Her feet relentlessly traipsed the carpet of Angel's office as Buffy paced anxiously in front of the window, her worried mind oblivious to the city view.
She'd called the Wolfram & Hart office the second she'd woken, continuing her conversation with an increasingly concerned Angel even as she had hastily dressed and rushed to jump into the nearest cab. Angel had, not unexpectedly, been surprised by Buffy's demeanour- after all she was no stranger to the odd happenings of a Slayer dream. Of course, when she had explained to him that it was far less the dream than the feeling that was lingering with her, he had hardly been comforted, rather his surprised had turned to outright unease.
"Ok" Cordelia sighed, and Buffy took a moment to appreciate the fact that she had dragged herself from her 'beauty sleep' to help, a fact of which she'd been certain to remind those present...several times. "So you were both there?"
Buffy heaved an exasperated sigh. "Yes, God, we were both there until Faith disappeared, and that's when I ended up in the Dollhouse."
"And Faith was Faith, not...whoever?"
"She was herself." She paused, mind rolling back to the hollow eyes and sadistic smile that had faced her before she woke. "But at the end, it was...she looked so..." she broke off, not finding the words to describe what had been in Faith's gaze.
Angel's hand came to rest on her shoulder, and she turned to his worried gaze, allowing herself to be wrapped in strong arms, her head resting against his chest.
"I don't know what to do, Angel," she muttered, allowing herself -just for a moment- to be something less than in control, the leader.
"We'll figure it out."
Once upon a time, he would have been all she needed to comfort her, to make her feel like all would be well with the world again.
But that was then.
Now however, the strong embrace did little to calm her racing heart or the torrent of emotions flooding her mind as the sun rose over LA behind them. She couldn't remember the last time she had felt so entirely powerless.
Pulling back, she looked the vampire in the eye.
"I have to go back in."
"Angel don't, please," her gaze fell to the ground and her throat constricted as her mind ran over the possibilities. "She's not safe there."
"If anyone wants my opinion," Cordelia interjected, walking over to join them by the window and turning to face Buffy. "You're insane."
The brunette held up a hand, silencing the Slayer, who continued to frown irritably at the other girl. "You're insane, but I think you're right."
Buffy's mouth closed, her vehement rebuttal silenced.
"But you can't walk in blindly, look at what happened last time."
The Slayer conceded with a small nod, although crossing her arms in defense of her previous failed infiltration.
"So, firstly, did anything else happen in the dream? Anything important? Anything meaningful..?"
"Anything PG?" Cordelia smirked.
Buffy blushed furiously, glaring at Cordelia as best she could while Angel cleared his throat loudly beside her.
"I'm pretty sure I told you everything. Stop with the grin."
Still smirking, Cordelia dropped into the desk chair, pulling a file from the drawer beside her.
"Well, we managed to pull up a rough schematic of the building," she explained, pushing the file across the desktop to the waiting Slayer. "There's really no guarantee that everything's still the same, the whole organization does everything through back channels, but it wouldn't be unfair to say that it's tough to hide things from us."
Buffy nodded, her brow furrowed slightly as she analysed the blueprint, memorizing every line and detail.
The shrill ring of the phone on the desk cut across Cordelia's voice.
"Wolfram and Hart, Cordelia Chase speaking."
The Slayer watched as the brunettes expression went from mildly irritated, to puzzled and finally settled on a worried frown, eyes darting up to meet Buffy's across the desk.
"Well do you- Yes, she's right here, do you want to- No, ok, I'll tell her."
She replaced the receiver, eyes lingering on the desktop for a moment before rising slowly to meet those of the vampire and Slayer gazing expectantly at her from across the room.
"That was Adelle DeWitt. Something's happened."
Adelle DeWitt held her arms folded across her chest as the elevator descended from her office, slowing to a halt at the end of the long balcony. She continued along to Topher's 'office', finding him lounged on the sofa, the half-eaten remains of dinner on the plate beside him.
A quite snore answered her.
The technician jumped, sitting bolt upright and looking around frantically.
"I uh...late night," he ventured with a small laugh.
"Indeed. I need you to prepare Echo, she has an engagement early today."
Topher blinked a few times, glancing around the room as if looking for something, before bouncing to his feet and rushing to his computer.
"I..I don't think Echo's fit to be out on active duty today."
"Her readings from last night...they were all over the place."
The woman gave a frown of concern, surveying the screen at which Topher pointed.
"Bring her up, give her a full scan and see how things stand now."
Topher nodded, reaching over to his phone and pressing one of the buttons.
"Can someone bring Echo to the imprint room?"
Moments later Boyd appeared in the doorway, an innocently blank Faith by his side.
"Echo," the prim woman smiled, "would you like a treatment?"
Adelle gestured towards the chair in the centre of the room, watching as the girl obediently sat, leaning back. It was hard, even for her, to believe that this girl was the same person as the headstrong, attitude-laden girl she had spoken to the previous day.
Faith's face twisted a little as the chair began its usual illumination around her head, Topher typing a series of commands into the computer, eyes scanning the screen.
"All clear," he announced finally.
"Very well, go ahead with the imprint."
Adelle looked on as Topher recommenced his work, retrieving the imprint and inserting it into the large chair in which Faith still reclined, her face the picture of serenity and innocence as she waited, smiling briefly at Boyd who stood in vigil beside her.
Once again, the smile faded as the chair hummed mechanically beneath her, blue lights around her head and for a moment the room's other three occupants looked on, entirely different expressions worn by each of them until, when the buzz didn't cease, the lights didn't fade, their faces took on a similar expression of confusion and Faith's eyes drifted shut.
"Uhmm..." Topher mused, spinning back to the computer and hurriedly typing. "I...I can't...it's not stopping..."
"What?" Adelle hurried over, peering over his shoulder and scanning the screen.
"It...something's hijacked the system, the chair's feeding directly into the computer, it's downloading everything from her file. Possibly more."
"Topher," Adelle demanded, "you assured us after Alpha that you had-"
"Stop arguing and do something, for God sake," Boyd insisted from behind them.
They turned to him, and each mirrored his concern, his alarm, as they watched Faith convulse violently in the seat.
"Can you cut the power?"
"I could but...there's no telling what the damage would be."
"I see no other option, do you? I will not have my security staff eliminate another one of our actives."
The technician nodded, hammering in a few commands before reaching behind the large set-up beside him and yanking on a thick cable.
He and Adelle turned simultaneously to the chair expectantly, seeing no change for a moment, before the lights around the brunette's head dimmed, the buzz of machinery quietening.
The three onlookers each relaxed visibly, breathing small sighs of relief.
Without warning, red light burst to life around Faith's head, a demonic halo of illumination as her eyes flew open, staring blankly ahead as the noise of the chair rose to a deafening hum.
The lights above them began to flicker as the process, whatever it was, continued.
"It's draining power from the building!"
"How?" both Adelle and Boyd demanded.
