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Burning The Bridges series

6. Bliss Of Another Kind

"Riley - we have to talk."

The commando and sometime T.A. glanced up at the doom-laden tone in Buffy's voice. They were eating lunch together in the cafeteria, or what passed as lunch anyway. There was a look of trepidation on his girlfriend's face, like she was just about to tell him that her prize cow had died. His mind backtracked. That wasn't something Buffy was likely to say. He knew that when a girl said 'we need to talk' it generally meant bad things were going to be said. He remained silent, but, with a nod of his head, indicated that he was listening.

Buffy watched him carefully as he took a sip from his strawberry milkshake, fixating on the pink foamy moustache that clung to his upper lip. If she could just focus on that and not on his soft blue eyes then she might just be able to get her words out. "I need for us to have a break." There, she'd said it. The words shot out surprisingly easily and hung precariously in the air between them. Riley's eyes widened slightly and he blinked a few times.

"Is this because of Faith?" he asked, as soon as he recovered the power of speech. He shook his head. "You hate me for sleeping with her. With you, while she was you," he clarified, then looked confused himself.

"No," Buffy said firmly. She sighed. "I don't hate you and I don't blame you for it, I blame her. Every time I look at you, I just feel..." Used. Faith had used both of them. The other slayer had tainted what Buffy had once felt for Riley. She'd forgiven Faith for sleeping with him but those feelings had been dredged up again upon seeing Faith with her mother. At the same time, Buffy still had all those other unwanted feelings for the dark-haired girl. "I need to figure this out." God, that was the understatement of the century.

Riley reached across the table to cover her hand with his own, larger one. "Let me help."

"You can't help," Buffy replied rather bluntly and winced at the wounded look in Riley's eyes. He withdrew his hand slowly and played with his napkin, folding it into an airplane. "I wish you could help, but you can't," Buffy continued and it sounded lame to her own ears, "I need to do this alone." She needed him out of the way, there were just too many variables in this equation. She cared for him, but not enough. And it wasn't fair to string him along, not when all her thoughts now turned to Faith.

"Okay," he said quietly. Slinging his bag over his shoulder, he stood. "Guess I'll see you around." His eyes hardened as he looked down at her and she felt a tiny part of her heart die.

"Yeah, see you around," Buffy agreed weakly and watched his retreating plaid-covered back. She had this horrible sinking feeling in her stomach that she had just thrown away something really good. But she knew that she couldn't change her mind. It was over.

Initially she'd chosen Riley because he was uncomplicated, or so she'd thought. After Angel, she'd just wanted someone normal. But in Sunnydale, very few people managed to keep their normality, or pretense of, intact. Actually, it had almost been a relief when she'd discovered Riley's involvement with the Initiative - in fact, demon-hunting turned out to be their sole point of common ground, something they could share. More often than not it led to major horizontal activity. The rest of the time she was with him, it was nice. Safe, predictable but nice. She was convinced there must be a picture of Riley Finn next to the dictionary definition of nice. Not that it was a bad thing per se, just, well... she expected more. Angel had been dark, exciting and untouchable. His self-inflicted celibacy had made him all the more attractive. She still thought of him occasionally, on restless nights, wondering what might have happened if he hadn't gone to LA...

She'd loved Riley, much the same as you might love an old sweater. It's comfortable and familiar but sometimes you outgrow it. With him it was cotton-wooly-comfy-love. Maybe in twenty years, if she lived that long, that would be fine. It wasn't what she wanted right now. She wanted Faith. It was like a stomach-wrenching ache that wouldn't go away no matter how much she tried to ignore it. Faith, for all her flaws, was everything that Riley wasn't. Everything that Angel wasn't too. She and Faith shared an undeniable connection, they were two of a kind, pulled together and repelled by the same magnetism.

Well, there was only one way to find out if she'd made the right choice...

