While You Were Sleeping
by Kelly Smith
The beeping of the machines had long since ceased in the dark and desolate room of the rogue and comatose slayer. The electricity had been cut off days ago. No one left to maintain a power supply, no one left who would care if she lived or if she died. No nurses remaining to monitor her condition, no doctors to sign off on charts which had always remained the same. No change. No difference. Four forgotten years of the same beeping monotony.
The shallow repetitiveness of barely their breaths was the only sound which broke the eerie emptiness of silence, the soft fluttering of eyelashes against a pale, sunken cheek the only other outward sign that she still existed. Until then. Until now. Until the monotony changed.
A broken body forced to feel again.
If the machine by her bedside was still able to chart her progress, it would have malfunctioned almost instantaneously. The sharp ragged lines of her heartbeat creating graphs more complex than any seismic activity, the surge of power infusing her system making her back arch high from the bed. Lank and dirty hair hanging limp around a face that was a contorted mask of hurt and pain.
It was fast and it was furious and it was real. Sensations slamming into her body as everything around her fought to find focus. Shards of sunlight forcing their way through the blinds to stab pain into her eyes, her ears tormented by a return to consciousness, by thoughts which had lain dormant all of the years that she hadn’t had to think them. Back now. Here now. A twisting in her gut, a thorn in her side.
Her hands moved almost unbidden to find the evidence of her memories. The cold feel of serrated steel forcing panic back into breaths, her skin becoming clammy as she fought to push back the blankets and the sheet which covered her body. They felt like they were holding her down, holding her prone. Her mind screaming at her feet that they knew how to work, how to fight, how to scramble until she was free. Unobstructed. Able to flex. Her eyes travelling slowly down across the gown which covered her modesty, her skin prickling as her hands connected with the naked flesh underneath. Looking for the gash, the rip, the tear. The confirmation of the violence which tripped quick through her mind.
It was raw and it was the truth. Almost slamming her back down into the bed, the sick sensation of falling, icy green eyes charting her progress as she fell. All of her final minutes forcing themselves into this minute. Too much to hear, too much to see. Unable to stem the torturous tide of the memories;
‘You’re about to get it back.’
Fear. Her feet feeling foreign as her body began to demand that she take flight from this place. A hospital. Knowing that much, yet not knowing where the nurses were, where the doctors were.
Her hands reached out to steady herself as she shakily put weight upon her legs, hissing as every muscle in her body coerced her into sitting back down. Deep breaths.
“Come on Faith.”
Shit. Her voice. Was that HER fucking voice..?
Barely a whisper cracking out from parched lips. Her tongue moving in a pointless gesture of trying to bring moisture. She desperately needed to hear the reassuring sound of a rasp she could remember, urging softer tones to scrape free from the back of her throat;
Softer. Weaker. Was she weak now?
No. Never weak.
She closed her eyes as a wave of dizziness made her instantly reconsider that statement; definitely weak. It felt more truthful when she regarded it that way. Maybe always weak.
Her fingers flitting again to pull at the gown, her eyes which had quickly accustomed to the gloom of the room taking in the scar which ridged uneven across her abdomen, a slash of pink against flesh which hovered near deathly white.
A rasp she remembered. A line she knew well. A smile which sought to twist her face into a snarl, lips licking not for moisture now, but to sweeten the taste of the revenge which sat bitter in her stomach. Deep down and festering beneath the disfigurement that *she* had put there.
‘You did it. You killed me’
Only she hadn’t, had she?
A chuckle wanted to accompany her meandering thoughts, but the steady flow of resentment was keeping her humour firmly in check. It was forcing her shaking limbs to try standing again, satisfied when she didn’t sink back down, when the pins and needles which buzzed along her limbs was the only pain that she could feel.
Her walk was even and steady as she made her way to the cupboard which ran along the back of the room. A simple sticker stating; Patient’s Belongings.
Somewhere she belonged..? Somewhere she should be..?
Her aching eyes wanting to fall downwards as her gaze rested upon the clothes that she had shed, just what..? Yesterday? Upon the blood that had spilled so easily over her clothes… only…
“What the fuck..?”
A voice more hers as she reached to touch clothes she had never seen. Never worn. No torn reminder of the gash that sat beneath the gown. No red stained patterns telling the tale of how her life had trickled away. To here. To this.
Her legs threatened to fail again as his face swam into the space behind her eyelids, as his smile reached out to urge her into being strong. More words. Sounds which scratched her inner ear as if they were being spoken aloud instead of in memory; no matter that they were soft words, caring words, her body still buckled slightly at the recollection of his image, at the reminder of the plan.
