Title: Conundrum

By: CBscifiJUNKY

Summary: Ok, so much for the "one shot" this is the sequel to 'Not Yet' set the following summer. Fuffy. All from Faith's POV.

Disclaimer: Characters belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy and Fox

Rating: M – Adult situations, language

So we're all over at Red and Ken's house tonight. It's B's birthday and Red's making a big deal about it. I just think she likes getting everyone together. Although we all still "work" together, it's not like Sunnydale; we have our own things going on now.

I manage to snag one of the big easy chairs, sweet! Xander's in the other one, nursing a drink bigger than he is. Can't figure that guy out, he won't get involved with anyone but he'll stealth around, hooking up with sketchy chicks then brood for days afterward. He's doing some hard time trying, or not trying, to get over Anya. Not that I haven't done my share of hard time too, but I don't think I make it that obvious.

After our last drink fest I want to stay this side of sober so I'm sticking with beer. Nice and easy does it, right? Besides, that last thing I want is for B's husband to show up here while we're… well, when he could misunderstand stuff, you know? And I don't want any part of that soap opera shit.

B's keeping herself in check too. Yeah, I noticed, so sue me; I can't help watching her all night. She's not drunk by any means, but she's feeling… relaxed, I'd say. Now sitting on the arm of my chair, she tilts her head to the side and smiles at me, "So what did you get me for my birthday?"

"It's a surprise," I look up at her and return the smile. Then she winds her arm around my neck and slides her legs over mine slipping onto my lap. In order to save my arm from being squashed, I need to put it around her waist, but decide to just put it on the arm of the chair. It would be safer that way.

Her eyes get big, "Really? Come on, why do I have to wait? Everyone else gave me their gift." She puts on a pout knowing I can't resist her.

"Ok, spoiled girl, here you go," I reach down to my backpack and hand her a flat package.

Tearing at the paper, she uncovers an old diary of a past Slayer, 13th Century baby. I paid some flaky ex-watcher a fucking fortune for it, but the look in B's eyes right now makes it all worth it. "Holy shit… Faith! This is incredible," she turns it over in her hands. "Where did you get it?"

"London," I smile wide, pleased with myself for thinking about it, seeing how much she likes it.

She turns to me with a look I can't quite place in her eyes, then she smiles. "Thank you so much, I love it. I mean I really love it." She softly strokes the warn outside cover as her gaze returns to the tome for a moment than back up to meet mine. Damn, how can I be jealous of a musty old book?

"Happy Birthday, Buffy," I pretty much whisper out as the combined weight of her body and soft gaze starts to become a bit too much to handle.

Xander pipes up from beside us, "Doesn't Faith get a 'Thank You' kiss? The rest of us all got a 'thank you' kiss. It just wouldn't be fair if she was left out, Buffster."

My eyes meet his and I send my evilest glare his way as I blush against my will. He winks at me then I feel her hand on my face, turning me towards her. Holy fuck, I'm so going to kill him. This is already weird with her in my lap and all. What if the husband…

"Thank you, Faith," Buffy softy states as she holds her hand to my face. Pausing for a second, just a heartbeat, she slowly glides her thumb over my cheek then leans into me.

My mind is whirling cause there is nothing more I want than to kiss her, but not like this, not with her married, not in front of the whole Scooby crew, not when nothing can ever come of this. Everything kinda stops when she's too close for this not to happen. We look at each other one last time before both our eyes fall closed and our lips meet in the chastest of kisses. Our mouths barely touch each others as she gently brushes her lips against mine. Wanting to take it further but knowing I can't, I have to, need to pull back. When I do, I notice I'm not the only one trying not to show how affected I am. Jesus, it was only a second, maybe two tops, but just like Xander, you can never hide stuff from the Scoobies.

"Right," Ken snickers from the doorway to the kitchen where she's leaning against the jamb. "Tell me those two aren't in love with each other." She whispers to Red who promptly punches her. But I hear her. I'm sure B does too…

Kennedy's call wakes me from my dream, my memory of that night last winter. It takes me a while to realize a few things: that I was sleeping, that I'd been dreaming, that it really did happen, then finally that the damn phone was ringing. "Faith," she sighs into the phone after she tells me everything they've been keeping from me for months, "You have to come here. Now would be good."

"Let me get a flight. Don't worry about picking me up; I'll get a rental at the airport," I sit up in bed and drag a hand through my hair, "How…"

Knowing what I'm about to say, Ken cuts me off, "It's really bad. I didn't even recognize her this morning."

"Ok, I'll call you when I get a flight," I stand and walk to the bathroom.

Hearing her take a deep breath then sigh it out, "The hours are 2:00 to 5:00 then 7:00 to 10:00. I'll see you there."

I hang up, take a shower then get the 6:10 flight to Cleveland. Funny, I know I have to go, but don't even know what I'll do when I get there.

So now here I am, it's 9:30 at night and I'm standing outside like a fucking idiot cause I just don't know what to do. In Boston it's easy: you go pay your respects, then drink until you can't stand. Here, now, her? I have no clue what to do, how to act, what to say. I wish I wanted a cigarette; it would be an excuse for me to be out here.


Looking up I see Dawn. Her eyes are all red and swollen; she comes over. God damn it, I don't know if I can do this… the last time I saw B was her birthday. After that night I knew I had to stay the fuck away. The last thing I wanted to do was fuck up her marriage. And the way things were going, well, I just needed to split. Giles relented only because the Hellmouth was being a pussy cat and agreed that B and the Slayerettes had it covered, so I've just been chilling at the beach full time, trying desperately to forget all about her birthday and our two second kiss. When I'm not doing that, I'm trying to erase that other night at the bar. How she felt in my arms, against my body, what she said to me before she left. So tell me, how the fuck am I supposed to do this now?

