Author's Note: Well, even a glacier moves eventually
It's been a long while between updates for this one (he said, from behind a shield of bulletproof glass), but here's the next bit. I hope
to finish off Book Three fairly promptly, along with a couple of other stories, before jumping into what comes next.
Special thanks this time around to both editor/beta Diana, and the Elite Prereader Strikeforce. This is definitely better thanks to their input. Any issues that remain are entirely my own fault.
When Faith asked what kind of food she wanted, there wasn't any need for Buffy to think it over. Given their surroundings, and the various yummy smells that wafted towards them from the fair's food booths, there was only one possible answer: funnel cake.
Funnel cakes were basically plates of fried dough. They came covered in (artificially sweetened) cherry sauce, or sprinkled with powdered sugar, or, for those with iron stomachs, with both. Either way, the end result was the same: a flavored, sweetened mass of greasy, deep-fried dough. It was kind of like smashing a pile of jelly-filled donuts flat and then eating them, except the donuts would have been the healthier food choice.
funnel cakes. Eating one required two hands, one to hold the heavily-burdened paper plate while she walked and the other to pull off little bite-sized pieces and pop them into her mouth, so Faith was now carrying her roses. She was also carrying Buffy's cola, and whenever the blonde got thirsty she would lean over and take a sip out of the straw. Faith didn't mind the chore at all, the only thing that seemed to be bothering her was the amount of time and effort that had been involved in obtaining that beverage.
"I don't wanna sound like I'm complaining or anything," the taller girl began cautiously. "'Cause it doesn't bother me at all, but... you are one really
Buffy tried for a look of wide-eyed innocence, swallowing down another bite of unhealthy goodness to clear her mouth so she could speak.
Faith grinned at the epic level of faux shock and disbelief in the blonde's voice.
." Pointedly raising the large plastic cup she was holding, she cocked an eyebrow at Buffy as she altered her voice to a fair imitation of the other girl's higher-pitched speaking voice. "'I'd like a large cola, please? Oh, and if it's not any trouble would you mind making it one-quarter Ginger Ale, one-quarter White Grape cola, and one-half Celeste Mountain Citrus?'" Faith batted her lashes and lowered her chin in an exaggerated parody of Buffy's patented 'I'm tiny and cute and I demand that you give me what I want' maneuver. "'Please, Mr. food-booth man? Pretty
Buffy laughed, and tried to poke her in the stomach with an elbow without dumping the contents of her plate.
"It wasn't that
bad," she said, leaning over to take another sip of the aforementioned concoction as they walked slowly down the midway.
Shaking her head ruefully, Faith gently disagreed.
"Twenty minutes. Twenty minutes of goin' from one place to the next and standing in line over and over, trying to find one that had all three of those, and was willin' to mix it up according to Buffy's special formula." She sighed heavily, and cocked her head as she looked down at her shorter companion. "Tell me again why I'm puttin' up with all this?"
"That's easy," Buffy told her. "Because you have a 'thang' for girls who are pretty, blonde, and have superpowers--and that just so happens to equal me." Then she smiled a tiny, mischievous little smile. "Also? I can do this
And with 'that', she fluttered her lashes, lowered her chin, and gave Faith the real
version of the 'I'm tiny and cute and I demand that you give me what I want' maneuver.
Faith stared, and took a cautious step back, looking awed.
"Damn." Glancing around worriedly, she stepped back to Buffy's side. "You better turn that off, B, or else I'm going to be fighting off the guys who'll be linin' up to hit on you."
Buffy's smile was more pleased than wicked, now, as she carefully put the look away.
"Besides, I'm not always
that difficult. It just feels like a day for special treats, what with yet another episode of world-saving last night and all."
"I hear that," Faith agreed, watching as the blonde shoveled more of the delicious, sticky-sweet confection into her mouth. Buffy, noticing the girl watching her, experienced a sudden stab of self-consciousness. Argh! And I'm sure I look completely demure and ladylike, stuffing my face in front of her like this... not.
She made an effort to slow down; taking smaller bites and actually chewing them more than once or twice before washing them down with sips of cola. Weird. I'm actually feeling relaxed enough around her to slip out of 'nervous date mode'. Which is interesting, except I need to stay in that mode. I want to make a good impression, here, not make her think I'm a bossy bitch-type person, or that I'm always eating like a certain farm animal.
"I'm sorry," she told the other girl. "About the standing in line--multiple lines, I mean--and then giving you this front-row view of me eating and eating and then eating some more...."
Faith looked surprised, then shook her head firmly.
"Don't worry about it. I'm having a good time, here, in line or wherever." Narrowing her eyes, she gave Buffy a quick head-to-toe appraisal. "And you got torn up pretty bad last night; all that healing takes a lot outta you."
"True," Buffy admitted, relieved that the girl understood.
Of course, there wasn't anyone else on the planet with more understanding of her situation than the person walking beside her.
"Absolutely," Faith said. "You've gotta keep that Slayer bod fueled up, if you want it to keep on motorvating." She looked down at her stomach, and then around at the various food vendors. "I'd probably be hungry too, if I could smell any of this." Buffy gave a little start, guiltily aware that the only thing worse than stuffing her face with reckless abandon was doing it in front of someone who was hungry. Especially when that someone had basically been pressed into waiting on her like a maidservant.
"Here," she said, offering Faith the plate. "You can have some of this, if you want."
