Chapter 1: Prologue - At the End of All Things
"Look, Willow - I know we've had our...differences, and I know I'm probably your least favourite person left in the world, but I gotta ask anyway - are you sure about this? If I do this, if I go, then I can't protect you anymore. I can't protect any of them. And I'm really all you got left."
Willow turned her gaze to Faith, her black eyes, as ever, making the slayer uncomfortable. "It's sweet of you to ask, Faith, really. But you know as well as I do that we're done. Having you here might delay the inevitable, but it doesn't change anything. Besides, you're the only one that can do this. The spell is a bitch to start with, and you have certain - let's call them factors - that make it a bit easier."
Faith sat down, making sure to stay outside the circle of glittering sand that surrounded Willow. "You know, I remember a day when you couldn't have said the word bitch without blushing."
"Well, times change. I'm sure I was that young once, but I don't remember it anymore."
"Wes let something slip about this spell yesterday. I wanted to ask you about it - I guess you know what I mean."
"I do. And yes."
"You really think it's worth it?"
Willow blinked, and now her eyes were their natural green - a colour Faith hadn't seen for years. Tear-tracks stained her cheeks. "I can't do it anymore, Faith. I can't be the secret weapon, I can't keep beating back the darkness, I just - I'm tired. There's no world left to save anymore, you know that as well as I do. If I can get you back there, if I can stop it before it starts - then yeah, it's worth dying for."
"And if it doesn't work? What then?"
Willow shrugged. "At least it'll be over. I figured you of all people would get that."
"I do - I just wanted to make sure you were clear on the consequences." Faith sighed. "And what about," she gestured vaguely, "the other problem?"
"You've got the black case with you, right?"
"Right here," Faith patted the messenger bag slung over her shoulder.
"That should be more than enough. Just make sure you leave instructions somewhere - if you don't vanish the way I think you will, then you need to make sure it doesn't escape into the general populace." Willow was about to say more, but broke off at the sight of Faith's grin. "What?"
"The general populace? You know who you sound like, right?"
Willow smiled sadly. "Yeah. I miss him - I keep thinking, if he was here he could help me figure this out." She shook her head. "Are you ready, Faith?"
She stood, nodding. "Yeah - ready as I'll ever be. Can I hug you without breaking your circle-thing?"
Willow blinked with surprise. "Sure." She stood and made her way to the circle's edge, reaching over into the hug. She patted Faith's back with something near affection. "Good luck, sweetie. Say, um, say hi to her for me, okay? I love you."
Faith's voice was thick with unshed tears. "Love you too, Wills. I'll see you on the other side, okay?" They embraced tightly and pulled back, Willow returning to her cross-legged position as she began chanting in Latin. Faith took a deep breath and whispered soft goodbyes to the future as she readied for the past.
The portal scissored closed behind her with an audible pop as she stepped out of it, nearly taking her trailing foot off. "Damn it," she hissed. "I fuckin' hate magic." She patted her messenger bag and her pockets, making sure all the weapons, and the all-important black case, she'd brought along were still with her - they were, and she breathed a sigh of relief. She pulled a digital recorder from her pocket and toggled the ‘record' button on.
"Faith Lehane-Summers. Date unknown. The portal seems to have worked, but I have no idea when I am. Willow was a little vague on that - and honestly, when she started rambling about shifting dimensions and their effect on space-time, I kinda breezed out. I'm steppin' out to do a bit of recon. Once I've established the date, I'll bury the recorder in the spot we agreed on, so if this doesn't work then at least you'll know I got here. That is, of course, if Red's right about this building being fairly intact after the great Sunnydale sinkhole." She clicked it off and walked down the dark alley she'd appeared in. She heard a growl and a vampire leapt out of the shadows. With a flick of her wrist, a stake appeared in her hand, and she buried it in his chest. He crumbled into dust. "Well, it's definitely Sunnydale," she muttered. "But when..."
She checked the street in both directions, looking for anyone who might take notice of a small, heavily-armed woman. She saw no one, and bolted to a newspaper box across the street. She stared at the front page for a long moment before pulling the recorder out again. "October 10, 2001. We overshot the mark by about seven months. It's only been a few weeks since the resurrection of B. Summers. I've got to make a decision now - the me of this time is still in prison. So - do I try and stay in hiding for seven months, or do I involve myself in the timeline earlier? Fuck, I wish you were here, Willow. If I get involved now, if I change all the things I can change, how does that change the future? Good? Bad? Somewhere in between? No, you know what? I can't. I've got to help, if I can."
She clicked the recorder off and stowed it. She stood, turned around, and came face to face with the last person in the world she'd have expected.
"Willow. Uh - hi." Without waiting for a response, she knocked the other woman unconscious with a single punch. "Sorry," she muttered. "I need a few hours to get buried before B finds out I'm here, and you're going to spoil that." She didn't want to leave Willow unattended, though, so she made an anonymous call to the Sunnydale PD and waited for them to pick her up before vanishing into the night.
"Miss Lehane, isn't it?"
On a hunch, she'd returned to her old apartment. Mayor Wilkins had told her that it was purchased outright, and in her name, and she decided to test the theory. She was surprised when the security guard at the front desk recognised her, though, given that she was significantly older - and different-looking - than the last time he'd seen her, but Wilkins had always paid his staff to be smart and discreet.
"Hey, Todd. Do you have a copy of my key, by any chance? And who do I have to call to get my electricity and stuff back on?"
"Of course - we have several copies. As for your utilities, they're all still on - Mister Wilkins set up payments in perpetuity, and we neglected to inform the companies of your incarceration, so they never shut them off." He reached into a cabinet behind the desk and emerged with a key. "There you are - do you need anything else tonight?"
"Uh, no - I'm good, thanks. Good seeing you again, Todd."
"And you, Miss Lehane. Have a pleasant night." Clutching the key, she found her way to the elevator and punched the button for her floor. She was stunned when she unlocked her apartment door - nothing had been moved. Even the wrecked balcony window was intact, having obviously been replaced at some point since...she fingered the scar on her abdomen.
Putting the memory aside, she locked the door behind her and bolted it. Then she began a slow walk-around of the apartment. Literally nothing had changed. The Playstation, the tv, everything - it was as if she'd stepped out for a quick bite all those years ago and now she'd come home again. She checked her dresser to find it full of her clothes, and she gratefully pulled together a new outfit from there and the closet, laying it out on the double bed. She opened the bathroom door, and her face lit up with joy. It had been almost five years since her last proper shower, one without water-rationing or a lack of soap. She quickly disrobed and stepped into the stall, turning on the warm water and letting it rain down on her.
The shower was a balm, a hearty welcome back to a life she'd forgotten. She thought of Willow, future-Willow, likely dead now. Everyone she knew was dead - but now they were alive again. She was alive again. She had a chance to change everything, and she wasn't going to screw it up. When the bathroom was filled with steam, and both the memories and the dirt were washed away, she shut the shower off and stepped out onto the white bathmat on the floor. She wiped the mirror clean, taking a hard look at herself.
She'd almost expected to see her old self there somehow - young, vibrant, with her long black hair and impressive(even if she did say so herself) body. What she saw instead was a version of herself who'd survived much hard living. One of her eyes was gone, the empty socket covered with a black patch. Her hair, shot through with grey, was cut in a harsh, short style. There were lines on her face, and scars that adorned her body - which, she thought ruefully, wasn't nearly as young and tight as it once was. Scoffing at her own vanity, she padded naked back to the bedroom. She'd had every intention of putting her plans in motion that evening, but as she stared at the bed, a wave of fatigue swept over her. Pushing the clothes she'd picked out onto the floor, she peeled the covers back and climbed in, revelling in the soft sheets and comfortable pillow. She reached out sleepily with one hand, looking for a warm body that wasn't there - wouldn't be there for years, in fact. A tear slipped down her cheek and she grabbed the pillow instead, clutching it to her as she slipped into a blissfully dreamless sleep.
"Will - are you absolutely sure you weren't seeing things?"
"For the fortieth time, Buffy, yes, I'm sure! It was Faith! But she was - old." She looked imploringly at the rest of the Scooby gang, gathered around Buffy's kitchen table.
"Giles, they're absolutely sure she's there, right?"
"The warden had a guard verify it by sight, Buffy. Faith Lehane is in the same prison cell she'll be occupying for quite some time."
"Then, what? A vampire doppelganger? A clone? What? She looked back to Willow. "Tell me everything. Everything you saw."
"Uh, she was looking at the newspaper box, muttering to herself. At least, I think it was to herself. She put something in her pocket, though, so it might have been a tape or a cell phone or something. I didn't even recognise her until she turned around - and even then, just barely. She's older - like, way older. Her hair's gray, and she's got an eyepatch on one eye. That's about it - I said her name, she said hi and then she clocked me." Willow patted the bruise on her jaw, and Tara winced with sympathy.
"Well, it sounds like Faith," Xander opined. "Always was number one with the sucker punch."
"Whoever, or whatever she is, we need to find her. Ten minutes ago, if we can." Buffy looked to Giles. "How can we track her down?"
Giles frowned, but hid it quickly. "Well, obviously a locator spell is out. All that will do is find the Faith who's in prison. Perhaps we can start by checking her old haunts."
"Okay, we'll have to go in groups. Just remember, guys, this is Faith. She's armed, and she's extremely dangerous. Don't engage, don't even approach her. Just find her and call me. Xander, you and Anya scout City Hall. Willow and Tara, you guys check the motel - Willow knows which one I mean. Giles, we'll check her apartment."
Everyone agreed and split off into their respective groups. "Giles, do you feel like driving? I feel a pressing need to hurry," Buffy tossed him the keys to her mother's jeep.
The incessant beeping of the phone woke Faith from a sound sleep. She grabbed at it a few times without success before finally retrieving it from the nightstand. "H'lo?" she muttered.
"Miss Lehane - it's Todd, at the front desk. I just wanted you to know that there were two individuals here, asking for access to your apartment."
Faith was suddenly wide awake. "Who?"
"They didn't identify themselves. One was a short blonde girl, the other was an Englishman. I told them you hadn't been back since your incarceration, but they seemed inclined to believe otherwise."
"Shit," Faith was out of bed, pulling on the outfit she'd chosen the day before. "Thanks, Todd - chances are they'll find a way up here somehow."
"We already did," a voice spoke from behind her. "Really should lock that balcony door."
Faith dropped the phone and quickly finished dressing before she turned around. Buffy took in the sight of her, staring in shock.
"What happened to you? No - strike that, you're not her, there's no way. Who are you?"
"Look - B, I'm going to ask nicely. I need you to turn around and leave, right now. There's no need for you to be involved in this, and it'd be easier for us both if you weren't."
Buffy squared her shoulders, not saying a word.
"Last chance, B. Leave. Please."
"Not gonna happen."
Faith grabbed her messenger bag from where she'd dropped it the night before. "Then I will. Place is all yours."
"Look, Faith - there's no need for us to fight. If you just come quietly-"
"Like you said, B. Not gonna happen."
"Then I guess there might be need for us to fight after all." The look in her eyes brooked no argument, and Faith sighed. She put the bag back where she'd taken it from, but not before retrieving a small metal canister from inside.
"Well then, let's dance."
Buffy charged, but Faith didn't even try to defend herself. Instead she dropped to the floor and slammed one end of the canister down on the hardwood floor. The top popped off and a massive surge of energy flashed out in all directions. Buffy disappeared so fast she didn't have time to blink. Faith slumped against the wall and sighed with relief.
The canister was a spell - done up by Willow herself. It would make the place where it was set off impenetrable to anyone but Faith. It was so effective that not even a molecule of anyone else's DNA could occupy space within the protected area - Buffy would have been teleported at least a hundred yards away by the initial blast. She'd been hoping not to use it, as Willow had warned her that it would be like setting off a magical atomic bomb - visible to any witch in the city. But Buffy had found her far too quickly. She needed a safe space, and this was the only way to guarantee it. The only witch in the world capable of breaking the spell, Willow promised, was herself, and the Willow of this time didn't have the skills or the ingredients necessary.
"Well," Faith observed, mostly to herself, "here we go."
Chapter 2: Nothing Like an Open Casket
"Buffy - oh my god, what happened?" Xander rushed to her side, but she shrugged him off.
"I'm fine - had a short fall."
"The outside of Faith's apartment building."
They made their way inside the house, where Willow and Tara were waiting at the table. Buffy, Xander and Giles took the remaining chairs, leaving Dawn's place empty. "She threw you off the balcony?"
"Not quite. It was-"
"Magic," Willow finished. "I don't know what that spell was, but Tara and I could feel it from across town. Heck, anybody with the slightest bit of magical ability could have felt that. What'd it do?" her eyes gleamed.
"Well, it popped me out of her apartment - unfortunately, it was straight out, so I dropped about twenty feet onto the street. Then I got hit by a car. Good times."
"It's some sort of elaborate barrier spell," Giles carried on. "The entire apartment is protected. After I saw to Buffy, I tried to scale the side of the building myself. The minute I touched her balcony I was teleported away as well."
"Well, it's easy then, isn't it?" Xander spoke up again, counting out the steps on his fingers. "Step one - break other Faith out of prison. Step two, tell her to break into her apartment for us. Step three, she gets annoyed and kills us all. Step four - old Faith and young Faith take over the world together. Okay, no, bad plan."
"Quite," Giles agreed. "Although best kept in mind as a last resort."
Xander tried again. "We can just keep a watch on her apartment, right? She's got to come out sometime."
"I, um, I would think if she has access to m-magic like that, she might have a way to make herself invisible. Buffy, how did she cast it?"
"She didn't say anything - it wasn't like watching you guys cast, Tara. She had a, uh, metal canister-thing, and when she hit the end of it the spell sort of exploded out of it."
Tara and Willow exchanged furtive looks. "That's a nearly impossible thing to do - to contain a spell in an object," Willow mused out loud. "There are only a handful of witches in the world that could set that up."
"Honestly, I'm more concerned with who she is. I mean, I know who she is, it's Faith - absolutely, definitely her - but much older. How can that be?"
"I hate to live up to my geek stereotype, but I'm going to throw it out there anyway - time travel."
"Xander, don't be ridiculous," Giles scolded.
"It's not that ridiculous, actually," Willow insisted. "There's a spell in Holmgren's diary-"
"What on earth would you be looking in Holmgren's diary for?" Giles demanded. "You've crossed more than enough lines already without-"
"I told you once, Giles, don't piss me off-"
"HEY!" Buffy shouted, slamming her hands on the table. "On topic, please. Will, you were saying?"
Still staring daggers at Giles, Willow went on. "There's a spell in there for time travel. It probably couldn't be cast without killing the caster, though."
"So this really could be Faith from the future? Well, that just raises all sorts of questions, doesn't it?"
Giles, still breathing deeply in an effort to control his temper, turned his attention to Buffy. "Did she say anything to you, Buffy? Before the spell?"
"She told me that there was no need for me to be involved. That it'd be easier if I wasn't. That was it, though. I shouldn't have pushed her. If I'd been thinking straight, I should have talked to her instead of making her fight. Shouldn't have let my feelings get in the way."
"You can't blame yourself, Buffy. Faith has always been - well, let's call it a bit unstable."
"I know that better than anybody, Giles - but I cost us a chance to find out what's going on. By the time we find her again - whatever she's here to do, we might be too late."
Faith donned a small necklace, her hands shaking slightly as she tried to work the clasp. The pendant on the chain was small and innocuous - a silver flower. When she had it done up, she held her hands out in front of her, scowling as they trembled. She found the recorder in her bag and clicked it on. "Willow - just a quick update. I know I don't need to be doing this, it'll be decades if ever before you hear this, but-" she hated herself for the tremble in her voice. "But there's no one else I can talk to. B found me long before I was ready for her. And, what's worse, I think the trip sped up the other problem somehow. I shouldn't have needed a dose for weeks, but at this rate I'll need one by tomorrow." She paced the apartment, her mind racing. "I don't see any choice - I'll have to involve myself early. I know I was supposed to wait and...take the players off the board at the last minute, but I can't wait that long. If I take them out early, it should have the same effect. I hope. Can't hurt, right?"
She clicked the recorder off and stowed it in her bag before grabbing the phone from the nightstand. "First things first," she muttered. Punching in a long-distance number, she waited two rings before a gruff voice answered.
"WC7. Recognition code?"
"Alpha six seven nine blue."
"Transfer sixty to First Capital account 6843390217."
"Travers eighteen seventy two gold."
"Confirmed. Funds transferred."
The line went dead, and Faith grinned. It was almost too easy. Willow had discovered, years down the line, that the destroyed Watchers' Council was worth billions. Those funds were supposed to be distributed to Watchers to support them and their Slayers, but the Council had stopped doing that sometime in the nineteenth century. Willow had also retrieved all of their codes from an outpost in France, and given them to Faith before her journey back. Faith now had sixty thousand dollars in walking around money - she didn't plan on being around long enough to spend it all, but best be prepared.
With a last look in the mirror, Faith gathered her bag and tucked a large knife into the holster on her ankle. Double-checking the address written on a scrap of paper, she nodded decisively and left the apartment.
When Warren Mears stepped out of the house he'd rented with Andrew and Jonathon, Faith was there. She stalked him silently, waiting for an opportunity. When he pulled open the back door of the black van in his driveway, she saw her chance. With a hearty shove, she forced him inside. He whirled on her, but the sight of the knife in her hand made him stop.
"I. Said. Sit." He did, blinking back frightened tears.
"Not such a big man without a gun, are you, Warren?"
"Who - who are you?"
"I'm the woman that's going to end your life."
Warren shrank back into his seat. "I - no, you've got the wrong - what'd I do?"
"Nothing yet. Well, nothing I should kill you for. But you will. And before I kill you, before I slit your throat and leave you here in a pool of your own blood, I want you to understand why. You've got grand delusions of being a supervillain. Good news for you? You succeed. Bad news? You kick the tires on the end of the world. Everyone dies. Everyone. And it's all your fault."
Warren whimpered, and she pointedly ignored the tang in the air that told her he'd wet himself. "So we're going to fix that, right now. I'm going to kill you, and the world will be a better place without you. Any last words?"
"Please!" he cried. "Whatever you want - I'll leave town, I'll never do anything even remotely bad again! I'm reformed!"
"You've had your second chance. So has your buddy Andrew - he's next, by the way. This is it, Warren - are you sure you don't have any last words? Nothing for people to remember you by?"
He whimpered, looking frantically around for an escape. He dove into the front seat, but she hauled him back by his shirt. He lashed out with a fist, but she easily blocked it. He lunged, and she drove the knife into him, aiming straight for his heart. He collapsed into the seat opposite her, the blade still buried in him. She pulled it free, watching impassively as he bled out. Only when he'd stopped breathing, and she'd reached out to gently close his eyes, did she cry. "I'm sorry," she whispered. "But it was for the best." She wept for a long time - for herself, for the future, for the necessity of taking another human life when she'd promised herself it would never happen again.
When the last of her tears were shed, she wiped her good eye and left the van, closing the door behind her. With the knife still in hand, she kicked open the door of the three's shared house.
Andrew was coming around the corner from the kitchen when the door swung in. "Warren?" he called plaintively, cradling a tray of muffins. When he saw Faith, covered in blood and carrying a knife, he shrieked. The tray had barely hit the linoleum floor when Faith grabbed him by the scruff of his neck, carrying him back into the kitchen and forcing him down into a chair. He started to get up the minute she let him go, but a single look was enough to stop him.
