It had been only an hour or so, what felt like minutes to some and eons to others – specifically ones who had just been through their own mental version of torture. Regrouping and discussing was difficult, as Buffy had spent a good portion of time ranting while Faith had slumped down into a chair and gone comatose, staring out at nothing. No one bothered her for the most part, even Xander being aware enough of what she had probably just gone through. Dawn had disappeared after a quick strangled sentence about going to her room, and Willow was busy trying to get a word in any time her best friend stopped to take a breath. Buffy was determined to fix this.
The kitchen table glinted in the sun beneath Cordelia's laptop as she sat typing away at something. I can't believe I need to write this crap down for him…
She looked up from what she was doing to see Buffy sitting across from her, looking rather stern. Focused. She wanted something. "Yes?"
"We need your help."
She smiled. Finally. "Of course you do. I was waiting for you to ask." There was a hint of mockery in her voice.
"Have you gotten any dreams or visions lately?"
She looked away in pseudo thought. "Well, I've had dreams… There was this one with Antonio Banderas, only he had the body of a horse…" She shook her head. "That was a weird one."
"Cordy. Please." She could hear the anxiety in the other woman's voice.
Cordelia knew what had just occurred, even though she had not been present. (She had been let in on the event before it was too late to stop it anyway). On any other occasion, she would have drawn this out to her heart's content, having all kinds of fun teasing and tormenting Buffy with the things she didn't know. As it was, she couldn't help herself from poking just a little – after all, she hadn't gotten much of a chance to yet. "We both know you wanna know if I've had any visions about Faith. Maybe about you and Faith." She grinned knowingly, her tone playful.
Buffy's tone was dangerous. "Cordelia…"
She wasn't fazed. "You know, you would be very surprised if I told you about some of the visions I've been getting in the past few months." She looked the other woman dead in the eye and nodded as she said the words. "Very. Surprised."
Her curiosity got the better of her and she stopped giving the evil eye for a moment. "Is it anything I need to know?"
Cordelia grinned ridiculously. "No. Just funny-time for my brain." God, she was enjoying this way too much.
Buffy's face quickly fell into that of one not amused. "So you haven't gotten anything that could help us with the demon?"
"She-bitch? No, nothing that'll help you stop her. I guess the Fates are deciding there are other things that are more important." Her eyes lit up.
Buffy sighed. "Okay, thanks." She got up, somewhat defeated, and turned to leave.
"Oh, Buffy – "
She turned, hopeful. "Yeah?"
Cordelia seemed to shake her head at herself. "…Nothing."
The blonde shot her a strange look before walking away.
"So X-Man, where'd you get the sword?" Faith had found herself once more after a very long time of playing Coma. She felt less like she wanted to upchuck, which was a good thing. As a result, the other occupants of the room had relaxed somewhat as well.
"It's from down in the training room. I heard what was going on in the study and figured I'd um…risk my life and good health running in here with a sword." He smiled weakly. "Hey, it worked, didn't it?"
Faith grinned at him, amused.
"Yeah, well, something tells me she wasn't so much scared by the sword as she just decided she'd come back another time," Buffy announced as she walked purposefully back into the room.
"Well, way to boost the confidence there, Buff."
She looked at him apologetically. "Sorry. You were great, with your – sword swinging." She smiled.
"I thought you looked like you knew what you were doing," Willow offered gently.
She turned to Buffy. "Did Cordelia tell you anything?"
"No. She said she hasn't had any visions that would help us." She paused as she remembered the other woman's secrecy. There was definitely something Cordelia wasn't telling her. You could've asked. She wanted you to. "And we know nothing new about the demon? Or the demons that attacked Faith?"
The redhead shrugged. "Nothing really left to find out. I've done so much research I think I've filled my quota for the next millennium. Hopefully they're connected somehow to her, and taking care of her will take care of them too. At this point it seems like the only thing we can do is sit around until she comes back."
"Great," Faith said sarcastically.
Buffy looked around. "So the question is… When is she going to strike again?"
Cordelia stood in the living room, talking into her cell phone. She did not sound enthused. "Yeah. …Yeah, that's all. …Well," she rolled her eyes, "for now. …Mhm. …Okay." She smiled with potent sarcasm at something that was said on the other line. "I have to say, I really am learning to love these little chats. …Bye." She hung up in time to see Faith give her a look before heading out the door.
