image of woman sitting in armchair writing

Burning The Bridges series

4. Bittersweet Me

Faith hadn’t walked more than a few hundred yards from the club before she felt an inhuman presence at her back. Fuck, didn’t these vamps know better… She turned in time to block the left hook thrown at her, landing a solid punch of her own into the vampire’s face. He stumbled back a few steps and she managed to get the full measure of him. He was an ugly son of bitch, that’s for sure. At least a foot taller than Faith too. Oh well… She pulled a stake from her suede jacket and squared her shoulders. The vamp charged at her but she just ducked and sent him flying over her shoulder. As he scrambled to get up from the filthy ground, Faith kicked him full in the face and pressed her booted heel down on his neck. It wasn’t exactly a fair fight but she sure wasn’t anxious to be pulling out all the stops when she wasn’t at her peak.

"Tell your little demon pals Faith says hello."

"Faith? But the Slayer’s comatose…" the vamp choked out.

She shrugged nonchalantly. "Yeah, well, I’m back."

She watched the gradual dawning of realisation on the vamp’s twisted face and smirked as she swooped down and rammed the stake home. It felt good to let it out, just to channel all her frustrations and fears (yeah, she was running scared from a tiny pastel-wearing blonde, for fuck’s sake) into that stake. And watch them disappear in a cloud of dust. It wasn’t that easy though, things could never be that easy for her.

She’d missed this, the slaying. She’d pretty much given up that gig since her coma. But she was starting to get her strength back, she could feel underused muscles coming alive again. And it felt damn good. See, the only thing a vampire fears is a Slayer. It’s like stalking the stalker. Sure, she wasn’t as skilled as Buffy but she made up in enthusiasm what she lacked in technique. And unlike Buffy, she enjoyed the slaying. This was what she was made for, the one thing she was good at, better than anyone else; at least, that was until she found out about Buffy. Always second fucking best. She was still the redundant, unwanted Slayer, the bad apple. Just for once, she wanted to come out on top. That’s why she’d turned to the Mayor. She wanted to be a winner, not the stupid, crappy, fucking loser that her mom had predicted she’d grow up to be.

Like Buffy Summers, perfect, blonde Buffy would ever choose a loser like her. Not when there was dull, dependable, all-American beefstick Riley with his shy, trusting eyes and floppy hair. At least Angel had some mystery about him, a lot of girls liked that whole tortured past deal. But Buffy did want her, she’d seen it and, fuck, she’d felt it. Sometimes, when she was with Buffy, it was like she could sense the other girl’s emotions. None of that mystic-psychic crap. But it was like they had a connection, intuition or something. She wasn’t sure. Like when they fought, it was like fighting herself because she could almost anticipate what Buffy was going to do. Heh, well… maybe not always. She'd hadn't anticipated B stabbing her with her own knife. It was wicked sly. Back in the club, she’d felt the blonde’s confusion and, yeah, maybe she had taken advantage. But she also believed that, deep down, Buffy knew the answers.

Fuck, fuck, fuck. What a mess. Faith shook her head and pulled her jacket tight around her, guarding against the cool chill of the early hours, resuming her journey.

****

Joyce sat at the kitchen table, a mug of cocoa huddled between her palms. She’d had a late, stressful night at the gallery putting the finishing touches to the latest exhibition, much of it centred around the shipment brought in from LA It was imperative that it went without a hitch, especially since attendance had been low during the past few months. The gallery had really been hit by its loss of subsidy since the… demise of the Mayor. He may have been psychotic, but he was a patron of the arts. The new administration was completely unsympathetic to the cultural education of Sunnydale’s citizens. She sighed and looked up to see Faith in the hallway. She jumped but managed to regain her composure and demurely pulled her black, floral-print dressing gown closed.

Faith swaggered down the hall and paused in the doorway, leaning casually against the frame. "Waiting up for me? I’m touched, mommy," the dark-haired girl smirked, seemingly pleased with her little joke. Joyce observed the mussed hair and slightly smeared lipstick and wondered if Faith had been fucking someone. She didn’t want to think about why that irked her so much.

"Actually," Joyce said as she stood and went to the sink to wash out her mug, "I was just going to bed."

"Mm, mind if I join you? Slayin’ always makes me hungry and horny."

Briefly relieved that Faith hadn’t been screwing around, tonight anyway, Joyce threw a sarcastic look over her shoulder. "I don’t think so. I don’t know where you’ve been." She held the girl’s gaze for a moment.