"Faith," Dawn grabs my arm, "I'm so glad you came." She tries to smile, "She didn't, I mean she wasn't..." She takes a breath and hugs me, "Thank you for being here."

Nodding, I return her hug then make my way up the steps to Calvin's Funeral Home.

The gang is all here, standing at the back of the room, whispering in hushed tones. Gazing to the front of the room, the coffin is surrounded by flowers of every size and variety. The smell hits you as you go further into the room: that sickening sweet smell of too many flowers; their perfume robbing the air of its oxygen.

Knowing I need to do this, it's what I came here for, I slowly walk over. I don't think I can look at her, but I do. Ken said it was bad, but I can't believe what I'm seeing. The heavy makeup tries to hide the dark circles, hollowed cheeks and pain etched in her face. She must have lost at least 10 pounds and she couldn't afford to lose any. I know I'm looking at Buffy, but this haggard; shell of a person is not the woman I knew.

Xander raises his head and catches my eye, "Faith," he breathes out; the relief apparent on his face. All at once, heads turn to him then me.

As if it's a rousing call, a set of eyes meet mine. At first they are vacant and skeptical, then realization sets in that what is being seen is, in fact, truly there, "Faith?" Like an idiot I just stand there. But then Buffy slowly walks over to me and slides her hands around my neck as she leans heavily against me. Her tears come almost immediately and my arms surround her waist as she breaks down.

Looking over to, I'm guessing, her husband's family then back to the Scoobies, I can only hold her as I whisper, "Shhhh, we'll get through this." When she calms somewhat, she takes a half step back allowing her hands to trail down my arms then clasps my hands. She still seems to be telling herself that I'm really there. She keeps searching my eyes, squeezing my hands as if to prove that point. And all I can do is try oh so hard not to bring her back into my arms.

"Buffy?" The spell is broken when I notice an older man standing behind her, trying to get her attention.

Turning around, "Jim," she releases my hands and hugs him fiercely. Backing away from him she takes a breath then turns to me, "Faith, this is Jim McCollum, my father-in-law.

"Sir," I incline my head toward him. "I'm sorry for your loss," I offer my hand to him.

He stares at me for just a moment longer than he should have then catches himself, "Thank you Faith, nothing harder than to bury your child." Shaking my hand, he smiles then looks at B, "Well, except to bury your spouse." He says it in a way that I know he's done both now. He stops to clear his throat, "I've heard quite a bit about you from Buffy… and my Nathan." His eyes seem to bore into mine, "You'll be there tomorrow?"

Hearing a lot in what he didn't say, I don't trust myself to speak, so I simply nod.

"Good," he hugs B again then solemnly adds, "I'll see you in the morning, honey." Turning back to me, he nods sharply then leaves.

We watch him go and soon the others that have been milling about head out as well. Each one comes over to Buffy, some expressing their sorrow, others not being able to say much at all. All I know is Ken said Nathan's last couple of months was horrific and it shows in every millimeter on Buffy's face as well as the closed casket at the front of the room.

I'm trying to hang back and stay out of the way, reading the cards on the bouquets, reading the guest book. Then I feel her hand slip into mine. "Hey."

"Hey," I squeeze her hand.

"Everyone's left," she watches me survey the empty room.

Well, almost empty: B, me and the ghost of her husband. I sigh and shake my head, just like always, "I didn't realize."

"Take me home?" She asks almost pleadingly.

Not allowing myself to get caught up in those three little words I've been dying to hear since I was sixteen, I just nod and lead her to my car.

When we get to her house I pull into the driveway and wait for her to get out. Instead she reaches over and turns off the ignition. "Come on in, you're staying with me."

"I don't know, B…" right like that's a good idea. "I'm just gonna crash at Ken & Red's."

She palms the keys and opens her door, "The spare room is already made up. Ken did it after you said you were coming up." Exasperated, she sighs out, "Just come on, let's have a drink, then I need to try and sleep." Watching my brow furrow, knowing I'm having an internal battle with myself, she clenches her teeth, "There is no way I'm sleeping in this house alone so you're staying, ok?"

"K," I can't argue with her and if I could kick myself for being such a flaming asshole I would. What the fuck am I thinking anyway?

B kicks off her shoes as soon as she walks in then goes right to the liquor cabinet, "What do you want?"

"Anything, I'm easy," I hear her chuckle as I take off my shoes and place them by the door. Sitting on the couch I lean my head back and sigh, "How you doing? I mean really, no bullshit, B."

She hands me a glass, places the bottle of Jim on the table then sits next to me, "Ok… tired, drained," she takes in my raised eyebrows and sighs, "Alright, I'm completely fucking exhausted: physically, mentally, emotionally." B looks at me again then touches her glass to mine, "To better times." Right, cause both of us had tons of those.

We sip in silence allowing the bourbon to warm us from the inside. I don't know what to say, so I say nothing knowing she will if she wants to.

"We found out last year, around this time." She laughs then stares into her drink, "We were actually in the process of separating when his test results came back." She swirled her glass then sighs again, "We still liked each other, we just realized we weren't really in love with each other." Downing the rest of her drink, she refills her glass, "There was nothing the doctors could do so it seemed silly to go through a divorce, you know?" Looking up at me, she raises the bottle and tilts it towards me.

I shake my head no. One of us really needs to be sober tonight. "His family know about that?" I venture trying to figure out the weirdness I got from his dad.