The girl looked interested, realized that both her hands were full, and gave the blonde an imploring look. Buffy considered the problem, debated trading the plate for the flowers and drink in Faith's hands, and then dismissed the idea. Instead, she tore off another smallish chunk of dough, reached up, and carefully placed it in the taller girl's obligingly opened mouth. Faith chewed, making happy sounds as she did so.
"Awesome," she said when her mouth was clear. "Can I have another one of those?"
Buffy reached over to pop another bit of pastry between those parted lips... and Faith brought her head forward just far enough to capture the tips of two fingers between her teeth. Very carefully not
biting down with real force, she nevertheless held those two fingers captive, her gaze never leaving Buffy's own.
"Umm...." the blonde girl said, her eyes drawn irresistibly to those very white, very strong-looking teeth. "Isn't there some kind of rule against biting the hand that feeds you? Or is this a habit you picked up from your new vampire friends?"
That earned her instant freedom, as well as a dark look from Faith as she chewed and swallowed the bit of cake in her mouth.
"Don't worry, B; I never bite on the first date."
Buffy regarded her sidelong, even as the two of them moved aside to let a large group of noisy children run past.
"I thought you said this was our second
Faith mulled that over, then nodded.
"You're right. Okay, c'mere!"
She leaned her head down towards Buffy, mouth open wide, only to find the smaller girl ready and waiting with a largish piece of sugary dough. With deft, supernatural speed, she had it stuffed into Faith's mouth and her hands clear in a fraction of a second.
The younger girl rolled her eyes, and heaved a very put-upon sort of sigh, but was unable to speak for a long minute as she chewed and chewed and chewed.
"Gee, thanks," she said, eventually. "Leavin' out the part where you almost choked me, that's pretty tasty."
Something about the way she said it made Buffy frown, and then she shot Faith a sharp look.
"Seriously? Because I forgot about the potion, and the way it dulls down your taste buds...."
Her mouth working a little, as if to dislodge something unpleasant, Faith shrugged, then shook her head.
"Okay, not really. If you can't taste the sugar, it's a lot like eating greasy styrofoam." Her little grin and her sparkling eyes made Buffy smile back. "I can deal, though, so long as you're the one feeding it to me."
The blonde girl's smile grew stronger, even as she turned slightly to pull the plate away.
"Well, don't get used to it," she warned, her voice mock-stern. "In case you forgot, you're supposed to be spoiling me, not the other way around. If anybody's going to be doing the feeding around here, it's going to be you."
Faith thought that over for somewhat less than a fraction of a second before answering.
"I'm fine with that, no problem!" she said, looking positively enthused at the idea. "Let me know what you want and we'll go get some right now: grapes, chocolate, that disgusting caviar stuff...."
Buffy had actually been kidding, mostly, though now.... This is one of the most dangerous, most violent people in the entire world,
she thought to herself in renewed wonder. And she's offering to feed me grapes. Or chocolate, which would obviously be much better. In fact, the only way to actually improve on chocolate would be having Faith feed me the chocolate... maybe even while she's doing other things for me, too.
The sun seemed much warmer, all of a sudden, and she gave herself a mental shake to banish the daydream image. Regaining her composure with difficulty, she dumped the paper plate in a garbage bin and led the way to one of the vendors.
"We might try that later," she said, though in the privacy of her mind she could admit that they would absolutely be trying that later. "Right now, we'll get something for you. Something that won't be too icky if you can't taste it."
A few minutes later, Buffy had reclaimed her roses, and her cola, and Faith was making short work of a huge, red apple. Feeling quite virtuous, the blonde girl sipped her cola as they entered the midway proper. Ha! I got her to eat fruit! I wonder how long it's been since she actually put something healthy into her body?
She frowned briefly as something else occurred to her. Then again, she got me to drink alcohol, and like it, so I guess we're back to an even score on the good influence/bad influence thing.
Faith finished her apple, and Buffy passed her the last of her cola. The girl accepted it, finishing it off as she absently flicked the apple core across twenty yards of empty space and into a trash barrel, eliciting a clang
from the metal bin as it vanished inside, and an angry exclamation from the group of teenage girls who had gotten a very close look at the core as it flashed past their faces. Buffy hid her smile with the roses, and reclaimed Faith's hand in time to keep her from giving the girls the finger.
The general noise and din of the busy fair was briefly pierced by a chorus of high-pitched screams from where a ride shaped like a giant spider was spinning wildly. The passengers riding in the pod-like cars at the end of each long arm were shrieking at the top of their lungs as they whirled around and around, and as she watched the arms began tilting up and down as they rotated, which made the screams come even louder. Faith, who had been quietly and unobtrusively using her thumb to caress Buffy's hand--which she was making a point to hold whenever they both had a hand free--looked up with sudden interest.
"Cool!" she said, tugging the smaller girl towards the line of people waiting to ride. "We just have to be careful not to bend or break the bar they use to lock you in. I did that by accident a while back, and the guy running it was completely freaked out when he saw how--"
She finally noticed that Buffy was lagging behind, and turned to look at her.
The little blonde shook her head, somehow embarrassed even though it wasn't something embarrass-worthy, really. It was only that....
"Can we not... do the scary-ride thing today?" she asked, trying not to sound too whiny or pushy, and, she admitted to herself, probably failing at both. "I mean, we can if you really want to, it's just that after last night, I've kind of maxed out on adrenaline for this week."
