i love a man from california; he's the prettiest thing, we got the same disorder
I came as soon as I heard. I came too late.
Los Angeles is a dangerous place these days. The only safe place seems to be out in plain sight. Nothing can sneak up on you if you can see `em coming. Fires are burning out of control on every corner, skyscrapers have crumbled like piles of crackers all over the city, and it seems like the ground beneath my feet can't stop its shaking.
An explosion echoes through alleyways from somewhere uptown. I can hear screeching, like metal on metal, but I know it's nothing mechanical.
A huge shadow suddenly blocks out what little sunlight there is. I risk a glance up, taking in the ash-stained sky and the huge… holy fuck, that's a dragon! Lucky for me, it just keeps going, as if an apocalyptic City of Angels is a bad place for a dragon.
I had been in China for over a month. I'd been keeping myself in the loop by traveling the world, finding the newbies, and sending them to England for training. Nobody asked me to. I think they would've been happiest if I had just disappeared. I couldn't do that, though. As a good friend once told me, the mission is what matters. It was all over the news in Beijing that LA was under siege. By the time I saw it though, it was too late.
Besides, I figured with the big guy heading up Evil Empire he'd come out on top. He always did. Everybody was so worried that he had gone off the deep end that they refused to come to his aid. I knew him better.
He wouldn't have done it if not for good reason. It didn't matter to me what that reason may have been. Angel pulled a Trojan horse that severely crippled the most powerful evil corporation in the world. That puts him firmly in the "hero" column in my book. I would've been right here, fighting and dying at his side, if I hadn't been stuck in Beijing. If he had just asked.
I can smell it now. The stench of death in this alley is completely overpowering. His death.
There are others here as well. I knew them, briefly, but they're barely blips on my radar screen.
I know I won't find a body. There's something else I'm looking for. Flame erupts from the fallen building next to me, and I can see something shining in the rubble at my feet. I bend to pick it up, and silently slip it onto the chain around my neck. I'll take it to her. Haven't seen Cleveland in awhile, anyway.
If I could trade places with him, I'd do it in a heartbeat.
the past is gone but something might be found to take its place
The blood of life. Blood of death. Slick slide down shaking limbs. Eyes closed, jaw clenched, waiting. Bubbling up and over to run like rivers to sweating palms, dripping off trembling fingertips. A release, an offering to the unknown.
And it stopped. It reversed. Why did it always stop?
A scream, a sigh of frustration as wounds, fresh, began to close. Muscle and tendon rejoining to stem the flow, flesh made whole, unwanted, unbidden. A sigh. Another try.
A churning, aching gut, wrenching around itself in an effort to expel the poisons. Too inebriated to feel the wrongness, the badness in a body no longer wanted. The sickness released, the convulsing body taking pause.
It would survive this.
A frustrated sigh. Another try.
Faith woke with a start. Her heart was thundering in her chest, and she could barely catch her breath. She'd had the dream again.
Sweat trickled down her temples and back behind her ears. Her dark eyes stared up at the unfamiliar ceiling as she tried to calm herself down. The dreams had started several nights before, but Faith still wasn't sure if they were showing her something real, or if they were just another facet of her imagination.
She ran a shaky hand through her hair, and sat up on the stained, lumpy mattress. She pushed the blankets down to her ankles, hoping to cool her suddenly sweaty skin.
Flopping back down, Faith closed her eyes. Blood filled her senses: she could see it bubbling over a tanned, toned forearm; feel it, sticky and wet in her hands; she could smell nothing but it, until she opened her eyes again.
After tossing and turning for more than too many minutes, Faith finally gave up and got out of bed. Padding to the adjoining bathroom, she poured herself a glass of water. She took a sip as she glanced at herself in the mirror, more out of instinct than curiosity over her own reflection. A shaky hand raised the glass back up to her dry lips as she moved back into the sleeping area of the small motel room.
The phone on the bedside cabinet suddenly chirped and vibrated, making Faith jump.
"God dammit," she muttered, looking down at the front of herself and the water now dripping from her tank top to the stained carpet beneath her feet. She took a deep breath and relaxed her muscles, enjoying the brief cooling respite her soaked shirt gave her before grabbing the cell phone. Looking at a number she didn't recognize on the display, she walked further into the room.
"Yeah?!" she answered, rather gruffly as she slumped onto the faded brown couch, peeking out of the lone window to see an inky black sky and scattered street lamps.
Silence answered her. Then a heavy sigh.
"Look, I'm not in the fucking mood for prank callers. It's three in the fuckin' morning, so if you got somethin' to say, say it. Otherwise, I'm gonna hunt you down and pull your God damned ribcage out!"
"Gee, Faith, are you always so pleasant when you first wake up?" came the sardonic reply.
"B?! What the hell?" Faith nearly choked in surprise.
"Sorry if I woke you, I just…. I need to ask you about something."
"And it couldn't wait for, oh I don't know, the sun?!" Faith closed her eyes, but snapped them open just as quickly. She could almost taste blood in her mouth.
"Faith, please?" At Buffy's simple question, Faith noticed the fear and uncertainty in her once-partner's voice. She sat up on the couch and sipped what was left of her water.
"What's up, Buffy? This had better be important, I was – I was asleep," she finished, lamely, unable to joke about the dream that had startled her awake.
"I know, Faith, I'm sorry," Buffy said sincerely. Faith nodded, taking another sip of her water as she patiently let Buffy continue. "It's… I'm… I just… I've been having these dreams." Faith swallowed hard.
"What kind of dreams, B?" she asked softly. Her mind flashed to separating flesh and rivers of blood.
"Bad, baaaad dreams. They're really, um, they feel like premonitions. Slayer dreams." Buffy answered just as softly, scowling as she tried to find a comfortable position in the warm sheets of her bed.
"Yeah? What's in `em?" Faith asked, fearing she already knew the answer.
"A girl, she looks like she's a couple of years younger than us. And she's…." Buffy trailed off, unable to say what she had also been seeing for the past few nights.
"She's tryin' to off herself, yeah?"
"How did you –?"
"Slayer dreams, B. I've been havin' them too," Faith deduced quickly. There couldn't be any other reason why she and the blonde Slayer would be sharing the same horrific dream.
"What do you think we should do? This girl seems pretty intent on, you know, finishing the job." Buffy surmised, closing her eyes and flopping back against her soft pillows.
"Yeah, I know." Faith stretched against the scratchy couch, yawning as she got herself comfortable. "Maybe Willow can do a locator spell or something? I don't know about you, but I'm pretty sure the girl's a Slayer."
The two women fell silent, listening to the other breathe over the staticy connection for several long moments. Buffy started, scowling at the timid tremble in her voice, "Um, Faith?"
"I'm here, B," Faith replied, exhaustion lacing her words.
"What – um, where are you?" Wincing at the abruptness of her question, Buffy quickly backpedaled. "I mean, you know, so Will can give you better directions. If you're going to find the girl, I mean."
Faith smiled despite herself at the blonde's awkwardness. `Savior of the world, my ass,' she thought as she fingered the chain nestled at the base of her throat. Sharp pain flared in her chest as sudden memories filtered through her mind. Blowing out a breath of air, she whispered, "I'm in California."
Both Slayers fell into a momentary, contemplative silence, each reminiscing and recounting the friends and allies they had each lost in the Golden State. None of the original gang from Sunnydale could bear to stay there long after destroying the Hellmouth.
"I'll get ahold of Will and see what she can do for us," Buffy whispered after a few moments, her voice thick with unexpressed emotion. "I'll call you as soon as I know something more." Faith could hear the smile in Buffy's voice as she added, "When the sun is up, of course."
"Sure thing, B. G'night."
Faith stared at the little blue cell phone, wondering how she'd ever find this troubled Slayer. As her eyes fluttered shut, a peaceful slumber quickly overtaking her, Faith wondered whether she'd ever actually make it to Ohio, and back to Buffy.
Buffy hung up the cordless phone she kept by her bed, running a shaking hand through her tangled hair. Her talk with Faith and the flimsy excuse of a plan did nothing to calm her down.
She tossed and turned, closing her eyes and willing the horrific images in her mind's eye away, but she couldn't find sleep. With a whimper, Buffy gave up when she noticed the faint light of morning beginning to stream through the open window of her bedroom. Getting out of the queen-size bed, leaving the blankets in a sweaty, rumpled mess, she wandered over to the window, watching the sun's rays heat up the moist earth below the house. A thick layer of mist coated the meadow: it was going to be hot again today.
Buffy left the stifling bedroom, drifting out into the hallway. She peeked in at her sister across the hall, grateful that at least someone in the house could find sleep. She could hear the sounds of running water and the clatter of pots and pans as Vi started breakfast downstairs. The soft murmur of voices told her that Rona was already home from patrol, and probably trying to hurry Vi along before the post-slaying hungries kicked in.
Buffy smiled to herself at the routine of morning, relieved that neither of the two had experienced that dream. She ran her fingertips along the frames of the pictures on the walls of the hallway, heading into the bathroom.
Her reflection in the toothpaste-spattered mirror showed dark circles under her eyes, and the drip, drip, drip of water as it splashed onto her flushed face. Buffy noticed with some concern that she had not only lost weight, but muscle tone as well. Her mind returned briefly to Rona, wondering how patrol went. She wished she had the desire to do it herself, but that had vanished with her hometown.
Shaking her head, Buffy tried not to think of it that way. Her thoughts drifted to back to Faith.
Did Faith have time to patrol while she was off traveling the world? Or had the drive to fight evil left her as well? Buffy couldn't help but wonder if her sense of duty had been passed on to the new generation of Slayers as a price of the spell Willow had done. She had felt it almost as soon as the adrenaline of the last fight in Sunnydale had worn off.
They spent that first day and night in a hotel room in a neighboring town, nursing their wounds, counting their dead. Celebrating a victory. The very next morning, they were another one down, with only a hastily scribbled note in her place.
Buffy found herself smiling at the memory of all of the misspellings and whole words they couldn't decipher. She noticed new wrinkles forming around her eyes in her traitorous reflection, and wondered how she could feel so old and worn down when she had had a full year of down time.
A week later and Xander was gone, too. Not to join Faith, but to follow in her footsteps. As soon as Robin was able, he was also out.
Buffy knew he had eventually tracked Faith down, but Faith had dismissed him, preferring to work on her own. Faith, Xander and Robin had all been working solo ever since.
Buffy stripped out of her pajamas, trying to remember the last time she had spoken to Xander for more than a moment. With Giles and Willow in England, having rebuilt the Watcher's Council with Giles' remaining colleagues and the coven that had once trained Willow, Buffy constantly felt the loss of her fractured family.
Kennedy and Andrew had followed Giles and Willow to England, and the rest of the group ended up in Ohio to scope out the other Hellmouth.
They found a two-story house with several acres of land at the edge of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park – and who would put a Hellmouth in a national park, anyway? Buffy shook her head as she stepped into the steaming shower.
Dawn had been enrolled that fall in the local high school, and Buffy took up a peer counseling position there with a glowing recommendation from a certain principal, and some magical fudging of her credentials. Most of the younger Slayers had gone back to their hometowns, but Vi and Rona ended up staying with the Summers' girls.
The house never felt empty, for after about a month, girls started trickling in from all over the globe, looking for training, experience, and someone named `B.' Buffy found herself smiling again as the warm water relaxed her tense muscles. Fewer and fewer girls had come by the house on their way to the Council training center in the English countryside.
She tipped her head back towards the showerhead, feeling the fuzziness of another restless night dissipate as rivulets of water poured down her back, finally warming her skin. Her eyes closed, still smiling despite herself as an image of a certain brunette Slayer, dancing the night away at the Bronze so many years ago, popped into her head.
As steam rose in the small bathroom, the image shifted and changed. Faith's smiling face became the white face of death on a girl Buffy couldn't stop dreaming about. Faith's eyes – now the girl's eyes – turned blood red.
Buffy gasped, inadvertently sucking in a mouthful of hot water that made her sputter and cough. She opened her own eyes in a panic, not wanting to relive any of the dreams she had had the previous few nights.
Buffy braced her hands against the shower tiles, desperately trying to calm her breathing. Sunlight began to stream into the room through the window, illuminating the small space.
Tomorrow, she would call Faith back. Tomorrow, she would tell Faith to come to Ohio.
To come home.
with every mistake we must surely be learning
Knowing the others were watching didn't slow my steps upon the cool sand. I took a breath of salt in, then out. The chill of the water felt like an invitation as it wrapped its way around my bare legs, over narrow hips and a slender, painted waist.
Flesh prickled in anticipation, a last breath taken in, then out.
I plunged into the swells of darkness, calmly opening eyes which bore the scars of unwanted memories. Void of emotion. Full of finality.
And yet. A breath of water, burning my lungs as they filled.
And yet. The sickness overtaking every other feeling, forcing an unwilling body against buoyant forces.
And yet. A gasp, harsh and cold, salt ripping raw down my throat, feeding lungs with what they begged for.
Buoyant forces overtaking, leading my resilient body back to cool sand. Slow to rise, slow to step. Frustrated. Defeated.
An end, but not the intended. Eyes forced upward to a moon which seemed to pull me from the depths all on its own. Eyes which flashed red as the body understood what the mind refused. It wasn't time yet. It had purpose.
Faith woke with a groan. She could practically taste the salt from the ocean on her lips. Licking them again, she quickly realized there was no "practically" about it. The sheets, her body, were soaked in sweat. Again.
Faith scrubbed her hands roughly over her face, feeling as frustrated as she had in the dream. Her hands paused on her forehead, and then continued back into her wet and tangled hair.
Faith rolled over, pushing extra pillows the motel staff insisted on putting on the bed every morning out of the way to see the clock. The glowing red numbers mocked her. 1:07 a.m. She'd been asleep for nine whole minutes.
Shaking her head, not letting herself think about the realities of REM sleep and length of dreams, she grabbed for the nightstand with a still-sleepy hand. Her fingers curled around the little blue cell phone she had grown to loathe. Flipping it open, she blinked the spots out of her eyes as the display lit up inches from her face.
"What the hell are you doin'?" Faith willed herself to put the phone down. "Don't need her permission," she grumbled, silently chuckling at her own impulsiveness.
Her legs swung over the side of the lumpy mattress as she sat up, making their plan of action seemingly without her brain knowing about it. The exhausted Slayer steadied herself with both palms flat on the bed. She closed her eyes, and her mind went right back to where it had been. Sea air filled her nostrils, and a beach bathed in soft moonlight filled her sight.
Faith looked hard, forcing her eyes around, taking in every grain of sand, every low-lying bush, the tiny waves lapping at the shore. The scene suddenly shifted, jarring, making her nauseous, but Faith forced herself to look. She was on the other side, feeling cold sand beneath bare feet, water dripping and sliding down bare legs. Those tiny waves now lapped at her toes, but her focus honed in on the lights in the distance, jutting out along a sloping hillside, gradually giving way to inky black water.
With a gasp, Faith's eyes opened. She was packing before she had even registered moving from the bed. She was dressed and charging into the lobby, with her backpack slung over one shoulder and her keys and wallet crushed mercilessly in her right hand.
The night clerk regarded her with more fear than Faith would've liked, but she was in too much of a hurry to care.
"Checkin' out. Room 117, Le – ah, Lyonne. Hope Lyonne." Faith's voice faltered and her neck burned at her near-faux pas. The clerk didn't seem to notice as he hurriedly typed her information into his computer, glad to have something else to focus on.
Faith hadn't wanted any help when she left the others over a year ago, but quickly realized that having no identification other than a name in every police log in the country, she needed it. Angel had used his new resources – evil resources, but his nonetheless – along with his new authority, to cook up a passport and driver's license for her. He even let her pick the name.
She thought she was being clever, but every time she'd needed to use it, she wished she'd picked something different. Faith's heart sunk in her chest and a lump resettled in her throat thinking of the look on Angel's face the last time she had seen him, too long ago.
The clerk suddenly cleared his throat, clearly perturbed by the slender brunette's odd behavior. Faith shook her head just as suddenly, looking down at the receipt on the desk and then up at his red and agitated face. She smiled somewhat sheepishly, signing her fake name quickly and rushed out the door.
The driver's side door of the old black 4Runner was stuck again, Faith soon found out, yanking on the handle with Slayer strength. It didn't budge. She raced to the other side of the beat up truck, jamming the key into the lock, breathing out a satisfied breath as the passenger door opened with a loud groan. She threw her bag into the backseat and climbed over the hand brake and gear shift with practiced skill.
The truck had been her first purchase after becoming someone else, and although she couldn't take it overseas, she had seen many hundreds of miles over its steering wheel.
She drove it carefully out of the parking lot, breathing steadily to calm herself down. She was on a nearly-empty Pacific Coast Highway in no time, throwing the truck into fifth gear and hearing the engine roar. Faith slowed to just over the speed limit and relaxed into her seat.
Her lips curled up into a genuine smile. The search for this new Slayer was nearly over. Faith knew where she was.
Xander adjusted the heavy pack on his shoulder, trying to keep his arm from falling asleep again. He wished he could fall asleep right with it. His fingertips tingled as he scanned his surroundings one more time.
The map in his pocket resembled nothing more than a wadded up piece of scratch paper now. It had proven pretty useless anyway. The sloping grounds, scattered lawns and trees, and clumps of buildings reminded him vaguely of UC Sunnydale.
This could've been his home, if he had wanted it to be. He could've stayed on, been in charge of its inception and construction, but he'd needed to get out and be away from all things familiar. Building the Slayers' school and training facility from the ground up, with Giles constantly over his shoulder was no way for Xander to find himself. He couldn't even find himself on the map of the Slayers' school and training facility.
He had found several dormitories, classrooms, a training gym or two, but he couldn't find where he needed to be, and more importantly, he couldn't figure out where he was currently.
`Sounds like the story of my life,' he thought bitterly as he stopped in front of the cafeteria for the second time. Xander closed his good eye, ran a hand through his thick, in-need-of-a-haircut hair, and swallowed his pride.
There was a group of girls, who he assumed were Slayers, standing around in front of a classroom building across the common area in front of him. Xander ambled over to them, fiddling nervously with his eye patch, seeming to notice it for the first time in months. Getting closer, Xander attempted to muster up some kind of a charming smile, and hoped it didn't look creepy.
"Hello, ladies!" he called out jovially. They turned warily towards him, on the defensive. Xander was too busy feeling self-conscious and intimidated to notice that one of the girls broke into a bright smile when she saw who belonged to the voice. "I was wondering if any of you –"
The pretty voice belonged to a pretty girl with dark skin, darker, short-cropped hair, kind eyes and what looked to be a feather dangling from one ear. He felt he should know her, but his mind wouldn't cooperate.
"It's me, Renee," the girl clarified. Xander blinked and opened his mouth. Renee's confidence dwindled with every second he let slip by. "You remember, right? I was backpacking in Ecuador, and you found me. Y-you told me what I was. What I am."
"Right! Right, Renee, how could I forget?" Xander laughed nervously, his cheeks coloring in embarrassment. "H-how've you been?"
Renee's smile immediately brightened, and she began speaking excitedly while the other girls just giggled. "Oh, I've been great! I'm really learning a lot here. Mr. Giles and Mr. Wells are so great at explaining all of the mystical forces of Slayers and the demon world and –"
"Wait, wait, wait, Mr. Wells?" Xander asked, incredulously.
"Yeah," Renee countered. "Mr. Wells has been great. A little weird, maybe, but he's pretty helpful." The other girls nodded in agreement. Xander just blinked. His watch beeped, startling him just enough to look at it and realize how late it was getting.
"Well, ladies, it's been a pleasure, but I do need to get going." The small group nodded and murmured goodbyes. Xander turned to walk away, but stopped in his tracks.
He turned on his heel, digging a hand into his jacket pocket and scratching his forehead with the other. "Uh… heh, would um, would one of you be able to point me in the direction of the head offices?"
Renee perked up, stepping away from the other girls. "Sure," she replied, blushing slightly and dipping her eyes low. Xander smiled back awkwardly, and the two fell into step together.
Renee ignored the other girls' warnings that she'd be late to Mr. Wells' class on weapons throughout the ages, and lead Xander to a single-story brick building hidden amongst several birch trees. Xander thought he noticed Renee start to speak, and then change her mind, several times during the short walk, but didn't press it.
He bade her farewell as they approached the door to Giles' office, pointedly ignoring the wistful look on her face. He watched her walk back towards her classroom, a dejected slump apparent in her shoulders, and he sighed.
"I'm getting too old for this," he muttered softly. Xander winced, realizing briefly that he was only 24 years old. The ache in his back and stiffness in his knees told him otherwise.
He shifted the weight of his pack to the opposite shoulder, feeling the blood begin to flow back into his arm, and knocked softly on the heavy wooden door in front of him. A familiar voice inside called out "come in" and Xander complied.
Midday sunlight streamed into the room through a gap in the curtains covering the window behind a large desk. Papers were strewn haphazardly over its surface, and books littered the floor. He entered the room somewhat cautiously, finding two people that over the years he had come to call family. They were much better than his real family, anyway.
"Wow," he exclaimed softly, "research mode. There's a sight for sore eye."
The redheaded woman sitting cross-legged on the floor jumped up, knocking books over in her wake. Xander found himself ensconced in a warm, familiar embrace. He breathed in deeply, surrounded by the scents of musty books, English tea, and the best friend he had had since he was five years old.
Xander suddenly felt a hand on his shoulder. He looked up into the aging face of the patriarch of his little made-up family. Giles smiled warmly at Xander, who broke the hug with Willow just enough to wrap an arm around the older man's back.
"It's good to have you home, Xander." Giles said, emotion thickening his voice. Willow just burrowed deeper into Xander's arms.
Xander cleared his throat and pulled back from both of them, already feeling claustrophobia set in, an annoying reminder that he had been on his own for too long. He didn't want to dwell on it, instead deciding to get down to the business at hand.
"So," he started, gesturing widely to the books on the floor and the papers on Giles' desk, "what's the what?"
Willow moved back to her spot on the floor, crossing her legs and moving the books around with her hands. "New Slayer prophecy, we think," she shrugged, looking up at her lifelong friend with a sweet smile. She rolled her eyes as if to say "same old, same old."
Xander smiled back, dropping his pack on the floor with a heavy thud and sitting just as heavily next to Willow. Exhaustion seeped into his limbs as soon as he found a comfortable position. He had flown in that morning from New Zealand, and the jet lag was finally catching up with him. He forced himself to stay alert, however. Slayer prophecies could rarely, if ever, be taken lightly.
"New to us," Willow amended with another shrug.
"We're in the process of deciphering it now, but so far, we haven't had much luck." Giles sat back in his leather chair, chewing on the earpiece of his glasses. "I was glad when you contacted me, Xander. An entire month without finding any new Slayers must mean something. Robin has been in touch as well, and has reported much of the same."
Xander nodded, already knowing all of this. "Well, I figured that you'd need some help here once we'd found all of the girls. Thought I'd lend a hand."
Giles watched the young man before him carefully. He silently noted the changes that had overcome him in the year since he'd seen him: Xander had lost weight, looking more fit than he had in years, and he had a somberness to him that Giles couldn't ever remember seeing before.
He smiled softly at Xander and Willow in turn, happy to have part of his fractured family back together. It was a joy that was double-edged, however, as it made him notice the absence of the others that much more.
Seemingly reading Giles' mind, Xander spoke up again. "Does Buffy know about any of this? I know she's `retired,' whatever that means, but she should still know. Right?"
Giles took in a deep breath. He hadn't wanted to involve his former Slayer until he had all of the pieces put together, but the prophecy could come to pass before he figured it all out.
"Quite right," he nodded, somewhat defeated.
Willow looked up sharply at the older man: this was the first time Giles had conceded to letting Buffy in on this new development. She looked over at Xander, and suddenly knew why. Why now.
She missed Buffy, too.
"I got it! I got it! I – " Dawn skidded to a halt as she rounded the kitchen door.
