Rating: R (for language and violence)
Disclaimer: All of the materials borrowed from Buffy the Vampire Slayer belong to Joss Whedon and to the entities and companies associated with their creation. I have borrowed them for creative and entertainment purposes only. No compensation has been or ever shall be received for the writing below. No copyright infringement is intended.
Distribution: The Mystic Muse: http://mysticmuse.net
Forever Faith: http://mysticmuse.net/faith
Cyber Lair: http://www.dragonwriter17.net
If you are interested in posting my story on your site, please contact me first for permission.
Feedback: Yes, but only if it's of the non-flamey variety.
Spoilers: BtVS Season 3's Bad Girls and Consequences.
Author's Notes: (1) I am borrowing quite liberally from the two episodes above, but manipulating their content for my own purposes. I am also changing the timeline and some of the events that preceded these episodes. For example, Angel never returns in this rewrite of Season 3. (2) I’m also trying out a new technique. It’s alternating first-person points of view. (3) And thanks, as always, to Lilly for the beta read and edit!
Summary: Buffy and Faith become involved with each another, but Faith's accidental killing of Deputy Mayor Finch threatens to split them up.
I was so groggy that morning, and I couldn't figure out why. I started looking around the room, blinking, and I realized I didn't know where I was. I glanced down, and Oh. My. God. I was totally naked. I snatched the sheet up over me and looked over to see who I was in bed with and Oh. My. God. Times a Hundred. It was Faith. I was in bed with Faith. I was naked and in bed with Faith. This could not get any worse!
How did this happen? I racked my brain trying to remember something, anything that would explain this...this...Argghhh! I couldn't even put into words what this was.
Faith heard me growling in frustration and woke up. When she saw me, she shot me a smirk and said, "Hey." Then she sat up in bed and indulged in a long stretch.
Did I mention she was naked too?
So there I was, eyes glued to Faith's breasts, trying not to drool on her bed, when my logical self finally asserted itself. I jumped out of the bed and took the sheet with me, drawing an objection from Faith. I clung tightly to the sheet and said, "What the hell is going on here?!!"
Faith refused to let her nude status rattle her. She lounged back against her pillows and answered me.
"We were out patrolling, did some serious damage on some vamps. You were all wound up, so I suggested we go party at this bar, and you agreed. We drank, we danced, we flirted, we ended up here." She gestured at her bed. "Where we had mind-blowing, slayer-lust-powered sex."
Okay, she didn't say that last part, but she looked at me like she was saying it.
I, of course, refused to believe any of her story.
"You-you...you took advantage of me!" I accused, pointing at her dramatically.
Faith jumped out of bed and came right over. "You came on to me!" she said, pointing at me then herself.
"I-I-I was drunk! You knew that, and you--"
"Oh no. You had exactly what I had, and I wasn't drunk."
"This is all your fault!" I screamed before snatching up my clothes and storming into the bathroom.
I could still hear Faith through the door. "And don't you dare go and rat me out to Wesley Wannabe, either!" she yelled. "Last thing I need is my watcher ridin' my ass!"
Within minutes, I was out of there and on my way home.
After Buffy left, all I could was fume. I mean, where the hell did she get off?! Accusing me of taking advantage of her?! She was all over me at that bar.
Sure, I was flirtin' with her all night, but when it came time to step over the line, it was Miss Buffy Summers that was the first one over.
Besides, I don't have to take advantage of anybody! When somebody comes to my bed, it's because they want to...it's because they feel like they're gonna fuckin' pop if they don't. You hear me?
When I got home, I thought about calling Giles, but I knew he'd just go into a fit of lens-polishing and mumble his way through an embarrassing and ultimately useless speech, so I decided to save us both the torment. Demony apocalyspe talk...right up Giles's alley. Sex talk...not so much.
Luckily, it was Saturday, and I wasn't likely to see Faith that day. But that didn't stop me from thinking about her. In fact, she was all I did think about.
No matter how mad I tried to get, I just kept coming back to the sight of her. Naked, I mean. God, she was gorgeous!
I kept telling myself, "Buffy, you are not gay, so stop thinking all these crazy thoughts!" But it didn't do any good.
Especially not when I started remembering what really happened that night.
I knew this one was going to require a massive Willow intervention.
My friend Buffy? You've heard me talk about her before. She's my bestest friend in the whole world.
A-A-And I love her. I truly do.
But the girl is a drama magnet. I kid you not.
When she came by and told me what had happened between her and Faith, I thought I was going to require hospitalization. I mean, really! The only thing that would have shocked me more was if she'd said she had woken up with Giles!
Ow, ow...disturbing mental image...purge, purge!
Now, where was I? Oh, right, Buffy dropping the bomb on me.
