Chapter Three: FAITH
"You pulled a Jerry Maguire and took her to the zoo."B says, wringing her hands together, not daring to look him in the eye. She's probably scared shitless he'll say no. "And Andy's leaving for New Zealand soon…"
Gravis pulls a smile together and lands his green eyes into mine. He's got this ‘you okay with this?' look that just cements the deal. Meanwhile, B's still babbling.
"And Terry really likes you and it would mean the world to her if you were here from time to time…"
"Yeah."I answer his silent question before I realize that I interrupted her, and she gives me a funny look for my troubles. Yeah, I'm okay with this.
"What?"She scrunches up her nose in confusion. God, how did I manage to stay away for so fucking long?
Gravis nods and turns back to Buffy.
"I'd be more than happy to."He says evenly, and I know that he means it.
B gives him a radiant smile and clasps her hands together the way I remember Mrs. S did when she was happy.
"Just during the week, though."I warn jokingly. "Don't wanna see your ugly face more than I have to."
His smile is lop-sided and he tilts his head in a dramatic way that makes him look so… fuck… so fucking lick-able.
"My ugly face?"He says in mock horror.
He comes over and kisses the top of my head before landing one of his soft hands on Buffy's shoulder.
"I'll go tell Teresa the good news."He says, stepping out the front door before making his way to Daisy and Thom's house, leaving B and me alone.
B's got this look of sheer happiness and glee on her face that's kinda unusual. She's just staring at me, smiling, keeping still. It's very… dreamlike.
"Come on."I nudge her out of whatever state she's in and lead her into the kitchen. "What's for dinner?"
"Can't you put a leash on her or something?"Sam whispers as she warily eyes Faith from the side. The Slayer's been restlessly pacing back and forth since Riley delivered the news.
"What good would it do?"Manny shrugs. "It'd be like putting dental floss around a grizzly bear."
"Huh. I can imagine."
Off Faith's icy look, they quickly shut up before she brings her attention back to Riley.
"Did he sound any different?"She asks, trying to be as calm as she can. The pacing usually works, but this time…
News that Buffy was sought after to help strengthen the field did not go over well with Faith. Ry shrinks back a bit before nodding.
"Yeah. Like his voice was sugar coated… but it was fake like…"He trails off, searching for the right word as the others look at him expectantly. "… like aspartame. That's why I thought it was weird."
"Aspartame."Faith sighs bitterly and she hears Xander stifle a laugh. "Dude, you've been here way too long."
"Don't I know it."Sam mutters as she idly plays with her Zippo.
"So he didn't sound like himself."Spike wonders aloud as he shrugs in his white shirt. "Maybe Montel's possessed."
Possessed? Faith can feel her eyes narrow and her hands clench into fists… involuntarily: Not a good sign.
"Of course!"Manny exclaims before she looks at the others blank faces. "It all makes sense!"
"It does."Faith states disbelievingly. "Care to explain yourself, Blue Eyes?"She slumps into a wicker chair before spreading her arms around the room. "We're all ears."
When Faith and Manny first met, they did not particularly like each other. Faith had just left her new family, feeling bitter and cold; and Manny was fresh out of school, feeling peppy and wonderful. Their personalities didn't quite… mesh. Like stripes and tartan, they respected each other as co-workers, but not as partners and certainly not as friends; as it should have been. Mulder and Scully—they were not. It wasn't until Manny suffered a bad break up and wound up knocking on the Slayer's dorm room door on rainy night that things started to gel for both of them. In or out of work, they have each other's back. And that's exactly what Faith had been looking for in a partner.
"The illusionist and the puppet master. They're connected. Umm… They might even be the same person."Manny explains slowly, brushing strands of black hair away from her face. "The sun is a distraction of some sort."
Faith's eyes grow wide as she realizes where this is going.
"Motherfucker."She breathes. She could easily go for a cigarette and quite possibly a fifth of Jack Daniel's or Jim Beam's, but she knows she has two chances of that happening: fat and slim. Gonna have to corner GI Anastasia and Blondie she muses.
The room stays silent for a bit save for Faith's constant foot tapping.
"So while the troops are barking up the wrong broccoli, something's gonna go down somewhere."Xander sums up. "But what did he want Buffy for?"It takes him a few seconds to catch on and when he does, he notices that he's not the only one giving Faith a look of grief.
"Teresa."She whispers softly.
When Faith met Terry's second grade teacher for the first time, she felt oddly nervous. Her hands were cold and clammy; her leg had an uncontrollable twitch; and her speech was slightly slurred. It did not bode well. The teacher, on the other hand, a certain Ms. Peabody—a fresh twig from College—was extremely calm and… smiley. It was a brief meeting, and Faith was glad when it was over. Teresa had whispered a soft "You did fine."in her ear and it made Faith's heart warm up in a way that all the nervousness had just melted away.