Her sister's back greeted her along with the smell of burning bacon. Buffy had the phone in her hand and was already in mid-conversation as Dawn raced across the room to turn off the stovetop. She moved the pan of extra-extra crispy pork product to an unoccupied burner, and tried to eavesdrop without being obvious.
"Oh, hey, Giles…" Buffy said, rather hesitantly. She pinched the bridge of her nose, already feeling a headache coming on.
She had meant to call Willow. She was going to call Willow. Just… not yet. If she called Willow, that meant she was involved. And if she was involved, that meant she was in charge, and no more peace and quiet and semi-normal life that she'd wanted for the last nine years.
She could hear Giles arguing with someone in the background of the transcontinental connection before he spoke to her again.
"Very well. A Seer in the coven has had a vision indicating the return of a race of demons that hasn't been seen in our dimension in thousands of years."
Buffy waited for her Watcher to continue, the worry in his voice creating a bitter taste in the back of her throat.
"What kind of demon, Giles?" she asked, already knowing that she would not be pleased with whatever answer he gave her.
"The Van-tal. Demons that, in this dimension, inhabited human hosts by drinking their blood. They were the last known pure demons to walk the earth before being banished to the underworld. They are ancient, vicious killers, much like the Turok-han. But they are not vampires."
Giles paused, sucking in an audible breath before continuing, "they are what created vampires."
The blonde slayer felt her stomach drop at Giles' words. He wasn't done yet, however.
"The Seer also spoke of a Slayer, err, the Slayer, perishing in a battle against something called `the Order of the Coleopt.'"
"So let me get this straight," Buffy interrupted, sitting down at the kitchen counter and placing her head in the palm of her hand. "There's an extinct breed of vampire demon things that want to come to party, and I'm going to die facing this order thing?"
Dawn's eyes widened at the thought of her sister dying, again. Buffy, noticing her sister's expression stood from her seat at the counter and hugged Dawn close to her body.
Giles sighed in exasperation on the other end of the line. "There's more to it than that, Buffy."
"Isn't there always?" she quipped, somewhat bitterly. She was tense, and hungry, and really just didn't want to deal with life just yet. She hadn't even eaten breakfast! Giles chose to ignore her comment and her tone, continuing in what Buffy thought of as his "exposition voice."
"A… colleague of sorts has introduced me to an unearthed ruin in the Czech Republic. He's sent me a manuscript that contains one of the oldest prophecies related to the Slayer line that I have on record. Most Watchers thought it was a myth, but now knowing our circumstances, having so many Slayers, it is a very real possibility that whatever is in here will come to pass."
"`Whatever is in here?'" Buffy repeated, stepping away from Dawn to gesture with her unoccupied hand. "Giles, what does that even mean?"
"We're not sure, actually. That's part of the problem. The text seems to be not only in an ancient form of Slavic, but, as Willow so helpfully pointed out to me, it appears to be in code." Buffy could hear Giles shuffling papers on his desk. She could practically feel his frustration through the phone.
"Please tell me something good is coming out of this," Buffy replied, already knowing she was back in the fight, one hundred percent. Even if she couldn't feel it, she knew it.
"Well, ah, w-we've discovered a portion that reads `Slayer natural born.' We've no clue to what that is referring, but we're still sorting through the manuscript. We've also translated `demons reborn.' Or, or it might be `demons on earth,' I'll have to consult my books."
"Ha!" A third voice, a familiar voice, a Xander voice, cut through the connection. "Will, you owe me twenty bucks!"
Buffy smiled at the old joke, and then frowned. "Xander's there? I thought he was in Fiji?"
"New Zealand, actually." Giles replied, "He's just arrived today. He and Robin have both reported that there has been a sharp decline in new Slayers. I suspect that we've found most all of them, but until I hear from Faith, I won't be able to confirm it."
"I've heard from her," Buffy said softly. "Or, well, she heard from me."
"You have? Buffy, what – " Giles couldn't hide the surprise in his voice, and Buffy couldn't blame him. None of them had heard from Faith directly in over ten months.
"We were sharing dreams, Giles. About one of the new girls." Buffy smiled, thinking that it was lucky Faith hadn't changed her phone number in all that time. "Faith thinks she can find her, but we still don't know where to look." She winced at her use of the word `we,' not knowing yet how she felt about her former enemy. Not knowing how she felt about any of this, really.
"Perhaps we can be of some assistance with that. I'll fill Willow in immediately."
"Of course, Buffy. I'll be in touch."
"Right. Bye." Buffy hung up, feeling somewhat useless and ill at ease, not knowing what to do with any of the information she now had.
Dawn stood in front of her, mouth full of a peanut butter and chocolate syrup-covered banana, eyebrow quirked. Buffy's jaw dropped slightly in disgust. Dawn's mouth opened as if to speak, and a little bit of banana fell out.
Buffy's mouth snapped closed and her eyes widened in annoyance. Just as she was about to chastise her little sister about table manners and the utter grossness of what she was eating, the phone rang again, still in her hand. Both sisters jumped, startled by the shrill sound.
Buffy punched the `talk' button, turning away from Dawn and placing the phone against her ear.
"H-hello?" Buffy heard a long exhale on the other end of the line as she sat back down at the counter.
Faith's voice was raspier than usual. Buffy heard a long inhale and the faint crackling of fire, and realized that Faith was smoking.
She pinched the bridge of her nose again and ran her hand through her hair, blinking rapidly to try and stem her headache. Unfortunately, it only got worse.
"Faith, um, what's up?" She glanced at the clock above the sink and briefly wondered about the time on the west coast.
"Just wanted to give you a heads up. I'm at a rest stop just outside Monterey County." Another long exhale, and Buffy's last nerve was fraying.
"And… you wanted me to know this, why?" A plate of burned bacon appeared on the counter in front of Buffy, who scowled at her sister's retreating form.
"'Cause I'm gonna find the girl. Are you… did you not have the dream last night?" Faith sounded genuinely confused and concerned. Buffy let out a slow breath. Her bad mood wasn't Faith's fault.
"No, I didn't. I… haven't been sleeping much," Buffy admitted quickly, but just as quickly changed the subject. "So, you think she's in Monterey, then?"
"Yup, I do. I dunno why, but I'm pretty sure this girl's it. Last one." Faith's voice actually seemed to be trembling, but Buffy couldn't be sure if it was nervousness, fear, excitement, or just a bad cell phone connection. Maybe all of the above.
"Yeah, um, I just talked to Giles."
Buffy shook her head at her own plethora of emotions. She could never reason why it was so difficult to have a civilized conversation with Faith. Buffy closed her eyes, resting her elbow on the counter and resting her chin in her hand.
"Xander's in England with him. I guess he and Robin haven't found any new girls in about a month." Buffy shrugged her shoulders. She could practically hear Faith nod her head as the connection crackled.
"I was, uh, I was thinking of coming with her to your place, if that's cool. I've dealt with the seriously freaked out and homicidal ones before, but never a suicidal Slayer. Other than me."
Buffy smiled sadly at Faith's last remark, her mood slowly shifting. Her voice dropped to a near-whisper. "It's definitely a touchy situation. Do what you need to do, okay? Slayers in need of a place to go are always welcome here."
The words the Chosen Two didn't say spoke volumes for both women. They said their goodbyes and Faith, just as Giles had, promised to keep in touch. Buffy severed the connection and rested her forehead on the cool tile of the kitchen counter.
Faith pulled the protesting passenger door of her truck open and climbed into the driver's seat. Her cell phone tucked safely in the front pocket of her jeans, the truck kicked to life after only two tries and was soon moving steadily along the darkened two-lane highway.
It had been years since Faith had seen this stretch of road, and she hadn't been driving then, but she made it to the right exit and the right beach in under an hour. Getting out of the dirty 4Runner, she wandered down along the wooden path until her feet sunk into soft sand.
She stood at the top of a sand dune, looking down at a lone figure sitting at the water's edge. Faith could sense the power radiating from the girl from the parking lot.
She skidded along the dune, her heavy boots forcing her down and down until she finally stood in firmer, wet sand, just behind the girl. The girl, for her part, turned her head just enough to witness Faith in the periphery, before turning back to the bay before them.
Faith heard the sigh from the girl's lips and turned to look at her fully. The clothes the girl wore, men's shorts and a long sleeved cotton t-shirt, were obviously not helping to keep her warm in their wet and clingy state. Water dripped down her dark brown hair and angular nose, and she shivered in the breeze.
Both Slayers were silent for a few long moments, until Faith gathered herself and began to speak.
"I'm Faith, the Vampire Slayer." She smiled, waiting for a reaction that never came.
She ploughed into a speech she had made up and memorized many months before. She could recite it in seven different languages and get the gist across in four others. It always got a reaction.
"In every generation there is a Chosen One. She alone will stand against the vampires, demons, and the forces of darkness." Faith paused, her smile gone, still waiting for a response.
The girl sitting beneath her had cocked her head slightly, but that wasn't much of a change. Faith continued, a frown beginning to crease her brow as night slowly shifted to day.
"That is, until a bunch of us – 'bout this time last year, actually – decided to change the rules in our favor. Now every girl who could be a Slayer, is a Slayer. And that's where you come in. You're a Vampire Slayer. One of many, but no less special than the first one."
At that point in time, Faith expected the usual. The girls she had found would generally freak out: yell, or cry, or shout hallelujah. Some hugged her, some hit her, some ran, and in Israel, one girl even called Faith an abomination of everything holy.
Faith had never received silence as an answer before.
Plopping down in the wet sand next to the girl in question, Faith tried a new approach. She looked the girl square in the face, but the girl kept her profile to the once-rogue Slayer.
"I know you feel it," Faith whispered, a mischievous smile curling her lips. "It's like an adrenaline rush on speed that only gets worse at night."
The girl's eyes flickered in Faith's general direction, clearly listening.
"And it's like you can see and hear and feel everything around you. Your senses are so heightened that you can feel every individual grain of sand under your feet. You can smell the sunrise." The girl looked down at her bare feet, frowning. "I can help you figure it all out. That's why I'm here."
The girl continued to regard her feet for several more minutes, and then suddenly turned to Faith just as the sun began to peek out from the hills behind them. Her bright blue eyes focused on Faith's forehead.
now i've got everything that i have ever wanted, or so it seems
The wind whips my hair back as my legs pump, faster and faster, over rocks and fallen logs, slippery moss and dew-laden grass. My heart pounds in my chest, beating a relentless rhythm. It tells me one thing and one thing only: I am alive.
It's this thought that keeps me going, this feeling that pushes me forward. The vamp ahead of me has no idea what he's in for. I will win this fight, that's a given, but more importantly? He has to lose.
I'm suddenly winded, gasping for breath. The scenery's changed and I'm in the fight of my life. Two Fyarl demons are circling me. My lip is bleeding and I'm pretty sure I've got some broken ribs, but I've got a huge grin plastered to my face.
My pulse throbs in my neck. I can see every move these demons are going to make before they make it. I can hear the breeze rustling the leaves and branches in the trees around us, and I can hear the worms crawling around in the earth beneath my feet. I am connected. I am alive.
I'm blindsided by a solid punch to my cheek, knocking me to the ground. I duck out of the way, just in time, of what should have been a meaty demon paw, but is instead a more feminine and definitely more familiar human hand.
"That all you got, girlfriend?" I flip up to my feet on the training mats, giving Faith everything I have and then some.
I marvel just briefly that Faith has never been to the Magic Box and we have never sparred here, but the thought is fleeting. I push out of the bear hug she's trapped me in, and we circle each other. Her hair is dark, her makeup and clothes darker. She looks just like she did the night I met her, and my pussy is throbbing.
My cheeks burn and my hands tremble and I feel like I'm seventeen again. A slow, familiar smile creeps up her face, lighting up her deep, dark eyes.
"Daydreaming again, Miss Summers?"
That's not Faith's voice.
"I said `Daydreaming again, Miss Summers?'"
Buffy blinked, staring hard at the sad brown eyes and cynical smirk on the boy sitting across the desk. `So much like Faith,' she mused, blinking again and focusing her attention on him.
"Ya caught me, Joseph." Student and counselor regarded each other for a brief moment, taking each other in and letting the silence speak its piece. Buffy was the first to break it.
"So, not that I ever mind your company, but what are you doing here?" Joseph's brown eyes narrowed at the question, and he fiddled with the end of his dark braid of hair as he answered.
Buffy's eyebrows rose, not expecting such an ambiguous answer. "Art class?"
He smirked cockily, his dark eyes twinkling, and Buffy shifted uncomfortably in her chair. He reminded her so much of Faith sometimes that she wondered if they could be related.
"Yeah, it's not as entertaining as hangin' with you, Miss S." He realized his mistake immediately. Buffy's brow furrowed and her arms crossed over her chest. Joseph and the other students called it her "lecture pose." They weren't wrong.
"Well, I'm sorry if your classes aren't entertaining enough for you, Joe," Buffy replied, her voice dripping with sarcasm. "You know how important it is to –"
Joseph cut her off, rolling his eyes and holding up his hand. They had been here too many times before for him to sit through her speech again.
"`School is important to educate and prepare me for the real world, blah blah blah.' I heard ya the first time, Miss S." Buffy's mouth snapped shut at his glib tone.
She studied his face, which was carefully, purposely blank, hoping for some kind of a break. He often came to her office and did nothing but give her a hard time. She never minded, though. It was his way of letting her know that if and when he really needed to talk, she'd be the one that would be listening.
His face changed as she looked on, moving from that practiced blank expression that she hated to see on a fifteen-year-old boy to one of genuine curiosity.
"Did high school educate and prepare you for the real world?"
Buffy's mind traipsed backwards to her daydream, vampires, cemeteries, Hellmouths, and she smiled lightly at his innocent question.
"Yeah, it did," she replied. Her eyes met his and he knew his time was up.
"Get back to class, Joseph," she said softly. He nodded, smiling sadly, and quickly left the room. Buffy rested her chin gingerly on her closed fist, glancing at the clock above the door. Twenty minutes to go. Joseph had been her only student today.
She closed her eyes, willing her mind back to the Magic Box training room. She hoped Faith would be waiting for her. As her stomach rumbled, she hoped Faith would be waiting for her with burgers.
"We're totally going to get food poisoning." Dylan grumbled, staring down a giant cowboy boot in the hot summer sun.
She had never been outside of California's borders, and eyeballing the boot, complete with painted mural and giant spur, she was starting to think she never should have left. Cheyenne, along with the rest of the country was pretty, if not a little weird.
"If all it took was a double bacon cheeseburger to kill me, D, I'd be dead more times than you can count," Faith replied with a lazy grin. "Besides, we got `em cheap. Little Billy over there was so busy ogling the goods he only charged us one meal."
Dylan's gaze shifted from the boot across the street to the boy behind the counter of the greasy spoon where they had acquired the potentially fatal food. He was younger than she was, maybe seventeen or eighteen at the most, and he was obviously still trying to catch a glimpse.
Her eyes flicked to the goods in question, straining with every breath Faith took against the tight red tank top that encased them. She really couldn't blame Billy for getting distracted. They were good goods to ogle.
Dylan shook her head, chuckling softly to herself as she drained the last of her soda. Her eyes moved up to watch Faith lick the last remnants of ketchup from her fingertips, but when she felt her skin prickle in arousal at the sight, she decided to change the subject.
"So, Faith, you want me to drive awhile? It's been almost two days and –"
"You got a license?" The suggestiveness that had been in Faith's voice just seconds before was quickly replaced by irritability. Dylan was used to the tone: she had been hearing it more and more frequently since they had left Monterey.
"Not in the literal sense, but I know how to drive," she hedged.
"Not my car, you don't." Faith got up from the picnic bench, throwing her trash in a nearby bin as she walked towards the parking lot. Dylan was quick to follow, not trusting Faith enough to wait for her.
She called out to the older woman, trying her case again. "Come on, Faith. You haven't slept since we got on the road!"
"I've been through a hell of a lot worse than not sleeping for a couple of days." Faith countered, fishing in her pocket for her keys. "I just wanna get there," she mumbled, more to herself than to Dylan.
"Okay, but if you fall asleep at the wheel and we crash and die, I'm totally saying `I told you so,'" Dylan retorted with a smirk.
Faith's hand paused on the driver's side door of the 4Runner. Her head bowed and her eyes closed as she let out a deep sigh. She gritted her teeth and yanked, nearly pulling the door off its hinges, but opening it just the same. "Let's go, D."
"I'll go when you stop calling me that," Dylan replied, feeling more than agitated over Faith's chilly attitude. Faith's eyes snapped up, dark and dangerous, and Dylan quickly looked away.
"Get in the fucking truck." Faith sneered, getting in herself and slamming the door.
The engine was revving as Dylan cautiously hopped up into the passenger seat. She barely had time to close the door before Faith was speeding out of the parking lot towards the highway.
After about ten minutes of awkward, stagnant silence, Faith angrily flicked the radio on, punching the `seek' button until she found a station that wasn't playing country music or a commercial.
Dylan tried to stop it, but her knee had a mind of its own. It bounced out the frenetic rhythm of the familiar song. She soon noticed that Faith's fingers were tapping out a counter beat on the steering wheel, and her lips were mouthing the words. Faith's eyes had lost their hard edge and Dylan was smiling like an idiot at the sight.
Suddenly their voices rang out in the cramped truck in tandem.
"Some call it slums, some call it niiiiiice!"
Faith couldn't hold the note, breaking into hysterics as Dylan went for broke, moshing in her seat as Green Day finished out the chorus. They each took a breath and continued through the next verse, not caring how off key they were or how Faith couldn't stop giggling.
The song came to an end and Dylan's cheeks hurt from smiling. She admired the deep dimples in Faith's own cheeks, who found that she couldn't stop smiling, either.
"So… Dylan…." Faith started, still chuckling.
"That's me!" Dylan answered, her eyebrows up in her hairline.
"First name or last name?"
"Ew, no!" Dawn exclaimed, joining the Slayers on the couch in the living room. "That's that other movie Richard Gere was in!" She scrunched her face up as her sister pushed play, showing her obvious disgust at Rona's question.
"Hey, I just asked, alright. I just heard you saw him buck naked in one of his movies back in the day, thought it was this one." Rona replied defensively, grabbing the popcorn bowl from Dawn's hands.
"Okay!" Vi's voice rang out. "Can we please stop talking about Richard Gere's… thingy… and just watch the movie? Please?"
The other three women couldn't help but giggle as Julia Roberts' body double got dressed on screen. Buffy sank back into the couch cushions, gathering warmth from the blanket over her legs and her sister pressed up against her side. Vi lay back against the cushions on the other side, propping her feet against Buffy's thigh. Rona shifted in her position on the floor, moving her pillows and blankets around her like a cocoon as they settled in to watch the movie.
Sure, Buffy had a kitchen to clean after their attempt to make calzones became a free-for-all food fight, and Dawn had a math test to study for, and Vi and Rona were going on patrol as soon as the movie was over, but for the next two hours, the four young women were going to pretend none of that existed.
Nights off came few and far between, and sometimes they just had to take them for themselves. Of course, the night didn't know that, and as Buffy soon found out, neither did the phone. Ten minutes into the movie, it was ringing incessantly.
She tried to ignore it, tried to just let the answering machine get it. That's what her sister and her housemates were doing, so why couldn't she?
When she heard Giles' voice on the answering machine speakers, however, she knew this wasn't a call she could ignore. Pushing Vi's feet off of her leg and the blanket aside, Buffy stood up, stretching lazily and skipped into the kitchen to grab the cordless phone.
"Hey, Giles, I'm here."
"Oh! Buffy, hello!" Giles said, sounding a little startled. Buffy rolled her eyes and wandered back towards the living room just in time to see Richard Gere fighting with the manual transmission of his ridiculous car.
She frowned when she realized how dark it was outside. "What's going on, Giles? Is everything okay? It's like three in the morning over there." Buffy was unable to disguise the worry in her tone, even as the three in the living room shooed her back into the kitchen with projectile popcorn.
"Hmm? Oh, yes, yes, Buffy, everything's fine," Giles replied, obviously distracted.
"And so you called me, why?" Buffy moved from the refrigerator to the window and back again, pacing restlessly.
"Yes, Willow, I'll tell her. Yes! Buffy?"
"Still here." Buffy sat down at the kitchen counter, feeling her muscles automatically tense at the strange behavior of her former Watcher.
"It appears that – yes, I'm aware of that, thank you. It appears that we've decoded more of this prophecy. Now as you're aware, the Hellmouth in Ohio has never actually been pinpointed to an exact location and –"
Buffy's brows furrowed in alarm as she interrupted. "Wait, wait, what? It's here, Giles. It's in the Cuyahoga Valley." But she suddenly wasn't so sure. "Isn't it?"
"It very well may be, but as I was saying, its exact location has yet to be found, which makes this new piece of the puzzle even more disturbing. From what we've been able to gather, something called `the Summoner' will be appearing there, as well as a `primal.'"
"A primal what?" Buffy inquired, feeling the headache she'd had for the past week returning.
"The vision the coven's Seer had was transcribed to us in Latin," Giles continued, seeming not to hear Buffy's question. "`Ordo de Coleoptera' didn't make a lot of sense, but in translating the Latin to this ancient Slavic dialect that the prophecy is in, and then back to English, it becomes the Order of the Beetle."
"And that's supposed to make more sense?" Buffy quipped, closing her eyes in the dark kitchen.
"Well, perhaps not, b-but it gives us a… vague idea of what we are dealing with. There are many cults that worship animals as familiars, or even gods. This vision could be alluding to one of them."
"Or it could be a race of giant bug things that will eat my brains!" Buffy exclaimed, verging on exasperation.
She didn't want to be dealing with giant bug things. She wanted to watch "Pretty Woman" with the rest of her household and go to bed early.
"Sorry," she whispered, rubbing her temples. "You were saying something about a, a primal…something?"
"It's alright, and yes, the bit of the prophecy we've been able to decipher mentions something `primal,' but I haven't figured out if it is the same as this `Slayer natural born' business, or something else entirely." Giles sighed loudly. His impotent frustration couldn't have been more clear.
"Why don't you get some rest, Giles? Give your brain a break and look at it with a fresh perspective tomorrow." Buffy forced chipper into her tone as Dawn stepped gingerly into the kitchen. Giles agreed, they said their goodnights, and Buffy turned to her sister.
"Hey," Dawn greeted tentatively. She smiled softly, not wanting to intrude but needing some time alone with her sister.
"The movie's not over yet, is it?" Buffy asked, confused.
"No, it's still on, I just…" Dawn trailed off, unsure of what she wanted to say. She sat down next to her sister at the counter, looking up into tired green eyes.
"You just what, Dawnie?"
Dawn smiled at the endearing nickname. She had hated it growing up, but it had grown on her over the years. Her sister and Willow were the only ones that could call her that and get away with it, and they only ever used it in delicate situations. Like this one.
Dawn squared her shoulders, sitting up to her full height and pulling in a deep breath.
"I'm worried about you, Buffy," she stated simply.
"You're not sleeping, you're barely eating, and now with this thing with Faith coming, and a new Slayer prophecy…. I'm worried that it's too much for you."
Buffy shifted in her seat, suddenly uncomfortable. "Too much for me?" she repeated, defensively. "Dawn, I –"
"Save it, Buffy, please." Dawn held up a hand. She shook her head, not wanting this to become an argument. Her hand rested on Buffy's leg, squeezing gently to get her point across. "I know, okay? I know how many apocalypses you've averted, how many demons you've killed. But this… this is different. It feels different."
Buffy looked into the pleading blue eyes of her baby sister. `She's seventeen, now. She's practically grown.' she thought glumly.
Peels of laughter drifted in from the two remaining girls in the living room.
Buffy looked away, resigned. "I know, Dawn. I know it does."