The moon seemed especially bright that night, as if it felt there was something it needed to work extra hard to illuminate. It almost made the cemetery look…bright. If that was ever possible. Cemeteries weren't bright. They were dark. And scary. And they always seemed to be the location of some sort of pain.
"So what do you think Cordelia's not telling us?" Faith kept her senses alert, yet still completely focused on the woman beside her. It was twice as hard to appear nonchalant. But then again, she had a lot of practice.
"What do you mean?"
The brunette shrugged. "With all the 'secret visions' she has and those phone calls she makes."
Clearly Faith wanted to talk about this to avoid talking about anything else. Buffy looked off into the distance and shrugged as well, knowing full well the subject of the 'secret visions' but planning never to discuss them, or even think about them, especially not with Faith. And she wasn't going to indulge her methods of deflection. "Don't know. She likes to lord things over people though. Makes her feel happy."
"Won't make me feel happy if I'm in any of those visions." Faith had a knack for figuring things out without realizing she had figured them out.
An awkward silence fell over the pair, extending itself until Buffy couldn't take it anymore. It was about time they had a real conversation. Faith wasn't going to be the one with the nerve, so that only left her. She wasn't sure if she had planned for this, but she felt it needed to happen. She steeled herself. "Look, Faith… We haven't talked about what happened the other day, and I know you want to avoid it, but – "
Nothing could've prepared her.
The other woman had stopped walking and was now looking her directly in the eyes, deliberate and sure. "I'm not gonna lie to you. For a second – a really fast, really short second – I liked what she was tellin' me. It sounded like something I wanted. It… It was like, it awakened this thing inside of me, that I haven't felt in so long, years, and…" She paused to grasp for words. "It was like good and bad and fucking frightening all at the same time. I didn't like how it felt… But at the same time, it seemed almost – easy. Like I could just take whatever she was offering, and then all this shit that I feel – " her voice broke as emotion welled up inside her, " – all the time – would go away. I've tried so hard to make it go away. But it never does. And – and maybe that's part of my punishment or something, you know? Part of what I have to go through because of all the things I did. And every time she tried to get me to take it something in me knew that it wasn't right. That I couldn't, and – I actually felt…" she groped at the air as if reaching for the word, unsure if she should take it – "proud of something that I did." She was now looking at the ground, all confidence lost, trying desperately not to break down. Her eyes were so glassy they looked like orbs.
Buffy was stunned. She took in the sight before her – this woman so changed, once so feral and now so vulnerable and raw before her. She was completely unprotected; totally and utterly open. It washed over her like a forgotten memory, like something she felt was so precious she didn't know if she would be allowed to have it. It touched Buffy in a way she had never even fathomed before. "Faith…" She reached out in what felt like slow motion to touch her face, then stopped, as if realizing what she was doing – and then slowly, so very slowly, continued until she grazed the skin of Faith's chin. Faith flinched, relaxing only slightly, almost painfully, as Buffy gently brought her face up.
"You have no idea how proud of you I am." She immediately read the awe emanating from the other woman; her eyes wide, literally shining with amazement and gratitude, to a point indescribable. "When I watched you stand up to her, show her how much you've changed, who you truly are, and how strong you are… I knew something was different." She paused. "You were different. After you came back to Sunnydale, it was obvious you weren't the same girl we had known before – but I still wasn't convinced. …Can you blame me?" Faith's eyes flicked to the ground for a moment. "But… Seeing you firsthand, thrown up against the biggest temptation there is…" She held Faith's gaze, making sure the other woman was looking at her. "I believe in you, Faith. I…" …trust you.
Faith, utterly petrified of what she thought Buffy was about to say, cut her off. "You know what?" She forced a chuckle which sounded horribly strained, taking a step back and trying to compose herself even though her voice wavered. "I think that's enough gut-spilling for one night."
Buffy kept eye contact with her. "It doesn't have to be like this, you know. We can – "
" – bake cookies? I've been jonesing for some snickerdoodles." She couldn't handle any more. She had no idea what had possessed her to open herself up like that in the first place, and she couldn't bear to feel any more of this – not now.
"I'm here for you. If you need me."
The amount of emotion on Faith's face at those words was startling. It brought Buffy down to earth.
"…I've never made cookies at midnight. I think this will be a first." She threw her arm over Faith's shoulders and they made their way out of the cemetery.
There was a musk in the air, thick and unidentifiable to most. A layer of darkness covered everything; a single light from up in the ceiling was the only illumination inside the warehouse. It shone down eerily as if it had a mind of its own; as if it knew exactly what it should be focused on.