"Yeah," she nods as she drains her second glass, "They don't get why I stayed around, but they really love me for it, so did Nate."

Watching her pour herself a third drink, I ask the question that's been burning in my mind since Ken called this morning, "Why didn't you tell me?"

"I…" she stares off for a moment then rests her head on my shoulder. "I wanted to… I almost did a bunch of times." She sips her drink then sighs once again, "He was a really good guy, Faith." There's no amusement in her eyes when she laughs, "I should have known we were doomed right then, huh?" She shakes her head, emptying her glass yet again.

Deciding to accept that half answer to my question, I turn to her, "B, you deserve a good guy. Give it some time and you'll get the guy you want, the guy you need, you'll see."

"Faith…" she turns to me; her expression is pained. She takes in my furrowed brow then just shakes her head and pours herself a fourth.

Right, now I take the bottle from her, "Whoa, don't you think you better slow down?"

"Ok," she mumbles as she sips her drink.

Once I set the bottle safely back on the table, we sit in silence. We don't really need the words, never did. I know what she's feeling better than she does. And that's another reason I'm not having more than my one drink with her tonight.

Feeling the weight of her head once again on my shoulder, I allow myself to just… enjoy it. After a while I realize she's fallen asleep. Great, now what do I do? If I move she'll wake up, if I don't… right… "B? Buffy?" I shake her lightly but she's pretty much out cold. Taking the glass from her hand, I put it on the coffee table then scoop her up and bring her to her bedroom. God she's so light, I could carry her with one hand.

Placing her on the bed I look around and I find a light blanket to drape over her. She's probably gonna be pissed at me for letting her sleep in her clothes but I just don't have the heart to wake her. And there is no fucking way I'm undressing her. Turning to go, I feel her take my hand, "Stay with me?" She sleepily asks.

"Buffy," I take a deep breath then slowly let it out. It's not like we've never shared a bed. And in all those times never ever happened, well, there was a little cuddling. But for the most part it was always platonic; a line both of us would never cross with each other. This time, I'm not sure either of us could keep it that way. "I really don't think that's a good idea tonight, B." Watching her frown, I free my hand from hers and lightly graze her cheek, "Look, I'll be right down the hall if you need me, ok?"

Sighing deeply, she pulls the blanket up to her chin and closes her eyes, "Ok."

"Good night B," I whisper as I walk out of her room.

Softly, I hear her say, "I've missed you, Faith."

'I missed you too B,' I think to myself as I close her door.

Lightly treading downstairs, I go to my car to get my garment bag. My suit is probably a crumbled ball by now. I figure if I hang it up tonight then when I take a long steamy shower tomorrow the worst of the wrinkles would come out.

Closing the trunk, I turn to go back in the house and see B standing in the doorway crying. "I heard the door and I don't want you to leave. Please, don't leave," the tears streaming down her face are blocking her from seeing I'm carrying my bag.

"I'm not leaving," I walk over to her, "B, I'm just getting my stuff."

For the second time tonight, her arms are around my neck and her tears are soaking my shirt. "I need you."

"Shhhh," I coo to her, "Let's get inside and get you back to sleep."

Allowing me to walk her backwards into the house she leans heavily against me as I close the door. "Promise me you won't go?" She sniffles then rests her cheek against my shoulder.

"Not going anywhere, I promise," I murmur into her hair.

As she tightens her arms around me, her lips graze my neck as she whispers, "Thank you". We stay like this for a while, her body flush against mine. Closing my eyes for just a moment I revel in the sensation of her breath against my throat, my arms holding her close to me. Then her hands are trailing into my hair and I hear her breath quicken. She's leaning fully into me; the heat of her body is warming mine in all the wrong places. I know I should step away, I should stop this but I'm paralyzed by her touch.

How do I tell the one person I've wanted more than anything in the world for fucking years to stop? How do I try to control this avalanche of emotions from obliterating my will to do the right thing? How do I even think when she's so close to me all I can smell, feel, touch is her?

Now she's nuzzling into my neck, lightly kissing my throat. It's not long before her lips make their way to the edge of my mouth, so very close. We're pushing each other a little too far this time; maybe too far to pull back. It's a risky game we're playing. And I really don't think it's one either of us is going to win. She is so close to breaking and all I want to do is comfort her. It's a dangerous combination.

Resting heavily against each other, soon we're gasping, wanting, needing… "Please baby," she moans out, giving into the need that has enveloped her. Her hands find the back of my neck and she pulls my face down, guiding my lips to hers. My world of self control explodes, just shatters, as everything I've ever wanted is right here, in my arms, begging me 'please'. Her lips cover mine and I'm at once undone. For years I've only had the memory of that night of tequila and body shots gone astray, then that brief moment on her birthday. But now, now I can feel her delicious lips, nipping, teasing, possessing mine. Then her mouth opens to mine, and I can't help but slide my tongue over hers, tasting the sweet of the bourbon, the salt from her tears and the raw, burning desire welling up in both of us.

Pulling her closer, I crush her to me. Once again, nothing exists outside of this, us, here, right now. And for a few stolen moments I actually allow myself to believe it. Then like a flash, I realize how absolutely insane that thought is, and I do the impossible: I place my hands on her shoulders and break her hungry, tempting kiss and try to force her to return my gaze.

Eyes still closed, she breathes out, "I've wanted to do that for a very long time".

"Buffy," I say, needing for her to stop, trying desperately not to take advantage. Letting my hands fall to her waist, I kiss her forehead.

Her head drops to my chest. Nodding against my chin, she tries to calm down as she clings to me. She pushes out a breath; the warm, moist air tickles my neck. "I know," her lips once again touch my throat and I hold her close to me.

