For a moment, the blonde allowed her mind to explore the possibilities: starting a new life in a new city, Dawn enrolling in a normal high school, owning a car, Norman Rockwell Thanksgivings, washing wine and spaghetti sauce out of her shirts instead of blood and dust.
They weren't there yet.
Faith sat on the bus steps, taking a slow drag off her cigarette. Andrew and some of the girls slept around the fire a little ways off. They had all waited until dark to drive the conspicuous school bus full of battle-bloodied people to a larger area, one with a hospital (and a grocery store). Wood and Buffy, along with many of the girls, were going to have to be at the hospital overnight. Willow and Kennedy were to secure a car or van, since they were the least beat-up and had the best driving records. Giles was trying to find a place for all of them to go. And Xander...
Faith ground her cigarette into the dirt with her boot.
An old Jimmy and a Ford 15-passenger van pulled up to camp within seconds of each other. The sound woke Faith, already a light sleeper. Something's wrong.
"Wait," Faith said, "What about Buffy? Robin?"
"We figured it was better to leave them at the hospital while we cleared out back here; it will give them a little more time to rest and get proper treatment."
"We'll get them when we drive back through on our way out," Kennedy added.
"Ok," Faith said. She looked towards their 'camp' and shook her head. "We'd better erase as much of this as we can."
"I'll get everyone moving." Kennedy started toward the sleeping forms.
"We gotta ditch the bus."
Thirty minutes later, Faith slowed the bus to a stop. The road started to buckle just past the headlights, and Faith knew they were there. She hopped out. Willow stepped out of the Jimmy and gave her a grim smile.
"Well…here we are. Again."
"I gotta admit, Willow—I really thought we could stay away longer than half a day."
"That it is." Faith sighed. "You ready?"
Faith got into the driver's side of the Jimmy and watched as Willow lit a path for herself in front of the bus. The hole-formerly-known-as-Sunnydale started less than a hundred feet away, but it would still be quite the challenge for the depleted witch. Willow was up for it, however—the bus started to creep forwards. Faith wrapped her hands around the steering wheel and leaned forward. The lower half of the bus was giving off a soft, golden glow, and there was a faint humming in the air that Faith could even feel on her skin. Willow's hair was gently moving, as if caught in a faint breeze. She made no move to brush it out of her face; she was too focused on the task at hand, her hands raised and steady, her eyes unblinking. It took less than a minute for the bus to disappear over the edge and be swallowed by the abyss.
Faith sat up and shook her head slowly. "Damn."
Willow walked slowly back to the car and slid into the passenger's seat. She closed her eyes.
"Willow, you ok?"
"Yeah, I'm fine." Willow opened her eyes and rolled her head around to look at Faith. She smiled. "Let's get the hell outta here."
When they got back to camp, everyone looked locked and loaded. They had done a good job erasing any signs of the fire.
Faith rolled down the driver's window. "Xander, we good?"
Xander glanced at the van, then jogged over. "Yeah; we're good. We're cramped and worried, but good."
"All right then."
Dawn jumped out of the van and ran to the passenger's side of the Jimmy. She opened the door.
". . .Willow?"
Willow smiled slowly. "Hey, Dawnie. You ok?"
"Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine, I just. . ."
"Hate to interrupt you, Pint-Size, but we really gotta split. Willow's fine."
Dawn glared across the car at Faith. Willow quickly intervened.
"Dawnie, you're going to freak Kennedy out, and then where am I gonna be? Hmmm?"
Faith sighed. "Dawn, ride with us a bit. Hop in the back; let's just get going."
Dawn climbed in while Xander made his way back to the van. After a moment, Kennedy gave a thumbs-up out the window. Faith returned it, and they were off.
Faith hated waiting. She also hated hospitals. She leaned against the steering wheel, silently urging Dawn and Xander to pick up the pace. What was the holdup in there?
"They'll be here soon."
"Well, yes, but. . ." Willow gave Faith a look. "Robin doesn't quite have that, remember."
Faith got quiet. "No. Right. Of course not."
"He's ok though. I mean, he lost a lot of blood, and his recovery will take a little longer, but he will recover."
"Right." Faith cleared her throat. "Here they are."
Willow watched as Faith jumped out of the car. She turned her eyes to the group. Most everyone was walking out, except for Robin, who was wheeled out by Xander. Buffy was leaning against Dawn.
