Author's Notes: This is the sequel to The Alliance, but as always, I hope it can stand on its own:) I'm excited to hear what you think!
Chapter One: Two Years and Counting
"NO!" Kennedy cried out, sitting straight up in bed and gasping for breath. Beside her, Willow was instantly awake, placing a calming hand on her girlfriend's back.
Kennedy looked from Willow to the clock (3:52am) to the surrounding room. Willow waited as the slayer woke up a little more. "Kenn? Baby, are you ok?"
"She killed him."
"Wait, what?" Willow sat up. "Who was killed?"
"A man...I...I don't know." Kennedy frowned.
Willow gently tucked Kennedy's hair behind her ear. "Baby, I think maybe you had a nightmare..."
"It wasn't a nightmare," Kennedy said angrily as she stood up. She crossed to the window and stared out before turning back to the bed; when she saw Willow's confused face, she softened. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry, it's just...it wasn't a nightmare. It was way too real for that." She sighed and leaned against the dresser.
Willow frowned. "Then...do you think...I mean, it's been a long time, but...do you think it was slayer stuff? A vision?"
Kennedy grew quiet. Willow leaned over and turned on the bedside lamp, allowing its faint glow to warm up the room and keep the night a little more at bay. "Is there a new slayer we have to find?"
"There was this...room. I'm not sure what color the walls were supposed to be; maybe they were pale pink before...or maybe the pink spots weren't pink, they were pale red from...well, there was this guy, on the floor."
Willow got out of bed and joined her lover by the window, a look of concern on her face to match the one on Kennedy's. "What kind of guy?"
"A dead guy...there was a dead guy, on the floor, and there was blood everywhere. Someone was hiding, I think. I couldn't see, but I could feel it."
"Not here, though...it was far from here. But Willow...she saw me, I know she saw me!"
"Faith." Kennedy finally focused on Willow. "Faith was there, and she saw me."
Willow's eyes widened at the mention of the slayer's name. Since Faith and Buffy had left them all two years ago, Kennedy had had only one shared dream with Faith, and not recently.
In her dream, the slayers were in trouble (or at least Faith was; Kennedy couldn't share dreams with Buffy). They were being pursued by a vast blackness that seemed to be devouring everything in its path. Others slayers had shared the same dream, and Willow and Giles had worked overtime to research energetic anomalies and safeguard themselves. It turned out to be a rogue band of material from another dimension, trying (but failing) to assume its true form. A coven was able to stop the energy ribbon outside of Missouri, but there was no sign of the Chosen Two. With no more dreams, no one had been able to confirm if they were alive or dead.
"Faith?" Willow said. "They're alive?"
"I guess so. At least she is."
"And she was...you said she was hiding from someone?"
Kennedy pursed her lips. "No. Will, I think someone was hiding from her. She was covered in blood. I think...I think she might have killed that guy."
"I used to think true happiness involved beautiful women waking me up in the night," Xander yawned while turning on the kitchen sink. "I should have been more specific."
"Like that it shouldn't be for emergencies?" Willow said wryly.
"Like that they would have any interest in me instead of each other," he said with a wink. He started making coffee. "Ah, youth."
Willow smiled and sat down at the table.
The early morning sky was still black; the sun wouldn't even think about rising for another hour. There was a slight chill in the air downstairs; pretty soon they'd have to give in and turn on the heat as another summer officially stepped aside to let autumn take over in Vermont.
Kennedy came downstairs, dressed for the day in sweatpants and an old tshirt. "Coffee ready?"
"If you could convince your girlfriend to help me out a little here."
"Sorry, Xander, no unnecessary magics; this ain't Bewitched."
"Ohhh, if only our lives were that black-and-white."
As the coffee finally started dripping into the pot, their light banter faded and reality settled back in. Xander poured the three mugs and brought them to the table. For awhile they sat in silence, until Xander cleared his throat.
Kennedy nodded. "I guess."
"Which is a good thing," Willow added. "It's good to know that."
"Sure, sure...I mean, it's a little weird though, right? That this is the only contact we get?"
"Willow, he's right. The only other time I shared a dream with Faith, she was in danger. We haven't gotten anything from them!" She sighed, frustrated. "I don't know the use of it, the dream; it's not like we know where they are so we can help them."
"They don't know where we are, either," Xander said. "I mean, as far as we know."
"Right! So, again, what good is it?"
Willow put down her mug. "What exactly happened in the dream?"
"I told you----there was a dead guy, a human being, on the floor. Someone was hiding. There was blood everywhere. Faith was covered in it; she was standing over the guy."
"But what else? Was she angry, upset..."
"Laughing?" Xander threw in. Willow shot him a look. "What?"
"We're not discussing that again."
Xander leaned back and threw up his hands. "Look, two years ago she tricked Buffy into leaving us. Her family. We'll probably never know what she said to convince her, but I bet it was a pretty good story. Maybe she's gone back to her old ways and took Buffy with her."
Willow glared. "You know why they left; it was the only way to keep us safe."
"No, Faith didn't want to deal with her responsibilities; there was no reason for Buffy to leave too."
"Xander, I saw her! She wanted to go. I know you don't want to hear that."
"You guys!" Kennedy stood up. "Enough. None of this matters right now. They're in trouble."
"And why should we help them?"
Kennedy grit her teeth. "Because they asked. I'm sure of it."
Willow's brow furrowed. "What do you mean?"
Kennedy sighed. "When Faith looked at me...I felt like she knew I was there, in the room with her. The last dream I just kind of witnessed, you know? Like an outsider?"
Xander sighed and got up for more coffee as Willow leaned forward. "Ok...tell us again. We know the basics----Faith, blood, body. Look past that, and tell us what else. Was there anything to suggest where they were? How long did the dream last?"
Kennedy leaned against the cupboards and pressed her hands to her face. "Aaaugh! Ok, I'm sorry." She exhaled her frustration. "Um...the dream came on pretty fast, it felt like a jolt. Everything was kind of fuzzy, the colors were all off." She paused. "I could hear something...like a heartbeat? Yeah, and it was going really fast. That's all I could hear."
"The smell. Blood." Kennedy looked uncomfortably at Xander. "As I started to see better, I saw the dark form on the floor was a man, and standing over him was a woman. She was slowly shaking her head from side to side, like she was upset? Her hands, her shirt, were covered in blood. She started looking around, like she knew someone was there, and then suddenly...her head snapped up and she stared right at me, and everything came into sharp focus, but just for an instant. It was Faith." Kennedy ran a hand through her hair. "She looked awful; scared, angry. But, I have no idea where they were. Once she looked at me, I woke up. I don't know if any of that helps."
They were all quiet for awhile, until Willow stood up with a quizzical look on her face. "I think it does; it sounds like you're right about her asking for help."
Xander raised an eyebrow. "What makes you say that?"
"Kennedy didn't see whatever happened from start to finish; it sounds like she was pulled in when the moment came for Faith to pass on a message. Whatever happened in that room, Faith wanted to make sure you saw it."
"But why?" Xander asked. "Why would Faith want us to know she'd killed someone else?"
"Maybe there's more to the story," Willow suggested. She frowned. "No sense of Buffy, right?"
Kennedy shook her head. "There never is."
Xander laughed softly. "There's really nothing for us to do, is there? This was more like a teaser, to let us know they're alive and not-so-well."
"We can do something," Willow said. "I'll ask Deanna if any of the other slayers had this dream tonight; that will let us know about if it was a slayer visiony-thing or a private note for Kennedy. We can let people know they're alive, too."
"I...wouldn't," Xander said. "Not until you hear back from Deanna. I mean, I don't want to stir up certain people's feelings about the issue when they've just started to settle. Finally."
"You mean Dawn."