At first I was inclined to take Buffy's side in the matter. I mean, who's more likely to have led the other on? Bouncing-back-from-bad-love Buffy? Or free-love slut-puppy Faith?
But once Buffy started revealing what she remembered, it all became perfectly clear: the night had gone exactly the way Faith had described.
I had no choice but to tell her, "Well, I guess you owe Faith an apology."
The last person I expected to see that night was Buffy. I figured she'd stay clear o' me as long as she possibly could. But, no, right after sundown, there she was, knockin' at my door.
At first I didn't let her in. I just stood there with my arms crossed and said, "What do you want?"
But then she got all hurt and fragile looking, and I felt bad, so when she asked if she could come inside, I went ahead and let her in. I didn't cut her any more slack, though. I made her do the talking.
"I, um, I came to apologize," she said.
I just stood there and glared. I wasn't gonna make it easy for her.
"Y-Y-You were right...about everything, and I was...I was wrong to accuse you like that. I'm sorry."
I still didn't say anything. I wanted to hear her say it: I wanted her to admit that she had wanted me.
"It's just...I've never...not with another girl and...I don't drink either and...you put the two together and...you end up with a really big mistake..."
Wait, that wasn't what she was supposed to be saying.
"...and I'm really, really sorry."
I found myself frowning unhappily, and I didn't know why.
I mean, why did I care anyway? I had gotten what I wanted...a good roll in the hay.
A helluva a good roll.
But, now, it was over. Done with. I got some, and now I was getting' gone. That was my rule.
So why did I feel this ache inside when she said it was all a mistake?
Shit, I didn't know, and I didn't care, and I wasn't about to let her see any o' that anyway, so I just crossed my arms again and said, "Fine. Apology accepted. Now do you mind? I've got plans."
I really didn't, but I didn't want her to know that.
"Oh. Okay." Without another word, she slipped out the door and left.
Was she lookin' all disappointed when I said I had plans?
Nah, I was just imagining things.
I didn't see Faith at all on Sunday. Or Monday at school. But we were scheduled to patrol together Monday night, and I reluctantly showed up at the appointed time.
Well, not reluctantly.
Truth was, I really wanted to see her again. But I was also scared to death. She hadn't been too keen on accepting my apology, and I was afraid that she'd hold a grudge.
My fears were completely confirmed when she arrived on the scene.
She didn't even stop. She just walked by me, barked "Let's go," and then kept on walking. I had to hurry to catch up to her. And then she proceeded to not speak to me for the rest of the night.
I mean, I know I screwed up. But I said I was sorry, and she said okay, and that means things are supposed to be right again, aren't they?
I struggled with whether or not to say anything. I really didn't want to make her mad again, but the silence was killing me, so I bit the bullet and spoke up.
"Are you ever going to talk to me again?" I said, stopping in place along the path in the woods.
"I spoke to you not five minutes ago," she said. "I said, 'Look! Vamp!' "
"You know what I mean," I told her. "I mean 'really talk' to me."
She looked away and then said, "Maybe."
I took a step closer and said, "Even people who just work together talk." Then I dropped my gaze to the ground. I didn't want to see the confirmation in her eyes when I said, "Even if that's all they are...even if they're not friends anymore."
"I never said we weren't friends."
God, I thought, please don't let me have heard that wrong.
I looked up and found her looking back at me. Her face was guarded, though, and I couldn't get a feel for what she was thinking.
"So are we?" I asked. "Friends?"
Faith shrugged and said, "Sure."
I felt such a sense of relief when I heard that. Feeling lucky, I decided to push a little more. "A-A-Are we...more than friends?"
I didn't look up to see her reaction to this question. I was too chicken for that. In fact, I didn't look up until I heard her chuckling.
"We had sex, B," she told me with a grin. "We didn't declare undying love."
At that, she started walking again. And I chuckled along with her--on the outside at least. But on the inside I was feeling something else, and I wasn't sure what it was or why it was there. I just knew that a part of me had hoped for a very different answer.
Well, after that, Buffy and Faith became friends again. Boy, did they ever.
It was 'slayer this' and 'slayer that,' and 'Oh, did I tell you what Faith said?' or 'did I tell you what Faith and I did?' Blah, blah, blah.
Was I jealous? Darn tootin' I was! She was my friend first, and now it was like I didn't even exist!
And that wasn't all. I could see Buffy changing, becoming more like Faith: less uptight, more carefree, more about the fun.
Okay maybe those weren't so bad, but my point is...I was worried about her. I mean, it would only take a step to go from carefree to careless. And a careless slayer could end up a dead slayer.
