Rooftops had always been the one place where she found solace, where she would escape just to reflect, to remember, to lose herself in the quietness that she only found in those moments before dawn. She sighed softly as the sun began to rise over the horizon, chasing away the darkness of night.
Leaning back against the wall behind her, she closed her eyes, listening as the others in the house began to rise. It wasn't long before she could hear the light-hearted chatter coming from the kitchen and the smell of freshly brewed coffee made its way out of her open bedroom window.
Did they know what today was? Did anyone ever think about the day that changed the rest of their lives? Or had ten years been long enough to forget, to leave it in the past as if it wasn't significant anymore. Every year that passed, she never slept the night before, always remembering every detail of the battle on the Sunnydale Hellmouth as if it'd just happened and not ten long years ago. Was she the only one who thought of those things, who kept the past from disappearing completely?
Maybe it was just that they'd all been through so much in the last ten years, that looking that far in the past, remembering that time in their lives, seemed insignificant now. In ten years they had stopped eight different world-ending apocalypses—something that definitely wasn't any different than life in Sunnydale. In ten years they had all found themselves, figured out their lives. They each had experienced and lived through love, death, an ever-growing family, and it'd helped them all forge a bond with each other that grew stronger with every day, every year that passed.
She thought back to all those little events over the years, the ones that shaped and formed the future and the lives they all had now. In some ways, everyone was still the same, but in other ways they'd changed as they got older, certain priorities shifted and when it came to saving the world, it wasn't as important as it used to be.
She thought back to what made her make the decision on staying there with them, with the people she'd never quite fit in with when they were in Sunnydale, with the people she'd done so much harm to when the darkness had gripped at her soul. They had forgiven her and that was enough to make her stay, to want to make a life there, to finally have a home. A family.
Turning her attention to the soft voice coming from her window, she smiled as Willow poked her head out. "Morning, Will."
"Morning," she said cheerfully and she held out a dark blue mug, the steam of the hot coffee rising slowly from the mug in the cool morning air. "Thought you'd might want some coffee."
"Thanks," Faith said as she took the mug and wrapped her hands around it, the warmth of the mug comforting to her cold hands.
Out of all of them, Faith had grown closest to Willow over the years. They had formed a strong bond, their friendship—although surprising—just made sense, it just worked, and they understood each other in ways the others couldn't. They'd both knew all too well what true darkness felt like, what it felt like to take another human life and how hard the road to redemption proved to be sometimes.
Willow disappeared from the window, leaving her alone with her thoughts again. She didn't mind. It's why she'd come out there in the first place. Even though her room provided her with the sanctuary she needed, there was just something more freeing about being out on the roof, watching the sunrise, listening to the world around her as a brand new day got under way. The rooftop was her true sanctuary and nobody seemed to understand why other than Willow.
Faith sat out there until she'd finished her coffee, just trying to clear her head, trying not to remember too much about the day all their lives had changed significantly. With a dismissive sigh, she slipped back inside, closing her bedroom window behind her. She smiled when she heard the telltale sound of scratching at her door and she opened it to let the overly affectionate golden retriever inside.
"Hey, Max," Faith greeted the excited two year old dog as he jumped up at her, tail wagging wildly. "You wanna go for a run, buddy?"
Max responded with an excited bark, tearing out of her room and downstairs to the front door. She laughed and she quickly changed into a pair of shorts and a tight fitting t-shirt. She grabbed her running shoes and made her way down the stairs to where the dog was waiting at the front door.
Max wasn't her dog, he wasn't really just anyone's, he belonged to everyone in the house, but he'd taken to Faith more than the others. She'd always wanted a dog and she never thought, not even after a few years of being settled down in Cleveland, that she'd get one. Max had been a surprise to them all. It had been a stroke of luck that Faith had found him as a puppy, abandoned in the alleyway she was chasing a vamp down. The pup had been starving, barely clinging on to life and he was filthy. She couldn't leave him to die like that and something about his big brown eyes had captured her heart.
"Are you heading out?" Buffy asked as she came out of the den as Faith pulled on her running shoes. Faith simply just nodded and tied the laces quickly. "Feel like some company?"
"I'm taking Max with me."
"Oh, I see how it is," Buffy laughed, her tone teasing. "You'd prefer having a dog keep you company rather than me."