"Where's your friend? Where's Jonathon?"
"He - I - if you want money, it's all in the flower pot on the fridge!" he was weeping openly. "Don't hurt me!"
"Sorry, Andy - it's a bit late for that. Where is he?"
"He's not here - he's in town getting supplies! Please, please, please..."
"Man up, Andrew. Show some sack. This is what you wanted, isn't it? To be the big bad? To take on the slayer? Here I am."
"I - no, this isn't...I just wanted to be where Warren was!"
"That's how it starts, buddy. But one day soon you'll be part of something that I can't allow."
"Please!" he screamed. "I don't understand!"
"What'd I say? Quit your crying. I'll make this simple, so you can understand. Next year, you'll help jumpstart the apocalypse. Because a ghost tells you to, and you're too gutless to say no. I'm sorry, Andrew, but I just can't risk you doing it again." She patted his head. "If it's any consolation, you and Warren'll be together again real soon." She drew back the knife - and hesitated.
Andrew had stopped trying to fight, stopped resisting. Stopped doing anything, in fact, but sobbing brokenly. She aimed the knife at his chest - and stopped again. Finally, with a shout, she thrust the knife forward with all her might.
"So, if we can't get in, then how do we get her to talk to us?"
"You said she was on the phone when you got there, right?"
"Yeah, Wills, why?"
"Give me a minute," Willow cracked her knuckles and opened her MacBook. "I'll get her number."
"Buffy!" Xander entered at a run. "Half the Sunnydale PD just blew by me on the way here - something's up."
"Take Giles and check it out, okay? I need to get ahold of Faith."
"Will do - come on, G-man, let's go rubberneck!"
"Oh, how I haven't missed being called that," Giles muttered, following shortly behind Xander. Willow grinned, even as she kept typing.
"There - 555-0878."
"It wasn't even unlisted?"
Willow had the grace to flush. "Well, a little. But you needed it."
"You're the best, Will." Buffy grabbed the portable phone from the kitchen and dialled. It rang three times before there was an answer.
"Who is this?"
"Faith, it's me."
"B, if I didn't make myself clear, I don't want you around. It's easier for everyone if you just pretend I'm not here."
"I can't do that, Faith - you know that. Just tell me why you've come back, and I'll help you, okay?"
There was a long silence. "Pieced that together already, did you?"
"Actually, it was Xander."
Faith snorted. "Sure it was. And then he put on his cape and flew away. Look, B - I've got company right now, okay? We'll talk another time. For now, let's just say I'm here to save the world and leave it at that. If you knew any more than that, it might screw things up. Or worse, you might get some dumbass idea that you should stop me."
"Why would I stop you from saving the world?"
"Because you won't like the price." Faith hung up the phone. It started to ring again almost immediately, but she ignored it and returned to the living room. "Okay, boys," she looked at Andrew and Jonathon, who were nearly paralysed with fear on her couch - she'd exempted them from the barrier spell the way Willow had instructed her. "We're going on a road trip. Does that sound like fun?"
"Are we going to Disneyland?" Andrew seemed hopeful, and Faith rolled her eyes.
"No. We're going to Mexico. You're going to find me a knife."
"Could we stop for some road trip food on the way?"
Faith scowled. "Are you even half fuckin' serious? You know the only reason I haven't killed you both is that I need that knife. So please don't make me change my mind."
Buffy was at the kitchen table, drumming her fingers on a dark spot in the wood, when Xander and Giles returned.
"What was all the hubbub?"
"Another day in Sunnydale - where the property values plummet hourly. You remember that Warren guy? The one that built the robots - April and the, uh-"
"What about him?" Buffy pointedly ignored the reference to the Buffybot.
Someone iced him." Xander winced. "I'm really not cool enough to say iced."
"Vampire? In the middle of the day?"
"Not a vampire," Giles corrected. "Unless they've started using knives."
Buffy started. "He was stabbed?" She mulled over her conversation with Faith. "Faith. Must have been."
"What makes you say that?" Giles raised an eyebrow. "I'm not saying there's not a connection, but that's quite a leap."
"She told me she was saving the world - I asked her to tell me how, but she said something about me not liking the price."
"Interesting. Saving the world from what, I wonder? Someone went to great lengths to get her here, so we have to assume it's important."
"Let me guess," Xander sighed, "research."
"Ooh!" came an excited voice from the front door. "What are we researching?"
"You," Buffy glared at Dawn, "are researching how fast you can get your homework done. Upstairs, now."
"Fine," Dawn stomped away. "Thanks for asking about my day, and saying hello and stuff." She was gone before Buffy could reply. Running her hands through her hair, she looked helplessly at Giles.
"She'll be okay," he assured her. "Is Willow still here?"
"She and Tara went out for a while. She'll call later, though, and we'll get them in on the research too."
"What exactly are we looking for?"
"I'm afraid I'm not sure, Xander," Giles said reluctantly, "some looming apocalypse, I'd imagine."
"Oh, good - that narrows it down. Not like we don't have one of those once a year around here."
"Of course," Buffy added, "we're only assuming that someone on our side sent her back. Could it be the other way around?"
At a burger joint just outside of town, Faith shared a booth with Andrew and Jonathon. Shaking her head at her own weakness, she passed out everyone's food. "I can't believe you wheedled me into this," she muttered. "You whine more than D used to."
"So," Andrew munched his onion rings, "tell me about this knife."
"It's sort of pearl-handled. Has writing on the blade in some sort of demon language - tuvok? Traffic? Something like that."
Andrew snickered. "Tuvok is a Vulcan."
"Oh - I don't care." Faith glared.
"Tawarick?" Andrew suggested hastily, and she nodded.
"Yeah, sounds right. I don't read it, so I'll need you to make sure it's the right blade."
"What's it do?" Jonathon looked interested despite himself. "Why is it so important?"
Faith nearly told him exactly what the knife did, but resisted the urge. "It's sort of key to the end of the world. We need to find it and destroy it."
Andrew pointed at her. "You've got a little-" he mimed wiping under his nose. Faith dabbed under a nostril with one finger and it came away bloody.
"Fuck. Look," she pierced them both with a stare. "I need to go to the bathroom for a minute. I can be sure you'll be here when I get back, right? You know what'll happen if I have to chase you?"
"We know," Andrew said hurriedly. "We won't leave."
Faith nodded and grabbed her bag, retreating to the washroom at the back of the restaraunt. Locking the door behind her, she threw her bag on the counter and pulled out a small black case. Her fingers shook as she opened it to reveal a syringe and a row of vials, all containing an inky black liquid. As quickly as she could manage she loaded the syringe and jammed it into her arm. The shaking of her hands stopped almost instantly, and the blood flowing from her nose slowed to a stop. She mopped up the blood with a paper towel that she stuffed back in her messenger bag, returned the black case to the bag as well, and made her way back to the table.
Andrew looked appraisingly at her. "Are you all right? You look a bit pale around-"
"I'm fine," Faith snapped. "Are you two ready to go?"
"After we get this knife," Jonathon plainly didn't want to be asking the question, but he did anyway, "are you going to kill us?"
"Not unless I have to."
"And did you have to kill Warren?" Andrew was very nearly in tears.
"I did. I'm sorry - I know that doesn't help, but I am. If it makes any difference, it was a lot less painful than what was going to happen to him in a few months. But he was going to do a lot of things between now and then that I needed to stop, and he wasn't going to listen to reason."
"But you think we can be redeemed? Turned away from the path of evil?"
"Let me put it like this, Andy - I'm pretty sure you can be reformed. I'm less sure about Jonathon, but I'll give him a chance. Besides, I need you guys for more than just the knife."
"What else?" Andrew perked up.
"One thing at a time. Let's hit the road, we're wasting daylight."
"This is useless," Buffy fumed.
"I'm inclined to agree," Giles rubbed the bridge of his nose. "We have absolutely no specifics on what Faith might be trying to avert - or cause - which makes research next to pointless."
"Can you say that again? I want to remember this moment forever, maybe get a plaque made," Xander laughed.
"We don't even know if she's still here," Buffy stood and began to pace. "She could be anywhere by now. What are we going to do?"
"I hate to suggest it, but perhaps we're better off staying out of her way until her intentions are clear."
"Giles - you can't be serious. She just killed a man."
"We have no proof that she was involved. And if she did, it's possible she had good reason."
"Good reason? Who are you, and what have you done with Giles?"
"All I'm saying is that it may be prudent to wait until she resurfaces. We have no way of locating her at this point."
Buffy was silent for a moment. "Xander," she said slowly, "call Willow. Get her and Tara working on a way to find Faith. And beyond that - I guess you're right, Giles. All we can do is wait."
Unseen at the top of the stairs, Dawn sat listening intently.
Chapter 3: Magic Carpet Ride
The car, a 1967 Impala Faith had "liberated" from a parking lot near Warren's house, was doing 60 and heading south when Jonathon spoke softly from the passenger seat.
"Andrew's asleep. You can tell me now - what's the knife do?"
"I don't follow you, Jonny."
"I saw the look on your face when I asked earlier. You looked at him before you answered."
"You really wanna know? There's no going back if I tell you."
"I get it - I may be dead soon anyway. Just tell me."
"The knife belongs to something called the First. It's sort of the granddaddy of evil. Next year sometime, it appears to Andy in the form of Warren. Talks him into getting the knife, and using it to kill you."
Jonathon looked stunned, and for a long time he didn't reply. When he did, his voice trembled. "Why stop him? Why save me?"
"Well, a couple reasons. First, him using that knife on you is bad news for everyone. He opens some kinda magic seal with your blood, and all sorts of bad shit pours out. Also, I got a soft spot for the kid. I met him afterward, he actually ended up working with us for years. I'd like to spare him the pain of killing his best friend. And, you know, save your life in the deal."
"Probably better if you don't know all the details."
"Can I ask a different question, then?"
"We got a lot of miles ahead, shorty. If you won't get bored listening to my voice, I'll talk. It's either that or the radio, and pretty soon we'll be gettin' nothin' but Spanish anyway. But there's things I can't tell you. Clear?"
"Clear," Jonathon nodded eagerly. "Should I wake up Andrew?"
"Might as well. Saves me telling it twice." He did, and then turned back to her.
"When are you from?"
"I don't know the exact date - we weren't really calendar-obsessed, you know? Couple decades and change from now."
"How did you come back?"
"Magic - and that's all the answer you're getting, so no follow-up."
"You're a slayer like Buffy, right?"
"Well, I'm not sure B would agree, but yeah."
"Why did you come back?"
Faith exhaled sharply. "The world's in - well, to say bad shape doesn't cover it. It's been lost to the Others. The next year or two are the key to stopping that from happening. There's a lot of bad things going down, and I'm going to stop as many as I can."
"And the knife is the first one?"
"No - the first one, at least the first one I could change, was your buddy Warren. But that's done now."
"What did he do?"
"You don't want to know." There was a long silence at that.
"What happens to you if you fix the future?"
"How do you mean?"
"Do you just...disappear?"
"I hope so. I could use the rest. If not, I guess I'll just find a quiet place somewhere and live out the rest of my days. Oh - and while we're on that, I need something from you both. If anything happens to me, if I get whacked - don't touch my body. Just leave me where I lay and burn me. Okay?"
Andrew looked sick. "Why?"
"My blood is dangerous. No follow-up on that either. Are we clear?"
"Clear," Jonathon nodded. "I promise, we'll take care of it."
"Thanks, kid. So - either of you have any idea how to get through a border crossing without ID?"
"I can help with that," Andrew raised his hand.
Faith was impressed with the simplicity of Andrew's solution. They'd stopped in a small town along the way and he'd summoned a demon, striking a bargain for the use of its services. The demon, it turned out, shed a sort of powder that could be used to make the three of them - not invisible, but unimportant to anyone looking. Andrew called it a Jedi mind trick. That was how the demon got around without anyone noticing, and Andrew seemed confident it would work for them.
"You're a handy guy to have around, Andy." He beamed. "You think you can find the guy we need once we get there?"
"Well, if I found him once, I should be able to again. I have a feeling that knife's not going to be cheap, though, if it's as powerful as you say it is."
"Not a problem."
The radio was blaring an old mariachi tune when they pulled into the small village, the three of them having run out of conversational topics hours before. Faith clambered out of the impala, stretching her legs. As the others climbed out, a rough-looking young man approached Faith, chattering in harsh Spanish. She shook her head. "No habla."
"I said, that's a nice car, chica."
"It'd be a shame if something were to happen to it."
"Let me guess - you'll be a gentleman and keep it safe for me for a price?"
"You got it," he winked.
Faith ducked behind him, faster than he could move, twisting his arm up behind his back as she forced him to his knees. "Here's the deal," she whispered in his ear, ignoring his pained moans, "I like this car. If there's so much as a scratch in the paint when I get back, I'll find you and break every bone in your body twice. Understand?" He moaned. "I asked you a question!" she gave his arm a savage wrench.
"Si, si!" he cried, and she let him go. As he lay in the dirt cradling his arm, she walked away without a look back.
"Now - let's find us a weapons dealer."
The village wasn't big, but the dealer was well-hidden. As they walked in, Faith's senses went into overdrive. The guy at the counter, buying some sort of throwing star - he was a vampire. As she stepped toward him, however, the man behind the counter looked right at her. "This is neutral ground. You will do no harm here, slayer."
"How did you-"
"I can smell you." His eyes flashed, bright red. "Keep your stake in your jacket and go about your business."
In the years she'd spent as a slayer, Faith thought she'd seen most types of weapon - but the dealer's inventory baffled her. Her curiosity was peaked, but she resisted the urge to pick anything up - she knew better. Andrew didn't, however, and there was a loud clatter as he dropped a heavy sword. After the vamp handed over money for the star, he walked straight past her and through a well-hidden sewer entrance, smirking.
"Now, what can I do for you? I imagine you'd like a knife?"
"How did you-"
The man - or whatever he was - waved a dismissive hand. "I wouldn't be much of an arms dealer if I didn't know what my customers needed. I believe this is what you're looking for." He handed it to her, handle-first. She felt a nasty jolt travel up her arm as she touched it.
"Looks like the right one - Andy?"
"Uh - let's see. I consecrate to the oldest evil...yep, it's the one you were telling me about."
Faith turned back to the counter. "How much?" He named a price that was more than she'd expected, but less than she'd been prepared for. She handed over a large wad of bills, and he nodded happily. "Long days and pleasant nights, slayer."
Faith nodded. "Andy, Jon - let's go."
Whistling, Faith sauntered back to the car - and stopped dead at the sight of Mayor Wilkins in front of the Impala. She put her arms out to halt Andrew and Jonathon before stepping closer. "Take a hike," she told him. "I've been through this little game before, and it's long past rattling me."
"Manners," he said warningly. "You look different, Firecracker. Old. What are you doing here?"
"You know what I'm doing. Or else you wouldn't be here."
"I won't tell you again, Faith. Be polite. Do you really think that destroying that little bitty knife is going to stop me?"
"Actually, I do. I wasn't lying when I said I've been through this before. I know what this is, and I know why you need it. I drop this thing in a hot place somewhere, and your ass is grass."
"Language. Even if it's the apocalypse, you should try and set an example for others with your behaviour." He sighed. "Faith, Faith, Faith. Always so impulsive. Never stopping to think things through."
"You even got a point? I'm wicked bored."
"How do you think destroying that knife will stop me? I'm already out there in the world, girl, thinning the herd. All of your cute little potential slayers are still going to die."
"They're really not. Willow explained this to me, but I kinda zoned on the details. Something like, if I destroy your knife before it opens that seal, it sucks your power on this plane. Can't save the girls that have already died, but you won't be able to make any more of your eyeless wonders. Once I get the word spread, those girls and their watchers will take care of the Bringers that are already out there. Then you're done. That about right?"
"You have no idea what sort of forces you're playing with."
"That's a yes, then? You're just like I remember - pointless and boring, and full of empty fuckin' threats. And why am I even standing here? Boys, let's go." Walking deliberately through Wilkins' image, Faith climbed through the window and started the Impala. When the others were inside, she threw it into gear and sped away.
"Was that the First?"
"It was. It's scared. Means we're on the right track."
"Why did it look like the Mayor?"
"I worked for him, once upon a midnight. Andy, you have any demons on your speed-dial that can flambé this thing?"
"A few - but I need supplies. I guess we can't go back to our house, right?"
"Got that right. Tell you what, we're going to grab a hotel room along the way, and then hit Los Angeles in the morning. Figure you can get what you need there?"
"Oh, yeah - lots of magic shops in L.A. I used to order from some of them. What are we going to L.A. for?"
"Long story - we got yet another apocalypse to nip in the bud." There was a ringing from Faith's jacket, and she pulled out an old clamshell style cell phone. She kept driving, steering with one hand as she flipped the phone open. "Who's this?"
She nearly drove off the road in surprise, recovering in a spray of gravel. "D? Little D? Jesus, it's weird hearing from you."
"Don't call me that."
"Where did you get this number? I forgot I ever even owned this phone."
"You gave it to me. A long time ago. You've got everybody panicking, you know."
"I figured. Don't worry - I'll be done what I need to do soon, and everybody's going to be better off."
"Where are you?"
"Why? So you can tell your sister?"
"You know me better than that, Faith. Who helped you clean the blood off your shirt when you killed that Finch guy? Who didn't tell Buffy about all those times you spied on her?"
"I'm in Mexico, D. Look - I wish I could tell you more, but it wouldn't be safe. Just, uh, take care, okay? I love ya, but you need to lose my number." She felt bad when she slammed the phone closed and handed it to Jonathan, but she couldn't afford to regret it. "Here," she told him, "take out the battery, and throw both pieces out the window." He did. She drove on into the warm night, fingering the silver flower around her neck absently.
The night was ablaze. All around her, the burning corpses of demons filled the air with light. Faith gave each of them a sharp jab with her boot until she was satisfied that they weren't playing possum. When she turned, another figure was approaching through the smoke. Faith grinned.
"Took your time, didn't you?"
"Well, I know what a little firebug you are, figured I'd leave you to it. Are they all done?"
"Roasted Other - the other white meat. Now, what could I do with the rest of my night?"
"Well, you could eat me out. I think that'd be a really good idea."
"Jesus!" Faith laughed. "When did you get such a dirty mouth on you?"
"Must be catching."
"Are you implying that I have a dirty mouth?"
Cargo pants and a skimpy pair of panties hit the ground, disturbing a fine layer of ash. "Let's find out."
The landscape changed. A prison camp - Faith was pounding on a reinforced gate, screaming at no one. There was a gasp behind her, and she turned.
"B? This isn't right - you were never here."
"So I guess this is your mind?" Buffy looked around. "Is this the future?"
"Not for much longer."
"We need to talk."
"No - you need to go. I'll see you when I'm finished."
"Gimme it!" a voice was calling. "You had the first two!"
"I need it!" another responded. Faith cracked her eye to see Jonathon and Andrew fighting over something.
"What the hell is all the noise about?"
"Oh," Andrew paled. "He, uh - he ate all the pop tarts. I want the last one, but he won't give it to me."
"Jesus Christ. This is what I'm awake for? Because you two tweens want to fight over pastry? I ought to just," she sighed, running a hand through her hair. "Never mind. Get your shit together, and let's go. And Andrew, if you want the damn thing, take it from him." She stood and made her way to the room's filthy bathroom, staying for as little time as she could.
"Andrew," she asked once they were underway, "where in L.A. are these shops? Do you remember any of the addresses?"