It made perfect sense to her that he would bring her fresh clothes, that he would provide for her. He had always wanted her to be her best, to look her best; and now, lifting the scratchy feel of fresh denim from the cupboard, she wasn’t disappointed. If this was what he wanted her to wear to face the fight, then she would be more than happy to oblige.
The fight. The plan.
Her hands slid across the jagged edge of her scar again as she lifted the gown from her body, her forehead furrowing in a deep frown as she felt the way her ribs protruded sharply from underneath her skin. It wasn’t right. Her brow managing to dip even further as she tried to trace curves which should have been second nature to her, fingers instead faltering on hip bones which screamed of malnourishment, the air rushing fast from between her lips as she looked down at her thighs which had always been so supple; so firm.
The words goaded her again from somewhere deep within her muddled subconscious, and they were words which sought to rekindle her hostility. A pin point of light within the confusion that forced her to seek clarity, her teeth gritting as she shook her head in a feeble attempt at clearing the fog.
“Think, damn it, think!”
Strength was still evident in the tone of her voice, and she used that strength to pull the new jeans over her feet, up over her legs. The muscles in her arms aching as she struggled to put on the t-shirt. A smirk settling at last on her lips as she saw something she recognised, something that felt right. Thankful that her jacket and her boots weren’t lost in the fight; at least she still had something left of her armour.
She urged herself into thinking more as she finished the slow painful act of dressing, her whole body screaming that it wasn’t yet ready to march into battle, but her feet already moving her in slow testing steps towards the door. There was a plan; she knew that much. And she also knew that she was to be at the mayor’s side when the plan was put into action. Her hand trembling just once in the moment before she turned the handle on the door, the final second when she knew that this was it; fight or flight.
But she wanted to fight. Right..? She had kept herself going these last few months, just knowing that she would eventually get to wipe those self righteous and pathetic smiles from the faces of the self righteous and pathetic. She wasn’t about to give that up now, just because *she* had tried to turn her into a shish-slayer-kebab for her undead boy-toy. Just because maybe, just maybe, if she saw her again, it would only end the same way.
Because she would let it end the same way? Because she *wanted* it to end the same way?
It was a fog that she didn’t want cleared. Questions that she didn’t want answers to. So instead she allowed the festering darkness to come back and claim her fully. Her hand steadying with new found strength as she pulled the door harshly towards her, her eyes not needing to dart around and check for people that weren’t there; she would remove anything or anyone that stood in her way.
She had places to go. She had people to kill.
Her very first graduation.
Beneath the newly primed floors of the brand spanking new high school, there was a battle already being fought. A fight not waiting for an errant and forgotten slayer to make an appearance, when already the spell had been done to awaken a whole army of light and bright slayers. Ready to fight. Ready to die. Each one of them spurned on by the fresh feeling of newly discovered power, fizzing fast through their veins, pumping destiny into their blood.
The spell that the witch had performed had bound the slayer line together like nothing before, shattering the rules of unnatural selection, to forever break the hold of long forgotten men over the world’s forgotten warriors. A moment of divinity reaching out to touch each of them, providing them with access to the power that had long since been denied.
Even the slayer who had held the front line felt the release of the energy as it had crackled in the air all around them; her body tensing, feeling a surge of pure slayer deep down inside, as what was hers, suddenly became theirs.
A renewed strength. A rebirth.
Her senses awakening in that moment as if they had never been awoken before; her arms flexing with renewed precision. The unrestrained force in her body just aching to be released upon the howling army of the undead. The soon to be army of newly re-deaded undead.
She wasn’t sure of the grammar; an ironic thought when she considered her current position in the high school, but she was more than sure of the finality of the thought. The scythe thrusting fast through the air to reach her grasp only confirming it for her. Dust spreading to coat the already oppressive air as more and more Turok-Han journeyed foolishly within her reach. She was unstoppable, she was invincible.
She was on her knees as the sword ripped ragged holes through her shirt to pierce at the skin of her back; still going. The pain made bearable, even as she had been run through, by the steady mantra which refused to be silenced.
Just no. Over and over. A rejection of failure. A belief in the basics. Good over evil. More than that; a belief in herself. As her face had dropped close to the ground, as her own stolen voice had summoned her back from flirtations with death, she had absolutely embraced that belief in herself. She had earned that belief, and nothing or no one could ever seek to douse the flames of her spirit.
Nor the flames of a past lover, as his soul had burnt a victory laden path through the swathe of ever rising evil. His sacrifice bringing the turn in the tide; allowing his girl to retreat with the knowledge that they had won. That her belief in HIM had given him the strength he had needed to die the death of a champion.
Rocks falling. Time racing. A plea for her to leave. Her legs finally beginning to feel the burn of exhaustion as she had pulled herself up the steps that marked the entrance to the world above. Still running though, beating out a rhythm of survival as she had dodged the falling debris to reach the bright light of the sunshine outside.