Right now, Faith wishes that Terry were with her. Because she has that same sick feeling ploughing through her body, and she hates it.
She has the phone locked in a death grip and pressed to her ear as she listens to it ring and ring and ring. Frustrated, she hangs up before giving it a second chance as she presses the ‘redial' button.
Seems like Faith's life is all about the second chances. Second chance at a free life; second chance with Angel; second chance with the Scoobs; second chance with Teresa… and with Buffy, well, it's taken more than a second chance, but hey: nobody's perfect and Faith thinks, Who the hell is counting anyway, right?
But she refuses to let her daughter down, and when no one answers the phone for the second time, she calls again.
Finally, after the third ring, a disgruntled voice makes its way to her ears.
"Mwhello?"It asks sleepily.
"Gravis. It's me. I need to talk to B."She says urgently, but it must not have been too clear because she can hear him sigh in a drowsy manner.
"Faith?"He asks slowly. "You do realize it's like…"
She checks her watch and quickly does the math before he even has time to look at a clock.
"Two thirty in the morning? Yeah. Gotta talk to Buffy, Bud. Kinda urgent."
"Okay, okay."He mumbles and she can hear his feet padding along the floor as he moves around. "Is everything alright?"He sounds a little more alert, and Faith is glad to hear it.
"Not really."She says sombrely. "Buffy'll fill you in later."
She doesn't hear him answer and before she knows it, Buffy's tired voice comes on.
"Faith?"She says. "What's going on?"
Even if her voice is full of panic and laced with sleep, Faith still manages to let it soothe her.
"The Council. Does it know about Doreen's cottage? Do they know where it is?"She asks hurriedly as she realizes that she has so much to ask; to say.
"Huh, I don't think so. Unless you ever gave them Gravis' family info."
"No."She says, trying to remember. "I don't think I ever did."
"Why?"Buffy asks. "What does the Council have to do with anything?"
Faith makes her eyes close before she takes a deep breath.
"Manny thinks the sun thing isn't real. Like a diversion. If the Council spends all their time and troops on this thing then… there's an opening. And Rob wants you out there too, to help keep the peace, yanno? But he doesn't know where you are. He's pulling some kind of Linda Blair. He wants you out the way, B…"She rambles on until Buffy cuts her off.
"Babe, Babe. Slow down."She says, almost a whisper, but it's all it takes for Faith to calm down a bit. "You okay?"
"Better."Her grip loosens on the phone before she slumps on the bed. "Look. Whoever's doing the solar magic show is also using Rob as a pawn."She manages to clear up. "We think."
"So Robin called asking where I was?"Buffy asks, stifling a yawn. "He wanted me in the field and away from…"
"Yeah. It's just a matter of time before he does a locator spell or something."
"But I could just say ‘No thanks' right? I mean, if he's just asking."
"B, if Rob's strings are being pulled, who's to say yours won't be either? I have a funny feeling he could be pretty persuasive. We even think Giles is being used too."
Yeah."Faith sighs and cradles the phone to her ear with her shoulder. "Buffy? Keep her safe. Keep her fucking safe."
"So?"Faith asks tiredly as Manny walks into their room.
"So what?"She responds in a lazy manner before she slumps next to the Slayer on the soft mattress.
Faith frowns and runs a shaky hand through her long hair. So? She really has no idea what she's asking. Game plan? Decision making? Lunch plans? Instead, she elects to settle for something that'll, no doubt, lighten the mood.
"Any new light on that thing we check up on every time we're here?"
Manny smiles one of those easy smiles and shakes her head, effectively loosening her ponytail.
"Naw."She says, as she stifles yawn after yawn. She makes a move to take her shirt off, but stops halfway when her head is stuck in her left sleeve. "Wait. Yeah. Sam told me they share a room now."
"But they always share a room when we're here."Faith says, as she rolls her eyes deep into her sockets as she guides Manny's head through the bottom opening of the shirt. "So that we don't have to sleep on the wicker couches."
"Permanently?"Manny says. "Thanks."
"Sure."Faith lies back against the pillow and Manny does the same. "Wait. Same room? Permanent?"
Faith smiles softly and tries to imagine both of them together. Her mind stirs up unwanted images, treasured moments and things she has no reason to believe. She wishes Buffy was there with her. Sure, images of Xander and Spike are enough to get distracted, but it just takes a few moments before reality sinks in: Teresa's in danger. She can feel it in her, through every fibre of her being. It's the only thing that matters, regardless of what else is happening.
She sighs and turns her head to let her eyes fall upon her watcher. Manny's fallen sound asleep in the blink of an eye, making her look a lot younger than her 29 years. Faith smiles tiredly before she gets up from the double bed, careful not to wake her partner. No rest for the wicked, she thinks as she slips her feet into her waiting boots.