Willow started as Kennedy opened her door.
"Sorry," Kennedy said, a look of guilt on her face. "I didn't mean to...I just wanted to see how you were doing."
Willow smiled and took Kennedy's hand. "Don't worry. I'm of the good."
Kennedy nodded and looked away.
Willow's brow furrowed. She squeezed Kennedy's hand. "Hey."
"Sorry, I just. . ." She laughed nervously. "I just thought this was done. You know? I thought I'd just be holding you tonight. Safe."
"I know." Willow wrapped her arms around Kennedy's waist. "You know. . .I still shouldn't drive. You need someone shotgun?"
Kennedy smiled and brushed Willow's hair behind her ear. "Totally."
"What do you mean, we don't know where he is?"
"I don't know, Buff, but you know Giles, he—"
"Do I?" Buffy said angrily, taking her arm from around Dawn and straightening up. "Xander, he—"
"—fought at your side yesterday, just like the rest of us," Xander finished. "Buffy, I'm sorry, but we just don't have time to get into this again. We have to—"
"—drive two days into nowhere. With injured people. And then wait for his call? I'm sorry, but—"
"What, it's too weird? Really Buffy, for us this sounds pretty mundane."
"Xander, I just don't see how. . ." Buffy grew quiet as her hand traveled up to hold her stomach. She closed her eyes and reached out for the stability of the car.
Buffy grimaced. "I'm ok, Dawn." She sighed and looked up at Xander. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry; you're right. Let's just get out of here before people start asking questions."
"All right. Here," Xander held open the passenger door of the Jimmy for her. Willow had already resettled in the van. Buffy eased herself in.
Xander clapped a hand on Dawn's shoulder. "All right, Dawnie; you're in the van with the rest of us. There won't be any more room once we load Robin in the back here; he's got to lie down."
Buffy closed her eyes as Faith and Xander slowly worked Robin into the backseat. At first he'd seemed coherent; but anyone who got close enough to hear him could tell it was nonsense words coming out of his mouth. Drugs were wonderful things. When he was secure, Faith came back around to the driver's side and got in. She glanced at Buffy. "B? You good?"
Buffy didn't open her eyes. "I'm fine. Let's go."
Faith shook her head and started the car.
"Where are we?"
Faith gripped the steering wheel and looked at the passenger seat. Buffy was awake. She'd slept the rest of the night through, not even waking up when Dawn kept calling to check in.
"Uh, Arizona. Somewhere."
Buffy slowly sat up straighter, grimacing as she did so. "What time is it?"
Buffy raised an eyebrow. "Hey, Speed Racer."
"What? B, we had to get out of that place! And anyway, we're not that far in."
"Fine. Where are the others?"
"About 2 hours behind us."
"Why? What happened?"
"Geez, Buffy—nothing happened! They just have about 12 more bathroom and food breaks to worry about than we do. Everything's ok." Faith grabbed her cigarettes off the dash. Empty. Damn.
Buffy leaned back. "Sorry."
They heard movement in the backseat. Faith glanced in the rearview mirror. "Robin?"
He murmured something before dropping off again. Faith's focus turned back to the road. Buffy was watching her.
"He's going to be ok, you know. The doctors said we wouldn't have to worry."
"Yeah. That's good."
Buffy's brow furrowed, but she said nothing. It grew quiet again. Buffy stared out the window. As the dry terrain whipped past them, Buffy was reminded of her last wheeled escape from Sunnydale. So much time had passed since then; so much had happened. And of course, the first one had come with knights on horseback. Hmmm. Wait. She glanced over her shoulder. Ok. No horses. We're good.
"I said you should probably get the phone; I'm sure it's Dawn again. She's been worried about you."
Buffy glanced to the phone Faith was holding out. She hadn't even heard it ringing.
While Buffy talked to her sister, Faith fidgeted in the driver's seat. She needed a break. Badly. Unlike the other car, Faith hadn't stopped for anything. Driving away from Sunnydale had felt so natural, so good. Driving east, she'd met the sunrise of a new day head-on. She felt like she was truly beginning a whole new life, that she was in control of what happened next.