"Don’t worry, your precious Buffy is safe," Faith replied, her lip curling up into a sneer, and pushed off from the doorframe. Joyce watched her disappear up the stairs and was troubled by the expression that had been on Faith’s face. She followed the girl upstairs, pausing outside Buffy’s bedroom door. It was slightly ajar so she knocked hesitantly.

"What?" Joyce heard from the other side. Slowly, the older woman pushed the door open to see Faith sitting on the bed, staring coldly straight ahead. She was struck by the irrational urge to gather the dark-haired girl up in her arms. Now that was comical. She could just imagine Faith’s reaction. Despite herself, the older woman smiled. "You know what? You were right," Faith said in a quiet, bitter voice as she stared at nothing.

Joyce wet her lips. "About what?" she asked gently, aware that this was a moment of genuine communication and wanting dearly to hold onto it. This vulnerability was the flip-side of the arrogance that Faith usually exuded and Joyce was intrigued by it.

Faith just looked at her with large, glassy eyes, her jaw clenching. Buffy, of course. Joyce sighed and moved over to the bed to sit unobtrusively beside the dark-haired girl. She placed her hand on Faith’s shoulder in comfort but the girl just erupted before her, leaping up as if she’d been scolded.

"Don’t touch me," Faith warned darkly, and wandered a few steps away, her hands coming to her forehead. "Just don’t…"

Joyce eyed the girl intently. "You really have changed." She hadn’t seen it at first, despite Buffy’s insistence. In fact, she didn’t think Faith had even realised it herself.

Faith turned back to her, the mask of cockiness back in place, folding her arms. "Maybe, maybe not."

The older woman was silent for a few seconds as she stared at Faith, watching the fašade falter again. The girl looked almost desperate. "You’ve got to know this isn’t going to work out."

"What – you and me or me and Buffy?" Faith asked with a humourless laugh.

"Both," Joyce answered candidly, picking at the folds of her dressing gown as it pooled in her lap. "Faith, maybe, if you want to hold onto some shred of dignity, you should leave. Before we all get hurt."

Faith opened her mouth to speak then closed it again. She looked away from the unflinching blue of Joyce’s eyes. She couldn’t handle the weight of the other woman’s compassionate gaze upon her. "I can’t," she replied finally.

Delicate blonde eyebrows knitted together in a frown. "Can’t or won’t?" Joyce shot back pointedly.

"I promised her I wouldn’t skip town again," Faith said quietly, examining her cuticles intently. "But I messed things up. Again."

"I’ll talk to her," Joyce said, measuring her words carefully. "I’ll explain the situation to her."

The dark-haired girl smiled faintly at Joyce’s words. "I bet you can’t wait to see the back of me, right? I don’t blame you. I’d hate me too." The self-loathing was clear in Faith’s tone and the older woman wanted to assuage the rage and hostility that lurked so close to the surface.

Joyce stood slowly and approached Faith, her features soft. "I don’t hate you. Far from it. You’re…" Joyce searched tactfully for the word, "misguided and I want to help you." She stood in front of the girl, warmed by the dark gaze that met her own. "I’d like to see you at peace and happy. Buffy can’t give you that." She adopted the same patient tone she would if she were talking to a child. In a way, that’s what Faith was. A motherless child. She needed care, and protection and… love. It would be so easy to chalk this up to a pre-menopausal lapse in sanity but she didn't care. She'd given fifteen years of her life to Hank and a further three on top of that to her daughter. It was time to start living for herself. Faith made her feel alive in a way she hadn't felt in long time.

Faith smirked and arched a dark eyebrow. "And, lemme guess. You can?"

Joyce chuckled softly as she reached up to stroke the girl’s cheek with the back of her knuckles. So beautiful, such a dark, dangerous girl. Old beyond her years. "I think I’ve proved my credentials already." And they were both so lonely…

Faith’s lips edged into a fully-fledged smile. "Remind me." There was no taunt in those dark eyes, just open desire.

Smiling, Joyce leaned in and kissed the girl, tasting sweet, full lips and the hint of alcohol. She murmured against them and Faith parted her lips in compliance, allowing the older woman to gently explore that lush mouth with her tongue. A hot hand curled around her neck, toying with the shorter blonde curls there and pulling her closer. Just as her sure fingers sought the youthful fullness of Faith’s breast, there was a noise from the landing.

"Mom? Faith?"

They broke apart instantly to see Buffy standing outside the bedroom door looking appalled. She stared at both of them in turn, her mouth hanging open. The recrimination in her eyes was impossible to miss. Then her pretty face crumpled instantly as she turned and fled in tears.

"Fuck," Faith muttered quietly. Yes, Joyce agreed silently as she hurried after her daughter, that just about summed it up.

Continued in Little Masochist