"Come on," I manage to finally make her take a step back and I recover the garment bag I dropped when I shut the door. Taking her hand, we walk upstairs.

At the top of the stairs, she hugs me, then steps back and smiles. Looking as if she's deciding whether to say something or not, she shakes her head then kisses me chastely on the lips before going back to her room. More than a little stunned, I enter mine and unpack my suit, hanging it on the closet door. Grabbing my toothbrush, I find the bathroom and get ready for bed.

Closing the bathroom door, I sigh, right so… what the fuck was that? Looking into the mirror, I stare back at myself. Well, it certainly was intense. Shaking my head, I place my hands on either side of the sink then take a deep breath. Looking up to my reflection yet again, I promise myself to be in much better control, for both or our sakes.

The sound of B crying wakes me a little after 4am. Going to her, I see she's sobbing in her sleep. Biting my lip, I sit on the bed and slowly lean back against the headboard. I pull her head onto my lap and her arms encircle my waist as she nestles herself tightly against me. It takes a while, but she stills as I lightly stroke her hair and whisper that everything is going to be alright. Her gasping breaths revert to slow even ones and I know she's ok. Sighing, I finally close my eyes.

Mmmm coffee… wait, I live alone… coffee? When I open my eyes, I find it is 7:30; I'm in Buffy and Nathan's bed, alone, smelling fresh brewed coffee wafting in the air. Jesus, talk about creepy. Rubbing my face, I get up, walk to the guest room and grab my suit hoping that a long shower will make things better.

A half hour later, I come downstairs to find B sitting in the kitchen. She's dressed, ready and has both her hands wrapped around a cup of coffee. "Hey," she looks up at me. Damn, she looks 1,000 times better than she did last night. The sleep did her good, even if it was induced by 4 large glasses of bourbon.

"Morning," I smile at her, "Got one of those for me?"

She smiles then gets up and pours me cup, "Regular right?" she asks as she reaches for the fridge.

"Yeah, I'm easy, remember?" I give her one of my best grins.

Returning it, she chuckles as she makes my coffee and brings the mug to me. She sets it down then rests her hand on my shoulder. "Thank you for staying last night." Her head is now bowed, "And… ah… about, well, I…"

"Don't B, it's ok," I pat her hand.

We talk for a little while. It's, I don't know, easy I guess. Knowing this is going to be the only time she's going to be relaxed all day, we don't bring up Nate, slaying or what happened last night. She tells me about Dawn and how excited everyone is she's graduating from Kent State this year. How her once bratty sister is going to join Giles in England for while and do some interning at the New Watcher's Council. She stops, and I watch her realize she's actually had a normal moment, a normal conversation that didn't include suffering or death. She tilts her head in that Buffy way that just kills me every time and puts her hand over mine. Squeezing lightly, she smiles, "Thanks."

"Anytime B, you know that," I look up and return her smile.

She holds my gaze and I swear it's like time stands still. And fuck me cause right now I'm caught, lost in her eyes, those flecks of green and gold call to me like the old siren song. It's what I would imagine being spellbound in a vampire's thrall would be like: paralyzed, not being able to break the lock she has on our stare, and more importantly, not wanting to. I feel myself being pulled into her orbit. Like the Earth needs the sun, she warms me and I've just begun to realize how much I crave that warmth. I open my mouth to try and tell her, to try and explain, then the doorbell rings jarring both of us.

She searches my eyes as if trying to read what just happened then stands up straight again, "I, uh, I better get that."

"Yeah," like, what else can I say? This is getting way too intense. Is that what they mean by 'Saved by the Bell?' Was I just about to say something really stupid? Shit.

It's Jim, the father-in-law. He said he wanted to get a pair of Nathan's cufflinks but I know why he went upstairs. It's the reason I told B I made the beds but didn't. I knew this nosy bastard was going to come here and see if he could suss out something going on between us. So him seeing both beds unmade should chill him out a bit.

Once he comes back down, he seems more relaxed. Then the three of us go to the funeral home together. B insists I ride with them in the limo. I agree only because she looks like she's going to freak out if I don't.

The funeral is weird, solemn, and sad. I mean damn, the guy was only 32. This is only the second I've ever been to, my nana's was the first, but I was just a kid then, barely 11. I guess Buffy had her share: her Mom, Tara, Cordy, Spike, Angel, Wes. I was in prison for the first two and in Europe for the last four. I don't really know what to do so I just stay close to B. She looks at me from time to time and sort of does that half smile thing. By the end of the service, she takes hold of my arm, as if to make sure I'm still here, taking some kind of strength in the fact. Looking at her with all the feeling I can project, I try to show her that yes, I'm here B. Don't worry. Whatever else is going on doesn't matter; I'm here.

You know, I don't really know how it happened; it wasn't like I was planning on it. Everyone came back to the house after and I just say to Ken like B and I had talked about it, had decided on it, "Buffy's coming back with me for a little while to get away from everything." B's standing next to us talking to Red. The four of us all stop then B just looks up and nods at me.

"I think that's a great idea Buff," Willow chimes in, "You need a break and Faith's got a really neat place. It's so quiet and relaxing."

B smiles, "Yeah, that sounds perfect."

The father-in-law, watching us from the other room, just bows his head and sighs. If he was anyone else, I would have been pissed and probably would have given the dude a piece of my mind. But it wasn't anyone else, it's B's father-in-law, so I let it go.

"We'll have a good time B. And you can always spread rumors about us. I know how that makes you happy."