****

The doorbell rang unexpectedly, right in the middle of Wacky Races. Faith tried to ignore it and stuffed some more popcorn in her mouth. They'd go away. For now she was happy to follow Joyce's rule of not answering the door, just in case the cops or one of the Scooby gang turned up. She settled further into the couch and put her feet up on the low coffee table. The doorbell sounded again. This time Faith got up irritably and slunk along the hallway to peer through the spy hole. Fuck. It was Buffy, fuck, fuck, fuck. Faith froze, unable to move as she watched Buffy begin to walk away. Before she knew what she was doing, Faith had the door unlocked and opened in five seconds flat. Buffy turned back towards the house. They stared at each other for what seemed like an eternity. In reality, it was maybe about thirty seconds.

Buffy finally spoke. "Can I come in?" Her voice was even, giving nothing away. In her haste to get away the other night, she'd stupidly left her key behind.

The other girl leaned against the doorframe. "Be my guest," Faith replied with feigned nonchalance. Inside, her heart was doing the parallel bars. There was a look of grim determination on Buffy's face and it made her look so damn cute. Especially in that little sundress.

Faith was wearing one of those tight-fitting white tanktops that clung to her curves, exposing her tanned, toned arms and the fact that she wasn't wearing a bra. The barbed wire tattoo on Faith's arm drew Buffy's eyes and she soon became aware that she was ogling by the smirk that crossed Faith's face. The blonde cleared her throat, trying to clear her thoughts at the same time. It worked, for about a fraction of a second until Faith put her hands on her hips and Buffy's gaze followed the ripple of firm muscles. God, what is wrong with me, she chastised herself.

Buffy seemed to snap out of her haze and brushed past the other girl. Closing the door, Faith found Buffy glancing around nervously. "Mrs S is at the gallery. Art stuff." The dark haired slayer said without a hint of irony and shrugged.

The blonde nodded sagely as she absorbed this piece of information. At the mention of her mother, she was spurred into remembering why exactly she'd come here. "We need to talk," Buffy said, for the second time that day.

"Right," Faith agreed. They stared at each other again, Faith chewing her lip. "You first."

One word escaped Buffy's lips. "Why?"

"Why what?" Faith frowned.

The blonde fixed her with a glare that said 'don't push me.' Of the multitude of 'whys', Faith guessed that the other girl was asking about Joyce. "She's good to me," she replied eventually. It wasn't the original reason why but it was the one that was most true at the moment. She watched Buffy's eyes screw up in incredulity and knew she wasn't in for an easy ride.

In fact, Buffy seemed to explode. "That's your excuse for everything isn't it?" the small blonde demanded. She began to pace back and forth in the hallway. "It's your excuse for the mess you make. The Mayor was good to you. My mom is good to you."

"It's more than anyone else ever did for me, B." Faith was unwilling to keep the bitterness from her voice. She was entitled to feel bitter. All her life she'd been shat upon. Her alcoholic mother, abusive 'fathers', everyone just out to get her.

The blonde stopped pacing abruptly and stared at Faith. "You're so wrong. I always looked out for you. When everyone else spoke against you, I defended you. And what thanks did I get?" Buffy continued her tirade, not even pausing for breath. "You tried to kill my ex-boyfriend, you tried to kill me, my mom, my friends. You seduced Riley and now you've seduced my mother. What else of mine is there for you to destroy? What else can you take from me, Faith?"

For a long time Faith was silent. She'd done all that and more. She was guilty as charged. "Nothing. I never meant to..." Somehow, way back, everything had spiralled out of her control. It'd been so easy to let go. She'd never felt that she'd consciously set out to do those things. She'd been blinded by her obsession, there was no reason behind it, only the single-minded thought of Buffy.

"Oh, please. Spare me," Buffy snapped. She looked at Faith and was startled to see how deflated the other girl was. The arrogance she expected was gone, leaving only emptiness. She could see the dull pain in Faith's eyes but she couldn't stop. "You know she claims that she, and I quote, cares for you." The sarcasm practically dripped from Buffy's words.