Me and Buffy were totally clickin'. Finally. I didn't think that girl would ever lighten up. I mean, she did that night at the bar, but that was mostly the booze talkin'. (B can not hold her liquor.) But now she was wicked cool to hang with.
That week, I actually convinced her to blow off her chem test and go slayin' with me. Vamp nest or not, 'Old' Buffy woulda never done that.
But that day, we wailed on some vamps. We were like lightning, man... the Chosen Two...bam, bam, bam! Vamps were dustin' all over the place. I don't think they even laid a hand on us.
And when it was all over and we were just standing there, breathing hard and looking at each other...I came this close to just takin' her ass, right then and there.
I think she woulda let me, too. I saw the way she looked at me. Yeah...no doubt about it...B wanted a repeat performance of our 'party at the bar' night.
I have to admit...Faith was right about one thing when it came to me and slaying: I liked it way more than I let on. I didn't want to like it, but I did. Especially when I did it with her. She made it so...I don't know... something.
And since I'm all into confessing at the moment, I might as well admit that, yes, slaying does make me hungry and horny.
There. I said it. Are you happy now?
Of course, slaying with Faith made it ten times worse. I just totally lost it one night when we were on patrol.
So we were fighting these vamps, right? And all of a sudden, they just broke and ran for this manhole. Well, I went right after 'em, but Buffy stopped me. She went on and on about odds and tight space and all that, and I was like, 'Who cares? Come on!' And before she could stop me, I just jumped on in.
Well, o' course, she had to jump in, too, 'cause she wasn't gonna leave me down there all by myself.
She was so pissed!
But she didn't have time to go off on me 'cause vamps were everywhere. It was freakin' awesome!
I was ready to kill her for jumping into that manhole! But I didn't have time for that. Nope. Not with all the vampires surrounding us and everything. We just had to fight our way out.
It took us a while, but we finally got them whittled down to just two. That was when it happened: Faith went down.
The vamp she was going up against just landed a lucky punch, and before she could bounce back, he slammed her into a pipe. She slumped to the ground and didn't move.
I don't remember slaying the other vampires, but I must've, because next thing I knew, they were gone, and I was on my knees next to Faith, shaking her and calling her name. I was so afraid that she'd been really hurt. Or worse.
But a few seconds later, she came to, laughing, and said, "Worried about me, huh?"
"Well, duh!" I shot back as I stood up. "What were you thinking jumping down here like that?"
She hopped to her feet and glanced around the sewer. "Uhhh, I was thinking we'd slay some vamps," she said all smart-ass. "Which we did."
I let out a frustrated grrrrrrr, but she just laughed again and stepped closer.
"Oh come on," she said, winking at me. "You know you got off on it."
She moved even closer and rested her hand over my heart.
"Oh yeaaahh," she said, "I think it definitely got your motor goin'."
And she wasn't kidding.
I was just messin' with Buffy when I put my hand over her heart. I knew she had that adrenaline pumpin' and was feelin' that post-slay high. I knew it because I was feelin' it, too.
But that wasn't the only thing I was feeling. Something else was going on inside me, something I couldn't identify.
Sure, I was feelin' that lusty attraction I always felt around B, but this time it felt different. My stomach tensed up, and a lump formed in my throat. I swallowed it down, and then my heart did this kind of...I don't know...shudder. We just stood there and stared at each other for the longest time.
Right when I was about to crack a joke and move away, Buffy pulled me close and kissed me. I don't mean some slow and gentle kiss either. This was an ALL-CAPS KISS, baby! And she didn't have to kiss me twice for me to join the action.
I don't know exactly what happened or when or how, but the next thing I knew, it was hours later, and we were in Faith's motel room coming down from another bout of—What had Faith called it?—Mind-blowing, slayer-lust-powered sex.
And that's exactly what it was, too. I was soooo exhausted. Happily exhausted. Very happily exhausted. Definitely very. Sigh...
Anyway, after I had caught my breath, I turned over on my side so that I could see Faith. She was lying there, exhausted herself but still as gorgeous as ever. She seemed so happy, and when I looked at her, I just...felt my heart soar, you know? Like...this is it...she's the one...I could look at her like this forever.
It sounds stupid, I know. And I realized how stupid it was when I tried to explain it to Faith.
Daaaammmn! I thought to myself. Double Damn. No, make that a "Knock me naked and fuck me till sundown" damn.
Sex with Buffy...between two slayers...holy shit...we're like the fucking Old Milwaukee commercial...it doesn't get any better than this.
Then Buffy had to go and ruin it by gettin' all serious on me.
She called my name, and I looked over and found her staring at me with this weird smile on her face. I turned over and matched her position on my side. She reached out and stroked my arm.