"What are we gonna say to her? ‘We think your sister's alive, well, maybe, but we are sure Faith's alive and she killed someone? Sorry Kennedy got the memo and you didn't?' I think we should wait until this plays out a bit more."
Kennedy grabbed her coffee cup. "I think he's right."
"Ok," Willow said. "I'll contact Deanna, but no one else, and for now we just...wait?"
They waited almost a month.
No other slayers came forward to report any unusual dreams. Kennedy didn't have any more. Gradually they stopped being as on-edge, waiting for the other shoe to drop. They went to work, they slayed, they researched demons, and life fell back into the pattern it was in before Faith's mysterious message.
One cold October evening, Kennedy made the turn to their house. She drove through the woods until the road became gravel once again, right at the edge of the driveway. She pulled up beside the house, leaving plenty of room for Xander and Willow. The two of them often shared the second car, since their schedules were so similar. Kennedy liked it; she got some alone time and the people who had been best friends since birth got their time too. She felt that was important, especially since Buffy had left them.
Kennedy let herself in, turned on the outside lights for Willow and Xander, and went to the kitchen to microwave some popcorn.
Buffy's leaving had wrecked the group (and while Kennedy missed Faith's friendship, her disappearing act had been less of a surprise). Kennedy had not known the blonde slayer for as long as the others, but she was enraged on behalf of her friends. For years, their circle had revolved around not just the slaying, but (and Kennedy hated to admit it) Buffy herself. They would have done anything for her.
Kennedy could understand that she had left to protect them, but she thought the way it was done was cowardly. Sure, they probably would have tried to stop the slayers if they'd known what they were up to. Maybe there would have even been a fight. But stunning them all by just leaving...that only spared Buffy, and nobody else. Kennedy cringed as she remembered the look on Dawn's face when Willow had to tell her...
The loud "ding" of the microwave let her know her popcorn was ready, and shook her out of her depressive mind-wanderings. Why am I thinking about all of this now? She ignored an uneasy feeling in her gut as she wandered into the living room and turned on the TV.
Kennedy was sprawled out on the couch, snacking away, when she heard the car pull into the driveway. She frowned; it was barely six o'clock. Willow and Xander are never this early. Something must be wrong. She stood up quickly and pulled open the front door.
She didn't recognize the old car in front of the house; it was dark, blue or black, a couple of minor dents. Pretty non-descript. She crossed her arms and stared into the vehicle; two women with dark hair in the front, someone else with lighter hair in the back. Kennedy watched as the woman in the passenger's seat got out of the car and started for the house; her dark hair was swept into a ponytail, but her face was down and Kennedy couldn't make it out. Her attention was brought back to the car as the driver got out and turned to open the back door; her face caught the light.
"Faith," Kennedy said, after a moment of shock. Faith didn't look at her----she just reached into the car and pulled out the last person; a child with sandy-colored hair, who promptly settled back to sleep against the slayer's shoulder.
By then the dark-haired passenger had reached the door; she looked up and met Kennedy's eyes. It was Buffy.
Chapter Two: Homecoming
Kennedy wouldn't tell her over the phone why she and Xander needed to come home so quickly, and her assurances that no one was hurt and that the house was fine were not actually reassuring. Something was very wrong.
Willow looked at the schedule to see who was coming on for the evening rush of students. Mark. Gah! Nothing she could do; she hated leaving the newest member of the university library staff in charge during midterm cram sessions, but...gotta go.
She flagged Mark down, handed him a stack of most-requested study guides, patted him on the back, and tried to ignore his look of sheer panic as she left the library.
Willow jumped into her car and pulled out her cell phone, hoping to give Xander a two-minute heads-up so he'd be ready to go, but he didn't answer. I hope Mandy can cover him. She pulled out of the lot and onto the main road----as soon as she could find a quiet enough side street, she'd be able to magic the car right to the back lot of the studio. Then she could get Xander, and the two of them could instantly transport to the house and see what was making Kennedy so anxious...
Kennedy hung up the phone, took a breath to steady herself, and returned to the living room. She slipped her hands in her pockets and studied the slayer before her.
The first thing she noticed (after the dark hair) was Buffy's weight. She seemed to have lost some, and yet, the overall impression was not that of a weaker slayer----she looked harder, if anything. Kennedy had also noticed a faint scar on Buffy's right cheek when she'd first come to the door; she wondered now at the kind of life the slayers had met on the road.
Buffy was standing with her arms crossed, taking everything in and oblivious to Kenney's scrutiny. She was staring at the blanket (a gift? Handmade?) thrown across the back of the couch, the books on the shelves, movies piled next to the TV...but mostly her gaze lingered on the few photos in the room. It took Kennedy a second to realize why: everything of their lives before had been buried with the rest of Sunnydale; all the photos in the house were recent, which meant Buffy wasn't in any of them.
It was like she was never there.
Buffy picked up a framed picture of Willow hugging Dawn as the teenager held up her college acceptance letter.
Kennedy cleared her throat.
Buffy quickly put down the picture and turned to face her. "Hey."
"Willow's on her way. She's got to pick up Xander first."
Kennedy sighed, slightly irritated. "Who's the kid?"
Buffy looked uncomfortable. "Kennedy, I'd really rather wait until everyone's here to get into that." She glanced at the staircase, where Faith had disappeared to find their littlest guest someplace to sleep.
"Fine. Then at least tell me what's up with your hair."
"Security measure, I guess you could call it." Buffy walked to the bottom of the staircase, listened for a moment, and continued. "The demon world has a new bit of mythology to feed to its more ambitious youth; the story of the dark slayer and the red scythe. Kill her with her own weapon and end the slayer line forever. Fortunately, ‘dark hair' is as detailed a description as they give." She leaned against the banister. "Dying my hair has made the demons hesitate just long enough to get us out of a couple of sticky situations."
"Sticky, slimy, pointy..." came the husky voice as Faith appeared at the top of the staircase.
What struck Kennedy the most about Faith was the way she moved; Faith's movements had always been strong, but never particularly smooth (unless she was seducing someone). But now, as Faith came down the stairs, Kennedy noticed the fluidity and grace of each step; combined with the same lighter-but-stronger form she'd noticed on the other slayer, it made for a rather unnerving and threatening appearance.
Faith nodded at Buffy. "She's asleep." She moved on lean against the wall and crossed her arms.
There was an uncomfortable silence right before someone materialized in front of them in a bright light. On instinct Buffy and Faith assumed fighting stances, but Kennedy jumped in front of them. "Wait! Wait, it's Willow!" An instant later they heard a car door slam and someone running down the drive. The front door burst open and Xander doubled over, trying to catch his breath. "Next time...transport...me too...driveway...long..."
"Kennedy, what...oh. OH!" Willow said, dumbstruck, as she took in the two slayers. Xander saw them too, and slowly straightened up as his breath slowed.
Buffy was terribly nervous and also overjoyed at seeing her friends; unsure of what to do, she just said, "Hey guys..." But Willow had already wrapped her up in a huge hug.
"Buffy! What are you...how did...you're ok!" Willow held Buffy at arm's length and looked her over before turning to Faith. "You're ok too?"
"We're fine," Faith said quietly.
Kennedy cleared her throat. "You may want to keep it down, baby; there's another one upstairs."
"Another one...?" Willow looked confused.
"Let's go to the kitchen."
They settled in the other room; Buffy and Willow were the only ones who actually sat down. Faith stayed by the back door, Kennedy stood in the middle of the room, and Xander leaned on the island.
"Buffy," Willow said. "What's with your hair?"
"Ohhh, no," Kennedy interrupted. "I know you guys just got here, but that story's boring, and I want to hear who that kid is."
"The person sleeping upstairs is a little girl."
Willow turned to the slayers. "You have a...a child?"