"Come with if ya want to," Faith smirked as she grabbed the leash off the hook on the wall by the front door. "Come here, buddy, come on," she called out to Max and he instantly came running towards her. "Good boy."
"Can you give me like five minutes to change?" Buffy asked, already hallway up the stairs. Before Faith could respond, she was already at the top of the stairs and headed straight into her bedroom.
"Looks like it ain't just gonna be you and me today, buddy."
Max tilted his head at her curiously. Normally when she went on a run in the mornings, she went alone with Max. Buffy rarely ever went running in the mornings anymore, usually choosing to sleep in instead. In fact, when she thought about it, it'd been at least two years since she'd gone running with Buffy alone, about the same amount of time they'd had Max.
Ten minutes later, they were finally out the door and jogging down the street towards the patch of forest that laid of at the edge of the neighborhood. Max kept tugging Faith along, anxious to be let off the leash and free to run down the winding trails in the woods. Their neighborhood was the definition of suburbia and even though they weren't quite in the city, they weren't out in the middle of nowhere either. It'd taken Faith a long time to get used to living there, out of the hustle of the city, but now she couldn't imagine being anywhere else but there.
Faith unhooked the leash from Max's collar at they reached the main trail. He didn't take off, instead he ran circles around her and Buffy as they stretched out and warmed up. Faith always pushed herself when she ran the trails, running hard and fast until it felt like her lungs were about to burst. When she and Buffy used to go running together, it'd been a game, a race to see who could run faster, harder, outwit the other and make it out of there first.
Taking the lead, Faith headed down the dirt path first, setting an easy pace as Buffy trailed behind her. Max ran at Faith's side just as he always did until he spotted a squirrel up the path and took off running after it.
"Max!" Faith yelled as she ran faster, trying to catch up to him as he cut off the path suddenly. She followed, groaning as she nearly tripped over a fallen tree. "Stupid dog."
Buffy ran past her and branched off to the left. Taking the unspoken cue, Faith branched off to the right and they ran harder, chasing the dog through the woods, dodging trees and the occasional boulder on the ground. After five minutes of chasing Max, Faith came to a stop, her heart racing, her lungs burning, her breath coming out in short, sharp gasps. Giving up just to rest for a minute, she sat down on a stump and put her head in her hands.
She lifted her head as she heard a few twigs snap near her and she couldn't help but laugh as Max strolled up to her and started licking her face, his tail wagging happily, completely oblivious to the fact that she and Buffy had tried to chase him down.
"You're a stupid dog, you know that?" Faith said as she ruffled his head and stood up from the stump slowly. "You chase another squirrel and this goes back on, you hear me?"
Showing him the leash she had tucked in her pocket, he sat down and lowered his head, a soft whine coming out of his mouth like he understood exactly what she'd just said.
"Come on, let's go catch up to B."
It didn't take her long to find Buffy and the sight of her made her burst out laughing. She had grass stains on her knees and back, twigs, dirt and leaves in her hair and it was obvious she'd fallen at some point. Buffy just glared at her as she pulled a twig from her hair.
"What?" Faith chuckled and she moved to pull a few leaves from Buffy's hair for her. "I'm just admiring the new look. You could totally pull it off. Snag a new hottie, run off, and get married."
"I wouldn't go that far," Buffy laughed and she brushed the dirt off from the front of her t-shirt. With a shake of her head, she sighed and tried to rid her hair of the small twigs and leaves.
"What'd ya trip over anyway?"
"My own two feet," Buffy muttered under her breath and she turned and started to walk towards the trail not far from where they stood. "Shut up, Faith."
Faith chuckled and followed, catching up to her quickly with Max trailing behind. After a few minutes, they were back on the trail and instead of running, they jogged at a slow pace, Max staying close to Faith. She didn't mind the change, taking their time jogging through the winding trails instead of pushing their bodies to the max and beyond.
"I gotta admit," Faith said through carefully timed breaths, "I missed this."
"It's been a while."
"Yeah," Buffy agreed and they glanced at each other, sharing a friendly smile before turning their attention back to the trail. "We should start doing this again every morning. I feel so out of shape lately, it's embarrassing really."
"Says the one who tripped over her own two feet."