Faith couldn't quite hide the flash of disappointment; her
appetite for thrills and excitement was insatiable. Still, she nodded, and smiled, and raised Buffy's hand so that she could brush her lips across those delicate fingers.
"Whatever you want, goes, you know that," she said, dropping their joined hands back to waist level and looking around at the more sedate entertainments of the midway. "How about we go and check this stuff out instead?"
Buffy's smile was one of relief... and happiness.
"That would be great," she admitted. Tugging lightly on Faith's hand, she pulled it across and pressed it to her stomach, holding it cradled there with both hands for a dozen paces before letting it fall back into place between them. She was more relaxed in that moment than she had felt all day, maybe even all week. She is being so good to me I can't even believe it.
Buffy was nearly giddy; maybe it was the lingering effects of the mead she had drunk, or the warmth of the sun overhead. Somehow, though, the all-but-impossible was actually happening, and she was now feeling just the teeniest, tiniest bit... smitten? No, no way. It's just that mead she made me try, and the sun.
She snuck a quick glance up at her companion's face, looked away before the girl noticed, and brushed the rose blossoms across her cheek as she quietly basked in the glow that seemed to surround her. NOT smitten; definitely not. It's just that... she's sweet. Who would have thought that she could be this sweet?
* * * * *
Buffy and Faith walked the midway, watching the people passing by, investigating the various tents and shows. They saw the worlds smallest horse, they applauded a trio of jugglers. They frustrated the man who swore he could guess their weight to within a few pounds (both of them were a fair bit heavier than they looked, thanks to their dense bones and musculature).
And then there was the clown.
Buffy caught a hint of movement at the corner of her eye; it stood out from the rest of the crowd motion because this person was following them... and had extremely poofy, bright orange hair. Faith turned her head to follow her companion's stare, and let out a laugh. The clown--he was fully decked-out in the regulation floppy shoes, whiteface and red, spongy-ball nose--was lurching after the two girls in full love-struck mode. His eyes were wide and unblinking, his hands clasped together and pressed to his chest... all that was missing was the little cartoon hearts circling around his head.
The tall girl stopped, willing to play along, and so Buffy had to stop too. She kept hold of Faith's hand, and stayed a little behind her. Even though she didn't suffer from Xander's clown-phobia, they were in no way her most favorite thing, either. The television adaptation of Stephen King's 'IT' probably had something to do with that, or maybe the way in which the makeup and the outfit distorted the human form reminded her subconsciously of certain types of demons. Whichever, it made her hang back, which of course got the clown-man's attention, and made him caper around to the side and straight up to her.
Her instinctive response to having something weird and misshapen invade her personal space was to fire a fist straight into its face--she ruthlessly quashed that instinct, holding herself motionless as he bowed, and offered her a large plastic daisy. Doing her best to be a good sport, aware that more than a few people had stopped to watch the show, Buffy shook her head in polite refusal.
"Sorry, I've already got some," she said, holding up her roses. His face fell in a look of vast tragedy, he lowered his head... and then looked up with an expression of sudden inspiration. Tucking the flower away inside his vest, he searched through his baggy pants for something... and with a wink to the onlookers his hand kept searching in his pants as he gazed longingly at both of the girls, and kept searching, and kept searching....
The crowd erupted in laughter, and Faith was the one laughing loudest; only the younger children failed to get the joke.
Buffy got it, she only wished she was somewhere far away. That kind of humor wasn't her thing; it was crude, and embarrassing, and demeaning... at least when you were the target.
Finally, having located what he was after, the clown pulled a small box out of his pants. Falling to his knees in front of Buffy, he made as if to open it--and leaned forward just a bit, to try and steal a quick look up her dress. That got another burst of laughter from everybody but the blonde girl herself, and again, even Faith seemed to think it was hilarious. Not surprising, I guess
, she grumbled to herself. She must spend a lot of time in bars, and hanging out with bikers and gangers, drinking beer and telling dirty jokes. That kind of thing is bound to give you a warped sense of humor.
Buffy held her ground, though the death glare she was sending him failed to drive him away, as she'd hoped. Instead, he resettled himself to kneel on one knee, held the box out to her, and opened it to reveal a ring. It was only silvery plastic, with an enormous glass gemstone glittering on top, but the onlookers ate it up, greeting the 'proposal' with a chorus of 'Ahhhhhs
'. Buffy was at a loss, unsure of how to react. Faith came to her rescue--finally--by stepping forward and wagging a finger back and forth in front of his face.
"Sorry, dude," she said, grinning with good-natured humor. "She's taken."
His eyes wide, he turned his whole head down to where the two girls were still holding hands, drawing the onlooker's eyes there too. After giving them a moment to register it, the clown twisted his face in utter, silent anguish, raised it to the heavens, and shook his fists aloft as if to scream 'Why, God? Whyyyyy!'
An eruption of laugher followed, though a scattered few in the crowd looked a little uneasy. Faith and the clown were eating it up, though, by the looks of it both of them were having a great time. Buffy, however, wanted nothing more than to get out of there, and be just another anonymous girl enjoying the fair. The comedy routine wasn't quite finished, though, as yet another bolt of inspiration struck, and the man in the costume made a show of noticing Faith herself for the first time.