And then she had frozen.
Not through the surrender to fatigue, but due to the sudden realisation of what was occurring; what was about to be lost. The rumbles underneath her were assuring her that the Hellmouth was still hungry in it’s failure, and she realised, beyond doubt, that Sunnydale was about to be swallowed.
A small price to pay..?
Her hand reaching to smother the wound on her abdomen, the same time that her mind was seeking to smother the memory of other gashes in other shirts. Of blades which sliced through skin as easy as a knife through melting butter. Of what was really about to be lost.
Dawn’s cry sounded loudest from the bus, a sister demanding that her family stay in tact, that Buffy stop whatever was causing her to stand in the way of a super sized earthquake and get her ass on the bus. Now!
And so she had run again. Her heart pumping to dispel the tingles that previous thoughts had resurfaced. She had lost far too much to take the time to count individuals now. To even consider the possibility of trying to take detours past hospitals which had long since closed for business.
Just run. Just escape. Just get the hell out of dodge.
They had been her thoughts, her new fangled mantra to carry her legs the last distance to the bus.
She had known that something was wrong the whole time that she had been making her way to here. Sunnydale High. Except where were all the students..? Where the fuck was anybody?! Not one single person had passed her on her journey, not one police patrol car to slide away from, not one Scooby sized snack to maim a chunk from.
It had made her grow steadily more uneasy. Her shallow frame trying to regenerate strength all the while that her mind was trying to put into order anything that it was seeing. Certain landmarks that had changed within just a few hours, and even, maybe, the way that her hair was seeming to hang a few inches lower.
She had not a fucking clue. It was making her antsy as hell though, creeping up on a spot to stake out the party. Bemused eyes fixing on the changed façade of the school, muddled brain adding it to the growing list of inconsistencies which had increasingly become her thoughts.
Where was everyone?
Praying for stealth, she had edged as close as her survival instincts would allow. Finally able to bear witness to humanity. A humanity which only offered more inconsistency.
Them. The gang. But not. But different.
Her head grabbing at dizzy as the world had spun around her. All of her re-awoken senses screaming that the sniff of a battle was hanging heavy in the air, that she pull back her arm and run screaming into the fight; Only now she didn’t know the fight.
She watched silent in her confusion as they had loaded themselves up onto the bus, the ones she remembered - albeit differently - waiting to make sure ones she didn’t recognise had managed to take seats. Their eyes always glancing back towards the school, whispered words unheard as their heads had leaned in to converse a course of action. Finally deciding. Their trudging feet lifting them wearily up and onto the bus as if they were leaving someone behind. As if they had lost.
She crept closer. She knew who was missing.
Not even feeling as the ground had started to shake beneath her feet, just waiting. Eyes fixed and unmoving as they had sought out the one who could placate her desire to exact revenge. Forgetting the mayor. Forgetting graduation. Just focusing upon the slice of a knife, the feel of warm blood, her own blood, moist and sticky as it had leaked her life steadily between her fingertips.
‘You did it. You killed me.’
Was it wonder or gratitude she heard in the memory of her voice speaking the words? Didn’t know. Didn’t care. Only knew that the twisting in her gut was getting more savage with every step she took towards the school, towards the bus. Faltering at the sight of her, but not stopping. Never stopping. Even as Buffy had frozen in her backwards glance towards the school, the forgotten one did not stop in her steady pursuit of her.
The sudden scream brought a pause where Faith didn’t want one. A voice breaking from the bus to pull the golden haired, The Chosen ‘One’, from whatever thought had been holding her back. Legs starting to move again, moving away.
And so this was it. Her body feeling as if it had crumbled beneath her, her legs protesting that she still sought to stand, and this was the moment that she would force the fighting to commence. Maybe stupid. Probably. She didn’t care. She only cared to soothe the bitterness that ate at her soul, that sat ragged across the pallid skin of her abdomen in the shape of a Buffy sent caress.
So hollow. So empty. So nowhere near loud enough.
The roaring of a falling building drowning out anything that she could of hoped to produce. Yet still; Buffy was stopping again. A sudden stoppage, feet planting firm as she had whirled to face the distant sound that had rung out a call of remembrance loud within her ears.
Not spat from between lips as the girl in question had stepped closer to her frozen state, but whispered in disbelief as eyes had spread wide. As glances had been cast upwards, towards something of a higher power.
“B.” Spat with absolute venom. “I owe you something.”
Her rasping words faltering as she had glanced down at the stain which was still spreading out across the front of Buffy’s top. Warm blood. Her blood?