But now Buffy was awake. Faith was frustrated with herself, that her sense of peace and control were never where they should be when Buffy was around. There was always anxiety just below the surface. Now that the spell was broken, Faith realized how hungry she was, how much she had to pee, and how much the car needed gas. She turned off at the next exit.
Chapter Two: Alone
When Buffy woke up, it was dark. As she slowly became more aware of her surroundings, she realized the car wasn't moving.
She sat up straight and looked in the back of the car. Empty. All their stuff was gone too. No. Am I dreaming? I'm dreaming. I must be. Come on, Buffy. Calm down.
Her heart was racing. They're all gone. She stepped out of the car; her shoes sank into the sand. She whipped around. Where was the road…?
Buffy ran around to the other side of the car. Hers were the only footprints. A chill ran through her. How long have I been here…?
Buffy took a deep breath and put her hands over her eyes. Think. Breathe. Think. She was still for a full minute before taking one last breath; she looked at the car again. No broken glass, no dents…no scratches…no keys. No signs of trouble. No signs of anything. What if—
But what if she had?
She didn't. She wouldn't. Not anymore.
Wouldn't she? What if—
Buffy's voice reverberated in the darkness. She'd crossed her arms and started walking. No…no…no. But the doubt remained, growing into fear. What if Faith had just been waiting for opportunity? What if she'd been biding her time until she was able to…to…
"To what?" Buffy cried, throwing up her arms. She clamped her hands over her ears and dropped to her knees. "She's not like that. She wouldn't just leave me here!"
Sharp pain in her abdomen. She'd reopened her wound. Her shirt was sticky, tacky. Shit. She pulled away the material, feeling the warmth of the blood spilling out. Then her hands felt something new.
No no no
She wouldn't leave me to die!
Buffy looked down as her hands grasped at her wound.
And pulled out the knife.
Chapter Three: Dreams
Faith had her pinned against the side of the car, one arm thrown up against her chest, the other at her throat. Her legs were locked.
Buffy reached up to grab Faith's arms, but Faith quickly dropped her hands down to Buffy's wrists and slammed her up against the car again. Buffy brought her head forward, but Faith was expecting that and ducked to the side, taking Buffy with her. Buffy fell down onto the pavement, and Faith was on her in an instant.
The wind was completely knocked out of her by the fall. She kept trying to resist, but her efforts were getting more and more desperate. She was covered with sweat.
Buffy let herself lie still; she finally focused on Faith as reality started to creep back in. Faith's weight on her pelvis, her shoulders. She felt the hard ground against her back—the sand wasn't there. She slowly turned her head to look at the car and saw the trunk popped, with a cooler and blankets stacked on the ground next to it. There were other cars too, parked alongside the Jimmy, and a couple of dim streetlights. Buffy turned and brought her gaze back to Faith. She looks terrified. And…sad?
"Faith…" Whoa. Don't talk. Ow.
"Hey, B. Take it easy." Her voice was shaky. They were quiet for a moment; Buffy slowly getting her breath back and waiting for her head to stop throbbing, Faith slowly easing up on her shoulders as she sat back. She didn't get up.
"You…you were having a dream." Oh. "We're at the motel. Giles got us rooms and…well, we're here first..." You drive fast. "You were both asleep, so I started unloading. Robin woke up. It took me awhile to get him…situated…I'm sorry. Didn't mean to scare you."
Uuugggghhh. Buffy tried to push through the rest of the cloud. You had me up against the truck…
Faith exhaled and ran a hand over her face. She sat back on her heels. "C'mon, B. Let's get you inside. You need…you should rest."
Faith stopped and looked at her. The fear and sadness flashed across her face again.
"Faith. What happened?"
"You had a dream, B. It just got a little…active."
"You had your hand around my throat."
"Ok. It got a lot active."
"Fine." Faith sighed. "I was helping Robin, and I suddenly felt…I don't know…afraid? Anxious?" She shook her head. "I just had the urge to come back out here. You'd fallen next to the truck. I don't know where you thought you were going, because you were asleep. But…" She stopped. Buffy waited. Faith's brow furrowed as she took a deep breath.
"Anyway. When I got to you, you just…well…" She laughed softly. "You got a lot of power, B. Even when you're unconscious."
"I attacked you."
"Well, yeah. Popped up like you'd been waiting for me. Kinda went at me full force, you know?"