"The whole things hard-wired into the mainframe of the building, there's literally nothing I can do."
"Good God," the Brit breathed, gaze fixed on Faith's form.
The room fell silent, save the incessant drone of the machine,and as suddenly as it had began, the activity ceased, and Faith's body stilled, her eyes drifting shut again.
Topher moved to step forward, impeded by the arm Adelle flung out in front of him.
"Echo?" she ventured, receiving silence in reply. She paused, eye narrowing suspiciously. "Faith?"
At that, the brunette's eyes were once again flung open, and fixed themselves on Adelle as she slowly sat up.
Silently, the Slayer came to stand before the small group, and each flinched slightly at what they felt radiating from her as she took a single step towards them.
She surveyed the three for a moment before, in one swift, flawless movement, she turned and raced from the room, vaulting over the railing of the balcony.
Boyd rushed out in pursuit, leaning over the rail to watch Faith's form retreating through a doorway.
"I'll call for the security to lockdown the building."
He turned back to Adelle with a puzzled expression, waiting nevertheless.
"Our security staff are entirely unequipped to deal with this...problem. Locking down the building will most likely escalate the situation."
"I suggest you get Buffy Summers on the phone."
At breakneck speed Cordelia swerved into the underground parking lot, bringing the Mercedes to a screeching halt outside the doors of the elevator.
"Hey, you, me, and the very expensive car, are all in one piece. Now got out, hurry up."
Throwing open the door, Buffy hurried out of the car, leaning back briefly.
"Any time. Get in there, and let us know what you need us to do."
The Slayer nodded, swinging the door to a close and turning to the people standing behind her.
"Boyd," she greeted, reaching to shake his out-stretched hand, not at all comforted by his expression.
"Buffy, please. Good to see you."
"Buffy," he nodded, with a smile that she noted didn't reach his eyes, "great to see you as well. I just wish it were under more pleasant circumstances."
"And what are the circumstances? Aparently DeWitt wasn't very forthcoming with Cordelia but I'm guessing since you've called me in, its Faith...or some really heavy lifting."
A figure to his left let out a small cough, and Boyd gave them a sidelong glance before turning back to Buffy.
"I'm not authorized to tell you anything, I'm sorry."
Buffy sighed, nodding. "Then lets go and see someone who is."
The man gestured to the elevator door, allowing Buffy to walk in first. They walked the increasingly- familiar hallways for a way, eventually coming out into the main building, and images of her dream flashed before Buffy's eyes as she stopped to look around. It was too much of a coincidence that this was all happening only a day after her dream.
Something was very wrong, she could feel it.
Her attention focused back onto Boyd, who stood at the foot of the stairs, and she gave him a tight smile before following him to Adelle's office, where the woman stood staring out of the wide window, turning to greet the incomers.
"Miss Summers. We appreciate you making yourself available to us."
"What is going on?"
"There's been an 'incident', with Echo. Faith."
Adelle pursed her lips, walking around to the front of her desk and leaning back against it. "During this morning's imprint there was a technical hitch."
Buffy raised an eyebrow expectantly as the woman continued.
"Faith has been subjected to what is known as a composite event."
"Meaning that she has accessed multiple imprints at once."
"How? And what does it actually mean? You're really not giving me much here."
Adelle conceded with a nod, continuing her explanation.
"The exact details of how the event occurred remain somewhat of a mystery, although we have our best minds working just now in an attempt to discover the source. As for the consequences, I'm afraid they're rather dire, and rather beyond the control of this agency given the...unique situation."
"Because she's a Slayer?"
"Precisely. When an individual composites-"
"This has happened before?"
"And you didn't think to make damn sure it wouldn't happen again?" the Slayer demanded, taking a step towards Adelle who remained unflinching.
"I assure you, this incident was entirely unforeseeable."
Buffy balled her fists involuntarily in frustration, taking a deep breath and addressing what was, to her at least, the most important matter at hand.
"Where is she? I want to see her."
"She's not here."
"Miss Summer's, the damage Faith could have caused to both herself and our staff had we tried to restrain her is quite substantial."
"After an individual composites, the psychological strain of having such an amalgam of person's in one's mind is rather intense."
"What happened last time?" Buffy ventured, her voice shaking slightly, not entirely sure she wanted to know.
"The situations are rather different, there's nothing to indicate that-"
"What happened?" she repeated more firmly.
For a moment, Adelle's eyes bore into her own, as if determining whether or not to divulge the information.
"Alpha eliminated a number of our actives, staff and security before fleeing the building. After he had left, our security team were entirely unable to ascertain his location and...terminate him. He disappeared."
Buffy swallowed the lump that had formed in her throat, and could feel her heart racing as the weight of the situation settled on her.
"Does she even know what's happening?"
"It's impossible to say," Adelle replied, somewhat more softly than usual as she poured herself a drink.
"And do you have any idea where she is?"
"As a matter of fact yes. After the incident with Alpha we began to routinely implant each of our actives with a gps tracking strip. Providing that she isn't aware of this, and hasn't attempted to interfere with it, we can track her perfectly. We have someone monitoring her location as we speak."
"Where is she?"
"Could you fetch Mr Ballard?"
With a nod, Boyd exited, descending in the elevator.
"Can you...can you fix it?"
"Topher assures me that he can perform a successful wipe. Unfortunately, as yet he's been unable to trace the source of the fault which caused the problem."
As if on cue, a bedraggled looking Topher burst through the doors of the office inciting a glare from Adelle.
"I...I traced the problem that-" he broke off his explanation as he noticed Buffy, who had gotten to her feet and was looking on in interest. "Uh, hi."
"So this is your fault?" she asked, not making much of an attempt to minimize the accusation in her tone.
"No!" he exclaimed, the enquiry setting him back onto his original topic. "It isn't."
Turning back to Adelle he continued. "It's sounds crazy, but...the computer did it itself."
"I beg your pardon?"
"Crazy huh?" he asked with a small laugh. "There was no hack on the system- which honestly, I wasn't expecting, have you seen my firewalls?"
"Whatever happened originated from inside the network."
"Have you repaired the fault?"
"That's the thing, there isn't one. Not one that I can find- which I'd say means that there really isn't one."
Buffy frowned in confusion, eyes flicking between an equally confused-looking Adelle and the frazzled technician.
"So," the elder woman began, "what you are telling me, is that what happened this morning happened without either apparent cause or explanation."
Topher opened his mouth to answer, before sighing and nodding as the office door swung open once more, and Boyd returned, followed by a tall, broad-shouldered man whom Buffy could only describe as Riley-ish.
"Ah, Agent Ballard. Miss Summer's, this is Paul Ballard, one of our newer employees."
"Nice to meet you," he greeted the Slayer, holding out a hand.
"Agent Ballard has been in the process of replacing Mr Langton as Echo's handler."