More confusion, more dizziness. The anger sliding from her tone as she spoke words which were shrouded in nonsense. In everything that occupied her broken mind. “I… I killed *you*?”
Her fingers shifting up from limp, to trace a pattern across cotton where she knew her own wound lie. Yet… “I killed you.”
Not a question now, but like an admittance. A belief. The fog coming back, reaching around her to drag whatever had been keeping her going, standing on her feet, slowly but surely out of her body. Disorientation messing images of the here and the now with the then and the when..?
Her fist curling against her abdomen, her breaths seeking to leave her body in an ever faster rush. So close to crashing. To falling.
An urgent plea?
Buffy’s eyes had been drawn from the shell of a girl in front of her, by more of the Dawn screaming behind her. Focusing the warrior, the survivor. Feeling the tense as Faith, maybe not so broken, had refocused in front of her. Balling fists again, shaky legs setting back into the posture of a fight.
“You ready for payback B?”
And what *was* this?!
Buffy had often nightmare sequenced the payback, when she had been foolish enough to believe that Faith would awake after three… no, four years in a coma; but now?
She spoke the words cautiously as she edged her way back towards the bus. Her glance flying behind to witness the wide eyes peering from the revving vehicle as her friends finally caught up on the sitch unfolding before them. As they probably cursed the timing just as much as Buffy. But then, just a moment ago, Buffy herself had been cursing that this moment would be lost to her forever.
A cosmic joke? A final fling with fate to truly test her will of preservation?
The fist that flew without warning at Buffy carried nothing but bare naked rage. It carried no real power. The other’s limbs still weak, everything still weak. A mind dazed. Every thought fragmented by the confusion which was seeping itself further and further into her being.
And Buffy deflected it with barely an exhausted breath. Her mind fighting it’s own daze to gain back focus. “I said not now! Will you *ever* listen to me?!”
She expected she could answer that one without Faith’s input. Still; it had brought brown eyes back to hers, had brought with them a lost look, a scared look.
No venom. No spitting of names now that everything was fading to black. And maybe she was wrong. Maybe Faith would listen.
“We have to…”
But no. Faith wouldn’t listen. She was too busy falling, her mind closing down at the same time her body gave up this torture that felt nothing but self enforced. Her body collapsing limp and light into Buffy’s waiting arms.
A slight smile daring to cross Buffy’s lips as she considered that she had caught her this time. No more falling on her watch. No way, mister. Only… wasn’t it too late for this? Hadn’t she already watched her fall way beyond anyone’s reach?
A united scream as the ground had shook with more fury than at any previous moment. The building finally succumbing to dust, the pavement around Buffy beginning to crumble as she clung unwaveringly to the form of the fallen slayer.
A last effort. Not just her own preservation, but the girl she was hoisting above the tired joints of her shoulders. A hiss escaping drying lips as the effort caused the gaping wound which marred her stomach, to grow ever bolder in it’s presence.
She spoke curse words, she spoke possibly some Latin curse words, and they all paved the way for her feet to walk ever further forward toward salvation. Gratitude obvious in her eyes as Xander had reached down from the bus to unburden her from her load. His gaze teetering somewhere closer to ‘what the hell?’, even though he knew that she wouldn’t have answers.
She had nothing. Her final task of leadership accomplished for the day, as she had sunk slowly and heavily down into the sticky leather seats of the bus. Exhausted. Wounded somewhere close to the realm of mortally. Absolutely spent.
She heard Giles’ voice ask a frantic ‘where to?’ as the bus started to motor with welcome speed, but it was all she could do to lift her finger in a vague direction of away from behind them. It would do. Accepting hugs from friends and sisters the further away that they got from the pit which was increasingly evolving in the background. Chasing them away. As if they needed urging.
Finally stopping. Coming to a halt. The bus caked firmly in a dust that carried all of the memories they would ever be able to salvage from the town named Sunnydale.
Buffy wouldn’t rise to take in the view; Buffy couldn’t rise, she didn’t think, if the lives of everyone here depended upon it. But then, hadn’t she already done that once today? Rising from the ashes, snatching victory from defeat?
No. She wouldn’t clamber down the stairs to gaze over everything she had just taken pleasure in destroying. It would hurt far too much to admit to herself all that she was leaving behind. Better instead that she lay here and focus on trying not to bleed to death, wishing beyond anything else that she could allow her eyes to drop and close on all that surrounded her. Not that she was inviting death; preservation was paramount, but rather sleep. It annoyed her that she wouldn’t allow herself to rest; her body demanded it, her slayer healing demanded it, yet she wouldn’t. She couldn’t.
She had nothing left. Her eyes fighting the fuzzy blur of unfocused to ignore the inner rambling of her mind. She had nothing left..?