Her watch says it's quarter after nine in the morning, and realization suddenly crashes in: they've been up for nearly thirty hours straight. She sighs again as she picks up the phone, letting her tired fingers dial the number to Doreen's summerhouse. One last call, then she'll be joining Manny in Never Never Land.
Chapter Four: BUFFY
These bunk beds are a tad overrated; with their old springy mattresses and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle sheets that would make Andy drool on the pillowcases. Whoever thought that the party was to be given here—and that it was a good idea—should be… demoted or… relegated… or something. And I'm sure knowing that the place had only three rooms for 15 guests wasn't the clincher.
I've been pretend-sleeping since we all went to bed a few hours ago. At least I have my eyes closed; resting a bit. It wouldn't do them much good to be open—the room's pitch black anyway.
"… like that dead raccoon we passed on the way here? Remember how skinny it was? Well I bet he had a tapeworm."Ter's hushed voice slices through the darkness and silence of the room.
"You think so? I never heard anything about any tapeworms."Another voice. Rich and suave. Loaded with love for Teresa: Manny.
"Yep. Tapeworms. They can grow up to be 80 feet in length. They just stay in your intestines and eat up all the food you've already had…"Ter goes on, but I stop listening ‘cause Faith groans and wraps an arm around my waist.
"Tell me I just didn't wake up to the sound of our kid talkin' about tapeworms and road kill."She mutters sleepily, burying her face in the crook of my neck.
A muffled chuckle escapes my throat as Terry goes on.
"I'm surprised you don't know about them. It's all in your biology book."She says, a little louder now.
"You've been reading my biology book?"Manny asks with no hint of shock in her voice, but I know there's plenty.
"Uh, well, you left them on the coffee table that one time and Daisy and I…"
"Teresa!"Uh-oh. Faith untangles her arm from my waist and softly punches the mattress on top of us. "It's three thirty in the morning and we all treasure our sleep. So if you wanna talk about tapeworms—don't."Her voice is scratchy and it makes me smile: at least some of us were sleeping.
"But mom… I can't sleep, and neither can Manny."
Manny doesn't add anything and I'm kinda glad. Faith on the other hand… I dunno… I can feel her tense up, but she softens immediately. I'm just surprised none of this has woken Élyse up yet. Ah, the joys of being confined five to a room. Three Slayers, one Watcher and a 7 year old: Recipe for a sleepless night.
"Get your butt down here, and let Manny get some shuteye."Faith says as she wraps her arm around my waist again and pulls me closer to her so that there's a little bit more room in this single bed.
The ladder squeaks as Terry comes down carefully one foot at a time. "G'night Manny."She whispers softly before she crawls into our bed. "G'night mom."
Faith sighs as she pulls me in tighter. Her back's probably against the wall and I'm sandwiched between the two of them. "Night Little T."
The room suddenly falls quiet again before Élyse whispers a soft ‘Saint Ciboire à deux étages! Ça prend pas la tête à Papineau pour s'endormir comme il faut…' incomprehensible type thing that makes us all—I'm sure—crack a smile.
As she replaces the phone on its cradle, Buffy can't help but wonder what happened to her ‘ordinary' life. Parent, teacher, lover… some things, she realizes now, that she always was.
She quickly checks her watch and makes a decision. Up and at'em, she thinks as she makes her way to Teresa and Daisy's room.
"Anya, bless her little ex-demon soul, was a liar."This stops her in her tracks as she vividly looks around the dark room.
"Will?"She ventures, lips unmoving.
"What're you doing back so early?"
"Got kicked out of an inter-dimension seafood war initiated by Captain Highliner."
"Shrimp. Turns out there is a difference."
"Yeah. So what's going on here? I tried getting through to Xander, but nothing."
"They're under some sort of mystical shield."She takes the seat next to the century old laundry basket and fiddles with the edge of Terry's bed sheet. "Can you do me a favour?"
"Want a ride to the land of dry heat and goats?"
"You read my mind."
Buffy hates cottages. So she'd be lying if she said she was sad to see this one go. As she watches Doreen's cottage grow smaller by the second in her passenger side mirror, she can't help but suppress a smile. Goodbye to dock spiders, mice, bats, snakes, and mosquitoes. It's a wonderful life.
However, she's not quite sure how she'll take Africa. Sure it'll make Faith happier than a cold beer on a smouldering night, but now that Buffy has time to think about it… Aren't there bigger spiders, bats, snakes and mosquitoes in Africa? Sure she's the Slayer, but it's a girl's valid right to be afraid of such things.
Buffy sighs and tries to stop thinking as she listens to the tires stir up the dust on the dirt road. But she can't help it. Teresa's in danger. Of what? Who knows? And that's driving her crazy. Not knowing what they're going against. And why.
