Chapter Ten: Two Roads Diverged
Xander blinked and sat up. “What is it?”
Mike’s eyes filled with tears. “I don’t…I’m not sure. Something big. I haven’t felt like this since…since I…” She pressed her hands to her chest, trying to calm herself down.
Xander put an arm around her as his own heart started to race. “Since when? Are you all right?”
Mike gripped Xander’s hand. “I haven’t felt like that since I first got my powers. Something’s happened.” Her tears started to flow freely. “I don’t know what it is, but…Xander, you should go check on Rachel.”
Xander raced up the stairs, taking them two at a time, and pushed open the little girl’s door.
The bed was empty.
Xander started to panic. “Rachel?” He ran to the window, but it was closed. He threw open the closet door, shoving the clothes to the side. “Rachel!” He put his hands to his head and tried to think. In the moment of quiet he heard a soft whimpering; his eyes landed back on the bed.
Keeping his distance, Xander got on his hands and knees to peer under the bed. Sure enough, Rachel was there, curled in a ball. Relief washed over him. “Rachel…hey…it’s just me, it’s just Xander. You ok?”
She didn’t say anything.
“Are you hurt?”
She shook her head.
“Do you…want to come out of there?”
She shook her head.
“Ok.” He laid down on the floor next to her. She blinked her sad eyes at him and sucked her thumb.
“You know, Mike thinks she might have had a nightmare. Did you have a nightmare?”
She shrugged her tiny shoulders. “She went away.”
“Who went away?”
“Oh…well, Faith and Buffy, they both had to go, but just for a little while. They had to…stop some bad guys…like they do. But, I’m here, and Mike…”
“Faith went away. Like Mommy.”
Xander got a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. “…What?”
Mike heard a commotion on the back porch. She wiped her eyes and made her way to the kitchen just as Kennedy and Deanna came crashing in. The slayers were bloody and bruised; Kennedy was leaning on Deanna for support, but looked like she would fall at any moment. Mike ran over and took her in her arms.
“Where are the others?” She asked them.
Kennedy shook her head desperately and couldn’t speak. Mike looked to the other slayer. “Deanna?”
Deanna leaned against the counter and pushed her hair out of her face with a shaking hand. “They went to the hospital. They’re at the hospital.”
“Ok, let’s go sit down. All right? We’ll go in the living room. Come on.”
Mike led the despairing slayers into the other room and got Kennedy settled onto the couch; she sat next to her while Deanna took the chair. Mike took a blanket and tucked it around Kennedy before looking at Deanna.
“Is Willow ok?”
Mike smoothed Kennedy’s hair with a gentle hand and cleared her throat. “A little while ago, I…felt something. Powerful, it just went through me. It was like when I first got my powers.”
“We felt it too,” Deanna said softly.
“Deanna, please,” Mike begged. “You have to tell me, what happened out there? Willow’s fine, but they’re at a hospital. Were you too late? Is Buffy…”
“Willow took Buffy to the hospital,” Kennedy said suddenly. She took a shuddering breath and continued. “Buffy…broke her leg. Probably an arm, or her wrist, too. Maybe a concussion. Willow took her there because she was too drained to heal her herself.” She grew quiet again and stared into nothingness.
Mike looked at Deanna, who wouldn’t meet her eye. She asked the question she’d been afraid to ask. “And Faith?”
Deanna seemed to collapse further into the chair as she shook her head. “Faith’s dead.”
Willow sat with her head in her hands in a feeble attempt to keep her mind from racing. Her best friend lay unconscious in the hospital bed next to her, a leg and an arm in a cast with an IV hooked up to deliver fluids. Her dark hair made her skin look deathly pale.
Did things have to happen the way they did? Faith seemed to have thought so. Goddess, she’d tried to sacrifice herself at the sect’s hands before. But did Willow have to allow it? What would have happened if she’d let Buffy go? If Buffy had stopped Faith would they all be dead now? Or would they have found some other way to pull through?