The road stretched out in endless miles in front of the old 4Runner. The big sky country looked different every time Faith traveled through it. The sun was hovering just below the horizon, illuminating the amber waves of grain in deep oranges, reds and pinks.
It was calming. Soothing, even.
Faith's limbs felt heavy and her back relaxed. Her eyes drifted shut. `Just for a second,' she reasoned.
The tires bumped into the shoulder and Faith was jostled, alert for only a moment before her eyes grew heavy again. She forced a glance to the rearview mirror, seeing only headlights glaring in the sunset. Dylan shifted and stretched in the passenger seat but didn't wake up.
Faith could see a sign just ahead. Omaha, 2 miles. Gas, food, lodging. She pulled the truck off at the exit, feeling disappointment and relief flood her system simultaneously.
Dylan woke up as the truck stopped in the parking lot of the first motel on the main road that wasn't a name brand. The two Slayers groggily trudged to the lobby, ignoring the odd looks from the clerk as Faith flipped a handful of bills on the counter and stuck her hand out for a room key.
"Well this is… disgusting," Dylan commented as they crossed the threshold into room 209. Faith simply grunted as she flopped onto the bed, exhausted. Dylan followed her in, shutting the door softly behind her and settling down gingerly next to Faith.
She fiddled with the lamp before realizing that it was broken. She opened the drawer of the bedside cabinet, finding a Bible and the remote control to the television on the other side of the room.
Ignoring Faith's groan of protest, Dylan turned on the television, flipping channels in the hopes of finding more than a bad Chevy Chase movie on HBO. Her mind was racing with what little information Faith had provided, wondering if being a Slayer meant that she was immortal, or invulnerable, or anything other than really strong.
A man on the TV was yelling at her to buy some sort of lawn care product, and she wondered just why any of that mattered when there was evil everywhere. Then she thought that maybe the man on the TV was evil because he wouldn't shut up.
"You ever think about why we see the things we see?" she blurted out suddenly.
"Huh?" Faith was roused from her sleep, pushing up from the dirty pillow with a start.
"You know, like why we see… a dog," Dylan continued. "We know it's a dog, ya know, four legs on the bottom, head on one end, waggily tail on the other. But you ever think that maybe there's more out there that we can't see?"
Faith just blinked up at her, a scowl forming on her brow as she tried to figure out what Dylan was talking about, and why she was awake to hear it. She opened her mouth to respond, a cutting remark just begging for its chance for release, but Dylan was already talking again.
"The human eye is trained to see so little of what's actually going on," she said, staring intently at the television. "Take those shrubs, for instance."
"We see shrubs, right? We might see the wind moving the shrubs a bit, but that's all, `cause that's what our eye has been trained to see. What they're supposed to see. Vampires are demons, but they look human. We expect them to, right? But there could be demons, or whatever, all over the place, camouflaged in plain sight, like shrubs, only our brains can't register that they're there…."
Faith turned away from the infomercial, back to the crazy girl on the bed next to her. She blinked, still trying to decide whether or not she was even awake.
"Are you on drugs, D?"
"What?" Dylan's head jerked in Faith's direction, her eyes looking past the other woman to the door. Faith frowned, following her gaze but only seeing a door. When she turned back around, Dylan was looking down at her hands. "No, no, I just, I'm trying to wrap my head around all of this, ya know?"
Faith sighed, knowing that she was far passed too tired to talk to Dylan about the meaning of life as a Slayer.
"Whatever," she muttered, swinging her legs off the bed and shuffling into the bathroom. A nice hot shower would help relax her.
Shutting the bathroom door behind her, Faith braced her hands on the rusty sink. She closed her eyes, avoiding her reflection in the mirror. Avoiding the girl on the bed in the next room.
She felt comfortable with Dylan. She felt… less lonely. Faith shook her head at her own thoughts, wanting nothing more than to push Dylan far, far away so she could get back to normal. But Faith didn't know what "normal" was anymore. As if she ever did.
She took the two steps across the room to the bathtub, not wanting to think about anything anymore. She pulled back the shower curtain and nearly gagged at what she saw there. Breathing hard through her nose, Faith clenched her jaw and threw the curtain back to closed.
She rushed out of the room on too-tired legs, running into the door jamb on her way out. Dylan was still sitting on the bed, staring at the TV with an awestruck frown.
"Don't take any showers while we're here. In fact, don't go in there unless you have to." Faith warned, sounding panicked.
Dylan's eyebrows raised in surprise and confusion, but she didn't turn her eyes from the television.
Faith took a breath, composing herself, and looked around the tiny room. There was the bed, a small cabinet which held the broken lamp, and the television on one side of the room, and a folding table and chairs and mini-fridge on the other.
Faith moved over to the fridge, opening it upon many tiny bottles of lovely, mind-numbing alcohol.
In one breath, Faith had downed two tiny bottles of Jack Daniels before offering one to Dylan. Sitting forward on the bed, Dylan took the bottle from Faith's outstretched hand without taking her eyes off the television. She sipped her drink cautiously, studying the amber liquid.
"Can we afford this? Dylan mused, wincing as the liquor burned her throat.
She hadn't paid for anything yet on their road trip. Faith seemed to have an endless supply of cash, but Dylan knew that couldn't be entirely true. The money would run out. Probably on the contents of the mini-fridge.
"We can. It's called `skip out before check out.'" Faith grinned, faltering slightly when she noticed that Dylan wasn't looking at her. She shrugged and swallowed another bottle.
An hour later, the fridge was empty.
Bottles rolled and clinked as Faith attempted to walk to the window. "No way you're stronger than me, D," she argued. "What, you think just `cause you're taller?"
Her words slurred together while Dylan just looked on, amused, as Faith swayed all over the room.
"I've been the Slayer since I was seventeen." Faith held up three fingers on each hand, and Dylan noticed that Faith had an accent for the first time in the past two days.
`East coast somewhere,' she surmised.
"So… way more years than you have." Faith continued her rant. "I'm – I'm that much stronger than you, D."
Dylan suppressed a laugh, knowing she shouldn't egg on the much drunker woman. "Uh huh, okay." She couldn't help herself. Really. "Prove it then, F."
Faith blinked in surprise at the challenge. Her eyes cut from Dylan, who was laughing up at the ceiling, to the folding table under the window. The next thing she knew, they were sitting at the table, elbows bent and hands clasped, ready to wrestle.
Dylan fought to hide her surprise that even though Faith was beyond intoxicated, she had a grip like a vice. All too soon, Dylan's knuckles smashed against the tabletop. Dylan was indignant, and they were going for round two before she even had time to recover.
Faith was laughing again, but there was no joy in it now. Once again, Dylan's knuckles rapped the tabletop. Faith jumped up from the table, knocking her chair to the floor.
She attempted a victory dance, tilting dangerously to one side, and ended up on the floor right next to her chair. Dylan reached down, pulling on Faith's hands, but she was soon on the floor as well.
The next thing either of the two Slayers knew, they were kissing. Faith's sloppy hands pushed Dylan's baggy t-shirt up and off, letting it fall to the floor as she marveled at Dylan's eight-pack abs and a myriad of tattoos.
"Pretty," she whispered, her tongue feeling heavy in her mouth as Dylan rid her of her own top and bra.
Faith suddenly found herself being pushed into the mattress of the bed, Dylan's body pressing into her. She didn't panic like she thought she should. Dylan was soft, and familiar, and forceful.
Faith closed her eyes, swimming in the dark, and when she opened them again they were both naked on the bed. She could feel fingers exploring, then entering her slick passage. She scratched her nails down the soft skin of Dylan's back and they both moaned aloud.
Faith came, hard, fast, and she flipped Dylan over even faster. The edges of her world began to fade and weave. Faith breathed hard through her nose, keeping her composure as the whiskey sloshed in her stomach.
Her first sex with another woman was a lot like most sex she'd had with men, she realized. Except it was softer, warmer, and Dylan's nipples were a lot more fun to play with.
Her fingers went on their own exploration, sinking deep into the heated flesh of Dylan's pussy. Faith chanced a look up at Dylan's face, a sudden fear of inadequacy flaring in her belly. Dylan's eyes were squeezed shut, in ecstasy, or pain, or fear, Faith didn't know.
She rested her forehead on Dylan's stomach, feeling the muscles jump underneath, watching her hand move in and out. Her vision began to blur and darken. Her limbs grew heavier and heavier, and she could just barely make out the sound of Dylan calling her name as she finally succumbed to the dark.
"Why is it always about her?" Rona asked as she plodded along the overgrown path.
"Why is what always about who? Or is it whom?" Vi answered, her eyes flickering from the trees to the dilapidated church and back again.
"Buffy!" Rona's hands flung out into the empty space in exasperation. "Who says this prophecy bullshit is about her, huh? She does! There're over a thousand Slayers now, but if there's a prophecy, it has to be about her."
Vi risked a glance to her patrolling partner. She'd gotten used to these types of outbursts over the year they'd spent living together. Rona was hot-tempered, for sure, but she wasn't always wrong. "Well, she is the one that made us –"
"Bullshit, Vi! Willow made us Slayers, and if you wanna get technical about it, the line was going through Faith at the time. So really, Buffy just came up with the idea. She didn't actually do anything."
Rona stomped ahead, rounding the cellar doors, but seeing nothing to kill. They hadn't seen anything all night, and the sun would be up soon.
"I don't know, Rona. This seems… bigger than Sunnydale. Like there's more to it then just some big evil thing wanting to take over."
Vi stopped walking, thinking over her statement at the same time that she felt a prickling along the back of her neck. Rona stopped too, just a few paces away. She whirled on her heel, still in rant-mode.
"Isn't that always how it goes, though? Every apocalypse we've read about is always the same, prophecy or not: they good guys find out that some mystical hoopla is occurring, and the bad guys wanna exploit it. So they do, but the good guys stop it. Buffy's a hero, end of story, and what the hell is that?"
The Slayers listened carefully to the stillness of the night. Crickets chirped, and somewhere, hidden in the trees, an owl hooted softly. Vi and Rona were silent as they circled back around the church, their senses pricked to everything around them. "You feel it too, right?" Rona whispered.
"Yeah," Vi breathed out, her voice shuddering in anticipation.
There was, however, nothing out of the ordinary. The night was still, and quiet, and as the night sky shifted from inky black to the grey of dawn, the Slayers headed home.
The window opened with a creak, the swollen wood protesting against its hinges in the summer humidity. Every breath Dawn took seemed to fill her lungs with moisture. She closed her eyes in the brief respite of a breeze entering the stagnant room.
The dresser under the window was covered in dust, making Dawn's eyes feel irritated and dry. The black oaks across the meadow rustled and swayed gently in the soft wind.
Dawn turned back into the room, eying the beds against the opposite wall, near the door. A pile of fresh sheets sat, folded, on each mattress, waiting for her to dress the beds.
It had been almost four days since Buffy had told her that Faith and this new Slayer were heading to Ohio. This room had housed more Slayers than Dawn could remember, all sent by Faith, for shelter, food, training, and encouragement. Faith herself, however, had never seen it.
Dawn knew that this time things were different. She unfurled the fitted sheet for the first bed, inhaling deeply of its fresh scent. Giles, her sister, even Rona and Vi seemed more spooked this time than they had just a year ago, when they went up against the First Evil. Although that had been a hard-won battle, it seemed like barely a skirmish in comparison to the mounting tension everyone was beginning to feel.
Dawn sighed out a long breath, wondering when Faith and the new girl would arrive. This new prophecy, Buffy and Faith's dreams, and a villain they knew nothing about were all doing their best to unravel her. Dawn didn't have any answers, but she knew that this time, there was something different.
Something more important. Something they were missing.
She sat heavily on the bed, closing her eyes and resting her head in her hands. For the first time in over a year, Dawn Summers was scared.
"Shit. Oohh, shit. Shit, shit, shit."
Dylan didn't think her day could get any worse, and it had barely started.
Waking up with a passed out drunk, very naked semi-stranger sprawled out on top of her hadn't necessarily been an unfamiliar experience for her, but it was never the greatest way to start a day. Having to haul said semi-stranger into some clothes and into a truck with incredibly sticky doors without alerting the motel staff to her presence had been another matter entirely.
It took Dylan ten minutes to get the testy manual transmission to start and another five when the engine stalled out as she was leaving the motel parking lot.
Two hours later, she thought she was in the clear, until a highway patrol cruiser appeared in the rearview mirror. Her seatbelt was buckled, as was Faith's, she was moving at just under the posted speed limit, and her hands were at ten and two. Unless Faith had let the registration on the truck lapse, Dylan didn't see any reason the cop would have to pull her over, but that didn't help her blood pressure from skyrocketing at the sight of him.
"You really are a good driver, huh?" Dylan's hand flew to her chest and her eyes slammed shut in surprise at the sudden interruption of the whiskey-dark voice next to her.
"Hmm… sounds familiar," Faith teased, trying to sit up.
"Oh yeah. Ooh baby," Dylan replied, her tone dripping with sarcasm. Her eyes flicked up to the rearview mirror.
Faith caught the nervous gesture and twisted in her reclined seat, fighting with the seatbelt in order to see out the increasingly filthy back window. Dylan swallowed the sour lump in her throat as Faith started talking a mile a minute.
"A'right, Dylan we got two ways out of this. I'm pretty sure I can convince the guy that I'm giving you a driving lesson, but we gotta make it look real. Can't let him get one of us out of the car. Or, plan B, we –"
Both Slayers let out sighs of relief when the cruiser sped past them in the other lane, the patrolman not even sparing them a glance.
"Guess we don't need a plan B, huh?" Dylan smiled, her voice on edge and her body still tense. Faith chuckled, looking out at the highway. The sun was well above the horizon, but traffic was light.
"Where are we, anyway?" she asked, struggling to sit up in the reclined seat.
"Uh… somewhere outside Des Moines," Dylan answered as Faith continued wrestling with her seat.
Suddenly Faith was ripping off her seatbelt. "Dylan, pull over! Now!"
Confused, Dylan looked over to see Faith's suddenly pale face. Not bothering to check her mirrors, Dylan swerved violently onto the shoulder of the highway. The truck hadn't even stopped moving, but Faith already had the door open, falling to her knees in the gravel as Dylan slammed on the brakes. Dylan sat nervously by as Faith expelled the contents of her stomach all over the side of the highway.
"I knew those burgers were a bad idea," she groused, chewing on a fingernail as she watched the cars go by.
She watched out of the corner of her eye as Faith stood on shaky legs and ran a hand through her long hair. Dylan mulled over the last few days, thinking about everything Faith had told her about the Slayer line and heritage, as well as everything Faith hadn't said about her experiences as a Slayer. She moved to flick a piece of chewed off fingernail out the window, but found the woman in question standing in her way.
"Get outta my seat."
Dylan let out an audible gasp as she jumped. "Jesus, Faith, where'd you come from?!"
"The other side of the truck, Observo Girl. Now are you gonna move, or do we throw down?" Faith crossed her arms in impatience, trying to catch Dylan's eye.
"But you just said I was a good driver!" Dylan protested, gesturing vaguely to the steering wheel.
"Whatever. You had your fun, now," Faith waved her hand in annoyance, "get in the passenger seat. It's my turn."
Dylan's mouth opened to protest again, but she thought better of it. Unbuckling her seatbelt, she didn't even deal with getting out of the truck. Setting the gears to neutral, Dylan carefully climbed over the brake and gearshift and into the passenger seat. It took Faith almost a full minute to get the sticky driver's side door opened, but once she was in, they were roaring back onto the road.
It became obvious to Dylan that Faith was intent on getting to Ohio that day, even if she puked the whole way there.
"Buffy's gonna kill me," Faith muttered, seemingly oblivious that Dylan could hear her.
Dylan turned Faith's way, an eyebrow raised in wonder as she filed the remark away in the recesses of her brain.
The old 4Runner rumbled onto a long, dark driveway. They hadn't seen a house in a few miles, and the moonless night intensified the growing feelings of unease settling upon the inhabitants of the vehicle.
"You sure we're going the right way?" Dylan asked with clear agitation in her voice.
Before Faith had a chance to reply, floodlights set to motion detectors flashed on as the truck came up to a two-story clapboard house at the edge of a meadow. Faith could barely make out the four figures coming out to the front porch in the intense glare.
She slowed the truck to a stop behind a red Chevy Blazer and killed the engine. Faith hid her anxiety well, hoping that meeting with the old gang went without the usual awkwardness and tension.
Faith and Dylan exited the truck at the same time, stretching out sore limbs as they slowly approached the porch. They were instantly greeted by the three youngest inhabitants. Dawn and Vi each wrapped an arm around Dylan's shoulders, steering her into the house while Rona made the introductions.
When the voices of the four younger women had subsided, Faith turned her gaze from the retreating form of her new friend to the intense stare of her old enemy.
"How was the drive?" It seemed to Faith that Buffy was on edge. Her tone was clipped and her arms were crossed defensively over her chest.
"Long." She stood at the bottom of the porch steps with her arms hanging loosely at her sides, looking everywhere but Buffy's eyes.
"Is your phone broken?" Buffy said, out of the blue.
"You didn't call." Buffy said simply. Faith felt like slapping herself. "I… we weren't sure when you'd get here and…"
"Shit, I'm sorry, B. Some stuff came up and I… I guess I forgot." Faith replied, feeling suddenly unsure of herself and her reasons for accompanying Dylan to Ohio.
"You wanna come in? I'm sure you're hungry, or…." Buffy trailed off, not knowing what else to say as Faith finally looked up at her with a sardonic grin on her face.
"Yeah, you know me, B. If it's not one, it's the other." Faith shook her head, her long dark hair cascading around her face. "Don't think I'm quite ready to face the firing squad in there." She nodded her chin in the direction of the front door, behind which Dawn could be heard squealing excitedly.
Buffy smiled, looking behind her towards the door before turning back to face Faith. Before she knew it, her eyes were trapped in Faith's intense stare, seeing things there that she wasn't at all prepared to deal with.
They regarded each other silently, until Faith seemed to catch herself. She turned her head to look out over the dark meadow, fiddling with a chain around her neck. Her eyes closed, letting her other senses take in the humidity of the night, the sounds of bugs buzzing near the porch light and the hum of the floodlights, the warmth and calm of familiarity spreading across her shoulders as she felt and heard Buffy descend the steps to stand next to her.
Faith's eyes snapped open as she shuffled back. Buffy's arms were crossed over her chest again, and she was chewing on her bottom lip like she had something on her mind.
"So…" she started, clearly uncomfortable. "What's Dylan like?"
Faith's eyes fluttered closed again and she let out a breathy chuckle. "No clue."
Buffy's eyebrows raised, disbelief etched across her face. "You spent the better part of a week in the same car as the girl, and you don't have a clue what she's like?"
"Yeah, you know… she doesn't really talk, but when she does, she's either talking bullshit or what she's saying doesn't make any sense."
Faith held Buffy's gaze for a brief moment, shifting on her feet as the exhaustion of days on the road began to creep back up on her. Her mouth opened again, but she held in the words, hoping Buffy wouldn't catch it.
"What aren't you telling me?" Buffy asked, softly. She stepped closer, leaning back against the bottom of the porch railing. Faith paced a few feet away. "Did she – d-did she try and… hurt herself again?"
Faith shook her head, an odd smile playing in her eyes. "Not in the literal sense, no," she replied, echoing Dylan's words from just a day earlier.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
Faith stopped pacing. Buffy was obviously being put on edge, and hedging the question wasn't helping matters. `Nobody else to talk to about this, anyway,' she thought with some trepidation.
"I've known her four days, and I can't figure her out, you know? I'm usually pretty good at that stuff. Doesn't help that she won't make eye contact with anybody." Faith shoved her hands in her pockets, only to pull them out again in an unconscious defensive move as Buffy stepped closer.
"What do you mean, she won't make eye contact?"
"Broken record much, B? Means just what I said. Hard to get a bead on somebody if they won't look at you." Faith herself found that she couldn't make eye contact with Buffy for more than a fleeting second. Their close proximity, after a year spent on opposite ends of the globe, was making Faith feel more uncomfortable than she could ever remember feeling.
"I get that," Buffy said, with just a hint of anger.
Faith's eyes snapped up to meet Buffy's, only to fall away with a sheepish shrug.
"Sorry," Faith whispered, not sure if she meant it or not.
"S'ok, I was just being ironic," Buffy whispered back with a half-smile. She watched Faith fiddle nervously with a chain around her neck as the brunette fell into a contemplative silence.
"I think the coast is clear. You want some dinner?" she asked, trying to break the impenetrable ice around them. Buffy began to turn to head back into the house, missing the sight of Faith squaring her shoulders and the deep breath she took.
"Just a minute."
Buffy looked over her shoulder, back on edge again at the forcefulness of Faith's voice. Faith smiled, but it didn't reach her eyes. "No time like the present, right?" she said sadly.
"No time like the present for what?" Buffy asked back, becoming increasingly confused as she watched Faith undo the clasp to her necklace. A ring slipped from the chain onto Faith's thumb, and Buffy's breath caught in her throat.
"He'd want you to have it" was Faith's only explanation as she held her hand out to Buffy. With tears in her eyes, Buffy reached a shaking hand out to the offering, not taking her eyes off of it.
"Why didn't you tell me you were in LA?"
Faith let out a shaky breath, noting that there was no accusation in Buffy's tone, just genuine confusion and worry.
"I was a lot of places," she replied with a one-shouldered shrug, following Buffy's eyes to the ring in her hand. "You had enough on your plate here. Wasn't like I had a grand plan or anything, you know? It just kind of happened." Faith shrugged again as Buffy got her tears under control.
"Thank you." Buffy said sincerely, raising her gaze to meet Faith's dark eyes.
"Yeah, well… you think it's safe to head inside?" Faith glanced up to the open front door, quirking an eyebrow and gesturing to the house with one hand.
"Only one way to find out."
Faith's embarrassment was as clear to Buffy as anything, even before the abrupt change of subject. She turned and headed up the porch steps on unsteady legs, expecting Faith to follow.
"So you spent an entire week in a car with Faith? That must have been… interesting."
"Boring's more like it. That girl doesn't talk about anything."
"It wasn't so bad –"
"Yeah, unless she's talking about food or sex. Then she doesn't shut up, especially when you really, really want her to."
"You guys, she's not –"
"Oh! Or if she's talking about my sister. God, she gets this look on her face like… I don't know what. You guys remember that night when we first got to LA and she got totally wasted? I have never seen anyone like that before!"
"Guys! Faith's not –"
"Oh yeah! I thought Kennedy was going to have to punch her out, she was so belligerent!"
"She probably should have with some of the things Faith was saying that night."
"What things? I couldn't understand a word she was saying, just `mumble mumble I'm so drunk, you don't know what it's like' blah blah blah."
"GUYS! Faith isn't –"
"I'm not what, D?" Faith asked with an amused smirk as she followed Buffy over the threshold.
Buffy tried to hide her smile at the excited curiosity her sister and two younger Slayers always showed when the subject of Faith came up. She glanced at Dylan as she shut the door, still not sure what to make of the new arrival.
"Not as bad as these three were making you out to be," Dylan's face contorted into a soft smile that she obviously wasn't comfortable with.
Buffy noticed that Dylan's eyes never rose above Faith's chin as she spoke.
"I was just about to tell them that you've been pretty cool to me since we met."
The room fell into silence as Faith shifted uncomfortably on her feet. Luckily, Dawn decided to butt in, arms crossed as she stood up.
"And where have you two been?" she asked with a cock of her hip. "I swear, the two of you get together and there's either a knock down, drag out, or some secret `Chosen Two' happy hour that no one else is invited to."
"There was no… happy hour, Dawnie. Or, there was, but…we were just talking." Buffy's demeanor was eerily similar to that of her sister. Vi and Rona exchanged a look, highly used to the dominance displays between the two sisters.
"Yeah, you know, it's a special occasion, what with me visitin' and all," Faith interjected while trying to back away from the antagonistic Summers girls at the same time. Buffy stepped back as well, as Dylan suddenly stood from the couch.
