Without the masks
Author note: Takes place third season, pre-Amends, AU. A two-parter.
The moon shimmered dimly overhead in the starless night sky, the only light other than a few randomly scattered streetlights casting illumination as the two girls walked side by side in the empty cemetery grounds. It was only a half moon, which was a good thing, as the blonde had already pointed out to the brunette. If it had been full, then Oz wouldn't have been able to take part in all the Halloween festivities that would take place the next day.
The two Slayers had been patrolling for over two hours now, and in between stakings, all Faith had from the other girl- all Buffy had seemed able to think or talk about- was tomorrow's holiday. Usually it was Faith who got hyped up during slayings, moving around rapidly and talking constantly, to the point where Buffy sometimes had to remind her to shut up so she wouldn't distract them from looking for vampires. But today Buffy was bouncing around the graveyard, talking to Faith in the quick, excited voice of a six-year-old who'd been fed too many chocolate bars before bed time. Normally this would annoy Faith..but it was kind of hard to not smile when Buffy looked so eager and adorable…
And she so didn't just think that…
"It's going to be so much fun tomorrow…I think it's really, it's really going to be fun, don't you, Faith? Maybe we'll finally have a chance to have a day off and have fun, without any demons and monsters other than the costumed variety. Okay, well maybe that's a little too much to hope for…but maybe we can at least kill them real quick in between candy gathering and costume contests. I mean, yeah, there was the whole turning-into-your-costume fiasco last year…but this time we're all making our own costumes, so we should be okay. The Bronze is supposed to look awesome, they're supposed to be going all out on decorations…did I tell you that I'm going to go as a fairy princess, with a wand and a tutu and a crown and everything?"
"Yeah you might have mentioned that once…or maybe twice…or something like a thousand times, B," Faith said wryly, raising an eyebrow at the other girl as she continued to move around exuberantly, in a manner that was totally uncharacteristic of her…and so that much more amusing to Faith, even in her current mood.
Today it was Faith who stood still and watched, with something between annoyance and affection in her eyes…also tangled with a slightly more troubled, even hurt expression that she tried to conceal, and that Buffy didn't notice. Buffy barely acknowledged Faith's dry words, just skipping ahead in her speech with hardly more than a nod.
"Yeah, I got all this glitter to put on my face and shoulders, and I have a little crown, and wings- it's going to be so cute, Faith, really! And Willow's going to be Glenda the good witch- she thought it was kind of appropriate- and Xander is going to be a ninja, and Oz is going to be the Wizard of Oz- get it? And it goes with Willow's costume too- isn't that cute? And Cordelia- well, I don't know what Cordelia's going to be, but I'm sure it's something glitzy and expensive-"
"Yeah, great…sounds nice, B," Faith cut her off quickly…for as cute as it was to hear Buffy so excited and happy for a change- more so than she had seen in, well, ever- she was getting uncomfortable and increasingly more moody listening to her. Of course, Buffy would never notice… Buffy was too busy enchanted by her daydreams of dances and glitter and fairy princesses- god, such a typical Buffy costume- to ever get a clue in her head that just maybe-
"Hey Faith…is something wrong?"
Faith jerked her head up to look over at the other girl, startled; the blonde Slayer was watching her now with a furrowed brow, confusion slightly shifting her formerly anticipant features. Faith felt her heart move slightly in her chest in a way she didn't understand. Okay, so Buffy did notice… give the girl a gold star. It wasn't like she'd wanted her to. In fact-
"No, of course not, B," she answered breezily, and yet there was a slight edge to her tone that should have warned her to drop the subject. "It's five by five."
"See, now that makes me think there is something wrong," Buffy pressed, to Faith's irritation, as she stepped a little closer to her, still trying to look her in the eye- something Faith was trying hard not to let her do. "'Cause you only say that when something is…what's going on?"
"Nothing, B," Faith insisted, her voice slightly less casual now as she shot Buffy a glance the other girl couldn't interpret. "Just because I'm not jacked up on some pre-sugar sugar rush like you doesn't mean something's wrong. Like I said, I'm five by five."
She could feel Buffy still looking at her closely, scrutinizing her with narrowed eyes, clearly not satisfied with her response. After a few minutes, however, she seemed to realize that it would be in her best interest to just let it go, and she nodded slowly, even as her eyes remained slightly narrowed.
"Okay…if you're sure, Faith…"
"I'm positive," Faith cut her off quickly, giving her a reckless smile…but of course, she was not entirely being honest. Around B, that was usually a given. Just imagine if she blurted out every thought she had around the older girl…every thought she had about her…
She'd beat my ass into a coma, is what would happen…
The girls continued to patrol in near silence for the next few minutes; Buffy seemed considerably more sober now, and that set Faith on edge even more than her previous antics had. She could feel the blonde watching her, could practically see the questions shooting through her head- making this out into a much bigger deal than Faith had ever wanted.