"Uh - no. I had them on the computer."
"Okay. We'll make a stop first, then." She patted her jacket pocket to ensure she still had the knife and prepared for the border crossing.
The Impala sat idling outside the Hyperion, and Faith drummed her hands nervously on the steering wheel. "Okay - I'm going to go inside. You guys should stay here for now - I don't know how ugly this is going to be." She shut the car off and handed the keys to Jonathan. "If I'm not out in a half hour, leave without me. Don't go back to Sunnydale, it's not safe. Okay?"
"Okay," they both swallowed nervously. With a sigh, she got out and walked in through the hotel's front door.
"Welcome to Angel Investigations, we help the - oh god. It's you."
Faith was hardly surprised at the crossbow suddenly aimed at her chest. "Take it easy, okay? I'm here to help."
"Faith, you've never helped anything in your life. That's a really terrible haircut, by the way. And what's with the eyepatch, anyway? If it's supposed to be a disguise, it doesn't work very well."
"You're such a bimbo," Faith raised the patch with one hand to reveal her empty socket. Cordelia gagged.
"Put it down, Cordy.," the voice came from above them. "I was wondering when you'd come."
"Angel - s'good to see you."
"How'd you know?"
"Giles phoned me a few days ago to make sure you were still in prison."
"I shoulda figured. Give me half a tick, okay? I got a couple guys in the car I wanna bring in." She rounded up her two travel companions and returned to what was now a full lobby - Wesley, Gunn and Fred had joined Angel and Cordelia.
"Wes," Faith nodded, keeping a respectful distance. "This is so weird - I just saw you last week, but you were so much older then."
"Time travel is a tricky thing," he agreed, obviously not willing to say more.
"If it makes any difference now, I'm sorry - for everything. You're a good friend in the future, but I'm not sure I ever apologised to you outright."
"Accepted," Wes nodded.
"What about me?" Cordelia piped up. "Are you good friends with me in the future?"
"I - well, I shouldn't tell you guys too much. I'm more concerned with the present, for now."
"Oh, god - I die in some horrible way, don't I?"
"Cordy, I can't. I'm sorry - for now, I really need to talk to the big guy, okay? Can one of you rustle up some grub for the two stooges, in the meantime? They've been harping about tacos since we crossed the Mexican border."
"I'll take them," Fred volunteered happily.
"Wow," Angel shook his head. "That's - kind of a lot to take in."
"I know - I'm sorry to dump it all in your lap."
"I'm going to be a father," he mused, smiling. "I have a son."
"Focus, Fang. What happens after that, that's the important part."
"I know - I've got it all written down. Faith - why are you here?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, this sounds bad - but not world-ending bad."
"Not in itself. But Connor, Holtz, the whole Jasmine thing, plus your stint at Wolfram and Hart, on top of the stuff that goes down in Sunny D - they're all stepping stones. Once they all go down, there's no coming back."
"But an army of slayers-"
"They're not slayers. They're scared little girls with power. Not even close to the same thing. They're the only reason that the world lasts as long as it does, but they're not nearly enough. Especially after we get sold out."
"This is going to sound really rude, but is something the matter with you, physically? Your blood - I can smell it. It's - wrong, somehow."
Faith gave him a weary grin. "Vampire senses. Never get tired of those. I've got - well, we've honestly never come up with a good name for it, just The Plague. It's some kind of blood poisoning you get if one of the Others bites you."
"Is it fatal?"
"Completely. We've got a serum that will hold it back for a while, but eventually it'll always kill you dead."
"Do you have enough?"
"I hope so. I shouldn't be here much longer - once I get rid of this knife, I should pop out of existence. That was Willow's theory, anyway."
"And if you don't? Why don't you leave a sample with us, we'll try and synthesize more, just in case."
Faith shrugged. "Alright. I really hope I won't need it, though."
"You're okay with popping out of existence?"
"I really am. I could use the rest, you know?"
Angel nodded. "I understand, I really do. I just hope-"
"Well, if all these things tipped the scales, so to speak, then what are you doing by cancelling them out? Are you tipping the scales too far the other way?"
"Good question," the voice came from a dark corner of the office. From the shadows stepped a short man in natty clothes and a bowler hat. "That's a really good question, actually."
"Who the fuck-"
"In the flesh."
Faith strode over and poked him in the chest, hard enough to rock him back on his heels.
"Hey! Easy on the merchandise!"
"Sorry. Just checking." She turned back to Angel. "So, who's this clown?"
"Whistler - he's a demon, of sorts. Some kind of balancing entity."
"He looks like a street performer. What does he balance? Dinner plates? I love those guys, when they spin ‘em on those little sticks. Used to see ‘em in Chinatown back in Boston." Faith smirked.
"You know, people used to have respect for the mystical. Good and Evil, baby. That's what I balance."
"Call me baby again and you'll be balancing your kidneys - one in each goddamn hand."
Whistler swallowed. "Right. So, here's the deal, Faith. The universe is a tad unhappy with you. You're upsetting the apple cart."
"So the universe would be more impressed if I let all these things happen, let the demons take the planet?"
"Yes. Things would be bad for a while, but eventually something - someone, really - would come along and balance it out for the other side."
"Yeah, sorry. I didn't live through all that shit to let it happen again. I'm making things better."
"And I'm trying to tell you, you're not. Might seem that way now, but if you pull the balance too far to one side, it's gonna snap back like a rubber band. And it's gonna hurt."
"Is that a prophecy?"
"Noted. Have a good day."
"Angel, you haven't lived through all of this." Faith fingered her necklace. "You haven't lost everything. Everyone. Had the whole world turn on you while you try to save them. It's going to take more than some bullshit warning from a guy who dresses like Cousin Vinny to change my mind."
"There's always more to lose, Faith."
"Didn't I tell you to get out? Let me correct that mistake." Faith opened the office door. "Get out."
"If you need me - when you need me, Faith, I'll be at Willy's Place in Sunnydale. Maybe you'll be ready to listen to the next time we meet."
"Don't count on it." Faith slammed the door behind him. "I'm going to hit the road, Angel. Miles to go and all that. You're clear on what you need to do - all of you - and what not to do?"
"Crystal. Faith-" Angel hesitated, seeming to change his mind. "Be careful out there. And if I don't see you again - thank you. I'm so proud of you - what you became. The person I knew you could be."
"Thanks, Fang. I hope Connor turns out alright this time. And make sure that son of a bitch Holtz suffers. His little helper monkey costs us big before it's over."
"Oh!" Angel said suddenly. "I just had a thought - why don't you go and see Lorne before you go. He might be able to give you some idea how things are going to turn out."
"Lorne? Wow - I haven't seen him since," she hesitated. "Never mind. Long story. I'll stop by and see him on the way out, alright? Take care," without waiting for his reply, she strode out of his office and around the front desk, catching a glimpse of the green-skinned demon in the lobby.
"Lorne!" she called. "Angel wants me to sing a song for you."
"We haven't met, have we, sweetcakes?" Lorne watched her approach curiously.
"Not yet - I'm Faith. If I wasn't changing things, you'd have met me next year. Younger me, I mean."
"Did Angel explain what happens when you sing for me?"
"Didn't need to - I've met you before. We hung out a lot, actually. Got royally pissed together in this little dive in Boston, and we danced on the bar - those were good times."
"I wish I could have been there for that," he laughed. "Okay, honey - let's hear what you've got."
She sang a few verses, knowing she was badly off-key, and watched as Lorne's red eyes widened with surprise. Before she could sing any more, he put a hand up to stop her.
"First of all, good song - why haven't I heard it before?"
"It won't be out for," she counted on her hand, "five years or so."
"Well, I've got good news and bad news. Any preference?"
"Bad first, always."
"You're going to die."
"Well, I sorta figured. I'm already dying. Is it a good death, at least?"
"Yeah - you go down a hero, Faith."
"Good," she swallowed. "And the good news?"
"You'll live, too. You'll save the world before you go. And she'll tell you that she loves you."
"You know who. The one that gave you your necklace."
Faith smiled sadly. "Cool. It was good seeing you again, Lorne. It's been a long time."
"Nice meeting you, Faith. Good luck." Faith reached out and bumped fists with the demon.
"Andrew! Jonny!" she called. "Let's haul ass, we're burning daylight!"
Lorne watched her go, and when she was out the door he made his way to Angel's office. "Angel-cakes," he walked in without waiting for an invitation, "we really need to talk."
"So, when's this demon get here?"
"Actually, it's not coming. He gave me the recipe we need, though, he just didn't want to be here in person."
"The hell are you talking about, Andy? I told you-"
"I know!" Andrew squeaked. "It wouldn't come, though! It said something about not wanting to be involved in anything about the First."
"Fine. You boys get the fire going, then - I'm going to stretch my legs." They were in a dark ravine just outside of Los Angeles. With the sun down, the desert was cold, and Faith pulled her jacket tighter around herself as she walked. She'd only gone a quarter mile when someone spoke from beside her.
"Faith - please don't do this."
"Is looking like B supposed to impress me? It really doesn't."
"Well, you do love her. She knows it, too."
Unconsciously, Faith's hand went to her necklace, but she never stopped walking. "Quit wasting my time. I'm going to burn your knife, and that'll be the end of it. Unless you've got some Bringers ready to send after me, or an ubervamp? No? Didn't think so."
"I'm curious - why not just keep me from dying? If you were going to change anything, why not that?"
"If you want to talk, we can talk, but don't pretend like you're really her when we both know better. And I'm sure you know this as well as I do, but I don't mind driving the point home while the boys stoke the fire. First of all, the Eye...thing, whatever it was called, that Anya talked to was full of it. Willow says the weakness in the line started the minute there was two slayers instead of one. It had nothing to do with resurrecting B. Second, the mystic shit that went on with the Key and Glory and the portal made it really hard to time travel to that point. I don't get that, myself, but feel free to go to the future and ask Willow how it works."
"You have no idea what you're starting." The First's form changed, and Faith's insides clenched. It continued, in the clipped English accent of her first Watcher. "Slayers are so very limited. Good, Evil, Black, White. The world is so much more complex than that. What's waking up in the dark is worse than anything I'd have done to you."
"I'm sorry - aren't you the First Evil? The thing darkness fears, all that bullshit? If you're not the high dog on the totem pole, where did you get your name from? Do they just assign ‘em randomly when you join the Evil League of Evil? Am I gonna meet the Fourth Evil soon?"
"Stop talking back and just listen. The universe is about balance, Faith. Between light and dark, order and chaos, good and evil. You're creating order, and good. Too much order, in fact, and too much good. If you stay on this path, Chaos will take notice. The balance will be restored, one way or the other."
Faith was rattled, but tried not to show it. "Right - hang on while I take advice from the evil I'm about to vanquish. Have a nice, long, frustrating existence, okay? I won't miss you. Maybe your ubervamps can keep you company."
"You'll regret this, Firecracker," the Mayor's voice warned. "You really don't want to add to your list of regrets. Stop now, and the universe will balance itself out without too much harm to anyone. Those things in the dark won't wake. Stop before it's too late."
"I've got no more regrets. I've moved on."
"Not even me?" the voice was like a bucket of cold water. She stopped dead and turned to look - the First wore the form of a toddler, no more than two or three. "You don't regret what happened to me?"
"That wasn't my fault," Faith looked away, running a hand through her hair. "And you're not helping me want to save this knife of yours."
"Remember that boy, Faith. Remember how bad you feel every single day. And then remember that if you do this, you'll add the whole world to your regrets." With that, the First was gone. Shivering, Faith walked another half mile before returning to the others. Andrew had the fire going nicely, its flames a fluorescent purple colour in the dark.
"Is it ready?"
"It's done - you just need to throw it in."
Faith flipped the knife over in her hands, taking a final look at it. "So long, fucker," she muttered, throwing the knife into the flames. The fire exploded, knocking all three of them backward and blossoming into a purple flare that lit up the sky. The ground shook, but the tremors stopped short of becoming a full-fledged earthquake. When the smoke cleared, the entire fire pit had vanished, fallen into a new crater in the desert hardpan. Faith tried to ignore the feeling running up and down her spine - like something was watching her from the darkness. She waited to see whether she'd vanish, but after a few tense, silent minutes, she laughed quietly and sat up.
"Well, good to see Willow's theory was for shit. Andrew, Jonathon - here's the deal. You're free to go, if you want. But if you'd rather - I mean, if you'd be interested - I could use some more help."
"Are you kidding?" Jonathon nearly leapt to his feet. "We saved the world! This is the coolest thing I've done since graduation - I met a vampire, and the First Evil! I'm so in." He looked to Andrew.
"Would it just be the three of us?"
"Actually, we'll be hooking up with Buffy and co at some point."
"So in," Andrew nodded. "Where to?"
"Back to Sunnydale. We've got some digging to do."
"Do you ever wish things were different?"
"What do you mean, babe? The world?"
"No - well, yeah, of course. But I mean you and me. Don't you wish we could have pieced together how we both felt years ago?"
"I don't know - I mean, I was in prison, so knowing it then wouldn't have helped. And the whole thing with the First, we couldn't have done anything then."
"I always wondered why it hurt so much to see you with Robin. God, I was clueless."
"Me too - I should have thought maybe that tug in my chest whenever I saw you was love. But honestly, I really wasn't sure how that was supposed to feel. I've only loved one other person, and that was different."
"Do you still think about him?"
"Yeah. Even with everything - I wish he could be here, you know? I wonder what kind of man he might have turned out to be."
"He'd have been great - he had you to look up to."
"Didn't work out well for him though, did it?"
When the alarm blared, Faith tried her best to shake off the memory of a conversation that wouldn't happen for nearly ten years. Stretching, she crossed the bedroom and pulled on an old pair of shorts and a ragged t-shirt before heading out into her kitchen. Andrew and Jonathon were already there, eating large bowls of sugary cereal.
"Morning, guys. How'd the shopping go?"
"Good - we got everything, and there was no sign of Buffy or her people."
"Wicked - remember, though, if she sees you, don't panic. She barely knows who you are, and she has no reason to suspect you're with me unless you give her one, yeah?"
"Right," Jonathon nodded. "So, what are we digging for?"
"There's an old vineyard near here. They've got an old weapon buried in the rock underneath it. I want it."
"Some kind of slayer superweapon?" Andrew looked excited.
"Oh, yeah - the WMD of the slayers."
"It's going to be just like that Babylon Five where..." Faith tuned him out, nodding in appropriate places as she made bacon and eggs for breakfast.
"Oh, you guys found Canadian bacon - nice job. Want any?" Both declined. "More for me, then." Finished cooking, she pulled a chair out from the table and sat down, munching happily on the bacon - a delicacy when she'd come from, as the livestock had long since died out.
"So, what's this weapon?" Andrew's eyes gleamed.
"Willow called it a scythe. Always looked more like an axe to me. Had an axe blade on one end, and the handle had a stake on the end. Plus, it was wicked mystical - Willow used it to work some serious mojo. This time around, though, we're going to make sure no one loses an eye getting it."
Andrew paled. "Who lost an eye? You?"
"Nah, that happened later. And neither of you, don't stress. First time, B led the whole gang in there, and we got our asses resoundingly kicked. But the First and its preacher aren't here this time." She caught a glimpse of her reflection in the balcony window. "Shoulda got you guys to pick me up some hair dye. I look like shit. If I was going to disappear, I wouldn't care so much, but if I'm going to hang around I should clean up a bit."
"You look really nice," Jonathon said shyly.
"You're sweet, kid. But you shouldn't lie - it's bad for your complexion. Anyway," she shovelled a last forkful of eggs into her mouth, chewed and swallowed, "I should go hit the shower. Pack all the digging gear, and the weapons on the counter, okay?"
"Sure," Andrew nodded. When Faith was safely out of the room, he turned excitedly to Jonathon. "This is so awesome - we're, like, superheroes! I mean, we're not the Avengers, but Faith is definitely Captain America, and we're, like, the Great Lakes Avengers or something!"
"But what about Warren? I mean, sure, he wasn't the nicest guy sometimes, but she killed him!"
"He was evil," Andrew protested. "She said so."
"But if we were redeemable, why wasn't he?"
"Because he was a sick fuck!" Faith yelled from the bathroom. "He got you guys to help him rape and murder his ex-girlfriend, and then he shot two people who mean a lot to me. Not because he was under any kind of mystical influence, just because he was that kinda guy. And Jonathan, if you have doubts, feel free to walk out the door, ‘kay? No one's forcing you to be here anymore." The sound of the shower running filled the silence that followed.
It was another day for Buffy. Like every other since she'd been resurrected, it was cold and empty and filled with things she didn't care about anymore. What did get her attention was Whistler, coming out of Willy's Place. Sprinting over, she pulled him by the collar into a nearby alley and shoved him up against the wall.
"What the hell," she snarled, "are you doing here?"
"What is it with you slayers? Always so needlessly violent!"
"Look, cut the crap - the last time you were here, my life went south really badly. So why are you back?"
"I'm waiting for your tag-team partner, actually."
"You mean Faith? She's in prison, you might be waiting a while."
"Not that one. The older one."
"She's meeting you here?"
"Eventually. When she figures out that she has to."
"So, you know why she's here?"
"Yeah. I've even tried to talk her out of it."
"I knew it!" Buffy fumed. "I knew she was lying about saving the world."
Whistler shrugged out of her slack grip, adjusting his collar. "Actually, no. She wasn't - she's pretty much the only champion the world has left when she comes from. She's trying to help, to make all of the bad things that wrecked the world never happen."
"I don't get it. Then why try and stop her?"
"Because stopping all of the little bad things means unleashing one really big bad thing. But she's lived such a hard life, for so long, that all she can see are the things she wants to change. She's blind to the consequences."
"Do you know where she is?"
"Yeah. It's almost too late, though."
"I'll stop her - just tell me where."
"There's a vineyard - head east out of town, you can't miss it. She's there." Buffy turned and started to run, but Whistler yelled after her. "Buffy!" She stopped. "Be careful with her - she's been through more than you could imagine. And you're going to need each other."
Chapter 4: Interlude - My Fellow Americans
The following is a transcript of the President's address to the nation, made on August 17, 2013 - ten years after the destruction of Sunnydale. Sections marked [LOST] have been destroyed between the original broadcast and the date of archival. Please note that the TV audiences only saw the section that ends "God Bless America." The rest was captured on tape by accident and discovered in the ruins of the White House by Slayer Team 7.
Cameraman: And we're live in 3, 2, and 1.
President Wilson: My fellow Americans. Today is an historic occasion - one that marks the rebirth of our great nation. I, along with the leaders of nearly every nation on our planet, have signed a peace accord with the so-called ‘demons' that have become more and more prominent in our society. With this accord, we now have assurances that there will be no further attacks on humanity, and that our society as we know it will remain largely unchanged. The Others, as they would prefer to be called, will assume positions in our governments, but leave the day-to-day operations up to us.
There is, however, one condition to this agreement. The terrorists who call themselves Slayers must cease and desist their activities, and turn themselves over to authorities immediately. Any further acts of aggression against the Others will be met with extreme force from both the Others and from our military. We urge them to turn themselves over peacefully, and prevent any unnecessary loss of life. All Slayers will be treated with the utmost respect and humanity, and granted fair trials before a sovereign court.
I know there will be many questions in the days to come, but rest assured that the Others and I will work together to allay all of your concerns. Thank you, and God Bless America.
Cameraman: And...we're out.
Wilson: There. Is that what you wanted?