While most of the Slayers were petite, Dylan stood a good six inches taller than Buffy. Her well-defined arm muscles rippled as she nervously wiped her palms down her long shorts. Dylan's size intimidated the blonde Slayer more than she'd care to admit, wondering to herself why this one Slayer among so many would stand out.
`Aren't we supposed to blend in or something?' Buffy thought to herself.
"Um, I guess I should, you know, thank you and all, for being so hospitable."
Dylan startled Buffy out of her thoughts. She expected the girl to be more confident, more in-your-face. `More like Faith,' she thought grimly.
Buffy raised her eyes, nearly having to crane her neck to see Dylan's face. Dylan was standing at her full height, but her eyes were glued to the floor. Thinking back to what Faith had said about Dylan's lack of eye contact immediately put Buffy off, but she said a half-hearted "no problem" anyway.
Dylan simply nodded, seeming to recoil back into herself. Buffy moved her head, her feet shuffling unconsciously closer in an attempt to get Dylan to look at her.
"The house was feeling a little empty without any new Slayers popping up this past month," she continued, softly. "We're glad to have you."
Buffy's eyes dropped away to Faith, who was standing next to her carefully examining a painting on the wall, trying her hardest to look casual. "Both of you." Buffy clarified, hoping to keep the night's reunions civil.
Faith turned slowly to face Buffy, a small smile turning the corners of her mouth. Buffy let out a heavy breath of air and took a cue from Faith's playbook, abruptly changing the subject:
"So... who wants dinner?"
Buffy watched from the doorway, her stare icy and hard. She didn't want to treat her new houseguest so coldly, but she got some odd satisfaction out of watching Dylan squirm. Dylan's hands reached back into the warm, soapy water and pulled out another plate to wash and rinse.
"You don't have to do that, Dylan," Buffy said, without sounding much like she meant it. "You're a guest here. And besides, it's Dawn's night to do dishes."
She smiled a false smile, leaning her hip against the kitchen counter as Dylan slid her eyes in Buffy's direction. Dylan shrugged a shoulder, and the gesture did nothing to relax Buffy's mood. Her shoulders knotted in response and her mouth opened, a biting remark just begging for a release.
"It's the least I could do after such a good dinner," Dylan said over the spray of the faucet. Buffy's remark died in its infancy at Dylan's sincerity.
Buffy bristled and scoffed aloud, not wanting to lose any ground in this imaginary pissing contest. Dylan didn't seem to notice, continuing in a jovial tone.
"I haven't had a meal like that in awhile. Granted, I have been eating road food with Faith for the last few days, so I'm not exactly unbiased, but serious, B, your cooking's hella good."
"What did you call me?" Buffy hissed.
She stalked across the kitchen until she was right next to Dylan, standing on her tiptoes in an effort to get at eye level with her.
"Call you what? B?" Dylan replied, obviously feigning ignorance.
"Sorry," she shrugged, not sounding sorry at all. "I guess it's all that time I spent with Faith."
Buffy backed up a few steps, feeling a little embarrassed at her outburst. It wasn't Dylan's fault that she was on edge. Not really, anyway. Her hands found their way into the pockets of her jeans. The index finger of her right hand slipped into Angel's ring, and she closed her eyes in sorrow.
"It's amazing what people give away, isn't it?" Dylan said with an air of wonder. She turned off the faucet and dried her hands with a dishtowel. "Take Faith for instance. Girl's like an open book to me."
"The only thing `open' about Faith is her legs," Buffy replied, not knowing where this bitter rage had come from. She did know that if she wasn't careful, it would consume her and everyone around her. She didn't want that.
"Don't know about that," Dylan said with a shrug. "But take my word for it." Buffy felt her insides shudder as Dylan looked up at her face, studying Buffy's nose.
"Why the hell should I?" Buffy bristled at the cool blue of Dylan's eyes, feeling every instinct she had tell her to fight. To kill.
"I read people well." Said so simply, like a commonly known fact. "Faith gives so much away; the way she talks, the way she moves. Honestly I'm surprised you haven't seen it before."
"Seen what before?" Buffy was becoming more bewildered with each twist and turn of the conversation.
She was so busy fighting down her anger that she felt she had missed something. Dylan shrugged again, and Buffy wanted to dislocate Dylan's shoulders so she couldn't do it again. Faith and Dawn appeared in the doorway, ready for a tour of the house.
"Just look into her eyes, Buffy," Dylan said as she padded across the kitchen.
Buffy watched, transfixed, as a Japanese dragon danced in the waves on Dylan's left calf. Dylan's last words echoed in her mind as she exited the room.
"You'll see what I mean."
"…and this is the guest room, where you two will be sleeping. Until you go to England. Whenever that may be." Dawn swung the door open upon the small room, letting the two Slayers pass into their last stop on the tour.
"Oh, you have got to be kidding me…" Faith announced with clear disbelief.
"Oh, sweet, Faith, we get bunk beds!" Dylan exclaimed, genuinely excited as she walked into the room. She tossed her duffel bag onto a mattress, claiming it as her own. "I call bottom."
"You would," Faith muttered under her breath, sure that Dylan was mocking her just a little.
"Nothin'." Faith replied, intent on letting it go. "I just figured you would want the bottom." And failed miserably. "Pillow queen."
"Fine." Dylan stood to her full height, squaring her shoulders. "You want the bottom? I'll arm wrestle you for it." Her tone was sarcastic, but still playful.
"Mmm… been there, fucked that. No thanks." Faith replied, quirking an eyebrow.
Dawn watched the display quietly. She was surprised to see what could've been an all out brawl end as the two brunettes good-naturedly shoved each other. They began to rearrange the dresser and armchair that occupied the room with the bunk beds to their liking.
Dawn slipped out the open door and into the hall. She closed the door with a soft thunk and leaned back against it, closing her eyes. This was going to be interesting.
She glanced out to the driveway, to her old truck sitting so forlornly in the dirt. She could get back in it. Faith could get behind the wheel and drive anywhere but here. Here, where the girls inside stopped talking when she entered a room.
She thought she had come to help, but every moment spent inside made her doubt her intentions. It was easier outside, in the still air of near-twilight. Outside, where it was just Faith, the crickets and the frogs.
Faith turned her head towards the intrusion of her peaceful solitude. Dylan was walking towards the porch from the far side of the house. Beads of sweat rolled along her hairline and down her neck, but she didn't seem to notice. She stopped, just at the edge of the porch steps, and turned to watch the sun go down.
"Where you been?" The question, uttered so softly and quickly, raised goose bumps on Dylan's arms. Faith took in a breath of air, sensing just a hint of fear and something else, far away.
"Oh, you know, out." Dylan answered without really answering the question. "Gettin' the lay of the land and all that."
Faith looked off into the distance, over the meadow and past the trees, where an owl hooted softly. She suddenly felt so sad, like a weight had been placed on her heart. She shivered and wrapped her arms around herself despite the heat, and listened as Dylan approached.
"Are you wearing my shoes?"
Faith looked down, startled. Running a hand through her hair, she laughed out a warm breath of air. "Huh… I thought they felt a little big." Faith stared down at the red and black Chuck Taylor's that were definitely not hers, and hoped that Dylan would let her be.
"You alright?" Dylan asked, peering down at Faith. The older woman sighed, shifting in the shoes that weren't hers. It smelled like rain.
"Yeah, just sick of bein' inside. Got a little antsy listening to the research brigade, felt like patrolling, you know…." Faith trailed off, sounding less sure with every word she spoke. She squeezed her eyes shut, willing away her feelings of dread. Of paranoia.
"I hear ya," Dylan gestured to the house behind them. "Are they always so suspicious of new people?"
"Only if I'm involved," Faith replied with a bitter laugh, letting the paranoia in just a little.
"Yeah, well, you are kind of a bitch to be around," Dylan said, playfully shoving Faith on the shoulder. Her mirth wasn't infectious. She watched as Faith's face clouded, her brow furrowed.
"Hey, c'mon, Faith, I'm just messin' with you!" she exclaimed, trying her best to lighten the somber mood descending on the porch.
"Yeah, I know."
Faith pulled a pack of Marlboros out of her jeans pocket, lighting one and taking a long drag. Dylan stepped back, shifting her shoulders at the sudden darkness closing around Faith's eyes as she took in the rapidly approaching night.
"What are friends for, right? I rip you a new one, then buy you a beer?" she teased, but her concern was more than evident in her tone.
When Faith didn't immediately respond, Dylan followed her gaze to the treetops in the distance, and the stars that were beginning to appear in the deep blue sky. The sky had never looked like this in California.
"Is that what we are?" Faith swallowed the hardening lump in her throat as she turned to face Dylan, who was still searching the sky. "Friends?"
Dylan exhaled a shuddering breath, nodding her head. "I hope so."
The mood suddenly shifted, and Dylan felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end. She fought back a shiver that was trying to race up her spine, and came away feeling queasy. Faith flicked her cigarette onto the gravel below the porch and turned to face Dylan.
"Did you say something to Buffy?" she asked, out of the blue.
"What?" Dylan glanced past Faith to the front door and backed up a step. "What are you talkin' about?"
Faith stared her down, but Dylan wouldn't take the bait. Her eyes darted around for an escape route. "I said a lot of things to her, what do you –"
"Did you tell her we fucked?"
Dylan's eyes flicked up just enough to see Faith's face, like boiling thunder.
"Why would I tell her that?" she asked, defensively. "S'not like it was anything that's gonna keep my thighs warm at night."
An angry sneer settled over Dylan's angular face, suddenly reminding Faith of herself, once. Faith stepped back, fighting for control of the conversation.
"Hey man, I got mad skills," she said with a smirk, taking her turn to improve the mood.
"Yeah, well, seeing's believing, right?" The sneer remained on Dylan's face as she stepped closer, giving up on an escape and choosing to fight. Sensing the change, Faith stepped into her corner.
"You got a problem, little girl?" She squinted up at Dylan, trying to catch her eye.
A sickening smile settled on Dylan's lips. "Why no, Faith, I don't," she replied, all sweetness and sarcasm. Her hands balled into fists at her sides. "I'm just happy being me."
"Oh is that right?" Faith's voice grew deep and menacing as she spoke through clenched teeth. "Then why was your happy self making cameos in mine and B's dreams?"
"You and B?" Dylan queried with a grin. "Huh. So you were dreaming together? Aww, it's like a match made in hell, isn't it?"
Before she could back away, before she could stop, Faith's hand whipped out in a blinding burst of speed and took hold of Dylan's chin. Her eyes were forced to Faith's and they widened on impact.
Faith could only see startled, brilliant blue before her world tumbled away.
Buffy stared blankly at the computer screen. Its soft glow hurt her eyes, and the words she was trying to read had stopped making sense ten minutes ago. She looked up from the screen to survey the living room, immediately noting two absent Slayers.
Rona and Vi occupied opposite ends of the couch, lazily flipping through heavy books in languages Buffy was sure neither of them could understand. Dawn was sprawled out on the floor, kicking her legs up like she used to do as a kid when she'd write in her diaries. Manuscripts that Willow had sent via teleportation spell the day before were spread around Dawn's body in an irregular pattern.
Buffy blinked her tired eyes and turned back to two days' worth of emails from both Willow and Giles. They all said the same thing: they had uncovered a ton of information, and had no idea what to do with any of it.
Voices resounded through the front door from the porch, catching Buffy's attention. Try as she might, she couldn't decipher the words. She sighed and rested her head on the scratched wooden table.
`Just for a minute,' she thought, closing her eyes. The voices outside rose and fell, lulling Buffy in their rhythm. She wished that things were easier. She hadn't spent more than five minutes in a room with Faith since dinner the night before, and she hadn't even seen Dylan since lunch. Buffy wasn't trying to avoid anyone, or make them feel out of place. She just had this habit of pushing people away.
A blood-curdling scream pierced the still night, and Buffy was on her feet instantly. Papers and books flew around the living room as Dawn, Vi and Rona sprang into action. Rona and Buffy rushed for the front door while Vi and Dawn raced to the weapons chest.
Buffy whipped open the door, as alert as ever, immediately scanning the porch for danger. The scream that had startled them all so suddenly had been replaced by a deafening, thick silence.
Buffy's eyes first caught Dylan, standing shell-shocked at the top of the porch steps, staring open-mouthed at the night sky. Tears streamed down her cheeks. Further inspection produced the form of Faith, sitting against the porch railing with her knees drawn up to her chest. Her eyes were squeezed shut, and as Buffy approached, her breathing became distinctly louder and labored.
Vi and Dawn cautiously stepped out the door wielding broadswords, but just as cautiously lowered their weapons at the scene unfolding before them. Rona spared a glance back to the two girls standing in the doorway, before warily approaching Dylan.
"Is everything alright?" she asked, her hands raised in a placating gesture. Dylan's eyes rolled in her skull as she turned her head towards the voice.
"What happened, Dylan?" Buffy asked, her voice low hinting at the danger of a wrong answer.
Dylan's eyes fluttered shut. "I don't… I can't… Faith?" she whispered. "I didn't know, Faith. I'm so sorry! I didn't know. How… are you…?"
"What happened?!" Buffy shouted, her impatience getting the better of her.
"I-I looked!" Dylan cried, her voice cracking desperately.
Dawn and Vi began talking at once, trying to make sense out of Dylan's too-simple answer, but Buffy's attention was drawn back to Faith. She rested her hand on Faith's shoulder. The brunette jumped back, knocking into the porch railing and looking smaller than Buffy had ever seen her.
"Faith?" she started gingerly. "Faith, it's alright."
Tears dripped from Faith's chin onto her knees. Buffy cautiously held her hand out, and Faith turned red-rimmed, hollow eyes up to her. Buffy couldn't help but think that the Slayer before her looked like nothing more than a terrified child.
She smiled softly, trying to convey her good intentions, but Faith shrugged away the help to choose to stand unsteadily on her own. She wandered through the front door in a daze. Buffy turned back to address the small group gathered on the porch.
"Let's get inside. The sooner we figure out what happened, the better."
Vi, Rona, and Dawn tentatively fell in line, following the Chosen Two into the house. Dylan hesitated, blinking her moist eyes and turning back to the night.
Her gaze fell on Faith's truck, and her mind began to race. She could leave. Take the easy way out. She could hotwire the truck and go. Anywhere but here. But was that what she really wanted? Or was it what Faith wanted?
Before Dylan had a chance to decide, a green, glowing orb appeared on the front lawn, catching her attention. As she stared at it, transfixed, it took the shape of a red-headed woman and a dark-haired man. The man fell to his knees, losing his lunch all over the grass. The woman stepped forward, an excited smile on her face.
"Hey-ho, look at me! W-we made it!" she exalted as she noticed the lone figure on the porch. "Hi! You must be Dylan. This is Buffy's house, right? I didn't teleport us into `Deliverance' or anything, did I?"
Dylan opened her mouth to reply, her eyes darting between the man on the ground and the woman's feet.
"Oh, sorry about Xander," the woman continued, her voice never losing its excitement. "He doesn't travel well."
Xander? The name was familiar to Dylan. He was one of Faith's memories. One of Buffy's friends. She raised her eyes to the woman's face, taking in pink lips curved up at each end and freckles adorning a slim nose. `This must be Willow,' she thought, before finally getting a word in edgewise, though she wasn't quite sure what to say.
"Um, ok. Everybody's inside, I-I… come on in, I guess." Dylan watched as Willow bent down to help Xander stand up, and the three walked into the house.
Faith sat at the bottom of the stairs. Buffy stood in front of her with a concerned look on her face, holding up a glass of water. Faith's eyes were closed, and her jaw was clenched tight. Her hand shook as she lifted it to run through her unruly hair. Dawn paced the living room restlessly, chewing on her thumbnail. Vi and Rona had resumed their spot on the couch, eyes darting from the open front door to Faith's prone form to each other, and back again.
"Willow! Xander!" Dawn's shriek startled the tense room. "When did you get here?"
The new arrivals gave Dawn the hugs she immediately sought. Buffy turned around to see her two oldest friends standing in the doorway, but her eyes fell to Dylan trying to blend into the wall.
"Hey guys," she said casually. "I'm afraid you've come at kind of a bad time."
"Is there any other kind?" Xander snarked as he accepted Buffy's less-than-enthusiastic hug.
"Hey Vi. Rona." Willow hugged each Slayer in turn and then turned back to the blonde still in Xander's arms. "Giles sends us with new news of the prophetic variety."
As the reunion chatter came to a crescendo, one voice suddenly rang out from the stairs.
"You have a brother. Matthew Edward."
The others hushed instantly, and all heads turned to Faith. The brunette Slayer stared across the room at Dylan, who had been silent since she entered the house.
"When you were six, he tried to drive your dad's pickup truck, and ran over your dog," Faith continued in an accusatory tone.
The others looked around the room at each other, trying to figure out what Faith was talking about. Dawn spoke for the confused group. "H-how do you know –"
"Now," Faith interrupted, her eyes hard and bright with unshed tears, "tell me something about me."
All heads turned to Dylan, who remained motionless by the door. When she began to speak her voice was thick. "I don't – I can't…"
"Explain. Now. Or I will show you what a Slayer can really do." Buffy snapped, getting right into Dylan's personal space. Dylan squeezed her eyes shut and pressed her body against the wall and away from the angry blonde.
Dylan cleared her throat, accepting the very real threat of the much shorter woman. She sighed, settling herself into a long and painful story.
"I grew up in California," she started. She let her face relax as she kept her eyes closed, lost in memory. "Born and raised. Never left its borders till I met Faith. Me, Mom and Dad, and Matt. Typical suburban dream." She smiled wistfully to herself, only pausing long enough to swallow the lump forming in her throat.
"Till this…" She gestured vaguely to her eyes with a shaking hand. "I mean, yeah, the teacher in health class said that we'd be going through some `changes,' but she didn't mention anything about intrusive, excruciatingly painful eye contact."
Her blue eyes opened like crystalline orbs, focusing on everything and nothing. Buffy stepped back with a soft gasp, quickly averting her eyes from Dylan's face.
"Mom and Dad thought I was faking, being rebellious, whatever, until that night with Mandy." Dylan paused again, letting out a heavy breath.
Willow looked around the room, at the faces held in rapt attention, and thought she had missed something. "Um, who's Mandy?"
Dylan shook her head, her long dark hair falling around her face and muffling her voice as it cracked with suppressed emotion. "Matt's girlfriend. I-I saw her, and they all thought I was nuts." Her fists clenched at her sides and the muscles in her shoulders rippled, betraying the power held in them.
"Took me to every doctor in the state, but no one could tell them what was going on. They sure as hell wouldn't believe any mystical explanations, even after I found some."
Dawn exchanged a worried glance with her sister. "What kind of mystical explanations?" she asked tremulously.
Dylan took a deep breath and tried to relax as she answered. "Apparently my great-great somebody on my mom's side was a demon… uh, Mitsah demon, I think. They have a lot of powers, healing and stuff. But they can also read and manipulate memories. From what I can tell, I got the extreme watered down version, tainted by a few generations of human genes."
"And it didn't present itself until puberty?" Willow wondered aloud.
"Right. After all the doctors said I was hallucinating or making it up or schizo, dear old Mom and Dad carted me off to a loony bin just outside of Santa Barbara. Said the sea air would be good for me." Dylan laughed bitterly, causing the room to shift uncomfortably.
"But I thought Faith found you in Monterey?" Rona asked, confused, as she looked to Buffy, who was worriedly studying Faith.
"She did. By the time I was sixteen, I realized that if I stopped taking all the crazy pills they were giving me, I could bust out, and I did. I bummed around most of central California for about a year until I ended up in Monterey with some crazy chick calling herself `Sunshine Starflower.' She got caught selling at the transit station, and one of the cops arresting her recognized me from a missing persons' report. We both got carted off to the county jail that morning."
Dylan paused, smiling to herself as she watched a moth flit around a nearby lamp. "Soon as they locked the cage, I felt this… surge go through me, like all the strength from every woman on the planet was suddenly in me. I ripped that fucking gate off its hinges and got out of there before they had even processed me."
Dylan looked up with a sudden frown, focusing on Buffy's forehead. Buffy flicked her eyes quickly to Dylan's face. Dark circles had formed around the younger Slayer's eyes, making her look drawn and tired. Buffy watched as Dylan's smile faltered. "Guess I'm not exactly what you had in mind for another superhero."
"We're not superheroes, Dylan," Buffy stated gently. "Maybe once upon a time I thought we were, but the world doesn't work that way."
"Ok, this is all fine and good," Vi interrupted, wading through the sudden hush, "but what does it have to do with Faith?"
Dylan closed her eyes again, looking tense and edgy as she shifted from one foot to the other. "That's the thing." She gestured to her eyes again. "This curse… whatever you wanna call it, means that I can't make eye contact without seeing…"
"Seeing what?" Buffy countered.
"Everything." Faith spat as she stood from her spot on the stairs. "Isn't that right?"
Dylan nodded forlornly in response.
"So… what? You, like, have Faith's memories now?" Dawn raised the question everyone else was thinking.
"And I have hers." Faith responded resentfully. "That's neat trick you got there, Dyl."
"I'm sorry, Faith, I should've told you, I –"
"Forget it. Forget all of it." Faith cut off Dylan's pleading apology and stormed up the stairs.
"Faith, wait!" Buffy followed right behind, only to have the door to the guest room slammed in her face. After a futile attempt at coaxing Faith to unlock the door and let her in, Buffy trudged down the stairs, defeated.
"Boy!" Xander exclaimed, clapping his hands as the girls turned his way. "It's good to be home again!"
As the reunion of old friends recommenced and migrated to the kitchen with talk of apocalypses, the dangers of teleporting, and frosty beverages, Dylan slunk out the front door, unnoticed. She settled onto the large porch swing. Tucking her legs underneath herself and leaning against the backrest, Dylan closed her eyes to the night.
it's warmer in hell, so down we go!
Mosquitoes were funny creatures. Their sole purpose was to hatch, grow, suck blood, breed, and repeat. Kind of like nature's vampires. Except that vampires were real. Dylan was still having a hard time wrapping her head around that fact, even knowing what she was and what she could do.
"So this `Summoner' guy… what do we know about him?"
Buffy's voice drifted out through the open window, mingling with the buzz of the mosquitoes in the still night. Vampires were an easier thing to realize than the things the group inside was talking about, Dylan decided.
"Uh… he summons things?"
Dylan smiled as Xander was appropriately rebuffed for his boneheaded suggestion. She wondered briefly what it was like to have friends that were as close as Willow, Xander, Buffy, Dawn, and even Rona and Vi seemed to be. Willow's voice interrupted those thoughts.
"We found one part of Giles' manuscript that wasn't in code like the rest of it."
"What does it say?" Dawn asked warily. The porch swing creaked as Dylan shifted her position, straining to hear.
Willow took a deep breath and reluctantly recited the passage in question: "Bound by the Earth from which he is arisen, until the army is stopped and the masses come unbound."
"That doesn't make any sense," Dylan muttered to herself, just as Buffy asked Willow what it meant.
"I couldn't really figure out how it fits in with the rest of what we've been able to translate. Giles said it was more important that we came here to help, so here we came."
"Why here?" Buffy asked, with just a hint of impatience. "I mean, wasn't the manuscript thingy found in Czechoslovakia or somewhere?"
"Okay, first, Czechoslovakia isn't Czechoslovakia anymore, it's the Czech Republic and Slovakia," Willow declared.
Dylan smirked at the haughty tone of voice the redhead had used. She was finding that Buffy's friends were pretty entertaining. At least, eavesdropping on them was entertaining.
"And second, the Hellmouth is here. Giles wants us to figure out exactly where it is."
Hellmouth. That word made Dylan sit up and really take notice. It was the kind of word that forced Dylan's eyes out into the forest across the meadow, the Slayer within her searching the dark for every threat and any kind of evil. The kind of word that made Dylan's heart feel heavy in her chest and it made her realize that it wasn't time yet to fight.