A man hung from heavy chains, wrapped tight and holding him up in the air by his wrists. Blood stuck to the sides of his face and neck, stained his shirt, glistened as it mixed with sweat. He was fresh. Just released from prison. They could smell him.
There weren't many; after all, the more powerful the demon, the less followers he actually needed. Too many just got irritating. For tonight, he had only chosen a few to accompany him. Ones like this were always his favorite.
He leisurely walked up to the man, his heavy boots thumping slowly. "Oh, Marcus. You're a very bad man, aren't you?" The man glared at him. "Five people you murdered. It was five, wasn't it? Well, who knows nowadays, right? You could have lots of hidden secrets anywhere!" He laughed, getting very close to the man's face, his voice low. "Hidden bodies. Buried deep in only places you know." Pause. "Were there more?" Still no response. The demon turned away from him and began to walk in a slow circle around him. "I have such a hard time believing it, Marcus. I mean, look at you. You don't look like a bad guy. You look all right." He shrugged. "I wouldn't think twice if I passed you on the street. I bet a lot of people didn't know, did they?" Up in his face again, barely whispering, taking his time. "Like your wife?" Marcus visibly reacted, his breathing speeding up and his eyes cutting into the monster in front of him. "She didn't think you were so bad, did she? You loved her… Didn't you?" He walked away again. "But that didn't stop you from killing all those people. Didn't stop the blood from getting all over you, the sin, that stench that you just can't scrub off no matter how much you try."
A young woman stood among those watching, silent, dark. Blending. Crumbling.
"I did my time. It's not like that anymore."
The demon turned back abruptly. "Oh! And how is it like?" He stared fiercely at the man. "I'm waiting." He held his hand to his ear. "Marcus!" A shout, somewhere between angry, evil and teasing. Sick. "Marcus! Come on, man! Communicate with me! Work a little bit, huh? What's it like?" He was frightening.
Keep it together.
The man looked at him through glassy eyes, whispering in a broken voice. "You're fucking evil. You don't know what it's like. You don't have a soul."
Now his voice was back to a regular speaking tone, his face deadpan. Underneath lay an alarming layer of malice. It was chilling. "And you do?" He paused, shrugging. "Tell me, Marcus, if you have a soul and I don't, how come we both kill people?" No response. "How come we can both take life from a being and not feel any remorse?"
Don't let it in. Don't let it win.
He was still whispering. Broken. "I do. I do feel remorse. I regret…everything I've done…"
The demon smiled sickeningly, coming close again and grabbing onto Marcus's chains, swinging him a little with his weight. Amused. "Oh, come on. You're just sayin' that cause you're chained to the ceiling!" He laughed. "How can I believe anything you say? The same way you can't believe anything I say. Isn't that right? Cause you don't get that privilege anymore. You don't get to have anyone believe you. You don't get to have anyone love you." He dropped his voice lower, looking him straight in the eyes. "Look at all the horrible things you've done. How could anyone ever really trust you?"
Faith was outside on the pavement, throwing up. She never stuck around to find out what happened.
Willow entered the living room hastily, searching with her eyes for the girl she found sitting on the couch. She had no time for pleasantries. "Something big is about to happen."
Buffy looked up at her, her mouth full of yogurt. "Wha?"
The other woman seemed incredibly anxious. "Right now. Something is about to happen right now."
Buffy swallowed her mouthful and got up, shutting off the television and moving into the kitchen. She dumped the cup and the spoon blindly into the sink. "Do I have time to get pretty?"
There was no mistaking Willow's tone. "No time for jokes. I think she-devil is pissed, and on her way. I can feel it."
Buffy grew serious, her face drawing into one of resolve. "Go get Faith and meet me in the training room. Tell all the girls in the house to stay in their rooms."
Buffy paced, weapons in hand. She had grabbed the nastiest looking thing she could find and was hoping it would do enough damage. She really didn't have any idea at this point if it would, but it sure seemed like it would be a good place to start. She had had enough after the last encounter; she would make sure this was the last.
Faith and Willow came running down the stairs, shutting the door behind them.
Faith took in the room. "I take it she's not here yet."
Buffy locked eyes on her, steady and determined. "Make ready whatever weapons you can. I don't know how to kill this bitch but I'm going to damn well try whatever works." Her gaze shifted to the other woman. "Willow, anything you can do will help."
She nodded. "On it."