"That's what this is all about?" Xander finally spoke. "You vanish and expect us to deal with that, but then one of you gets knocked up and we get to deal with that too? Because it doesn't fit in with your carefree lifestyle?"
In a second, Faith was across the kitchen and in his face. "That's not what this is about at all, you son of a bitch!" Xander jumped back, but Faith turned around and left out the back door. Kennedy followed her.
The slayer hadn't gone far; she was standing in the backyard, arms crossed, staring at the woods that surrounded the house. Kennedy slid her hands in her pockets and stood beside her. "You know he doesn't speak for the rest of us, right?"
"We should have said goodbye."
Kennedy sighed. "Yeah. You should've."
They both stared out at the night. "Faith...why did you come back?"
Faith cleared her throat. "I didn't want to; figured one mistake was enough. Didn't want to reopen wounds." Her brow furrowed. "But Buffy felt this was the safest choice for Rachel."
"That's her name?"
Faith didn't say anything.
"Look, are you going to tell me about what's going on? Don't feed me this crap about how Buffy wanted to come here and you wanted to stay away----you contacted me."
Faith's eyes flashed to hers.
"That's right. You were freaked, you were panicking, and you looked to me for help. Well, here I am, Faith. And I saw what you wanted to show me. Did you kill him?"
Faith blinked, surprised. "No."
"It's ok if you did. I mean, it's not ok, but...we'll handle it. Is that why you had to bring the kid here? So the authorities wouldn't take her away from you?"
"Kennedy, no!" Faith lowered her voice. "No. I didn't kill the guy; she did."
"Rachel," Faith said. "Kennedy, Rachel killed him. She's a slayer."
Chapter Three: Rachel
"A slayer? But...how old is she?"
"She's four," Buffy said. She shot a look at Xander. "Got that? She's not ours."
Xander frowned and looked away.
Willow raised her eyebrows. "Four. You're sure she's not a...a potential? And that her powers will come, you know...later?"
Buffy shook her head. "She's too strong already."
"But how?" Xander asked. "I mean...powers just don't come that early. You didn't get in trouble in elementary school, did you?"
"No slaying of bullies by me. But I also didn't get my powers through a spell; mine came in high school, when the previous slayer died. You know, the natural way."
"And if you were still a kid at the time," Willow continued, "you wouldn't have even been called."
Buffy looked at her uncomfortably. "Faith and I think our spell has more and more layers that we didn't think about."
"Couldn't think about," Xander clarified. "Busy saving the world, as I recall. We couldn't think about what the spell would do other than help us."
"Well, we're dealing with the consequences now." Buffy sighed and stood up, pressing a hand to her forehead. "The spell guaranteed that every potential would become a full slayer. What we have to figure out is if it's making them slayers from birth, or if they grow into their power when they need it."
Willow frowned. "She's only four years old. Why would she need that kind of power?"
"We got there too late. At first we didn't see Rachel, but we sure as hell saw him. I ran forward to see if he was still alive, felt for a pulse and all that, but there really wasn't any chance."
Kennedy remembered how Faith had been covered in blood in her dream. "But where was Buffy?"
"Buffy found Rachel hiding under the bed and tried to shield her from the body." Faith suddenly broke off.
"...What is it?"
"You wanna go slay?"
Kennedy raised an eyebrow. "Are you serious?"
Faith shrugged. "Save a lot of time if you lead the way to the trouble spots; though there probably aren't too many in this little place."
Kennedy realized her mouth was hanging open. She closed it. "No...no, there aren't..."
"Let's go then."
Kennedy glanced back at the house before leading Faith through the woods. Once it cleared out a little, they broke into a run. They ran side by side, but Kennedy could tell Faith was holding back; her strides were effortless. She looked a lot more comfortable on the run. Kennedy mentally kicked herself----of course...that's what we're doing...
Sure enough, soon Faith was comfortable enough to start talking again.
"We first noticed her when we stopped in a town for some food. We're in line at the burger place and this little kid is staring at us, right?"
Faith suddenly made a sharp turn off course. Kennedy stumbled, then followed suit, figuring it was better to let the other slayer do her thing (whatever it was).
"She's staring at us like she knows us. Then her mom comes and says, you know, it's not nice to stare, blah blah blah, and leads her away." She jumped over a log. "But then she looks back at us and catches my eye, and I just know it----she's one of us. But it's more than that. I can feel her. Like I feel the other slayers; just as strong."
"Full powers? But how old is she?" Kennedy changed direction, feeling a vampire was close.
Faith stayed next to her and shook her head. "Not old." She suddenly reached up and grabbed a low branch. She swung her legs up, hooked them on the next branch, and tightened her abs, bringing her up into the tree. Kennedy stared up at her; Faith grinned. "Jump."
"Better do it fast."
Kennedy jumped; Faith grabbed her arm and pulled her the rest of the way up. No sooner had Kennedy's feet left the ground then a bottle shattered against the tree trunk where she'd been standing. She gasped; Faith clamped a hand over her mouth and whispered in her ear, "You're wearing a white tank top. They could see you."
As the vampires crashed through the brush to see where their target had gone, Faith released Kennedy and dropped into their midst.
There were four of them. Faith picked up the closest one and threw him into two others before delivering a roundhouse kick to the fourth, sending him sprawling. She reached up and broke off a branch as the first three picked themselves up. One leapt at her and she rolled, popped up, and drove her makeshift stake into the chests of his friends one-two-three and they turned to dust...
The last one turned around to face her; the look on his face was not unlike the one on Kennedy's.
Faith cocked an eyebrow at him.
She raced after him.
All of five seconds later, Kennedy heard a brief struggle and the familiar sound of a slay. Faith reappeared under the tree and looked up at her. "I'm glad slaying's a spectator sport now."
Kennedy dropped to the ground and brushed herself off. "Like you gave me a chance! You trying to set a record or something?!"
"Nah. It's just...you know, with everything we've been though, the apocalypses, the demons...it's easy to take the vamps for granted. Start...underestimating them." She stopped again, and seemed to get lost in her own thoughts.
"Who was the guy, why is he dead, little kid slayer. Go."
"He was her mother's boyfriend," Buffy said as Willow poured them each some tea. "Rachel and her mother had been living on their own for some time when he came into their lives. He helped them out, picking up Rachel from school, staying with her when her mother worked late, which was often."
"What did she do?" Xander asked.
"She ran a little grocery store; they lived above it."
"Let me guess," Xander sighed. "This boyfriend only seemed like a great guy...but then he took an extra interest in his girlfriend's kid. Right?"
Buffy put down her tea and stared at the table. "That's...what we thought too. We kept an eye on things for awhile, waiting for him to slip up, give us a reason to get involved." She paused, gathering her thoughts before looking up at her friends. "Then one night we're watching the place and a gang of kids heads in and starts trouble. Little stuff, stupid stuff; they're teenagers. And they seem kind of drunk..."
The store was a twenty-four hour kind of place in a prime retail location close to local schools, larger apartment buildings, a few bars and a movie theater. During the week, Rachel's mother tried not to work past one in the morning so that she could still make her daughter breakfast and take her to school. Since Rachel's father had left the picture a year and a half before, her mother had become determined that Rachel would not feel as though she had lost both parents.
Her boyfriend worked days at a large hardware store; they'd met about six months before the slayers came to town. Rachel seemed shy around people, especially men, but her face lit up whenever he was around (even though she still didn't say much; she never did).
Still, Faith had immediately been suspicious of him. When Buffy suggested it was because of her own history, Faith ignored her. They continued to watch the little slayer, keeping an extra eye on the boyfriend as they waited to see why they could already sense Rachel's full powers.
