping Buffy's cheek and giving her a kiss far sweeter than any they'd exchanged since she'd walked through her bedroom door. "You are everything."
Buffy rolled onto her side too. "But, and I'm not looking a gift horse in the mouth here or anything, but that was different to earlier. Not that earlier wasn't good!"
Toni laughed, "Earlier was a cuddle. Just now was not a cuddle. It was great."
"It was." Buffy smiled. "But I'm still wondering. . . have you been watching internet porn while I've been downstairs or something?"
Toni gave her a mock-angry look. "Is that the only way you think I could improve?"
"No I figured we'd just improve together. But obviously we have no room for improvement."
"Oh, I am sure we can get even better." Toni kissed her again, making it last until Buffy could feel it in her toes and her legs started to wrap themselves around Toni's hips, and then she sat up. "I am starving!"
"Well, the food's probably even colder now than it was when I brought it up but go for it."
Toni smiled and leapt up to fetch the plate. "Would you like some?"
"No, I'm full."
She'd forgotten to bring up a knife and fork as well but that didn't slow Toni down. She ate with gusto; her teeth tearing away at the slices of turkey while in-between she pushed the sweet potatoes and green beans into her mouth. The only thing that slowed her down was the mashed potatoes; after frowning at them she picked up a small chunk in her fingertips and popped it into her mouth, but seeing Buffy grinning at her she didn't do it again.
"I will finish it later."
"Finish it now, I'm not gonna judge," Buffy grinned even more, and without thinking, added, "I once saw Faith eat a whole spaghetti carbonara using only her fingers."
"Did you enjoy it?"
"It was funny, being spaghetti and all. Not exactly a turn on though," she remembered fondly.
Toni put the plate back on the nightstand.
"Could you pick up the photo of Faith while you're there?" Buffy did up the jeans and stood up from the bed.
"Because I don't like expensive picture frames left lying on the floor," Buffy said diplomatically as she walked to her closet. She'd keep the jeans on because it was convenient but as the shirt was already undone she wanted to change it for one of her own. Being in Faith's shirt felt wrong. "You can put it back in the drawer if it makes you feel better."
She'd honestly thought that Toni wouldn't think twice about putting the photo back where it had been, that's why she had offered the drawer as a polite alternative but as she took the shirt off she heard the drawer open and close again. A glance over her shoulder proved that Faith's framed face was nowhere to be seen.
'For the best' she told herself as she threw the shirt over her chair and opened her closet door.
She knew that most of her clothes were still in Rome, and she had a bunch of stuff left in Greece, but between what she had left behind in the first place and what Willow and Dawn had replaced on a shopping trip three weeks ago, her closet was usually way more full than this.
She was wearing Faith's clothes right now so unless Toni had put on several, like ten, outfits all at once, there was something amiss here. Before she could speculate on whether Dawn was to blame or a sock-eater had gone mad, she heard Toni heft something big onto the bed.
She turned around. "Okay, I'm sure there's a good reason why Giles' suitcase is full of my clothes, but I'm missing it."
"I could not find your suitcase."
"My suitcase is in your apartment in Rome. Looking for more of an explanation here."
"I found us a place," Toni said excitedly.
"A place to do what?"
"Live! It is not far." Toni took a folded newspaper from the vanity table and handed it to her. "It has two bedrooms so Dawn can come with us if she wishes. I called half an hour ago and it is still available. We can go and see it right away."
Buffy read the property ad circled in blue pen because it seemed the thing to do. Two bed, one bath, living area, kitchen nook, back yard. It sounded great if you didn't factor in that she had been living in an eight-bed, with ensuite bath, several living areas and a huge kitchen!
"I didn't know we were moving."
"It is very close!"
Buffy read the ad again. It was very close. Ten minutes away at most. She'd patrolled the area the house was in too because it was right next to the village's cemetery. It was a nice neighbourhood despite that, surrounded by trees and grassy areas. If she actually wanted to move, this place would be what she chose.
"I don't want to move."
Toni smiled, "Buffy, we cannot live here with your friends forever. If we wish to make a life together we must have our own space."
"Maybe, but not right this second!"
"Even if we accept the place today it will be a day or two before we can move in," Toni said soothingly. "It will not be an overnight transition, you will have time to adjust, Buffy."