Cautious eyes turned her way as Dylan returned into the warm house. She paused at the bottom of the stairs, and though she turned her head toward the group, Dylan's eyes remained cast down. She sucked in a heavy breath, poised on the verge of speaking, but instead trudged wearily up the steps to the second floor. Dylan could hear their voices whispering below, recognizing her enhanced senses for what they were. She raised a tentative hand to the door to the guest room, and knocked softly.
"Faith?" Dylan called. She only received silence as an answer. "Faith, I'm sorry."
All thoughts of eavesdropping fun vanished, and it felt to Dylan like the breath had been taken from her lungs. Her hand shook as she rested her palm flat against the door.
"I-I should've told you. Should've warned you." Her voice trailed off, defeated. The door swung open suddenly and Dylan startled backwards. Faith stood in the threshold, her eyes red-rimmed and angry. Dylan immediately looked down, avoiding their gaze.
"So that's it, isn't it?" Faith sneered. "You apologize and I just take it. It's an easy way to go, never having to look a person in the eye when you're talkin' to `em."
She took a menacing step forward and Dylan shrank back against the opposite wall.
"No, it isn't easy." Dylan replied shakily.
Faith studied Dylan with a face full of disdain, and found her lacking. Her voice was a low growl when she spoke again. "Do you still think we're friends?"
Dylan was surprised by the question, and opened her mouth to speak but paused, unsure. She wanted to answer in the affirmative, but she was worried how Faith might take that response. Before she was able to come up with a suitable answer, Faith backed into the guest room and shut the door. Dylan closed her eyes and heaved out a sigh before retreating down the stairs and retiring on the porch swing once more.
Willow had seen some pretty horrifying things in her time. She'd worked beside the Slayer for eight years, and knowing what went bump in the night had never helped her sleep easy. She'd seen the things nightmares were made of, she'd even had nightmares about some of them, but Willow had never been more terrified than she was at that moment.
"Buffy, that was a stop sign!" Willow shrieked as she squeezed the handle above the passenger window in a death grip. The Blazer's tires squealed dangerously as Buffy swerved around a sharp curve.
"Yeah? Well what's it doing way out here in the middle of nowhere?" the blonde Slayer asked, trying to look innocent and failing miserably.
"And how again did you convince Giles to buy you a car using Watcher's Council money?" Willow teased, feeling a little more at ease now that they were back on the long gravel path that led to Buffy's house and property. She should've known that her long-time friend would be immediately defensive.
"Nothing is within walking distance here. Our neighbors aren't even within walking distance, that was kinda the point of moving here. We had to keep low pro after Sunnydale, otherwise every cop in the country would be asking questions, you know that!" Buffy countered with a shrill voice. "We needed a way to get to town for groceries and stuff, and to get Dawn to school and –"
"Ok! Ok, Buffy, I was only joking!" Willow laughed, feeling herself calm down considerably as the house came into view.
"Sorry, I get a little – ok, a lot defensive about my driving. But hey, I passed the test, I have my license, and I haven't had an accident that was my fault in over eight months!"
"Well good. That's good," Willow conceded. "So other than being accident-free, what's new? I feel like we haven't really talked in ages."
"I know," Buffy replied quickly. "It's been pretty uneventful here, until the last couple of nights. My baby sister's going to be a senior in high school in three short months, I'm enjoying my job – thank you again, by the way – and Rona and Vi drive into the more town-like parts of town for patrols pretty much every night."
She gripped the steering wheel a little harder than necessary as she pulled to a stop next to Faith's 4Runner. She felt Willow's intent eyes on her and sighed aloud.
"I thought things were just fine, but now it's the same old story, with a new prophecy and a new Slayer…." Buffy sighed again as Willow took her cue.
"It does seem like you've got your hands full here," she started. The two old friends made no move to get out of the car, and Willow realized it was up to her to steer the conversation the way it needed to go, before they could return to the house. "How's Faith holding up after last night?"
Buffy grimaced and shifted in her seat, pulling at her seatbelt but not unclasping it yet. "I don't know," she admitted with some embarrassment. "I haven't talked to her about it."
"Ugh," Willow groaned, throwing up her hands in exasperation. "What is it with Slayers and their enormous lack of emotional communication?"
"Huh? No, I-I just don't know how –"
"Is it like some weird genetic defect or something?" Willow continued, barely hearing Buffy's feeble protests. "You all get superpowers and forget how to express yourselves with anything other than your fists?"
Buffy's eyes widened in surprise and just as suddenly narrowed in anger. "Will, if we're talking about Kennedy here, and I think you are, if she hit you –" Her threat died on her lips as Willow interrupted again.
"No, no, I was just generalizing. Kennedy wouldn't do that, Buffy," Willow sighed, calming herself down. "She'd stop talking to me for days on end and then abruptly leave with no notice, but she'd never hit me. And quit changing the subject. We were talking about your Slayer, not mine."
"My Slayer?!" Buffy nearly choked on her words. "Will, I know Faith and I have gotten over the `try and kill each other' phase of our relationship, but c'mon! That's a little extreme."
Willow just smirked, raising an eyebrow as she raised Buffy's hackles.
"Quit it!" Buffy lightly smacked her best friend in the leg as she unfastened her seatbelt and opened the driver's side door. "Back to the topic at hand, and away from you being nuts."
She tried to hold Willow's smile as they approached the front door, but paused mid-stride, her face clouding in seriousness. "I don't even know how I'd react to what Dylan did," she said lowly. "I can't imagine what Faith is going through right now."
Willow nodded and continued up the porch steps and up to the front door. Opening it, she offered a last suggestion. "You'll never know if you don't try."
Buffy leaned her head back in frustration, staring up at the ceiling as she passed through the threshold. Her senses immediately alerted her to something out of the ordinary and her shoulders knotted in fear. She rushed into the house, nearly slamming into the back of Willow as she, too, paused in the entryway.
"Why is there singing?" Buffy instantly began looking around for any kind of musical threat. "Is there another musical?"
"Musical dishwasher, maybe," a husky voice answered from the living room.
Buffy followed Willow to the source of the voice. Faith was lying on the floor with her lower legs and feet propped up on the couch. Her dark hair was splayed out around her head on the hardwood, and she was holding a book up above her face.
"Musical dishwasher?" Willow queried, obviously as confused as Buffy. Faith just nodded her head in the direction of the kitchen as an answer. The blonde and redhead cautiously made their way over to the kitchen door, peering in to see Dylan cleaning up the dishes from the morning's breakfast and singing along to the music on her headphones.
"Beat on the brat! Beat on the brat! Beat on the brat with a baseball bat, oh yeah!" she sang, completely oblivious to her audience.
"Is that more or less morbid than what we sang about?" Willow asked an amused Buffy as they backed out of the doorway and returned to the living room.
"And just what were you singin' about, Willow?" Faith asked from her spot on the floor.
"Nothing!" Buffy answered a little too quickly. "We weren't singing. Hey, Faith, whatcha readin'? Did you raid the research pile?"
Willow smiled, thinking to herself that their musical week was still pretty neat, even if the outcome hadn't been all that positive. She hoped Dylan's off-key singing would bring better tidings.
"Nah," Faith responded to Buffy's question with her casual drawl. "Raided Dawn's bookshelf." She held up the book in question.
"Ooh, `To Kill a Mockingbird!'" Willow clapped excitedly. "We read that in school. It's a classic!"
"We did?" Buffy frowned at the book, apparently trying to remember it.
"Yeah, English… sophomore year?" Willow coaxed. Buffy just shrugged.
"S'alright, B." Faith grinned. "Your secret shame of illiteracy is safe with me."
"Hey!" Buffy protested good-naturedly.
Willow took the momentary smiles to prod Buffy in the back and give her a wide-eyed, expectant look. Buffy just frowned, losing quickly in what amounted to nothing more than a staring contest. Buffy sighed, defeated, and took a step forward just as Willow retreated to the back of the house. "I'm gonna go find Xander!" she called over her shoulder, leaving the two Slayers alone.
Buffy gritted her teeth, breathing out a heavy sigh and steeling her resolve.
Faith just grunted in response, already involved again in her book. Buffy took that as a sign to continue. "I, we… I was wondering, you know, h-how you're doing?"
Both Slayers shifted awkwardly in their positions as they tried to ignore Dylan's voice wafting in from the next room. After a long, tense pause, Faith sighed and carefully answered, "Five by five, B."
"Right." Buffy breathed out a heavy breath, setting her shoulders. "Um, you know, with all of us living together… again… you know, if you need to talk or –"
"Toldja I'm fine." Faith rolled her shoulders and sat up quickly. She looked down at her lap and then stood up. "I'm gonna go enjoy Scout and Jem out in the heat." She held her book up and gave Buffy a small smile before making a beeline for the door.
Buffy was left in the living room with unresolved tension and Dylan's voice as her only companions. She closed her eyes in defeat as the words to a new song reached her ears.
"I could make you happy; make your dreams come true. No there's nothing' that I wouldn't do, to make you feel my love."
If she sat still enough, Faith would become a part of the rock outcropping. If she concentrated long enough, she would stop the sun's descent. She would reach out a hand, blink an eye, and the water rushing to meet the ground would freeze in time. If she closed her eyes, Faith could forget. But the sun was too strong, the water too fast, and all Faith could do was remember.
Her book sat forlornly in her lap as the sun sank lower and lower among the trees. Faith's eyes were blank and her lips pressed themselves into a thin line as she remained deep in thought.
If Dylan was really the last in the line, she was done. Her self-inflicted purpose was finished. Faith didn't know her next step, she had no well thought-out plan. She could only think of one thing to do: find and kill any demon that dared enter her world.
The way it was supposed to be.
Only now, looking down the waterfall to the heavy boulders below, Faith felt no reason to step back from the brink. The only one to ever walk her back from it was gone, lost in the rubble of a city she once thought she might call home. She felt no inherent sense of self-preservation that had ruled her life for so long. There were others now to take her place.
The sun had only just made its way below the horizon, but Rona and Vi were already in their element. The two Slayers had at first been reluctant followers of Buffy, the Golden Girl, and her band of merry misfits. As Potentials, they were both unclear about and unwilling to accept their calling. But as soon as Willow's spell had given them just a glimpse of the power they were now sharing, the former Potentials had leapt at every chance to utilize their newfound strength and skill. They had spent a year helping to house and train new arrivals sent to Ohio from all over the globe, and tonight was no different. Their duty was as clear to them as the night sky. Their newest charge, however, was not so focused.
"Look," Rona sighed out exasperatedly. Her fuse had always been a little shorter than her redheaded partner's. "I haven't seen Faith in a year and I didn't know her all that well to begin with. She doesn't talk much."
"And that means…?"
"It means give her time, Dylan." Vi tagged into the argument, ready to play mediator. "You can't force forgiveness, especially on somebody like Faith. If she thinks you're worth trusting, she'll let you know, but don't push it." She breathed out in a huff and frowned worriedly as a familiar prickling inched up the back of her neck.
Dylan opened her mouth again to speak, her teeth gleaming in the starlight, but Vi was back to the business at hand. "And don't think that just because you're a Slayer and you're living in our house that we're friends."
Vi stalked ahead on the overgrown path towards the old abandoned church. Dylan's jaw snapped shut and turned to Rona, but found that the other Slayer had circled the other side of the church.
They were on the outskirts of the small town, and Vi and Rona had told Dylan that they'd take her patrolling, show her the ropes, and that they'd hopefully find something to kill. She hadn't been so sure about that last part, but following after Rona, Dylan suddenly wished they'd been a little bit more clear as she found herself surrounded by six of what she assumed were vampires.
The sword in her hand offered little comfort, considering she'd never held one before tonight, let alone used one. Suddenly the odds turned a little in her favor, as Vi came out of nowhere and quickly staked two of the vampires in question.
Dylan raised her sword with newfound confidence and stepped forward, only hearing Rona's warning a second too late. She stepped onto the rotten boards covering the church's cellar, and they crumbled under her feet. She fell through dust-filled air, landing flat on her back about fifteen feet underground, the sword clattering away in the dark.
The breath whooshed out of her lungs and all of the sound rushed out of her ears on impact. Dylan rolled over slowly, feeling her ribs protesting against the movement. She stood anyway, breathing in short, shallow pants. The sounds of the fight above returned to her ears and she took in her surroundings.
She could see surprisingly well in the dark, and chalked it up as yet another Slayer enhancement. Her improved vision, however, didn't give her much in the way of hope. The stairs leading back up to the surface were completely rotted out, as were several shelves that Dylan guessed had once been used to store food. Something that sounded like rats scurrying around reached her ears from the further reaches of the cellar, and Dylan felt a wave of panic rise inside of her.
"Vi! Rona! You up there?" she called. Their faces, shadowed with worry, appeared in the opening she had made. Dylan cast her eyes down while still trying to project her voice upward. "The stairs are totally out."
"We'll try and find some rope or something. Hang on." Rona shouted down, and she and Vi hurried away.
"Great," Dylan muttered to herself, breathing out slowly. Her arms flopped uselessly against her sides and then rose again so that she could scrape her hands through her unruly hair.
Her blue eyes darted around the dark cellar, trying to find an alternate way out, when she heard it again. The back of her neck prickled in anticipation and her stomach churned in fear. It wasn't rats that she was hearing, and she knew it. Dylan turned slowly, feeling goose bumps rise on her legs. A faint red glow appeared out of the dark, pulsing brighter, moving nearer.
"Definitely not rats," she said aloud.
Beetles, moving en masse within the red, pulsing glow, rushed towards Dylan with a speed she couldn't even imagine. They were crawling up her legs, under her clothes, and then they were burrowing into her skin and disappearing inside.
Dylan's screams echoed out of the cellar, reaching Vi and Rona as they raced back from the church. Vi jumped down into the cellar, landing just inches from Dylan, who was writhing on the floor. Rona tossed down a makeshift rope ladder.
"Get up here! Quick!" she yelled down, her eyes scanning the perimeter for more danger. Down below, Vi hauled Dylan up into a fireman's carry, and gripped as tight as she could to the rope.
"Pull us up!" Rona did as she was told. Her knees slid in the dirt as she pulled. She dug her feet in and hauled both Slayers up.
Vi was the first to pop up, and Rona grabbed onto her. They helped each other pull Dylan's still-shaking form out of the hole and back onto solid ground. Her eyes were blinking rapidly, and she was breathing hard, but she appeared to be otherwise unharmed.
"Let's get her home," Vi said breathlessly.
"Yeah." Rona stood, cradling Dylan's head and shoulders, and Vi took the fallen Slayer's feet as they started the slow journey back to the Blazer. "I wonder what happened down there?"
Sweat beaded on Willow's forehead as she passed her hands over Dylan's prone form. The entire living room was on edge as she finally stood upright.
"Will?" Buffy stepped forward, placing a hand on the witch's shoulder.
"I don't know what's wrong with her," Willow addressed the room. "Everything seems fine, other than a slightly elevated heart rate." She frowned and turned toward Vi and Rona. "You didn't see anything?"
Vi and Rona exchanged a look from their place at the foot of the couch. Rona's eyes returned to the girl on the couch, but she remained silent.
"We got jumped by some vamps by that old church we told you about," Vi began, her green eyes darting between Buffy and Willow. Buffy nodded, silently encouraging her to go on.
"We thought it would be a good place to start Dylan's patrol since we were getting weird vibes last time we were over there." Rona chimed in without looking up.
"Right." Vi affirmed. "Well, when the vamps jumped us, Dylan tried to come over and help, but she fell into the boarded up cellar. We dusted the vamps and told her we'd find some rope to get her out. Luckily there was a big coil of it right near the church, but by the time we got it and went back to the cellar, she was screaming her head off."
"Never heard a sound like it." Rona muttered, her jaw tight. Vi spared her a glance, but kept going.
"I jumped in, thinking there were more vamps or something, but she was already like this," Vi raised a hand to indicate Dylan's current position, "only she was, like, having a seizure or something. We hauled her out of there and came straight here."
Buffy and Willow exchanged a worried look. "There's nothing you can do, Will?"
"Not without more information, no. I just – I think she'll be ok for the night. If I had more to go on, I could research some spells, but –"
"What about the spell you used on Buffy when she went all catatonic when Glory took me?" Dawn asked from her spot on the stairs. Willow whirled around, clearly having forgotten that the younger Summers was in the room. Xander stood behind Dawn, rubbing his stubbled face, having clearly just woken up due to the commotion.
"I thought of that too, Dawnie," Willow smiled half-heartedly, "but with Dylan's other… powers? It's too risky without knowing more about what caused this."
"Alright," Buffy clapped her hands together, startling the room. "Let's get Dylan up to her room and get some sleep. Maybe things will be more clear in the morning."
She looked at the faces all around her. When no one protested, she moved forward, gingerly cradling Dylan in her arms and lifting her from the couch. The others moved in to help, carefully carrying Dylan up the stairs and into the guest room or scurrying out of the living room to find their own beds.
No one heard Faith come into the house through the kitchen door. No one saw the blood crusted around her nose and her left ear, nor did anyone see the bruises peeking out on every inch of visible skin. She trudged through the kitchen, pulling several ice packs out of the freezer on her way, and made her way slowly and deliberately up the stairs.
Each step caused her to wince, but she continued on. She had met up with more demons that night than she had since she had lived in Boston. Boston seemed like a lifetime ago to the dark Slayer, a time when the violence and bloodshed she had experienced tonight filled her with joy and purpose.
As she entered her temporary bedroom, all thoughts of purpose and duty were erased by defeat and failure. She stood looking at Dylan's unconscious form amongst the sheets of the bottom bunk for several long minutes before making her painful way up the ladder to collapse into her own bed.
at the end of this road i might catch a glimpse of me
It's raining so hard it seems like I can't see more than five feet in front of me. My body's tense, like it needs to move, like it knows it should get under those trees up ahead.
But I can't move.
Something is, though, in those same trees, just a hundred feet across this meadow, or field or whatever. It's moving closer now, and I can just make out that it's a person.
They're crouched low to the ground, hunched over with their hands up in front of their face. I blink, and the figure is only a few yards away now.
I can make out long, dark hair matted to a pale face. She's right in front of me now, crouched low in the grass with her head turned away, like she doesn't want me to see her. I don't need to see, though.
I know that body like I'd know my own. The body of a Slayer.
She growls in response, a low rumble from deep in her chest. I think that I should be afraid of her, but I'm not. It's just Dylan.
"I know you won't hurt me. I know you're subordinate." I say with confidence, but I'm trying to remember if I ever knew that word before.
Dylan growls at me again, close enough now for me to catch her scent through the rain. She stands to her full height, inches more than mine, but she still won't look at me.
"It's ok, Dylan. You won't hurt me."
She dips her head from side to side, avoiding my stare until I clamp a hand on her wet shoulder. Her head snaps up with a growl on her lips. Her eyes, which I know in life are as bright as the sea, are a dull, dead red.
Faith woke with a start, clutching a hand to her chest and sitting bolt upright at the same time, only to bash her head against the ceiling.
Faith looked down at herself, still in her disheveled and bloodied clothes. She hadn't even bothered to take off her boots when she had climbed into bed. Beneath the material of her clothing, Faith could feel more cuts and bruises. She was hot and sticky in the summer humidity, and immediately felt the need to shower away the residue of the past day and a half.
She gingerly leaned over the side railing, careful not to wake her bunkmate. Seeing only rumpled sheets on the mattress and a pillow on the floor, Faith swallowed down the sudden queasiness churning in her stomach and climbed down the ladder.
Still mostly asleep, rubbing her face with one hand, Faith stumbled into the bathroom across the hall. She flipped on the light and immediately regretted doing so, squeezing her eyes shut and cursing at the sudden brightness. She cautiously opened her eyes, only to see a familiar form hunched over the edge of the bathtub. She took a deep breath and moved further into the room, automatically steeling herself for a confrontation.
"Dylan? You alright?" Faith asked as she sat gingerly on the closed toilet lid. She winced in pain as various parts of her body protested the movement, and she squeezed her eyes shut and clenched her teeth to avoid alerting the other Slayer of her injuries.
After passing more than a minute in silence, Faith opened her eyes and looked over at the taller girl.
Dylan was miles away. She could still feel those… things crawling through her, merging with her bones and blood. Her body shook violently as she struggled to fight against the change happening within her. She could hear Faith's voice, far away, hollow, and found that she couldn't respond.
Swallowing hard, Dylan forced herself to look up at the other Slayer's forehead. Close enough to see the concern in her brown eyes, but not close enough to do any harm. Not again.
A growl formed, low in her chest, as she tried to answer the other woman. She moved her mouth to speak, hoping the words would come out on their own. The growl she attempted to suppress came out instead, startling Faith. Dylan squeezed her eyes shut and concentrated.
"They're still… in here," she croaked out, clutching the front of her t-shirt. Her body shuddered as she fought to maintain control. "It's like… something crawled in me and died there. It's like… it's like it's trying to get back out." Her voice sounded alien to her, detached from her conscious mind.
Suddenly Dylan groaned and doubled over, collapsing to the tiled floor, writhing in pain. Faith was at her side in an instant.
"Dylan, hey, come on." Faith placed a tentative hand over Dylan's brow, trying to find a comforting gesture for the girl on the floor.
"F-Faith…" Dylan began, her tongue feeling too thick, too heavy in her mouth to form words properly. "I'm so sorry, Faith. So s-sorry, Faith…." Tears leaked out of her eyes as her head lolled against the floor.
"Hey, hey, no! Don't say that!" Faith's voice broke as she tried in vain to stem the flood of tears forcing their way from the hot lump in her throat. "Dylan, no, you're not sorry, okay?! I am. I'm such an asshole, right? Don't you fucking die on me!"
Frantic, Faith attempted to help the girl sit back up, when suddenly Dylan pushed herself into the corner where the tub met the wall, pulling her knees to her chest and shaking uncontrollably. Faith began to panic, wracking her brain for something that would help her friend. She could only think of one thing.
"Buffy. BUFFY!" Faith yelled, hoping the blonde Slayer would wake up. Hoping someone would know what to do.
Dylan screamed out in pain, rolling onto her side as her body began to convulse. Buffy burst into the room with her sister hot on her heels.
"Faith, are you –? Oh, God. Dawn, get Willow. Hurry!"
Dawn turned and ran down the hall to rouse the sleeping witch as Buffy entered the bathroom. Thick, black blood bubbled out of Dylan's mouth as she finally lost consciousness, a heavy breath passing between her lips. Faith sat in shock at Dylan's side, having no idea how to help. Buffy knelt down, pressing her fingers to the girl's pulse points and leaned down low over Dylan's head, hoping to feel the breath she couldn't hear. She raised tearful eyes to Faith's and slowly shook her head.
"Faith –" Buffy's voice, thick with tears, snapped Faith out of her stupor, and she lunged into the space between the two Slayers in front of her.
She slapped Dylan hard, hoping to shock her back to life, pounding the body on the floor. Dawn returned with Willow, Xander and Rona in tow, and Buffy and Rona forcibly pulled Faith away from the lifeless body. They unceremoniously dumped her in the hallway, out of sight of the spot where Dylan lay.
"Faith, look at me."
Faith struggled against the strength of the two Slayers, not able to form words as hot tears began to streak her flushed face.
The slap did the trick: Faith's eyes locked angrily onto Buffy's as the true gravity of the situation registered to all of them. Buffy's eyes widened in apology just as Faith collapsed into the blonde's arms, her body trembling with wild sobs.
Questions of why and how loomed over the small group, but the only answers they received were unintelligible wails and moans as a lifetime of misery poured from the dark Slayer.
Willow's eyes adjusted to the harsh fluorescent light of the small bathroom, turning from the two Slayers in the hallway to the lifeless girl on the floor. Every cell in her body told her to do something – anything – to help the situation at hand. Her lower lip trembled, thinking back to only a few hours before.