The dark-haired girl's face was downcast. "It's the nearest I'll ever get to you." Go on, B, stab the knife in. Here's your chance. Kill me like you did before, only finish it this time.

Silence stretched out between them again as Buffy tried to comprehend just what Faith was saying. "What's that supposed to mean?" she asked haltingly.

Faith glanced up sharply, her eyes large and dark. "Do I have write it down for you?" The brunette's eyes swung away towards the ceiling then returned to meet Buffy's. "It means, Buffy... Fuck ... I love you." She'd pictured herself saying this a million times but it didn't make it any easier. Shit, she was shaking like a leaf.

"What?" Buffy blinked in disbelief.

"I love you," Faith pointed to herself, "I love," she pointed to Buffy, "you."

Buffy's hand came to her forehead, as if by massaging her temple she could make herself process this more quickly. "Waitaminute. You think you can just waltz in here and tell me that you love me and think that I'm okay with that?" Actually, she was very okay with that but she couldn't let Faith get off so easily. "That, that it makes everything better?"

" No..."

"Because it doesn't."

"I never said that..." Faith began but was interrupted.

"You can't just lay something like this on me. Not now, not after everything that's happened. God, I'm finally over Angel and I finally meet someone who's a normal guy, someone who doesn't see just the Slayer when he looks at me and then you have to come back and tell me this." Buffy's mind was reeling, she was rambling and picking apart points that really didn't seem to matter anymore. She knew she had to stop soon because then she might end up expressing exactly the opposite of what she felt.

Faith's eyebrows scrunched in confusion. "B, what are you saying?"

"I'm saying that your timing is lousy. And, your method of declaration is even worse." There were better ways of getting to Buffy than through an affair with her mother. She was sure of that. She wasn't that unapproachable was she?

It was Faith's turn to get pissed off now. "Has the timing ever been good? I mean, first there was that Scott guy, then Angel and now beefstick. Was there ever a good time during any of that for me to tell you?" She couldn't believe this, did Buffy actually have the nerve to blame Faith for loving her?

The other girl had a point. But Buffy wasn't going to admit that. Instead she steered the conversation away from herself. "You've felt this way all that time?" There was a touch of shock to her voice.

"It wasn't always love, B," Faith replied with blunt honestly, "I hated you for a long time too." She could remember the white hot rage she'd once felt towards Buffy but it seemed a distant memory. She'd blamed Buffy for everything that happened to her, when actually it wasn't Buffy's fault at all. She realised that now. If only she'd come to that same conclusion earlier.

The blonde gave a rueful smile. "I guessed that much," she stared down at her feet, "I felt the same."

"Which? The love or the hate?"

There was another long silence. Part of her wanted to deny her feelings and just confess to the hate. Habit made her want to protect herself from Faith but she refused and went with her instincts instead. "Both," Buffy said finally and looked up into the bottomless depths of the other girl's eyes. "I loved you, even when you turned to the Mayor, even when you tried to hurt everyone I cared about." She swallowed uneasily, remembering. "When I stabbed you, I did it out of love. For Angel, for you. I tried to rationalise it. When an animal's sick, sometimes the only thing you can do is to put it out of its misery." Her eyes were watering and she tried to blink the tears away. "I'd tried so hard to reach you but I couldn't cure you. I didn't know what else to do."

"So all you could do was kill me," Faith said quietly and looked at Buffy with understanding. "I don't hate you for it any more." It seemed important to say that out loud, for Buffy to know. She could see B was struggling with her own guilt and she wanted to end it for her, to take away the pain.

Buffy continued speaking, staring into watery space, voice distant. "For a couple of weeks I visited the hospital every day. I played your tapes and talked to you. But..."

The other girl interrupted. She didn't want to put B through this again. "You don't have to..."

"I want to, Faith. I want you to know how it felt watching you fade away like that. How it felt to choose Angel's life over yours, only for him to leave me," Buffy said with a tinge of bitterness. She gave a humourless smile. "That was the real poetic justice."