But there was nothing. Day in, day out, the child seemed to have nothing but love for both of the adults in her life. Faith became frustrated----hadn't the girl been trying to tell them something that day at the fast-food place? Buffy suggested that perhaps the child had just recognized them as being like herself, even though she couldn't possibly understand exactly what they all were. Faith disagreed.
In a last effort, the slayers decided to stop following the boyfriend and the little slayer and instead focus on the grocery store itself...
They quickly realized that the late-night clientele could easily be the cause of stress in the child's life. It wouldn't be hard for the little one to overhear the more difficult customers, grabbing snacks on their way home from a long night at the bar.
One night, the slayers were watching from a bench in the park across the street when Rachel's mother was working the register; her coworker was taking a quick break. She was alone when a particularly rowdy group of teens stumbled in, yelling and tossing bags of chips across the store, making lewd gestures at her.
Buffy touched Faith's arm----the girl's mother had come from behind the register to stand between the gang and the steps leading to the upstairs apartment. They could only think of one reason to leave the register vulnerable----the little girl must have woken up and come downstairs.
The slayers were heading across the street to help when the nightmare began.
Three vampires (vampires! They hadn't thought about vampires in weeks!) had been lurking in the shadows in the alley next to the store, waiting for just this kind of moment. They raced into the store and pulled the doors shut, sliding a metal pipe through the handles to lock it. They looked viciously at their defenseless meal of drunken teens, a frightened mother, and her small child...
Buffy and Faith threw themselves against the doors as hard as they could with no effect----one of the vamps leered at them and snapped his jaws as the other two grabbed the nearest boy and sank their fangs into his neck.
They could hear Rachel screaming over everyone else. A second teen went down. Two more noticed a back window; they pushed past Rachel's mother, pushing her into the vampires as they lunged at the boys.
"Noooo!" Faith screamed.
The slayers pushed a final time and the glass gave way; Faith seized the metal pipe and started whaling on the vampires. The boys succeeded in breaking the back window and started climbing out.
Rachel's mother was on the ground; Buffy rushed to her but could see that she was gone. She whipped around. Where's Rachel...
The little girl was no longer on the steps. Buffy's heart leapt into her throat.
"What...Molly? Oh God, Molly!"
One of the vampires broke away from Faith to lunge at the newcomer----the boyfriend. "Get out of here!" Faith yelled. She tackled the vampire, but the other two made for the back of the store. One of the teens who hadn't made it out the window bolted for the apartment steps to escape even as Buffy intercepted the creatures. She managed to break off a piece of a display shelf and stake one of them, but as she did the teen's body came flying back down the steps, landing next to her with a crunch. She stared at him, wide-eyed, and kicked the second vamp across the store. She felt for a pulse...He's alive. But her attention turned to the apartment steps as she realized the child had done this.
She heard Faith cry out behind her; her lover had been hit in the small of the back with the metal pipe by the second vamp. Buffy ran to her, staking the vamp that had hit her. When the last one went for Buffy, Faith flew to him and twisted off his head in one quick motion.
Buffy held Faith's face in her hands. "Are you all right?" She breathed.
Faith nodded, but then her eyes went wide as she looked over Buffy's shoulder. "No...wait! Don't go up there!"
But the boyfriend ran up the steps of the apartment, determined to save the child where he had failed the mother...
Faith pushed herself off the floor and ran as fast as she could, taking the steps three at a time. Buffy was a second behind her and heard the blood-curdling screams of a man facing a horrible end.
She ran into Faith, who had paused in a bedroom doorway. "Oh God...oh God no..." she was whispering. Buffy could smell all of the blood in the room and clamped her hand over her mouth.
After her brief hesitation, Faith ran to the body on the floor and dropped to her knees. She pressed her hands to what was left of him, trying uselessly to save him. He was good...he was good to them...
They became aware of the whimpers at the same time and locked eyes. Under the bed.
Buffy got down on the floor, trying to avoid the blood as much as possible. She flipped onto her back to avoid the knife thrust out at her; she grabbed the little girl's wrist and twisted, making her drop the weapon. She pulled the child (who was clutching a teddy bear with her other hand) to her and held her tightly, whispering over and over that it was ok, they had her, she was safe, everything would be ok.
Buffy glanced back at Faith; the other slayer seemed to be snapping out of a trance. They stared at each other for what seemed like hours...
"...and we just...left," Faith finished.
Kennedy stared at her, speechless. Faith ran her hands through her hair. They were almost back at the house.
"We knew we had to take her with us. The store was...Jesus, it was a mess. And the apartment..." she shook her head and pressed the heels of her hands to her eyes. "Kennedy, she's four years old. She's a baby. And she's a really strong slayer."
"And she's already taken a human life," Kennedy added softly.
"She doesn't know that, though," Buffy said.
Willow and Xander looked confused. "Wait," the witch started, "she doesn't know that what she did killed somebody?"
"She doesn't know he was human; she thought she was attacking the monsters. She struck without thinking, on instinct. I don't even think she knows it was..."
"Buffy," Xander interrupted. He was staring at the kitchen door, where a little girl was staring at them, wide-eyed.
Buffy's heart dropped into her stomach. "Rachel..."
The girl turned and fled through the living room and out the front door.
The others rushed after her. Buffy leapt off the front steps and was halfway down the drive when Faith appeared out of the woods beside the house and scooped up the young slayer, gripping her tightly as she fought and cried. Kennedy was with her.
Buffy slowed, then stopped in front of Faith.
Faith frowned at her. "What is this? What happened?" Willow and Xander were coming up behind them.
"I...she...she overheard us talking." Buffy swallowed. "About...everything."
Faith set her jaw; Rachel had stopped fighting and wrapped her arms around Faith's neck, burying her face in her shoulder. She was still crying.
Faith's eyes blazed at her lover. She carried Rachel back to the house without saying another word. Buffy looked every inch as angry when she stalked back after them.
Kennedy, Willow, and Xander looked at each other with raised eyebrows after the slayers' chilly exchange. Xander broke the uncomfortable silence.
"This can't be good."
Chapter Four: The Truth of the Matter
"I guess we could go back in," Kennedy said slowly.
Willow eyed the darkened house. "We could."
They were quiet awhile until Xander cleared his throat. "Or, you know, if we hurried, we could catch a movie in town."
Kennedy jumped off the car. "I'll drive."
"I call shotgun!"
Faith slipped out of Rachel's room and pulled the door shut behind her; the littlest slayer had finally fallen asleep. She leaned against the door a moment, sensing the child's presence through the thick wood; she was calmer, breathing evenly... Satisfied, the slayer turned and walked down the stairs.
Buffy was waiting for her.
Faith slowed. "Hey."
Buffy glared at her and Faith had the decency to look away. "B...I didn't...Buffy, I'm sorry."
"I know you are protective of her, but that is no excuse for what you did to me out there."
"I didn't mean..."
"You treated me like a child," Buffy hissed. "I felt like you scolded me, in front of my friends! You were so...condescending..."
"Our friends, Buffy," Faith said, stepping up to the other slayer. "Our friends."
Buffy crossed her arms. "Missing the point, especially when you didn't even want to come back here." She stalked into the kitchen.
Faith was on her heels. "What the hell is your problem?"
Buffy whirled on her. "My problem is you making me feel about two inches tall while you puff yourself up as Faith, Savior of All Children."
"I had no idea Rachel was listening to us. I feel horrible about what she overheard, but you made me feel so...incompetent!"
"And I'm trying to apologize for..."
"I gave up everything for you," Buffy choked. "My friends. My family. I gave them up for their own safety and because you asked me to."
Faith was caught off-guard by the apparent change of topic. She leaned against the doorframe while she collected her thoughts and tried not to sound too hurt. "You...didn't have to come with me."
Buffy threw up her hands and shook her head.