His long, slow pan up and down her legs, with an eye-bulging pause at breast level, was something that every man in the crowd could appreciate, and a chorus of wolf-whistles and laughter punctuated the visual survey. The tall girl grinned down at him, not in the least embarrassed by the stares, and waited expectantly as he dug a second small box out of a pocket, flipped it open, and then held out two
engagement rings, one to each of them.
Everyone loved it, and Faith did the clown one better when she kept a (mostly) straight face, gave him a considering look, and then said:
"I was going to say there's no way you could handle both of us, but those are some awfully big shoes you've got there. And you know what they say about the size of a guy's shoes...." He froze, and Buffy could swear she saw his own lips tremble momentarily as he fought back a grin, then he dropped both ring boxes and pressed his hands together in an attitude of desperate prayer, eyes locked on the girl's. Faith gave him a nod, eyes sparkling.
"Sure, okay; we'll marry you."
Instantly he keeled over backwards, to end up lying motionless, face up and eyes closed in the dirt of the midway. The uproarious laughter only redoubled when his hand fumbled inside his vest for a moment, then emerged with the plastic daisy, which he clasped in his folded hands so that it stood upright over his chest like a solitary, forlorn memorial.
Even Buffy had a chuckle at that, and Faith was bent over, and laughing so hard she was nearly in tears. Devoutly hoping the show was over, the blonde girl tugged at her hand, edging them both away from the center of the open space. They had reached the ring of onlookers, with Faith still wiping at her eyes, when Buffy again caught that flash of poofy orange hair from the corner of her eye. With a groan she saw that the clown was back for more, walking jauntily along on the other side of Faith, offering her his daisy with his far hand. Uneasily aware that quite a few people were still watching them, hoping for further clown/hot girl hijinks, she wondered just what the man's problem was. Is he that short of playmates, that he can't let us walk away?
With a frown she glanced across, noting how close he was to Faith as they walked. Or maybe he's hitting on her for real; no surprise there. I just wish everyone would stop staring at us. I feel like I'm in one of those little goldfish bowls that people are trying to win over there, with everyone looking at me--
"--Aiee!" she squealed, jumping nearly three feet straight up as a hand groped her backside in a very
personal way. The laughter of the onlookers didn't really penetrate, not when she was busy glaring across at the clown... who was equally busy staring up at nothing and whistling silently in an elaborate display of innocence. It neatly explained why he'd edged to close to Faith, and used his outside hand to wave the flower at her--that left his closer hand free, and put Buffy's backside in range. Faith hadn't seen or felt what he'd done; she was staring at the smaller girl with a puzzled look on her face. Seeing Buffy's glare, she followed it back to the clown, who smiled at her disarmingly, held up one of the ring boxes to her, then 'accidentally' let it slip from his hand. Without thinking, Faith bent forward a little and snatched it effortlessly from the air before it hit the ground, which gave him an opening which he exploited without hesitation.
Buffy wanted to kick herself when she automatically tracked the falling box with her eyes, watched as Faith caught it, and then felt herself being groped again
. She snarled at him, Faith looked up and realized what was going on, and neither seemed to faze the man in the clown suit. Maybe it was the response from the delighted crowd, egging him on, or maybe the furious eyes, bared teeth, and clenched fists just didn't properly warn him off when they were coming from a tiny blonde wisp of a girl. Whatever it was that drove him, on he came, making a show of stalking towards her, both hands outstretched, hands opening and closing in comically-exaggerated pinching motions. Buffy backed away, circling left around behind Faith, wishing she knew of some way to stop this without lashing out and doing some real injury. When she stole a look at her companion, she saw an oddly blank look on her face; a distance in her eyes that made it seem like she didn't even see the clown as he moved past her. Buffy shifted her attention back to the man, holding up her empty hand to gesture him to stop.
"Cut it out! I mean it!" she snapped.
The warning tone in her voice must have finally penetrated, because the clown stopped short, regarded her a moment, and then swept her a deep bow. She took a breath, relieved that he'd gotten the message, and then groaned to herself when he held his arms out wide and stepped forward, clearly intending to give her a big hug of apology. She steeled herself for it, absolutely certain that he was going to grab her butt one more time when he was holding her, but hoped that would be the end of the whole thing. He had just reached her, and was taking hold of her, when someone in the crowd gasped.
A moment later Buffy saw why, when the clown was suddenly yanked backwards, so forcefully that she distinctly heard his teeth click shut.
Her first thought was: Okay, finally. A little late, though
And then she saw Faith's face. The eyes that had been distant and unseeing before were certainly focused now, though what they held was not irritation, or annoyance, or even anger.
Those eyes held murder.
Both of Faith's hands were clenched in the loose, baggy vest he wore over the rest of his outfit, and before the clown could do more than spread his hands in apology and smile, she threw him to the ground. A confused Buffy couldn't help but noticed how awkwardly executed the move was; Faith tried to use her entire body to move the man, a wrenching, twisting, clumsy
motion. Still, with a Slayer's strength backing it, the clown was flung across and down, skidding painfully across the ground towards the line of tents on one side of the midway. His wig flew in one direction, one shoe spun off to the side, and for the first time he spoke, in a high, outraged voice.
"Hey, lady! Jesus Christ
Faith had half-fallen when she sent the man flying, catching herself with her hands as she stumbled. Now, her eyes locked on the sprawled clown, she threw herself forward, scrambling on all fours for several steps before she regained her feet. With a strangled shriek, she launched herself headlong at him.