UNKNOWN: Yes. It's important that the transition go smoothly.
Wilson: But who are these girls? How did an army grow up in this country without anyone noticing?
UNKNOWN: It doesn't matter. Once they're rounded up, we'll have real peace. Then the work can begin.
Wilson: What work is that?
Muffled screams: Someone shoot them! The bullets aren't working! Someone save the President!
UNKNOWN: Kill them! No witnesses!
Screams, sounds of bones cracking and furniture breaking, then silence.
UNKNOWN: Is that camera still on?
Chapter 5: Future Imperfect
"Andy - pass me that laser saw thing, will you? That's too much fun. We're nearly there now, guys - a few more hours, tops."
"Faith?" Jonathan sounded nervous. "I just heard a noise outside. I think someone's coming."
"Stay behind me," Faith motioned, jumping down from the excavation. "I got it." When the door swung open to reveal Buffy, silhouetted in the afternoon light, Faith cursed. "I thought she didn't see you guys."
"I didn't," Buffy corrected. "I had a visit from an old acquaintance."
"A demon - named Whistler."
"That interfering little fucker - I shoulda broke his neck in L.A."
"You were in L.A.?"
"Doesn't matter- turn around and walk away, B. It's not time for you to be part of this yet."
"Whistler says I have to be part of it. That I have to stop you. What you're doing - it's going to end badly."
"Yeah, the First told me that too. Not big on advice from demons, B. Not the evil kind or the ‘balancing' kind. Spent too long being re-educated by demons to take them at their word. Just let me do what needs doing, okay?"
"I can't - I'll stop you if I have to, Faith."
"You really think you can?" Faith was moving now, and the two circled each other warily. Behind her, Jonathan squeaked "holy cats," and looked for a place to hide. Andrew watched the two of them, fascinated.
"I do - I've got a few years on you now. But I don't want to fight you, so please don't make me. I know you're trying to do the right thing. We just need to sit down and figure out what might happen, whether it's safe for you to do anything else. Giles can help us. You're not all alone anymore, Faith - let us help you."
Faith coughed, trying to clear a sudden lump in her throat. "B, I can't stop now - I don't know..."
"How long I'll be here. Changing the future - it's not a science. Wills figured if I changed things enough, then I'd never exist to come back and change them, or something. And then I'll disappear. I want to fix everything first, just in case..."
"Come home, Faith. Please. We'll figure it out - I'm sure we have time to talk before you disappear." They'd stopped circling each other, but neither of them noticed.
"Okay," her voice was quiet. "Guys, come on - we can finish this later."
"It's remarkable," Giles said for the seventh time that afternoon. "That such a thing is even possible - extraordinary."
"Yeah, well, that's me - extraordinary." Faith looked around the table, her gaze settling on Dawn. "See somethin' green, squirt?"
"No, I was just - how did you lose your eye?"
"Dawn!" Buffy snapped.
"It's fine, B. I suppose all of ya have questions. Might as well get that over with first. Does someone wanna order pizza, though? I'm starvin'." Buffy did, listening from the kitchen as Faith kept talking. "Keep in mind, though, I don't remember every single detail between then and now - history was never my best subject."
"Of course," Giles nodded.
"My eye - it was a polgara demon, I think. Had a long spike on one arm? I got caught in a nest of ‘em one night, and it poked it out just as easy as you can blink."
"Why didn't you get a glass eye or something?"
"Doctors were pretty scarce by then, D. The ones still around were busy trying to keep people alive. Between the demon attacks and the plague, they had a lot to deal with that didn't include vanity shit like glass eyes and fake tits, you know?"
"Plague?" Xander spoke up. "You mean, like, middle ages ‘bring out your dead' plague?"
"Nah. We had some of those too, but this was the plague. The new demons - the Others - that were popping up, they carried some sort of venom. If they bite ya, you're infected. If they bleed on you, you're infected. Anyone who comes in contact with your blood, they're infected too."
"What are the symptoms?" Giles pushed his glasses up his nose.
"First, you get the shakes. Like the disease - the one that actor had?"
"Parkinson's?" Buffy asked, re-entering the dining room.
"That's the one. When it gets further along, it starts to shut down your body. Organs kinda just die. Eventually your lungs stop working, and you suffocate, but not many people last that long."
"You know a lot about it," Giles said hesitantly.
"Yeah, well - I watched it kill a lot of people I love, and even more of them that I didn't know. And I'm infected myself." Ignoring the collective gasp, she pulled out her black case and opened it on the table. "Without a shot of this stuff every now and then, I'd be dead by now. Even with this stuff, I won't last too long - it only holds it back, it doesn't cure it."
"I'll ask the question I don't think anyone wants to," Giles' voice was quiet. "How bad is the situation where - er, when, rather - you're from? And when are you from, exactly?"
"Let's pick a round number - call it twenty-five years from now. Might be slightly one side or the other. And the situation...well. When I left, there were only three human settlements left on earth. One in Australia - actually, that whole continent was supposed to be demon-free, but I never heard from anyone who actually lived there, so I think it was a myth. Another in London, and one in Los Angeles. That's where me and Willow were."
"How many were left?" Giles was horrified, and it came through in his voice. The rest were stunned silent.
"You mean people? Free people? Couple hundred thousand, maybe half a mil, between the settlements. It was over. The world was gone - that's why I'm here. Humans - all of us - we were on the way out. The world belonged to the Others. Legally and otherwise."
"Uh - you probably don't need to know about that. It'd take all night."
The table was silent for a long time. Then Buffy spoke. "Where was I?"
"I can't tell you that. I'll make you a deal, though. I'll give you a twenty-minute history lesson instead - all the things I came here to change." And she did - she told them about Warren shooting Buffy, about Willow's descent into dark magics, about the First and Caleb and Xander's eye, and the spell that activated the Potentials. She skated around some details, though - not mentioning Tara's death or Buffy's relationship with Spike, or how their activation of the Potentials made them targets in the future.
The pizza delivery boy arrived just as she finished, which curtailed discussion of her revelations until after they'd eaten. And even then, the discussion mostly happened in small groups while Faith, Andrew and Jonathan sat quietly at the table.
"I'm so sorry, baby," Willow was sobbing in Tara's lap. "I didn't know - I never thought I'd get that bad. I will never do that to you, I promise you, I swear. I can't imagine-"
"It's okay, Will," Tara whispered. "Let's just never lose each other like that, okay?"
"Never," Willow whispered, and they shared a passionate embrace.
"Why did you go to L.A.?" Buffy asked.
"That'd take a whole other day to go through, B. Suffice to say, they had some apocalypses of their own. All safely averted now."
Xander and Anya had talked through the failure of their impending nuptials, a surprise which Faith had spoiled without thinking, and seemed to have reached some sort of peace with the situation. Finishing her pizza, Faith stood and stretched.
"I guess the rest of it can wait until tomorrow - the Q and A, I mean. It's gettin' dark. But there's one other thing you all need to know before we can move forward."
"What's that?" Giles asked.
"It's not mine to tell. B, you've gotta tell ‘em. If they know, it'll make things better between all of you. If you don't - I will." She turned to Andrew. "Come on, guys. We'll head back to my apartment for the night. We'll see you guys tomorrow, okay?" They nodded. "And B? I'm serious - if they don't know by tomorrow morning, I'll tell them." Without waiting for a reply, Faith led Andrew and Jonathan outside.
When Dawn answered the door the next morning, it was obvious she'd been crying. Faith gave her an awkward hug. "I take it she told you?" Dawn nodded against her shoulder. "I have to know for sure, D - what'd she tell you?"
"That she was in heaven," Dawn's voice was thick. "That we pulled her out of heaven."
Faith sighed. "Look, D - I know it sucks, but last time around she kept it inside until it nearly tore her apart. Now she can get some help - you can all help her."
"I guess," Dawn let her go and stepped back. "Come in."
Faith followed her in, and found everyone in the dining room. Buffy stared daggers at her. "It's done," she spat.
"I know - and I know it's hard, B, but all of these people love you, okay? Let them help. It goes really badly if you don't."
"Yeah," Buffy looked distant. "Let's finish your part now - you ready to answer questions?"
"Yep," Faith pulled out a chair and sat. "But some of the stuff you're going to ask - the future's changed, remember. I might not even have the answers anymore."
"It was me that sent you back, right?" Willow went first.
"Yeah. Oh, and B? Future Willow says hi."
"What spell did I-"
"I don't know the mystical stuff," Faith interrupted. "Besides, you were into some wicked dark stuff by then, so who knows where you got it. You scared the Others, and they didn't scare easy. You shouldn't need to use anything like that, now."
"Were you married?" the question, from Dawn, took everyone by surprise.
"Where would you get an idea like that, squirt?"
"You've got a tan line on your finger, where a ring would be."
Faith looked down at her hand, surprised. "Actually, that's not from a tan. I got set on fire once, melted the ring to my hand - but that's a long, violent, really funny story, and not at all age-appropriate for the Disney channel set."
"Who were you married to?"
"Now, that is a part of the story I'm not sharing. Seems like that sort of thing could do a pretty good job of fuckin' up the future."
"No, Dawn. Sorry." Faith suddenly slapped her forehead. "Dammit - I forgot something, too. Can someone get me a phone?" Dawn did, and Faith dialled. "What's your bank account number, B?"
"Just get me a cheque, okay? And hurry." Buffy tossed her a chequebook from an end table just as the line was picked up.
"WC7. Recognition code?"
"Alpha six seven nine blue."
"Transfer seven fifty to Bank of America account 6392876640."
Faith checked a sheet of paper she pulled from her bag. "Travers fourteen ninety two omega."
"Confirmed. Funds transferred."
The call ended, and Faith smirked. "I'd say your money troubles are over, B."
"What? What are you talking about - who was that?"
"That was a shell company that handles the Watchers' Council's funds. They just transferred seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars into your bank account."
Buffy found herself smiling, mostly in disbelief, for the first time since her resurrection. "They what? Why would they do that?"
"Because years from now, Willow finds their passwords and the way to access their money. It's money that should have been ours anyway - it was supposed to be paid to slayers and watchers, they just didn't do it. Bastards were stinking rich the whole time."
Buffy wiped a relieved tear away. "Faith, I - I don't know what to say. This makes everything - god, so much easier. I was getting ready to look for jobs. I was so desperate I was even thinking about the Doublemeat."
"Well, you do look cute in the hat - I've seen pictures," Faith grinned. "But there's no need. And if you need more, just let me know. I can pull that trick a few more times before I run out of codes."
"What was the state of the Council, exactly, when you left?" Giles had removed his glasses, and was rubbing at the bridge of his nose.
"They got nuked by the First before we beat it. And the UN finished the job of taking them apart. You, Wes, and a handful of others were all that were left after that. Oh, and Andrew, of course. You trained him pretty good."
"Where are those two, anyway?" Xander raised an eyebrow.
"Probably screwing with my Playstation. Andrew's been eyeing it since they got to my apartment."
"Wait," Giles interrupted. "You evaded my question."
"No slippin' anything past you, G-man. I did, and I'm not going to give you a straight answer. You're asking me who's alive, and who's dead - that kind of answer isn't going to help anything. Plus, like I said - different future. For all I know, you guys are all sitting around a campfire in the future singing kumbaya now."
"But if we were," Xander pointed out, "why would you still be here?"
"Me disappearing when the future changes is only one way this could go. Wills didn't know for sure - not even a really solid guess. The spell had never been cast before, that she knew of. I could save the world, turn it into a fuckin' paradise, and still get left here."
"Well, that sucks," everyone turned to stare at Buffy. "No - I didn't mean it like that, I meant for Faith! You have to live here, all these years, being avoid-y with your past self?"
"Well, my past self is in prison, B. And now that Angel and Co won't need me, I guess Wes won't be breaking me out, so I'll be there for a while."
"That doesn't seem fair," Anya protested. "You're making all of our lives better, and your own worse? That seems - communist or something."
"Hey, it sucks - no denyin' it. But it was my choice to go to prison anyway. And I didn't come back to help myself - or even you guys, except indirectly. I just want to fix the world."
"Buffy tells us she was warned that what you were doing might have adverse effects?"
"Yeah, G, I got told that too," Faith related the warnings from the First and Whistler. "But I don't buy it."
"Perhaps I'll do a bit of research - it's odd that the warnings were so similar if they were from two different sides, as it were."
"Cool," Faith stood. "If that's all, I think B should use her newfound wealth to go have a spa day or somethin'.
"I think I can do that," Buffy smiled. "Will you join me?"
"Nah. Too girly for me - I'll go and catch a flick or something, and you can take D. X-man, if you wanna hang with Andrew and Jonathon, get your geek vibe on, here's my home number. Get them to meet you here. And whatever you do, make them pay for it - I gave those guys a shitload of money last night."
By the time Buffy returned that evening, Faith had finished digging the scythe out of the rock under the vineyard. All of the warnings she'd received aside, she couldn't help but feel the weapon was better off in safe hands. She couldn't deny that she'd felt a thrill when she took it by the handle and pulled it out of solid stone. It felt right, like it was the very last piece of the puzzle.
She took the scythe and hid it carefully in her apartment, knowing that if anything happened to her Buffy would find a way to get in. She felt at peace for the first time in years - everything she'd come back to accomplish was finished, and the world would be better.
A quick trip to the supermarket netted her some hair dye, and when she arrived at the Summers' house her short hair was an ash-blonde color. Grabbing a beer from the fridge, Faith took a seat in the living room across from Buffy.
"Have a good girly day?"
"I did - thank you, Faith. For everything."
"De nada, B."
"It's not nothing - I'll pay you back, I promise."
"Don't worry about it, really. And B - I know life really kinda sucks right now. You'll get through it, okay? You'll find the fun." Buffy nodded, smiling faintly at the old saying.
"Can I ask you something?" Faith nodded. "That necklace you wear - the silver flower?"
"My mom had one just like it."
Knowing she was treading dangerous ground, Faith was cautious with her reply. "Did she?"
"Yeah - just like it. Is there an inscription on the back?"
"B - you're digging."
"Oh, come on - you've told us so much about the future, what can a little more hurt?"
"Because this isn't about somethin' that needs changing. So let it go, okay?"
"I know, B. I know what you're asking, but I think there's some shit that's better if you don't know. Where that necklace is from is one of them."
"So it is hers."
"B, please," Faith looked at her, unable to keep a tear from her eye. "Please let this go, okay? I just - I can't."
"Oh," Buffy looked aghast. "I'm sorry - I didn't realise it was a bad memory."
"It's not, it's a good one," Faith sniffled. "It's just - it's a long story."
"I'll let it go, I promise. Since Dawnie's not here, though, will you tell me the story about you being set on fire?"
Faith laughed. "Absolutely - I was in Frisco, back when it was a free zone..."
Nearly three thousand miles away, in a tiny graveyard outside Boston, the dirt of one grave shook. It was still for a brief moment, and then it shook again - and this time, a pale hand emerged from it. The grave's occupant pulled themselves free of their resting place, and knocked their gravestone over on the way out of the cemetery. Days later, when the caretaker found it, it read:
1963 - 1998
Below the epigraph was a single line, scratched into the concrete:
MINCOG ORF UYO HAITF
"Come, on! Please?" Dawn whined. "Anything at all?"
Faith sighed. Propping her feet up on the coffee table, she looked at Dawn. "Why is this so important to you, D? What do you think I can tell you that's gonna rock your world?"
"Anything I'm curious!"
"Fine. Your first kiss was from a vampire."
"What?" Buffy shouted from the kitchen. "What vampire?"
"Not one of yours, B."
"One of mine? I've only had one vampire!"
"So far," Faith muttered. "There you go, D - are you happy now? Does that shed some great light on your future? Are you gonna quit bugging me now?"
"My turn!" Anya interrupted. "I mean, you've told me about the fiasco that my wedding turns into, but something else!"
"Actually, Anya, I can't help you. I only knew you for a few weeks."
"We went different ways after Sunnydale fell."
"And where did I go?"
Faith swallowed. "Really good question - I don't know the answer, though."
"Hmmph," Anya sat back with a huff.
"What about Tara?" Willow bounced excitedly.
Faith struggled to keep her face neutral. "I - you know, I don't think there's any good Tara stories I can tell you."
"Aww," Willow pouted.
"And me?" Buffy rounded out the questions.
"You changed the world, B. It might not happen the same way this time around, but I'll bet you do it again. And I bet you'll," she cleared her throat, "I bet you'll find someone to take care of you."
"Well, that's not very specific."
"What do you want me to say, B?" Faith asked, frustrated with the long evening of questioning. "The future's different now. I don't know jack anymore! Everything I know happened before I changed everything! I could tell you about the time you got amnesia, but that's not going to happen anymore. I could tell you about the time you go crazy, but that's not either! I could tell you all about how you spent a year fucking Spike, but I just don't see the point!" Faith stood up and stormed out, grabbing her bag from a hook by the front door.
She found herself, without any real surprise, back at her apartment with a bottle of Jack Daniels and a gun she'd taken off a scared kid in a back alley on the way. Sitting the gun on the table, she poured herself a tall glass and found her voice recorder.
"I...I don't think I can stay here anymore, Willow. I - I did my job. The world's safe, the scythe is in good hands if anyone needs it. I can't spend the next twenty years, or however long I last, being asked questions about the future, and trying not to tell her how much I love her. She deserves to live her own life, to find her own way, and if I told her anything like that then she wouldn't be able to. It - it just hurts too much. I just want to rest. I wanna fade out and not have to worry anymore. Am I just being wicked selfish, or what? God, I wish you could talk to me. Tell me what to do." She downed the whisky in a gulp and poured another glass.
"I guess if you ever find this, it means I didn't really save anything, and that somehow this got where it needed to go even if I never got around to burying it, but - I wish I could tell you it worked. That I passed on your message. Anyway - I'll see you in the next life or somethin', Wills, okay? I really do love ya."
Clicking the recorder off, she swallowed the glass of whisky and poured another before breaking down the handgun. It was dirty, but serviceable, and more importantly it was loaded with hollow points. She cleaned the gun, not wanting to risk a misfire, and reassembled it with practiced ease. Finishing her drink and one more besides, she took a deep breath and put the barrel under her chin.
Chapter 6: Interlude 2 - Law and Order
The following is what remains of the transcript of Faith Lehane-Summers' trial before the High Court of the United States (renamed from the Supreme Court by the Others sometime after 2013). Sections marked [REDACTED] were removed during transcription by the court reporter, either by the Judge's orders or for other reasons.
Bailiff: Case number 730, United States v. Faith Lehane-Summers, is brought to order this 28 February 2018. The honourable judge Franklin presiding.
Faith: Honourable? That's a fuckin' joke.
Franklin: The defendant will remain silent until addressed by this court.
Bailiff: Charges are heinous in nature and many in number, including seventeen counts of domestic terrorism, hundreds of counts of murder and membership in a banned organisation. Defendant, how do you plead?
Faith: To which charge?
Bailiff: All of them.
Faith: I refuse to enter a plea.
Franklin: You do understand that the trial will proceed without a plea if necessary?
Faith: Of course. You guys are gonna railroad me anyway, so why should I waste my time pleading?
Franklin: The defendant will not impugn the honour of this court, which was named personally by President Wilson-
Faith: Wilson? He's been [REDACTED] for [REDACTED], you lying [REDACTED]! Why don't you tell everyone the truth? See how long this court lasts then!
Franklin: If you don't restrain yourself, you will be found in contempt.