Then why would her eyes not close upon Faith?
The bus rumbled on along the road without any thought of particular direction, it’s only purpose still remaining, to get everyone the hell away from the hell that had opened out in a ragged abyss behind them. Giles’ didn’t think it mattered too much beyond that right now. If he could just get them far away enough to call safe, if he could just remember which way was the best way to reach a nearest hospital, then maybe where they were would perhaps start to matter. All that truly mattered to him was the sight that made his eyes wince every time he cast them up to catch glances in the mirror above his head.
Buffy. Looking every bit as small as her frame insisted she surely was. No rod of steel holding her shoulders ever straight, no air of invincibility to stop the pain from lacing out across her lips. A firm line. A tight line.
Always the one holding the line.
Without a doubt, he was worried about her. Not having had the time to check her wound, he still knew the severity that caused the blood to stain such deep red across her top. Not a scratch, something to be sighed at and then tended. It was deeper than that, it was the reason he berated himself into trying to remember the geography of this god forsaken country; where they were, where they were going, and where the blasted hell he would find a bloody hospital!
The slam of his hands against the steering wheel caused more than a few curious gazes to be pointed his way. The new slayers that weren’t busy bleeding onto the leather of the chairs, the battle weary Scooby gang who would never get used to an outburst of emotion as un-British as hands slamming against anything; they all looked. Eyes finding the energy to seek him out, a faint murmur wondering what the drama was now. Yet she, his slayer, she still wouldn’t find the change in direction needed to soothe his worry, still wouldn‘t meet his eyes. They were stuck fast.
Not away from behind them, like she had insisted they drive, but stuck firmly behind them. Gaze drawn like the poised string of a waiting crossbow to the slayer, the other slayer, one of many slayers, unconsciously resting on the seat that sat at the back of the bus.
Giles couldn’t even begin to fathom what Faith’s sudden reappearance meant in the grand old scheme of things; whether it was a case of good, whether it was a case of bad. Maybe there were prophesies, a codex that spoke of comas and rebirth…
Being the man that he was, he knew full well that none of those things would have any baring on what would occur in the future. He understood more than most why Buffy’s eyes were so adamant in their perusal of the fallen one. His shoulders often the ones there to bear the weight of her guilt over everything that had ever happened in the history of The Chosen Two. Not that he would ever allow her to apportion blame. His glasses always rubbed with renewed efficiency when she had wanted to offer words to him about the loss of her humanity, the things that set her apart; four years a long time to wonder if you’ve killed someone, if you have snubbed out life. If you’re as dark, deep down, as the thing you had tried to eradicate. Gazing at her now with a pride that was so much more than the pride of a watcher, he could see only light. But then, his gaze wasn’t being met. He knew. Her gaze, and the things that she saw, they would be the only things that had any baring whatsoever on what would occur.
So lost was Giles in his thoughts, in the straight road which opened up before him, that he didn’t even notice the one which crept closer to wonder at his own state. Shocked by the crack of hands against steering wheel, concerned at the loss of control in one who always exerted control.
“Giles, you okay?”
Willow’s voice was hopeful, looking for that port in a storm that always made sense. Knowing that sense was definitely gonna be needed in the aftermath of all of the nonsense.
They had destroyed Sunnydale. Wiped it from the map. Gone. Just like that. A crater to scar the map like infected teenage acne that had been scratched one too many times. It certainly felt like nonsense when she thought about it that way.
“Willow? I’m fine… is everyone else…”
“Fine? As in feeling dandy and fine, or fine, as in, stiff upper lips, please ignore the way my hands are digging deep into the steering wheel, fine?”
She had to point that out. His knuckles *were* straining white from the effort of clutching.
“I’m fine Willow.”
And it was hard to argue with a tone that steady. But then, she hadn’t become a kick-ass uber witch by hanging onto meek, and mindful. “Okay, I see we’re gonna be going with the stiff upper lip version - which is great, I respect the Britishness - but truthfully Giles? I think you should let Kennedy drive for a while. Take some down time.”
Kennedy had already asked. Already offered. Kennedy had to do something or else she was going to explode from sitting doing nothing except listening to the sound of new power roaring fast through her body.
Willow sensed the feeling in her girlfriend, it was hard not to. The keening intensity in her eyes, the ragged breathing harsh from a fight; Kennedy was openly embracing everything that being a slayer meant. All of it.
“Kennedy wishes to drive?”
“Uh-huh. She’s got a whole tank full of energy, ready to roll…” Her back straightening as she felt again the force of that keening intensity slipping and sliding across the curves of her back. Making all those tingles from the earlier magic evaporate to be replaced by bigger tingles. Different tingles. The kind of tingles that needed to be kept firmly in check on the bus marked crowded. “…she *needs* something to do Giles. Let her drive?”