Faith laughed as Buffy playfully swatted her shoulder, neither breaking the easy, steady pace they jogged to along the path. They kept it up for well over an hour and by the time they exited the forest, even Max looked tired. Faith took the leash out of her pocket and clipped it on his collar and they started the short walk back to the house.
"So, I've been thinking," Faith said as they walked down the sidewalk slowly, Max two feet ahead, sniffing everything he could around him. "Aside from running together every morning, you should train with me a few times a week. I'll whip ya back into shape in no time."
"I'd like that."
Faith grinned as they turned up the narrow path that led up to the front porch. "What do ya say after we get some breakfast, we head out to the garage and hit the weights?"
"Actually, can we start tomorrow?" Buffy asked, stopping just before they reached the front steps. "I kind of have a date tonight and I really don't want to be achy and sore."
"You have a date tonight, B?" Faith chuckled. "Wicked. Who is the lucky guy this time? Anyone I know?"
"Xander's buddy Brian?" Faith asked, her grin slipping away quickly. "You're going out on a date with Brian?"
"What's wrong with Brian?"
The guy is a complete tool, Faith thought, but she bit her tongue. "Nothing, B. Just didn't think he was your type, that's all."
Buffy sighed dejectedly as they climbed up the steps together, Max whining as he looked over at Faith, waiting for her to let him inside. She opened the door and followed the dog inside. She left the door open for Buffy and hung the leash back up on the hook on the wall. When Buffy walked inside a moment later, she looked distracted and Faith knew that wasn't a good sign.
Gritting her teeth, Faith bent over and untied her laces and kicked her shoes off, shoving them to the pile that was always a mess in front of the coat closet. Buffy didn't say a word as she removed her own running shoes and headed upstairs, likely to take a shower before eating breakfast with the rest of them. Faith wasn't going to get into it with her, not when she felt good, the endorphins still rushing through her body after spending the last hour and a half jogging out in the woods with Buffy and Max.
It was always the same when Buffy started dating some new guy, something she didn't do often anymore due to some of the disastrous boyfriends she'd had in the past. Faith knew she'd be the one comforting Buffy when the guy ended things or just wanted sex with no strings attached. She knew she'd be the one trying to cheer Buffy up, trying to get her smiling and laughing again. She knew she'd be the one offering to hunt the jackass down and hurt him for hurting her. It wasn't that she hated being the one Buffy turned to, it was just that she hated seeing her go through it every single time she started dating some new jerk she thought was a good guy, sensible, and sweet. Every time there was a new guy, she'd hear the words "he's different", and every time she wanted to tell Buffy she couldn't be so sure of that until she got to know the guy.
This time it was different. They all knew Brian and had for quite a few years. During baseball season, Brian would come over to watch a game with Faith and Xander and they'd spend the afternoon drinking beer, shooting shit, joking around and yelling at the TV when Boston lost a game or a stupid call was made. Brian wasn't a bad guy, but he wasn't right for Buffy. Even though Faith got along with him just fine, tolerated him mostly, it was his cocky attitude and the way he spoke about some of the women he'd been with that made her uneasy. That was the side of the guy that Buffy didn't know. At least she didn't know that yet.
The smell of bacon being cooked in the kitchen lured Faith back there and she was all smiles as she walked in, her stomach growling as the smell of bacon filled her nostrils. Willow laughed, turning her attention away from the frying pan to look over at Faith as she hoisted herself up on the counter near her.
"Sure. Best part was when the ground attacked Buffy," Faith chuckled and she snatched a piece of bacon cooling on the plate near her.
"The ground attacked Buffy?" Willow's eyes went wide. "That's…alarming."
"She tripped, Will."
The two started laughing and Willow shook her head, turning her attention back to the bacon that was cooking. Faith's smile faltered as she sighed heavily and focused on the most delicious piece of bacon she'd had in a long time.
"What's your secret?" Faith asked through a mouthful of bacon, reaching for another only to have her hand slapped with the flipper. "Ow!"
"My secret?" Willow asked, raising an eyebrow. "I grew up in a Jewish family, we never ate bacon. Tara taught me the best way to cook it is nice and slow, low heat. A lot of patience and a whole lot of flipping."