A few more minutes passed before it seemed to dawn on Buffy; realization suddenly lit itself in her expression, and she stopped in her tracks suddenly, looking at Faith with wide, startled green eyes.
"Faith…you know we want you to come too, right? You know you're invited?"
No Faith hadn't known that…but that wasn't the issue. At least, not mostly…
"Hey, it's okay, B," she said with deliberate casualness, shrugging. "Was gonna tell you, I'm not going anyway. Got other plans."
At that Buffy's eyes widened even further, and she looked at the brunette with slight indignant dismay.
"What do you mean, you're not coming?! What plans?!"
"Just plans," Faith said vaguely, not looking at her. That again was not enough for Buffy.
Making a slightly put out, slightly disappointed sound in her throat, she stepped in front of Faith, taking her arm so she had to look at her and regarding her seriously.
"Faith, I wanted you to come too…I wanted all of us to hang out and have fun together tomorrow. That was why I was so excited…I thought it would be all of us." Her voice lowered slightly, and Faith wanted to cringe away from its almost pleading tone, from the soft look in her eyes.
"It won't be the same if you aren't there."
Faith found herself exhaling without meaning to, and she felt a small twinge, then more strongly…Buffy wanted her there? Really? Had she actually heard her right…did she actually mean what she had said, that she wanted Faith-
It didn't matter…even if Buffy wasn't just saying that because she felt she should- which she must be, of course- it didn't make any difference…
Still, Faith heard herself speak anyway before she could stop herself, blurting out her next word way too incredulously and openly for her liking.
Damn, Faith…what the hell is wrong with you?! You sound about six years old!
But Buffy was still looking at her earnestly as Faith ranted at herself, her eyes still big and overly nice…way too nice. Faith didn't like her looking at her like that, like she was little kid, or some kind of charity project. She knew deep down that this was not all how Buffy was trying to come across to her, but that was how she felt…and how she sometimes feared that Buffy felt.
"Yes, really, Faith! Of course I want you to come too! Come on…please, come, it will be fun, I promise. How can you say no to a night of dancing and partying and candy? I know how much you like chocolate," Buffy said temptingly, smiling. "And don't worry if you don't a costume. Just come by my house- between me and Mom, we'll find you something. So see, no more excuses- come!"
"Look B, I'm not coming, okay?" Faith snapped abruptly, giving Buffy a harsh look that made the blonde look at her with hurt surprise at her reaction. "I don't even want to- so don't make puppy dogs at me, it's not gonna work. Got it?"
"Okay…you don't have to be so snappy over it," Buffy said, her tone clearly injured, even a little angry. "If you don't want to go, fine…I just don't understand why you don't want to."
Her voice softened a little, and she impulsively reached a hand out to touch Faith's arm, subsequently sending a sudden, surprisingly intense thrill up the brunette's spine in response.
"Faith…I just really wanted you to come, you know? I was looking forward to having fun there with everyone…to having fun there with you."
Faith had to look away; she could feel the little flicker in her chest intensify, and she sucked in her breath slowly, trying to make it seem as if she weren't, as if she were still displaying the same cool as before. It had never occurred to her that Buffy could really want to be around her that much, not just out of politeness, but out of genuine desire, because she genuinely liked Faith…
Desire..why the hell are you thinking that word, of course she doesn't desire anything…stop being a fuckin' asshole…
Buffy was still holding her arm, still speaking to her softly as she tried to look her in the eye.
"But if you don't want to go, Faith, that's okay, I guess…I'm not gonna act like I get it, but I won't push you anymore. I guess we'll just do something later."
Faith looked over at her quickly, finding it hard to believe that after all that, she was actually going to drop it, to let her off the hook. Buffy, who could never take a hint…Buffy was going to let her get away without going on and on about it?
"Alright, good then," she said quickly, giving a little jerking nod of her head. "Yeah, later then."
They fell into silence again as they began to wrap up their patrol…it was a slow night tonight, maybe because all the vampires and other ghoulies were waiting until tomorrow to show up. Buffy had removed her hand from Faith's arm, but Faith could still feel it there, the skin feeling slightly warm, sensitive to the night air. She knew even as she did not look at Buffy that the blonde was continually glancing at her, trying to read her expression, even as Faith did her best to conceal it from her.
After a few moments, Faith's attempt at endurance was pushed past the point where she could take it anymore, and she found herself growing more and more uneasy and on edge from the quiet and awkwardness between them. Without at all intending to, she found herself speaking quickly, her words abrupt and somewhat sharp.
"Look, I don't like the costumes, okay?"
Buffy's head jerked over to regard her, startled, and she frowned slightly, confused.