She thought about it. A place of her own sounded nice. Toni was right. She was an adult now, whether she liked it or not, and she couldn't live off of her Watcher forever. The next logical step was to move out.
She shook her head. "I'm not ready."
"Ready for what?" Toni looked annoyed. "We only have to go and see it. It will take an hour at the most."
"I'm not ready to move out. Maybe I should be, but I'm not." Seeing Toni's face darken even further, she added, "Look, I like the fact that you're thinking of our future, but can we just leave it. . . not forever, obviously, let's just say. . .six months?"
That didn't go over too well, judging by Toni's expression.
"Or three months? Three months is good, right?" Toni was still frowning at her. "Oh, come on, meet me half way. I'm prepared to go down to two months but you gotta fight me for it!"
"I am already fighting for you enough!"
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"It means. . ." Toni turned to the suitcase, pushing down on the clothes, before looking back at her. "It means this is how I am fighting for you! I cannot live here with Faith, knowing that at any second she might tempt you back."
"I chose you!"
"Did you really?"
"And so you should be willing to move to make us work!"
"And you should be willing to trust me! I get what this is about, Toni. You can't mystically feel my love any more and you're doubting it. I'm sorry about that but it's how the rest of us feel all the time when we make ourselves vulnerable to someone. I chose you, now you have to choose whether to believe in us or not."
"How can I believe in us when I hear you whispering with Faith in corners about your future together?"
"I heard you in the dining room together earlier."
"You mean earlier in the dining room when everyone else was there too and I promised to be around for babysitting duty?"
"Oh." The stormy wind went out of Toni's sails. "But why were you whispering so lovingly to her."
"It was an emotionally charged moment," Buffy admitted, reaching for Toni's hands and tugging her away from the suitcase. "But there was no secret whispering, I promise."
"I did not hear the part about the babysitting."
"That's because you heard what you wanted to hear, or what you expected to hear anyway, and jumped to conclusions. You can't do that anymore."
"It would not be necessary if you were to agree to move with me. I would no longer have such doubts about your love."
"I'll show you I love you as often as you like," she promised, going up on tiptoe to deliver a kiss. "But in the regular way, not by turning my life upside down to accommodate your jealousy."
"Va bene," Toni said, shaking her head with a smile. "Forget about Faith. Think about us. Think about how much enjoyment we could have with a place of our own. With all that time and space to ourselves." Toni kissed her languorously to illustrate her meaning before whispering in her ear. "Think of all the improving we could do in a place of our own."
Head suddenly swimming with the possibilities, she pulled Toni's mouth back to hers and let herself be maneuvered to the side of the bed. It was only when she was accidentally sitting in her open suitcase that she remembered this wasn't just a theoretical discussion.
She pulled back but kept her arms loosely around Toni's neck so she remained leaning over her. "That sounds nice and we'll do it. We really will. But not right now. Let's wait until the New Year and then we can sit down and talk about it properly. And not choose the first available place in the newspaper."
"I do not want to wait!"
"I don't even have a job!" Buffy shot back. "And neither do you. How are you going to afford the rent on this place?" she slapped the paper.
"I have money in Rome."
"Yeah, money you can't get your hands on right now. Let's just wait until you can."
"We don't need to wait!"
"I want to wait!" Buffy shouted at her. "Jeez, how are you not getting that?"
"And how are not getting that this is something that I need to do. I have seventy years left, Buffy, that is all. I need. . . we need to make the most of it."
Buffy sighed, "Seventy years is ages. You don't have to cram every life experience into the first week."
"When I think of all the hundred of years I wasted in my Grandmother's village, too scared to go out into the world while I waited for Troy to restore me to my true self. . . Please, Buffy, I do not want to waste any of our time together."
Buffy could feel her resolve slipping away. Maybe Toni was just trying to manipulate her again, saying whatever bullshit came into her head to convince her. If she was, it was working. All Buffy could think about as she listened was a place of their own where they could have breakfast in bed all day if they wanted, and decorate it in orange and purple if the mood took her - actually maybe she'd let Toni pick the colour schemes - and white picket fences and doormats that said 'WELCOME' and, ooh, they could get a doorbell that played the theme tune from the Phantom of the Opera and. . .