At that, Buffy's attention swung rapidly back to Adelle, frowning at the other woman and receiving a questioning raised eyebrow in reply before the Brit readdressed Paul.
"Do we have a secure fix on Echo's location?"
Paul nodded, eyes flickering between Adelle and Buffy before handing over a small flat-panel screen. "She's about two miles east of here, hasn't moved for a good half hour."
Adelle turned her attention away from the small screen and back to the impatiently waiting Slayer.
"I believe the best course of action would be for you and Agent Ballard to locate Faith, and attempt to bring her in safely."
"Miss Summers, don't under-estimate the severity of the situation."
"Oh I don't, but there's no way I'm coming back here without her."
For a moment, Buffy was sure she saw the older woman's business veneer slip for a moment as she gave the Slayer a small smile and a nod, before retrieving a file from the desk drawer.
"This is Faith's file to date," she explained holding it forward. "It may be of some use."
Paul moved, reaching out for it, and found it retracted sharply from his grasp, held out once again as Buffy stepped forward and took it, directing a glare at the agent.
"Do you really think it's wise?" he asked, directed at Adelle. "Sending out a..."
A glance at Buffy.
"Well I'm not really sure who you are, but Echo is my priority, my responsibility."
The Slayer felt herself seethe, and even now it surprised her just how angry that simple statement -someone daring to stake any kind of a 'claim' to Faith, who wasn't her- had made her.
Her fist clenched tightly around the file she held as she straighten up, fixing Paul with a stare that would have made any sensible person back away.
If there was anyone in the room who could make that claim, he was the last in line as far as she was concerned.
"Not yet she's not."
Buffy glanced to Boyd, who had until then remained quiet, and thanked him silently, before turning back to Adelle, catching her unmistakable fleeting smirk of amusement.
"Hi, I'm Buffy, and I'm still here," she fired at Paul, eyes boring into him. "I don't know who you think you are 'agent' but I assure you, I'm more than capable of dealing with Faith. Without any help from you.".
She paused for a moment, before turning her attention back to the other woman. "I don't need supervision, or backup."
"Oh I am under no impression that you do Miss Summers, quite the contrary. However, if Agent Ballard is to replace Boyd as Echo's handler, I'm quite certain the experience would be beneficial."
"Yeah well as far as-"
Boyd interjected, stepping forward, "would it not perhaps be more suitable for me to go with Buffy? I have little doubt in Agent Ballard's ability-"
Makes one of us, Buffy mused.
"The Dollhouse requires your presence, Mr Langton."
For a moment, Buffy thought he may press the matter, before he nodded and quietened, removing himself from the conversation.
"We're wasting time." Buffy stated simply, turning to Topher. "Be ready, we wont be long."
He nodded silently, glancing at Adelle before hurrying from the room.
"Let's go," she shot at Paul, before briskly leaving the room.
"Agent Ballard, a moment?" Adelle called out.
Buffy sighed and continued on her way as Paul hung back.
"What is it?"
"I cannot guarantee to what extent Miss Summer's will be willing to go to resolve this problem. I do however, assume that you will take the appropriate action where necessary," she explained, brow raised meaningfully.
He nodded silently, following in the footsteps of the Slayer.
As the door closed behind them, Boyd watched their progress through the building on the large screen on the wall, frowning thoughtfully to himself.
"Do you think they'll be ok?"
"I think that Agent Ballard might learn very rapidly that he must follow rather than lead in order for her to refrain from killing him."
Adelle sighed, the weight of the day settling on her enough for a small crack to show. "I think that Buffy Summers is the best hope we could have."
"You can't even see the-"
Paul Ballard glanced at the screen on the dashboard and swung the car to the right at the final moment.
"How did you-?"
"I don't need gps to find her."
For a moment, the car was silent, before Paul spoke up.
"I appreciate you coming along to help, but I'm pretty sure I can handle things with Echo on my own."
"Oh you really can't."
"I'm a trained federal agent."
Buffy turned to the man behind the wheel as they sped along the road away from the city, fixing him with a piercing stare. "You may as well be a trained circus monkey. She's a Slayer, do you have any kind of concept of what that means?"
For a moment he was silent, turning left out of the traffic and onto a quieter stretch. "She's stronger than the average woman."
Resisting the urge to hit her head on the dashboard, Buffy clenched and unclenched her fists, taking a deep breath.
"It means a lot more than that. It means that you are not equipped to deal with her."
Paul opened his mouth to retort, Buffy raising her volume just a little over him.
"Which means, that when we get to her, you'll be sitting in the car while I talk to her."
"I already told you, she's my responsibility, it's up to me to take her back and sort this out. And honestly, things are going to be a lot more difficult than necessary if I have to look out for you as well."
Taking another left, they continued up a long slow incline, coming to a halt in a small parking lot, a path leading away from them and up into a wooded area.
Buffy was out of the car in a heartbeat, closely followed by the ever-persistent Ballard, who tucked his gun into the back of his pants and made for the path up the hill, halted by a very firm grip on his arm.
"Agent Ballard," Buffy addressed him in a tone that made him take notice, "you may think I'm just a girl, you might even think Faith is, but I highly recommend that you don't under-estimate either of us. I am not going to waste any more time arguing with you, but you are going to follow my lead, at all times. Shelve whatever hero-complex you have going on and do as I tell you."
She could see the conflict of emotions in his eyes; the sudden awareness of the power emanating from the woman, the gall at being asked to follow her.
Buffy felt more than saw when he relented, and he followed her silently as they made their way up the incline, her senses on high-alert.
Without warning, the shallow hum of the Slayer connection exploded throughout Buffy's body, and she stumbled a little up the slope, leaning against a tree for support.
What had happened exactly, she couldn't say, but the relentless waves of emotion that were crashing through her, twisting her stomach, stabbing at her mind and bringing her almost to tears were not her own.
"I...woah. That's...God she's really...woah."
She blinked a few times, and slowly the cacophony of emotion dulled to shallow empathy as if absorbed by her own body.
Straightening up, she steeled herself and continued upwards, able to make out the gap in the trees ahead.
Grudgingly, he nodded, taking up position nearby. "If there's any sign of disturbance-"
Despite the situation, Buffy laughed.
"I can almost guarantee there will be disturbance. Stay put unless I give you any signal."
Leaving him to ponder her comment, she continued on a little way to the gap in the trees, emerging into a small clearing where a few wooden picnic benches sat, thankfully empty, the sun beating down on them. Railings lined an area of the perimeter, where the ground gave way to a steep drop, and standing by them, looking out on the city below, was Faith, hands tucked into the back pockets of her jeans, her open jacket fluttering slightly in the low breeze.
"We knew you'd show up."
"I do that, it's a bad habit."
Faith turned, and Buffy's stomach knotted at the sight of blood on her hands.
"Don't sweat it sunshine, it's ours."
"No, she's-" she blinked, as if stunned for a moment, "Buffy I- Quiet, talking."
