Never say never

Author notes: This takes place during the first Christmas post Chosen. As most assume, a Slayer headquarters has been formed in which the gang finds and trains and often boards new Slayers, with Buffy and Faith as head Slayers.

This is dedicated to Lupo for all the encouragement and inspiration over the years and for being my best friend. May your own Christmas bring you many surprises.

The first thing Buffy noticed as she eased her bedroom door open, slipping out into the empty hallway, was that the Slayer Headquarters was quiet, silent, really, so much so that it was almost unsettling. True quiet was extremely rare in the building she and her friends now called home as well as work, even as late as it currently was- when Buffy had looked at her digital clock last, it had been after 2 am. Generally, with so many people living under one roof, and a large percentage of them being girls under the age of eighteen, silence was so unusual as to be almost unknown.

On most evenings, or extremely early mornings, as it technically was in the moment, at any given time girls could be heard talking and laughing, or more often, arguing and shouting. There were usually people teaching classes or sparring, people in the workout rooms or hanging around the living areas, TV, video games, or music turned up high enough that Giles studiously avoided walking past them without a reason to need to be in those general areas. The man had said more than once, or rather, muttered under his breath while cleaning his glasses, that if they ever had enough extra money to do so, he would use it to soundproof each and every room in the entire building, if only to give himself a merry Christmas. Even if it wasn't what one could call noisy, there were usually people still hanging around awake very late, whether they be night owls, insomniacs, or recently returned from patrols and unable to wind down enough to sleep.

But today was an exception to the rule, because today had been the first Christmas of the Slayer Headquarters since it had been founded five months ago. Most of the junior Slayers and even a good many of the people on staff had gone home to be with their families for the holidays, which already cut considerably into the noise and activity levels. And today had been a long, hectic day- a fun day, to be sure, one of the most enjoyable Buffy had had in some time, but it had also been tiring, and it seemed that for once, everyone was deeply asleep at once, and would likely stay that way for quite some time.

Except for Buffy, of course.

She wasn't often insomniac, but today, when she had lay down in her bed some hour or two ago, she had simply been unable to relax enough to free her thoughts and drift to sleep. Every time
she tried to think of the things you were supposed to while trying to sleep, like counting sheep or deep breathing, she would get distracted by trying to make her sheep all slightly individual from each other in her mind, or wondering why sheep, why not pigs or horses or dogs or cats, and whether or not Willow would know the answer to that, and weren't sheep too short to jump over fences anyway?

Then her mind would leave the subject at hand entirely as she began to remember the chaos of their Christmas, the way Dawn had pounced on her in the morning like she was six again, beaming with excitement but also devilish glee as she shook her awake. Or she would think of the eagerness in Xander's face as he moved in closer to her, wanting to see her face as she opened his gift to her, or the way Willow and Kennedy had kissed for the seven thousandth time beneath the mistletoe, as Giles removed his glasses yet again, or how he had stood back, quieter than the others, but content, almost proud, as though looking at his own children. Even Faith had joined them, slouching cross-legged at the foot of the Christmas tree with her eyes hooded, sleepy at first, but it hadn't taken long before she gave a smile that was first uncertain, but then genuine, as though she too were enjoying herself.

They had played silly games and eaten entirely too many cookies and too much ham, and though it had not been snowing outside, Willow soon fixed that by creating a small flurry in the halls. Snowball fights in close quarters had then occurred, and they had all ended up with red faces and soaked hair and clothing, breathless with laughter. All in all, Buffy couldn't have asked for a nicer day, but even so, there had been moments tinged with sadness, as she believed every Christmas would be from now on. It was the third Christmas without Joyce Summers, the second without Tara, and the first without Anya, and for each of those who loved them most, there had been times throughout the day where they sobered, considering this.

She found herself thinking of this as she padded her way towards the kitchen area, absently noticing the garland, holly, and mistletoe trimming every conceivable place that Dawn and many of the junior Slayers had enthusiastically taken responsibility for decorating, the bells hooked over doorways, the flashing multi-colored lights blinking around every corner. She didn't know what percentage of the budget Giles had allotted for them to use towards being "festive," but she suspected they had soared over it with a ten foot pole. Oh well, if they hadn't used money towards that, it might have gone to something sensible like books or toothpaste or something, and bright lights and bows was definitely more interesting.

As Buffy stepped through the entranceway to the kitchen area, she was somewhat surprised to see Faith sitting on a barstool facing one of the long counters, clad in what looked like men's boxers and a tank top. She had a paper Christmas tree plate before her with what looked like ham and mashed potatoes on it, and as Buffy drew slightly closer, she looked up, shaking her long dark hair back behind her shoulders as she lifted one hand, which had a chunk of ham speared with her fork, in greeting.

"Hey B…missed the memo? Santa's come and gone, no use trying to catch him in the act."

"He always just escapes me," Buffy agreed wryly, before raking her eyes pointedly over Faith's attire, leaning a hip and elbow against the end of the counter where she was sitting. "Missed the memo about it being December? Generally we wear clothing at that time which will help protect us against the possibility of frostbite."