Catching tight to the last of her resolve as it slithered away under the onslaught of coupledom clichés, she said, "January."
"Buffy, I truly do not understand. Why are you being so stubborn? What is here that makes you cling to this house so strongly?"
"My friends, my family. We've lived together since we came out here and they need me. I can't just move out on them, not without some warning anyway."
"But you left them for the whole summer, with no warning."
"That was different."
"I see." Toni pulled Buffy's arms from her neck so that she could walk away.
"What do you mean, 'I see'?"
Toni was in the bathroom, but called through the open door. "I mean I see the difference."
"You do?" Buffy called back suspiciously.
Toni reappeared carrying both of their toothbrushes and the toothpaste tube in one hand, the shampoo and conditioner bottles were under her arm and in her other hand was Buffy's bathrobe.
"Of course. You find it easy to run to Faith but impossible to walk away from her." Buffy opened her mouth to argue but Toni continued, "You can tell me that I am simply jealous if you wish, I am jealous, but that does not make me wrong."
Buffy hesitated. She didn't know which of them was right or wrong anymore.
"I don't want to be with her like that," she eventually said, her words coming out awkwardly as she groped for the right ones. "I just. . . she's. . .it's been a tough year. . .she needs someone on her side right now."
"She has Troy."
"She just told him to go to hell in no uncertain terms. I don't think he's gonna be in the mood to 'be there' for her for a while."
"That is not your problem."
"I know, but, like I said, she needs people."
"She has the rest of your family."
"I'm. . .I'm her best friend. I just need to make sure she's okay before I make any rash decisions about leaving."
Toni took her hand, smiling, and Buffy thought she understood, until she was yanked up off of the suitcase. The toiletries and robe were pushed into the already bulging case and then with difficulty Toni pulled the zippers around to seal it closed.
"But you do not mind making a rash decision about staying?" she asked as she worked.
"What's rash about it? We're already here, now we just have to, yunno, stay. It's easy."
"Not for me, it is not. You will be ten minutes away, mio tesero, you can visit her twenty times a day if you truly feel it is necessary for her well-being, but I cannot stay here and watch the two of you get closer again."
"So we won't get close!"
"You will. You cannot help it.
"So what do you want me to do?"
"Leave with me, now. Come and view the place at least. Show me you are willing to try and put us first and then maybe I will not mind the time you spend with Faith so much."
"And if I still say no?"
"Then you never truly chose me."
Toni shook her head with a sad smile and Buffy knew, somehow, it was the end of the argument.
"You're going to tell me now how you deserve better than this, aren't you? How you'd rather be on your own than with someone who doesn't love you or some other crap like that." She started off angrily but her voice soon grew small and lost. "I do love you."
"I know. Just not enough."
"How can you be sure?"
"I am leaving tonight, I have to, call it an absurd compulsion if you wish, but I cannot ignore it. If it is not possible for me to move into that house immediately I would prefer to stay in the motel for a few days than remain here. Please come with me, Buffy."
"I. . . can't."
"That's how I am sure."
"That's not fair!"
"Not fair? You were prepared to spend your life on the run, never seeing your friends and family again, for her. You will not even spend a night in a local motel for me!"
"That was different!" Buffy said again.
"And it always will be. And I do deserve better than that. So do you." Turning, Toni angrily pulled the suitcase off of the bed, staggering a little under its weight, and muttered, "So does fucking Faith. I am going now."
Buffy stepped in front of the door. "I can't believe you're doing this. After everything we've been through? Why?"
"What else would you have me do, Buffy? This is for the best; you know that even if you cannot admit it yet."
"I don't know that! I don't want you to leave me, Toni. I don't want you to go. Doesn't that mean anything?"
Toni's eyes softened, "It means everything to me, but it doesn't mean what you think it does to you."
"You don't know that!"
"We both know that."
Buffy's eyes were stinging now, her cheeks were wet. She brushed the tears away with her palms and then caught Toni around the neck as she tried to reach past her for the door handle. Pulling her down she kissed her deeply, pouring every ounce of feeling she had into it. She felt the suitcase drop to the carpet by her feet and then Toni was holding her desperately tight, fingers digging into the skin of her back as she tried to pull her closer still.
"Stay," she begged when Toni had to break away to breathe.