Buffy watched the exchange in a mix of confusion and fear, realizing for the first time that day that she was somewhat out of her usual area of expertise.
In fact, her area of expertise had left the country.
And so she asked the only thing she could think to ask, given the situation.
"Are you alright?"
Faith laughed, a low throaty chuckle both so familiar and entirely alien that far from being comforting or relaxing, sent a chill up Buffy's spine.
The brunette advanced on the other girl slowly, and despite Buffy's slayer instincts screaming at her to back off, she stood her ground, even as Faith drew level with her; close enough that the other Slayer could feel the heat coming from her, could smell the faint aroma of new leather.
She watched the subtle change in Faith's expression as the brunette's eyes swept appreciatively over her form, sending another, different chill along the Slayer's spine.
"What's up sweetheart, you seem a little- little miss tightly wound wantin' to get her- you know, it's not polite to- hey, busy here!"
Faith shook her head gently, attention focused back on the other Slayer, "so, now that it's just you and me up here," she cooed, voice sugary-sweet and playful. She drew level with Buffy again, reaching out and casually hooking her fingers through Buffy's belt-loops, tugging her towards her.
"Faith," Buffy breathed out, barely able to form the word as her pulse hammered, hands resting on Faith's hips as she tried to pull away.
She could have sworn she was trying to.
But she didn't seem to be moving.
"Faith, we have to-"
"Faith Faith Faith, God can't you just-," the brunette pulled away and shook her head, more violently this time, heels of her hands digging into her temples as she backed away from the other girl, dangerously close to the steep precipice.
"Faith," she tried again, reaching out in concern to steady the girl, who shrugged violently away from her touch.
"No! You don't- y'know Buffy, we just don't get you," she finished in a strong Texan drawl with a sudden clarity that Buffy found just a little unnerving as she watched the girl straighten up, sweeping her tussled hair from her face with one hand and regarding the Slayer, head tilted to the side slightly.
"What do you mean?"
"What do I mean? Well, lookie at this princess; there's oh, about 30 of us up in here right now, and not a single one can figure you out. Not even she gets you."
"How many years did you not visit prison? How long did you not think about her?"
The other girl looked down, the words hitting harder than she cared to admit. "I-"
"How long have you not cared? How long have you hated her?"
"I never hated her," she muttered, eyes clenched shut, not wanting to show the tears forming in the corners of her eyes.
"Still doesn't explain what you're doing here Buff, and we're jus' dying to know," she drawled.
"I..I care," she sighed out simply, the only explanation she could give.
"Oh you care? Well that's a new and exciting development, yippee for us, we must be lucky."
"Let me talk to Faith."
"What's up sweetness, we hitting a little to close to home? She knows you don't give a damn about-" she cut off once again, and a new wave of emotion swept over Buffy as she noticed tears begin to slide down the other girl's cheeks, bringing back the tears to her own eyes.
She'd never seen her cry.
"God, why are you doing it to her?" Faith sobbed.
"You know what she-" the sobbing broke off as abruptly as it had begun, the back of Faith's hand sweeping over her cheeks forcefully. "Gonna shut the hell up with- Was some night we had, huh?"
Buffy's gaze, which had once again met the ground, flicked up to Faith's eyes.
"Hope?" she ventured, as the other girl rolled her neck once, shaking her head.
"So what was that- Y'know sweetness I'm right here if you want me."
Stalking close again, eyebrow raising suggestively, voice saccharine, entirely wrong for the body.
"Nuh uh, no matter who we are- Doesn't matter- You know how much she hurts for you? 'Cause of you?"
"Please, you have to let me talk to her, you have to let me fix this."
"And why would she wanna- Maybe ain't such a bad idea- Hey now some of us don't want- Listen to me. Now some of us may be whiny little bitches who'd be happy to let you drag us on back their, but honestly, some of us kind of like this set-up. In case you hadn't noticed, we've got a damn nice body." She gave a little twirl to accentuate the words.
"Well from what we see, all she's ever found out in the big bad world was hurt, and funny but most of that came from the girl that's standing right in front of us; guess it make sense that she's not putting up too much of a fight."
The words seemed to snap something inside of the Slayer, and Buffy straightened, wiping away the stray tears that had escaped, eyes seeking out those of the other girl and boring into her.
"You may think that you know it all. But you don't."
"Gee I think- Still wantin' to scratch that itch? I told you- Guess there's no harm, as good as a whore now anyway."
Buffy's fist swung out so fast she doubted the other girl would have had time to stop it even if she had been herself, and she stumbled back a few steps, holding her cheek.
"Whatever she's done, I'll beat you unconscious before I listen to you talk like that."
Faith smiled an empty smile, before returning the swing with as much force, the too-late block saving Buffy from only some of the impact as she took a few steps back, steadying herself on the tree she had narrowly avoided and straightening up as the other girl stepped towards her.
"I know you might let me do, take, whatever I want," she continued, stepping up to close the gap between them, "but you don't get it. I don't want any of you," she paused, swallowed hard, inches between them, "I want her."
The reply that Buffy expected didn't come, and for a few moments the air hung heavy with the words she'd spoken, neither one moving, neither speaking.
Hands grabbed her roughly, shoving her forcefully against the tree-trunk behind her, holding her there. Faith reached one hand behind her back, yanking the hidden blade from the waistband of her pants, pressing it to the Chosen One's neck as the Slayer's gazed intently at each other, each one searching for something in the other's eyes.
And she saw it.
As if a light had been sparked behind the gaze of the other Slayer, who frowned in concentration, the grip on Buffy's shirt loosening, the knife lowering.
Buffy watched the tension in Faith's shoulders relax a little, and as they dropped slightly, she caught sight of the figure standing not far behind, gun raised.
"God-" she breathed out, reflex taking over as she spun them both around, reversing their positions. She barely heard the shot that pierced the air, the blood pounding in her ears was so intense, but felt the fire scorch through her body as she looked down to watch the crimson stain her shirt, eyes seeking out Faith's, seeing them worried before dropping to her knees as the dark set in.
The Slayer blinked, her surroundings slowly coming into view as her vision unfogged and she tried to ascertain exactly where she was.
Her mind was cloudy as she thought back, trying to claw her way to the details of whatever had happened to have put her here.
A figure. A shot. Blood. Her blood.
Past that everything was black.
Now however, she lay covered in clean white sheets and blankets, surrounded by a screen adorned in some of the most colourfully painted, childlike pictures of suns, trees and flowers she'd ever seen.
"Ah, I see you're awake," Adelle announced as she appeared through a small gap in the screen, settling into the chair beside the bed.
"What happened?" Buffy sat up sharply, immediately regretting the action as a stabbing pain shot through her back and stomach and she winced. "Where's Faith? Is she ok? The last thing I remember..."
"I suggest you lie back down, Slayer or not you have just suffered a gunshot wound."
"Faith. Where is she?"