If she had acted then, if she had tried harder when Vi and Rona first brought Dylan home…
But she had hesitated, and now a girl was dead because of it. Willow's eyes closed quickly to try and rein in any thought, any spell that could be useful.
The energy in the room, however, was cold. She wouldn't dare to try and resurrect a creature such as Dylan, whom she knew nearly nothing about. Willow hung her head in defeat, already knowing there was nothing she could do.
Her eyes opened again to the girl on the floor and widened in fear. Two blood-red eyes stared back at her and a low growl hummed from the chest of what used to be Dylan.
Willow didn't think before she reacted; energy crackled in her hands as she turned to subdue the new threat. She barely had a second before gleaming, sharp white teeth were forcing her to the ground. Every spell she ever knew was replaced by sheer panic. Those horrible teeth were closing around her throat, pulling blood and sinew and cartilage with them. Going for the kill instead of testing the waters.
Buffy's voice sounded so far away, almost like an echo in a dream. The monster that Dylan had become weighed down, pressing into Willow's prone form as its grip on her throat tightened. Willow's mind was a sea of confusion and the edges of her vision began to blur when something hard, something solid crashed into the thing above her.
The weight was gone, her mouth was open, but Willow couldn't breathe. Couldn't call out. Could barely hear anymore.
Dawn's face, so full of anguish, swam into view. Little Dawn…. Her mouth moved, open and closed, open and closed, but instead of reassuring words, only blood trickled out.
Willow realized that Dawn was speaking to her, but she couldn't hear her. She was barely aware of the fight occurring nearly on top of her. She blinked once, then again, and then her eyes couldn't see anymore. The bare skin of her arms felt weightless, almost numb against the cool linoleum floor. She couldn't feel the hands covering her wounds, trying to stop her blood from flowing out. She couldn't feel any pain.
She was only Willow. Willow was gone.
Xander reacted without thinking. Faith had been crying, practically screaming one minute, and then the next….
He didn't want to think about the next.
He didn't want to think about Willow falling to the floor with a sickening crash. He didn't want to think about the sound her throat made when this thing ripped it out. He didn't want to think about the fact that he was wrestling a monster with his knees slipping in his best friend's blood. He just wanted it to pay.
He was bigger, heavier, and he had the advantage of surprise. Her – no. It. Its body slammed into the side of the bathtub. Its face was a bloody pulp under his fists.
Xander had never felt rage like this before. His blood boiled and pounded against the inside of his head. His arms were numb and heavy with shock. Tears flowed in a steady stream out of his remaining eye. He could barely see. He could barely breathe, and suddenly grief took its toll and he was on his back.
Faith suddenly found herself struggling with the blonde in the hallway. An immediate role reversal, the shrill sounds of Buffy's cries still ringing in her ears. She didn't know if Willow was alive or dead. She didn't know anything except that they couldn't risk Buffy. They could never risk Buffy.
Her knees stung where the carpet rubbed the skin raw, but she held on with every ounce of strength she had left. Risking a glance inside the bathroom, Faith watched through the gap between Dawn's legs as Xander was flipped onto his back. Long legs wrapped around his midsection and blood dripped onto his face from the distorted, deformed mouth above him. His hands reached up and squeezed around her neck. Her hands squeezed harder, and Faith could practically feel his ribs creak in protest against the body above his.
"There's so much blood…" Dawn's legs were trembling. She was about to collapse.
"Dawn!" The youngest of the household didn't turn around.
Buffy thrashed and hit, her throat raw with agony as she screamed at Faith to let her go.
"God dammit, Dawn!" Faith only let go with one hand, reaching through the threshold and grabbing onto Dawn's calf, pulling her roughly down and into the hallway.
Dawn didn't have time to react, to even brace herself as she fell, before Faith's hand was clenched around her nightshirt.
"Dawn, listen to me! Listen!"
Dawn closed her eyes to the angry face so close to her own. She had never seen so much pain in her life as she did then, permanently etched in Faith's dark eyes, but she felt it in every fiber, in every drop of blood spilled in the name of Good.
"I need you here, Dawn. Your sister needs you here. You can't freak on me now, ok? Dawn?" Faith hated how her voice broke. Hated how much raw pain she was letting loose, but there was nothing she could do about it now.
Dawn nodded mutely, allowing Faith to mold her lanky frame around her sister, holding her close as the brunette Slayer continued barking orders. Buffy clung to her, every ounce of Slayer strength drained in grief and panic. Dawn held onto her sister just as tightly. She would be the strong one this time.
"Rona, get me a fucking tranquilizer gun or something really fucking heavy!"
Faith didn't wait for a response before stalking into the bloody bathroom. Xander's face was almost purple, his eye bulging in its socket. Faith's mind tried to force its way back to a sad and scary night in a sad and scary motel room, but she didn't have time for flashbacks.
She balled her fists into Dylan's long, dark hair and the top of her pajama bottoms, and yanked as hard as she could. They toppled to the floor, and Faith used her position on the bottom to her advantage, wrapping the thing that used to be her friend in a full-nelson.
Faith knew her shorter legs couldn't hold on forever as the body above her thrashed violently, so she tightened her hold on the arms and head that were doing their best to crush her face. She felt more than heard a guttural scream, and the body went limp.
Breathing hard, Faith pushed the body away. Rona loomed above her with an empty syringe in her hand.
Adrenaline leaked out of Faith's body with every exhale, leaving her pale and shaking. The rest of the house was deathly silent, save for her heaving pants. Her ears were ringing and she could taste blood in her mouth. Faith sat up on her elbows, slipping in sweat and blood but staying upright to survey the damage.
Damage she could've prevented, if only she'd been home sooner. If only she'd stayed where she belonged.
Buffy had gotten loose. Xander had recovered. They were no more than a foot away, cradling Willow's limp body in their arms.
i don't laugh as easily since you were taken away. things are lookin' so different today
Water swirled and drained in the kitchen sink. Xander lifted his eye patch, resting it at his hairline as he splashed some of the water onto his face. Tears streamed out of his good eye, but it wasn't time yet to cry. Pools of red washed away down the drain. Not his blood, though it may as well have been.
The phone mocked him from its perch on the counter as he dried his hands. Xander had no time yet to grieve. There were things to be done, calls to be made. Someone had to keep it all together, and it looked as though that someone was him. She was gone, but his world kept on turning without her. He squeezed the receiver in his palm, biting down on a fresh wave of tears.
Willow's parents and Xander's parents had abandoned Sunnydale long before it had become a crater, and their children with it. Dawn summed it up best when they had all attempted, unsuccessfully, to contact their families after defeating The First: "I guess we're our own family now. We're all we've got."
Xander sat heavily in a chair at the kitchen table. His hand reached up to finger the scar tissue and disfigured orbital bones around his left eye. No matter how often they were put in danger, no matter what injuries occurred, he and Willow had always opted to stay in the fight.
At the ringing in his ear, Xander's heart swelled. He half-expected to hear her voice, perky and familiar, on the other end of the connection. His heart ached and his head dropped to his hand when he didn't.
Giles didn't appreciate being kept waiting, and Andrew was nearly fifteen minutes late for their debriefing. He rearranged his papers and moved a paperweight until it was at right angles with the corner of the desk. Exhaustion was beginning to seep into his bones in the late morning sun, but he knew that rest was nowhere in sight. He couldn't allow anyone to know just how tired he was, and he especially couldn't allow anyone to know just how fruitless his research had been.
The phone beside his elbow began to ring, and Giles sighed out loud.
"Rupert Giles." He answered in his most disapproving, business-like tone, hoping to get a glimmer of satisfaction out of scaring Andrew.
A deep, shuddering breath reached his ear through the receiver as he heard giggling voices coming up the hall.
The sound of the voice on the other end of the connection turned Giles' stomach to ice.
"Xander? Is everything alright?" Giles asked, gripping the phone ever harder.
"N-no, Giles. She – you – you have to come." Xander's words were stilted, and his voice was thick with emotion.
Giles swiveled in his leather chair, nearly knocking over his teacup to wake up his dormant computer. "Xander, what is it? Has something happened? The prophecies –" Giles cut himself off as he searched online for the first, most direct flight to the US. Smiling despite himself, Giles thought it was a good thing that after so many years, Willow had finally convinced him of the practical uses for the blasted machine.
A hollow, mirthless laugh came through the phone, and Giles' smile dropped.
"No, not the prophecy. It's Willow. She – she's dead." Xander's words broke into sobs just as Andrew walked into Giles' office, talking a mile a minute as he closed the door.
"Sorry I'm late, Mr. Giles. My Mythical Creatures class ran late today. We got into a discussion about how mermaids reproduce, which I apparently have some things to learn about, but when I tried to reference the Star Trek: Voyager episode where Captain Janeway –"
Andrew finally turned away from the door to face Giles, and stood in shock at the expression on the older man's face. Andrew could hear Xander's voice on the phone and rushed forward to take it from Giles. "Xander?"
His voice shocked Xander into silence, and then a cautious "Andrew?"
"Yeah, it's Andrew," he replied indignantly, placing his free hand on a cocked hip. "What did you say to Giles? His face is all pale and he's crying and –" Andrew's hand flew from his hip to his mouth as a thought occurred to him. "Oh, no, is it the apocalypse again? Because really? There's only so much one man can take!"
Xander laughed that bitter, haunting laugh, and Andrew shuddered at the sound.
"No, Andy, it's worse than that. You and Giles need to get here as soon as possible. Get Robin on the way, if you can find him."
The connection was severed and Andrew found himself blinking down at the phone in his hand, listening to the dial tone.
"Giles?" He placed the phone on the desk and laid a hand on Giles' shoulder, startling him out of his stupor. "What could be worse than an apocalypse?"
Giles blinked up at Andrew, momentarily confused, before standing on shaky legs to move over to the window.
"Get on that machine," he responded, vaguely waving at his computer perched on the desk. "Book us two tickets to the States, doesn't matter where, just when. Soon."
Giles paused, feeling nauseous and dizzy. He braced a hand on the window pane, feeling the warm sun on his palm through the glass. "Willow's gone."
Andrew sunk slowly into Giles' chair, stunned. "G-gone?" He already knew the answer.
Giles looked down at weeks of research flung haphazardly all over his tables. For the first time since becoming Buffy's Watcher, he worried that this time, they wouldn't be strong enough. This time, they wouldn't make it.
Tears – or maybe it was sweat – dripped from Faith's chin to the blood-stained floor. Buffy sat in the hall, watching transfixed as Faith scrubbed, cleaning the bathroom with such fervor it bordered on obsession.
Spike once asked her if she knew how much blood one could drink from a girl before she'd die. Buffy didn't know about the drinking part, but there was more blood on her bathroom floor than she could ever imagine would come out of one person.
Her hands balled into fists in her lap, tight enough to draw blood in her palms, and her own tears started to flow again.
Useless. That's what she was. She had panicked, and done nothing to help Willow. Her best friend, murdered in her own bathroom, and she did nothing to stop it.
Buffy's eyes flickered up to Faith's face as she concentrated on the task at hand. She noticed the gash on the shell of Faith's right ear, and the bruises on her arms, but was oddly unconcerned where they came from. Faith had called for her, had needed her help, but Buffy had done nothing. Faith had at least tried to stop it all once it started. Faith hadn't put Willow in harm's way, and Faith hadn't sat idly by while her throat was ripped out. She had sprung into action, barking orders like a drill sergeant in a vain attempt to stop the monster Dylan had become.
When all was said and done, Faith was the one to begin picking up the pieces, something Buffy couldn't have dreamed of doing. Buffy sat in the hall while Faith carried an unconscious Dylan down to the basement, chaining her up before coming back to collect Willow's body. She wrapped the fallen witch in plastic, saying nothing as she carried the body into the basement as well to await a proper burial. Buffy hadn't moved as Faith began the arduous task of cleaning up in the aftermath.
Hot tears coursed down her face as she watched Faith scrub drop after drop of spilled crimson. Faith had not been useless; Faith had been in charge, taking Buffy's place in less than a heartbeat. Words from too many years ago came back to haunt Buffy in that instant. Words about never being in control, about nothing making sense and Buffy wondered when and how she and Faith had switched places. How could Faith be so in control? Why could Faith still feel it? The call of the Slayer was as strong in her as it had ever been, and though Buffy still had the strength, the dreams and the stamina, the desire to perform her sacred duty had all but vanished.
A shaking hand, slender fingers appeared before her eyes, breaking their hold on the Slayer before her, and reached up to brush fresh tears from her cheeks. Buffy blinked, looking up to find her sister kneeling above her, looking so grown up but so like a scared child all at once.
More words from the past floated through Buffy's mind. Death was her gift, but it wasn't in the way she once thought. Death was her gift to her friends and to her family to relieve them of this life.
Strong arms pulled her up and herded her into a bedroom. She rested wearily on Dawn's bed as her sister curled herself around her body. Soft lips caressed the back of her head.
"I'm so sorry, Dawn. I'm so sorry." Buffy didn't know what else to say.
"Shh, Buffy, it's not your fault." Buffy ached to hear those words, but they came from the wrong voice, the wrong person, and it made her feel worse than ever.
She twisted her body to see her sister, reaching up with bruised and bloodied hands to hold Dawn's face. Would her baby sister die in the clutches of some demon? In a bloodbath just like Willow? Or would she be permanently injured like Xander? Would she be exempt from it all? Would her innocence carry her on into old age?
Buffy didn't know, wasn't sure she wanted to, and so she held Dawn tight to her. She didn't want to think about how useless she'd be when death came calling for Dawn. She told her sister with arms and kisses and whispered words that she didn't need to be strong for Buffy.
It was Buffy's burden to bear.
The door squeaked on its hinges as Vi slowly pushed it open. She winced as the squeak became a groan, and wondered where the WD40 had gone. Stepping over the threshold, the floorboards creaked and groaned along with the door, and Vi gave up on trying to be quiet. A quick glance to the clock in the foyer told her that it wasn't even five o'clock yet. She heard soft voices coming from the dining room and headed that direction with a frown.
"Where the hell have you been?"
Vi gasped as she was intercepted by an extremely upset-looking Rona. The other Slayer gave her a quick once-over and her expression turned from distraught to angry in the blink of an eye. Vi looked down at her own appearance as she tried to stammer out a response. Her clothes were a bit disheveled and dirty, and her hands were black and blue. She felt more bruises forming around her eyes that would hopefully be gone by that afternoon.
"I-I couldn't sleep, after…. I went out to patrol, t-to try and find out more about – about what happened," she whispered, unable to read Rona's face. "I went to The Buckeye… you know, the demon bar?"
"I know what The Buckeye is!" Rona interrupted impatiently.
"Right," Vi frowned, noticing for the first time that lights were on upstairs. She thought she could hear someone crying. "Well, I went to The Buckeye, and asked around – or, well, intimidated around – and I think I found out what happened to Dylan in the church cellar." Vi paused as fear and something else flashed in Rona's dark eyes. Rona took a deep breath, averting her eyes from Vi's eager gaze.
"Doesn't matter now, Vi," she said sullenly.
"What? Of course it does!" Vi protested. "If Dylan's still unconscious, I mean, if she doesn't snap out of it – I'm telling you I know what caused it!" The redhead moved closer to her friend, studying her face intently.
Rona sighed and clenched her jaw. "And I'm telling you it doesn't matter. Dylan's dead, Vi." She barely paused as Vi took a step back with a shocked "What?" falling from her lips.
"Dylan's dead, and so is Willow."
Blood was caked under Faith's fingernails. It filled every crease in the palms of her hands, and it soaked into her clothing. She didn't think the rag she was using could soak up another drop, but still she scrubbed. No one had come to relieve her; no one had even spoken to her since….
The sun was up now, shining through the bathroom window, but Faith barely noticed the heat. Buffy had left her post against the wall in the hallway hours ago. Faith almost missed her silent, accusatory stare.
Voices drifted up the stairs every now and then. The smell of blood and tears permeated the house. Downstairs, plans were being made without her, but Faith still scrubbed on. Someone had to do it, and Faith's hands were already dirty. It was always the same story, anyway. No one had said it, but they didn't need to: This was Faith's fault.
She had hurt, and killed, and betrayed. Wherever she went, destruction and chaos ruled in her wake. She had brought to Buffy's house the thing that killed her best friend. Cleaning up her own aftermath was all Faith could think of to alleviate the guilt and self-hatred she felt, amplified more times than she could count because she was supposed to be good now. She was a Slayer, and the Slayer was supposed to be the hero.
Faith's eyes snapped up to the intruder, showing steel and just a hint of danger. Rona kept her own eyes cast to the floor, averting them from the bloody girl in the bloody room.
"We're having a family meeting downstairs," Rona stated unsteadily. "About… about what to do, now."
"Seeing as how I'm not a part of the fam, I don't see how this concerns me," Faith responded dryly.
Rona looked up, startled. She studied Faith's face, tried to look past the walls building behind Faith's dark eyes. She could only see the hard shell Faith had on permanent display, but she tried again anyway. "Buffy asked me to come get you. She wants you downstairs."
Faith wasn't phased by Rona's pleading tone. `Course she does,' she thought bitterly to herself.
She clenched her jaw and her lips pressed together in a hard line. Squaring her shoulders, Faith readied herself for a confrontation that never came. With a sigh, Rona took one last look at the other Slayer before turning on her heel and heading back downstairs.
Faith sighed as well, and sat back on her haunches. Her eyes dropped to the bloody and battered hands in her lap and a familiar heaviness settled in her chest. If there was anything she had learned over the years, it was how and when to choose her battles. This time, Faith admitted defeat. It wasn't the time to fight.
Rona made her way slowly down the stairs, alone. Xander searched the faces of the women around him.
"Is this everybody?" he asked, already knowing the answer.
Rona averted his questioning gaze. "Faith's going to stay upstairs."
Buffy shifted against the couch cushions, her body taut with grief and days of awkward tension. "Why? She's been up there all day." Her voice sounded alien to her. Dawn pressed harder into Buffy's side, like a nearly-eighteen year old limpet. Buffy rested her chin on her sister's head and suddenly didn't care why Faith refused to join them.
"It doesn't matter, Buff." Xander echoed her thoughts. "We'll fill her in later if we need to."
Xander couldn't look his long-time friend in the face. Dawn was crying softly against Buffy's shoulder, but was trying to hide it, and Xander knew that if he looked at either of them he'd break down. He cleared his throat, regaining their attention. His eye patch was firmly back in place, and his good eye fixed its focus on the coffee table.
"Giles and Andrew touched down in New York about forty minutes ago," he began. If Xander had focus, if he could keep his mind on what needed to be done, and he could stay calm and collected. He could be what they needed. "Robin is meeting them there, and as long as they make their connecting flight, they should be in Cleveland in about an hour and a half."
Xander took a deep breath, dreading what he still had left to say now that the easy part was out of the way. Shoving his hands in his pockets to keep them from shaking, he ploughed on. "We're not going to contact any outside authorities. It's what Willow wanted, and it's better to keep it under wraps."
"What do you mean, what Willow wanted?" Dawn asked with a shaky voice. Xander couldn't look at her.
"We… had a talk," Buffy answered for him, turning just enough to look at Dawn. "Xander and Willow and me, after Sunnydale. Since none of us could get in touch with family then, we decided it would be best that if any of us were – if any of us fell… in the line of duty, we'd keep it quiet. There's no reason to involve people who aren't involved." Buffy's eyes dropped to her hands in her lap, hating to see the hurt and the grief in her sister's eyes.
"Once the others get here, we're – I think it's best if we just have a small ceremony, funeral, whatever you want to call it. You know, to say good-bye," Xander finished, heaving out a sigh as he finally looked up to see what Buffy thought.
Her face was twisted into a grimace and she seemed to be distracted by something on the stairs. He followed her gaze to find Faith standing on the bottom step, looking completely out of place and unsure of herself. She stared back at Buffy with a purposely blank face.
"Oh my God!"
Faith jumped a little at Dawn's exclamation, and Xander was quick to follow suit.
"Good God, Faith! What the hell?" Faith looked at Dawn and then Xander, clearly startled and confused by their horrified outbursts. "Do you have to go around looking like that?" Xander quickly clarified, pulling his hands out of his pockets to gesture wildly.
Faith's neck burned as everyone's attention turned towards her. The sound of Dawn crying rushed to her ears as she took in her own appearance. She seemed to realize for the first time that her body, her clothes were still covered in Willow's blood. She had been bathed in blood for so much of her life that at first she wasn't sure that she didn't look like that permanently.
"Faith?" Buffy said, waiting until the other Slayer's attention was drawn back her way. Her voice turned cold and angry as Faith looked up at her. "Change your God damned clothes."
Faith's brown eyes went wide before dropping quickly away from Buffy's icy green gaze. Her lower lip trembled and her stomach churned with shame. She felt like she was five years old on her first day of kindergarten again.
"I-I… I'm sorry," Faith mumbled in embarrassment before hurrying back up the stairs.
Silence settled over the living room for a few tense moments. Xander and Buffy exchanged worried glances as the blonde Slayer wrapped her arms tighter around Dawn.
Vi stood, shaking off the confines of the momentary awkwardness. "I'll pick up the guys from the airport. They shouldn't have to take a taxi during all of this," she said to no one in particular. Xander nodded, her only inclination that anyone had even heard her.
"I'll order us some pizzas or something. Nobody's eaten all day, and we should… do that." Rona chimed in lamely. No one protested, so as Vi gathered her purse and the spare set of keys for the Blazer, Rona began the search for the stack of takeout menus.
Xander closed his eye, letting out another heavy sigh. His feet carried him across the living room rug and over to the loveseat where Dawn and Buffy sat huddled together. He squeezed his larger frame onto the cushion, wrapping his warm arms around his fractured family.
Faith didn't appreciate Xander's pointed silence, or Buffy's accusatory glares. She didn't have any answers for Giles, no `how' or `why.' She watched as they lowered the body, in its makeshift casket, into the earth, and felt her heart turn to stone.
They spoke of all the great things Willow did in life, Faith was sure of it. Only she didn't hear a word they said. She didn't need to.
She watched as they laughed uncomfortably, as they hugged and cried. Faith clenched her teeth and held it in. Someone had to keep a level head. Someone had to control their grief. They wouldn't appreciate her tears, anyway.
Faith moved from her spot at the edge of the meadow, hidden out of sight in the birch trees. The black leather encasing her legs clung to her like a second skin. Her boots crunched in the gravel as she approached the house, and the muscles in her neck tightened with purpose as she entered the basement.
Her footsteps fell heavily on the stairs, echoing in the low light. It was there she found the other dead girl, chained to a wall. Red eyes stared up at her, shining with defiance. Or maybe it was fear. Faith wasn't sure she knew the difference anymore.
"What are you?" she growled.
Her hands balled into fists at her sides and she stepped ever closer. A snarl rose up from the thing that used to be her friend, but it kept its eyes down. Faith barely felt the muscles ripple in her arms before her hands were gripping the thing's face, forcing it to look at her.
"Where the fuck is Dylan?!" she screamed, her voice breaking as her tears finally spilled out.
Faith pushed the monster back into the wall, losing her own balance in the process. Her back hit the ground, hard. Hot tears and menacing laughter burst out of her on impact. Darkness bubbled inside of her, and she let it reign free.
Flipping herself up to her feet, Faith scrubbed shaking hands over her face, wiping away her grief. Her eyes closed of their own accord and when she opened them, the dead girl chained to the wall recoiled. Faith stalked across the basement floor and didn't stop until her fists rained down on the monster that took her friends away. She didn't stop when her knuckles were raw and bleeding. She didn't stop when those red eyes shone up at her in pain, and fear. Crimson now, where there used to be blue.