Buffy, still paralyzed with astonishment, had no idea what was going on. Protectiveness was one thing; if Faith had shoved the man, or even bloodied his lip after she realized he'd copped a feel, that wouldn't have shocked her. This, though, was something different. Faith wasn't just angry, she wasn't upset that the absurdly-dressed man had done a somewhat naughty thing for the sake of a laugh. No, she was incandescent with hate and fury, completely and absolutely enraged, and was going to end him right then and there.
!" Faith screamed as she hurled herself on the terrified clown. "You, Won't, Ever, Again!
Kneeling atop him, the girl raised both clenched fists above the man, then swung them downwards.
!" Buffy shouted, finally breaking free of the astonished surprise that had rooted her to the spot. Too late, she lunged forward... only to check the motion as she stared, disbelieving.
Faith's fists could have killed the man long before Buffy could have crossed the distance between them. The girl could have smashed him in an instant, like a mouse beneath a sledgehammer. And... she hadn't. Instead of hitting the helpless man beneath her, Faith was pulling her clenched fists across his chest and stomach, over and over. Violently, hatefully, and more or less harmlessly
, she flailed at him, screaming all the while.
"I told you! I promised
you I'd do it!" Her eyes were wild, and spittle flecked her lips as she forced the words through gritted teeth. "--Don't care what
that whore--I'm not
your whore! Not your toy
!" She ripped her fists across him, again and again and again. His loose clown-shirt ripped and tore, her blows battered and bruised him, and still she failed to do any real damage. Buffy edged closer, watching with a sort of guilty fascination, unable to look away. Knives
, she realized with a start, watching Faith's bizarre, ineffectual attack. She's moving like someone would move if they had a knife in each fist, gripped overhand, like you see in a slasher movie.
It was the way an untrained person might hack at someone; it was most definitely not
the way a Slayer would go about it. Most of those cuts would just skid over bones, without doing much real damage at all. And the ones where she's stabbing at his chest; those would jam up between his ribs--any knife-fighter knows better than to do that... and Faith loves her knives.
The clown, of course, wasn't exactly in a position to appreciate the details of what was happening. So far as he was concerned, the crazy woman on top of him was really going all out trying to kill him. Lashing out blindly, he managed to shove Faith off of him, and stagger half-way to his feet.
She caught him before he got any further; grabbing him by the arm and slamming him to the ground face-first. Again, it was awkwardly done, and only her huge strength advantage let her manage it so easily. Buffy was still watching, still stunned by what she was seeing. I.... I should break this up I know, but--what is she doing? And when did she forget how to fight?
By this point a small crowd of twenty or thirty bystanders had gathered to observe the free show. And, people being people, no one was in a hurry to wade into the fray to put a stop to things
you!" Faith screamed, clinging to his back and using her weight to drive him flat as he struggled to rise to his hands and knees. "One more time! One
! And then I'd fucking kill you
He was trying to scream too, not that it did him any good. Faith grabbed a handful of his hair in her left hand, and dragged her clenched, empty fist across the front of his throat in a single, violent motion.
Buffy moved, finally, pushing forward past a couple of eager onlookers, realizing it was long past time for her to put a stop to this... whatever it was.
Battered, and somewhat bloodied, the clown had yet to be seriously injured. He was still struggling, still trying to throw Faith off of his back, and she responded by miming the slashing of his throat, over and over.
!" she snarled, and there was as much frustration and confusion in her voice as anger, now. "You die! You die
!" And she ripped her invisible, intangible blade through his flesh yet again.
Buffy was afraid Faith would break the man's neck by accident if nothing else, so she grabbed her left wrist with one hand, pulling it away from him even as slipped her other arm around the girl's waist. Straightening, she braced herself and forcefully dragged Faith off the man.
"I promised you, motherfucker! I promised
you I'd do it!"
Faith wasn't talking to Buffy; she barely even seem to realize the girl was holding her. A wild, undirected swing of her arm came back at the smaller Slayer, and Buffy used her lack of height to her advantage, ducking just enough for the blow to pass over her head. Buffy didn't swing back. She held on, spat out the long strands of dark hair that had found their way into her mouth, and concentrated on keeping her footing.
"Not going to hurt me!" Faith snarled as she fought to reach the man who was kneeling, sobbing, in the dirt of the midway. "Not any more!"
She was struggling to free herself like an animal in a trap, her tangled hair half-covering her face, eyes wild. Despite her best efforts Buffy was dragged forward, and the man wasn't going to get to his feet in time to run. The onlookers were still too stunned by what was happening to intervene, assuming any of them would even try. Buffy, her arms wrapped around Faith's midsection from behind, didn't want to hurt the girl, so she did the only thing she could.
Faith's breath blew out of her in a startled wheeze as Buffy applied every ounce of her strength in the most forceful Heimlich maneuver in history. Performed on a human, it would have killed them in a spectacularly messy way, with organs spewing.... The blonde girl cut that thought off before it could fully form. Instead she leaned backwards and squeezed tighter, holding her grip firm even when she felt Faith's diaphragm convulse as she tried to gasp for air. The girl's hands plucked and pushed at Buffy's arms, ineffectually. There were things she could have done to free herself, things she should
have done, if she were thinking like a Slayer. She wasn't, she didn't even seem to really understand what was happening, and so she hung there, her helplessly flailing feet a few inches off the ground.
It should have made for an odd, even comical visual; the taller, far more athletic-looking girl being held aloft by the tiny, petite little blonde.