It's funny; people always ask us if we're together. Then they don't believe us when we tell them we aren't. They always give us that stupid knowing leer and say "never even once?" No, guys and dolls, never even once, hell, we've never even been single at the same time. I mean like ever. Anyway, when they get all cheeky, that's when B starts making up stories about us just to fuck with them. She really gets a kick out of it too.

Smiling, Buffy nods again, "I'm going to pack." But as she walks away I hear her mumble under her breath, "Just the rumors don't cut it anymore."

If Ken heard, she doesn't let on. Who the fuck am I kidding? Ken heard. And just like we always do, we ignore it.

So that's basically it, done deal. She comes with me to the airport later that afternoon. We drop the car, pick up a ticket for her and fly into Newark. We barely speak the entire time. Knowing she can finally rest, she gives in to her exhaustion. She sleeps on the plane, then some more during the car ride home. By the time I pulled into my driveway it's about 7pm.

"Why'd you stop?" B groggily asks, peering at me through bleary eyes.

I smile then get out of the car, "Cause we're here."

"Oh," she rubs her eyes and looks around. "This is really cool, Faith."

My smile broadens, "Thanks, it suits me."

She nods then I bring her inside and introduce her to my guest room. After she takes a long shower and unpacks, we eat, drink, then chill on the beach till it gets dark. This goes on for a couple of months. We just hang out; talk, sometimes about things that matter, most of the time not. During the days we hike or go to beach. Then we conspire over afternoon cocktails about what I'll be grilling up for dinner. It's comfortable. It's easy. It feels… right.

It's just the nights that are hard. I try not to think about her being so close. It's better when I don't drink a lot, so I haven't been. It's safer that way, for both of us. Having her here has only solidified the fact that there's a lot more going on than just a physical attraction. Don't get me wrong, we are like fucking magnets baby, we need to consciously work at NOT touching each other. Not sexual touching, but, I don't know, intimate touching. It's those touches that just happen like when I rub her back while she's doing the dishes or when she grabs my hand and holds it when she's making a point. It's when we've been drinking that those touches lead to lots of hugs and from there, well, we always try to make sure it never gets further than that. Sometimes we're just more successful than others. And drinking is a big part of failed attempts, so not intoxicated equals not worrying about messing up our friendship.

Friendship, man, that's a tough one too. I can't speak for her; I don't know what's going on in her mind, but me? Damn, yeah, total fucking whirlwind here… do I love her? Hell, I don't know. Could I? Yeah, I guess I could. So, do I want her to love me? Shit, my brain can't even begin to wrap itself around the concept. Tell you one thing though; it scares me, what I feel for her… a lot. She's been through so much and I'm scared… I don't know…. I guess that something will happen between us and I'll fuck it up? Not on purpose of course, but hey, me and relationships? Not exactly the big R word's poster child. So that's it, my hope is my fear, it's my conundrum.

The first chick I ever hooked up with broke my heart into so many pieces; I never thought I could love again, like ever. I gave her everything I had then when push came to shove, I pushed then she shoved off. It hurt like a motherfucker. Yeah, we were young, but I'd never before felt like I was "home" until we were together. When she left, I really thought I was going to die of a broken heart. So I shut down and got what I wanted then left before it got too close. It was easier than ever feeling that pain again.

My watcher never knew what happened, well, she knew we broke up, but not the rest of it. Not what it did to me, how it changed me. How I had made a conscious decision never to allow myself to be that naked before anyone again. She was actually glad I was more focused on the Slaying. Not enough to save her life though and that was just one more reason to shut down some more.

Then I came to Sunnydale. Man, after one look at B, I swore she was gonna just rip me to shreds: mind, body and soul. She stirred up a whole mess of emotions that I thought I'd killed off and some I never knew I had. Maybe it was cause she was a Slayer too? Whatever it was, it drew me to her, and it was beyond my control. Yeah, we all know how that fatal attraction episode worked out for both of us. Coming back after prison and being accepted: finally sharing her life, her friends, our calling, now that was something I didn't want to fuck up by sleeping with her. So I didn't.

After we got to Cleveland, I decided to actually give this relationship thing a whirl again and hooked up with Sara. She was an artist and smart and sexy. We had something real special and I've never had anything like it. Her family did a number on her when her folks spilt up, so we were trying to get over our cautiousness together, and we were doing it. She was the only person to ever get my mind off Buffy. She understood that I couldn't give any more than I was giving – she was actually cool with it. But she also wanted forever… and at first I thought I could give that to her. Then after a couple of years I just freaked. There was no reason really, other than I was scared and at the time. I really thought I was doing the right thing by leaving. So I broke that poor girl's heart and walked away just as she started to truly open up to me. I still feel bad about it, but over the years I realized leaving was the only choice I could have made at the time being the person I was then. It took me a while, but I made my peace with it.

I went to England after that to hang with Giles. I needed a change of scenery; I needed to ease my guilty conscience. After a couple of months I ended up meeting someone, Claire. Me hooking up with a classy watcher who has more degrees than I can count; who would have thought? It was funny cause she kinda reminded me of Sara, but didn't, you know? She also had some weird family shit go down, and talk about coming from two different worlds… but we connected anyway. Next thing I knew, she moved back to the states with me and I was in a relationship again. Damn, I go from "get some girl" to "serial monogamist". But you know what? It was ok. I was just starting to feel like this was it, I was actually happy; I thought I was really going to be able to do this 'forever' thing. Yeah, you got it, she split on me. She gave me a bunch of reasons, but I knew why, she was scared, just like I was with Sara. Talk about Karma, huh? It was more than that though; I think she knew there was something else going on with me.