Hesitantly, Faith reached out and grasped the blonde's shoulder, knowing that she wanted to comfort Buffy but she wasn't sure how. "Don't beat yourself up over it."

Buffy met her eyes squarely. "How can you not?"

The dark haired girl gave a small smile. "I did. And look where it got me." She sighed. "I just wanna put it all behind me."

Buffy nodded. "Me too."

"Good. I mean, that's great, B," Faith said, surprised that things were going smoothly. "So... we're five by five?"

The blonde gave her a look. "You're still sleeping with my mother. You didn't think I'd forget that little fact, did you?"

Shit, Faith almost had forgot about that. "I'll stop. If that's what you want. I swear," the brunette responded quickly. Though how she was going to break the news to Joyce, she wasn't sure...

Buffy was quiet for a moment. "Well, yeah, that would make me feel better. Marginally," she said almost petulantly. "I still can't believe it. God, Faith, how could you?" The blonde shuddered, trying to erase that mental picture of her mother's hand hovering over Faith's breast.

Faith grimaced. "Temporary insanity?" She offered then her good humour wilted under the withering look Buffy directed her way. She decided to change the subject. "What about your boytoy?" Not that long ago, Faith wouldn't have thought twice about getting rid of the beefstick if he stood between her and what she wanted. Now, she preferred to leave that up to Buffy, in the traditional way.

"We broke up earlier today."

Great relief passed through the brunette but she suppressed the grin that threatened to rise on her face. "I would say I'm sorry. But I'm not," she shrugged. Eyeing Buffy uncertainly, she whet her lips and continued, "D'you... wanna kiss or somethin'?"

The blonde stared at her for a minute and Faith mentally kicked herself for overstepping the mark. Buffy took a breath. "Faith..."

"Look, it's cool," the other girl interrupted before Buffy could shoot her down. "No skin off..." Faith stopped mid sentence as Buffy took a step towards her. She could smell the blonde's perfume clearly now. Vanilla. And she could see the green in B's eyes. She was sure that she was dissolving into a puddle of Slayer goo. She watched Buffy's hand reach out and grab the front of her tanktop, bunching the material in her fist, and the blonde pulled her closer so that their mouths were inches apart. Hazel eyes stared at her lips and Faith felt her breath catch. Fuck, she wanted this so badly.

Buffy closed the small distance between them, meeting the other girl's lips, her mouth opening gently to the kiss. It was nothing like the kiss that they'd shared at the club. She wasn't going to break it off and run away this time. She was going to leave Faith wanting, the way the dark-haired girl had left her. She drew her teeth over Faith's bottom lip before caressing the moist, full flesh with her tongue. She felt rather than heard the other girl groan. She pulled back and heard Faith's whimper of disappointment. "I should go, I've got a lot of thinking to do," Buffy murmured and leaned in to capture Faith's lips again in a longer kiss.

"I'm not stopping you," the brunette replied, her words swallowed up by another kiss.

Buffy was distracted by Faith's hands roaming up her sides, skimming over the under-swell of her breasts. She was hyper aware of the other girl's breasts pressed closely against her own. God, she'd never been this turned on just from kissing someone. "Okay, in a minute," she managed to say in between kisses.

"When can I see you?" Faith asked, when the kiss finally ended, not even giving a shit about the desperation in her voice.

The blonde reached for the door handle. "I'll call you."

"When?" the dark-haired girl repeated. The door was open now, Buffy stepping outside into the sunlight. It caught her hair and she looked so damn beautiful that it made Faith's heart ache.

"Soon," Buffy promised and in a moment she turned the corner and was gone. Faith stood in the open doorway for god knows how long. She was breathless still from the blonde's kisses. Turned on but left cold. She needed B so badly, she didn't know if she could wait. She'd never waited for anything before but then she'd never wanted anything like she wanted Buffy Summers. "Fuck," Faith muttered as she shut the door and hurried upstairs for a much needed cold shower.

Continued in Window Of Opportunity