"She's perfectly alright. She arrived in my office some time after you left, covered in blood and carrying you. It was quite the scene."
"She did what?"
"Whatever transpired while you were with her, she arrived back here entirely of her own accord. She was, for all intents and purposes, the very same Faith I had spoken to the previous day and allowed Topher to wipe the composite without any complication."
Buffy relaxed back onto the bed, relieved, before another thought occurred to her.
"What the hell was Paul doing while this was happening? You'd think he would have hung around, after he shot me."
Buffy watched a small smile form on the other woman's lips.
"Mr Ballard was unconscious in the back seat his car. Knocked out, I believe, with the butt of his own gun. Needless to say his pride is the only thing seriously wounded."
The Slayer gave a snort of laughter, wincing again as the action jarred her wound, lying back as the pain subsided.
"Where did they come from?" she wondered aloud, gesturing to the pictures around her.
"Tokens of affection, I believe," Adelle replied, small smile still in place.
"From Echo," she divulged, standing from her chair. "When you feel well enough, there are some rather important matters to be discussed, if you would be willing to join me in my office. For now however, I believe there's someone quite intent on seeing you. I'll send them through."
Buffy nodded absently, eyes still regarding the paintings lining the makeshift walls.
Tearing her attention away from the paintings, Buffy turned to the gap in the screen, through which a familiar brunette head was poking, eyes focusing on everything but the Slayer in the bed.
"Hey," Buffy greeted softly, smiling.
Returning a grin, Faith emerged through the small space, hands tucked into the back pockets of her pants. "Hey. They uh, they let me come see you."
"That was nice of them."
The other Slayer scoffed at the obvious sarcasm, flopping down into the nearby chair.
"Dawn stop by or somethin'?" she joked, gesturing with an upwards nod to the paintings.
Buffy couldn't help the smile. "Faith, Dawn's 19."
"Right so uh..." she broke off, a look of realization dawning on her face and causing Buffy's grin to widen. "Oh you're shittin' me?!"
"Faith, they're cute."
Buffy watched in amusement as a slight blush crept into Faith's cheeks, the girl staring around her in wide-eyed horror.
"I'm not cute."
"No," Buffy agreed, attempting a serious face through her amusement, "you're not."
"But Echo is," she grinned.
The scowl faltered, and Faith gave a low chuckle, relaxing again. "A'ight, guess I can deal," she laughed. "How you feelin'?"
Faith's laughter stopped, her smile dying, and a dark frown settled over her features.
"That was fuckin' stupid B."
"Hey, last time someone got shot in the back for me I said thank you."
"I'm serious," Faith retorted, voice raised slightly. "You coulda died."
"Wouldn't be the first time," Buffy shrugged, "and don't yell."
Her fellow Slayer let out an exasperated sigh, slumping back in the chair, and running her fingers through her hair.
"Faith," Buffy began, the humour gone from her tone, "it was my choice, and I wouldn't change it."
"Yeah, well it was still stupid" she huffed, arms crossed across her chest.
The fell silent for a moment, and Buffy took the time to sit up more fully, twisting round awkwardly in an attempt to check her wound. She pulled up the top she was wearing slightly, eyeing the large bandage that wrapped around her middle.
"You ok?" Faith asked from beside her, on her feet and reaching to Buffy's back, checking the wound before Buffy could cover it back over.
"I'm fine, just trying to check the damage."
Faith reached out, holding Buffy's top away from the area and gently lifting the bandage, neither mentioning the small spark that sent a shiver through each of them where her hands touched skin.
"Looks like the doc patched you up pretty good, don't go pokin' around."
Buffy raised an incredulous eyebrow to the other Slayer. "You're the one doing the poking," she retorted, not considering the words until they had escaped her lips.
"You betcha," Faith winked, settling back into the chair by her side.
A moment later, a small knock sounded on the screen, followed by Boyd's smiling face peering around.
"Buffy, how are you?"
"Peachy," she grinned, "what's up?"
"Adelle's wondering if you're well enough to come up to her office, she seems...very eager, to talk."
"Uhm," Buffy mused, assessing how hard it would be to walk.
"No way, you can't get outta bed, you jus' got fuckin' shot."
"Faith, I'm fine.
"Christ you're still god-damn stubborn."
The male watched the exchange with a smile, both frowning Slayers turning to him the sound of his quiet chuckle.
"You can stay here if-"
"No, don't listen to her."
She paused, looking down at herself.
"Any chance of some clothes though? I'm so not wearing this," she gestured to her pyjama-like attire, "to go up there."
Boyd disappeared for a moment, before appearing back through the gap, a small bundle in his hands.
"They managed to get most of the blood out of your jeans- the top was a goner though, there's a new one."
"Another casualty of slayage," she shrugged, taking the bundle gratefully with a warm smile. "Thanks, we'll be up soon."
Boyd's figure retreated from the small 'room', his footsteps fading into the distance, and Buffy gingerly sat up, swinging her legs over the side of the bed and easing into a standing position, attempting to hide the wince of pain every time she moved.
"How long have I been here?"
"Been out for like a day, far as I know."
"Crap, Angel, I was meant to report in with them."
"Uh, I think DeWitt called."
"Oh I bet that was nice for all involved."
Faith chuckled, standing from her seat and pushing it out of the way.
"You, uh, need a hand or somethin'?"
Buffy smiled at the gesture, but wasn't entirely sure she was up to having the other Slayer watch her dress, not so early in their...whatever this thing was turning out to be.
Faith nodded, stepping backwards out of the gap in the screen, lingering in wait for the other Slayer.
Slowly, painfully, Buffy managed to change into her jeans, grimacing with every movement.
She may be a Slayer, but she was still only human.
"You ok in there?"
"Yep, I'll just be a, shit-"
"Fine, I'm fine."
Twisting to glance at her back, she noticed small splotches of blood showing on the previously clean bandage, and silent berated herself, taking more caution as she changed into the clean shirt and emerged from the enclosure, taking in the rest of the medial room, so unlike any hospital or doctor's surgery she'd been in.
Less ick. No apparent demons. Seems ok.
"Great," Buffy forced out, teeth gritted in pain.
"You're a shitty liar."
"The sooner we get there, the sooner I can sit down. Come on."
The Slayer-active led the way, slowing her pace unasked as they ascended the stairs, much to Buffy's appreciation.
The elevator was waiting for them as they came to the end of the balcony, and the Slayers stood side by side as they travelled the short distance to Adelle's office.
As they drew to a halt, Faith turned slightly, giving the other Slayer a small grin.
"Thanks," she winked, gesturing towards the open door for Buffy to exit first.
Three heads turned to greet the Slayer's as they entered the office, Faith with her usual strong, casual swagger staying just a few steps behind the injured Slayer, who could feel the formers eyes on her the entire time.
"Miss Summers, Faith," Adelle greeted, motioning to the couches to her left.
Buffy gratefully took a seat, eyes closing in relief for a moment as she relaxed back, Faith taking up position next to her.