Buffy didn't find it funny at all. Faith's strangled gasps were muffled screams of rage, as she fought to reach the man, to kill him with her imaginary knife if that was possible, or simply tear him to shreds with her bare hands if necessary. Somewhere in the back of her mind Buffy was hoping no one watching would manage to locate and aim their camera in the next few moments, or else the scene was sure to be posted on the internet within hours. Most of her attention, though, was devoted to controlling Faith, and waiting for the girl to turn that insane rage against her. She was certain that any moment now a foot would slam back into one of her legs (and with Slayer strength backing it, a stiletto heel would punch all the way through her knee). Or it might be an elbow, fired straight back into her face; enhanced durability wouldn't prevent Buffy's nose from being smashed into a bloody mess if she wasn't able to duck or block. Seconds passed, and neither attack came. Faith gasped for air, fought ineffectually to free herself... and then her struggles abruptly ceased. She hadn't fallen unconscious; not so suddenly, and not so soon. Carefully, slowly, Buffy eased the pressure of her arms, put the girl down, and let her go.
Coughing a little, bending forward slightly as she dragged deep breaths in and out, Faith seemed oblivious to everything around her.
Buffy, however, wasn't oblivious, and she knew she had to act quickly.
Most of the onlookers were still staring at the two girls, startled by the sudden, violent outburst, and not a little impressed by the way the small blonde had manhandled her larger friend. Buffy looked past them, towards the target of Faith's rage.
The clown was still sitting on the ground, though now that the violence seemed to be past, several members of the crowd had moved to help him. His face looked swollen, his nose was probably broken, and Buffy didn't think it was a good idea to hang around and wait to see what happened next. With her arm around Faith's waist, she led the girl off at a brisk walk.
"What's goin' on?" the taller girl asked blearily, and for once her husky voice was more shaky than sexy.
"Hold that thought," Buffy told her, hurrying through a narrow gap that led to a section containing the larger, wilder, noisier carnival rides. Before anyone who had witnessed the disturbance thought to make the girls stay and talk to the fairgrounds security people, they had lost themselves in the crowd.
* * * * *
All right, this proves that it actually
is possible for Faith to be less than a hundred percent sexy. A
lot less, actually. Blech
Buffy was doing something for Faith that friends always did for each other--reluctantly--she was holding the girl's hair back from her face while she leaned over and vomited.
Luckily there wasn't much in her stomach to come back up; just some cola, bits of apple, and a few traces of partially-digested dough. After a minute or so, and a final, unproductive dry heave or two, Faith straightened up.
"Are you... better?" Buffy asked gently, handing her a tissue from her purse. The taller girl nodded, wiping her lips and grimacing at the taste in her mouth.
"Yeah," she said, then frowned as she pressed a hand against her bare stomach. "Well, basically," she amended. "I am so
gonna go back and kick that funnel-cake guy's ass; bastard gave me food poisoning or something." Faith dropped the tissue and raked her wild hair back from her face, her eyes squeezed tightly shut. "God, I feel like shit."
Buffy felt her eyes going wide as she stared into that pale face.
?" she asked, the words a little more incredulous than she'd intended. Faith nodded, looking completely sincere.
"Must be. You feelin' okay? 'Cause you ate a lot more of that crap than I did."
Nodding uncertainly, Buffy tugged at the girl's arm.
"I'm fine. Let's go somewhere else, huh? It's too noisy to talk here." Between the Spider ride on one side and the Tilt-O-Whirl on the other, that was in no way a lie, and Faith let herself be pulled along by the hand.
Buffy was worried that someone might have tried to follow them, or tracked down a police officer to report what was at the very least a case of assault, if not attempted murder. That being the case, she chose a twisty path around one corner, across an open lane and around another corner, cut between a smallish merry-go-round and an equipment truck, then turned right and ducked them both inside a smallish tent with some kind of artwork on display next to the door. Figuring they should lay low for at least ten or twenty minutes, she checked to make sure Faith was still looking alert and coherent and all that good stuff. Reassured that this seemed to be the case, she glanced around to see where exactly they were.
It turned out to not be an art place at all, at least, not the kind of art you hung on the wall. Instead, an exotically-dressed woman wearing a truly amazing amount of makeup was finishing up a complex ink design on a young lady's back. It wasn't a tattoo, she was using tiny brushes instead of needles, but the end result looked much the same. The small, elaborate signs hanging on the walls of the tent proclaimed them to be Henna tattoos, and showed dozens of possible designs, along with a list of prices. Thick books of photos were scattered on a small table beside some folding chairs, and she sat down in one, gesturing Faith to join her.
"I'll be with you girls in a minute!" the henna lady called over to them from where she was working. The tent wasn't that big; maybe fifteen feet square. Even so, the noise from outside was considerable, especially from the merry-go-round, and there was no danger in being overheard if they spoke quietly. Buffy nodded politely back at the woman, noting that the intricate design she'd nearly completed on her subject's shoulder blade was actually quite pretty; nothing at all like the garish, cartoony scrawls she'd seen on bikers and gang members. Turning to look at Faith, she was startled at how exhausted the girl looked. I've seen her swing a sword and stake vampires all night long, and come out of it with more energy than she had before she started. Whatever happened out there, it didn't charge her up like fighting usually does; it sucked all the energy
out of her
Picking up one of the books, the blonde pretended to study the tattoo designs showcased inside, while all her attention was actually on Faith.
back there?" she asked, keeping her voice low enough for the crowd noise and loud music from the merry-go-round outside the tent to cover her words. The other girl wouldn't meet her eyes. Instead she lowered her head, put the heels of her hands against her temples, and sat hunched over in the chair.