"I was so worried about you earlier," she said. "When you got knocked out by that vamp. I was so afraid that you were..."
She trailed off, her eyes filling with tears. My heart did that shudder thing again, and I felt my gut tense up. I was freaking out, and I knew it. But I didn't know what to do, so I did what I always do—I made a joke.
"You thought I was what? Dead?" I teased. "Awww, come on now...you know I'm tougher than that."
Buffy didn't answer; she just nodded and glanced away, wiping away her tears. I got the feeling she had more on her mind, but she didn't say anything for a long time. When she finally did speak up, her voice was barely a whisper.
"I need to tell you something," she said. "I..." She stopped and swallowed hard, then looked right at me.
I didn't have a clue what she was gonna say, but I figured it musta been bad. Otherwise, why would she be havin' such a hard time sayin' it? Was she gonna say it was all a mistake again? I held my breath and waited.
"I think I'm falling in love with you," she confessed.
I froze. I don't think I even blinked for a full minute, and the whole time my brain was screamin' in total panic.
I mean, this couldn't be happening...it just couldn't. People don't fall in love with me. They just don't. Hate me, tolerate me, want me, yeah, but love me? No way.
And I don't fall in love with them, either, so I had to do something. I had to do something right then.
Unfortunately, what I did was laugh--I laughed like her confession was the most hilarious thing I'd ever heard.
Man...I wish to this day I hadn't done that. It fucked everything up. And not just with Buffy.
I couldn't move, I couldn't breathe, I felt like a wrecking ball had slammed into my chest.
When I finally let out a breath, I thought I was gonna cry, but I forced it down. Faith was already getting a good laugh at my expense; I wasn't going to give her the satisfaction of seeing me bawl my eyes out.
I threw off the covers and started snatching up my clothes, which were scattered across the room. Faith was calling out to me, trying to apologize, but I ignored her. As soon as I had put my clothes and shoes on, I headed for the door.
Then I felt her grab my arm. I jerked out of her grip and backed away, pointing in warning at her.
"Don't you touch me!" I yelled. I felt my throat constrict, and I had to choke out the rest. "Don't you ever touch me again."
Without another word, I stormed out.
I stood there like a stupid statue for I don't know how long. Then I finally snapped out of it and realized I couldn't let Buffy leave like that. I threw on some clothes, grabbed some stakes, and ran out to catch her.
She was near Main Street by the time I reached her. As soon as I came alongside her, I tried to speak up, but she beat me to it.
"Go away!" she barked. She didn't even look at me as she said it; she just kept walking, turning sharply into a long side alley.
"Can't do that," I told her. "It's night, and you're upset, and--"
"Upset?!!!" She stopped short and whipped around to face me. "Upset?!!!" she repeated, only way louder. "Is that what you call this...what I am right now?"
I started stuttering like an idiot, not makin' a damn bit o' sense. I was actually grateful when a gang of vampires came charging down the alley at us. I tossed a stake to Buffy, and luckily, she clicked right into action. I took down one vamp, then another, then another. It seemed like there was an army of them; they just kept comin' at us, driving us down the alley.
By the time we got to the end of the building, we had cut 'em down to a reasonable number. But then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Buffy get grabbed. I staked the vamp in front of me, then snapped around to help Buffy. When she slammed the vamp into the dumpster, I moved in for the kill. I heard Buffy yelling something, but I didn't realize what it was until it was too late.
I knew something was wrong when the vamp didn't go poof. Instead of a whoosh of ash, I felt something warm and wet coat my fingers. I looked down and...Jesus Christ...it was that Finch guy, the Mayor's assistant.
I backed away, babbling, "I didn't know...I didn't know..."
Buffy tried to help, tried to get me to help, but I just panicked. When he looked at us and I saw him die, I just grabbed Buffy and got us out of there.
I tried to stop her. I realized at the last second that it wasn't a vampire, but...I was too late. Faith stabbed him...right in the heart.
I-I-It wasn't her fault, there were just too many of them. H-H-How could we have known Finch was going to show up?
We both freaked and ran. We got separated, and I didn't see Faith until early the next morning. I went back to her place to talk about what we were gonna do.
She wouldn't even look at me. She just went right back to what she had been doing when I got there: scrubbing the blood-covered shirt she had been wearing the night before. I begged her not to shut me out. I told her that we needed to help each other through this. She said she didn't need my help. When I mentioned Finch's body, she finally turned around and faced me.
"Okay, this is the last time we're gonna have this conversation, and we're not even having it now, you understand me?" she informed me. "There is no body. I took it, weighted it, and dumped it. The body doesn't exist."
"Getting rid of the evidence doesn't make the problem go away," I insisted.
"It does for me," she said simply.