"I don't like costumes. That's why I don't like Halloween. That's why I'm not gonna go," Faith repeated shortly, already feeling her ears burn with shame and embarrassment. She carefully kept her face averted from Buffy's as she paced about a slight distance from her, pretending to be absorbed in looking for vampires. She could feel Buffy staring at her, flabbergasted, and wanted to strangle herself. Why did she have to blurt things out like that?!
"Faith…I don't get it. That doesn't make any sense," Buffy said slowly, still trying to meet here eyes; even without looking at her, Faith was sure that her face was scrunched up with confusion. "Why don't you like costumes? They're fun…and anyway, I know you watch horror movies, the killers always wear costumes. You were watching Freddy Krueger the last time I went by your motel room! How do you not like costumes?"
"That's different," Faith muttered, feeling her face heat up even more as she continued to keep herself partly turned away. "That's TV, it's not real people. I don't like them on real people, okay?"
Her tone made it clear that Buffy should drop it, but Buffy persisted, stepping closer to her again.
Faith had intended to shrug off another answer that didn't really answer, but something about the softness of Buffy's voice, the gentle perplexity in her tone, made her stop, taking another slow breath. When she spoke her words were reluctant, tersely uttered, but genuine.
"I…I don't know, costumes are kinda creepy. I don't like now knowing who's behind them, being able to see their face behind masks..."
Buffy just stared at her for a moment, seeming to be waiting for more…when nothing else came, her face broke out in an incredulous grin, and she laughed in seeming disbelief.
"Faith…are you kidding me? You're trying to tell me after all the monsters and slimy evil things we fight every day…seeing every kind of big ugly demon there is…you're telling me that you have no problem with those things, but that looking at a bunch of normal kids in costume freaks you out? Are you serious?!"
"That's right, B, laugh your ass off, it's a fuckin' riot!" Faith snapped, quickly angered at Buffy's attitude- not to mention hurt by her seeming ridicule. Faith knew it was stupid, knew it was ridiculous, even considering what…well, it was, but that didn't mean that Buffy could get her kicks laughing at her over it.
"Yeah, I know, B, Faith the fucked-up freak, it's a fuckin' scream-"
"Hey! Hey, Faith, I didn't mean it like that, I wasn't trying to offend you!" Buffy said quickly, her smile slipping hurriedly as she realized that Faith was really upset, really not at all amused. She put a hand on the younger girl's shoulder apologetically; when Faith immediately shrugged her off, Buffy kept her hands to herself, but stayed close to her as she went on.
"Faith, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to laugh. I was just surprised, that's all…I didn't expect that to be your reason for not going."
Faith held herself stiffly, listening with some mix of anger, hurt, and reluctant belief to Buffy's trying to placate her…seeing that Faith was remaining silent, and therefore possibly open to her words, Buffy hurried ahead, trying to catch her eyes.
"Look, it's okay, you don't have to go if you don't want to…I just really wanted you to, and it surprised me when you said that was why you didn't want to. I'm sorry for laughing, okay?"
Faith hesitated, part of her wanting to hold onto her anger even as she wanted to quickly forgive Buffy, to make things okay between them again, at least in Buffy's eyes. She had to at least act like it was cool…that was just the way she had always felt she had to do things with her. It was what was expected of her…
"Yeah, whatever, it's cool, B. Five by five," she said casually.
She noticed Buffy still watching her as Faith gave her a carefree little smile, not entirely convinced. But Buffy must have decided to drop it, for she smiled back a little slower.
"Good…glad we've got that straight then…"
To Faith's shock, Buffy leaned forward to give her a quick one-armed hug around her shoulders. Faith didn't' hug her back…she was too thrown off by Buffy's actions to even make a sound, to behave in any way beyond automatically tensing up. Seeming to think that Faith was uncomfortable, wanting to let go, Buffy released her quickly, giving her a slightly embarrassed smile.
"Uh…it's okay…so…should probably head out, it's getting kinda late," Faith said awkwardly, her eyes shifting aside.
"Yeah…we should go, I guess…"
The girls began to walk side by side out the cemetery, each caught up in her own thoughts. It was a few minutes before Buffy spoke again.
"Yeah?" Faith replied warily, her eyes darting back to her.
Buffy's words were hesitant, slow in coming, and she seemed to be feeling out each word as she said it…
"Is…is there any reason for it? You know…the costume thing. Did…did something happen?"
Faith's shoulders tensed up at the question, and her eyes darted away; she almost stopped walking entirely. An image flashed into her mind, a memory…but she shoved it away hurriedly, giving Buffy a hasty grin.
"Nope. No reason, B…"
Buffy didn't press her, simply continued to walk close to her toward her motel. The two Slayers were quiet as they went along their way, each caught up in her own thoughts…
To be continued