Buffy looked at her. Faith's hands were clenching and unclenching. When she saw Buffy noticing, she stopped.
"You don't remember your dream, B?"
Buffy blinked. Sand. Darkness. Alone. "No."
Faith raised an eyebrow.
Buffy set her jaw. "No, I'm sorry. I don't. Really, I don't know what would have made me just…go at you like that." Blood. Betrayal.
"Listen. You really should get inside. I think we've drawn enough attention to ourselves. We're supposed to be laying low, remember?"
Buffy closed her eyes. "Yeah. Have we ever done that well?" The knife.
Faith helped her up. She swung one of Buffy's arms around her neck and held it, while her other hand came around to support her waist. Her fingertips grazed the edge of Buffy's abdomen as they found their place. The knife.
Faith got Buffy set up in the room next to hers and Robin's. She left the door open as she ran back out to the truck to bring in the rest of the stuff and lock it up. She stopped back by Buffy's room on her way to bed. Buffy was lying down, her hand on her stomach. She pulled it away when she saw Faith in the doorway.
Faith hesitated. She cracked her knuckles, shifted her weight. Buffy waited. Finally Faith slid her hands into her pockets and said, "Buffy, I'd never just leave you."
Faith reached for the doorknob and pulled it shut, leaving Buffy speechless.
Chapter Four: Getting Out
This is hell…
Faith couldn't block out the light piercing her eyes. Doing so would mean taking her hands from her ears, which were shielding her from the voices.
Oh god, the voices…
She couldn't understand the language they were speaking. It made no sense, and it was showing no signs of stopping. And now that creeping, invasive sensation had returned. Something small. Crawling up her arms…her shoulder…her neck…it was in her hair.
And the light…
This is hell. This is hell. This is hell.
"I'm going on patrol," Faith announced.
Robin removed his hand from her hair. "What?"
"Yeah. I gotta go." Faith stood up and went to find her boots, cutting off the overhead light. On the other bed, Xander and Andrew continued their discussion.
"Inertial dampeners will never be a reality. They're a plot convenience."
"No they're not, Xander! Automatic doors used to be looked at as a ‘plot convenience,' and now they're in every supermarket!"
She found her boots and started to pull them on.
"Fine. But inertial dampeners? Dampening inertia? It's a law of physics. Not everything in high school escaped me, you know."
"We're talking about hundreds of years in the future, not tomorrow."
She stopped, clearing her throat. She turned back to face him. "Yeah. What's up?"
Robin looked at her incredulously. "What's…up…?" He frowned. "You know what? Nothing. Never mind. Could you just pass me my medicine?"
Faith bristled, but tried to hide it. "Sure." The bottle was on the table by the door. She grabbed it.
"That gets back to my first point about time travel: going back in time and accidentally killing someone in your family creates the same paradox as if something in your time suddenly never existed at all."
"No, no, no, no—a grandfather paradox is not the same as a causality paradox!"
"Ok, Andrew, now you're just being a geek."
Faith tossed the bottle to Robin. "Anything else?"
He kept looking at her. "No."
"All right, then." She left.
As soon as she pulled the door shut, Faith breathed a sigh of relief. The night air was cool and fresh, not stuffy like the crowded motel room. The air conditioner had just made it worse; she didn't think it had been cleaned in…well…she didn't want to think about it. She took another breath to calm her nerves, then started walking. She didn't really know where, just away. She'd noticed a few places on the drive in that might have some night-life potential—maybe she'd head that way.
Whatever. The rest of the gang had shown up about an hour ago. They were split between the four rooms; how she ended up with all the guys, she just didn't know.
Though now, she thought she might put up with the Dueling Dweebs better than playing nursemaid to Robin. How did I get into this? Is he willfully blind? Do I look like the caregiving type? She lit up a cigarette as she walked. The whole situation with Robin was not ok. Now that he was truly awake, she couldn't just ignore him any longer. And he didn't seem to be accepting that a roll in the sack before an apocalypse didn't mean lifelong commitment. Hell, it didn't mean next morning commitment. He was making her feel bad for being herself. I've had enough of that, thank you.
Faith walked faster. At least the mess with Robin had one thing going for it—it had kept her mind off of what had happened earlier that evening with Buffy. But now it was back.