Faith pummeled the thing beneath her until those red eyes were swollen shut. She didn't stop until she collapsed against the concrete floor, and her body shook with her sobs.
just one thing makes me forget
The ground is soft beneath my feet. The fog is thick and heavy. I can hear the drip… drip… drip of water pooling from the lichen hanging in the oak trees. My steps are noisy, jubilant in the cool, quiet morning. I breathe in deep of the moist air, feeling the cold penetrate all the way to my bones. An excited thrill shivers through me at the familiar smells of California sagebrush and sand: I am home. I tilt my head back, feeling the cool mist pelt my face and I close my eyes.
When I open them again, I'm greeted by a familiar room with familiar people. I know this place. I know it, but I don't have the words. My head rolls down and my eyes adjust. Everything's too bright. I might be sick.
I watch my hands twitch in their bindings. I sniff the air, inhaling the cleanliness of soap and fresh clothing. Blood throb-throb-throbs painfully in my cheeks. I remember so much blood. So much anger in bare fists.
"I think she's coming around." The voices are familiar, too. People I knew. Everything's fuzzy.
"Should we dope her up again?" I knew him once, in another life. He was kind. Kind of funny.
The needle is sharp, pain, warm. Yes, please.
My head rolls back and my feet hit granite. I smile, happy and carefree and back on Sandy Ridge, one of my favorites. I break into a run, scrambling and slipping up the wet rocks to the top. My breath bursts out in wet pants and I close my eyes.
"Faith, where have you been?" The voice is powerful, strong, familiar. Family.
It's hard to move, like I'm swimming. Swimming in a cold, cold ocean. But she was there. Dark hair, dark eyes. I used to know her. Used to know everything. Dark, all dark. She's so sad. Always sad.
"Out." They're afraid of each other, the dark and the light. They chase each other away.
"Out where, a brewery?" Another voice, strong and familiar. Dark skin, darker than the rest, but still family.
I breathe in, like I'm underwater. Everything's fuzzy again. My head rises at that smell as she walks by me. Food. I miss food, but I don't need it anymore. She offers toast, with red jam. Strawberry.
Mingling with blooming coyote bush and the aromatic sagebrush, manzanita trees surround me. Their twisted branches gleam like bloody antlers in the white fog, and the glowing green of their leaves light my way. The fog breaks at the top of the ridge, showing me the valley below.
I am home.
I am gone.
"Buff, I don't think that last dose worked."
The blonde Slayer sighed and followed Xander's worried gaze to the dead girl tied to her dining room chair. The others shifted uncomfortably as Rona set breakfast down on the coffee table. No one looked to Buffy. Buffy looked to Faith, who stood staring out the window with bleary eyes, swaying on her feet.
"Let's see what she does this time," Buffy sighed in reply.
Her eyes flicked from Xander's cautious nod to the girl in question. Groggy red eyes shone up at her, and an unpleasant shiver raced down Buffy's spine. She looked away as quickly as she could, fighting the urge to add to the mysterious bruises on the dead girl's face.
"So, I don't want to bring up… badness," Vi started uncertainly. Her eyes darted around the room as everyone turned their attention her way. After a few awkward moments with all eyes on Vi, Giles intervened for her.
"It's alright, Vi. Go ahead."
The suddenly shy redhead squirmed in her seat and looked down at her hands fidgeting in her lap. "Does Willow being dead mean that we'll lose our powers? I mean, she did the spell to –"
"I'd think if that were to happen, it would've already," Giles interrupted gently. "I think it's safe to say that you, Rona, and the others will remain Slayers."
"Will another Slayer be called now that… she's dead?" Rona asked with a frown, gesturing vaguely in the direction of what used to be Dylan.
"I don't think it works that way anymore," Robin concluded with a frown of his own.
"Well, Buffy died a few years ago, right? For like, a long time. Wasn't another Slayer called then?" Andrew supplied before jamming a piece of toast into his mouth.
"We thought there would be at first," Dawn stated uncertainly, flicking her eyes to Faith. "But the line goes through Faith, not Buffy."
"So if Faith dies, will we lose our powers?" asked a panicking Vi. The shrill tone in her voice, bordering on hysteria, turned Faith away from her vigil at the window.
"I did die." She stated, quietly.
The room fell silent as Faith's words sunk in, and then everyone started talking at once. Shocked words of `how' and `when' and `why didn't you tell us' flew around the living room, but Faith barely heard them. Her eyes darted to the demon tied to the dining room chair. To the one who knew everything, and nothing. Cold chills raced across her stomach and goose bumps rose on the back of Faith's neck as Buffy's stern voice broke out above the din.
"Faith?" Buffy held steady on Faith's tormented face until brown eyes fluttered up to meet her stare. "What happened?"
Faith shifted unsteadily on her feet, bracing a hand against the window sill to hold herself upright. She turned her head away from the others, watching the morning sun coat the trees outside in its golden light. `Always liked sunsets better,' she thought to herself. She closed her eyes on the dawning day, wishing silently that when she opened them again she'd be far, far away, maybe back in the bar where she'd spent the better part of the night.
Unfortunately, the reality of the same dirty window pane and the same golden sunrise greeted her eyes when Faith allowed them to open again. Her lower lip trembled and her tongue darted out to wet it as she began speaking.
"I was in Beijing, couple months back."
Robin stepped closer, looking around at the others as Faith's slurred, barely audible words reached their ears. She turned her head sharply towards him with a look of warning and Robin stayed back. Faith slammed her eyes shut, breathing in hard through her nose as she took a moment to compose herself.
"I was tracking one of the newbies," Faith continued with renewed vigor. "She was offin' corrupt cops."
Faith shrugged, pulling a pack of cigarettes out of her back pocket. She tapped the soft pack against the sill, not noticing the disapproving look on Buffy's face. She toyed with one cigarette but didn't light it, instead just pulled it out of the pack and slid it back in again. "I wasn't too worried `bout her getting rid of the pigs, figured they got what was coming to `em."
"So, what, you just stood by and watched her kill people?!" Xander exclaimed.
Faith bowed her head, slowly exhaling but not rising to the bait. Voices murmured and rose, but all eyes and ears were on Faith.
"I was more worried about the girl, the stress she was putting herself through," Faith answered bitterly. "She was driving herself nuts, and I needed to bide my time till I could get close."
"Close, huh?" Xander interrupted with an angry sneer on his face. "Close enough to join her?"
"Xander, that's enough!" Giles thundered, standing from his seat next to Dawn. "Faith, please go ahead."
No one spoke for several long minutes after the outbursts, and many were soon beginning to think that Faith wouldn't finish her story. Her hands clenched and unclenched, crushing the packet of cigarettes in an instant. Visible shivers wound their way through her body, even as she wrapped her arms around herself.
"I was gonna get close enough to talk with her, like I'd done with the others," she continued through clenched teeth. "I was following her through one of her usual haunts when she doubled back on me. She put me on defense and it just took one hard hit, right in the chest."
Faith's hand gripped hard at the front of her t-shirt, and she couldn't stop the tremble in her voice. "She hit me so hard that it stopped my heart, I guess. Wasn't gone more than a few minutes, though. Lucky for me, Chao-Ahn was followin' the girl, too, saw the whole thing go down. She knocked the girl out long enough to give me CPR, welcomed me back to the land of the living. Still don't understand a word she says, though." Faith smirked to herself before turning to face the others. The smirk died in its infancy as she took in the somber faces around her.
"Why didn't we know any of this before?" Buffy asked, a hint of anger in her words.
Faith averted her eyes from the blonde Slayer and shook her head. "You know it now."
She watched as Buffy and Xander exchanged wary glances, and immediately took offense to them. Her hackles rose as she felt the challenge in the air. She could practically smell their distrust. Before anyone else could speak, Faith raised her voice again, narrowing her eyes. "What, B? You jealous another Slayer finished the job?"
"What?" Buffy bristled, instantly taking the bait.
"You heard me," Faith taunted, stepping unsteadily forward. The room wavered in front of her eyes, but she kept them trained on Buffy.
"Maybe you wanna take another crack at it? Nah, that's not it." Faith sneered, tapping a finger against her bottom lip as if she were lost in thought. "No, you're jealous `cause it's not just you anymore, huh B? You're not special anymore `cause you're not the only one that's been brought back from the dead."
"Don't you dare talk to me like that!" Buffy warned, her voice low and dangerous. She narrowed her own eyes, taking in the form of her once-enemy with accusatory eyes. "I don't know what is going on with you, Faith, but it doesn't amuse."
Faith rolled her eyes and opened her mouth, but Buffy wasn't having any of it. Everything was spinning so far out of her control, and she felt an overwhelming need to take it back.
"Don't give me that look; you know what I'm talking about. You come home drunk at eight o'clock in the morning, you've been gone the last two nights with no word, you're covered in bruises. Get it together, Faith, or get out of this fight."
Faith's eyes faltered to her hands, noticing as if for the first time her swollen and split knuckles and the discolored bruises peeking out where her shirt met her wrists. Anger and whiskey surged inside of her, mingling with Buffy's words. She clenched her jaw as her defenses slammed down in a white hot burst of rage.
"Get it together? Really, B? `Cause where the fuck were you, huh?" Faith's arms gestured wildly towards the stairwell leading to the second level of the house. "You choked in there!"
Buffy didn't have to think too hard to figure out which `there' Faith was talking about. Her mind wouldn't let her leave that room.
"My best friend died in there, you bitch!" she seethed, clenching her fists at her sides and taking a menacing step forward.
Suddenly a knock resounded against the front door. The room froze. Buffy, startled from her outburst, stumbled back as Giles and Xander exchanged worried looks. No one dared to speak, nor make a move to answer the knock. As the knock sounded a second time, Faith jerked towards the door. Without bothering to look through the peephole at the unexpected intruder, she swung the door open wide.
Buffy stepped forward as soon as Faith's hand touched the doorknob. It wasn't often that they had unexpected visitors, and Buffy knew the police were on everyone's minds. She could've been prepared for the police, but Buffy was certainly not prepared for who awaited her on the other side of the threshold.
"Hey," Faith greeted in an uncertain, startled voice.
Wide brown eyes scanned the room and its inhabitants in an instant. Kennedy took in what was lacking, who was missing, before leveling her eyes on Faith with a slow nod.
"Hey." Her gaze drifted behind Faith to find tearful hazel eyes staring back at her. The only question lingering in her mind was answered by the look on Buffy's face.
Any words of greeting died on Buffy's lips as she took in Kennedy's unwavering, penetrative stare. Her heart sank like a stone in her chest at the battle-hardened set to the younger woman's jaw and the glint in her eyes that told Buffy that Kennedy had seen more than her fair share. The deep, jagged scar running from the corner of Kennedy's mouth and disappearing behind her left ear told everyone else the same thing.
"H-how've, uh, where… how've you been, Kennedy?" Buffy stammered as Faith stepped back in a daze to let Kennedy pass into the house.
"Sudan," Kennedy replied with a sad smile. She entered the house cautiously, taking in the myriad of emotions playing on the faces surrounding her before setting her pack on the floor. "And dead."
"Well, that answers that question." Robin muttered, more to himself than to address the group.
Dawn was a little bolder in her reaction. "Jeez! Is there a Slayer here who hasn't died?"
Vi and Rona exchanged a look with each other before shyly raising their hands. Kennedy frowned at the odd question, turning her head to get a better look at the house. As she took in the dining room, an odd question of her own came to mind.
"Um, why is that girl tied to a chair?"
"That's… not really a girl anymore," Rona replied hesitantly.
"Huh?" Kennedy's eyebrows twisted into something between a grimace and a frown. Her eyes drifted over the prone form of the girl in question. Dark, damp hair hung limply over an obviously bruised and swollen face. Kennedy felt herself being drawn towards the girl, missing the panicked glances of the others behind her.
"What she means is that she used to be a Slayer. Dylan." Vi offered. "She… it killed Willow." Kennedy frowned at Dylan, not quite sure what to make of the situation. Dylan's head rolled lazily back and her mouth dropped open, revealing gleaming fangs. Her eyes were barely slits in her swollen face as she opened them to the newcomer, and Kennedy gasped in shock.
"Jesus Christ! What happened to her?" Kennedy exclaimed. She wasn't able to take her eyes from Dylan's for a long minute, and Dylan's gaze never wavered.
"We, uh, we took her on patrol, her second night here," Vi began, casting a glance to Rona. "Sh-she was attacked by… something." Vi trailed off anxiously.
"`Something'?" Robin coaxed, curious himself about who this girl was and what she had so recently become.
"We didn't see what it was," Rona countered defensively. "She just started screaming and she was writhing around on the ground. And then…" She trailed off as well, indicating Dylan's current state of being with a wave of her hand.
"She said something about things crawling in her, like they were trying to get out."
Everyone turned to Faith, who had taken up her post by the window again. The hairs rose on the back of her neck at the attention turned her way. She felt them studying her, felt them finding fault in her words, and felt the shame and anger and gnawing embarrassment of failure churn in her stomach.
"Good Lord!" Giles exclaimed. Faith didn't look up at him as he stalked to the research pile on the table behind her.
"What is it, Giles?" Dawn asked worriedly.
"Ordo de Coleoptera" was his only reply before he was ensconced in several different texts and manuscripts.
Faith frowned at the window, wondering what in the hell Giles had just said. She slid her eyes towards the living room, noticing that most of the others looked just as confused as she felt.
"The beetle things?" Dawn supplied. "You think that's what did this?"
Robin and Andrew edged around Dylan's semi-sedated form to join in the research. Both men had felt increasingly out of place since the funeral, and were glad to see that they might be able to contribute after all. Soon, Vi and Rona were roped in to the conversation, supplying what little they could about the night Dylan was attacked.
Faith watched everything unfold, feeling the beginnings of a hangover setting in as she became more and more sober. Various parts of her body ached and throbbed from her numerous injuries, and she knew that all she needed was some good rest for them to heal. She trudged to the stairs, feeling those dead red eyes on her as she walked past, and suddenly sleep was the last thing on her mind. She froze mid-step and headed instead for the kitchen. Rummaging noisily through several cabinets produced exactly what she was looking for. Faith passed through the living room and up the stairs without a glance back.
Buffy watched Faith, brandishing a full bottle of Jack Daniels, practically skip up the stairs. Her hands shook with the force of everything she was holding in, everything she had to hold back. She found herself wishing that she could be as irresponsible as the other Slayer at the same time she was cursing her for that same lack of responsibility.
"Buffy?" A soft voice to her right pulled her attention from the bottom step. Buffy got lost in hard brown eyes before she caught herself.
"What's up, Kennedy? Do – do you need anything? We're kind of full up on beds and couches at the moment, but we've got plenty of floor space if you want to stay here. Or, well, I guess you could take Dylan's old bed for awhile if you need to sleep, if Faith lets you in the room, that is. Or – are you hungry? I bet you're hungry." Buffy moved toward the kitchen, and Kennedy practically had to sprint to catch up with her.
"Buffy, I'm ok. I just…." She paused and averted her gaze as Buffy turned back to her. Kennedy took in a deep breath, shaking off her sudden nerves.
"Where's Willow buried?" she asked, bluntly.
Buffy blinked back the shock of the question. Her mouth opened and closed briefly as she struggled with the emotions such a simple question evoked. Under any other circumstances she would've been immediately angry and defensive at the question, but a hint of underlying uncertainty and fear lingered in Kennedy's eyes, softening Buffy's response.
"I'll show you."
Buffy expected anger, rage, even tears – maybe especially tears – but not this. This deep, contemplative silence was unnerving.
Buffy felt sweat sliding along her skin under her clothes. The humidity was becoming unbearable even as high clouds began to block out the baking sun. Thunder rumbled miles in the distance, but the threat of a rainstorm did nothing to abate the heat. She wasn't sure how long they'd been standing under the trees, but the sun was well past the halfway point in the sky.
Kennedy seemed almost unaffected to be standing next to her ex-girlfriend's grave. Buffy remembered Kennedy as a force to be reckoned with, a brash, unapologetic – and oftentimes annoying – presence to behold. Everything about Kennedy now, however, was much more subtle and subdued. Buffy knew what it was like, that one singular pain of defeat. The once-vibrant younger Slayer had experienced death firsthand, a failure from which most people never recovered. Knowing Kennedy's pain didn't assuage Buffy's own. It didn't help her in the situation at hand. She didn't have the energy or the desire to expound on the intricacies of one's own death when she was still reeling from the death of another.
Kennedy knelt beside the small headstone, resting a calloused hand on top of it. It was the first major movement she had made since approaching the soft patch of earth.
"She could've meant everything to me," she said softly. Her dark eyes shone hard and bright as she looked up at Buffy. "But everything that we needed to say to each other has been said. She's where she always wanted to be. She's with Tara now, and I can't begrudge her that."
Kennedy paused and took a deep breath in, her eyes roaming across the stillness of the meadow. Tears filled Buffy's eyes as sudden memories of everyone they'd ever lost flooded her mind. Her mouth opened to speak, but the hot lump in her throat stifled her words.
"I want to see her."
Kennedy's sudden demand brought Buffy back to the here and now. She frowned as the younger Slayer stood up, looking past her to the house.
"Her?" Buffy couldn't quite wrap her head around who Kennedy could want to see. Willow? No, that didn't make any sense. Tara made even less. "Her, who?"
Kennedy sighed; taking one last look at Willow's grave she turned steely eyes on Buffy. "Dylan. I wanna see what she can do."
"Kennedy, I really don't think that's a good idea." Buffy was shaking her head even before the words had formed in her mouth.
"Why not? You're keeping her alive for a reason, Buffy." Kennedy squared her shoulders, determined to make Buffy see her point. "She could be an ally. Not all prophecies are evil and not everything in them predicts bad tidings."
Buffy averted her eyes from Kennedy's unwavering gaze, unwilling to stand down even though she knew Kennedy was making sense. "We don't know enough about her to –"
Although her pleas fell on deaf ears, Buffy tried one last time, one last tactic she really didn't want to have to use. "Kennedy, she killed Willow!"
The words hung in the air, just as stifling as the moist atmosphere. The Slayers were frozen in a silent face-off until Kennedy nodded somberly.
"I know that. What I need to know is why."
would you stay if she promised you heaven?
Footsteps echoed softly as Kennedy followed Buffy into the basement. Three pairs of eyes greeted them as they descended the staircase.
"Ah, Buffy, Kennedy, excellent that you're both here," Giles proclaimed. Buffy looked warily between Giles and Dawn, Kennedy and Dylan. She noted with a quirk of her eyebrow that Dylan had been chained back to the wall in her absence.
"What's goin' on?" she asked casually, crossing her arms over her chest. She watched as Kennedy meandered slowly across the floor, never taking her eyes off Dylan. Kennedy rounded behind Dawn as the teenager began to speak excitedly.
"I did some research about the prophecy thingy and found some stuff out. Some of the stuff Giles originally got from the coven was a little rough. A staticy connection, if you will." Dawn smirked at her sister's Watcher, clearly smug in her discovery. Giles simply rolled his eyes.
"Get to the point, Dawn," Buffy interjected impatiently.
"Ughh, fine." Dawn deflated a little, but continued on undaunted. "The Seer Giles spoke to didn't say that the Slayer would die facing the beetle things. She said that she saw the last Slayer facing them. Dylan, as far as we can tell, is the last Slayer to be rounded up. She's it." Dawn smiled, proud of herself and the quick translations she had done to bring them to this information.
"And that means…?" Kennedy let her unfinished question hang in the air as she continued to study Dylan's hunched form.
"Our research shows that the Ordo de Coleoptera is a race of demons bred to discern truth." Giles replied, watching Buffy's reaction.
"Sort of a medieval lie detector test," Dawn supplied.
"Yes, Dawn." Giles placed his hand on the young girl's shoulder, smiling his approval despite her interruption. "They have the ability to alter a being in such a way as to show that being's true self."
"What does that mean?" Buffy asked somewhat incredulously, looking between her sister and her Watcher.
Before Giles could answer Buffy, Kennedy spoke up with a question of her own. "Shouldn't we get Faith in on this? I mean, if we're having the big info share here."
"Yeah, that's just what we need, the brooding alcoholic."
Buffy's eyes widened in surprise at her sister's outburst. "She's not an alcoholic, Dawn, she's just dealing –"
"Yeah, `cause non-alcoholics drink Jack Daniels for breakfast." Dawn challenged, crossing her arms.
"`Non-alcoholics'? What is she, an O'Doul's?" Kennedy chimed in.
"Shut up, you know what I meant," Dawn replied good-naturedly, rolling her eyes.
"Girls, that's enough!" Giles broke through the banter with a huff of a breath. The three young women looked appropriately chastised, but all were glad for the momentary distraction. "If Faith wishes to join the rest of the household, she will do so on her own time. Now, if we could stay on topic, please? To answer your question, Buffy, as far as we can tell, if the Ordo de Coleoptera had attacked any other Slayer, she would have survived relatively unscathed. However, from what Dawn and I have been able to ascertain about the Ordo de Coleoptera as well as the… the ah…." Giles trailed off with a wave of his hand.
"The Mitsah." Dawn supplied helpfully.
"Yes, thank you, Dawn. It appears that the Mitsah – the demon lineage inside of Dylan – perceived the Ordo de Coleoptera as a threat, and the two demon essences fought for dominance, killing Dylan in the process."
"So why is she… like this, now?" Buffy asked, nodding in Dylan's direction. She couldn't find it in herself to look at the girl in question.
"As far as we can tell, the Ordo de Coleoptera won the battle. This is her true form." Giles clarified.
Kennedy furrowed her brow, trying her best to follow Giles' explanations. She took in Dylan's human-looking body, the blood red irises and the sharp, wolf-like fangs protruding from her mouth in a permanent snarl. "And that is what now?"
"I believe this is the `primal' that was mentioned in the prophecy." Upon receiving three blank looks from Buffy, Dawn and Kennedy, Giles continued. "We – Willow a-and I, we were researching any indication of the primal as a being, as a singular object. If I am correct, this… primal business is not a being, but an essence. A spirit, of sorts. In this case, the primal refers to the spirit or essence of the Slayer."
Buffy's eyebrows shot up into her hairline, and even Kennedy looked like she was about to object. "What? No, Giles, I've seen her. This is not her. She was more… dreadlocky, less fangy." Kennedy nodded emphatically, causing Buffy to wonder how the younger Slayer knew what the origin of their line looked like.
"Not the first Slayer, Buffy, but the true embodiment of the demon that created her," Giles said, exasperation and exhaustion lacing his words. Dawn, who was standing closest to Dylan in that moment, quickly took a step back.
"Holy shit!" Kennedy exclaimed under her breath.
"What about that `natural born Slayer' thing you guys translated before? Is that what she is now?" Dawn asked, peering through cautious eyes at Dylan.
Giles sighed, gesturing to the upper levels of the house with his hand. "I don't believe so," he stated with some hesitation. He lead the way to the staircase as Dawn followed, eager for something to do other than think about what had happened in the upstairs bathroom less than forty-eight hours earlier. "Though I can't imagine they're unconnected. Damn," Giles hung his head. "There are just too many variables."
"Don't worry, Giles. You've got me to help you, now. And Andrew and Robin are pretty eager to research, too!" Dawn supplied.
"Yes, that is quite a comfort."
Their voices faded away as they retreated from the dim basement. Buffy turned her attention back toward Kennedy and Dylan, trying to wrap her head around everything she had just heard. She leaned back against the cement wall behind her, closing her eyes briefly in its rush of cool respite. The humidity was becoming unbearable as a storm in the far-off distance rumbled ever closer. The blonde Slayer hoped that the days of stifling heat would abate soon. A soft, warm breeze wafted past as Kennedy moved through the room.
Buffy's eyes fluttered open. A low growl of warning unleashed itself from Dylan's throat as Kennedy crouched in front of her. It. Her.
"You sure that's a good idea?"
Kennedy shrugged, looking back over her shoulder at the older woman. "I met these soldiers when I was in Sudan," she began, her head swiveling back around to face Dylan. "They had trained hyenas as, like, their guard dogs. Pretty basic training techniques; just dominance and hierarchy. And cattle prods."