"Faith, you don't get it," I told her. "You killed a man."
"No, you don't get it," she shot back. "I don't care!" she added with a smile.
I couldn't believe what I was hearing...what she was saying...and that she was actually smiling as she said it. A man was dead, and she was smiling, like it meant nothing.
I-I-I was speechless at that point. When she went back to scrubbing her clothes, I just turned and left. What else could I do?
Later, at school, after Finch's body had been found in the water, she acted like nothing had happened. And when Wesley suggested that we investigate the murder, she told him it was "no big." After we left the library, I pleaded with her to tell the truth, but she just blew me off again.
I was losing her, I could see it in her eyes. Of course, after what she had done to me, I shouldn't have cared. I should have said, 'Fine! Go on. Just screw yourself up. I don't care!' But the truth was...I did care. I couldn't help myself. And I wasn't going to stand around and let her self-destruct.
I thought for sure B was gonna rat on me. I mean, considering what I did to her, I wouldn'ta blamed her. But...she didn't. Not even when the cops came and questioned her. Didn't keep her from hammering me with the do-the-right-thing speech over and over, though.
I hit her with all the logic I could scrape up: how one accidental death didn't amount to a hill of beans compared to the lives we had saved and how we shouldn't get all worked up over the loss of some maybe-not-so-innocent bystander.
None of it flew with her. And deep inside, it didn't fly with me, either. But right then...I was running on nothing but fear. I knew Buffy wasn't gonna let it go. I had a decision to make, and I knew I had to make it soon. If I didn't, Buffy was gonna make it for me.
So that night, I made it—I was leaving town. I was in the middle of packing my bag when Buffy showed up. She came inside and stood in front of the door, blocking it.
"I'm not letting you do this, Faith," she said.
"Do what?" I replied sarcastically. "Avoid jail?"
She shook her head. "No. Ruin your life."
"The only way my life's gonna be ruined is if I stick around long enough for Little Miss Guilty Conscience to tell on me," I shot back.
Then she gave me this strange look. I didn't know what to make of it.
"I'm not gonna tell," she said. "You are."
I snorted and pointed at her. "You're nuts!"
Then she took a step toward me and said, "Tell me you care."
I felt my stomach tighten like somebody'd sucker-punched me. I backed up and started looking for a way out. But she didn't stop.
"Tell me how it felt when you saw his blood on your hand..."
"No," I said, shaking my head and taking another step back.
"Tell me how it felt when he looked in your eyes as he coughed out his last breath..."
"Shut up!" I screamed at her.
But she didn't. She kept coming till I was backed against the wall.
"Tell me how you wanted to puke when you realized what you'd done!"
I dropped my bag and hit her. Hard. Her head snapped to the side, and she froze for a moment before turning back around. She reached up and wiped a bit of blood from her lip before pulling her eyes back to mine.
"Tell me you care, Faith," she told me. "'Cause I know you do. No matter how hard you try to deny it."
"I don't," I said weakly, unable to meet her intense stare.
She closed the last bit of space between us and put her hand over my heart.
"I know because I can feel it," she said, completely ignoring my denial.
I was breathing hard, tensing up and then gasping for air, trying so hard to fight off crying. But it didn't do any good. I let out a sob and just sank to the floor.
At that point, Faith just broke down, and I did, too. We spent the next hour just crying in each other's arms. It was awful but good at the same time. I know that doesn't make sense. I mean, who gets a kick out of sobbing themselves into a sinus headache?
It's just that...during that hour...I felt so close to her, like she was finally opening up to me and not hiding behind those walls of hers.
After we got our crying over with, we pulled apart, but we didn't let go of each other's hands. She kept her gaze down and didn't speak. I just waited.
"So...what now?" she eventually asked in soft, hoarse voice.
I gave her hands a squeeze. "We go see Giles first thing in the morning," I said. "He'll know what to do."
"And the police?"
I didn't have an answer for that. I let out a deep breath before speaking. "I don't know," I told her truthfully.
Faith's head dropped even lower, and her whole body slumped in defeat. I reached out and stroked her hair until she raised her head.
"You're not alone in this, Faith," I said. "Whatever happens, I'll be there with you. I swear."
She looked at me with pain and confusion in her eyes. "Why are you doing this?" she asked.
I cupped her cheek and said with a small but sincere smile, "Because I care."
We kissed then, and in that moment, I felt my heart soar once again, and I knew--I just knew--that her heart was soaring, too, even if she couldn't admit it to me or to herself.
As I pulled her into my arms, I whispered, "We're gonna get through this. You'll see."
She just nodded silently and let me hold her the rest of the night.