Faith had just gotten Robin settled when she'd suddenly felt disoriented. She couldn't remember if she'd emptied the car or not. She'd felt afraid; afraid that something had happened to the car, that someone had stolen everything. But that was ridiculous—there was nothing to this town, no threats, no bad vibes. Nothing. But then a feeling washed over her that she'd abandoned Buffy—that she'd left Buffy to die. She'd felt sick to her stomach. When she closed her eyes against the nausea, she'd seen Buffy kneeling at her feet, the car at some distance in the sand. Buffy's shirt was soaked with blood, which made Faith push back the nausea, open her eyes and run outside, where she'd seen Buffy lying next to the car. Even though she was clearly unconscious, Faith had heard Buffy's spoken fear as plain as day: "She's not like that. She wouldn't just leave me here!" It had hurt. Faith had shrugged it off as she reached under Buffy to pull her up. As she sat her up, something caught her eye—the knife handle sticking out of Buffy's stomach. Faith's jaw dropped, but it had disappeared. When she looked back up at Buffy, she did it just in time to catch a right hook with her face.
Faith shook her head, trying to bring herself back to the present. It had been a Slayer dream; she had shared enough with Buffy to know them by now. But she'd never been awake before. What's going on…?
No matter. Her wanderings had brought her to some dive called Off the Wagon. Soon Buffy, Slayer dreams, Robin, and the jabbering geeks would be nothing but a lonely echo, at least for a little while. Good enough. She threw down her cigarette, ground it out with her heel, and sauntered in.
Buffy rolled over, grabbed the remote, and turned up the TV. Dawn looked at her and raised her eyebrows.
"Louder? Really? You've turned it up three times. Don't you have super-hearing or something?"
"Then why…" Dawn's gaze drifted to the bathroom past the two double beds. "Oh. Ew. Do what you need to."
"Thank you." Buffy leaned back in the bed she was sharing with her sister. To be fair, Willow and Kennedy were trying to be quiet. But then both Dawn and Buffy heard…something…bump up hard against the wall. Buffy sighed while Dawn tried to stifle a laugh. "How long are we living like this?"
Dawn smiled. "Giles said just until we know the next city we're driving to. We can leave when we want, as long as we're still safe here. Of course," her brow furrowed, "We probably shouldn't stay too too long. That never works out well in the movies."
"No, it doesn't." Buffy paused. "Where is Giles, anyway? I thought he'd be meeting us here. Or something. I have to ask him about—" The knife. "—Slayer stuff."
Dawn shifted uncomfortably. "Oh…well…no, he's…I don't think he is."
Buffy looked at her. "Wow. Really? That's the best you can do?"
Dawn blinked. "What?"
"You SO just failed Keeping Secrets 101."
"I did not! It's just…"
"Dawn. Where is Giles?"
She slumped. "Honestly, I don't know. I just know he can take care of us, and that he won't be here for a long time."
Buffy stared. "Wait. When did this happen? Why not? Where is he?"
"Buffy, I swear I don't know."
Buffy stood up. "Why don't I know? Who does know?"
Willow and Kennedy came out of the bathroom followed by plumes of steam. Buffy hadn't even heard the water cut off. They froze when they saw her stance.
"Will…did you know about Giles?"
Willow looked to Dawn, who was hanging her head, and then to Buffy. "Yes."
Buffy just stood there, feeling a flush of embarrassment creeping up her neck. Suddenly she felt as small as she did just a few days ago, standing on the porch of her own home after everyone that mattered to her had just told her to leave.
She set her jaw to force back the feelings. "Right, then." She grabbed her shoes and walked out the door.
Normally Buffy made it a point not to frequent bars with giant wagon wheels leaning against them, but since those were the only kind in town, well…sometimes exceptions have to be made. See? I'm flexible. Flexible me.
She pushed her way through the crowd to the bar. The perky bartender who was MAYBE twenty-two set Buffy up with a vodka tonic. Some of her perk left when Buffy asked her for a second before even starting on the first.
Buffy sighed and leaned back against the bar. She stared out over the dance floor, over the heads of scores of people smiling. Flirting. Dancing. Not caring.