"Come with me," Toni begged right back.
Buffy wanted to want to but as much as Toni was sure that the right thing to do was leave, she was equally sure that she couldn't walk away, not now; maybe one day, but definitely not now.
Toni read the final answer in her tearful eyes and nodded. She kissed her once more, running her hand through Buffy's hair and ever so slowly down to the small of her back, and then she pulled away, trailing her fingers from her skin as she did so.
"Goodbye, Buffy. Lo ti amerò per sempre."
It wasn't totally the dramatic departure scene it could have been, although tears were still running down Buffy's cheeks and Toni looked like she was about to start sniveling at any moment too - when she finally pulled the door open she could barely pick the overstuffed suitcase back up from the floor.
She staggered around, holding it up with both hands and nearly pitched down the stairs when she reached them.
Rolling her eyes and sighing, Buffy took the case from her. "Let me do it before you fall and break your neck."
In the end she carried it all the way to the front door for her and set it down as Toni pulled on her boots. Darkness had fallen a few hours before and when the door was opened a bitter wind swept inside, chilling Buffy's damp face and making her shiver badly. She crossed her arms over her less-than-dressed torso and tried one more time.
"Toni, you don't have to go right now. At least wait until the morning. It's freezing out there! Just stay tonight, please."
"It is not so cold," Toni said, obviously lying. "And I must go while I have the resolve to do so. If I stay any longer. . ." she didn't finish the sentence but the longing look she gave Buffy finished it for her.
"And would that be so bad?" Buffy asked softly.
"One day, si, I think it would be very bad. And so I must go now." She leaned over to kiss Buffy's cheek. "Take care. And thank you."
Toni had already picked up the heavy suitcase and was shuffling out of the door with it. "For everything, mia amore, everything."
Buffy watched her walk down the path to their long driveway. Despite how cold she was she couldn't stop. Even when the first snow of the year started to fall in big fluffy flakes, the wind blowing them in the doorway and against her bare skin, she couldn't make herself close the door until long after Toni was out of sight. She wanted to be there, in the warm glow of the light, in case Toni should look back because out there on her own in the cold, the promise of warmth, light and Buffy had to be enough to make her change her mind and come back.
Buffy was turning blue when she finally realized it wasn't going to happen. Toni had really walked away, had really left her. Even when Buffy had been carrying the suitcase down the stairs for her she hadn't thought Toni would really walk out the door. She had just been calling her bluff, right? She might even have believed herself she was really going but it was never going to happen. She wasn't going to split up over something as small as Buffy wanting to stay under the same roof as Faith. Toni loved her too much to give up on them over something so stupid. . . right?
But she was gone now. Gone. They were really over. It was really over.
Except, not totally, she remembered.
She heard the door to the kitchen swing open and scrubbed her tears away again, but more fell to betray her.
"Hey, I'm really feelin' the climate change around here. Been in Hell for the past six months, yunno, turn the fuckin' heat up. Or better yet just close that damn door, it's friggin' freezing. Yo, B! Are you listenin' to me?"
Sniffing as quietly as possible, Buffy pushed the door shut and leaned her head against it.
"B, what's wrong? Why are you standing down here in your bra?" She could hear Faith walking down the hall towards her and squeezed her eyes shut. "You okay?"
A hand gently grasped her shoulder and she shied away from the touch, turning slightly as she pressed herself into the corner. It was just enough for Faith to see her face.
"Fuck, B, what is it?"
"It's nothing," she gasped, "I'm okay."
She was shaking as much with her tears now as she was with the cold but deep down through the pain she knew that they didn't just come from the heartbreak, a few of them were from relief too. Allowing herself to accept that just made her cry harder. She'd had something good and she'd let it walk away from her because she was. . . weak. She'd chosen Toni because she was too scared to be with Faith now and then she hadn't even had the guts to make that work. She didn't deserve either of them.
"Buffy, talk to me!" Faith insisted. "What happened? Did Troy come back? Did he hurt you? Hurt someone else?"
"No," she sniveled, "No, it's not him."
"Then you better tell me who got you this way before I just go and start randomly crackin' skulls."
Buffy ran a hand under her dribbling nose as she muttered, "It's Toni."