Faith took the second nastiest looking weapon – since Buffy had taken the first – and stuck a few knives in her waistband, along with an axe in her other hand. All three women stood in the middle of the room, alert. Ready. Waiting.
Faith's hair was practically standing up. "All right, super bitch, where are you?"
She was answered a few moments later by a blast that knocked her off her feet, sending her flying across the room. Close to where she had been standing an exaggerated whirlwind of sorts appeared, windy and electric, spinning until the demon stood in its place in its familiar form.
Buffy immediately lunged at it, and Willow began chanting. As soon as she began she was stopped, however, by the demon sending her across the room as well, knocking her out as she hit the wall on the other side. Faith was up again by this point and running full force toward the demon, who had returned her attention to battling Buffy.
She swung her axe mightily at the demon, missing just barely as it moved inhumanly out of the way, Buffy rolling with the movement to keep up. She bounced up onto her feet and delivered a quick, severe wound to the demon's stomach with her weapon, but it seemed to do little damage and barely slowed it down. Faith went to swing again and was knocked back. She was getting angrier and more crazed by the minute, determined to get rid of this thing that had been tormenting her for so long. She felt something welling up inside of her, and though she was partially blinded by her hatred and rage toward this creature the more she fought the more she started to feel like something was off; something was different.
She used the strange feeling and fed off of it, attacking with full force as passionately as she could, using what felt like all of her strength, and she could tell the same was happening for Buffy. Maybe it was all the emotions that had been flying around the past few months, maybe it was how much they hated this demon – maybe it was a combination of both – but both women were a complete flurry of might and fury. There was no stopping them.
Until Faith realized something.
It hit her harder than any of Buffy's punches ever had.
This was it.
This was the vision she had seen in that shitty hotel room, the one that had prompted her to come blitzing back across the world.
The realization stopped her in her tracks, in the middle of attacking, without even thinking, as she stared at the image in front of her, taking in absolutely everything about the moment as her memory recalled it like the answer to a million dollar question. The feel of the floor beneath her, the surrounding room, the lights, Willow passed out near the wall, the motions of Buffy and the demon before her, the way they moved, the weight of her own body and the weapons she held – the feeling of her heart stopping as she realized what was coming next.
She didn't have much time to react. She knew the procession of events; she had seen them, and they had been burned into her brain. Buffy had injured the demon by this point, and had managed to throw it back across the room. She stepped back, hands up, preparing herself. The look on her face. The tilt of her head. The way the light hit her.
This was the moment it was supposed to happen.
This is what it had all boiled down to; this was what her purpose was; this was why she had met that man in that bar, why she had been shown the vision. It had to happen. There was no stopping it.
Would've been nice if I had been given a little more warning.
But there was no time to grieve; she had to act.
And she did, without much thought. All of this occurred in about 10 seconds, and she vaulted herself at full speed across the room, shouting Buffy's name in a strangled way that she never had before and pulling the other woman violently towards her. An immense energy ball, in another time and place meant to kill, passed through the space she had occupied not one moment before. Faith could feel the intense heat all but scorch her, but it was nothing. She faintly registered the sound of the wall catching fire and splintering, but it was nothing. Because the moment she had moved Buffy out of the way she found herself pressed against the other woman in a way she had only ever imagined before, her mouth fiercely against hers, and all of reality came to hazy halt as it became a dream.
The moment was broken by the intense, outraged scream of the demon, a terribly nightmare sound that reverberated throughout the entire property. The two women were ripped back down to earth and immediately fell back into position, getting ready to begin battling once more, but the demon disappeared in a whirlwind greater than what had brought it there, its scream of rage echoing in their ears.
There was a stunned moment of silence where Willow, now conscious, stared in shock at what she had just witnessed, and it took the two slayers an extra few moments to come back up to speed and match their bodies with their thoughts.
I'm not dead…
Faith stared at Buffy, who stared back. There was a dead, heavy silence as the two were almost suspended in time, unable to look away or make any movement. She was shaken and bewildered that she still existed and that this was indeed reality and not a dream or a vision. It had happened.
Then she jumped back as if burned.
"Um – "
The other woman looked absolutely petrified. "Buffy… I – "
If she knew what she was going to say, she didn't get to finish. All that came out was a grunt of pain as a blade came flying out of nowhere into her stomach. She looked down at it in shock as Buffy's expression turned to devastation. All three women looked up to see Asher standing a few yards away.
He grinned. "Buffy, baby. Did you miss me?"