"I think we call it 'vomiting', B," she said, her voice muffled and indistinct.
"Do you want me to call... I don't know, an ambulance?" Buffy tried. "Or maybe that doctor friend of yours?"
"No," came the answer, nearly inaudible. Faith's arms trembled for a moment as she pressed her hands against the sides of her head, and a faint, pained sound escaped her.
"Does your head hurt?" the blonde girl asked, feeling like an idiot and yet at a loss for anything else to say.
"No," Faith mumbled again, her head still down, face hidden by the dark, tangled curtain of her hair. "I'm peachy, thanks."
Buffy reached out and put her hand on the girl's back, feeling the quivering tension in the tightly-bunched muscles. Moving further up, she lightly stroked the back of Faith's head, trying to offer comfort to someone who didn't know how to ask for it.
"I don't think that guy was actually going to do more than grope me again," Buffy said quietly. "You can't go all jealous and ragey every time somebody looks
like they might try something inappropriate with me."
Faith went still, then raised her head just enough to peer up at her.
"What are you talkin' about?"
"The guy; you know, the one you were sitting on out there? The one you basically scared into having a heart attack?"
Long seconds passed before Faith nodded, and even then it was slow and uncertain.
"Oh, yeah. That guy. Sure."
Eyeing her warily, Buffy went on.
guy. What made you go off on him like that? Do you share Xander's hate of people with big red noses and huge floppy feet?"
Judging by the blank stare she got from Faith, Buffy might as well have been speaking Japanese.
"Okay, B? My head really is hurting, and I'm having trouble following you here. So can we save the mind games for later?" Guh? Now
my head is hurting. Does she really not...?
"No problem," she said out loud. Realizing her hand was still resting lightly on the back of Faith's head she took it back. A self-conscious glance over at the Henna lady showed her still fully involved in the design she was finishing up on her customer. Keeping her voice pitched low, Buffy tried to pin down just what was going on with her fellow Slayer.
"So... quite a move you put on that guy, huh? That'll teach him to... do that thing he did. Right?"
Faith shrugged listlessly, her head drooping forward, elbows on knees as she rode out the nausea.
"All I did was shove him down; it's not like I get off on unloading tons of Slayer-fu on every single person who gets in my face."
Buffy nibbled her lower lip gently as she processed that. She's lying about not loving to kick ass every chance she gets; not that I didn't already know that much about her. But--I think she really doesn't remember much at all about what happened out there. The thing with the make-believe knives, especially, you'd think she would explain, if she remembered doing it.
"Oh, sure," she said out loud, with gentle sarcasm. "What would I ever do with someone who got their kicks from excessive violence?"
Faith didn't raise her head, but Buffy could still see the small, pained smile that stole over her lips.
"I don't know; maybe start dating her?"
That pulled a quiet, genuine giggle from Buffy, and she captured one of Faith's hands in her own, and leaned forward in her chair so that their heads were very close together.
"If I date you, are there going to be more things like today, with you 'shoving' anyone who gets even a little obnoxious with me?"
Faith looked up, and the weariness and strain in her face were already fading as she shrugged.
"Yeah, probably," she said softly. "Anybody who thinks they can mess with you is gonna feel lucky if they come out of it still able to walk." Her hand clenched into a fist, and Buffy shook her head slowly, her smaller hands holding Faith's trapped between them.
"No. I mean, okay, it's very neat to have someone who would do that for me, not to mention having someone who could
do that for me... but I need you tone it down a little, okay?" And not just because of the spooky amnesia-flashback-ghostfighting thing, either. I don't want some drunk idiot to get broken in half if he makes the mistake of slapping my butt or something. Roughed up a little, maybe, just not hospitalized.
Faith was giving her a sidelong look, as if to gauge her convictions on the matter.
"I don't think I can watch somebody getting all grabby with you and not do something about it, B." She glanced down at her fist, still caught between Buffy's small hands. "I don't want you mad at me or anything, but I'm pretty sure I'm going to be kind of a jealous girlfriend."
A small, yet utterly heartfelt smile stole across Buffy's lips.
"You know, I'm actually very much okay with that," she told the other girl quietly. "Having someone who...." Who's willing to fight for me; fight to keep me, I mean, instead of treating me like either a weapon they can use or a child who's too young to understand anything at all.... Having someone who's a little jealous, and somewhat possessive, and seriously protective--That sounds fairly wonderful to me right now. I want someone to care about Buffy, instead of worrying about whether or not the Slayer is fully functional and ready to patrol.
Shaking her head, Buffy cleared her throat softly.
"Jealous is fine. I want to feel like I'm important to someone; other than, you know, for how hard I can hit or how many things I can kill." Faith started to answer, but Buffy cut her off--gently.
"One request, though? Can we please keep it sort of sane?" She grimaced, remembering the events of the year before. "What I don't
want is spooky messages left on my bed, or stalkery gifts left on my porch, or more dead pets showing up at Willow's or Xander's." She pried carefully at Faith's fingers, working at it until the girl relaxed her fist and let her hand be spread open. "There." Interlacing her own small fingers with Faith's longer ones, she glanced up at that pale face, only a foot away, and smiled wistfully. "I'd much rather see it like this than the other way. Please?"