Paul stood off to one side, arms crossed across his chest. "How are you feeling?"
"Like I got shot," Buffy retorted, "in the back."
She heard Faith snicker quietly beside her, and turned to frown at the other Slayer, her stern expression cracking a little at the smirk Faith was directing at Paul.
"Well that was an accident," he explained, his tone almost condescending.
Faith leant in a little closer to the Chosen One, lips close to her and causing an involuntary shiver as hot breath tickled over her ear.
"Want me to punch him? I really kinda want to."
Buffy bit back a smile, saying nothing.
"If we might," Adelle interjected, "there's a number of matters I'd like us to discus," she continued, taking a seat on the arm of the chair opposite them, Boyd standing attentively nearby.
The Slayers nodded, each leaning back into the couch, attention on the older woman.
"Well, first and foremost I believe there's one matter we would all like to clear up."
A pause as she took a sip from the drink in her hand, before turning calmly to Paul.
"What the hell did you think you were doing?"
He gaped for a moment, before settling into a frown. "I- me? She had her up against a tree!"
Adelle raised her eyebrows, small smirk in place as she glanced at the two Slayers, sending a furious blush to Buffy's cheeks.
"With a knife!" he explained. "I was saving her life, and following your orders. Take the necessary action, that's what you told me."
The ex-FBI agent fell silent under the withering glare of the woman.
"Mr Ballard, you may go."
Paul cast his eyes around the group, his anger apparent.
"Fine," he seethed, turning and making for the door.
The lift opened to reveal a flustered Topher, who side-stepped Paul as he passed him, watching the agent over his shoulder as he left the office.
"Someone's an unhappy little man."
Adelle looked at him in a silent question, prompting Topher to hand over the few papers he held, standing a little nervously nearby, essentially due to the slayer-sized scowl Buffy was directing his way.
"Do explain," Adelle prompted, lifting her eyes from the paper.
"Yeah, how's shit lookin'?" Faith added, somewhat less eloquently.
"There's definitely no lasting damage from the composite...which did I mention wasn't my fault?"
"Topher," DeWitt remarked sharply.
"Right. But looking closer, it like there might be some...latent traces, that are eluding the wipe. And not necessarily from the composite, just...traces."
Buffy sat forward a little, ignoring the shooting pain at her movement. "Traces? Traces of what? Bad traces?"
"Echo," he nodded slightly towards Faith, acknowledging the distinction, "has been displaying certain characteristics in her doll state that you'd usually associate with a full persona."
"Who's?" Faith asked, finally speaking up.
"Uhh, yours," Topher replied with a small, nervy laugh.
"I...it's kinda unavoidable," he elaborated, looking just a little awkward under the scrutiny of two Slayers and DeWitt. "My tech is...well it's the best, there's no-one I know who can carry out a cleaner wipe. But we're never wiped a Slayer before, your brain has...just little," he held up his thumb and forefinger in demonstration, "differences. I don't think a really 'clean' slate is actually possible with a Slayer. Certain things are just too," he shrugged, thinking of a word, "instinctual."
"For example?" Adelle enquired, echoing the thoughts of the room's other occupants.
"Uhm...fighting instinct, your muscle memory, I mean I'm pretty sure we could put 'Echo' in a room with a," he paused, "vampire?"
A nod from Faith, nervous laugh from Topher again as he continued.
"Even in doll state my money's on you."
He fell silent for a moment, allowing the room to absorb the information.
"Oh," he continued, smiling, "and the kitchen's never had to restock so much since you came back in."
Buffy gave a snort of laughter, closely mimicking the guffawing Slayer beside her.
"Wait," Buffy interrupted, eyes narrowing in concentration as a thought occurred to her, "that day in the alley when-"
She broke off, mouth snapping closed as she caught Adelle's raised brow and realized her mistake, reforming her question.
"Could, hypothetically, there be a situation, where the 'instinct' doesn't kick in?"
"Uh..." Topher frowned as if puzzled. "A full imprint could delay the reaction a bit. Y'know it would be kind of covered up, take a bit more time to come out...but it would."
"I'm pretty sure it would."
"Huh," Faith intoned from her spot on the couch. "Hey Toph, y'think that could make me remember stuff?"
"I dunno," she shrugged innocently, "from engagements? Or whatever."
"Uh, yeah I guess it's possible. The parts of your brain that help you retain your 'slayer stuff' could theoretically help you retain other things."
Faith smiled to herself, falling silent.
"But the thing is," Topher began again, "I only started getting any of this a few days ago, when your readings went all whoooh."
"What so, it's new?" Faith enquired with a small frown of concentration.
"Not exactly. I think it's been there the whole time, it's just been...quiet. No trigger, nothing's made it show up."
"So what's triggered it?" Buffy queried, feeling she already knew the answer.
"I, I think you," he concluded with another nervous little chuckle. "The chemicals in the part of Faith's neural pathway that-" he stopped, regarding the looks of the two confused Slayers and the exasperated DeWitt. "Lots of readings are way off lots of different charts," he simplified, "last night, for example, was insane."
Buffy's posture tensed at his words, and she felt the other girl on the couch go silently rigid beside her.
Her mind began to speed through the information. If there had been something different going on with Faith last night, that meant that Buffy was quite probably not the only one present in her, distinctly confusing, dream.
And if that was the case, it meant that the things they'd spoken about, the things Faith had said to her...well she'd not really had time to fully consider the possibility that she was actually sharing the conversation with the other girl, the implications of it.
But, judging by the reaction of the Slayer beside her, who still sat stiffly, eyes focused on the increasingly anxious-looking technician across the room, she wasn't wrong.
"I believe this information brings us to my next matter," Adelle spoke up, interrupting Buffy's thoughts for the moment.
"Miss Summers," she addressed the Slayer in a business tone, "if you are both amenable to the request, I would like you to consider becoming Faith's handler."
Two, equally shocked, faces met her words, neither saying a word as Adelle sipped her drink, waiting.
"I...I..." Buffy spluttered, vocalizing the only thing she could think to say. "What about Ballard?"
The elder woman raised an eyebrow to the question. "Oh I don't believe he has a say in this matter. While he was quite insistent that he was capable of the job, his actions of late have served only to highlight that he is complete unsuited to the situation. Mr Ballard will be assigned to another active, one more suited to his abilities," she concluded, taking another sip of the drink she held.
"Why would you want me to do it?" Buffy asked finally. "We both know that the reason I came here was to get Faith out, what makes you think I wont try again?"
"Because, Miss Summer's, I believe both Faith and myself have made it quite clear that not only is this the place in which Faith can accomplish the most good, given the circumstances, but also that any attempt to forcefully remove her from our employ would result in most serious repercussions from both this company, and from your Watcher's Council."
Buffy sighed in defeat, giving a nod of understanding, Faith remaining silent beside her.