He had no reason to refuse. “Very well. Perhaps she’ll be able to make sense of where we are, where we’re going.”
His lips restrained from humming the opening bars to ’Road to Nowhere’, as he steered the bus over to the side and relieved himself from driving duty. He *was* British, that was true, but even his finely tuned sense of dry British humour couldn’t force the amusement out past dust coated lips.
At least he had direction now. His aged shoulders finding that steel rod to force straightness as he turned to face his slayer. To do as he always did. Tending her wounds, tending her spirit. Bringing her gently back to that place where he knew her humanity would always shine bright.
His slayer also wasn’t concerning herself with the direction that the bus was taking. What did it matter when all of her thoughts were sequestered so firmly behind her? Looking back. Her ears assaulted by the solemn tone of a storytelling Andrew, whispering tales all tall into the ears of the regrouping potentials.
She immediately scratched that thought. Not potentials - not anymore - these girls had realised their potential. Buffy herself had made sure of that. And now she wished she could make sure of the fact that none of them got to hear this drawn out tale of darkness and deceit. This one sided story that always ended in the worst possible way. A story she hated hearing, a story she hated anyone hearing.
“…Faith. Her name alone invokes awe… a set of principles or beliefs on which you are willing to devote your life…”
Andrew basked in the attention being given his way. A welcome distraction from the hell they were driving away from. His tone catching grave to mirror the sight of the fallen warrior laying inanimate, and barely breathing, on the seat behind them. Casting his arm out to bring grandeur to each of his statements; “…the dark slayer. A lethal combination of beauty, power and death.”
Could Buffy choke on words which weren’t hers? And while she was at it, could she please, maybe, just for one moment, manage to tear her eyes away from the one who it was that supposedly invoked such awe. Wicked awesome.
Five by five.
Sound bites ripping chunks from her ass whilst memories crept on up to take a taste too.
“But like so many tragic heroes, Faith was seduced by the lure of the dark side… she wrapped evil around her like a large, evil, Mexican serape.”
Was there truth in any of that..? As Buffy lost herself in the memory of pain tainted eyes, and words of betrayal, she found herself questioning again, like so many empty nights of unanswered questions; was it really the lure that seduced the tragic hero..?
Or had the seduction existed only in the touches they ripped from each other, in words always baiting to take a step further. Really, was a lure still considered a lure when it felt like a push?
“…she became a cold blooded killer…”
Didn’t we all?
The crack of hands meeting steering wheel broke her thoughts for just a second. The second when she would have sunk deeper to consider the parity of their actions. When the four year merry-go-round of thoughts would have gathered her up and settled her back in for the same familiar ride. There *was* a crack though, and again her eyes dumped the fuzzy, to focus on what lay broken before her.
Not so five by five anymore. Not so anything.
She let the silence of that thought soothe her aching head while Andrew regrouped his words after the welcome interruption. Maybe he would forget the story. Maybe he’d find something else to focus on other than the mysterious form of the mysterious rogue slayer, suddenly lain before them like a gift from the gods. Yeah. She had real high hopes of that happening. Even Dawn had crept closer to him to relive the days when their biggest foe had been one of her firmest friends.
It didn’t take him long to regain his stride. He was, after all, a storyteller. “Faith has a history not to be taken lightly. She’s a killer. Never forget that…”
Buffy’s chest tightened as the words sunk down low, as Andrew’s eyes drew grave again to the subject of his story time tale; “…you must stay on guard around Faith at all times. Your very lives may depend upon it.”
“Oh for goodness sake Andrew! Stop with the melodrama. Go and help Kennedy navigate, go on! Shoo!”
She couldn’t even raise a smile at the unexpected words of her watcher. Breaking the silence, not dampening the violence that was twisting tight through her soul. Just looking at her… just seeing her… just…
“Hey Buffster, you’re looking a little worse for wear there.”
Just letting the words of other friends, not just her watcher now, bring her slowly round to face the front of the bus. Not wanting to, but maybe *needing* to, something to break the cycle of feelings and thoughts which were dragging her down. Hadn’t she just been all superhero gal again? Shouldn’t she be able to find a smile?
“Sorry, Xander?” she asked. Cos hearing words was one thing, making sense of them was something else.
“You, looking worse for wear.”
Her eyes dropped to the shirt which was showing stains of heavy bleeding, could only imagine what the rest of her even began to look like. But then…
Her eyes twisted unwittingly back to their former resting place. Seeing the damage. “All the cool slayers are wearing it. It’s a look.”