"Tone hurt you?" Faith asked incredulously and then stepped back, smacking a fist into her other palm. "Oh, this is perfect. I've been waiting for a good reason to take that bitch down."
"No, Faith, you can't. . ."
"S'okay, B," Faith interrupted her. "I know she's human now. I'll try not to hit her so hard I kill her. Try, though, you understand, I'm not making any promises."
Buffy chuckled wetly as she wiped her nose and then her cheeks again. "No, I mean you really can't. She's not here anymore."
"She hurt you and then just left you?"
"Not exactly; she hurt me by leaving me. But I think I probably hurt her too. We. . . we broke up."
"Huh." Faith crossed her arms and just looked at her for so long Buffy started to feel like a lab monkey. She self-consciously wiped her face again. "Come in the kitchen. It's warm in there. I'll even make ya a coffee to help thaw you out."
Buffy shook her head. "Thanks, but I don't want to see anyone else. Not yet."
The thought of Kennedy's scrutiny and Willow's disappointment, even Xander's sympathy, was too much to handle right now. She knew they'd have the compassion to try and keep it to themselves - well, Willow would anyway - but she'd be able to see it in their eyes all the same. It would just be hard to get her head together over this while she had to play twenty questions with her friends. That fun could wait until morning.
"Dawn took off with Chris while you were upstairs. Giles is locked in his study researching. The rest of them are all camped out in front of the TV having a movie marathon. It'll just be you and me in there."
Buffy wasn't sure about that either. She looked at the stairs; it was probably best just to go to her room until she had calmed down.
Faith shrugged and turned away, walking back down the hall. "Suit yourself, ain't gonna ask you a third time."
Buffy watched her walk away. It hurt enough to make the tears come harder again for a moment. She didn't want to be by herself. So, feeling terrible for a hundred things at once, she followed Faith into the kitchen.
Andrew, or someone, had obviously cleaned up a little before they'd decided to watch movies, but the sink and surrounding area was still covered in dirty bowls and dishes. The table was clear though and Buffy sank down into a chair as Faith went to flip on Giles' electric kettle.
Thinking of her Watcher, she asked, "What's Giles researching?"
"What else?" Faith chuckled and pointed at her large stomach. "Yours truly. Apparently now that I'm keeping the kid the prophecy has moved into phase five. Whatever that means. He's gonna get into it with me tomorrow. Told him I needed a decent night's sleep before I started listening to all that cryptic bullshit. So Toni just left, huh?"
"Yeah," she said softly.
Faith made the coffee before she casually asked, "Your decision or hers?"
She gave a small laugh, shaking her head. "I honestly don't know. I think it was probably mutual, although it doesn't feel like it right now."
Faith nodded as she carried the mugs over. Setting them on the table she went back to the counter to grab the roll of kitchen towel and handed it to her as she sat down. That was Buffy's first clue that she was crying again. Her eyes were still so blurry and stinging from the first downpour that she hadn't even noticed.
She ripped off a couple of sheets, wiped her eyes and then blew her nose. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be," Faith shrugged it off. "I mean, if I was a lesser person I'd tell you it makes me feel fuckin' good to see you crying as much as I did when you left the bathroom this afternoon, but, I don't know," she shrugged again, "I'm about to be a mom, all grown up and shit, so I'm rising above it."
Buffy gave her a wry smile. "I appreciate it. And I see you're really coming along on that learning not to swear thing."
"That's something else I'm leaving 'til tomorrow."
"Fair enough." She slurped up some of her coffee.
It was too hot really but it felt good, warming her throat and settling like a hot massage in her cold, clenched stomach. She still felt shivery though, obviously enough to be noticed.
"So, wanna tell me now why you're running around in your bra? Did Toni split in the middle of you two getting your freak on or was it an attempt to get her to stay?"
Buffy laughed again. "No and no. Although if it had been the second one I guess I should feel even worse that it didn't work, huh?"
Faith eyed her chest for a second. "Woulda worked on me."
She ducked her head to hide her smile. "It was neither. I was just getting changed when it kicked off and I got sidetracked." Then she remembered how it had kicked off and looked up in alarm. "Toni stole all my clothes!"
"What?" Faith laughed, then laughed harder when her distraught expression became distraught-er. "Seriously, what?"