"Quite aside from that," Adelle continued, "I believe that the events of the past two days, along with the information we have been newly provided with, serves to further highlight an issue of which we were already aware- that the consequences of a Slayer in such a line of work can be entirely unpredictable, and quite out with the area of expertise of the vast majority of our current employees. In addition if I'm not mistaken, word of Faith's activities has begun to spread amongst a number of," she paused, emphasising her point, "undesirable individuals, both human and non, it would be rather unthinkable to attempt to place her welfare in the hands of one so unequipped to deal with any situations which may arise."
"Yo, gonna let me get a word in here?" Faith cut in, ending her silence.
"Of course," the Brit conceded with a nod.
"Y'think me and B could talk this out?"
"Certainly," Adelle replied, placing her empty glass on the small table and gesturing to Boyd and Topher, each of whom were looking on in equal interest. "We'll be in the imprint room, feel free to find us when you've reached your decisions."
The trio made their way to the lift, Boyd placing a hand on Buffy's shoulder as he left, Topher giving a small wave before hurrying after them.
Finally alone, the Slayer's each relaxed back into the comfort of the couch, silent for a moment as they pondered the situation.
Buffy was completely derailed by Adelle's request. Of all the things she thought would come up at their meeting, this was about the furthest from her mind.
She couldn't do it, of course, there was everything in Scotland for a start...
You know they don't really need you there, her annoying inner voice piped up, you've been bored out of your mind, doing nothing.
And there was the...wrongness of it all, the whole reason she'd chosen to stay in the first place, trying to find a way to get Faith out...
"Gonna let me on that thought train?"
Faith's voice interrupted her musings, and the Chosen One turned to the other girl, who stared back questioningly.
"I was just...it's so..."
"Yeah. Look B, don't sit there gettin' all uptight about it, ok? I know you got other shit you gotta be doin', it's cool."
"It's not that...I mean, it's kind of that, but...they don't really need me there. If it was just that, I'd be way better off staying here. It's just...it's the whole thing, it still seems wrong."
"Thought we covered this already, y'know I can't do shit if I'm back in jail or tryna hide. I'm stayin' here."
And she did.
Despite that annoying, niggling feeling that kept telling her how wrong the situation was, she knew that nothing was going to change it. Faith had made up her mind, was doing what she felt she could to make amends with the world, at least some of it, and really, who was Buffy to criticize that?
"How long?" Buffy repeated, "until you leave?"
"5 year contract, done 6 months." Faith's gaze bore into her, her frown deepening. "You're not...?"
Buffy shrugged, not quite believing herself the path her thoughts were taking, voicing them to the other Slayer, who had gotten to her feet and was pacing nearby, eyes intermittently finding the drinks cabinet.
"DeWitt's right, the whole thing is so unpredictable, dangerous. Besides," she smiled, "there's no one who can handle you like I can."
"Is that a fact?" Faith smirked, stopping her pacing to quirk an eyebrow at the other girl.
The simple remark brought another set of thoughts and questions crashing down on the already overloaded mind of the Chosen One, who's smile faded a little, her forehead creasing.
"Last night..." she ventured quietly.
"Trippy huh?" Faith sighed, dropping back down onto the couch beside the wounded Slayer.
"So...that was really you?"
"One and only," Faith shrugged.
Despite the nonchalance, Buffy couldn't help but notice the way the other girl wouldn't quite meet her eye.
"Faith..." she pressed gently. "Did you," she swallowed the nervous lump in her throat, "did you mean it? The things..?" she trailed off, uncharacteristically self-conscious, the silence of the Slayer next to her doing little to lessen her nerves.
She watched Faith close her eyes for a moment, tilting her head back before finally letting her gaze seek out Buffy's eyes.
"Yeah," she sighed, "guess I did."
Buffy felt a new flood of emotions at the simple words; relief, happiness, a little apprehension.
"Well what do we hmpht-" Buffy's words were cut short by Faith's lips on hers, moving softly against her.
The rush of questions that had been flooding her mind seemed to evaporate as she leant into the kiss, reaching up to snake her fingers into the other girls hair, pulling her closer.
She felt Faith smile against her, and leant back a little as the dark Slayer pushed forward, biting down gently on Buffy's lower lip.
The movement jarred the still-smarting wound on Buffy's back, her sharp intake of breath causing the other girl to pull away, frowning.
"What's up?" she enquired breathlessly.
"Moved too fast, I'm fine."
Pulling back, Faith ran a hand through her hair, slumping back into the seat once again.
"This is...so screwed."
Buffy felt her heart sink, her gaze falling to the floor as she braced herself for whatever was about to come.
Faith turned fully towards the other girl, one leg resting up on the couch, arm draped over the back. "Couple days ago I swear to God I was so fuckin' pissed at you for bein' here, an' now...I don' even know."
"I can leave," Buffy breathed out, eyes closed in an attempt to stop herself from cracking.
"That's what I'm talkin' about," she sighed, Buffy lifting her gaze back to the other girls confused face, "I don't want you to."
Their eyes locked, and Buffy could see her own feelings reflected in the other Slayer's eyes, could tell that her sentiment was true.
"So I'll stay, if you want me to," Buffy stated simply, expression serious.
"Not that simple, there's-"
"No, it's exactly that simple. I'm not needed back home, I am needed here- look at the past few days. And if word really has started to get around the demon population...well there's going to be a whole load of big bad's out to get you. More than usual, I mean."
"My mind's made up," she stated firmly.
"So fuckin' stubborn," Faith teased, grinning. "You're really sure?" she asked with a frown after a moment of silence.
"I'm sure,but..." Buffy tailed off, unsure and perhaps a little embarrassed about voicing her feeling.
"I just...5 years is a long time to...its a long time to not see 'you', especially with this whole," she gestured between the two of them in emphasis, not quite finding the word for what it was.
The Slayer opposite gave her a small, almost-sad nod.
"And...I guess it'll take me a while to get used to you," she waved her hand vaguely, "y'know...with other people."
"B,"Faith interjected, placing her fingers under the other Slayer chin and tilting her head up to face her, "they ain't me."
It occurred to Buffy that she'd had no idea that Faith could be so...gentle, caring, and if anything the action served on to make her feel worse. "But-"
"Been a whole lotta people- none of them are me."
Buffy chewed on her bottom lip thoughtfully, still running over the muddle in her head, mind racing. Her thoughts were once again silenced by the feel of the other girl against her, full lips pressing gently against her own as if syphoning away all of her negative thoughts.
"We. Should. Talk-" she managed to force out between heated kisses, eventually trailing off and falling silent.
Buffy leant back, more slowly this time as Faith moved to lean over her, tongue pressing gently against Buffy's lips, a silent request which she was all too happy to grant, the concept of exactly what they should and shouldn't be doing in the office lost somewhere in the back of her mind.
"What's taking them so long?" Topher enquired spinning around in his chair
Adelle raised an eyebrow to the question from her position on the couch.