When I woke up the next morning, I felt Buffy's warm body wrapped around me from behind. I smiled for a minute, but that didn't last...not after the reality of the situation came crashing down on me again. I felt myself starting to panic, and I eyed my duffel bag against the wall. It was still packed and ready to go. If I could just--
My crazy thoughts were interrupted when Buffy pulled me back against her and rested her chin on my shoulder.
"Hey," she whispered, "it's okay...everything's gonna be okay..."
I swear I think she was psychic. I don't know how else she coulda known what I was thinking.
I closed my eyes and tried to relax, but I couldn't. "You don't know that," I told her.
She turned me over onto my back and leaned up on her elbow to look at me. "I do know it," she said. "You're a slayer, Faith, and you are strong. No matter what happens, you can face it."
The way she looked at me, the way she said those words...I almost believed her. Almost.
When the girls arrived at my office that morning, I could tell immediately that something was very wrong. Faith's usual exuberance was completely absent; instead, she seemed withdrawn, almost traumatized. Buffy looked careworn as well, but it was clear by her actions that her concerns were solely for Faith. I invited them to sit down and asked them what was wrong.
I couldn't have been more surprised when they told me what had happened. Together the two of them narrated the events of the evening before last—how they had been attacked by the vampires, how Deputy Mayor Finch had been essentially caught in the crossfire.
"Giles, this wasn't Faith's fault," Buffy pleaded. "We've got to do something so Faith isn't--"
I held up my hand to stop Buffy's plea. Then I looked at them both intently. Or tried to, at least. Faith hadn't met my eyes for more than a second since she'd sat down.
"This is not the first time something like this has happened," I told them.
"It's not?" Buffy asked, relief in her voice. She looked over at Faith, who had finally raised her head.
"Slayers are on the front line of a nightly war," I said. "It's-it's tragic, but accidents have happened."
"W-W-What do you do?" Buffy asked.
"Well, normally the Council would investigate, and um, mete out punishment if punishment is due, but I...I have no plans to involve them. In my opinion, their participation would needlessly complicate the situation."
"What about the police?" Faith ventured.
"If they have as little to go on as you've indicated," I answered, "then there should be nothing to worry about."
I tried to go on reassuring the girls, but then Wesley arrived, making that task nearly impossible.
As I came in the library, I instantly saw that, yet again, Mr. Giles was briefing the slayers without my presence. I was incensed, naturally. He wasn't supposed to be talking to them at all. I was the official watcher assigned to Sunnydale, and the slayers were my responsibility, not his. He had no right to interfere. I pulled back my shoulders and strode toward his office, determined to give him a piece of my mind.
As I entered, however, I saw their grave expressions. I put aside my personal complaint and inquired what was the matter. They tried to dodge the question, but at my firm insistence, they capitulated and complied with my command.
I was shocked by the story that they then related to me. A slayer killing a human? This was a disaster of monumental proportions!
Seeing the alarm on my face, Mr. Giles assured me, "Not to worry. The police have no direct evidence linking either Faith or Buffy to the crime. I recommend that they keep a low profile but resume their duties as usual."
"We must inform the Council at once," I protested. "Protocol clearly states that--"
"I'm well aware of the protocol," Mr. Giles said, cutting me off.
He raised his hand to prevent any further objections on my part, and then he went on.
"What happened here was an accident," he said. "An unfortunate one, but an accident nonetheless. Why waste months of time with the Council bureaucracy, waiting for them to figure out what we already know?" He chuckled and added, "My God, man...think of the paperwork!"
I chuckled back. "It would be quite tedious. And I'd be the one stuck doing it!"
"Then we're agreed?" he asked, clapping me on the shoulder. "We'll not contact the Council about this?"
"Agreed," I said with a smile.
When Mr. Giles turned back to the slayers, I turned away, letting my smile slip into a frown. I hated lying, but protocol was protocol, after all. The Council would have to be informed immediately.
I felt a lot better after talking to Giles, so I guess it was good that Buffy made me go.
I was still nervous about the cops, though. Buffy kept saying the police didn't have anything on me, that there was no way they could connect me to Finch's death. I wanted to believe I was safe, but…it just didn't feel that way.
Oh well, at least the Council wasn't coming down on me.
After a lengthy phone conversation, Mr. Travers and I made arrangements for Faith's official 'recall.' A retrieval team would arrive in Sunnydale within a week to take Faith into custody and remove her to England.
In the meantime, I was to continue my duties as watcher without breathing a word to the others. I would 'play along' with their arrogant rejection of centuries-old protocol and keep them none the wiser.
But they would see. Yes…when the team arrived, Mr. Giles and his unruly group of misfits would finally see where I stand in the Council. And they would give me the respect I deserved.