Faith: Like that'll make any difference now. Never mind. Let's just get this farce over with, okay?
Prosecutor: The prosecution would like to call Mrs. Lehane-Summers to the stand.
Faith: Just call me Faith. It's shorter.
Prosecutor: Faith, please place your hand on the bible and repeat after me-
Faith: How about you put your hand on the bible? Oh, right, because you're a [REDACTED] and you'd [REDACTED] if you touched it, I forgot.
Prosecutor: Faith, please-
Faith: Yeah, yeah. I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothin' but the truth. You're all a bunch of [REDACTED]. Sorry, Judge, just tellin' the truth. I did swear, after all.
Prosecutor: Faith - do you deny that you are the co-leader of the terrorist group known as the Slayers?
Faith: They're not terrorists, but no, I don't deny it. I'm not the co-leader, though, I'm the leader. Pure and simple.
Prosecutor: Really? And what about your wife? She's not in a position of leadership?
Faith: My wife's not in a position of anything. She disappeared in London two years ago. Haven't seen her since.
Prosecutor: We'll come back to that. Do you deny planning and executing the event popularly known as the Saint Patrick's Massacre?
Faith: Which one was that?
Prosecutor: The death of seventy-five Others on March 17, 2014 in Boston-
Faith: Oh, that. No, I don't deny it. Hell of a day. I got so drunk after that, I couldn't stand up for three days.
Prosecutor: And you committed this crime with the full knowledge that the Others were under the same legal protection as any citizen of the United States of America?
Faith: [REDACTED]. Just because the judge here is a Quisling doesn't mean I have to be.
Franklin: I believe we've heard enough. This court finds the defendant guilty of all charges.
Faith: Fuckin' shocking. Here's the deal, judge. I'll change my plea to guilty under one condition.
Franklin: And what condition is that?
Faith: I want all of the girls you arrested with me to be released without charge. They were young and stupid, and I brainwashed ‘em into following me.
Faith: Judge, I really want you to think hard about this. It's the most important decision of your life. You've got the leader in custody. Now let the others go.
Franklin: Denied. The only deal this court will accept is for the location of your wife.
Faith: Can't help you there, judge.
Franklin: Then your deal is denied. I hereby sentence you death-
[A special prosecutor enters the room, and exchanges hushed words with the Judge]
Franklin: In light of new evidence brought to my attention, I commute your sentence of death. You will instead be transferred from this courtroom to the Michigan State correctional facility-
Faith: Oh, come on. Let's call a spade a fuckin' spade. You mean the Michigan Concentration Camp.
Franklin: There to live out the rest of your natural life. [slams gavel] This court is adjourned.
[Faith is dragged from the courtroom, shouting]
Faith: Everyone in this room, remember this! It's the biggest mistake you ever fuckin' made! You're all going to [REDACTED]!
Chapter 7: When I Thought That I Fought This War Alone
"You're not here," Faith whispered, not looking. "You're dead. I killed you. So just leave me alone."
"If you do this," an unfamiliar voice chimed in, "he'll never be born."
That got Faith's attention, and she turned her head. Beside the young boy stood a woman, no more than twenty. She was tall and blonde, her eyes soft and kind.
"Neat trick," Faith slurred. "First is learnin'."
"You know we're not part of that," the woman chided, seemingly offended by the idea.
"So what are you, then?"
"Exactly what we appear to be - a young boy and his mother."
"You - you were his mom?"
"Yes," the apparition took a seat on the couch, smoothing her long skirt primly. "My name is Wendy. And you know my son."
"Yeah," Faith looked away. "I know him."
"I'm killed by an Other not long after he's born. You know that too."
Faith nodded, unable to answer.
"And you raised him - for as long as you could. But I'm telling you, if you end your life now, he'll never live at all."
"Bull. Sorry, but you can't put that one on me. I never saved your life the first time around."
"Actually, you did. A vampire - just an ordinary, random vampire that you staked not long after Sunnydale fell. If he lives, he'll kill me when my son is only eight weeks along."
"There's another slayer," Faith was fading fast, the whisky catching up with her. "She'll keep you safe."
"Leave me alone," Faith complained. "I already saved the whole damn world - you can't keep puttin' stuff on me. It's not fair."
"Life's not fair, Faith. It's not fair I never got to raise my own son."
"Go away," Faith protested, the gun slipping from her fingers. She struggled to keep her head up. "I wanna rest. Let th' other me worry about it."
"Mommy," the boy whispered as sleep claimed her.
When she awoke, she realised with a start that she didn't have a hangover. She also realised she wasn't in her apartment. If the bars didn't tip her off, the guard screaming at her was a good indication. For a horrible minute she thought it was Michigan - until she realised the guard was human.
"I said get up, Lehane!" It was Tanya - Faith's least favourite guard from her original prison stay. "Do it now!"
Faith, out of ingrained habit, rolled out of her bunk, standing in front of the bars with her hands outstretched.
"Cell inspection. Stay where you are." Faith had no problem with that, her mind racing. The sensation of seeing through both eyes was incredibly distracting, but she had to focus. How could this have happened? Had she somehow - she must have somehow - ended up in her younger self's body. Magic? How could anyone have done a spell like that without being present in her apartment? What else could it be, though?
"I need a phone call," Faith said. Tanya spun on her heel.
"Do you, now? Well, I guess you can wait like everyone else. It's not like a lawyer's going to do you any good, so it can't be an emergency." The guard sneered, leaving the cell and locking it behind her.
"Bitch," Faith muttered. "What the hell is going on here?"
Having spent an impatient day waiting, Faith used her reputation among the inmates to secure first place among those waiting for the phone. She dialled the Hyperion's number from memory, and fortunately Angel answered.
"Angel? Thank fuck - it's Faith. Somethin's really got fucked up. I went to bed last night in my apartment, and I woke up today back in prison. But I'm not me - I'm the old me, I mean, in the young me's body. Do you get it? You've gotta get me out of here!"
"Wait, wait - you mean, you're Faith from the future? Prove it."
"I - huh. Just hold on, okay? I'll get someone on it."
"Hurry, Angel, please," she hated the desperation in her voice. "I can't do this all over again."
"I understand - we'll get you out, Faith, I promise."
"Thanks, Fang," Faith slammed the phone back into its cradle and returned to her cell without prompting.
It was amazing how fast the old routines came back. What time lunch was, and who not to try and cut in front of in the cafeteria line. Where to watch for shivs, and how to run the license plate machine. In the exercise yard, she sat and smoked.
How had this happened? She replayed the previous evening in her mind - it was blurry with alcohol, but she remembered her visitation with the two - spirits? Whatever they were. What had she said to them? "Let the other me worry about it?" Had she brought this on herself? Made some kind of wish to a demon without realising it? Bad enough she'd condemned her younger self to spend the full 25-to-life in prison, but now she'd be stuck living it herself on top of that?
With a snarl, she tossed the cigarette away and found a place to stretch out and do sit-ups for the duration of her time outside.
It was too much to ask, she knew, that Angel be able to get her sprung in a day. It didn't stop her from being angry that she'd woken up in a jail cell, again. She spent the pre-breakfast hours meditating the way Willow had once taught her, trying to remind herself that this wasn't Michigan, and the place wasn't slayer-proof. If she needed to, she could always break out.
When visiting hours arrived, she was stunned when she was called up. The only thing that could have been a bigger surprise than that was who was waiting for her.
Faith picked up the phone on her side of the glass. "B? What are you doing here?"
"Angel called me - I...I don't believe this. How could this have happened?"
"No clue, B. I'm less than thrilled, though. I lived this once already."
"Are you okay? I mean, all things considered?"
"I guess. If you could tell Fang to step on it, though, that'd be much appreciated. How's things in Sunny D?"
"Everyone was freaking out when you didn't show up yesterday. Andrew and Jonathon showed up on our doorstep, they're staying with us until we get this sorted out. They thought you'd left town or something. I mean, you did, I know, but on purpose."
"Yeah, not so much. And how are you?"
Buffy sighed. "It's hard. I'm tired of hearing ‘I'm sorry,' you know?"
"I know - I remember. Considering you once threatened to beat me to death for saying it."
"Sorry, that was a cheap shot. I'm over it, I really am." The guards stood, and Faith rolled her eyes. "Look, B, we're done for the day. Go on home to Sunny D, and I'll be back soon, okay?"
Buffy didn't have time to reply as the guards led her away.
"Lehane!" Tanya barked. Faith shot to her feet, wondering what time it was - the lights were still off, so it was before breakfast. "You're going to see the warden. Show me your hands."
Faith did, and they were promptly cuffed. "Let's go." The guard led her out of the cell block and down the long hallway to the warden's office. He was fuming when they walked in.
"Take the cuffs off."
"Do it!" he barked. "Faith Lehane - it's my duty to inform you that there was a clerical error with your conviction. The entire case has been thrown out, pending appeal by the state. You're free to go. Your possessions will be returned to you at the desk."
Faith was stunned. "Wait - what?"
"You heard me," he looked at Tanya. "Get her out of here. And tell my secretary to get me the governor on the phone, right fucking now!"
Faith walked out the prison gates, dressed in the same clothes she'd worn the day she was admitted. There was only one car parked outside, a black sedan with its lights on. Guessing that it was her ride, Faith made her way over. The tinted window slid down to reveal Angel, grinning up at her.
"Two days? How the hell did-"
"Hop in - I'll explain on the way."
"You'll have to thank Willow when you see her."
"She did this?"
"Most of it - there was a lot of computer hacking involved. And I called in a couple of favours to take care of the rest."
"Is the state gonna appeal?"
"No - Willow made the whole thing pretty airtight. And some of the money you gave Buffy greased some wheels."
"That was for her," Faith complained. She caught sight of herself in the rear-view mirror and ran a hand through her hair. "Fuck me, this is weird."
"Do you have any idea-"
"A couple of guesses, but nothing that makes any sense," Faith sighed.
"What's the last thing you remember before you got there?"
"I was drinking," Faith mused. "And then I saw - well, that was the booze."
"What did you see?"
"My son," Faith whispered.
"Well, not mine as in ‘gave birth to,' but I raised him. His mom got killed when he was just a few days old. I raised him until, uh," she coughed, "until he was two or three."
"Then what happened?"
"He died," Faith whispered. "It was my fault."
"I'm sure that's not-"
"Don't! Don't say that - you weren't there! You were off getting-" she stopped herself. "Well, you weren't there."
"Him and his mom both. I didn't even recognise her - she was in pieces the only time I'd seen her. They told me that I couldn't kill my-" her mouth snapped shut.
She turned to look out the window. "I was gonna off myself, okay?"
"I didn't wanna live the next however many years all over again. Not living this close to her. It's too hard."
Angel tried another tack. "Did they tell you why they couldn't kill yourself?"
"His mom - she said the kid would never be born unless I was around to kill some random vamp years from now."
"Tell me about it. And then I told ‘em I was tired. That the other me should handle it."
"So you think you made a wish?" Faith shrugged. "It's possible - I have Wes working on this as we speak, and I'll let him know about your encounter, but in the meantime I want you to think about something. Maybe this is a gift."
"What do you mean?"
"Maybe this is a second chance. You saved the world, maybe it's returning the favour."
"I-" Faith frowned. "Maybe. I don't know. World's yet to do me a lot of fuckin' favours, so I'm not counting on it."
"Where can we drop you?"
"Uh - my apartment, I guess. I'll get in touch with B and the gang later." The rest of the ride was silent as Faith looked studiously out the window, avoiding Angel's glances.
"Miss Lehane," Todd nodded. As before, he didn't bat an eye at her changed appearance.
"I need another key, Todd. I'm having the most fucked-up week..."
"No problem," he produced one from behind the desk. "Have a nice night, Miss Lehane."
Faith let herself inside slowly, afraid she might find her older self at the kitchen table. The apartment was empty, however. Her bottle of Jack and the handgun were right where she'd left them the night before, and the scythe was still in its hiding place. Just as she had on her first night back, she found her way to the bathroom mirror. And there she was.
Her hair was long and dark, without a trace of grey. Her eyes - plural - were clear and sharp, and her face was missing the lines it had accumulated over the years. Her hands didn't shake, and she didn't feel the constant presence of the plague in her system. And - if she did say so herself - she looked good.
There was a knock at the door, and Faith nearly jumped out of her skin. "Who is it?" she called.
"B? What are you doing here?"
"Angel called - told me you were home. I snuck past the doorman - I really need to see you."
"I don't know if that's a good idea-"
Faith made her way to the door and opened it. Buffy stood waiting expectantly, and Faith remembered the spell was still active - from Buffy's perspective, the place looked empty. Reaching out, Faith grabbed her arm and pulled her inside, granting Buffy an exemption from the spell the same as she'd done for Jonathon and Andrew.
"It's really you," Buffy whispered, reaching out for her. Faith stepped around her outstretched arm and closed the door.
"Somehow, yeah," Faith agreed. "It's really me."
Buffy cornered her, pressing her back against the door. "B - what's goin' on? Back off, okay?"
"Tell me when I gave you that necklace."
"I never said it was-"
"I know that. Now tell me."
Faith's resistance crumbled, overwhelmed by the shock of waking up as her younger self and the closeness of her sister slayer. "Six years after Sunnydale."
"Why did I give it to you?"
Faith's voice cracked. "You didn't have an engagement ring. Not many jewellery stores around by then."
Buffy was silent for a long time, but made no move to let Faith go. "Where am I in your future?"
Faith looked at her feet. "Don't - B, god, no, I can't - please don't make me-"
"Faith," her voice brooked no argument.
"You're fucking dead!" Faith screamed. She swung at Buffy, who easily deflected the blow and let Faith fall into her arms. "You fucking left me! You promised! I told you - I fucking told you forever was a lie, but you promised!" she knew her words were getting less coherent through her tears, but she kept on, her fists beating ineffectually at Buffy's chest. "You died in my arms - I screamed until I couldn't make noise anymore! Willow had to magic me off your corpse so they could fucking bury you! You left me!" Faith screamed, collapsing. Buffy wrapped her arms around her and slid down to the floor, still cradling her in her arms.
Faith cried for hours, it felt like - she didn't see a clock afterwards, but the screaming of her muscles when she tried to move told her it had been some time. Buffy had sat calmly through it all, rocking her and stroking her hair and whispering softly. "B?" Faith croaked softly.
"Shh - let me put you to bed, Faith. We'll talk in the morning, okay?" Buffy helped her up and half-carried her into the bedroom. "Do I need to lock the door?"
"S'okay. Spell," Faith muttered. "Stay with me?"
"Of course," Buffy helped her into bed and climbed in beside her. Faith rolled over, moulding herself to Buffy's side, and was asleep almost immediately.
The bed was empty when Faith woke. "B?" she called, not really expecting an answer. It had been too easy - the tearful reunion, ending up in each others' arms. Too simple to be anything but a dream. But then she saw a stray blonde hair on her pillow. "B?" she tried again.
"In the kitchen, Faith." Faith climbed out of bed, stretching. She caught sight of herself in the mirror above her dresser and shook her head. Buffy chuckled when she staggered into the kitchen. "That's quite the bed head."
"Yeah," Faith laughed too, not bothering to try and fix her hair. Grabbing a cup of coffee from the full pot on the counter, she took a chair across the table from Buffy.
"So. I guess we need to talk."
"Listen - if I hurt you yesterday, I'm sorry. I don't know what - well, okay, I know what happened, but I'm sorry. It's been a long time since I cried like that, ya know?"
"I understand, Faith, really."
"And I'm sorry for dumpin' all that on you. You've got enough to deal with right now without me addin' stuff."
"You're really a dummy, you know."
Faith tilted her head. "Huh?"
"You know how I feel right now - I know you do, because you told me you remember. You know that all I'm looking for is a reason to think this place is something other than hell."
"Yeah, I know that."
"And don't you think that love might be a good thing? Having someone I can lean on for a while? Someone who understands what being a slayer does to you?"
"Uh - I guess, yeah."
"Such a dummy," Buffy softened her words by reaching out and patting Faith's hand.
"B," Faith swallowed. "Listen - you don't have to do this. The whole reason I came back was to change the future - so if it's not what you want, I don't want you to think-"
"Faith - you never did know when to shut up. I loved you so much, do you know that? Back when you first got here? That's why it hurt so badly when you turned - I was so angry. At you. But mostly at me. I never tried as hard as I should have to make you part of us. I pushed you away, because I was scared. Scared of what I felt, and scared that you would never feel that way. And I was so angry that I'd thrown away the best thing in my life. I can't tell you how relieved I was to hear that in the future I'd get another chance. But this is so much better."
"Why?" Faith's voice was thick.
"Because now we don't need to waste all that time."
Faith's face crumpled. "B - I need to tell you something. Before I let you go any further."
"What is it?"
"After - I mean, when you were gone - there was someone else."
"If the world was that bad, Faith, then I'm glad you found someone. I wouldn't have wanted you to stay miserable forever."
"I - you wouldn't say that, if you knew..."
Buffy studied her for a minute. "Dawn?"
Faith's gaze snapped back to hers. "How did you-"
"Because you feel guilty. I can see it in your face. But you don't need to. If you were happy, and you made her happy, then that's all I need to know."
"She was the only thing that kept me going, B. She dragged me back up after you died. She's so strong - I had no idea how strong."
"But you feel like you betrayed me." Faith nodded. "There's nothing for me to forgive, Faith, but if it helps then I forgive you." Faith started to cry, her chest hitching.
"Thank you," she whispered.
"And this time around, we have forever."
"B, you can't promise that - to me, of all people. There's no such thing as forever."
"I can't promise that we'll live forever, Faith, either of us, but I can promise - I'll love you forever." Buffy reached down and found her purse on the floor, withdrawing something from its depths. She kept her hand closed around it, extending her arm across the table to Faith.
Buffy's hand opened, and there in her palm was Joyce's necklace. Faith all but launched herself across the kitchen table, knocking over her coffee en route. It burned her leg where it spilled, but she didn't notice. She landed on top of Buffy, knocking her out of her chair. They landed hard on the floor, their lips crashing together. The kisses weren't gentle or loving - they were hard, and fierce. There was blood in their mouths from where lips met teeth, and neither of them cared. Faith's grip was painfully tight as she clung to something she'd lost years before, and Buffy's was equally tight as she clung to a new ray of hope in her life.
Faith broke the kiss and reached down to her waist, grabbing the hem of her t-shirt and pulling it over her head. Buffy mewled at the sight of her chest, her breasts straining against her black bra. Faith reached behind herself for the clasp, but her hands faltered as Buffy grabbed at her breasts, squeezing and kneading, rolling her stiff nipples between her fingers.
"Off - take it off!" Buffy commanded, and Faith ripped the clasp open rather than fumble with it any further. Buffy ripped the bra away eagerly and pulled Faith downward, taking a breast into her mouth, biting at the nipple. Faith's hips bucked and she felt her arousal dripping into her panties.
"Sweet Jesus, B!" She felt Buffy's thigh between her legs, and she ground down on it as Buffy continued her assault on her breasts. Quickly - too quickly - she felt the wave of her orgasm approaching. She tore her breast away from Buffy's mouth and leaned in to kiss her, still riding her thigh. And then there was a crest, and she screamed as the world went white. When she was conscious enough to register her surroundings, she realised she was on her back. Straddling her, gloriously naked, was Buffy. She smirked.
"I am so good."