Xander ignored her direction of glances - he wasn’t ready to revisit that place yet himself - and instead cast his eyes to Willow. A little concern showing, a little bewilderment obvious in his one good eye as he held onto his concern for Buffy. “Can you do anything to patch her up?”
“No can do buddy. I’m all out of magic. The mojo has left the building.”
“Xander, I’m sure that Buffy will be fine. As soon as we reach some sign of civilisation, we’ll check into a hospital…”
“Wait!” Buffy fought through the flecks of white lighting that flashed pain behind her eyes, to pull herself up further to sitting. “Who said anything about hospital? Maybe some of the girls need attention, but I’m definitely on the good side of okay.”
“Buff, if I had a flashlight I could shine it right through you. That’s a hard injury to dismiss.”
She knew that Xander meant well, but he wasn’t making her feel well. She knew that she wasn’t dying, at least not today, and all that his concern was doing, was distracting her mind from the places it wished to return to. Her body tensing of it’s own will as Giles had reached out a tender hand, had placed it upon her shoulder in a sign of caring affection.
“Buffy, I know that this is tough, but we really need to make a plan. Do you have any clue where you wish to head to?”
Could she point a vague finger again?
“Can’t you steer the ship?”
“Unfortunately I have no idea where we are. Though…” Giles allowed his own gaze to follow the track of Buffy’s. Seeing for himself the evidence of a girl, he had never really thought to see again. Buffy may have long wished for her return to consciousness, but it wasn’t a wish he was particularly fond of. “…maybe with our new set of circumstances, it would be prudent to seek Angel’s help?”
He noticed the way that her eyes widened to his words, slowly closing as she silently weighed up the forming thoughts of a plan.
“Angel..? Do you think… I don’t know?”
“He helped to deal with Faith before. I think it bears consideration.”
Deal with Faith? They didn’t even know what the deal *was* with Faith. Buffy had no rebuttal though. Could see in her friend’s eyes that they thought it was the right way to go. And so she nodded. Barely perceptible, her gaze already leaving them again to keep up her vigil, looking for answers to questions she hadn’t yet asked.
What was Faith’s deal? Why was she here? Why now?
All held prisoner by her tongue as she instead agreed to the course of direction. Not even bothering to call on the strength needed to argue against a hospital.
“That’s settled then. We shall drop the wounded off and then I will seek to make contact with Angel.”
Giles new plans giving him something to do. Urging Xander to help him relay the news to the others, discussing with Kennedy the fastest route into LA. The directions they would need to find the Hyperion. It was a relief. The time he had just spent in Buffy’s company had not offered the reassurance he had hoped he would find. Rather the opposite. He did not know the exact thoughts that she was torturing herself with, but he knew without doubt that the pain behind his slayers eyes was nothing to do with the wound that sat untended beneath her shirt. It was everything to do with what she was forcing her eyes to see.
Willow had done the rounds with Xander, checking on the girls again, letting them know that an end to the journey was nearly in sight. Hospital for those that needed it, a hotel and shower for those that could stand. It wasn’t the victory party that the saving of the world deserved, and she really *did* want to make a big deal for the newly created slayers, but it was for now, the best that they could do. Plus; with Faith. Willow was glad they were heading towards Angel.
A gladness she tried to subdue as she retook her place next to her battle weary best friend. Sighing at the tiredness that sat so plainly on her face, at the glassy faraway look that still focused on the occupied seat at the back of the bus.
“Hey.” She spoke softly, mindful not to make her jump, not to make her crash. “Just between us girls, how are you really holding up?”
“By a thread. You?”
“It’s strange… Sunnydale, just gone like that. Anya…”
“Everyone Buffy. It’s just so surreal. Do you think we’re all trapped in some kind of dream state, we’ll wake up in the morning and this will just be the freaky side effect of another freaky spell?”
Did Buffy think that? “No. It’s real. It’s all gone.”
Making Willow fall silent, making her consider every memory left behind, every whisper of old caresses that still blew on the breeze, every landmark that reminded her of who she was. Who she had been.
“And here comes the homesick.”
Venturing words not making Buffy turn. But then Willow was getting used to that, still talking even though Buffy’s focus was so obviously elsewhere. It led to talk of Faith. It seemed the only relevant subject.
“I think maybe it was me that woke her up Buffy. Just so you know, in case this all goes bad. It was probably my fault.”
There. She admitted it.
“Huh?” And look. That turned them eyes for a moment, brought them back round to front. “Did I miss something?”
“No, no missing. Just, the spell. You know, releasing all that power, awakening slayers everywhere…”
“What does Giles say?”
“I haven’t, to Giles, yet. I thought, with the way… you seem mighty uh… interested in Faith.”
Oh Goddess. That *really* brought the eyes back around quick.