I remember reading somewhere that you search for a partner that has some quality one of your caregivers had, hoping to resolve an issue that was missing when you were growing up. It's supposed to be the reason you are attracted to a certain "type" of person. Well, I know my mom was a fuck up. And I know that she was afraid of intimacy; I guess I am too. That's why I always push people away, hey, had a great teacher you know? Anyway, the people I chose also had issues with it. I guess, like that book said, I'm choosing people that have the same issue hoping I can "fix it" and finally resolve what has always been absent in my life: true intimacy.

And what the fuck does this have to do with Buffy? Well, I'll tell ya, since Angel, she's never let anyone get close to her. I mean really close. Not Riley, not Spike, not even that husband of hers. He never touched her soul, not like how your partner is supposed to, hell even me, the relationship train wreck, could see that. And that just gives me one more reason to think maybe she's perfect for me. But I'm scared: scared of what I feel, scared we'll fuck up the friendship we worked so hard to get to, scared that she's going to break my heart, but mostly scared because I think want to take the chance. Yeah, I'll say my new favorite word again: conundrum.

Yeah, right, so… trying to keep my distance, that's where I'm at now. I need to figure this out, see if it's real or if these feelings are just born of the emotional rollercoaster we've both been riding for so long. So we do all those "normal" things people do. But we don't talk about how we feel. We certainly don't act on this crazy pull that always seems to draw us together. It's weird cause I know we're both feeling it but I think we know we shouldn't do anything about it. Well, not yet… damn, aren't we the pair?

Tonight, like always, after dinner we stare across the bay until daylight disappears. I turn to her as I stand, "Nightcap then sleep?"

"You read my mind," she reaches her hand out to me. Grinning, I take it and pull her to her feet. She looks at our hands then smiles. We walk to the house just like that; she doesn't let go and neither do I.

Now we're in the living room, sitting on the couch as we sip our drinks. I don't think I've ever seen her so relaxed. Maybe it's the salt air. Nah, I think it's being out of her house. How do you tell someone their home smells like death? I guess that's what happens when someone slowly dies at home… everything dies with them. A part of B died there too, that's what I saw at the funeral home that night.

Her cell phone rings and she scoops it up off the coffee table, "Hey Will," she almost breathes out once she looked at the screen.

Not being able to hear Red's side, I scope out the convo from B's while I get up to play with the fire. It's an unusually cool night for August so I figured it would be nice to have a fire, some drinks. Right, a nice romantic evening, I'm such an ass. I laugh at myself as I stoke the coals preparing them for another log.

"No, I'm ok." A deep sigh escapes her lips, like she's been caught staying out late by her Mom. "Sorry I haven't called in a while." There's silence for a bit then, "Yeah, she's really giving me the royal treatment, so no complaints here." I turn around to face her, to give her a funny face you know, but she's a mask of seriousness so I just turn back to the fire. "I really don't know Will; I'm finally feeling ok so haven't thought about it."

Damn, Red must be trying to figure out when she's going back. It's a subject B never wants to raise, so I just avoid it. Good thing too, cause I'm kinda getting used to her being here. Throwing the wood on the hot coals I close the safety screen and make my way back to the couch as B she says her goodbyes to Red. We sit in silence for a moment then B turns to me.

"Faith?" she lays her hand on my thigh.

Trying to suppress the shiver that still goes though me; I try to level my voice, "Yeah?"

"Why did you take me home with you?" She asks evenly.

I can't help but smile as I remember those three little words that lead us to this moment, "You asked me to."

"Faith - " she says, half laughing, half exasperated.

Placing my hand over hers I cut her off, "You needed to get out of Cleveland, B." I squeeze her hand, "Just made sense you coming here." She nods, then we sit in silence for a little while longer.

"Thank you," she bows her head and pushes out a breath. Finishing her drink, she sets the empty glass on the table, tucks her legs under her then lays her head on my shoulder. "I meant what I said that night at my house, Faith," she peers up at me, "I need you." Intertwining our fingers, she continues, "I always have."

Taking my own deep breath then exhaling slowly, I stare at our hands as I murmur, "Yeah?" I'm pulling back, I know I am. I can feel her trying to reach out to me, but I just… I just… I don't know.

"Yeah," she nods as she places her other hand around my arm and burrows her head into my shoulder.

I can't help but rub my chin against the top of her head. This feels so good. God, if there is one thing I've learned in all the crazy years of my short life, it's that if it seems too good to be true, it usually is. And let me tell you, this right here feels too fucking good to be true. Sighing, I never allow my eyes to waver from our joined hands, "Buffy, you've just been through a lot of heavy duty shit - "

"Stop," her hand that was on my arm, now covers my mouth, silencing me, "this didn't just happen. I realized it a while ago, before this, before my birthday, before that night at the bar," she stops for a moment. "Good god that night at the bar," she shakes her head. "It took every drop of strength I had not to…" Her words trail off as she shakes her head again. "This is not some reboundy thingie because I just buried my husband and I'm feeling lonely and depressed!" She closes her eyes at her own outburst and takes a calming breath. Untangling our hands, I move my arm from between us and pull her into me then rest my chin atop her head.

Burrowing in, she rests her head against my shoulder again, wrapping her arm around my waist, "I guess it all goes back to that night at Will and Ken's before I married Nate. It was always so innocent before then." She dips her head, accepting the knowledge she's always denied, "at least it was for me. But that night… that night I started to realize how much I cared about you, felt about you, for real." She stops and traces her fingers up and down my stomach. "I used to always wonder what would have happened if you didn't call a cab that night, if you stayed, if we…"

"I had to leave that night." It was my turn to cut her off now, "neither one of us could have handled that Buffy, especially drunk. We weren't ready and you know it as well as I do."