Faith nodded, and her eyes were soft, bottomless pools of darkness.
"Okay," she said, simply. Then, because it was Faith, she bared her teeth slightly. "Thing is, if anybody actually tries to hurt you--their ass is mine."
Since it was incredibly unlikely that anyone besides Faith or her boss could
actually threaten her, Buffy had no problem with nodding her assent. Besides, how sweet is it that she wants to protect me? That
has to be a healthier thing for her to be feeling than her usual violent urges.
She grinned suddenly. Look at me! I'm positive-influence-girl; ask me how!
"Well," she said out loud, giving Faith a playfully frightened and breathless, damsel-in-distress look. "I've heard some people say there might actually be vampires
in Sunnydale, and I'm scared." She leaned a bit closer, so that only inches separated her lips from Faith's. "If I'm ever out at night alone, would you walk me home, and keep me safe? Pleeease?"
Faith's grin answered her own, then softened to a smile as she nodded.
"Absolutely. I'll walk you home, I'll stand guard, I'll keep you warm under the covers...."
Buffy gave her a playful little scowl and a momentary glare.
"Let's not get ahead of ourselves, huh? First things first. And right now, the first thing is...." She leaned forward another fraction, chin tilted up and lips offered invitingly. Faith, obviously tempted, hesitated for a moment.
"B, I still got some serious barf-breath goin' on here, you sure you wanna--"
"I'll risk it," Buffy assured her. Better not mention how icky it is to kiss someone who's undead, with the room-temperature tongue-age. Well, actually she knows all about that, I guess, but I'm the one who did it for a couple of years; I can deal.
Resolutely pushing that and all related thoughts out of her head, she reached out, preparatory to putting her hand behind Faith's head and forcibly dragging her into the kiss... and then someone cleared their throat.
They both nearly jolted out of their seats, and Buffy's face went hot with embarrassment as she belatedly remembered that they were not alone in the tent, that there were two people looking on from only ten feet away. Fortunately neither the henna lady nor her customer were visibly upset at what they'd seen--the artist seemed only mildly uncomfortable, and the young woman with the new body art was fascinated, and maybe even a little envious. Nevertheless, Buffy hastily scooted her seat back a little, and feigned sudden, intense interest in the little books of photos. Faith muttered some choice words under her breath, straightened up in her chair, and visibly pulled her emotional armor back into place. Within moments she was back to looking smug, cool, and infinitely self-assured.
A minute later, after her customer had paid up and departed the tent, the lady came over and looked at the photo Buffy was pretending to study.
"That's an easy one," she commented, pointing at the ornate little star design someone had gotten painted on both hands. "The henna shows up best on the palms of your hands or the soles of your feet, but it works anywhere on your body."
Buffy frowned, flipped a few pages in the book, and really looked at some of the photos for the first time.
"And this isn't permy? It'll wash off?"
The woman made a tsking sound, and raised her own hand. There were elaborate little lines and curlicues covering every inch of both her palm and her fingers.
"Not 'wash off'; more like 'wear off'. If you're gentle with them, the designs can last two or three weeks. If you scrub at them enough, they can be gone in a few days."
Thinking it over, Buffy noted absently that her hand felt odd, somehow. Without looking, she located Faith's hand, took it in her own, and then things felt right again. I was wondering how we could kill twenty or thirty minutes, waiting for the hubbub out there to calm down. We don't want to start walking around while that poor clown guy is still screaming for security to find us both and have us thrown out.
She looked over at Faith, just from the corner of her eye, and saw that she was back to being her usual self--on the outside at least. It would probably do her some good to have a little more time to center herself before they went back out in into the crowd. That being the case....
"Faith," she said, turning her head and handing the book to the surprised girl. "Here, pick something out for me to get."
Looking faintly astonished, Faith glanced down at the book, then up at the lady watching.
"Are you serious?" she asked the smaller girl. "You really want to get some of this stuff put on you?"
Buffy smiled, gave a half-shrug with one shoulder, and tossed her hair back.
"Sure, why not? It's only for a few days. And it'll let me get a feel for what it's like for rebels like you, walking around the mean streets with your tats and your... beer. Only minus the beer, 'cause, you know, 'eww'."
Somewhat bemusedly, Faith started flipping through the book. Buffy, with all the nonchalance she could muster, added:
"And after mine is done, I get to pick something out for you."
There was nothing wrong with the girl's instincts; her head came up and her eyes narrowed, no doubt warned by the sheer tonnage of innocence that burdened Buffy's words.
"You're going to pick out some tats for me?"
The blonde studied her nails intently; she didn't dare risk meeting Faith's eyes at that particular moment.
"Just some temporary ones. Why so nervous?"
"I don't know yet," the girl grumbled softly. "These are all pretty cool, though; I can handle these."
Buffy's nails were proving amazingly
"Not these, specifically," she said, addressing the empty air in a voice that practically oozed sweetness. "I saw another place that does them, earlier, when we were walking around. I think they'd do a better job on you... I mean, for you, over there. Ahem."
She felt those eyes on her, felt them trying to see through to whatever she was thinking. Fortunately that trick wasn't on the list of Slayer abilities.
"Shit," was all Faith could say, then she handed the woman the book and pointed to a photo.
* * * * *