“It’s not interest Wills, it’s… concern. I wouldn’t be a good slayer if I saved the world, and then Faith woke up and massacred you all on this bus, would I?”
“No. Not of the good. I’m just being concerned. I’m watching her.”
And if this was watching, Willow wanted a new definition for obsessive staring, cos that was what she had been seeing. “You want me to help *watch* for awhile?”
“So you don’t think it means anything?”
Willow caught the curveball, tossed it up in the air and threw it right back. “Do you want it to?”
“Maybe. I thought I had given up on it. Then, when I realised, when the town went tumbling down…” she looked at Faith again. Right before her. Not buried. Not lost. “…she was everything I was thinking about having to lose.”
“And then she was there. Wow. I guess, if I was you, maybe I’d be all looking for the meaning. I’m not you though Buffy, and I’m telling you, the spell; it’s all to blame.”
Or to thank? Buffy wasn’t quite sure on that one just yet. She thought she was sure, she thought she felt gratitude growing beneath the scars of the battle, but she was wholly too tired to tell. Faith’s hollow cheeks, the faint, but steady, rise and fall of her chest, just the fact that she was here. That was all Buffy was really sure of.
“I was wondering if it wasn’t a second chance. I lose everything, but I get back Faith. You sure it’s just a spell thing?”
“Mostly, yeah.” Willow watched as Buffy deflated a little more into her chair. Leaning her head back, rotating her shoulders. “But it could mean a second chance too! I mean, if she doesn’t wanna do the massacre thing.”
“That’s just it though Will. I *know* she’s gonna wanna do the massacre thing. She’s still Faith. And she’s still there.” Buffy’s hand raised now in nothing like vague, gesturing towards Faith, imploring Willow to see, to understand. “I did that to her. That’s all that she knows.”
And whoa, that was just a little bit scary for Willow’s liking. She had long, long ago forgotten the feel of cold steel against her neck, the feel of fear that Faith could generate with one penetrative glance, one growled out word of a threat. She had forgotten, she had forgiven. So easy to take the moral high ground and forgive the shell of a body that lie surrounded by machines. No growls and looks, just beeps and nothing.
“I’m gonna go out on a limb here - a limb I would really like to keep attached to my body - and maybe suggest the introduction of restraints. Just… just in case?”
Faith didn’t look like she was waking anytime this century, but Willow was already realising that some of her memories would be following her from Sunnydale. And not just the happy ones.
“No Wills. No restraints.”
“But no. She’s weak. And I don’t mean, me weak; lost a little blood and my outfits heading to Goodwill, weak. I mean properly weak.”
“And slayer healing, have you forgotten about that?”
“Not a chance.” Buffy’s fingers motioned to her wound again, her insides already straining to start the healing process, her body screaming out for rest so as it could start to do it’s job. “But we’re talking four years Will. Just… just look at her.”
Buffy implored again, and so Willow turned to see. Witnessing nothing but the faint outline of the girl they used to know. Used to fear. “I see Buffy, I do. But if she wakes up and tries to kill me, I am not playing nice.”
“I understand that. Funnily enough..? Don’t think killing *you* is gonna be top of her agenda.”
“That makes me feel better.”
“Yeah. Fuzzy feelings are the best.”
They shared a slight smile. The kind of smile that says, how the heck did we get to crisis time again already? But then, crisis did seem to have a nasty habit of following them around.
When Kennedy called out that they were about to hit the city, Willow pulled herself up and around, ready to go join her girlfriend, ready to put plans into action. She just hoped, really hoped, that crisis wouldn’t follow them into LA. Maybe Buffy was wrong, maybe Faith would wake up all full of repentance and good intentions. Something she would believe only when her memory faded, the one where she saw Faith, just a few hours ago, swinging a rage filled punch at her friend.
It made her sigh and turn again, made her offer some final words to Buffy’s unhearing ears.
“If she kills you, then I’m not playing nice either!”
Resolute popping up, only to be softened by a Willow smile. Surprised that Buffy had heard her words, surprised that she found a reply.
“She won’t kill me. She’ll try, but she won’t.”
“How do you know?”
But Buffy had no reply to that one. Just a shrug of shoulders that held no enlightenment. Her thoughts were becoming so confused, twisting up inside her head, mixing with hope, with fear, every memory laid out broken before her, and her unable to look away.
*She* did that. Had done that.
And, as always, the thought made her feel like the monster she had tried to slay. Was it the spell that awoke her? Was it really a second chance, an opportunity to redo the past?
Or was it simply evil’s way of issuing payback. Not a gift from above, but a gift from below.
She stared. She watched. She waited. Accepting that she wouldn’t know anything, she wouldn’t have the first damn clue, until Faith woke up. Again.