"You don't think they're-"
"Topher." she interjected, "you will halt that line of thought, and prepare your," she waved a hand in the direction of the computer, "things."
Looking just a little disappointed, Topher turned back to the computer.
Buffy moaned softly into the kiss as she lay back on the warm leather, the former-rogue now keeling above her; soft, gentle, yet burning her with hunger as Faith's tongue moved deliciously over her own.
The Chosen One pulled delicately at Faith's lip with her teeth before running the tip of her tongue along it, inciting a smile from the other Slayer who slid her knee between Buffy's thighs, pressing teasingly against her.
She felt Faith's hand sneak under the hem of her shirt, stroking the exposed skin and setting Buffy alight where their skin met, her leg moving gently between Buffy's own and eliciting another low moan from the girl.
Buffy arched a little, seeking out more pressure, another sharp intake of breath causing the Slayer above her to pull back once more.
"Again?" Buffy pleaded, staring down at her bandage angrily as Faith chuckled.
"Aside from the obvious," she smiled sheepishly, "I'm fine."
"That you are," Faith winked, leaning down to press another kiss against the injured Slayer.
"I guess we better go down," Buffy sighed, blushing involuntarily as Faith grinned wolfishly at her. "Downstairs," she clarified hastily, though not denying how the alternate option, and the way Faith's eyes bore lustfully into her, were making her burn with desire.
Still grinning, Faith removed herself from above the other Slayer, holding out a hand as she stood by the couch, helping Buffy to her feet.
"You sure you're sure?"
Buffy nodded, reaching up and weaving her fingers into the other girl's dark hair, holding her gaze.
"I'm sure," she resolved, giving the other girl a gentle kiss, pouring into it as much of her feeling, her certainty, as she could.
Faith nodded, Buffy gesturing to the door.
"Only so you can check out this fine ass," Faith teased.
Buffy grinned silently, following the Bostonian to the elevator...doing her best to keep her eyes at face-level.
The two Slayer's eventually entered the imprint area, Topher jumping from his seat to greet them, Adelle strolling purposefully into the room, nodding to the pair of them in greeting.
"I'll do it," Buffy answered simply.
"Excellent. Well, I believe it would be prudent to get things moving, hmm?" she asked, eyebrow quirked in question.
Buffy frowned, not entirely certain what she meant. "I guess?"
"Faith, if you would," Adelle gestured to the chair in the centre of the room.
Buffy's heart plummeted at the words, a look at Faith telling her that the other Slayer was thinking the same; apparently the situation hadn't properly occurred to either of them.
Then again, they'd been otherwise occupied.
Faith nodded, her eyes not reflecting the resolve that her poise suggested as she took another glance at Buffy before settling into the chair.
Buffy felt an involuntary tear sneak from her eyes as she watched while Topher flicking switches and typing commands.
Three faces turned to her, each with the same look of interest.
Faith quirked a sculpted eyebrow in question as Buffy turned more fully to Adelle, her voice stronger.
"You want me here, you need me here, so I want something in return."
"Five years is a long time to- To go without seeing her."
She glanced to Faith, catching the trace of a grin that the other Slayer gave her.
"I'm afraid that five years is the standard contract, and under the-"
"I want to be able to see her," Buffy cut in.
The room fell silent, waiting, Buffy's stare fixed on DeWitt, who finally raised an eyebrow indifferently.
"I see. Well, that shouldn't be a problem. One day a week, hmm?"
Buffy couldn't help but look slightly taken aback at how simple it had been to have her rather spontaneous request granted.
"Now, if that's everything, we should really be moving along with things."
"Sure," Buffy nodded, attention back on Faith, who gave her a wink as blue lights sparked to life around her head. She grimaced slightly as if in pain, and Buffy moved to step forward, worry etched on her face as Faith sat up, her face the picture of calm.
"Did I fall asleep?"
"For a little while," Topher replied from her side, smiling.
"Shall I go now?"
"Alright," she smiled happily.
"For you," Topher explained, handing Buffy a sheet of paper before returning to the chair, fiddling with a panel on the side, "your script."
"The handler imprint, very important stuff."
He looked up from the chair, expression a little flustered.
"Uh, can you just," he gave a small cough as he trailed off, waving a hand between the Slayers.
Adelle rolled her eyes from her place by the door, arms crossed. "Oh for Gods sake. Miss Summers, take Echo's hand, please."
Still not sure exactly what was happening, Buffy obeyed the odd request nonetheless, stepping forward and taking Faith's hand.
"Hello," Echo greeted her serenely.
Buffy smiled, glancing at the paper in her hand, scanning the words.
"Do you trust me?"
"With my life," Echo smiled.
Topher spun around from the computer, eyeing the two Slayers in surprise before his gaze flicked to Adelle.
"I haven't started yet."
The three women in the room gave three very different smiles at his words, all of them silent as Topher finished his tinkerings and gestured to Buffy to continue.
"Everything will be alright."
"Now that your here," Echo replied happily, and Buffy could help but feel her heart swell a little at the words, trying to separate the girl in the chair from the girl she'd just said goodbye to.
The room fell quiet once more, save for the dull hum of the chair as it inclined, Echo sitting up still wearing the same innocent look.
"Echo," Adelle spoke up, "would you like to go for a swim?"
"I like to swim, it helps me be my best."
"Why don't you go and do that," the Brit smiled.
Standing from the chair, Echo made for the door, turning around at the last minute.
"Your machine, it's broken."
Topher frowned at the words, clearly at a loss.
"Uhh huh, well I fixed the machine, it's fine now," he answered, smiling a slightly uneasy smile.
Buffy watched the exchange with interest, not liking what she heard, and resolved to have a firm and serious conversation with the technician.
As soon as the searing pain stopped.
"Miss Summers, I'm sure there are things requiring your attention. You're perfectly welcome to remain here until you are well enough to leave- I assure you our doctor will take excellent care of your injury."
"Thanks, but there's some people I really have to speak to, this whole thing, it's all gone...fast," she explained.
Talk about an understatement.
"Of course. I can have Mr Langton escort you to your hotel."
"That would be great."
The Brit dialled quickly on Topher's phone, Boyd appearing a moment after, walking alongside the Slayer through the long corridors and out into the parking lot, where he held open the door of the car for her, slipping into the driver's seat a second later.
She paused, uncertain of whether she should make the request, "the Wolfram and Hart building down town would be better."
She noticed his brow raise in casual interest, perhaps surprise.
As they pulled out into the afternoon sun, the Chosen One let down the window a little, the warm breeze filtering through and playing with her hair.
She watched the tips of buildings whip by on the skyline and considered the events of the day- what it all would mean.
There was so much to do, so many people to talk to...to explain things to, and still so many concerns and troubles in her mind.
And yet as she closed her eyes against the sun, let the rabble in her head clear a little, she was sure she'd made the right choice; for both of them.