Faith swallowed. "Are you saying...do you...are you sorry you said yes?"
Buffy stared at her through angry tears. "No. If you asked me again, and I knew all the fights that were to come, the lack of food, the sleeping on the ground...I would still go with you. I love you."
Faith blinked. "Then...what...?"
"Since this child has come into our lives, a child who I love just as much as you do, by the way..."
"A child we could give a good life to..." Faith said, stepping closer.
Buffy held up a hand to stop her. "Let's not get into that right now." She walked to the back door and stared out. "When I left with you, I was giving up more than you were. I don't think you can argue that. But now, since we've had Rachel and I look at you with her I'm...I've gotten scared, Faith. So scared."
She turned back to face her. "I know that if you asked me to, I would leave with you right now, all over again. But now that you have someone to lose, to really lose, would you leave with me? If I asked you to? Don't answer that," Buffy said sharply as she walked out of the kitchen. "We both know what you're going to say; I just don't know if it's the truth."
Faith stayed in the kitchen. She could hear Buffy unfolding the pullout couch in the living room and knew better than to think they'd be sharing it tonight.
Willow tentatively opened the door.
The whole house was dark and silent. If the slayers had been fighting, there was no sign of it now. She waved to Kennedy and Xander, who had refused to get out of the car until Willow gave the all-clear.
They came in quickly and headed upstairs to bed, not wanting to press their luck. Willow stayed downstairs, not convinced that the quiet was a sign of peace. She went into the livingroom and saw someone sleeping. Alone. The someone had dark hair, and it wasn't until she crept closer that Willow saw it was Buffy.
Willow sighed and sat on the edge of the makeshift bed. She gazed at her best friend.
Buffy looked exhausted.
Willow wasn't entirely convinced that Buffy was asleep, but the slayer seemed determined to pretend, so Willow let her rest. She went to the recliner, pulled the extra blanket off the back of it and draped it over Buffy. Then she went into the kitchen to turn on the back light, but just as she was about to flip the switch, she noticed a figure sitting in the shadows. Faith.
Willow left the light off as she slipped quietly onto the back porch.
Faith was sitting in the porch swing, staring into the dark. Willow pulled her jacket tighter and sat in a chair opposite her.
"You, uh...gonna stay out here?"
"Did it look to you like I was welcome inside?"
Willow tucked her legs underneath her for more warmth. "Are things that bad? Do you think she wants you to freeze to death?"
Faith didn't say anything.
"Faith...can I ask you something?"
"If you don't want to be here...then why did you contact Kennedy?"
Faith shifted on the swing. "We needed you; we didn't have a choice."
"Because of Rachel."
"Why aren't you asking Buffy about any of this?"
"Because we both know Buffy won't tell me what the real problem is, and I think you will. We can't help you unless we know why you're really here. What did you expect us to do with a little girl?"
"I don't know! I don't know." Faith closed her eyes. "I just knew we were in trouble, and that Rachel needed someplace loving and safe to heal, and I...I didn't even mean to contact Kennedy, it just happened! But I couldn't ignore that feeling in my gut of safety, of a home, and we followed it to you."
Willow looked at her. "So you do want to be here."
Faith sighed. "It's a little more complicated than that. Of course I want to be here. Do I think it's a good idea? No. Does our being here still pose a threat to you? Yes. But...Buffy and I...we disagree on why we're here." The slayer grew still again. "The problem is, I drove us here so Rachel could take some time to heal. But she's still a threat to herself and others with her powers being so...out of control, I guess. So I think that ultimately, she needs us. We love her, we'd keep her safe. But Buffy..." Faith shook her head. "Buffy thinks we should leave her here. She says because of Rachel's powers it's even more important that she have some kind of normal childhood, and not one on the road."
Willow's eyes widened. "Leave her here, here?"
Buffy was certainly not asleep and didn't need slayer hearing to know what was being discussed out back.
She did, however, need it to hear the quiet movements in Rachel's room upstairs.
Buffy sighed. The gang coming home must have woken her up. Again. She got up. She hadn't bothered changing out of her clothes, and her dark hair had fallen out of the loose ponytail she'd put it in, but it didn't matter. She took the blanket Willow had given her, draped it around her shoulders, and went upstairs. She tapped softly on Rachel's door before stepping inside.
The littlest slayer was sitting straight up in bed with the sheets pulled up to her chin. She stared wide-eyed at Buffy, who smiled gently as she closed the door behind her. "Can't sleep?"
Rachel shook her head.
"Me neither. Did our friends wake you up? They're kind of loud."
"Had a bad dream," came the tiny voice.
Buffy nodded. Rachel had understandably had several nightmares since that night in the store. "Was it about those bad guys?" Buffy asked as she sat on the edge of the bed.
Tears come to Rachel's eyes. "More. They were big."
"That must have been pretty scary. Are you feeling scared?"
Rachel nodded. Buffy settled back into the bed and held her close; the little girl was trembling.
"It's ok," Buffy said softly. "It's ok to be scared. Even brave people get scared, you know, and I think you're a pretty brave kid."
Rachel held her tighter and started to cry. "I miss mommy!"
Buffy's heart ached for the child in her arms. She picked Rachel up and walked over to the window, rubbing her back and whipering gentle nothings to soothe her. The little girl started to hiccup as she quieted down, and Buffy kissed her forehead.
"Are you leaving too?"
Buffy momentarily froze. "What do you mean?"
Rachel sniffled. "Will you go away?"
Buffy pursed her lips and held Rachel tighter. Kids pick up on more than we think... She thought fast, trying to get to the exact thing Rachel was worried about. "I'll never leave you alone. I promise."
"I don't want you to go away. When people don't love you anymore, they go away."
Ohhh...Buffy shifted Rachel to one arm so she could brush the child's face with her fingertips. She looked her in the eyes. "That's not true, you know. Sometimes it seems like it's true, but it's not."
"Mommy said it was true."
Buffy thought back to the child's father, who was definitely M.I.A. for her whole life. She sat on the windowsill with Rachel in her lap. "Your mom loves you very much, you know, even though she went away. My mother died too, awhile ago. I was sad, but I was mad, too, sometimes. Do you get mad?"
"I was mad because I felt like she left me. But that's not how that stuff works. Sometimes people don't want to leave you, whether it's because they died or because they had to leave for...for something else we can't understand. It doesn't mean they don't love you. Does that make sense?"
Rachel nodded and leaned back against Buffy, who wrapped her up in her arms again. "I love you, Rachel, and I promise you will always have people around you who love you. Ok?"
Rachel murmered something and Buffy saw she was starting to drift off to sleep. She stood quietly and brought the child back to her bed, tucking her in. When she went to pull away, the little girl started to whimper. Buffy didn't try to fight it; she climbed in under the covers and pulled Rachel to her, trying to pretend that she could ever let her go.
Willow had convinced Faith to come back inside, but the dark slayer had tensed up. Willow looked at her. "What is it? What's wrong?"
Faith's brow furrowed and she went to the pull-out bed. Empty. She closed her eyes, trying to feel where... Suddenly, her face relaxed. "Nevermind. It's ok." She looked at Willow. "They were both upset, but Buffy's with Rachel and they're calming down."
Willow stared at her, impressed. "Um...ok then. Do you need anything else?"
"Nah. You should go to bed. Hey...thanks."
"Everything's going to be ok, Faith."
The slayer nodded.
As the witch disppeared upstairs, Faith reached out once more for her little family before turning to the bed in the livingroom. She knew Buffy wouldn't be coming back downstairs, so she crawled into it. She gathered the pillows that smelled like the love of her life and was finally able to drift off to sleep, holding them tight.