"I'm better - let me show you." With the experience of years, Faith knew just where and how, and Buffy had screamed herself hoarse by the time Faith finally rolled off of her. At some point they'd found their way to the bed, and she reached down to pull the blankets over them. Smoothing the hair back from Buffy's face, she frowned at the number of bites and scratches in evidence.
"B - I'm sorry."
"I hurt you. I didn't - that was your first time with me, I shouldn't have been like that."
"Did you - at any point - hear me being complain-y?"
"And whose fault was the thing with the coffee table? Or the fridge, for that matter?"
"And you've got just as many marks on you as I do. That was the first time since I've come back that I really felt, Faith, and I can't tell you how much it meant to me. So no apologies."
"So, you," Buffy looked her up and down, "you really don't know how this happened?"
"No - no idea, which kinda bothers me."
"Maybe you should go and see Whistler."
"He's in town?"
"At Willy's Place. Said you'd meet him there when-"
"When I needed to. Yeah, he said that in L.A., too. I guess it's as good a place as any to start. And this time if I don't get some answers, I'm gonna kick his balls into his stomach."
"I'll hold him," Buffy promised. "But before we go, there's something we need to do."
"There's an itch between your legs I need to scratch for you."
Faith laid back, grinning.
Chapter 8: Interlude 3 - Pirate Radio
What follows is a transcription of the last broadcast from BF Radio, sent out via satellite from London. The station was destroyed by a massive bomb three days later, and the broadcasts were never resumed. All sections marked [LOST] were damaged beyond repair in the explosion. Tape recovered by Slayer Team 1, Wesley Wyndham-Pryce commanding, during the excavation of the Churchill bunker.
[?]: This is Little Orphan Andy, and today is, uh, sometime in June 2022. Or is it 23? I can't remember anymore. Anyway, I'm broadcasting, as usual, from my secure spot here in the Churchill bunker, and sending a friendly hello to all those who are still listening out there. Firstly, let's bow our heads for the state of Montana, where the valiant insurgency campaign led by Team Six finally came to an end last night. The Montana free zone is no more, but we're eternally grateful for the sacrifices of Kennedy, Chao-Ahn, and all of our brothers and sisters in arms. To all remaining citizens of Montana who can hear my voice tonight, the state is lost. Please evacuate as soon as possible to one of the remaining free zones in Los Angeles or Vancouver, and good luck to you all.
Andy: So, if we could get anyone currently stationed in Ireland or Australia to please report in, we'd greatly appreciate it. Don't be strangers, neighbours. Here in London, the barricades are holding for now. The Plague situation is getting worse, but we're waiting on our friends in Los Angeles to help us with that. Don't keep us hangin' for too long, guys, okay?
Andy: Now, I've got a real treat for all of you. Our glorious leader, the only Captain I like better than Kirk, our very own Faith Lehane-Summers!
Faith: Uh...thanks, Andy. Hey, all. I can't stay for long, but I just wanted to remind everyone that there's still people out there, fighting for all of you. It's not over - we can still stop these things in their tracks, but we need everyone. If you can hear me tonight, and you're not in a free zone, get to one. Don't hide in a hole somewhere. Pitch in - we need every hand. If you're a doctor, a farmer, a blacksmith, or a fucking horse trainer, we don't care. Help us. We can't save you if you don't help us.
Andy: Faith, while I have you here - any truth to the rumour that a team snuck deep into enemy territory and destroyed the remnants of the Michigan Concentration Camp?
Faith: No idea what you're talkin' about, Andy.
Andy: Really? You don't know anything about the sign at the front gate being um, urinated on, or the giant spray-painted message reading ‘I TOLD you it was the biggest, uh, bleeping mistake you ever made'?
Faith: Not a thing. Pretty wicked, though.
Andy: So, to summarize, stay out of Mexico if at all possible. The radiation levels in central and southern Mexico are more lethal than a Sarlacc in heat. Also, if anyone in South America, anywhere, could let us know whether the Rio free zone is still active, that'd be just great.
Andy: And now, my final item for this broadcast. Your friend Andy would like to apologise. For everything. For Jonathon. Take care of yourselves, everybody. Stay in the free zones, and travel in the daytime. Stay away from bodies, of either side. Remember that the Slayers are there to help you. Live Long and Prosper, all of you.
[Long silence - presumably the broadcast stopped at this point, and the tape kept running]
Andy: Do we really have a chance anymore?
Faith: No. But I'm not going to tell everyone that. Might as well go out on our feet.
Chapter 9: A Reason to Try
"Willy," Faith yelled as she kicked the door open, "can you clear the place out for a bit? Me and this balancing act over here need some privacy," she pointed at Whistler, seated at the end of the bar.
"You!" Willy trembled. "You heard the slayers, guys, we're closed. The slayers would like some alone time." The bar quickly cleared. Willy looked at Faith. "You want I should clear out too, or..."
"Up to you, Willy-boy. You're not why we're here, so you can do what you want. But before you leave, could you get me a beer?"
"You got ID?"
"Get me a fuckin' beer, Willy, or I'll have to hurt you." Willy did, and quickly disappeared into the back room. Faith and Buffy took stools on opposite sides of Whistler. "Now - let's you and us have a chat, yeah?"
"What shall we chat about?"
"I really ain't in the mood to play games, okay? Buffy tells me you're immortal, but you look like I could break a bone or two anyway, so just make with the answers."
"How are you enjoying wearing the old clothes?"
"You did this?"
"Please. I don't have that kind of power."
"Who did, then?"
"If I told you to just be happy about it, would you listen?" He looked at Faith, and then at Buffy, and sighed. "Yeah, I didn't think so. That'd be too easy. You have friends in high places, okay?"
"And what, exactly, do the PTB get outta helpin' me? They've never bothered before."
"I never said it was the Powers. Balance, Faith - I told you, it's all about Balance. There are going to be consequences for what you've done here. In fact, some of them are already on their way. They're going to be pretty nasty. There's folks that would rather the world not end just yet, and Blondie here can't handle them herself, so the easiest thing for them was to get you in fighting shape again and let you clean up your own mess."
"Don't call me Blondie."
"So there's another apocalypse - big deal. We've stopped ‘em before."
"Well, I'm glad you're confident. Might want to call Angel, though, and circle your wagons all the same. You'll need the help."
"How about you make with the details?"
"I wish I could."
"Oh, I'll bet you can if I give ya the right motivation."
"Actually, no - I really don't know any more than that. But if it'd make you feel better, you can try."
"Is this permanent?" Buffy asked. "Faith being younger, I mean."
"Yep - old brain, young body. Her old body's in the ether now."
"And the Plague?"
"Younger you didn't have it, so you don't have it. I'd, uh - keep the serum handy, though."
"What's that supposed to mean? I thought you didn't know any more."
"I don't - but it never hurts to be prepared." Donning his hat, Whistler stood. "Take care of yourselves, okay? And take care of each other. There's dark times ahead." He walked out, and Faith made no move to stop him.
"Well. That wasn't helpful at all."
"No shit, B. Now what?"
"Now, you take me to dinner. And then we go Bronze-ing. And then we patrol."
"I don't know what else we can do, Faith. Giles is in deep research mode, and he'll have drafted Willow and Tara in too. Neither of us is much good in that department, so we might as well let them do their thing. Unless you're desperate to hang with Jonathon and Andrew."
"Actually, I was gonna ask how I owe you dinner."
"Well, you got me to put out before we even dated, so the least you could do is buy me some food."
Faith laughed. "How can I argue, when you put it like that?"
The Bronze was jumping that night - the music was loud and fast, and the two slayers put on a show on the dance floor that turned more than a few heads. When they left the club together, they left more than a few disappointed people behind.
The night was cold, but Buffy and Faith were still warm as they walked through Crestfield Cemetery. "Faith?" Buffy asked quietly.
"How did I die?"
"Uh - look, B, I-"
"It's okay if you can't talk about it, I was just curious."
"Maybe another day, okay? It - it's really hard."
"That's okay," Buffy took her hand and squeezed. The moment was broken when the earth erupted to Faith's right. They took up positions on either side of the grave, expecting a vampire. What they got was something else. A man, no more than forty, clambered out of the dirt, stalking toward them. He was startlingly fast, and they dropped easily into defensive stances. He'd been buried long enough that his clothes were tatters of cloth, and his flesh had shrivelled. He didn't make a sound, and his face never changed to become the familiar visage of a vampire. He moved with single-minded purpose, only briefly deterred when Faith kicked him in the head and knocked him flying.
He stood up again, still silent, and resumed walking toward Faith. "B?" Faith called. "What the hell is this thing?"
"I don't know - that kick should have kept him down for hours." Buffy jumped the man from behind, wrapping her hands around his head and twisting. There was a wet snap as his neck broke - but he kept moving. His movements were erratic, as his head was looking the opposite direction he was moving, but he didn't stop. And he was still silent. Faith tackled him low, driving him to the ground.
"B!" she cried, as he clawed at her back. "Get a shovel or a knife or something! Anything sharp!" As she struggled against the impossibly strong figure, Buffy ran to the caretaker's shed and broke the lock, emerging with a shovel. By the time she'd returned, the creature had Faith on her back, hands locked firmly around her neck. Its empty eyes stared at Buffy as she got closer, but it kept choking the life out of Faith, who was rapidly fading. Grabbing it by the shoulder and pulling it off, Buffy threw the creature away. Faith gasped for breath. "Neck!" she croaked.
"Are you okay?"
"Not mine, stupid!" Faith forced out, and suddenly Buffy got it. Before it could regain its feet, she held the creature down with a foot on its chest and severed its neck with the blade of the shovel. It stopped moving, finally defeated. Buffy dropped the shovel and ran back to Faith's side, helping her to her feet. The finger-shaped bruises that ringed her neck were rapidly turning colour, and she still had to work hard for each breath.
"Faith - come on, we've got to get you to a hospital!"
"I'm fine," Faith whispered. "Can we just go back to my apartment? I hate hospitals."
Buffy chewed her lip, uncertain. Finally she nodded. "Okay - but we're calling Giles." Faith nodded her assent and took Buffy's hand, leaving the cemetery.
A few hundred yards away, a woman stood in the shadow of a crypt, her white teeth bright in the dark as she smiled. "Very good," she chuckled. "My little girl's all grown up."
Faith let Giles - who stopped short at the sight of Faith's younger appearance, despite having been told - into the apartment, pulling out two chairs at the kitchen table before catching sight of Buffy's disapproving glare.
"What?" she whispered.
"Get into bed. Giles can bring a chair in there."
"I'm fine, B."
"Your neck's purple, and you have to whisper to keep from hurting your throat. Get your butt into bed."
"I kinda missed your being bossy," Faith laughed, wincing as it stung her throat. "Fine." She followed Buffy into her bedroom, climbing onto the bed and burrowing under the covers. "There."
Giles followed them, carrying a kitchen chair. He took a seat as Buffy propped herself on the edge of the bed. "So," he said, "what happened?"
"Routine patrol," Buffy shrugged. "We were still in our first cemetery of the night. We saw the dirt moving on one of the graves, so we figured vampire, right? Then this guy comes out of the dirt - he'd been buried for years, Giles, so he couldn't have been turned. He was fast, and super-strong. He never said a word, though, not even a good zombie-movie "uggghhhh" groan, and he never vamped out."
"Fascinating," Giles said, appraising Faith's injuries. "How did you defeat it?"
"I cut its head off with a shovel."
"I played decoy," Faith whispered. "Figured I'd let it choke me for a while. Good plan, huh?"
"Indeed. It bears all the signs of a zombie attack, but for two things. Zombies are generally slow, and it seems unlikely that a zombie would rise just as you walked past its grave."
"So what does that leave us with?"
"I don't know," he admitted. "I'll have to consult my books."
"I don't like it when you don't know things, Giles. It usually means me ending up dead." Faith inhaled sharply, and Buffy instantly regretted her words. She reached out and clasped Faith's hand, looking back at Giles. "Okay - it's late. And there hasn't been any attacks by any more of these things, so I think it can wait until morning. Faith and I'll meet you at the house, okay?"
"You're - staying here tonight?"
"Yeah - can you let Dawn know?"
"Yes, of course." Giles stood. "I hope you're feeling better tomorrow, Faith."
"Thanks, G. I'm sure I'll be five by."
Giles let himself out, and Buffy curled up next to Faith. "I'm so sorry - I was only trying to make a joke," she pleaded. "I didn't mean - I didn't think."
"s'okay, B," Faith patted her hand. "I get it, don't stress. It was good seeing you in action tonight."
"It felt good - it's been," she hesitated, "it's funny saying this while you're hurt, but this has been a good day. First once since...you know."
"It's all uphill from here, B, I promise. World sucks, no doubt, but there's fun to be had."
"Yeah. Hey - five by? Did you lose five somewhere?"
"Shortened it. Got tired of saying the whole thing after a while."
The phone rang, and Buffy grabbed it. "Lehane residence. Yes, she's right here - can I tell her who's calling? Uh - okay." She covered the mouthpiece. "It's a caretaker - says he works at a cemetery in Boston?"
Faith paled, making the bruising on her neck stand out even more. "Give it to me." She grabbed the handset. "Hello?" She listened for a minute. "Wait - what? Why would anyone-what message?" She gestured for a pen, and Buffy handed her one with a pad of paper. "Okay, go ahead," she scribbled it down. "No, no," she said, "it's not your fault. Thanks for letting me know," she said a hasty goodbye and handed the phone to Buffy, who hung it up.
"What is it?"
"My mother," Faith rasped. "Either someone stole her body, or she crawled out of her grave."
"Faith - could you lay back down? You really need to-"
"To what, B?" it should have been a shout, but it was little better than a loud whisper from her injured throat. "Somebody - something - my mom! Fuck!" Faith lashed out with one hand, smashing the coffee pot with her fist and spraying glass across the kitchen counter. She stared at the shards embedded in her hand, silent.
"Faith, stop! Please - just talk to me, okay?"
"I thought I was done with her. I thought I was done being afraid of her." Faith walked to the sink, pulling the glass from her hand and throwing the bits into the drain. "Done remembering the rules."
Buffy walked up behind her, gently putting her arms around her waist. Faith tensed, but didn't pull away. "What rules, babe?" Faith started violently. "What - what did I say?"
"I used to call you that," Faith said, so softly that Buffy could barely make it out.
"Oh. Do you not want-"
"No, it's okay. Just took me by surprise." She used the back of her arm to wipe away a stray tear. "Sorry. What'd you ask?"
"You said something about remembering the rules?"
"Oh. That was mom's favourite phrase. ‘Remember the rules, Faith.'" She shivered. "Keep quiet, they can do anything they want, always get the money first. Those were the rules."
Buffy turned her around by the shoulder, her expression horrified. "Wait - are you talking about...I mean, did she make you-"
"Christ," Faith whispered. "I'm sorry - I didn't think. I need to remember that there's so much I haven't told you yet. You're still so young..."
"She," Buffy's tears were running freely down her cheeks, "she made you - how old were you?"
"The first time?" Faith shrugged, desperately projecting nonchalance. "Thirteen. Old enough to start earning my keep, she said."
Buffy clapped a hand to her mouth. "God, Faith," she murmured, the words muffled by her hand, "I had no idea-"
"Of course you didn't - I don't go advertisin' the fact that I was a whore, B." Faith turned back to the sink, focussing on her hands. "If you'd asked me about it back in the day, I wouldn't have told ya anyway, so don't worry about it."
"How did you - I mean, did you run away, or..."
"Nah. Social Services took me. Stuck me in foster care. I went through a shitload of families, too - nobody could deal with me. I was with the last one - the Thompsons, I think it was - when my watcher found me. Honestly, though, B - the vamps and demons were cake compared to the thought of my mom finding me. Going back to that life. Then she died. And I was free. And now she's back somehow. And she's coming for me."
"I'm here for you, Faith. All of us. She will never take you away from us."
"That's not really why I'm scared."
Faith looked haunted. "People die around me, B. People die because of me. My watcher. Finch. That professor. You, Dawn - I'm a curse. And now if that fuckin' demon is right, I may get all of ya killed again. You should leave. Take Little D, get in your car, and just drive. I'll deal with this."
"That's not going to happen, Faith. I love you, remember?"
"And I love you too, B - but I can't lose you again! I can't watch you - you died for me, you know that?"
Buffy stepped closer and took Faith's hand, helping pull the glass out. "What do you mean?"
"I was in Michigan. It was - well, the demons called it a prison, but it was like a concentration camp for slayers. They were going to kill me instead of sending me there, but they knew if they stuck me in Michigan you'd come for me. You were in hiding, in London. And sure enough - six months after I got stuck in there, you came blazing up with two units. You got me out - you got almost everybody out. But one of their guys was a lucky shot with a crossbow. It happened so fast - you were still smiling at me when you died, it didn't even hurt," Faith clenched her jaw. "I made them pay for that one, though. In spades. Killed the one that fired the shot and pissed on his corpse."
Buffy had stopped pulling out glass shards and just stared. "I - I don't really know what to say to that, Faith, except that I'm not going to die. Because this time we can save each other."
"I'm. Not. Leaving. Okay? Clear enough for you?"
"Bossy," Faith rasped. She winced as Buffy yanked out the last piece of glass from her hand.
"Yes, I am - now go wash that hand and let me tuck you in."
"Wait," said Dawn, a confused look on her face. "You mean, she's still future Faith, but in her old body? That's just weird."
"Yes," Giles agreed. "And shouldn't you be in bed?"
"I'm helping Willow and Tara!"
"I'm not sure Buffy would approve-"
"No worries, Giles," Willow promised. "We're keeping her away from the really heavy stuff. We'll let Andrew handle that," she laughed as Andrew glared at her. On the other side of the kitchen table, Tara gasped.
"Tara? Baby? What's wrong?"
"We need to call Buffy. I think I found something."
Faith wore a dark sleeveless turtleneck to hide the worst of the bruising on her neck, but still couldn't speak louder than a whisper. "It's late, Red - what's up?"
Willow stared at her for a moment. "Sorry," she said finally, shaking her head. "It's really weird to be friendly with younger you."
"Yeah, well, try getting used to having both eyes. Screws my depth perception all to hell. But we can compare ‘this is weird' stories tomorrow, okay? I'm tired."
"It was in one of mister Giles' books," Tara broke in. "The same kind of zombie-thing that attacked you in the cemetery."
"Wow," Buffy exclaimed. "We've had some quick research sessions before, but that's gotta be some kind of record."
"Unfortunately," Giles countered, "we've got more questions now than we had before."
"It's called a, um, Quito." Tara said, reading from the book in question. It's named after the town where the first one was found. They're pretty much just like you described them - fast, strong, and totally devoted to whatever they're told to do. The only ways to kill them are, um, severing their head, like you did, or pulling their hearts out."
"Wait," Faith interrupted. "What they're told to? Told by who?"
"That's the problem we've encountered," Giles cleaned his glasses. "These creatures can only be raised by beings of great power. These beings animate them, and give them their purpose. However, no one's identified the beings, at least in any of the literature I have at hand."
"Which means," Buffy leaned back in her chair, "that there's a big bad around somewhere that's raising the dead. Doesn't this sort of thing usually wait until the summer?"
"It does seem that way," Giles agreed. "However, we'd best not wait - we need to discover the identity of this creature, and stop it."
Faith shifted uncomfortably in her chair. "I can probably help with that."
"How so?" Giles stared at her.
"My - uh, I got a call. From the guy that does the caretaker job at a boneyard in Boston. He, uh," she swallowed, "he said my mother's body is gone. And there was a message on her tombstone. It said ‘coming for you Faith.'"