"She packed for both of us, but then I wouldn't go! She packed everything! I don't even have a toothbrush!"
"Well, why didn't you stop her from taking it? And for the record, that's just one of the dozen questions I have about what you just said."
"I wasn't thinking! I wanted her to stay but she was determined to leave and I knew that letting her go was the right thing to do even if. . . I guess I had tunnel vision. Fuck, I even carried the suitcase down the stairs for her!"
Faith was laughing again, even more than before. Buffy glared at her but then dropped her head into her hands, laughing and crying at the same time.
"How did I mess everything up so bad?" she groaned.
"Trust me; you're not the only one asking yourself that right now. Bet even T 'n' T are asking themselves the same thing."
Buffy smiled, "Good name for them considering the way they blew up our lives."
Faith looked confused for a moment and then laughed, "Yeah, guess so."
"You seem awfully chipper for someone's whose day has sucked worse than mine." She added quietly, "Is that because Toni's gone?"
"Not gonna lie and say it doesn't have something to do with it."
Buffy nodded and drank some more of her coffee despondently. "It doesn't change much."
"Like hell it doesn't," Faith said, excited. "You said we couldn't' be together 'cause of her, but she's outta the picture now, right?"
Buffy pushed her mug away and stood up. She needed something a hell of a lot stronger to get through this conversation. She found a bottle of wine in the fridge and a clean glass in the cupboard and filled it nearly all the way up. She took a big slug and then refilled it.
Faith had turned in her seat to watch her. "Not gonna pour me some?"
"I'm carrying a demi-god. Don't think a small glass of wine is gonna hurt it somehow."
"Not what I meant. I mean, you're pregnant!"
"Yeah, I got the memo. After you, sure, but trust me," she gestured at her stomach, "I got it!"
But Faith didn't get it. If she did she wouldn't think that Toni leaving her was all it took to make things. . . Buffy couldn't find another wine glass in the cupboard so she fetched another mug instead. Filling it a third of the way up she carried it over to Faith but didn't sit back down. Instead she went back to lean against the counter of the breakfast bar, needing distance to get through this.
Faith wasn't an idiot, she knew something was up. "We've been through honesty and back this last year, B. Don't clam up on me now."
"Faith, I love you. . ."
"I know that. I love you too."
". . .but. . ."
Faith dropped her head back to roll her eyes at the ceiling. "For fucks sake, B! I'm sick of your 'but'."
"Your but's!" Faith repeated, making sure to emphasize the plural this time. "What can possibly be wrong now? I dumped Troy! Toni's gone! What else is there to stop us?"
"You're pregnant!" Buffy said again, snapping the words this time in her frustration.
She watched as it finally sunk in. "Oh." Faith looked down at her enlarged stomach and then back up at her. "Earlier you said that wasn't an issue."
"Earlier I had Toni as an excuse not to deal with how much of an issue it is," she admitted quietly.
"Okay, and did Toni know you were using her to hide behind?"
"I wasn't using her, staying with her was the right thing to do, but yeah, I'm pretty sure she figured it out and that's one of the reasons she left."
"What were the other reasons?"
"But you chose her," Faith said, confused.
Buffy took another sip of her wine. "I didn't choose her hard enough."
"She wanted me to leave with her, tonight, to move into this place across town, and I wouldn't."
Buffy finished the glass. "Because I didn't want to leave you."
"Just to move across town?"
"But you still don't want to be with me?"
She hesitated but eventually said, "No."
"Huh." Faith downed her small amount of wine in one go. "Could you bring that bottle over here?"
"Are you sure that's a good. . ."
"Bring the bottle over, B, or I'm gonna get Giles' scotch."
She refilled her own glass before carrying what was left of the bottle over to the table. Faith took it but placed it on the table without pouring any. Then she took Buffy's glass from her hand.
"What are you doing?"
"Preventing you from becoming an alcoholic because of me."
"I'm not gonna. . ." Buffy tried to reach for her glass but Faith blocked her. "Don't!"
"You wanna get hammered after we've talked, fine, but we're talking first."
"You're advocating sobriety now?"
"Yeah, and when the world's this ass-backwards you of all people should know to sit up and take note. So I'm pregnant, B? I'm still me."
"With a sidecar attached!"
Faith ignored that. "You were fine when you thought the baby was ours."