Chapter Five: Saturday
Xander was at the stove, flipping pancakes. The bacon was piled on a plate on the counter, and four glasses of orange juice were poured. Rachel was sitting on a stool next to Xander, watching him cook, and she turned when Faith came into the kitchen. Her face lit up.
"Hey, squirt," Faith said. She yawned as the child leapt down to give her a hug. "What time is it?"
"It's morning," Rachel chirped.
"Ten o'clock," Xander said; he then smiled at Faith's surprised expression. "Guess you needed some sleep."
"Guess so." She picked Rachel up, giving her a squeeze and a kiss. She set her down, leaned against the counter, still half asleep, and started chewing on a piece of bacon. "Where is everyone?"
"Work." Xander said, as Rachel scrambled back up on her stool to watch him. "I usually get there earlier on the weekends, but Kennedy's going to cover me until we can get there, with Rachel."
Faith frowned. "Why? Where do you work?"
Xander grinned. "Kennedy and I work at a martial arts studio in town."
Faith almost choked on her bacon. "You what?"
"Don't worry, don't worry; I'm not in charge of grown-ups yet. I'm still taking classes myself. But I teach some of the kids, and we thought...you know." He glanced down at the little girl who was staring anxiously at the pancakes. "We thought it might be the perfect environment for some people."
"Trees are part of the vioment," Rachel said, dipping a finger in the bowl of waiting pancake batter. Faith raised an eyebrow. She likes him.
"You bet they are; and for that, you get the prize," Xander said with a flourish.
"You get to eat without waiting on the rest of us." He walked her plateful of pancakes over to the table and covered them in syrup. "Dig in."
The little slayer did, happily. For awhile, the only sounds in the kitchen were the sizzling of more breakfast foods and the percolating coffee.
Xander turned off the stove and looked at Faith. "I'm sorry."
Faith frowned. "For what?"
"For the things I said when you first arrived. I was upset, and surprised...and I was out of line. I didn't mean any of it. I know you and Buffy...that you left for a reason. It was just hard, for awhile." He sighed. "Though I can't imagine it's been easy for the two of you either."
Faith shifted uncomfortably. "Not exactly."
"Yeah. Well, I just wanted you to...I just wanted to apologize, in my own awkward way."
Faith shrugged. "It's alright. Don't worry about it."
"So we're ok?"
"Not if you don't start loadin' my plate with some food."
When he was done she drowned everything in syrup and set it on the table next to Rachel. The child had already eaten everything on her plate and eyed Faith's hopefully.
"Oh, no you don't," Faith said through a mouthful of food. "For once, everything on this plate is mine. Go bother Xander for more."
"Seriously though----do slayers ever actually get full? Is it possible?"
Faith shrugged and kept eating. Xander handed Rachel a muffin and a plate and said, "You know; it's Saturday. Why don't we see what cartoons are on?"
Rachel grinned and ran into the living room. Xander went to follow her.
He stopped. "What?"
Faith swallowed, then looked him in the eye. "I take good care of her."
"I can see that; the kid adores you."
"I'm not talking about Rachel."
Xander blinked. He stared at the floor and cleared his throat. "I know you take care of her..."
She continued to stare at him. Finally he looked up at her. "I know you do," he said firmly.
Faith nodded, content.
Buffy stepped out of the shower and looked at herself in the mirror as she ran a hand through her dark hair. Don't need to re-dye it just yet.
Buffy had colored her blonde locks a year ago, after a particularly bad confrontation with a gang of demons finally convinced the slayers that they were easy targets. Buffy still had a scar on her cheek from a six-inch claw; Faith had a few on her back and the base of her skull. It's what they'd wanted, of course----to draw the creatures of the night to them in order to keep everyone a little safer. But it had been too easy to tell them apart, to identify which slayer they needed to kill with the scythe. Now they had a split-second advantage, which for them was enough.
Buffy finished toweling off and pulled on a clean shirt Willow had left for her.
The last two years had been among the most difficult in her life, and perhaps the most rewarding. She finally realized that she'd never been as alone as the slayer as she'd thought; her friends had always been her link to humanity and her strength. She'd felt that strength waning as the motorcycle got farther and farther from the house the night she'd left with Faith.
Buffy knew then that in spite of all the other challenges she'd faced, the demons she'd bested and apocalypses she'd prevented, the true test of her strength was if she could stay on that motorcycle and do everything alone.
But she wasn't alone.
More alone than she was used to being, perhaps...but it only gave her more respect for the woman she'd chosen to follow, the dark slayer who had lived most of her life truly on her own (and hardly by choice).
Buffy put on her jeans and started making the bed.
She wasn't used to sleeping in beds anymore; funny how a lifetime of trusting certain comforts could go out the window after only a few short years.
The slayer was used to sleeping under the stars, in church steeples, boxcars, rooftops, beaches...now her sense of comfort, safety, and peace came from the woman she loved.
She hadn't slept well.
Faith poured herself a cup of coffee. She stood gazing out of the kitchen window at the backyard; it seemed like it was going to be a bright, clear day, though chilly.
Faith shivered reflexively and sipped her coffee.
She felt the other slayer's presence in the kitchen; she closed her eyes. Buffy's hands slipped around her waist. Faith placed her free hand over them and sighed deeply. She felt Buffy rest her head against her shoulders, kissing her neck softly. Faith squeezed her hands and turned around to face her.
They didn't say anything for awhile; it wasn't necessary. Finally Faith set down her coffee cup, took Buffy's face in her hands and kissed her. Buffy's hands found the small of her back and pulled her lover closer. When they broke apart, Faith caught her breath and looked down at the woman in front of her, tracing the lines of her face.
"You, ah...you want some coffee?"
They took two cars to the studio, since they didn't know where the day would take them. Rachel nervously held Faith's hand as they followed Xander through the door.
Buffy's eyes widened.
The floor space was enormous. Plenty of mats, pads, and cushions of different shapes and sizes lined the walls, along with plaques, diplomas, and other awards. A floor-to-ceiling mirror stretched the length of the back wall. Immediately in front of them was Kennedy; she was leading a class of twelve children in punching and kicking drills. But on the far side of the room, an adult class was being held.
Buffy raised an eyebrow. A very advanced class.
The woman leading them had to be a slayer----her strength and confidence radiated from her, even at a distance, and her fighting was almost effortless. Buffy's eyes touched on every member of the class; she noticed Faith's were doing the same. There's at least one other slayer in there. They could feel it.
Kennedy smiled and came to meet them as the kids in her class kept drilling. "You like?"
"We like," Faith said.
Kennedy crouched down so she was eye to eye with Rachel, who was staring open-mouthed at everything. "Do you want to come join us? I think you'll have a lot of fun."
Rachel swallowed and stayed behind Faith. Buffy motioned to the little girl; when she came to her, Buffy picked her up. "See all these kids? They're learning how to be strong and take care of each other." Rachel nodded. "Don't you want to give it a try?"
Faith shifted uncomfortably. "I dunno, Kennedy...don't you think she should...maybe go with the older kids? Since she's so...strong?"
Kennedy and Xander exchanged a look. Xander cleared his throat. "We don't think strength is the most important issue right now. The kids here are at all different levels, but they're all about the same age. We've found they do better that way; they're a team."
"That's what we stress here," Kennedy added. "Besides, there are a lot of...really advanced adults around, if you know what I mean."
"We noticed," Buffy said. Rachel started to squirm so Buffy put her down.
Xander grinned. "You want to play, don't you?"
Rachel nodded shyly.
"C'mon, then! They're just about to start using the pads; you want to help me get some?" Rachel took Xander's hand and the two of them walked over to the equipment.
Kennedy laughed at the looks on the other slayers' faces. "She's going to be fine; trust me."
The sounds of the studio changed; the adult class had ended. Kennedy waved at the woman who had been teaching; she started to walk towards them.
