Opening And Upward
by Kyra Cullinan

here's to opening and upward, to leaf and to sap
and to your(in my arms flowering so new)
self whose eyes smell of the sound of rain

She's been here before. The crowding of familiar, famous buildings brushes against the edges of her consciousness wherever she turns, and it's almost comforting. It was an eighth grade trip, on a bus down from Boston, noisy with the hyperactivity of thirteen-year-olds approaching summer vacation. She got here by bus today too, this one full of sleeping, worn-looking men. Silent as it wove its way eastward across the face of the entire country, the belated mirror-image of a trip made when she was much younger and much more afraid.

Now she's managed to work her way from the dingy Greyhound station over to the Mall, enjoying the swing of her limbs, cramped after two and a half days on a bus. Stone buildings line these sidewalks, working hard to be imposing and important. East coast pretentiousness, but if she's honest she'll admit that it's reassuring to be somewhere which isn't all palm trees and stucco and plasticine people. She feels like she can finally breathe again, without the buzzing voice in the back of her head telling her to get the hell out of California. Away from all the shit it's given her from the moment she arrived. Three days out of jail and she was on the bus headed here, with Angel to thank.

It's almost unreal, being away from the stale hum of the bus or the cold cement walls of jail, like maybe she's died or is back in a coma, dreaming those godforsaken Slayer dreams. She's had enough of those, thank you very much, and enough of everything to do with them, of LA and Sunnydale and always being in someone's fucking shadow. Which is why she told Angel she needed to leave and ended up here. She's got some local vamp fighter's name and number in her pocket, an old friend of Gunn's who's apparently having a bit of a demon problem and would be more than glad to have the help of a Slayer.

Faith stops walking and sits on the long steps of one of the buildings, swinging her backpack off to rest between her legs. She rummages inside and finds the ice cream sandwich from the bus station's tiny snack bar. It's perfectly melted now, and she tears off the paper absently. It was dawn when the bus driver bellowed their approach to the city, the early June sun peeking over the north Virginia trees, glistening across the Potomac and generally making Washington look a whole hell of a lot nicer than Faith knows it is. She doesn't let herself be taken in by such niceties, but she does let herself relax into the warmth of the now fully-risen sun, feeling her muscles unknot and the cool stone of the steps start to heat beneath her.

She watches the joggers lazily, vaguely amazed at their number. Nothing else to do in a city like this, she figures, at least for people like them. Most of them are middle-aged men, hairy and wearing a little too little, sweating profusely. She's still slightly overwhelmed by all this freedom and space and the people filling both. She counts them, idly, as they come into view, feeling her fingers getting sticky with chocolate.

And then there's this woman. Young, a little older than Faith. She comes around the corner, jogging like the rest, but there's something in the way she runs, like she could do it forever and be completely happy. She knows what she's doing, too, unlike the rest of the middle-aged yuppies puffing along, and Faith pauses to admire the rhythm of her arms and legs as she weaves between the others on the path. She's angled in Faith's direction, making her way straight toward the building where she's camped out, slowing until she paces her way up the steps. She stops somewhere above Faith's left shoulder and starts to stretch out. From the corner of her eye, Faith watches firm girl muscles moving under sweat-sheened skin, feels cool ice cream sliding down her throat. Smiles a little to herself.

The woman is sitting now, a few steps above her, and Faith reaches into her bag, rummaging for her last unopened water bottle, which she tosses over to her. She catches it easily and quirks an eyebrow at Faith.


Faith shakes her head dismissively. "What's your name?"

"Gina," she says, twisting open the plastic bottle top.

"Gina," Faith repeats, rolling the name appreciatively around in her mouth. She can feel the woman watching her with something of a professional air, sizing her up a little too knowingly. She gives her most winning smile, cocking her head ever so slightly to one side. "I'm Faith. Do you work for the government, Gina?"

The muscles in Gina's neck flutter in synchronized motion as she relaxes a little and breaks Faith's gaze to drain half the water bottle. "Who doesn't?" she says, when she brings it away from her lips, which shine now with moisture.

FBI, Faith thinks, or maybe CIA. Something intimately acquainted with fighting the official Good Fight. She is too self-possessed, her limbs too well toned for any kind of office job. Then again, if the Mayor taught her anything at all, it was respect for the unpredictability of politicians.

Faith finishes the last of her ice cream, neatly licking the cold whiteness of vanilla off the wrapper, then turns her attention to sucking her fingers clean. Not obscenely, just -- lingering. Enough so that when she turns to glance up at Gina, she catches the other woman regarding her again, with a far less objective gaze. Gina grins at being caught, glancing away. She has the kind of sweet smile which makes Faith go soft and wet in ways she'd rather not examine too closely. She doesn't like to admit her own fascination with people so much her opposite. B and Angel and Riley and even Xander -- the good ones. Something about them makes her purr deep inside, ache to understand the distance between their controlled, proper meet-the-world faces and what they're like twisting underneath her against rumpled bedsheets. She's never figured out how to fake her way through, how to show the world anything but what she is, and just maybe if she trails her lips along enough salty-smooth bodies she'll find the key to fitting in somehow.

"It's gonna be a hot one," Gina says, with an accent which hints at the South, and it's definite now, she's looking at Faith much less like someone who's invaded part of her daily routine and much more like a possibility. She's got to be a good several inches taller than Faith, who thinks she could really like that, could get used to the feel of a long, lean body curling around her own. If anyone asked her, she'd never say anything about how tall and brunette and eastcoast is so perfectly opposite to petite and blonde and Californian that it could be exactly what's needed for her plan for a fresh start, a whole new life. But Gina acts like she won't take any shit, like she can handle whatever might be thrown at her, and Faith likes that too.

It's been a long night, but the pale rays of sunlight streaming over the treetops have given her a second wind, and there are a lot of hours to kill between now and evening.

She wants to follow this high-browed, dark-haired girl back to whatever Spartan apartment she calls home, shrugging an agreement to the carefully-coaxed offer of a shower. Wants to undress her, discover the soft, cotton panties girls like this wear, bikini-cut and dark, like wine, dipping low between the pale curves of stomach and thighs. To watch the way her legs fall apart when she touches the bones of her hips. Faith wants to push her tongue inside Gina until she learns six new ways to scream, maybe tie her up and be part of whatever secret fantasy she's never let herself give in to, or perhaps just suck on her fingers until she's begging for more. She'll play the bad girl in exchange for the chance to press her mouth against the soft skin on the inside of Gina's elbow, to trace her fingers over the long expanse of her back and try to discover the secrets contained between the molecules of unscarred flesh, behind the smiles of good girls.

Gina's still holding the water bottle, and her fingers, when Faith reaches for it, are warm in the sunshine.


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