"I wasn't fine! I just couldn't freak out in front of you. Plus there's a big difference now, the baby isn't ours."
"But we could pretend it is."
"I'm. . ." she tried not to look into Faith's beseeching eyes but couldn't stop herself. "I'm not ready to do that."
"But you will be one day?"
"I don't know."
Faith stood up; it took her longer than usual because she had to use the back of her chair to push herself up. Buffy tried not to smile. When they were level Faith took her hands and held them.
"So just be with me, forget about everything else for now."
"But you and everything else are kind of a package deal. You're not just the flight anymore, Faith, you're the hotel too!"
Faith smiled. "Buffy, please. You know I don't put myself out there much, but I'm doing it now, for you. You said I had to take the risk and so I am. Just do the same for me."
Buffy swallowed hard against the lump in her throat. She'd only just stopped crying, she didn't want to start again. "I think it's best if we just stay friends."
Faith closed her eyes, nodding. "Okay, friends." When she opened them again she took Buffy's lips by surprise. When she pulled back from the tender kiss - that Buffy had totally reciprocated even though she'd been telling herself the entire time not to - she smiled. "But friends that do that from time to time, right?"
"Yeah. I mean, no! Faith!" Faith laughed and Buffy helplessly joined in. "You're not helping!"
"Hand on heart, B, I promise never to stop trying to get you to kiss me. Did enough of that already. I wanna be with you, babe, period. I was prepared to back off when you chose Toni, 'cause I thought it was her you wanted, but now I know that was bullshit. . ."
"It wasn't bullshit."
"Now I know that was bullshit," Faith repeated. "All bets are off, B. You're mine. And I don't care if you take five minutes or five years to figure that out; ain't gonna change the way it is."
Buffy grinned, happy despite her misgivings. "It's definitely gonna be more than five minutes. It's possible we're looking at eighteen years."
Faith shrugged. "I can wait."
"Yeah, and I bet each time I do this will help." Faith leaned in again and Buffy's lips were captured in another breathtaking kiss.
"Okay, we might be down to sixteen years now," she said dreamily.
"Wanna take it lower?"
"Mmm," she managed, caught up in fantasies about taking it lower that she really shouldn't be having right now.
Faith kissed her again and this time it was deep and delicious enough to make her senses melt. As Faith wound her fingers into her hair, massaging the back of her neck in a yummy way, her hands fell to Faith's shoulders and then trailed down her sides. At the same time as Faith pulled her eagerly closer her hands accidentally cupped Faith's huge stomach, jolting her instantly, annoyingly, from the moment.
She jerked back, hands flying out to the sides, and immediately felt terrible for her reaction. "I'm sorry!"
"Too much too soon, huh?" Faith said regretfully.
"I think so."
"But we're down to about ten years now though, right?" Faith winked.
Buffy smiled, "Maybe even eight."
"But you don't want to try for six tonight."
"I think we should just be friends," she repeated. "For now."
"But. . ."
"I'm not going anywhere either, Faith. I love you. But I really can't deal with. . ." she glanced down at Faith's bump. "Can we please just be friends for now?"
Faith held her gaze for a moment before nodding. "If that's all you want."
Buffy half-smiled, tilting her head just a little to look up at her. "Or, what you said, friends-with-kissing-benefits, sometimes, maybe?" .
Faith smirked back, "I dunno; are you ever gonna buy the cow if you get the milk for free?"
Buffy looked her up and down. "A cow this size? Hell yeah, you'd win me trophies."
Faith punched her in the arm, hard enough to make her need to rub the suddenly numb patch.
"I was joking!" she promised, still smiling. "I'd pay a handful of magic beans for you any day."
"Jack and the beanstalk."
"Ohh-kay. I'd choose you over golden eggs too."
"If I kiss you now are you gonna freak out again?"
"I don't know. If I ask you to keep your tummy away from me are you going to be pissed off?"
Faith thought about it and then nodded, "Kinda."
"Shall we try it anyway?"
Faith nodded again, and so with Buffy holding her hands in the air so they couldn't accidentally land on anything baby-related, and with Faith leaning over at an awkward angle so her stomach was several inches from Buffy, they kissed again.
It was every bit as good as ever.
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Part Twelve Quick-Jump:
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