"This is Michaela," Kennedy said.
"Mike," the woman corrected, shaking their hands. "You must be Faith and Buffy. That Rachel?" Mike smiled at their obvious nervousness. "She's going to be fine here; relax, would you? You're wrecking the energy of the studio."
"Mike started this place years ago, before she knew she was a potential," Kennedy explained.
Mike laughed. "You could say I was ‘prepared' when that news came, I guess. Didn't have to change my lifestyle much to train; the hardest part was memorizing all those demons, ceremonies...pffft," she said, waving her hand. "Give me a stake, let me fight, you know what I mean?"
Faith grinned; Buffy sighed.
"But I did learn, and I'm grateful for it. But being called at this stage in the game..." Mike shook her head. "I'm thirty-four; I thought my time had passed."
"Yeah," Kennedy said, "they're making them all ages now."
"So I hear, so I hear..." Mike stared at Buffy and Faith. "This girl of yours----she's got a history? At four?"
"Yes," said Buffy. "She...well, she..."
"She killed a guy. A couple guys," Faith said quietly. "We're not sure what she knows, though."
Mike nodded and took a deep breath. "You did the right thing, bringing her here. This place...I was supposed to have this place, I think; I was supposed to stay in this town, not be called and fight all over the world."
"We've already found two slayers," Kennedy said. "And three potentials."
Faith's brow furrowed. "So...there are still potentials, then?"
"Yes...well, it's complicated. We call them that, but we don't really know if they have weaker slayer powers they were born with that grow with them..."
"Or if they're just slightly stronger potentials now that receive their full powers at puberty," Mike finished.
"Or when needed," Buffy mused, glancing at Rachel. She was handing out pads to the class with Xander.
"I should go back to them," Kennedy said. "See you guys in a bit."
When she left, Mike said, "Why don't you stay and watch for awhile? I have to set up for the next class, but please, make yourselves at home."
"Thanks, Mike," Faith said.
When the older slayer left them, Buffy took Faith's hand and pulled her aside. "I can't just stay and watch; I want to go to Willow and see what she thinks about all of this ‘potential vs. baby slayer' stuff. I want some answers."
"Fine by me, B. Let me know what you find out."
"You don't want to come?"
"Have I ever wanted to research? You guys have more patience for that than I do; I'll stay here and keep an eye on Rachel. She may like Xander and Kennedy, but I think she'd freak if we both left."
Buffy squeezed her hand. "Good call. I'll see you later?"
Faith kissed her. "You bet."
Buffy had gotten quick directions from a distracted Xander, and hoped they were accurate. Fortunately, it only took about ten minutes to get to the campus where Willow worked. Buffy parked and went to a map that was mounted on one of the buildings; she found the library. It was behind her and two buildings to the right.
Buffy pulled her jacket tighter and realized that she, Faith, and Rachel would need some warmer clothes if they were going to stay awhile. Maybe this afternoon we'll hit the stores.
When she reached the library, the slayer pulled open the large double doors and headed in.
The place was a little chaotic. Groups of students were cramming, praying, guzzling caffeine...but it was too early for finals. Midterms, maybe?
Buffy picked her way through the overly-stimulated and sleep-deprived crowds until she saw the office in the back. She knocked; Willow answered.
"Hey Will," she said, entering the office. Willow closed the door behind her. "I wanted to talk to you about..."
"You're supposed to be at the studio today."
Buffy stopped; belatedly she registered the nervous look on Willow's face. "I was...the others are still there. I wanted to talk to you about potential slayers."
"Ok, but you should go back to the studio for now."
"What? Willow, what's..."
"Please," Willow begged. "Buffy, please just go."
Buffy pursed her lips. This isn't like her. "Ok. I'm...I'm sorry I bothered you."
"No, it's...we'll talk later."
Buffy opened Willow's office door to leave.
Another student was standing there, hand raised, about to knock.
The blood drained from Buffy's face.
It was Dawn.
Chapter Six: Crossroads
Buffy was reeling. "Dawn...Dawn, I..."
"She was just leaving, Dawnie."
Dawn's eyes met Willow's. "What is this? How long have you known she was here?"
"Just since yesterday. There was...an emergency, but..."
"Is this why I'm here---for an ambush?"
"No, Dawnie, I..."
"Because that's what it looks like; like you turned my appointment to discuss my paper into an ambush." She was seething.
Buffy seemed to have recovered her voice enough to defend her best friend. "Dawn, it's nothing like that. Willow didn't even know I was..."
Dawn whirled on her. "Don't you speak to me." She stepped towards Buffy. "Don't you dare speak to me."
"Dawn!" Willow was still frozen next to her desk. "There are... clearly... some things we need to talk about. Buffy was not supposed to be here. Buffy." The look the witch gave her friend was a pained one, but her voice was strong. "You need to leave now."
Buffy glanced from Willow to her sister, who had turned away from Buffy and now stood with arms crossed waiting for her to go. The slayer opened her mouth, but no words came out. She took a tentative step towards Dawn, but a warning glance from Willow stopped her cold.
Buffy suddenly felt very small.
Not trusting her voice, she nodded silently and left Willow's office. The door slammed shut behind her; she jumped, and several students looked up questioningly from their studies at the dark haired woman. Buffy blinked her eyes several times, trying to figure out what had just happened. Her feet suddenly seemed very heavy, but they carried her through the library, past the books, fliers, and review sheets, the photocopiers and computers, through the heavy double doors and out onto the main campus.
The tears didn't come until the parking lot.
"...Sorry I could not travel both, and be one traveler, long I stood and looked down one as far as I could, to where it bent in the undergrowth; then took the other, as just as fair, and having perhaps the better claim, because it was grassy and wanted wear; though as for that, the passing there had worn them really about the same. And both that morning equally lay in leaves no step had trodden black. Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
"There's a light on."
Faith frowned and sat up straighter as Kennedy maneuvered the car down the long drive. "But I don't see our car."
Faith eyed the house warily before glancing at Rachel, asleep in the backseat. It had been hours since they'd heard from Buffy, but they had been able to hide their worry from the little girl.
Faith sighed. "I just don't understand why Willow waited so long to call us."
"It must have been important." The gravel crunched under the tires as Kennedy pulled up next to the house.
"What could possibly..."
There was a soft cry from the backseat; Faith jumped out of the car and pulled open Rachel's door. She squatted next to her. "Rachel? You awake?"
Rachel shook her head and mashed her fists into her eyes. Faith gently unbuckled her and picked her up, catching Kennedy's eye. "More bad dreams," she whispered as she rubbed Rachel's back. The slayers walked up to the house.
As they entered, Kennedy switched on a few more lights. Faith didn't move past the living room. "Kennedy."
"Don't worry, we'll..."
Kennedy stared at Faith, puzzled. After a few minutes of silence she raised an eyebrow at the slayer. "Faith?"
"I'm...I'm sorry. I thought I felt...is someone here?" She held Rachel tighter.
"I don't think so." Faith remained tense, and Kennedy tried a gentler approach. "Why don't I call Willow's office again, see if Xander's picked her up yet? I'm sure she has more answers."
Faith nodded. "Ok. I'll put Rachel to bed." She turned to start up the stairs when the back door opened and a hooded figure strode in.
Faith whirled around, clutching Rachel as Kennedy threw a punch at the intruder. The punch was deflected, and Kennedy was dropped by an elbow between her shoulders.
The figure raised its head towards Faith; Rachel, oblivious, wrapped her arms around Faith's neck and sighed softly. The slayer felt tendrils of panic start to seize her heart. All she could hear was her own pulse as the figure raised its hands to her...and pulled off its hood.
Faith felt her legs turn to jelly as the relief reached her body before her mind. Deanna. It's Deanna. She slowly lowered herself to the floor.