Willow’s thoughts grew darker as they spiraled back in time. She should have known Buffy would stop by her office; there was no reason for her not to. Why didn’t she tell Buffy to stay away? Why didn’t she call Dawn the night before, when Buffy and Faith first arrived? Then at least the girl could have a chance to process the situation, react the way she needed to, without the confrontation that had exploded within seconds and ended with Buffy speeding off, the battle on the beach, and one slayer dead.
Willow straightened up and blinked as her thoughts slowly came back to the present. “Yes?”
The doctor cleared his throat and stepped further into the room. “While Ms. Summers’ injuries are extensive…there doesn’t seem to be any damage to her central nervous system.”
“Ok. So, she’s going to be all right?”
“Well, all the signs indicate that she’s responding to her treatment…but it’s not clear why she hasn’t woken up yet. As I said, her brain and spinal cord haven’t suffered any trauma. My guess is that she’s in shock, some kind of post-traumatic stress.” He frowned and removed his glasses. “That must have been some mugging.”
Willow gazed at her friend and absently took her hand. “Yes it was.”
“And are you still refusing treatment?”
Clearly dissatisfied, the doctor put his glasses back on and turned to leave. “That chair’s not the most comfortable, but it’s far from the least. Try to get some rest, Ms. Rosenberg.” He left.
Willow pulled her chair closer to the hospital bed and brushed a stray lock of dark hair from her friend’s face. “Oh Buffy,” she whispered. “What are you doing in there?”
Buffy grit her teeth and dove back into the frigid water. She swam deeper and deeper, reaching her arms out, searching…
But suddenly she found herself back on the surface. “No!”
She dove again; again the water pushed her to the surface. She cursed, fighting frantically against the waves, but each time they threw her closer and closer to the shore.
“Faith! I’m here!” Buffy cried. “Please Faith, don’t give up! Don’t leave me!”
With one final surge, the waves tossed Buffy onto the rocky beach. “No. Please god, no.” She looked down at the blood and the bruises, clenched her jaw, and raced towards the water once more, scrambling up and over rock and debris. She leaped, bracing herself in anticipation of the icy depths.
Instead, what she hit was solid, gritty, and knocked the wind out of her. She clenched her stomach against the new pain that burned there.
The slayer slowly rose to a kneeling position. The water was gone. The rocks were gone. All that remained was…
“Sand,” she whispered.
As far as the eye could see.
Buffy blinked back tears, remembering something that was very far back in the recesses of her mind. “She wouldn’t just leave me here.”
She tried to stand, but the pain in her gut was like fire and brought her back to her knees. She reached down and felt past the sand, past the dampness of her clothes, past the clothes themselves and past her skin. She hesitated, then reached deep inside until her hands grasped something cold. She pulled it out, slowly and painfully.
It was a knife.
Buffy looked at it in horror and pain.
“I did this. I killed you.”
The wound in her abdomen started bleeding freely. As her life force drained out of her, the slayer lowered herself to the ground. The sand started to swirl around her; she closed her eyes against it and waited to be swallowed by the darkness.
Something jerked her to her feet; she gasped and pushed her hair out of her eyes. She shrank back from what she saw.
It was Faith. But it wasn’t Faith. Her love’s usually beautiful face was ferocious as it glared at her, and there were flashes of different warrior women across it (dark skin with war paint, olive skin marked by scars) before Faith’s eyes blazed through once more.
Too shocked to speak, Buffy attempted to reach out to the dark slayer.
Faith reached past Buffy’s open arms to the bloodied knife on the ground. With her eyes locked on Buffy’s, Faith wiped the blade clean on her pant leg before hurling it behind Buffy, into the darkness. Buffy spun around to watch the knife arc through the air, but Faith grabbed her arm and fiercely pulled her to her side. With her free hand, Faith sent out a pulse that shook the very air around them; lightning cracked, and the weapon disintegrated.
“Stop this,” came the quiet voice of her lover.
Buffy turned to face the other slayer. For the briefest of moments, Faith’s gentle brown eyes gazed at her softly…before she vanished completely.