When we left Giles's office, Faith and I headed over to my house. I talked Mom into letting me stay home with Faith that day. It didn't take much convincing--one look at the dark circles under Faith's eyes and the slump in her shoulders did the trick.
So, after Mom left for work, Faith and I settled in the living room. Even though things had gone well with Giles, Faith still seemed shaken. She just sat on the couch and stared at her hands, not saying anything. I wanted to help her, but I didn't know what to do. I didn't know if I should just leave her alone or try to cheer her up or what. I finally decided to just ask her. If I was bothering her by doing that, she could always tell me to buzz off.
I eased beside her on the couch and reached over to touch her shoulder. I told her 'hey' and smiled at her. She smiled back but only briefly, and she still didn't say anything. So I moved closer and began stroking her hair. "Tell me what to do," I said. "Tell me how I can help."
She shot me a stricken glance, then leaned up and rested her elbows on her legs. She ran her hands through her hair several times before stopping and looking back at me. "Can you turn back time?"
"I wish I could," I sighed, leaning forward, too. "I'd roll it back to that alley, and I'd call out to you sooner so you could--"
She stopped me with a shake of her head. "No. Further back," she said. "To my place." She raised her eyes to mine and added, "Before you left."
I knew exactly which moment she was talking about, and my face must have shown it. I felt like the wrecking ball of Faith's laughter had hit me all over again, this time right in the stomach. I couldn't speak; I just sat there staring at the floor.
Then I heard Faith say "I'm sorry," and her voice was breaking so much I had to look up. "I didn't mean it, I swear," she said. "I was scared, and I just…freaked out…I'm sorry."
"Why were you scared?" I asked her.
She didn't say anything, but it was clear she was trying. When the words wouldn't come, she jumped up and walked a few feet away. She stood with her back to me for the longest time before finally turning around.
"I was scared because…because nobody's ever said that to me, a-a-and I don't know what it means, a-a-and I don't know how I'm supposed to react."
I stood up and went over to her. "Just…tell me how you feel."
She let out a sad huff and instantly dropped her gaze. Then she brought both of her hands up to her face and shielded her eyes with them. After a moment, I saw her chin start to tremble. I wanted to hug her so bad, but I just waited instead. Eventually, she sucked in a breath and lifted her head to answer me.
"Like I'd die if I lost you…" she whispered.
I didn't wait any more. I pulled her into my arms and held her close. "Me too," I told her. "Me too."
The next few days were pretty cool but a little weird, too. I mean, once I got over myself and actually admitted that I really liked Buffy, we just clicked again, but in a whole new way.
That whole week, we were practically glued to each other. It kinda blew everybody's mind when they saw us that way, but we didn't care. We were happy, and as far as I was concerned, if they didn't like it, they could kiss my ass.
And, see, that was the weird part. For me at least. Normally I woulda hated all that cuteness and closeness. But not with Buffy. With her, I actually liked it. Couldn't get enough of it, in fact.
She made me feel…special. She made me feel…loved, I guess.
I shoulda known it wouldn't last.
Buffy and Faith were soooo cute together! And, yeah, I was still feelin' like the Green-Eyed Greedy Gut sometimes, but…they were just so cute!
Of course, they weren't using the little four-letter L word yet, but all of us could see that they were head over heels about each other. It was funny, actually, seeing how everybody reacted.
When Oz and Cordelia figured it out, they did the exact same thing: a shrug plus a single word. Except Oz said "cool" and Cordy said "whatever." Xander just giggled and started drooling over them all the time. Giles and Wesley both went into lens-polishing overtime. Must be a watcher thing.
The best part, though, was Buffy's mom. She didn't freak out or yell or judge or anything like that. She just opened up her arms and added Faith to the family hug. She even decided to let Faith move into the house. It was downright beautiful.
Which only made things that much harder when the Council came to town.
It was nearly a week after the Deputy Mayor's unfortunate death. Willow and Xander and I were over at the Summers home helping Buffy and Joyce get Faith moved into the guest room. In truth, we were mostly celebrating since Faith's meager belongings had easily fit into only a handful of boxes and had taken very little time to relocate.
We were enjoying some pizza and punch in the dining room when the doorbell rang. Xander immediately rose from his chair and went to answer it.
I heard Xander say, "Wesley…nice of you to drop by…after all the moving's done." Then I heard Wesley mumble something like "my apologies," followed a scuffle of feet and Xander calling out in alarm. We all rushed to the living room and found Wesley standing there with five other men: Quentin Travers and four armed bodyguards.
"You son of a bitch…" I growled at Wesley, but when I tried to accost him, one of the guards trained his weapon on me, and I was forced to step back.
"What's going on?" Faith asked uneasily.