There was an uncomfortable silence, and Giles cleared his throat. "So you believe that your mother-"
"Well, no. She was a lot of things, but she wasn't a demon. And she's been dead for a long time. So either this thing that's responsible raised her-"
"Or it's using her as some kind of conduit," Willow nodded excitedly. "What language was the message in?"
"English, Red. Otherwise I wouldn't know what it said. I only speak the two languages - English and Bad English. Oh, but it was all scrambled up - all the words had their letters in some kinda screwed-up order."
"An anagram?" Giles frowned. "That's an odd method of communication for a demon. Faith, was your mother a fan of anagrams?"
"G, my mom couldn't have fuckin' spelled the word anagram. Shit, I don't think I could spell it either."
"I see - curious. It should give us a place to start, however."
"Not tonight, though," Buffy scolded. "It's been a crazy week, guys, and you've all been working double-shifts lately. Go to bed. The big bad'll still be out there tomorrow, okay? Giles - take my room. It'll be more comfortable than your hotel bed."
Willow looked askance. "Where are you sleeping, Buffy?"
"I'll be at Faith's apartment. We need to talk a bit more." Willow looked dubious, but didn't press the issue. "Catch you all tomorrow morning, bright and early. We'll bring coffee and bagels."
Faith stood at the edge of the crater formerly known as Sunnydale, staring down into the wreckage. A shoe scuffing against the pavement startled her, but she breathed a sigh of relief when Buffy stepped up beside her.
"I guess this is one of those dreams, huh?" Buffy wondered.
"If we're both here, I guess it is. What do you think of the old hometown?"
"This is what it looks like when the hellmouth collapses?"
"Yeah. Don't worry, though, B - everyone but the demons had left town by then."
"Oh. Good. So - why are we dreaming about something that isn't going to happen? Aren't these dreams supposed to tell us the future or something? And be full of cryptic hints?"
In front of them, the crater started to reverse itself, the ground reforming and the city slowly rebuilding itself.
"Bad Buffy! No speak-y!" she mimed zipping her lips.
The city was first rebuilt, and then partially collapsed again. The homes and stores were nailed shut, and the power plant was ablaze in the distance. Above 1630 Revello Drive was a huge digital timer, counting down from thirty-one.
"More like what you were thinkin', B?"
"Yep. Thirty-one what?"
The city vanished, and they were assaulted with a stream of images, too fast to see. They made out Angel, collapsed and bleeding in the street, and Faith wielding two guns, but they missed the rest. The final image was a familiar one, and when the two slayers woke in Faith's bed, Buffy rolled her eyes.
"That cheese guy is really annoying."
Chapter 10: On a Broken Field
"Come on, you piece of shit! Open!" Buffy turned over in bed and found it empty, realising it was Faith cursing in the kitchen.
"Faith? You okay?"
"Go back to sleep, B. Sorry I woke ya."
There was a long silence. "I can't get the fridge open."
"Why not?" Buffy was up and heading for the kitchen.
"That, uh, dent that we put in the door musta broke the hinge."
Buffy snorted. She felt a giggle rise in her throat and tried frantically to clamp down on it, but it escaped all the same. It was followed by another, and another, until she'd sunk to the floor, laughing uncontrollably. From the kitchen, she could hear Faith chuckling as well.
"Not my fault," Buffy managed at last, "that your ass is so bony!"
"Well, you pushed me into it! And what do you mean, bony? If anybody's got a bony ass, it's you!"
Buffy's retort was cut off by the ringing phone. Faith grabbed it from its cradle. "Hello?"
"Faith? It's Willow."
"Hey, Red. What can I do for ya?"
"I just wanted to tell you - and Buffy. There was a story on the news this morning, talking about a spate of vandalism in the graveyards last night. They said at least four graves were dug up between them."
"So, that's at least three of these things out there, then, if we killed one last night," Buffy had joined Faith in the kitchen, and raised an eyebrow. "I guess sunlight don't bother these Quizno things, either?"
"Quito. And no, it doesn't. There's no reports of an attack yet, though. It's more like-"
"Someone's gathering an army," Faith finished. "Okay, Wills - we'll get cleaned up and be over in a bit for some research." Hanging up the phone, she turned to Buffy.
"I guess you got the gist of that?"
Buffy sighed. "Yeah."
"What's wrong, B?"
"I - I'd just like some time, you know? I've got you in my life now, and I'd like to just spend some time with you, really get to know you - a few days without demons or apocalypses, where we can just be together. Talk about everything and nothing - you've got so many stories that I want to hear. I wish we could just be girlfriend-y."
"I know," Faith admitted. "I wish I could say things are going to quiet down after this, but that's not how it goes. We'll take the time we get, B, and be grateful for it. I don't know what else we can do - I don't see a weeklong trip to the Bahamas in our future."
"Well, we are rich, now." Buffy waggled her eyebrows. "We could afford a cruise."
"Yes," Faith nodded, "and then when the world ended, at least we'd be comfortably baking on an island somewhere."
"It's not fair," Buffy pouted. "Let someone else save the world for a change."
"Preaching to the choir, B. I spent more years saving it than you did. Plus, I looked better doing it." A flying couch cushion hit her in the head, and she laughed. "And you throw like a girl, too!" She sobered. "I know what you're sayin', though. Maybe after we stop - whatever the hell this is, then we can try and get away for a few days. We can bring the brat along."
"I had no idea you were looking for a threesome, Faith," Buffy grinned.
"B, you're a sick puppy. Now, are you going to hurry up and get showered, or what?"
"Are you saying I stink?" Buffy pouted.
"No, I'm saying that I really wanna shower with you," Faith raised an eyebrow, and Buffy took off toward the bathroom at a run, shedding clothes as she went.
They arrived at the Summers house late, but smiling satisfied grins. By unspoken agreement, their hand-holding stopped outside the house - neither of them was willing to discuss their changed situation with the others as yet. Xander looked downcast as they walked in.
"What are you poutin' about, X?"
"I knew you guys would forget the breakfast." Buffy blushed. "Good thing I brought coffee and bagels for us!"
"You're a lifesaver, Xander," Buffy praised him, and he beamed. "Faith, can I grab you something?"
"Just a coffee for me, B, thanks - black." Faith snickered quietly to herself.
"Nothing - you kinda had to be there," Faith gratefully accepted the coffee and took a long drink. "Huh - Starbucks. Honestly, I wasn't sad when the end of the world put them out of business."
"There was no more Starbucks in the future?" Xander asked incredulously. "That really does sound like hell."
Everyone, Jonathon and Andrew included, took seats around the increasingly cramped kitchen table, munching their bagels and sipping coffee. "So," Buffy began, breaking the silence, "I had a dream."
"That one day all men-"
"Quiet, Xan," Buffy's grin softened her words. "A slayer dream. Faith had it too."
Giles leaned forward. "Do tell."
"We were standing outside Sunnydale - right at the city limits sign. The whole town was gone."
"What do you mean, gone?" Andrew asked nervously.
"I've seen it before," Faith explained. "When the hellmouth collapsed - it took the whole town with it. The place was never rebuilt. It looked just like that."
"Go on," Giles prompted.
"Well, I said something about cryptic hints, and then the town came back out of the crater. There was a big - like a digital clock or something, hanging over this house. It was counting down from thirty-one. Then," she continued before Giles could interrupt, "the town went nuts. There was fires and stuff everywhere, and all the houses were nailed shut. And then the city disappeared and we saw - all kinds of stuff. Faith with guns, Angel bleeding in the street - oh, and that stupid cheese guy. We didn't catch much of it, though, it went by too fast." She gestured to Giles, who was nearly standing up in his eagerness to ask questions.
"Did you have any indication how far in the future this was occurring? The town burning?"
"Nope. Didn't see a calendar, G."
"Does the thirty-one refer to a number of days, then? Or is it counting down something else entirely?"
"If you don't know, G, how are we gonna?"
"Quite. Obviously, though, if you're having prophetic dreams, then Whistler's warning was accurate. We may be facing a very grave threat."
"Eep," Jonathon muttered, turning pale.
"Perhaps you should get in touch with Angel. Obviously he's supposed to be involved in this."
"Uh," Faith muttered. "He might be kinda busy right now."
Buffy raised an eyebrow. "What with?"
"That's, uh - well, it's really not important."
"Faith," Buffy's tone was a warning.
"It's not mine to tell, B. If you want answers, you're really gonna have to talk to the big guy."
Buffy didn't reply, just turned back to Giles. "So we're on our own, at least for the moment. What do we do?"
"I'm going gun shopping," Faith announced. "If I had those things in the dream, I'm gonna need ‘em."
"What kind of guns?" Andrew perked up. "Some sort of super-weapon?"
"Nope, just the regular kind. Looked like .357's." Suddenly she stopped short. "Wait, what did you say?"
"What kind of guns?"
Closing her eyes, Faith rubbed at her temples.
"Are you okay, Faith?" Tara asked from the other side of the table.
"Just trying to think. B, do you remember seeing an axe in those visions last night? Red, shiny, had a stake on the handle?"
"I don't think so," Buffy frowned. "Why?"
"That's weird," Faith muttered. "Really fuckin' weird - why wouldn't we be using that?" She shook her head. "Never mind, we'll figure it out later. Go ahead, G - what's the plan?"
"Well," he cleared his throat. "Unfortunately, the prophetic dream you shared with Buffy was, as ever, vague. We really don't have any new information to work with in terms of research. Obviously, this house plays some important role, given that it was the location of the countdown you saw. Beyond that, I believe we should be searching for any other occurrences of grave robbery, in Sunnydale or surrounding areas."
"Makes sense. The witches should probably start in on some wards, try and keep the house protected. D, you can give Giles a hand with the research. Andy, you start gathering what you need to summon us some help when the shit hits the fan. Jonny, you can come shopping with me. B, do you want to join us?"
"No," Buffy smiled. "Guns aren't really my thing. Plus, I need to call Angel."
"What are you grinnin' about?" Faith poked her with a finger.
"You. I remember when you couldn't follow a ‘count of three' plan, now you sound like a general."
"Captain, actually," Faith smiled ruefully. "They didn't want me to be a general. Felt my ‘authority issues,'" she made air quotes, "would keep me from being a good fit."
"Are you serious?" Dawn asked, her eyebrows raised to her hairline. "You had a rank?"
"The resistance was pretty organised, D - at first, anyway. You need ranks to keep order, else you get everybody talkin' over each other."
Dawn saluted. "Ma'am, yes, ma'am!"
Faith laughed. "We didn't salute, squirt. Never had uniforms, either."
"Well, if you weren't a general, who was?" Willow asked.
"Let's see," Faith thought. "There was Wes, and G, and a couple of the ex-Army brass who hooked up with us. Don't remember many of their names. And there was the other brass based out of London, but I didn't meet very many of them."
"Giles was a general?" Dawn looked respectfully at him. "Cool."
"Yeah," Faith smiled, reminiscing. "Anyway, if we've all got our marchin' orders, let's get going."
"So, why did you want me to come with you?" Jonathon asked nervously. "I don't like guns."
"Understandable, given what you tried to do with your last one," Faith patted him on the back, opening the door of the gun shop for him. "But I think you should have one."
"Well," she lowered her voice, mindful of the other customers. "Let's cut through the shit, Jonny. I'm a slayer. So's B. The witches have magic, and your buddy can summon demons. Giles and X can take care of themselves in a fight. Even D has a bit of weapons training. That makes you our weak link. If I'm going to get everyone out of this alive - and I am - then I need you to be able to defend yourself. Get it?"
"You really think we're all going to make it?"
"I didn't go through all of this to lose people, Jonny. I swear - if it comes down to you or me, I will throw myself in front of a bullet if it means keeping you safe. We are going to change the future, and that means everybody lives."
"What about you?"
"What about me? I've lived twice already - this is a chance nobody gets. If it's a choice between dying and saving the world, I'll pick the world."
Jonathon was silent at that, and Faith approached the counter. The owner, a morbidly obese man in his forties, looked her up and down with a practiced eye. "What can I do for you, honey?"
"Two .357 magnums, two laser sights for the magnums, four boxes of 125 grain hollow points, and one .38 special with a box of steel-jacketed ammo."
He blinked. "That's - those are big guns for a little lady like yourself. Sure I couldn't interest you in something smaller?"
Faith smiled sweetly. "No, honey, you can get me what I asked for."
He shrugged. "There's a ten-day waiting period for those guns."
"How much is it going to take for the waiting period to go away?"
He looked around, making sure the other customers hadn't heard her. "Seven hundred."
"Give you five."
"Done." He trundled off to collect her purchases, and she retrieved the money from her wallet. He passed over a bag, she paid him, and she and Jonathon left the store.
"Tell you what, Jonny - let's go find a shooting range, okay? I want to show you the basics."
"Don't feel too bad, Jon - I've been doing this a lot longer," Faith consoled him.
"I know - I was really bad, though."
"Yeah, ya were. But we'll get you in fighting shape before the end of the world, I promise."
They were nearing Buffy's house, and he stopped short. Faith stopped as well. "Faith," he said haltingly, "I just - I wanted to thank you."
"What for, squirt?"
"Saving my life," his voice trembled. "Making me feel like a part of something."
A shadow crossed Faith's features. "See if you're still thanking me when the shitstorm starts."
"I mean it," he summoned his courage and put a hand on her arm. "If I helped - if I made bad things happen, in your past, then I'm glad you gave me a chance to redeem myself. I really am grateful."
Faith swallowed, closing her eyes. When she opened them again and met his gaze, her eyes were shining. "You're welcome," she said hoarsely. "Let's go inside, okay?" She didn't wait for an answer, but turned away and strode through the unlocked front door. Dawn looked up at them from the couch.
"Hey - we found stuff! Watcher Junior to the rescue!" Faith took a seat beside her on the couch as Jonathon headed upstairs, looking for Andrew.
"What've you got, squirt?"
"You know I'm taller than you, right?"
"Still calling you squirt, so deal with it. What'd you find?"
Dawn pouted. "More grave robberies - all from small towns near here."
"How many?" Faith smiled as Buffy emerged from the kitchen.
"At least a dozen."
"Fuck," Faith hissed. "So there's - fifteen of them out there? At least?"
"Your math skills have improved, Faith," Buffy teased. "Come here for a sec, I got you something."
"Insult my math skills, and then order me around? I'm feelin' abused, here, B."
"Well, if you don't want your present..." she laughed as Faith jumped off the couch and crossed the living room in two strides. Buffy reached back into the kitchen and pulled a shopping bag off the counter. "Here - you were wearing this in that vision."
Faith reached inside and removed a magnificently-crafted pair of leather holsters for her guns. She inhaled sharply. "B, these musta set you back a fortune..."
"Well, I recently came into money," Buffy winked. "Besides, they looked good on you."
Faith lowered her voice. "How'd the phone call go?"
Buffy swallowed, turning slightly away. "Okay, I guess. It's a lot to take in - he really has moved on, hasn't he?"
"No, B - the baby thing was a one-night mistake. He was depressed, and-"
"I'm not," Buffy whispered, "talking about Darla. I'm talking about Cordelia. He loves her, doesn't he? I could hear it in his voice, the way he talked about her. They love each other. Right?"
"Answer me, please. No lies to spare my feelings."
"My hand to god, B, I ain't sure. I think they did - I think they nearly turned out to be a couple - but then she went evil. Then she went into a coma, then she died. They never got the chance to find out."
"What do you think would have happened?"
"I think," Faith knew she was walking through a minefield, "that they loved each other. I think they might have worked out." Faith could only see one side of Buffy's face, but didn't miss the tear streaking down her cheek. She swallowed, hard. "Look, B - Buffy - I want you to know. If you want - if you think - fuck, this isn't coming out right. If you want him, go get him, is all I'm saying," she hated the hitch in her voice, but couldn't help it.
Buffy turned back, tears still glistening on her face. "I meant what I said to you, Faith - forever. It's just hard. I always thought - someday we'd get another shot, you know? Knowing that it'll never happen - it's kind of a shock." She cleared her throat and swiped a sleeve across her face. "I'm sorry - I know how this must sound. Like I'm treating you as a consolation prize or something."
Faith put a finger to her lips. "Shh. He was your first love, B. You never forget your first love, and you never really," her eyes welled up, and suddenly she couldn't look at the other slayer anymore. "You never really let them go."
"Faith," Buffy whispered, pulling her close and planting a soft kiss on her lips. Over Faith's shoulder, she saw Dawn, still sitting on the couch where Faith had left her. Dawn stared at the two of them, mouth hanging open.
"Something you maybe want to tell me, Buffy?"
"I don't believe this," Willow muttered. She'd joined the others in the living room, Buffy deciding it would be easier to tell everyone at once. "How do you know she's telling the truth?"
"She hasn't lied about anything else," Buffy insisted. "Look - I know everybody's a bit thrown, but just because she looks like the old Faith doesn't mean she is. She had my mom's necklace."
Faith stood up and began to pace. "Willow - you can believe me or not, okay? It's up to you. Far as I'm concerned, B's doing you a favour here by even explaining. I'd have told you to deal with it and move on. I remember watching you order the death of thousands. I know you're capable of dealing, so do it."
"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" Xander exclaimed, putting his hands up. "Let's not argue, okay? That's not going to help anything. Honestly," he turned to Faith, "this weirds me out. But if Buffy is happy - if you can make her happy, after, uh, well, after everything - then it's cool with me. Can we all agree on that? A happy Buffy is a good thing?" There were hesitant nods around the room. "Good. Then let's leave it at that, okay?"
Faith patted him on the shoulder. "X, when the hell did you get smart?"
"The day before I proposed," Xander smiled. "You owe me now, though. I want to know something. About the future."
Faith looked suddenly uncomfortable. "Yeah?"
"How did I die?"
Turning to look out the window, Faith sighed. "It doesn't-"
"I know. It doesn't matter. But I'm curious. Was it a good death?"
Faith swallowed, hesitating. Buffy stood and walked over to her, encircling her with her arms. Faith leaned into the touch, drawing strength. "Yeah. It was, Xan. Is that enough, or-"
"It was in Frisco. We had a camp - mostly refugees, people runnin' out of Arizona. You were leading a team, keeping watch. A woman walked into camp," Faith's voice quavered, and Buffy's grip tightened. "She was working with the Others. She opened her coat, and she was strapped down with explosives. You," she coughed, her eyes squeezing shut, "you saw her first. She was standing next to a group of kids. You tackled her, gave the slayers time to get the kids away. Then she blew up."
"I went out a hero, then." Anya reached over and took his hand, and Xander gave it a grateful squeeze.
"Yeah. There was a little memorial for you in Los Angeles - it got polished every day, no matter how bad things got. Now, could we not talk about this anymore? It hurts."
"Of course," Buffy promised, craning her neck to glare at the others. "We've got bigger problems right now - let's focus on the present." Releasing Faith to let her turn around, then taking her hand, Buffy led her back to the couch and sat beside her. "Will - you and Tara got the wards up around the house?"
"Everything we could find," Tara promised. "I don't know if it'll be enough, but-"
"It's all I can ask," Buffy nodded. "Dawn said there's at least a dozen more - good job on that, by the way, Dawnie - is there any way the two of you can find them?" Dawn beamed.
"We've tried all the usual spells," Willow frowned. "No sign of them. Not even any dead spots, like there would be if they'd hidden their base of operations with magic. Just the usual vampires and demons."