Knowing I just stepped into quicksand, I close my eyes and wait. It doesn't take long for Buffy not to disappoint, "Are we ready now, Faith?"

It's a simple question really, you either are or you aren't. Some people try to cheat and say 'I will be soon' but that's just a long answer for 'no' or a hedge because they're afraid or unwilling to say 'yes'. And me? Well, I – I can't seem to answer her. She doesn't push; she just waits still snuggled into my side.

Reaching out with my free hand, I turn her face to mine. Her eyes are serious, worried, scared of what I will say next. Wearing a tight smile, I sigh as I cup her chin in my hand, "What are we doing here, Buffy?"

"Cuddling? Talking? Seeing if maybe we can take this a step further?" She says the last with a wistful tone.

Now I shake my head, "Do you really think we'll be able to live up to the hype?" I laugh for a second then take in the silence, her silence. Yeah, jokes now are really not a good idea. Taking another deep breath I tell her exactly what I'm afraid of, "I'm scared I'm gonna fuck it up, B."

"Faith," she breathes out as she visibly relaxes, "You're not going to fuck it up."

Searching her eyes, looking at how much she believes in me, trusts me, and really not understanding why, I turn away. "I don't exactly have the best track record you know."

"Like I do?" She asks incredulously as she looks up at me, "Jesus, Faith, at least your exes are still alive."

Watching as the pain engulfs her face, I press her head back to my shoulder and she deflates into me. "Oh, Buffy."

"Why does everybody die on me? I don't want to be surrounded by death anymore. I mean, I know I'm a Slayer, but does that always have to mean death? Is a little balance too much to ask? I just want my life back, some kind of life, any kind of life?" Her full on rant dissolves into sobs then tears. Slipping both my arms around her, I pull her close as she fights to continue, "But I – When I - "she takes a breath then ploughs on, "When I'm with you, I feel so alive, so comfortable and…" she wraps her arm tighter around my waist, "…and like all the rest of it doesn't matter cause you're with me." She whispers the last as she clings to me.

Pressing my lips to her forehead, I try to soothe her but her tears refuse to abate. There's too much going on for me to even begin to try and speak, so I don't. Instead, I pull her legs over mine until she's on my lap. Her head rests heavily between my shoulder and neck as she nestles into me. After a while, her breath becomes even and she stills against me.

"Aren't you sick of me crying all over you yet?" She tries to joke as she swipes at her wet cheeks.

Slowly shaking my head, I try to lighten up her mood, "Nuh-uh, I think I'm getting really good at this." She laughs and I'm instantly rewarded when she lifts her head. "Now there's my smile."

"Faith?" there's a tone in her voice that wasn't there just a moment ago and it's freaking me out.

Slowly, I close my eyes, afraid of what they might show. Trying for cool, I lean my head back as I murmur, "Yeah B?" She shifts on my lap and now is facing me dead on, her hands resting on my shoulders. I swallow, hard.

"Open your eyes," she says slowly.

Completely at her command, I do, "Buffy?"

"We can do this," her voice is so soft as she brushes the hair from my face then wraps her arms around my neck. "We want this," she whispers as she lowers her mouth to my lips, "need this." Her kiss is so gentle and slow as she tries to make this finally happen. She knows how much I'm holding back; but also how much I do want this, how much we both want this.

For so long we've played this game with each other. But now there are no justifications, it's just us, here, together, no excuses. I think I'm still in a bit of denial this is actually happening, well, until her tongue traces my lips, seeking to deepen the kiss. My hands, once clasped loosely around her waist, slowly tighten around her as I open my mouth and allow her tongue to swirl around mine.

"Mmmm" she moans into my mouth with a sigh of relief as my hands slide under her shirt, caressing her back. Confident we are finally on the same wavelength, her fingers trail into my hair as she starts to lean further against me. Resting her hands on my shoulders, she lifts herself up and straddles my legs. My god, how can this possibly feel so damn perfect? Our kisses are not the rushed, devouring ones of our night of tequila or even at her house after the wake. They are slow, soft and full of promises of further exploration.

She scrapes her nails against the back of my head as she lowers her lips to my neck. Then it's my turn to moan aloud as she licks and nips at my throat, "Buffy." I rake my fingers up and down her back, loving that she's not wearing a bra. She lifts her head in response. Her smile speaks what neither of us need to: it's time. One of us always pulled back before; in some way knowing it needed to be right for both of us or it wouldn't be right for either of us.

"Make love to me Faith," she whispers and my eyes slam shut as a current of desire courses through me. She runs her thumbs over my lips, kisses me again then leans back. She waits until I open my eyes in confusion at the sudden loss of her against me. Then she slides her hands down my body until they rest on my hips. All in one motion she grabs the hem of her tank and pulls it over her head. Eyes boring into mine, she takes my hands from around her back then guides them to her breasts. They immediately come to life at my touch. Holy shit, that's the fucking sexiest thing I've ever seen in my life. And the fact that it's Buffy doing it to me makes it just that much sexier. For real, if I was a guy, I'd explode about now.

Leaning forward, I trail kisses along her collarbone until her head rolls back as she pushes her body into me. When I get to her neck, I sigh and wrap both arms tightly around her, pulling her further into me. Needing to feel all of her, against me, now, I murmur, "Hold on," and I shakingly stand.

"K…" she sighs in my ear as she winds her legs around my waist and her arms around my neck. Never once do we lose eye contact as I climb the stairs to my bedroom. This moment is too important, too precious not to burn every second into our memories.