Faith clenched her jaw, her eyes panning over the room at Kennedy who was sitting at the kitchen table, ignoring their conversation as she normally did, her attention on the newspaper that was open in front of her. Tara was still a heavy subject for Willow and just the mention of her name usually got Kennedy worked up, angry for some reason or another that Willow was talking about her yet again.
"Hey, don't touch!" Willow snapped as she slapped Faith's hand with the flipper again before she could try and sneak another piece. "It's not for you, Faith."
Willow rolled her eyes. "No, it's not. Now go take a shower. You're all sweaty and you stink."
Faith laughed as Willow pulled a face and she moved fast, snatching two pieces of bacon off the plate before she jumped down from the counter. She laughed as she retreated out of the kitchen quickly, shoving half a piece of bacon into her mouth before turning to blow Willow a kiss.
Max followed Faith up the stairs and into her room, sitting at the foot of her bed while she ate the second piece of bacon. He gave her a look and a small whine as she was about to pluck the last bit of the bacon into her mouth. She sighed and tossed it at him, wiping the grease off on her pants as she watched him hungrily eat it, licking his lips afterwards as he raised a paw, no doubt looking for more.
Laying face first down on her unmade bed, she sighed heavily, finally starting to feel the effects of not having slept in well over a day. Just going out for an hour an a half had taken her mind off all the thoughts that plagued her mind all night long. From where Max sat on the floor, he nudged her hand, his nose cold and wet and she turned her head to look at him. She was unable to fight the smile that crawled over her lips and she patted the bed next to her, allowing Max to jump up and lay with her.
"It's gonna be a long day, buddy," she sighed as she rolled to lay on her back. "What do ya say we sneak in a little nap, huh?"
All she got as an answer in return was Max nudging her arm before he made himself comfortable, completely curled up at her side.
It was definitely going to be a long day and an even longer night because she knew she'd wait up for Buffy, wait for her to get back from her date, wait to hear how well or how badly it'd gone, armed with a beer for herself and a glass of white wine for Buffy. It was just what she did, what she'd always done over the years. That's what friends were for.
The house was quiet and the only light she had on was the light above the stove. She nursed her second beer since she'd came home from patrol an hour earlier, trying hard not to watch the clock on the microwave. Buffy was still on her date with Brian and it was just past two in the morning. Faith took a swig of her beer, hoping to wash the bitter taste away that came whenever she just thought about Brian.
She pulled a wine glass off the rack as soon as she heard the car pull up in the driveway. She pulled out a fresh bottle of wine from the small wine fridge and searched through a drawer for the corkscrew. Max, who laid in his usual spot by the back door, lifted his head as the front door opened and he lowered it again as soon as the door clicked shut quietly.
Buffy entered the kitchen a minute later and she sighed out heavily, smiling a grateful smile as Faith poured her a glass of wine and slid it across the counter towards her. She knew from the look in Buffy's eyes that the date, although it lasted for hours, had not ended well. The instant she saw the tears build up in Buffy's eyes, she just reached out for her and wrapped her arms around her tight.
It killed her to see how heartbroken Buffy was, to feel the choked sobs as she tried to fight them back. Faith held her close, her hands stroking up and down her back, trying to calm her down. She inhaled sharply as Buffy wrapped her arms around her and she could smell cigarette smoke lingering in Buffy's hair.
"You want me to go find him and kick his ass, B?" Faith asked and she felt Buffy try not to laugh against her shoulder. "Cos I will, you know."
"Jackass," Faith muttered softly and she let her arms drop as Buffy pulled away. "You okay?"
Buffy nodded as she reached for her glass of wine and wiped away a stray tear from her cheek. Faith just watched her, leaning back against the counter as Buffy tentatively sipped her wine. She was unusually quiet which meant that whatever had happened on her date was right up there with the guy that ditched her halfway through dinner, leaving her to pay the bill.
"I thought he was different," Buffy sighed, her eyes trained on the wine glass as she tilts it slightly. "I don't know why, but I did. I thought maybe this time it'd be different, maybe this time it'd work out. What was I thinking?" Laughing bitterly, she took a few sips, avoiding looking at Faith at all costs. "God, what is wrong with me, Faith? Is there something wrong with me that makes it virtually impossible to find a decent man?"