A whole hellmouth less than a thousand miles away from these people and they'd never know it. They'd drink, dance, get hungover, go to work, collect their paychecks, buy cars, take their kids to school, shop for groceries…and they'd never know it. Buffy hung her head. Sunnydale, the hellmouth, her calling…that's all she'd known for years. All she'd ever see for a long time to come. Her eyes watered. Her glasses were empty. She got two more, plus a stare from the perky one. I used to be perky. I used to be like these people. I used to be free.
Buffy had thought that calling a whole generation of potential Slayers to action would…well, honestly, first and foremost close the hellmouth. But she also thought she'd be less alone. Less lonely. Suddenly her eyes widened as her mind started racing. What if some didn't want to be called? What if they shouldn't be? What if they didn't want this? What if…oh god, what if I've made a horrible mistake? She closed her eyes and exhaled slowly, trying to keep a grip on herself. Too much. I'm thinking too much. About too many things.
And trying too hard not to think about others. Like her dream earlier.
Buffy was truly disturbed by what had happened when they'd first gotten to the motel. She'd shared dreams with Faith before, but never when one of them was awake. What did it mean? What the hell was going on? She was angry with herself for wanting to ask Giles—hadn't he betrayed her twice now? In what, a month? But the truth was, he could help her. He could help her understand. She counted on him to always be there, somehow. And now no one will tell me where he is.
She didn't know how many she'd had—Perky kept clearing them away. Smart. As she nursed the latest, Buffy looked longingly at the dance floor. Oh, to be a girl again. To not have the weight of the world on your shoulders. Her eyes fell on a beautiful girl dancing like there was no tomorrow. Buffy gave a half-smile as she sipped her drink. The girl was moving, moving, moving, never letting a single guy keep her in one place for long. They didn't seem to mind, though. There, Buffy thought. Why can't I be like that? Why do I have to have all of this…responsibility? She doesn't. Look how much fun she's having.
The girl spun around, flipping her hair out of her face and grinning at the crowd around her like she knew she'd won.
Buffy spilled her drink on the bar as recognition hit her. Faith. FAITH! Suddenly, for reasons she just couldn't explain, Buffy was enraged. Everything she was feeling—the hurt, the loneliness, the betrayal, the frustration, the anger, the fear—had just found a target, and that target was dancing, oblivious to the danger brewing at the bar.
"Miss?" Perky was trying to get her attention as she cleaned up her drink. "Miss, we got this, if you could just move your arm, there…" She went to gently touch Buffy's elbow, but Buffy had already spun around to catch her wrist. Unfortunately, the room kept spinning. Buffy faltered, and three guys jumped up to support her. Other people started to turn and look. No. No, no no! Please just leave me alone…
At the other end of the bar, a patron noticed the pretty blonde girl faltering and causing a mild scene. First of the night. Not bad.
But then he looked again, and a smile crept up on his face…
He tugged on the brim of his hat and took another drink. He liked places like this. The dim lighting hid the green tint of his skin, and tall hats were allowed which meant he could conceal the two short pairs of horns on this head. That, and you got a great treat every now and then. Like the chance to get back at a girl without even getting your claws dirty.
Even though he hadn't lived there in a long time, he knew what had happened in Sunnydale. The whole demon underground knew a hellmouth was closed. While the humans were searching for a terrorist, the creatures with brains knew it was the Slayer. The Slayer at the end of the bar.
He smiled again, and put on his red coat. He was going to call the police and let her own world deal with her; she'd beaten his enough. It was so easy he almost felt guilty. Almost. But then, she had interrupted a card game and cost him a lot of kittens…once upon a time.
Chapter 5: Sleep it Off
In the middle of the dance floor, Faith noticed her partners losing interest. She raised an eyebrow and followed their stares to the bar, where she saw a certain blonde struggling with a couple of pretty large guys.
"Buffy!" Faith shoved her way through to the bar, grabbing the first goon and pulling him off. But then she saw that the guys weren't threatening Buffy; they were restraining her. The girl behind the bar looked terrified. Faith signaled the other guys to back off.
"No way, lady. We gotta get her outta here."
"It's alright, guys—she's a friend of mine. I'll take care of it."
The guys looked at the slim figure before them with doubt. Faith just crossed her arms and waited. Buffy had stopped struggling and was trying to stand up straight. She wouldn't look at Faith.
Finally the men shrugged and let Buffy go. Buffy let Faith lead her quietly out to the parking lot before she pulled away and glared. "I can take care of myself."