"I'm so sorry!" the slayer-witch exclaimed as she helped an irritated Kennedy to stand. "I didn't mean to startle you."
"You were wearing a hood, and you didn't even knock." Kennedy growled.
"I was waiting for you...I went outside for awhile, but it's colder here than at the Alliance so I...I'm, I'm so sorry. Are you all right?"
Kennedy glared at her. "No worse for the wear...Faith?"
Faith was sitting with her back against the wall, holding Rachel, with silent tears on her cheeks. Kennedy shared a look with Deanna before walking over to Faith and kneeling down. "I'm going to tuck her in, ok?" Faith nodded and allowed Kennedy to take the little girl from her arms and carry her upstairs.
Deanna allowed minutes to pass before she spoke again. "Faith...are you ok?"
The dark slayer slowly stood up, wiping her tears from her face. "What are you doing here?" she said thickly.
"Willow contacted me. There are a few things we need to talk about."
Faith cleared her throat. "Not where she can hear." She pushed past Deanna, opened the back door, and went out to the porch. The slayer-witch followed. She pulled her cloak tighter once again against the chill, but Faith didn't seem to mind the temperature. She stared into the yard.
"You would have protected her if you needed to," Deanna said softly. "Somewhere inside of you, you knew I wasn't a threat."
Faith didn't say anything.
Deanna continued to watch her. "And she has full slayer powers? We have been working, of course, to determine when slayer children come into their powers since the spell was cast...but your little girl does seem to be unique, so far."
"You can't take her."
"What?" Deanna blinked.
Faith turned and stared at her. "You're not taking her out of this house. You're not going to study her. She's been through enough."
"I wasn't going to..."
"She needs a house, and a family, and to...to be a part of something that..."
Deanna stepped in front of Faith, grasping her firmly by the arms. "Look at me; do you think I would do that? Really?"
Faith stared into Deanna's understanding eyes and closed her own. Exhausted, she sat down on the wicker bench; Deanna settled next to her. "I just wanted to meet her, talk to her a little, make sure she gets settled in. Willow said she went to the studio today?"
"Yeah. She loved it."
"Figures; Mike's the best with these kids." Deanna placed a hand over Faith's. "You did the right thing, bringing her here." She stopped.
Faith glanced at her. "But?"
Deanna held her hand tighter. "But you and Buffy can't stay," she said sadly.
Faith withdrew her hand and stood up. "And why is that, exactly?"
"You know why."
Faith shoved her hands in her pockets and let out a short laugh. "I missed you too."
"Did the demons find us already? Aren't there all kinds of magics around this town; hell, around this state? Shouldn't it take longer than a couple of days?"
"It will take longer...especially since you don't have the scythe."
Faith stiffened; she crossed her arms and turned slowly to face the other slayer. "And who told you that?"
Deanna stood. "We can't feel its energy anymore; neither can the demons. It will take them longer to find you because of that."
Neither one of them spoke for a long while.
"How long?" Faith asked quietly.
"About a month."
The dark slayer nodded and turned away.
Deanna stepped closer. "Where is the scythe?"
Deanna sighed as the dark slayer shoved her hands back into her pockets. "There's something else, though," Faith said, changing the subject. "Deanna...we don't know where Buffy is."
Rachel started to whimper slightly as Kennedy put her in bed. The slayer perched on the side of the bed and brushed the hair out of Rachel's face with a gentle hand. "What's the matter, baby girl?"
"Monsters," Rachel whispered.
Kennedy smiled gently. "No monsters in here."
Rachel looked at her doubtfully and twisted the covers in her hand.
"Sometimes dreams feel like they're real, don't they?"
"Do you have a lot of dreams?"
"Not...yes..." She shook her head in frustration and started to tear up.
Kennedy placed a strong hand on her back. "It's ok."
Rachel kept shaking her head. "It's not my same dream! Different dream, different monsters! Not the store any more..."
Kennedy was at a loss; she was unsure of how to comfort the little girl who had witnessed such brutal vampire attacks in her own home. She hugged Rachel to her.
Rachel held the elder slayer tightly. She took broken, hiccuppy breaths. "The...the water."
Faith suddenly had to grab the porch railing for support. Deanna grabbed her arm.
"Faith? Faith, what is it?"
Faith looked stricken. "Buffy...Buffy, no..."
Buffy had been driving for hours. The cold mountain air kept her sober enough to stay on the road. There weren't many lights on the highway, just mile markers that she'd long lost track of as she'd driven east; little blips of bright green that reminded her she was moving farther and farther away.
Unfortunately, the cold air was finally starting to become a little too sobering. Buffy eased off the accelerator and started to look for larger signs that would tell her where she was; regret started to flood through her as she realized Faith must be worried sick about her.
I'm sorry, Faith...so sorry.
Buffy slowed the car even further and pulled off the road. What have I done? She fell to her knees in the grass, exhausted and ashamed.
How old am I, and I'm still running away from my problems...
Problems she had created.
Did she expect her little sister, now a young woman, to run into her arms with love and forgiveness, after the way she'd left Dawn without a word? Buffy's face flushed and her eyes filled with tears at the thought of her mother.
"Promise me; I have to know that you'll take care of her. That you'll keep her safe. That you'll love her like I love you."
She did love her sister; she left to keep her safe! To keep all of them safe.
"You'll love her like I love you."
Buffy put a hand to her eyes as she stood up, walking away from the highway and into the woods. The idea of her mother leaving her like she'd left Dawn was ludicrous; it never would have happened. Her mother moved to Sunnydale for Buffy, so she could have a fresh start; she had lived her life for her daughter.
Buffy hadn't come close to giving that much to her sister. I broke my promise. Dawn hates me. My sister hates me, my mother is dead, and I just want to go home to my bedroom in Sunnydale and go to sleep and never wake up...
Useless thinking. Childish thinking, but there it was anyway.
Her sinking feet jolted her out of her self-pity.
The slayer blinked into the darkness; the trees were thinning out. The grass had given way to mud, which was now becoming rock. Buffy climbed over a small hill, her body grateful to be doing something physical. She gasped at the top as cold, salty air hit her senses.
The beach... She must have driven all the way to the coast.
Buffy took a deep, cleansing breath as the wind whipped up some spray.
The two slayers had been to a few beaches in their two years away; Buffy couldn't imagine herself even in the warmest weather lying out under the sun on this rocky beach. Big rocks, smaller rocks, most of them wet and covered with some type of growth, making the going slick and difficult. The water was choppy and black.
It was beautiful. Buffy climbed further down onto the beach.
The wind drove icy needles into her skin, and she pulled her light jacket tighter. She felt her mind start to quiet down.
Her sister was safe. She also seemed happy, though perhaps not with Buffy----but in life. The slayer thought back to the photograph at the house of Willow hugging Dawn. Her sister knew love.
She sighed. Slayers are supposed to be alone. Perhaps not the newer generations...but she and Faith were the last of the old. The torch had not truly been passed on. To protect it, and to ensure that the next slayers would not have to know the isolation and loneliness they lived with... the Chosen Two would have to continue their sacrifices. At least they had each other.
With a feeling of guilt, Buffy turned to go back. She wasn't sure what she would say to Faith to earn her forgiveness, but she would try.
As she gripped the slimy rocks, her foot slipped into a crevice. Buffy worked her ankle carefully, trying to free it, when she felt something tighten around the other one. Puzzled, she turned to look.
Something thick and strong had wrapped around her leg. She pulled the first ankle free, falling onto the rocks. Whatever was wrapped around her leg jerked, dragging her around to face the ocean. She grunted and tried to pull free, but she grew still as her eyes traced the dark "something" engulfing her leg across the rocks and into the waves...
...where it attached to a very large creature that was rising out of the water.