"Fuck no, there ain't anything wrong with you, B," Faith said softly and Buffy looked over at her, her eyes beginning to fill with tears again. "What happened?"
Buffy took a deep breath and fidgeted with the cross necklace she always wore. "He took me to see this god-awful play because he knew the guy who wrote it. I swear, I could barely keep my eyes open. It was horrible," she said with a roll of her eyes and they both laughed. "We went out for dinner after it was finally over. He took me to Celli's because Xander told him how much I love the pasta there. Not to mention it's the only restaurant in Cleveland that has pears in brandy on their dessert menu."
Faith nodded, staying silent as she watched Buffy fight the inner turmoil she was going through. It cut through her sharper and harder than a razor-sharp knife seeing her like this. Taking a sip of her beer, she motioned for Buffy to continue. Despite how her night went and how distraught she was, Faith knew it helped talking about it. It always did.
"I thought we were having a good time. We were having a good time. We were talking and laughing, just enjoying ourselves. We sat there for hours, picking away at our food. We even shared dessert," Buffy paused to take another sip of her wine and shook her head. "I should've known where the night was going and yet, I still let myself believe that maybe he was different, maybe I was reading the signs all wrong again."
Faith watched as Buffy took another sip of her wine, her hand that was fiddling with her necklace moved to rub the back of her neck. She placed her wine glass down on the counter and undid the top button of her shirt, sighing loudly as she picked her glass back up.
"He took me to the beach and we walked for a while. He took me down to where those big rocks are. You know the ones?" Buffy asked and Faith nodded. They'd killed a couple of Vahrall demons that night, both barely walking away with their lives. "He kissed me and one thing led to another and when I tried to get him to stop, he wouldn't."
Faith clenched her jaw tight, white-hot anger flashing throughout her. Still, she kept silent, the flurry of words she wanted to say held back, knowing it'd do more harm than good.
"He stopped…after I punched him," Buffy said after a moment and she laughed bitterly. "I think I broke his nose."
"Serves him right. He deserved it."
"I can't believe I thought he was different from all the others. I can't believe how stupid I am for thinking that he was," Buffy scoffed and downed the rest of her glass quickly. She grew silent, suddenly lost in the thoughts swarming in her head and she stared blankly at her empty glass until Faith gingerly took it from her and filled it up again. "Thanks."
"How'd ya get home?"
"I called a cab after I walked about six blocks," Buffy laughed bitterly. "I don't even feel bad for leaving him there like that."
"Ya shouldn't. He pulled a jackass move. Deserved a lot worse than being left stranded on the beach with a broken nose if you ask me."
Buffy shook her head, furiously wiping away the tears as they started to fall. Faith stepped in front of her and gently grabbed Buffy's hand, lowering it from her face as she stared into her eyes. With her other hand, she wiped away the last few tears and shook her head slowly.
"He ain't worth your tears, B."
The sadness in Buffy's eyes really shoved the metaphorical knife deeper inside of Faith at that moment. That white-hot anger still flooded through her veins, like a drug she couldn't quite kick. The sadness in Buffy's eyes brought forth a flood of emotions, of feelings she always tried to ignore, tried to push back and forget they even existed.
You're in love with her…
That voice inside her head taunted her and she pushed it aside, moving back to leaned up against the counter again, her face a mask of indifference. It was too easy to hide behind that mask, to deny those feelings that tore her heart and soul open. She couldn't go there. Not with Buffy. Not with the years of friendship they had between them and the hurdles they had to get through to get to where they were now.
"You know what I just realized?" Buffy asked and Faith blinked, her thoughts having paralyzed her, suspended her in the moment. "It's been ten years."
Laughing, Faith raised her bottle of beer, clinking it against Buffy's wine glass. "Ten years, B. What a ride it's been, huh?"
"And it's not over yet, is it?" Buffy laughed, raising her glass to her lips as she smiled that Buffy smile at Faith that never failed to make her melt. "Here's to ten more years."
"And a lifetime more," Faith grinned, clinking the bottle against Buffy's glass once again, downing what was left as her eyes lingered, her thoughts wandering, her heart racing, and her breath catching in her chest tightly.
The battle on the Sunnydale Hellmouth might have been one of the biggest fights of their lives, but it was nothing compared to the battle Faith was fighting inside herself.