"I can see that. Doing a hell of a job. Come on."
"No. I can't. I can't go back there." Buffy stopped walking and slowly started lowering herself to the ground.
"Hey, B—no, no, no!" Faith grabbed her and got her to move over to the side of the building, where it was dark. She let Buffy sit there, and squatted in front of her. "Buffy, we have to go back to the motel. Does anyone know you're here?"
Buffy didn't say anything; she just closed her eyes. Faith looked at her with concern.
"Hey." God, I suck at this. "Buffy, did something happen? Are…are you ok?"
Buffy smiled and laughed softly. "I'm fine. Really. Dawn and Willow have been keeping stuff from me. Giles isn't coming back."
Faith frowned. "What are you talking about?"
Buffy grinned sadly. "They knew. I can't go back there; it's not safe. Spike was safe. He's…he's gone, though."
"I talked to him. I could talk to him about this. All of this. But now…now there's no one. There's no one for me to talk to. No one to trust."
Thanks. "But B…"
"And you," Buffy said, looking Faith in the eye. "You were in my head. What are you doing? To me? What do you want?"
Faith looked surprised. "I'm not doing anything. I'm just as confused as you are."
"You said you wouldn't leave me. Why did you say that?"
Faith stared. "Because I won't. Because that's what you were afraid of, and I'm telling you—I won't."
Buffy flushed, though from anger or embarrassment Faith couldn't tell. They were quiet for a moment. A couple of people came out of the bar, smiling and swaying. The guys clapped each other on the back, talking about some joke that had started inside and three beers back. The girls were laughing and ran ahead to the pickup truck. An argument over who was driving, then they all took off into the night.
"What do you want to do?"
Buffy blinked. "What?"
"You heard me. It's getting late. You're not at your best. You don't want to go back—fine. But you gotta tell me what you want to do."
Buffy studied her. Faith was sitting in front of her, looking at her intently. Buffy felt a wash of anxiety go through her. She's stronger than me. Right now, in this instant…Faith is stronger than me. Faith was looking at her with such strength and…concern?…that Buffy just couldn't take it. She felt her eyes start to well up.
"Please…please just get me out of here. I'll go back but…not now. In the morning."
Faith cracked her knuckles and stood up. "Ok. Wait here."
Five minutes later, Faith came out of the bar with directions scrawled on a cocktail napkin.
"That's all you've got here?"
"That's it. I wouldn't be too picky if I was you; you know what time it is?"
Faith sighed. "Yeah, yeah. I'm sorry. Thanks for the discount." She's gonna flip out.
Faith walked back over to Buffy, shrugging her shoulders. "Here's the deal, B. All they have here is rooms with a single bed. But if we just use one room, and we're out real early, then we can have it for…well, for what I've got in my pocket, really. Which ain't a lot."
Buffy closed her eyes and shook her head. "Great."
Faith crossed her arms and looked away, shifting her weight. "If you want…I mean, I'll get you set up and walk back. It's not that far. Someone could pick you up in the morning."
"Don't be ridiculous. It's too far."
"Nah, it's only like, five or six—"
"We'll take it." Buffy stood up and spoke louder to the man behind the desk. "We'll take it; thank you." She pushed open the door and walked outside.
Faith exhaled slowly and went back over to the desk. She handed the man cash; he gave her the key.
"Number seven, right along the side there."
The man raised an eyebrow. "Hey, uh…good luck with that one. Seems like you got yourself a handful."
Faith sighed. "You have no idea."
She found Buffy outside leaning against the wall. They made their way to the faded blue door marked with a shiny brass "7." Ooh. Recently renovated. Faith unlocked the door and pushed it wide.
The room was cozy at best. Dresser, TV, nightstand, lamp, bed. A small door to their right indicated the presence of a bathroom. Faith's skin started to crawl as she thought back to the room she had once called home. This was about half the size, but still…the memories kept trying to come back. Faith shook them off.
Faith went over to the TV and cut it on. No remote. Swell. She messed with it until she found a station that was less grainy and called it success. She laid back on the bed with one arm tucked behind her head. She was making every effort to relax, but was failing miserably; all she could think about was whether or not Buffy was ok. It bothered her that she cared. Buffy gave her no reasons to care, just reasons to feel inadequate. Healthy. But she couldn't help feeling protective of Buffy, and she didn't know why. She laughed softly to herself; all she'd wanted was to blow off some steam and not deal with anything tonight. Next time I'll just play nursemaid.