Buffy's eyebrows rose at Kennedy's humorless chuckle.
"Do you know the one thing that all wild animals perceive as a threat?" Buffy studied Kennedy thoughtfully, debating whether or not she had been asked a serious question. When Kennedy glanced back at her, Buffy simply shook her head. Kennedy quirked an eyebrow, the scarred corner of her mouth tipping up in a half-smirk.
"Eye contact," she replied. She turned back to Dylan, whose growl had become an incessant buzz.
Buffy found herself studying the young woman before her again, wondering how much a person could change in just a year, wondering what could cause those changes. "How did you die?" she blurted out, before she could stop herself.
Kennedy bristled, the tiny hairs on the back of her neck rising like the hackles of a wild animal. Buffy instantly wanted to take back the words, but it was too late: they permeated the stagnant basement like moisture clinging in the atmosphere.
Kennedy turned again, breaking eye contact with Dylan to glare at Buffy's feet. "Mystical thing," she said, her voice low and thick. "It's no big deal, so don't ask."
She tried to refocus her attention on Dylan, but something else nagged at her. Sighing, she decided to level with Buffy.
"Look, I know this is your gig, your house, but I'm good here, really." She made sure her eyes were buried in the pale green orbs of the other Slayer. "Why don't you go check and see how Faith's doing?"
Just as Kennedy suspected, Buffy squirmed at the question. "I'm sure she's fine."
"Well, then your definition of `fine' is way different than mine is." Kennedy scoffed with eyebrows raised. The basement door creaked open above them before Buffy could find a suitable retort. Both women looked up to see Xander descending the staircase, a permanent frown etched on his features.
"Hey," he sighed, stopping at the bottom of the steps and surveying the dim room.
"Hey," Buffy replied with just as much vigor, crossing the room to stand in front of her long-time friend. He blinked and caught Buffy's eye with his own. "How ya holding up?"
She shrugged a shoulder, looking away. "Same. You?"
"Yeah," he breathed out, wrapping her up in a hug. Resting his chin on the top of Buffy's head, Xander noticed Kennedy and Dylan crouched together near the back wall.
"What are they doing?" he asked, stepping out of the hug but holding onto Buffy's fingertips. The blonde Slayer didn't need to turn around to know what Xander was seeing.
"From what I can tell, they're having a staring contest."
Xander noticed the continuous drone of Dylan's growl, the sound filling the cramped space. "I think Dylan's winning," he surmised with a quirked eyebrow.
As the two old friends watched, Dylan became increasingly agitated. She bared her fangs at Kennedy and, with a snarl, thrashed forward as far as her chains would allow. Xander broke away from Buffy's grasp, ready to intercept Dylan once again, should the need arise. He stopped short, however, when Kennedy waved a hand behind her. Sweat had begun to trickle down her temples, but she refused to do anything but hold Dylan's stare. Just as suddenly as it started, Dylan's snarling, thrashing rage subsided, and only a few moments later she broke Kennedy's gaze. Her blood red eyes flicked from the floor to Kennedy's hands and back again as she sunk back into a crouch. Kennedy stood up, wiping her sweaty palms on her jeans. She moved to Dylan's right and stood up on her tiptoes, pulling a key from the shelf above Dylan's head.
"Kennedy, no!" Buffy lunged forward just as Xander yelled "What are you doing?" Kennedy ignored their cries, calmly unlocking the cuffs around Dylan's wrists and tucking the key into her back pocket.
"I've gotta test her," she said simply.
"Kennedy, you didn't see what she was like," Buffy reasoned, unconvinced.
"I don't need to."
Xander gaped, unsure if he was understanding things correctly, or if he had somehow hit his head on the way into the basement. He reached up a hand to check for lumps while Buffy crossed her arms angrily across her chest. Kennedy rolled her eyes, suddenly reminding Buffy of the Potential Slayer know-it-all she had known a year ago.
"Most violent acts, whether human, animal, or otherwise, are some sort of a fear response," Kennedy explained, turning her back on Dylan and crossing her own arms. "If she felt threatened, or frightened, she'd be more likely to attack."
Dylan attempted to use Kennedy's seeming distraction to her advantage, springing to her feet with her arms and hands extended. Kennedy, however, was waiting for just such a maneuver and backhanded Dylan across the face without so much as turning around. Dylan growled and slumped to the ground in defeat.
Xander looked on, partly amazed but mostly confused. "So, what, you're saying she was scared? It didn't look that way to me. What could she possibly have been scared of?" he asked, incredulously.
Xander's head nearly swiveled off his neck as he turned in shock to face his friend. Buffy was holding Kennedy's gaze, clearly understanding something that Xander was not.
"What?!" he cried, indignantly. "You're way off base, Buff. What, we're just going to put Willow's death on Willow? We're blaming the victim now?"
Buffy's head was shaking before she'd even opened her mouth to reply. "No, Xander, we're not blaming anybody. We're just trying to understand."
She nodded to Kennedy, who in turn took the momentary pause to unchain Dylan's ankles. Xander could only watch on in horror as Dylan warily shuffled forward, balancing on her knuckles and the balls of her feet. She remained hunched and kept her head down as she sniffed at the air around Kennedy. She stopped a few inches from Kennedy and turned her head, making split-second eye contact with Buffy.
The blonde held her ground, uncrossing her arms and willing herself not to look away as Dylan loped slowly closer. Crouching down ever further, Dylan sniffed the air near Buffy's leg, and Buffy thought to herself that if Dylan had a tail, it would be tucked between her legs.
The three human occupants of the room sucked in a simultaneous breath when Dylan nudged Buffy's hand with her face. Buffy suddenly snorted and then a bark of laughter erupted from her throat. Startled, Dylan shuffled back a few paces while Xander and Kennedy tried their best to catch their breath.
"I think she's passed that test," Kennedy stated with a mischievous smile.
"What, the `Lick Buffy' test?" Buffy responded, wiping her hand on her jeans. As soon as she said the words she wished for better phrasing. Kennedy smirked, obviously trying to keep her laughter contained. Xander started coughing next to her.
"Don't even go there, Xander." Buffy warned with a glare.
Looking at the retreating sunlight through the single window, Kennedy quickly sobered. "Alright, you guys, looks like it's finally dark enough. We're outta here."
Xander cleared his throat, not entirely liking what he was hearing. "What? We who? Where are you going?"
His questions fell on deaf ears as Buffy gave Kennedy a nod of approval. "Stick to the woods." She moved to a locked metal cabinet under the stair well. Opening it, she produced a familiar-looking tranquilizer rifle. "Take this, just in case."
"The woods?" Xander exclaimed. "What, are you hunting deer all of a sudden?"
Kennedy looked at Xander like he had a few screws loose, which was about how she was feeling. However, she had come far enough that she didn't think turning back now would be the best option. "Patrol… vampires… you know, Slayers here? Ringing any bells?" she said slowly, as if talking to a child.
"The woods are crawling with vamps," Buffy clarified. "They use the trees for cover so they can travel undetected between more populated areas."
Kennedy began nudging Dylan with the toe of her boot. "C'mon, upstairs!" she commanded brusquely.
"You're taking Dylan?" Xander's face had begun to pale considerably in his mortification.
"Final test" was all Kennedy offered as she continued to prod Dylan up the stairs with the butt of the tranquilizer gun. Xander turned to Buffy, hoping for an ally, but found no sympathy in her green eyes.
"It's gotta be done, Xander. We need to know how she'll react with the real demons, or if she'll turn on us again."
The basement door closed with a soft click, leaving Xander and Buffy alone in the heat and confusion of the room. Buffy reached out, catching Xander's fingers with her own to pull him to her. She wished, as he did, that there was a third participant in their embrace.
The stars glowed with as much light as they could muster, seeming to taunt the approaching storm in their intensity, daring it to snuff out their light. The full moon rose with more caution, peeking out from between illuminated, puffy white clouds.
Buffy flicked off the light as she stepped onto the porch, wanting to see the meadow and the woods for what they were. The light of the moon reflected through Giles' glasses as he turned from his vigilant pose. Buffy stepped up next to her former Watcher, mimicking his stance of rigid attention and crossed arms.
"Somewhere out there, Oz is wolfing out," she mused aloud.
Giles simply hummed an agreement, wondering himself where their old friend could be. Movement caught his eye, and his focus shifted. He watched the gleam of the tranquilizer gun bounce around the edge of the woods as Kennedy attempted to keep tabs on Dylan. He found himself thinking that Oz had never been half the monster Dylan was now. But that wasn't a fair assessment, and he knew it. Oz had learned – to some degree – to control the beast within. Dylan, on the other hand, didn't have such a luxury. Her humanity, and Giles suspected her soul as well, had all but evaporated the night Willow died.
Voices rose and fell from inside the house. Andrew had taken it upon himself to start a morale-boosting campaign, from which Buffy had thankfully escaped. He was currently forcing chipper into his tone, suggesting a game of Scattergories or Candy Land to get their minds off of the doom and gloom of research. From the sounds of it, he didn't have any takers. Some things just couldn't be ignored, swept under the rug, for a board game. Even a morale-boosting board game.
"What are we going to do, Giles?" Buffy breathed, as if speaking any louder would make the answer all too real.
Giles closed his eyes and hung his head. "What we always do, I suppose." He looked down at Buffy, noticing the dark circles under her eyes and the pallor of her cheeks. "We continue. We survive."
Buffy blinked and lightly shook her head, finding little comfort in his words and in the hand he placed on her back, between her shoulder blades. "I don't even know what I'm doing anymore."
"You're doing all you can," Giles offered.
"Am I? I mean, really, Giles – what am I doing here? Vi and Rona take care of all of the slaying. They don't even pretend to take orders from me anymore. Dawn's finishing school next year. She wants to be a Watcher, did she tell you that?" Buffy chuckled, a hollow, humorless sound. She didn't wait for a response. "Even Faith has more of a purpose than I do."
"You don't think Faith should have a purpose?" Giles asked. "I believe she's matured quite well, considering everything she's been through."
Buffy shifted uncomfortably next to him, averting his curious stare. "Well she's been totally irresponsible since she got here!" she sputtered defensively. "She's staying out all night, doing God knows what, coming home drunk at eight o'clock in the morning! For all we know, she's still drunk!"
"Buffy, that's enough!" Giles interrupted. He slid his glasses from his face to pinch the bridge of his nose. "Don't you think you're being too hard on the girl? She's never been known to deal with her feelings well. Should we really be calling her out, in front of the entire household? We're all grieving, Buffy. I would expect you, of all of us, to respect that."
Shrugging, Buffy clenched her jaw and looked down at her feet.
"This shouldn't be about blame, Buffy." Giles continued in a softer tone. "There was nothing we could've done, no way to know…." A sigh escaped him as he ran a hand over his face. "If I'd been here sooner, if I had focused more on the big picture rather than jumping at the chance to decipher that blasted prophecy –"
"I thought this wasn't about blame?" Buffy interrupted, forcing a wry smile to her lips.
The corner of Giles' mouth turned up in response. "Well, maybe a little blame. Self-actualized only."
Watcher and Slayer smiled softly at each other in the pale moonlight, letting the sounds of the night answer the unanswerable for them. Buffy's attention shifted across the meadow, honing in on the Slayer and her charge stalking demons among the trees. To Giles, they weren't much more than dark, shapeless shadows, but Buffy could see them as clear as day under the stars. She watched in abject fascination as Dylan gripped a vampire with both hands, digging her fingers into his shoulders and pulling him apart with a snarl.
"We should be banding together, not shifting blame. Not slipping apart." Buffy closed her eyes at the simple wisdom in the older man's words.
"Are you going all `one door closes, another one opens' on me?" she chided gently, attempting to inject something light-hearted into the somber night.
"Maybe you're right," she sighed. Her eyes lost their focus as a cloud passed over the moon. "She's listening to Kennedy for now; she's not currently attacking any of us…. Maybe she could be an ally."
Giles sighed in turn. "I wasn't talking about Dylan."
In the millisecond it took for a vampire to turn to dust, he was just like any other creature. His borrowed body seized and bled, organs he didn't use shut down, and one last breath shuddered from his unnecessary lungs. Faith watched through bleary eyes as Dylan tore another vampire limb from limb. She could practically feel that brief, immediate shower of blood like a warm mist in the air, even in the house, all the way upstairs.
Not many in the world had been close enough to a vampire's last moment to know that feeling, but Faith did. She knew that singular feeling of revulsion better than any living Slayer. She wasn't always careful, she rarely put her own safety first in battle, and she wasn't afraid to get her hands dirty. Lifetime of practice.
It was an intimate feeling, erasing that last instant of humanity from a being. Not just a death, but a complete eradication of existence, nothing left but an echo of a scream and ash on the breeze. Faith knew that there was no last flash of life, – or unlife – no one waiting on the other side after that final, desperate gasp. She had faced her own death more times than she could count, stared it down until either she or it gave in. She never wanted it, not really, not like Dylan did once upon a time, but it was always there, waiting for her to make that choice and finally give up. She had no reason to continue to cling to life other than it was hers, and a call of duty she wasn't sure she wanted to answer anymore. The choice was hers, and that was enough for now.
She didn't have a say in the others. She knew she had a hand in it, sure, but they made their own choices. Knowing that, however, never made facing death any easier. Buffy, too, knew these things all too well, but unlike Faith she'd never acknowledged such truth. The connection they shared as Slayers was a connection only achieved in death, but Faith knew Buffy would never see it that way. Buffy would blame destiny, hormones, even Faith herself before ever giving Death the credit it was due.
Faith heard her on the stairs, felt that ghostly tingle as Buffy drew nearer. She eyed the empty bottles accompanying her on the windowsill and felt a brief flush of shame. As a timid knock resounded on the door, she wondered if now was the time Buffy would finally say it aloud: Death was the little man, and this was all Faith's fault.
"Faith?" Buffy's voice was as timid as her knock; barely audible, as if she was doing something wrong and afraid of getting caught. Faith fully expected Buffy to walk right in without waiting for a reply. The door, however, remained closed, a solid physical barrier between Faith and the rest of the house.
Faith sighed and turned her head to that door with her eyes closed. "Come in, B." she called softly before turning back to her vigil at the window. She missed the surprised look on Buffy's face as she passed easily through the unlocked door.
Buffy took in the small room, shrouded in the darkness of the night. Her eyes drifted over Faith's body, her ramrod straight posture and faded bruises on her bare arms, before zeroing in on the empty liquor bottles adorning the windowsill. Her brow furrowed and her mouth opened, an immediate, cutting remark burning in the back of her throat. A tiny sound, one she wasn't even sure she was hearing, stopped her in her tracks: Faith was crying.
Buffy cautiously moved closer to the other Slayer, coming to stand at Faith's side. Her eyes caught movement through the window, and her gaze followed Faith's across the meadow. Buffy sucked in a breath, barely believing what she was seeing as she watched it unfold. Dylan was crouched low to the ground, Kennedy standing just a few paces away with the tranquilizer gun held loosely in one hand. In a flurry of movement, Dylan sprang to her feet and charged the Slayer, as Kennedy calmly shouldered the gun and squeezed the trigger. Three heads bowed and three sighs of relief were released as Dylan crumpled to the ground at Kennedy's feet.
"Why couldn't we help her?" Faith whispered, not trusting her voice.
Buffy's eyes slid to the woman next to her and away from the confusion outside. Faith's bottom lip trembled just slightly, and there were dark, hollow circles under her eyes. Her pale skin glowed with perspiration, and Buffy thought she looked sick. "We didn't know."
"Bullshit, B. Bullshit." Faith's nostrils flared as her brow furrowed. She wiped furiously at her cheeks as her voice rose to a desperate whine. "We're Slayers, right?"
Buffy couldn't answer right away, too stunned and too confused to find the words Faith needed to hear. Faith turned to face her; anger and frustration clear on her face.
"We're supposed to be Slayers and help people, not get them killed. We're supposed to be heroes." The tears hovering in her eyes spilled over again as her voice broke. Her hand unconsciously gripped the neck of an empty whiskey bottle, squeezing and relaxing as she attempted to calm down.
"I used to think so, too, once upon a time," Buffy replied with a small, sad smile.
Faith recoiled as tears dripped off of her chin. Her mouth turned down in an angry grimace. "That's not good enough! What about the dreams, huh? The prophecies?! They were warning us, B. They were telling us what s-she was gonna turn in to!"
Faith glared hard through the window at the now-empty meadow. Lightning struck away in the distance, garish and bright as it reflected in her eyes. Buffy stared helplessly, finding her own voice silenced by the lump forming in her throat. Rather than replying with words, she reached out to take Faith's hand from the bottle, letting Faith squeeze her own fingers instead. Her breath caught in her throat as Faith suddenly tumbled into her arms. Buffy stood limp for a brief moment before wrapping Faith in a fierce hug, knowing that it wouldn't take much for her to be strong if Faith needed to be weak.
Sniffling furiously, Faith pulled back just as suddenly from the all too brief embrace. Her cheek brushed against Buffy's, her breath teased Buffy's lips. Buffy felt herself melt at the touch of air against her skin, feeling that needy part inside of her attempt to reach out and grasp what Faith was offering and never let go. She stepped back the instant Faith's lips touched her own. A warm shudder raced up her spine but still, she stepped back.
"Whoa, Faith, I'm here for you, but not like that. Ok?"
Faith's eyes widened as she seemed to realize what she was about to do.
"You should go downstairs," Buffy whispered, averting her gaze and quickly changing the subject. "You haven't eaten all day."
"Yeah… yeah." Faith breathed, nodding absentmindedly. "What about you?" she asked with concern. "You look like you haven't slept since…"
"I'm fine." Buffy stepped further back, out of Faith's arms, but found herself trapped. Faith gripped Buffy's hips, looking hard into her eyes.
"You're fine? I can't get that… taste out of my mouth, and you're fine?!"
"Faith," Buffy began, but stopped herself as she looked back into those hard, dark eyes, shining with sorrow and apology.
She knew what taste Faith was talking about: the taste of failure, of blood and death and awful, awful truth. She felt her own grief and guilt swimming to the surface and as Faith's grip softened, Buffy let them bubble over. She wasn't fine. She wasn't sure she ever would be again. Tears streamed from her eyes as Buffy finally let herself break. She didn't want to be placated; she didn't want to be coddled. She just wanted to feel something other, something else for as long as Faith would let her stay.
Her feet brought her closer in and her arms wound back around Faith's waist. She hesitated for only a second before pressing her lips against Faith's, finding her wanting and needing and hungry for her touch. They kissed tentatively, just soft lips and warm breath. Buffy swept her hands up Faith's back, in the valley between her muscular shoulders, and down again, hesitating at her hips. She held on tight as Faith began to shake, as she tasted fresh tears on Faith's lips. With a choked sob, Faith broke the kiss, burying her face in the crook of Buffy's neck.
"Shh, Faith, shh… We'll get through this. We're ok." Buffy shushed, hoping Faith could believe her, if only for one night. She ran her fingers through Faith's long, dark locks, pulling as much comfort from the gesture as she offered. She let out a breath through her nose and closed her eyes as Faith kissed her neck once, and then pulled back.
Faith's eyes were focused somewhere behind Buffy when she asked, quickly and quietly, "Will you stay with me?"
After a futile attempt to search Faith's eyes to try and figure out what she was thinking, Buffy simply nodded. Questions of `why?' and `what are we doing?' loomed between them, but neither woman wanted to find the answers just yet.
Buffy backed out of the embrace, trailing her hands down Faith's arms to grasp her hands. Faith allowed herself to be lead to the bunk beds. She sat down on the bottom bunk and stared up at the ceiling, wishing for answers there. She felt Buffy's hands on her shoulders, in her hair, as she let the blonde tuck her in. Her eyes closed as Buffy's lips pressed a kiss to her forehead.
Reaching up with trembling hands, Faith tugged at Buffy's hips, pulling her down into the bunk as well. After a few moments of awkward silence in the too-small bed, Faith rolled over, turning her back to Buffy with shaking shoulders. Buffy closed her eyes and rolled toward the dark-eyed Slayer. She cautiously wrapped an arm around Faith's midsection in what she hoped was a comforting gesture. Feeling Faith stiffen and then relax into the embrace, Buffy kissed the back of her neck through her thick mane of hair and hoped they could find some semblance of peace in sleep.
Buffy was lulled awake sometime later to the gentle thump-thump, thump-thump of a heartbeat. She nuzzled her face into the warm, yielding cushion of a breast as fire lit the inside of her eyelids. A second later, the rumble of thunder rattled the window.
Buffy opened her eyes to find herself cuddled against Faith's chest. She tilted her head up, peering sheepishly through tired eyes at Faith's face. Her arm was still wrapped around Faith's torso, and her hand had pushed itself into Faith's shirt to caress her warm belly.
Faith lay propped up against the pillows, one hand behind her head, the other wrapped around Buffy's shoulders, and a soft smile played on her lips. She leaned in without hesitation, kissing Buffy's pouting lips. Buffy kissed her back, willingly opening her mouth to accept Faith's searching tongue.
Very quickly, the kiss grew from a soft, sweet `good morning' to something more. Faith pushed and pulled until Buffy rolled fully on top of her, falling between her spread thighs. Buffy moaned into Faith's mouth as Faith's hands roamed up and down her back under her top.
They broke apart, breathing heavily onto each other's faces, lust and solace and other unnamable emotions clouding their minds and their judgment. Buffy sat up, effectively straddling Faith's waist, and whipped off her tank top in a single, fluid motion. A flick of Faith's wrist later, and Buffy's bra joined her top on the floor. Her nipples hardened at the appreciative sparkle in Faith's eyes.
Before Buffy could fully process the movement, Faith switched their positions. She ground her pelvis into Buffy's, kissing her furiously. Buffy's hands wandered up Faith's back and sides, moving down to cup her ass over her jeans and back up, under Faith's top to cup the breasts that had made such a comfortable pillow moments earlier. Faith moaned against her neck, nibbling on her jaw as Buffy played with her nipples.
Thunder rumbled outside as the rain that had been threatening all night finally poured out of the sky. Tears rolled down Buffy's cheeks as Faith undressed them both. She clenched her jaw in the glare of another lightning strike and crawled back on top. She sucked on Faith's jaw, moaning deep in the back of her throat.
She moved down the brunette's body, pausing to suck and nip at Faith's collarbones, breasts, and hipbones. She pressed her thumbs under Faith's belly button as she sunk her tongue into the glistening folds of Faith's pussy. Silent tears slipped down Faith's cheeks as she succumbed to the emotions the blonde was stirring within her.
She recovered quickly, wiping furiously at her face with the backs of her hands before roughly pulling Buffy up the length of her body. An undignified squeal emanated from a surprised Buffy. She remained surprised as Faith kissed her gently and carefully, softly kneading her shoulders. Faith's breath hitched as she tried in vain to stop crying. Buffy bit down gently on Faith's lower lip as they reversed positions once again.
With legs spread, Faith trailed her hand down between their sweat-slicked bodies, spreading Buffy's swollen lips with searching fingers. She struck up a slow, tentative rhythm, sparks of pleasure shooting through each of them from the delicious friction of their clits pressed tight together.
Faith withdrew her hand to cup Buffy's cheek, finally making eye contact with her new lover. Buffy smiled softly, holding Faith's gaze through their fear and uncertainty. She held Faith's gaze even when she was panting and sweaty and couldn't take anymore until she finally came hard, riding the crest of Faith's own orgasm.
They kissed softly, breathing each other's breath as Faith rolled to one side and pulled the blankets back over their sated bodies. She kept an arm and a leg draped possessively over the blonde's body as they both succumbed to sleep once again.
Hours later, the sun shone through the window. The rain had passed in the earliest hours of morning, and it was already too hot. There was moisture in the air, signaling more rain to come, and Buffy was all alone.