When ‘peachy with a side of keen' doesn't cut it, Buffy usually likes to settle for ‘royally fucked', but, Beggars can't have their cake and eat it too, she thinks morosely.
Gravis has both hands on the wheel in an unusual fashion. His grip is so tight that Buffy's afraid he'll be loosing his fingers pretty soon: his knuckles are more than a little white. But none the less, he's driving Faith's Forester with ease, letting the turbo rip in the long stretches on the road, and gradually down shifting in the narrower turns.
"It's been a long time since I wore this rattlesnake smile, and a lotta my friends haven't seen it in quite a while. I feel my eyes rollin' deep inside my head, and there's a feeling of misconception in the air. Yeah, I'm startin' to see, yeah, I do believe I used to have a soft southern glowing face. I used to lead my heartaches away on the chase… When you get stung with the heart of a little child, well, that's how you get that rattlesnake smile. You better keep your distance. In this tangled shape I'm in. Now no one had better touch me right now, in this cold-blooded thick skin. Oh, I said you better run real fast when you hear that rattlin' sound. Well, you better run real fast, man, or this one's gonna knock you down…"He's mumbling in a monotone way and Buffy tries to zone it out. He looks like he's about to go Rambo on the first person who dares look at the two women in the car the wrong way. But… He really is a bad singer.
Teresa, as expected, is sitting silently in the back, pondering things away. Probably on why they had to leave so early, leaving the others behind. But she doesn't let it show, as she hums along to Gravis' drivel. And Buffy's just glad she's not asking 21 questions that she can't possibly begin to answer.
The old covered bridge where they decided to meet needs some work, Buffy decides carelessly. The roof looks about ready to cave in at any second and the logs holding the whole contraption up are slowly rotting away from the constant water presence.
Willow's just sitting, waiting for them, silently saluting the three with a quick nod of the head. It's obvious she knows something big is up, and Buffy knows that's why she's not dispensing any prolonged greeting of any kind.
"Anyone brush up on their French?"She says cheerily and Buffy gives her a ‘you know how good my French is' look that makes the redhead crack a smile. "No? How ‘bout your Malagasy?"
"Mon français est meilleur que la dernière fois!"Ter says in answer and Buffy gives her an odd look. Terry just shrugs. "Uncle Spike taught me."
Rolling her eyes, Willow grabs hold of the three before she makes the jump. "Right. Fianarantsoa, Madagascar, here we come."
Bvlgari and worn leather. Two smells that Buffy can always associate to Faith. As she nuzzles the crook of her neck, she finally succumbs to the looming weariness: lack of sleep, time change and exhaustion from the trip are adding up and Buffy knows that if she feels this tired, then Terry must be running on fumes alone.
Her grip around her waist tightens until the brunette brings a soothing hand on her back in comfort; making her go limp in Faith's strong arms.
"Hey Babe."She whispers softly as she reluctantly lets go.
"Hey yourself."The blonde responds lazily before she watches Faith envelop Teresa in the mother of all hugs.
"Hey kiddo. How you feelin'?"
"Five by five."Ter shrugs and despite how tired she feels, Buffy smiles brightly as her daughter brings a hand to her mouth to cover her yawn. "Tired."She adds truthfully.
Buffy hears Faith chuckle before she puts Terry down on the bed next to Manny; who's still sleeping softly.
"Get some rest Little T."Faith whispers before kissing her forehead, and Buffy's heart melts a little at the sight.
Ter places her head on a pillow and before the Slayers know it, she's fallen asleep.
"You guys made good time."Faith remarks slyly before she watches the blonde stretch languidly.
"Yeah. Traveling at the speed of light does that."Buffy replies with a tired smirk. "How're you doing?"She adds hastily, suddenly concerned.
She watches Faith sigh before she sits on the edge of the bed.
"Relieved you guys are here. Red and Gravis here too?"
"Yeah. Talking with Riley and Xander. The others stayed behind."
Faith nods and shuts her eyes in concentration and all it takes is for Buffy to breathe differently and it's broken.
"Come here."Buffy whispers before she pats the area next to her on the already full bed. "You look like death."
"Gee, thanks."Faith chuckles, but nonetheless, takes the offered seat before she kicks her boots off from her fatigued feet.
Buffy lets her scoot in next to Teresa, knowing full well that the brunette needs to be close to Terry right now. Sighing one last time, she settles close to the edge, relishing the feel of Faith's arms as they slowly and softly envelop her in a cocoon of protection.
Now usually, four people to a double bed doesn't usually sound like a comfortable state of affairs, but right here and now, Buffy feels the most comfortable she's been in years. She's back in the game and she can't wait to kick some ass.