Buffy blinked; she was now on a pathway in the middle of a field. The tall grasses around her swayed in the light breeze, and the warm sun overhead was a stark contrast to what she had just left. Buffy frowned. There was a fork in the road, and each path looked the same.
“I know this place,” she murmured. She turned around. A dark funnel cloud, a vortex, was approaching her, destroying everything in its path. The sky around her started to darken. Buffy clenched her fists.
“They’re the same! There’s no way to make a choice. I won’t choose either; it doesn’t matter!”
She felt something drawing her towards the path on the left; she almost took a step, but froze at the prickly feeling along the back of her neck. She squinted into the growing darkness.
A great beast sat waiting for her at the end of the path. It looked like a massive black dog, but with tusks and glowing red eyes. It rose to its full height and snarled.
“Oh…no. No, no, no.” Buffy turned to the right. “Please don’t be the same.” She took a step.
The darkness lifted, the storm vanished. Even the breeze stopped, and everything was still. Absolutely still. Buffy didn’t move. “H-hello?” Ahead of her, the end of the pathway vanished into a heavy mist. Shapes started to form. Women.
“Slayers,” she breathed. Then it hit her. “The ones I could never…the ones only Faith could see.” Her eyes welled up.
The first of the women to take a true form stepped forward and reached out to her.
The slayer-witch smiled and beckoned her closer. Still, Buffy hesitated.
Another woman came out of the mist to stand next to Deanna; she crossed her arms and raised an eyebrow at Buffy. Buffy laughed softly. “Kennedy.” Her heart started to ache with the new connection to all of the slayers of the world…and the loss of the one. “Oh Kennedy, I just can’t do this.”
Kennedy slipped her hands into her pockets and glanced back at the mist; it had started to gather into another form.
Buffy’s heart went to her throat as the familiar dark waves of hair, soft curves, and lean muscle took shape. But her love had her back to her.
“Faith.” Buffy’s tears spilled over. “Faith, please look at me. Please…please forgive me. I love you so much, and I never…”
“Way leads on to way, B.” The dark slayer said as she turned around. “We know that more than anyone, I think.” She held something in her arms that Buffy couldn’t quite make out.
The sun had returned; Buffy felt the warmth on her face. “But if I hadn’t…”
“If you hadn’t, if I hadn’t, if they hadn’t…if we never, if I only…”
“You saved me. Don’t you get that, B?” The vapors in her arms continued to swirl into shape. “I was lost. You gave me my life. And now I get to give you yours.”
Buffy wiped her tears. “You are my life.”
“No, B, just part of it.” Faith knelt on the ground, allowing what she carried in her arms to stand. The little girl blinked up at Buffy; Faith kept a hand on her shoulder.
“Rachel! Faith…what do I even say to her? She’s lost so much already…”
“Tell her the truth; that people leave you when they don’t love you anymore.”
“What?...Faith, that’s not…”
“They want to go, so they leave you all alone…”
“Stop! That’s…you know that’s not true.”
Faith stood up.“You already told Rachel the truth. Tell her again. Tell yourself.”
Buffy closed her eyes. She remembered holding Rachel as she comforted her after a bad dream; she remembered falling asleep with her snuggled close. “Sometimes people have to leave you…even though they don’t want to.” She opened her eyes and gazed at her lover. “It doesn’t mean they don’t love you. And…I promised she’d always be surrounded by people who love her.”
She glanced down at the little slayer. Rachel ran to her and hugged her legs; Buffy put a loving hand on top of her head and looked back at Faith. The dark slayer smiled warmly.
“You can’t stay here, B. You got a promise to keep. It’s time to go.”
Buffy shook her head and wept. “I love you.”
Faith grinned. “Yeah. How’d I get so lucky?”
Buffy gasped and woke up. She heard the beeping of machines, felt the pain in her broken limbs as she tried to sit up.
The slayer’s gaze fell on her best friend. “Oh Willow,” she cried.
Willow was at her side in an instant to hold her tight.