"Should we go beat up Willy again?" Faith looked excited. "See if he's heard anything?"
"Maybe," Buffy mused. "Wait - how do you even know Willy? I don't remember you ever meeting him."
"He's an information broker - in the future, I mean."
"An information broker?" Giles spoke up from where he was standing, in the doorway between the kitchen and living room.
"Long story." Giles was about to ask another question when the phone rang. Faith, closest to it, grabbed the handset and punched the ‘talk' button. "Summers residence."
"Just who I was looking for." Faith paled, the room seeming to spin in front of her eyes. "Have you been remembering the rules, Faith?"
"I don't know who you are, but you ain't my mom. She's been dead for a long time." She was distantly aware of Buffy grabbing her hand, but she barely felt it.
"Does it make you feel better, thinking that? You're mine, Faith - you came from me, and you belong to me. Always. It's time you came home."
"The hell is that supposed to mean?"
"Meet me. Midnight, outside the Du Lac crypt. Even you should be able to find something that big."
"Now why in the hell would I do that?"
"Because if you do, I might not kill your little girlfriend. No promises, though. Show up, Faith. And be alone when you do. Do you understand?"
Faith was silent. "I asked you a question, young lady. Do you understand?"
"Yes," Faith spat.
"Good." The line went dead with a harsh click.
Chapter 11: If I can let this Memory Heal
"You know," Tawny said, almost conversationally, "I'm sure I told you to come alone. You never were any good at following directions."
"You see anyone else here?"
"Well, your little witch friends are somewhere over there-" she pointed, "and your whore isn't much farther away than that."
As frozen as she was, the words lit a fire in her. "Call her that again, and I'll drop you where you stand."
"Watch your mouth, girlie. You're not too old to take over my knee. Is that any way to speak to the woman that raised you?"
Faith laughed. "Raised me? Well, that's a fuckin' laugh."
"Really? Tell me, then, Faith. What did you more good? The things you learned in school, or the things you learned at home? When you ran away to Sunnydale after Kakistos had his way with your Watcher, how did you pay for the bus ticket?"
Faith rolled her eyes. "Since you're askin', you must know. Can we fast forward a bit to the part where you tell me what you want?"
"You, Faith. I want you."
"Incest, huh? Never figured you for the type, ma."
"I told you to watch your mouth," Tawny snapped. "This will be your only chance, Faith. One-time offer. You've lived on the losing side before - and if you fight me, you will be again. You think Michigan was bad? What I put all of you through will make it seem like cake."
"Telepathy," Willow's voice spoke in Faith's head, startling her. "She's reading your thoughts - that's how she knows about the future, and where Buffy and I are right now. You've got to control your thoughts, Faith."
"Break it down for me, then," Faith gestured. "What's the deal? Join you, rule the galaxy as father and son - er, mother and daughter? Damn Andrew and his constant Star Wars quotes," she muttered. "That about the size of it?"
Tawny laughed - it was an ugly sound, with no warmth or mirth behind it. "Hardly. Why on earth would I want to rule the world with you? You're a sad, ungrateful little child, and I wouldn't trust you to find your ass with both hands."
"I want you out of my way. I want to hurt you, Faith. In so many wonderful ways. I can make it last for weeks."
"So - I give myself to you, you leave everyone else alone? Is that what you're offering?"
"No. This is what I'm offering - give yourself up, and I won't gut your little whore in front of you. Pull her intestines out, skin her alive - that sort of thing." Tawny smiled, but it didn't reach her eyes.
Faith launched herself at her mother - or whatever wore her form - with murder in her eyes. Tawny stepped aside, too fast to be seen, and grabbed her by the shirt. With no effort, she launched the slayer across the graveyard - Faith crashed heavily into the wall of a mausoleum, her head and back taking most of the impact. She heard a wet crack, but did her best to ignore it and lurched to her feet. She was unsteady, seeing double where her vision wasn't obscured entirely. Tawny grinned. "So I guess that was a no?"
"You're fuckin' right it was," Faith slurred, stumbling.
"Good - it'll be more fun this way, anyway. I just thought I owed you a chance - you know, mother to daughter."
"You ain't my mother."
"You keep saying that," Tawny smirked. "Maybe you'll even convince yourself." With that, she turned away and walked into the mist, which seemed to close up behind her. Faith collapsed to one knee, still trying to clear her head. It was an effort not helped by the appearance of three Quitos from the mist.
"Faith!" she heard Buffy cry. "Stay down! Just stay down!"
"Not a problem," Faith muttered to herself. There was a ripple in the air, and a wave of energy swept across the graveyard. It hit the three creatures at neck height, severing their heads. Faith grinned at the efficiency of it - and then passed out.
"So you've no idea what she is?" Faith only barely heard Giles' question through the haze in her mind.
"No - Giles, she was fast. I've never seen anything move like that before - not even Glory." Faith felt her left side drop, and realised that Buffy had sat down next to her on the bed. "Giles, I can't do this."
"Can't do what?" he asked gently.
"Any of it. It's just too hard. She's - she's this presence in my life now, the only thing that can break through this disconnect that I've felt since I - came back. And if something happens to her - I don't think I could deal."
"I understand, Buffy - but what's the alternative? Let the demons take Sunnydale?"
"I don't care!" Buffy cried. "I just - I want to take her somewhere that we can both be safe, and not have to spend every minute fighting. I'm tired, Giles," her voice dropped. "I thought I was done. That I could just - not worry anymore. And then they brought me back here. And I was back to the endless fighting and death, and for a while I thought I'd never be able to cope. And then there was Faith. And she made me feel again, she made me a real person instead of just a shadow. And if - twice, since she came back, she's been hurt, and," she broke off. "I can't do it. I quit. Let someone else save the world."
The darkness swallowed Faith again, and she heard no more.
"B?" Faith called, trying to force her eyes open. She felt a warm hand squeeze hers.
"I'm here, Faith."
"Where are we?" she still hadn't manage to get her eyes to co-operate, but she felt an unmistakable sensation of movement.
"In my car," Buffy replied.
"What?" Faith finally opened her eyes, and promptly squinted at the brightness of the sun through the windshield. "Are we going home?"
"No," Buffy took her hand back and didn't elaborate.
"San Francisco, first. I'm not sure after that."
"Uh - why?"
"Because we're finished. I called Riley. His unit are going to take care of the problem in Sunnydale."
"Wait," Faith sat up in the seat, her muscles screaming in protest. "What are you talkin' about? Did my brain get scrambled worse than I thought? Tell me we're not running out on the apocalypse." Buffy didn't answer. "B - talk to me. What's going on? B!"
"We quit. I told Giles."
"Whoa! Who said anything about quitting?"
"Me!" Buffy hissed. "I won't do this anymore. We're going to have a normal life."
"B - look. I get what you're saying, I do - but what about everybody else? Your sister, your friends, the whole fuckin' town? You're going to let them all die?"
"No. I told the others they need to leave too, and Riley will-"
"B, the military couldn't even handle Adam - something they created - without you! How do you think they're going to stop this?"
"Do you know what day it is?" Buffy replied, and the randomness of it stopped Faith short.
"What? No, I don't know what day it is, B."
"You were in hospital for four days, Faith. You didn't even wake up until yesterday. That shot you took broke your skull and nearly severed your spine. If it wasn't for slayer healing, you'd have died in the ambulance. As it is, they weren't sure you'd make it."
"But I did, B-"
"This time! Eventually you're not going to be that lucky!"
"Slayers come with a limited shelf life. You know that."
"We don't have to," Buffy said, her lip trembling. "We can just leave. It hurt so much, Faith - seeing you laying there, wondering if you'd still be alive when the morning came. I can't keep doing that."
"I'm not talking about this anymore!"
"Too bad - I am. You're going to talk to me about hard, B? Really? After everything I've told you? Everything I've been through?"
"Then you, of all people-"
"But we can't, B! We're different, you and me! It's our job to keep going when other people give up!"
"I can't! I'm tired, Faith, I'm just so tired!"
"Look," Faith lowered her voice, trying to calm the discussion. "If I was there four days, then that's five days since we had the dream. If that thirty-one was a countdown, then we're running out of time. We need to go back," Buffy started to interrupt, and Faith talked over her. "Tomorrow. Tonight we're going to Frisco, and I'm going to treat you like a princess. And then we'll drive back in the morning. Meantime, I'll call Giles. Let him know we're coming back, okay? I need you to be strong for me, B - we'll deal with this, and then I'll take you anywhere you wanna go, okay?"
Buffy was crying silently, her breath coming in short gasps, but she nodded. "That's my girl," Faith said admiringly. "I love you so much, B. I missed you so much."
"Love you too," Buffy managed, reaching out to take her hand.
"You've got two hours, B," Faith warned. "Find something to wear, and meet me back at the hotel. Okay?"
"But I wanna shop with you," Buffy pouted.
"Nuh-uh. You don't get to see what I pick until later." Faith smirked, waggling her eyebrows.
"Will it be made of leather?"
"Go," Faith gave her a gentle push. "You'll never find out if you don't get going."
"I'll see you in two hours," Buffy smiled over her shoulder as she walked away, leaving Faith alone on the busy street. Looking around, she picked the most upscale place in sight. When she walked in, she could practically feel the disapproving glance of the girl at the till, but she shrugged it off. A salesperson approached, and Faith gave her the best smile she could through the pain in her head.
"Hi - I have a date in two hours, and pretty much an unlimited budget. I'm not good at this girly stuff, but I really want to impress my date. Can you help me?"
"Absolutely," the girl, whose nametag read ‘Tanya,' smiled. "Come with me."
For what seemed like the thousandth time, Faith looked herself over in the mirror. Her long hair floated against her bare shoulders. She'd decided on very little makeup, but the dark red lipstick she'd chosen stood out nicely. The dress, decided on after nearly forty-five minutes with the very helpful Tanya - who'd been generously tipped for her time - was perfect. A deep, rich green colour, it had a corset top that did wonders for her chest, and the bottom was loose and flowing. Turning to look at herself from the side, she exhaled nervously. Buffy was late.
Just as she checked the time again, the phone on the nightstand rang shrilly. She jumped, and grabbed it on the second ring.
"Faith? I've got us a table at the French place down the street. Care to join me?"
"Be right there, B." Hanging up the phone, Faith sat down on the bed and slipped on the strappy high-heeled shoes she'd picked up to go with the dress before grabbing her purse and leaving the room.
In the lobby, she got the concierge to hail her a cab - she had the money, and why walk any farther in these heels than she needed to? - and directed him to the restaurant. Heads turned as she entered, but she didn't pay them any attention as she scanned the crowd for Buffy. Just as she was about to give up and ask the head waiter, he approached her instead. "And you must be Faith, then?" he asked, in a cheesy faux-French accent, taking her hand and giving it a kiss.
"Yes," she affirmed, taking her hand back.
"Excellent - your companion is in one of our private rooms. Shall I show you in?"
"Please." He led her on a winding path through the tables to a well-disguised door at the back. He opened it to reveal a large room with a single long table, decorated with flowers and a crystal centrepiece. But Faith's eyes went immediately to Buffy, who stood to meet her. Behind her, the waiter had closed the door, but she didn't notice - she was captivated.
Buffy wore white - an empire-waist gown that gave her with a nearly ethereal glow. Her hair was carefully braided at the back, and her lack of makeup only emphasised her natural beauty. She seemed taller, and Faith risked a quick glance down at her feet, clad in heels higher than Faith had ever seen her wear. She was confident in them, though, as she crossed the room to take Faith gently in her arms. "You are so beautiful," she whispered, the movement of her lips against Faith's ear making her shiver. "I should make you dress up all the time."
"I missed your long hair," Faith whispered back. "You always looked better with it long."
"I got us a couple glasses of champagne," Buffy said, starting to pull away. "I hope that's okay?"
"Of course," Faith smiled, pulling her close again. "You know you don't need to get me drunk, though, right?"
"I know," Buffy leaned in closer, and their lips met in a careful, tentative kiss. It quickly deepened, and Faith whimpered softly when Buffy pulled away again. "Down, girl," Buffy pinched her arm playfully. "We've got all night."
"Tease," Faith pouted, but followed her to the table all the same. They sat on opposite sides at the middle, pushing the centrepiece and the flowers aside so they could see each other. Buffy passed her a full a glass of champagne. Faith raised it, and Buffy matched her gesture.
"To destiny," Faith started solemnly, then grinned, "screw it." Buffy laughed and their glasses met with the sound that only fine crystal could make it. They each took long swallows, and set their glasses down gently.
"So," Buffy asked, softly, "is this what our first date was like?"
"Not even remotely," Faith smiled, settling back against her chair. "It was a burned-out cafe in some little town outside L.A. The meal was two ration packs, and the drink was some dirty water we got out of a well."
"We got them from the army - well, okay, those ones we technically stole from the army. Tasted like warm shit, but they filled you up."
"Did we have a song?"
"Want to tell me what it was?"
"Until the End by Breaking Benjamin. If you wanna listen to it, though, you're going to have to wait for a few years."
They both sipped silently at their champagne for a moment, and any further questions were cut off by the opening of the door. A timid-looking waitress entered, clutching her tray to her chest protectively.
"We're not gonna bite, honey," Faith promised.
"I'm sorry," she replied, flustered. "I'm not used to dealing with anyone nice in this room. Usually they're all rich business guys that grab my ass."
"Won't be happening tonight," Buffy promised.
"What can I get the two of you?"
"Actually," Faith admitted, "we haven't quite got around to the menu yet. Could we get a bottle of Dom for now?"
"Absolutely," she smiled. "I'll be right back." The minute the door closed, Buffy stood up.
"Uh," Faith looked up at her. "Are we going somewhere?"
"Nope," Buffy smiled, and knelt down on the floor.
"B, what are you-"
"Shh - these are the rules. You're going to order dinner for me. And you're not going to let on to the waitress that there's anything out of the ordinary happening. Clear?"
"Uh - okay, but-" before she could finish, Buffy disappeared under the table. And then Faith got it. The tablecloth was long, reaching the floor on both sides of the table, and the waitress couldn't possibly see Buffy underneath it. With shaking hands, she picked up the menu and quickly found two entrees - only to drop it heavily on the table when she felt her dress shift up her legs, and sudden hot breath on her knees. "Fuck," she whispered. From under the table, she heard Buffy laugh.
"I knew you'd be wearing leather," she murmured, just loud enough to be heard, as she lazily trailed a finger across Faith's panties. Faith squirmed, and she stopped. "Don't let on, Faith."
Feeling arousal gathering between her thighs, Faith put both hands on the table and tried to keep still. Just as Buffy slowly eased her panties down her legs, the waitress returned with their champagne. "Thanks," Faith smiled, trying to keep her voice steady.
"And have you decided on dinner?" she asked, just as Buffy carefully probed her wet sex with a single finger.
"Uh," she moaned, trying to turn it into an ‘I'm thinking' noise. "I'll have the prime rib," the pitch of her voice raised on the last word as Buffy's thumb found her clit and brushed it gently. "Medium rare."
"And your companion?"
"The," her eyes nearly rolled back as Buffy added her tongue. "The, uh, grilled salmon."
"Excellent choices," the waitress smiled, taking the menus from Faith's shaking hands. "Anything else?"
With Buffy's thumb rubbing her clit, and her tongue buried in the folds of her sex, Faith could barely keep her composure long enough to shake her head. "We're good, thanks," Faith assured her, praying she'd leave quickly. She'd only barely made it out the door and shut it behind her when Faith let out the moan she'd been stifling. "Oh, god, oh, B,, oh god!" she put a hand to her mouth and bit down, trying to stifle herself. She slumped in her chair, her hips jumping, as she felt her orgasm building. She came with a barely concealed scream, every muscle in her body seeming to freeze as it ripped through her. She collapsed bonelessly against the table as Buffy emerged from the other side, licking her lips and looking thoroughly pleased with herself.
"Jesus," Faith whispered, still gasping for breath.
"That's what you get for calling me a tease," Buffy smirked.
"Well," Faith cleared her throat, "I should-"
"No." Buffy said firmly.
"What do you mean, no?"
"I mean, no. You said you were going to treat me like a princess tonight - that means I call the shots. I'm royalty, after all."
"Well, your majesty, what did you have in mind?"
"Well, first you're going to fix your dress before the waitress comes back. And then we'll see where the night takes us. If this is the only vacation we get before the apocalypse, Faith, then I want to live a lifetime tonight."
"You got it, B," Faith promised, pouring her another glass of champagne.
Faith looked up at the sign outside the arena. "Ice Capades, B? Really? We're going to be the fanciest-dressed people ever to show up to an ice show."
"My choice, remember? Besides, I promise - I'll make it worth your while."
"How's that? You can't really eat me out at a family event like that - I mean, I wouldn't say no, but I don't think management would agree."
"I have my ways," Buffy promised her. "Now let's go watch the show."
She did - and she was merciless, keeping Faith on the verge of orgasm for virtually the entire performance, without ever letting her come. When the show ended, Faith groaned with frustration.
"See? I told you you'd enjoy the show," Buffy giggled.
"What else did you have in mind, Princess?"
"I think you should pick something fun for us to do. And then I think we should go back to the hotel. I want a perfect night, Faith - we're going to get room service, order a movie, and then I am going to fuck you in every possible way I can think of, and you're going to do the same for me. How's that sound?" the smile she gave Faith was so innocent that she could scarce believe it was the same mouth that had just been speaking.
"Taxi!" shouted Faith.
In the dark of their hotel room, sometime early the next morning, Faith awoke to find Buffy sitting in a chair beside the bed, staring at her.
"I'm sorry," Buffy whispered. "I didn't want to wake you, I just wanted to watch you sleep."
"Because this has been the best night of my life, and I want to remember you just like this, forever."
"Come here," Faith patted the bed beside her, and Buffy scooted under the covers to join her. They lay face to face, Faith smoothing Buffy's hair back. "I love you, Buffy. I can't promise that our lives are going to be wine and flowers, or however that saying goes, but I can promise that I'll always love you. I will spend my last breath keeping you safe and loved, and if it takes the rest of my life then I will make you glad that your friends brought you back. This is a chance that I never thought I'd get, and I - I'm not going to waste it."
Buffy's eyes shone. "I'm already glad that they did, Faith. There's going to be some more bad days, I'm sure, but if," she swallowed, "if I have you, then I think I can make it through them."
"You have me, B. All of me. Always."
"Thank you - and not just for that. For making me go back to Sunnydale. I didn't want to run away, I didn't want to leave everyone to die - it was just so hard, seeing you get hurt. And I got scared and selfish."
"Talkin' to the queen of scared and selfish, B. I'm glad I could turn you around, but in the end it was still your choice to go home. You're so much braver than you give yourself credit for. Now, what say we sleep a few more hours before we hit the road?"
"That sounds good," Buffy turned over and Faith pulled her close, wrapping her arms around her and pulling her close. In minutes, their breath evened out and they were asleep.
"Isn't this the same dream?" Faith asked, confused. The same number thirty-one hung over the Summers house, the town was still boarded up and burning in places. "Shouldn't that countdown have changed now?"
"Unless it's not a countdown," Buffy replied, confusion etched on her features as well. They were assaulted with a stream of images, similar to the first time around, but subtly different. There was Angel, bleeding, and Faith armed with guns, but there were others, clearly visible now. An explosion ripping apart a city block. Soldiers with gas masks. And Faith's mother, perched on the edge of a mausoleum, her hands spread wide and her gaze directed at the sky.
They both woke with a start.