"From what snow, Willow's magical melt-away?" Faith asked, then waved the same hand, its fork now ham-free, in the direction of Buffy's own clothing as she let her lips curve into a smirk. "Not all of us can still fit into our flannel penguin pjs and fuzzy sparkly slippers from the second grade."

Looking down at herself quickly, a little flustered, Buffy defended, "I just got these for Christmas!"

"From Toys R Us?" was Faith's entirely too innocent reply, its tone ruined by her snicker soon after, and Buffy crossed her arms, attempting to both glare and come up with a suitable retort.

"Yeah, well…at least I don't wake up in the middle of the night to eat ham…which, which is from a pig…like a pig!"

"Oh, slayed to the core," Faith put a hand over her chest dramatically, letting her eyes rolled up, then took a larger bite than usual as though to prove a point, though what that point might be, Buffy didn't know. "What's the appropriate Buffy-approved late night snack, then, cookies and milk or something? Ain't much for that anymore."

"Why, too wholesome or something?" Buffy tried again to retort, but Faith just shrugged, her face suddenly and strangely neutral, as was her tone as she replied.

"Yeah, something like that. So…you gonna stand around and banter back and forth like usual, or you gonna sit? I'm not gonna bite…wasn't planning on it, anyway."

"The ham might disagree," Buffy couldn't resist adding as she circled around to the barstools, and Faith smiled.

"Yeah, well, it's probably way tastier than you."

Buffy rolled her eyes, but smiled regardless as she slid onto the barstool beside Faith, resting her forearms on the countertop. They were just close enough to have to touch if one of them swiveled her stool suddenly, but they were not touching, a definite and carefully kept space between them now, as there generally was between them. For several moments as Faith finished up her leftovers they fell into a silence that was slightly awkward, as though neither could think of what next to say if there were no jesting comments being tossed back and forth, and yet it was a quiet that was almost companionable as well.

Buffy realized then with mild surprise at the thought that she and Faith had only rarely been alone together in the past several months since the Headquarters had been established- no, actually, since the destruction of Sunnydale. Between all the others inhabiting the place, it was hard enough to get time to yourself at times, let alone to find yourself alone with only one other without making a specific effort for it to occur. Maybe it was for this reason, their lack of alone time together, that there had been no serious fights between them since Sunnydale either. At least, not the kind where they attempted to kill each other. They still weren't exactly what Buffy would call friends, or at least, not close friends, but they weren't unfriendly either, usually…and why did it seem that every thought that came to her mind about Faith and their interactions with each other had to have a qualifier like "usually" or "sort of" or "at least?"

One thing that Buffy could be definite about, though, was there was trust between them now. There had to be, with the two of them working together closely with the junior Slayers so frequently. As Head Slayers of the Slayer Headquarters, their job was to train and prepare for action the new Slayers that Giles was able to recruit their way. A division in trust between them could be very damaging in their interactions with the younger Slayers and in how they were able to teach them, and so though they never spoke of it aloud, Buffy knew there must be trust present between them.

Still, even with this new and still developing trust, there was a tendency to be guarded as well, and probably always would be to some extent, or so Buffy thought to be probably true. As she was thinking through these things, she had almost forgotten that Faith was still beside her, and when the other woman spoke, she startled, eyes widening briefly.

"This how it usually goes? Christmas?"

"What?" Buffy turned her head towards her, brow furrowing slightly, and Faith repeated herself with a shoulder shrug.

"You know. Rah rah, glitzy love fest, peace on earth good will to man, you and all the rest of the gang."

It took Buffy a moment to decide she got the gist of what Faith meant. She gave her own version of Faith's shrug, considering.

"Sort of, I guess. Not so much the past few years."

"No? Why not?" Faith turned her head towards her as well, raising an eyebrow almost skeptically, as though she couldn't imagine that Buffy wouldn't have a "glitzy love fest" if given an excuse to do so.

Without quite meaning to, Buffy exhaled, then turned one hand over, palm up, her voice softening as she explained in not quite a complete sentence. It was something she hadn't really talked about today, even with Dawn or Willow. Somehow, she hadn't predicted that it would be Faith she would speak the words aloud to, but then, why would she?


"Oh…right," Faith's expression shifted, a faint frown crossing her face, and she nodded slowly, leaning one elbow on the counter and shoving her plate out of her way. She appeared to be thinking, perhaps of what to say, before she asked, "I guess that's hard."

"Kind of," Buffy nodded. "It's not as bad now as it was…this year was the biggest with the glitz fest in a while."

Even as she spoke she was almost marveling that this conversation was being had at all, with Faith, of all people…and at two am on Christmas day-after? It was strange to her, almost surreal, but…nice, too. And that was strange too, that this conversation was sort of nice.

Maybe it would be best to stop thinking about the conversation in the middle of having it and just…well, have it.