I lay her down across my bed and crawl on top of her. Staring into her eyes, knowing that yes, this is going to happen, I try to slow it all down. God, I want to savor every second, every sensation, every kiss and touch. Her gaze is still locked with mine and her pupils are so large they've pushed the ring of hazel to a sliver that's now fast turning green. It's always amazed me how people's eye color changes with their mood. Watching Buffy's transform, betraying her need, only makes me want her more if that's at all possible.

Lifting up, I start to slide down her body. Kissing my way from her neck to her chest, Buffy groans then reaches up and relives me of my shirt. Our skin starts to tingle as we touch. We're at a slow burn now, and the fire's getting hotter by the second. Both of us feel it but there's also a need to keep it right there. Yeah it's hot and so very intense but we aren't lost in it; no way, we're aware of every thing and by design we're reveling in each painstaking second. We've been waiting for this too long to rush, to squander this time, to let blind want rob us of this moment. It's a fine balance of desire and wonder. And we will make this last as long as possible.

God, how do I describe feeling the length of her nude body against, on top, below mine? Have the words been invented yet to explain the emotions rushing through me as our hands and mouths discover each other? Are there even thoughts to convey what it means to hear her gasp out my name knowing I'm taking her to a place she's never been? What can I possibly do to try and explain how it feels to be wrapped in her arms as we find our release together? Would you even believe me if I told you it feels like we've been together forever?

At some point, our ragged breathing stills. Reaching down, I grab the twisted sheet that had been thrown to the floor hours ago and cover our tired, sweat laden bodies. Buffy muses as she lays her head next to mine, throwing her arm over my stomach. "That was incredible." While her eyes remain closed, her smile widens, "No, you're incredible, Faith."

"We are, B, we are," I whisper in her ear as I draw her nearer.

She nods then sighs as she gets as close to me as she can without lying on top of me. If we weren't Slayers I'd be afraid of how tightly we're holding each other. Tracing my collar bone she nods, "Yeah," she breathes out, "we really are."

We drift off to sleep. I only know cause I wake in the middle of the night with her back plastered against my chest. Buffy murmurs contentedly as I nuzzle my face into her hair then hold her tighter in my arms. And I can't help but smile. Here I am, in bed, wrapped around the girl who's been making me all kinds of crazy for years now. She's not here cause we're fucked up on tequila. She's not here working out the after-effects of a hard slay. She's not here running from something she can't face. She's here to see if we can take this one step further cause she really wants to try this thing with me, give it a real chance. And just like that, I know my conundrum is finally solved.

Feeling her slide away from me, I open my eyes to the breaking dawn streaking through my window and Buffy's smooth back as she sits on the edge of the bed looking out onto the water. "Nuh uh," I mumble as I reach out and pull her back to me.

"Go back to sleep, baby." She engulfs me in her arms then chuckles as she kisses me softly, "Believe me; I'm done running from you." Grudgingly, I release her and allow her to pad over to the guest room. I faintly hear the sounds of her getting dressed.

I must have fallen asleep for a few minutes because the next thing I know, my room is a glow of red. Moving to the window, I see the sun, in its crimson glory, rising over the horizon and Buffy standing on the beach watching it make its entrance on this new day. Pulling on my board shorts and a tank I go downstairs to join her. Passing through the kitchen, I notice she made a pot of coffee but didn't have any so I grab a couple of cups then head out to the beach.

She's standing just on the edge of the surf; arms wrapped around her body, hugging herself. I slowly come up behind her, a mug of coffee in each hand and gently surround her with my arms. "I come bearing gifts," I hold up my offering and smile as she leans back into me taking one of the mugs. My free hand encircles her waist and I take a sip of the steaming liquid over her shoulder.

"Thanks," she whispers as her hand rests on top of mine. We're both silent, watching the red ball of energy rise up out of the water.

Lightly kissing her ear, I recite a little saying, "Red sky at night, sailor's delight; Red sky at morning, sailor's warning."

"Are you speaking in verse now? Do I have to call Will and Giles?" Laughing, she peers over her shoulder at me,

I shake my head as I run my thumb against her ribs, "No, it's an old saying warning of rough seas when there's a red sunrise. I'm a part-time beach girl so now I know these things."

"Right, so no sailing today, I think that can be arranged," she laughs.

Then we're quiet for a few minutes, just standing there, drinking our coffee as day breaks over the Atlantic. Now, I know exactly what's going through her mind cause it's raging through mine. I figure I should say something cause after we…well, after… neither one of us were exactly talkative last night. Well, I mean in the whole speaking-in-sentences type of talking.

"You ok?" I venture as I bend down to place our empty mugs in sand. Pulling her closer, I wind my arms around her waist as if I can make everything good between us by keeping her flush against me.

She lightly rubs her head along mine and sighs out, "Mm hmm… just thinking." Trailing her fingers over my forearm, she continues to stare into the horizon, "About you and me… I mean us… together. Now it's really real; it's not a game anymore." She sighs again, "It changes things. In a way it changes everything." Lowering her head, watching our feet, side by side, being buried by the soft lap of the bay waves on the sand, she rests both her arms over mine. Gently, she hugs my arms to her.

"B?" Ok, I'm really not grooving on this conversation and she can hear it in my voice.

Leaning back into me again, she turns her head and kisses my softy. "Don't worry baby, I mean change in a good way." Then she laughs, "But, hey, with us you never know…"

"You're not reading anything into this "red sunrise" thing are you?" I ask pleadingly as I rest my chin on her shoulder.

Turning her body to face me, she smiles then stretches to kiss me again, "No." She laughs once more as she snakes her arms around my neck, "but Will and Giles are so going to."