Buffy came out of the bathroom and pulled off her shoes. Faith tried to be engrossed in her film…TV show…whatever it was. It didn't work. "You ok?"
Buffy pulled back the covers on her side and slid under, turning so her back was to Faith. "I'm fine. Goodnight."
You're welcome. Geez. "Nite."
Twenty minutes later, Faith still hadn't figured out what she was watching. I quit. She glanced to the sleeping form next to her. Buffy's breathing was slow and regular; she was totally out. Faith got up carefully to cut off the TV, then crawled back onto the bed.
Buffy was still kneeling in the sand; the knife was a few feet in front of her. She had stopped bleeding, but had not found the strength to get up yet.
Faith was standing over her shoulder, arms crossed. She walked around Buffy until she was right next to the knife. She stared at it awhile, then leaned over to pick it up. The blood was still fresh on the blade. She turned her head to Buffy.
Buffy slowly looked up, completely at a loss. Faith kept her eyes locked on Buffy's as she wiped the knife clean on her pant leg. She gazed at it for a moment, felt its weight. Then she turned and hurled the weapon into the night.
Buffy blinked as Faith turned back to her and held out a hand. She took it. As she stood up, lighting cracked above them. The wind picked up, and they had to shield their faces from the sand. It was getting stronger, but then Buffy remembered—the car. They'd be safe if they got back to the car. She turned back.
But the car was gone. There was no trace of it. Buffy started to panic. She called out to Faith; she could barely see past the swirling sands. She heard Faith's answering cry, and felt a strong hand grab her arm. Buffy grabbed back.
Faith saw it—with a burst of energy they made it there in a few minutes. The small shack was barely standing, and if the wind didn't stop soon it would collapse entirely. But the temporary shelter from the hail was welcomed. Buffy looked at Faith. "You ok?"
Faith was breathing heavily. She gave a half-grin. "Five by five."
"Can't you dream about, I don't know…school? Guys? Something boring?"
Hail smashed through the roof of the shack, catching Buffy's shoulder. She cried out and fell to one knee. Faith dropped down and gripped her shoulder. Another chunk crashed through, hitting Faith in the back. She fell forward onto Buffy and they both ended up on the floor. Buffy wrapped her arms around Faith, trying to shield her. "Faith!"
Faith gritted her teeth. "I'm ok."
Buffy glanced up, watching as another section of the roof was torn apart. "We have to get out of here."
"What? And go into that? Are you nuts?"
"We don't have a choice!"
Faith really couldn't argue. They helped each other up and looked towards the door, listening to the wind howl against it.
"On three," Buffy instructed. "One…two…three!" They charged through the door—
But Buffy suddenly felt nervous. She turned slowly, her eyes darting around the terrain, searching for signs of…anything. To her left, she noticed a subtle change in the brush pattern; some of it started to bend in a different direction. She squinted. "It's a path."
Faith followed Buffy's gaze and nodded. "Let's go, then."
As they walked, Buffy became more and more apprehensive. Faith didn't comment; she just kept pushing forward. Buffy started to sweat. "There's something up ahead."
Faith's brow furrowed; she glanced at Buffy, then back at the path. "Feels ok to me, B."
"No." Buffy started trembling. She hesitated, then slipped her hand into Faith's for comfort. "I want to wait here."
Faith swallowed and held Buffy's hand. They stopped walking and faced each other.
Buffy's eyes were pleading with her, begging her to not go forward. Faith looked at her with worry, but then something over Buffy's shoulder made her eyes go wide. "Uh…B…I gotta be honest; I think we should keep going."
Buffy looked at her with confusion, then turned around to see what Faith was looking at.
Behind them, the plain was slowly being devoured by a swirling vortex of wind, hail, and darkness. The world was vanishing. The ground was starting to quake beneath them as it was torn up and pulled into the storm.
Faith squeezed Buffy's hand and firmly pulled her onward. When she looked to her companion, Faith saw that tears were running freely down Buffy's cheeks as she was forced to keep going. But there was nothing Faith could do—they couldn't go back.