"Just a misunderstanding," Buffy told her before stepping protectively in front of her. Then she turned to Quentin and glared at him. "Isn't that right?" she emphasized, letting the implied threat drip from her voice.
"The only misunderstanding here is yours," Quentin said imperiously. Then he turned his eyes to me. "Did you really think that you could keep the truth hidden? That you could circumvent the authority of the Watchers Council?"
At that, Quentin nodded to Wesley. Wesley nodded back and then stepped forward, pulling a pair of heavy cuffs from his coat pocket. Two of the armed guards followed him as he moved to where Buffy was standing in front of Faith.
"You are not taking her," Buffy warned him.
Wesley ignored her and turned his attention to Faith, who was now backed against the wall with complete panic in her eyes.
"Faith Lehane, by order of the Watchers Council of Britain," he recited, "I am exercising my authority and removing you to England, where you will accept the judgment of the Disciplinary Committee."
The moment Wesley made a move toward Faith, Buffy leapt into action. She felled Wesley with a single jab and then took on the two armed guards who were with him. When the other guards tried to aid their comrades, Xander and I rushed to stop them. As the room filled with the sounds of punches landing and furniture smashing, Willow and Joyce joined the melee.
The battle raged on for a full minute before a single gunshot startled us all into freezing in place. We slowly turned toward the source of the shot and saw Quentin holding a pistol in one hand and Joyce in the other.
He smiled smugly and said, "Now that I have your undivided attention…"
Once I had reminded the lot of them exactly who I was and exactly who was in charge, I ordered them to take their seats. I spread the guards around the room but kept Mrs. Summers close to ensure the group's continued cooperation. I meant her no harm, of course, but her daughter didn't know that and was consequently forced to comply.
"The role of the Council is clear," I told them once they were all seated. "When a slayer kills a human, the Council is required to take that slayer into custody in order to determine the level of her criminal liability and to evaluate her fitness for duty."
"Now, based upon our preliminary investigation, Deputy Mayor Finch's death indeed seems to have been accidental. He was collateral damage, as it were. However…given Miss Lehane's violent past, we cannot assume that, after this incident, she is fit for a return to society. She will therefore be escorted back to England, where she will undergo a rigorous and lengthy program of rehabilitation. If, after its completion, she is found to be fit for duty--"
"No!" Miss Summers objected. "Faith is fine! She doesn't need your so-called 'rehabilitation.' If the death was accidental--and you just said it was--then leave her alone and let her do her job. Let her get back to her life."
By then I had simply lost all patience. I should have known it would be useless to attempt to reason with them.
"Let me put this into terms even you can understand," I told them. "Miss Lehane has two choices. One, she can come to England for a minimum of six to twelve months of rehabilitative incarceration, or two, she can be sent to the California State Penitentiary for twenty-five years to life for first-degree murder."
"But…it was an accident," Miss Lehane said, finally speaking up for herself. "I didn't mean to kill him…How can that be first-degree murder?"
"Because the Council will say that it is," I stated unapologetically, "and we have a very strong influence here. Not that your case will be that difficult. After all, Allan Finch was a public official, meaning that special circumstances will apply. Combine that with our connections, and I'd say you'll be lucky to avoid a lethal injection."
I paused a moment to allow the gravity of the situation to sink in. Then I asked Miss Lehane, "So…what's it going to be?"
I felt like I had fallen forty feet and landed flat on my back. I couldn't breathe, I couldn't think.
I could hear Buffy pleading with me not to go. I could hear Willow and Xander and even Mrs. Summers telling me to stay and fight, that the Council couldn't possibly make good on their threat.
But when I looked over at Giles, his expression told me everything I needed to know: the Council wasn't bluffing. If they wanted me put away for life, then that's exactly what would happen.
I hung my head and let out a long breath. When I glanced back up, I looked directly at Quentin Travers.
"Okay," I told him, getting to my feet. "I'll go with you."
"Faith, no," Buffy begged as she jumped up and grabbed my wrists. "Don't do this."
"I have to, B," I told her. "I don't have a choice." When I saw her start to cry, I tried to put a positive spin on things. "Look, it's only a year, maybe less if I work hard, right?"
I pulled her close and leaned my forehead against hers, waiting until she nodded back her answer. Then I reached up and held her face with both of my hands.
"I love you," I whispered.
"I love you, too," she whispered back.
Then we kissed, but it seemed like it was for only a second. Before I knew it, I was being snatched away from her. I felt my arms being pulled behind my back and heavy cuffs being locked onto my wrists. I saw Xander and Giles having to physically hold Buffy back. As my eyes met hers for the last time, she called out to me.
"Faith! You're strong, okay? Remember, you can face anything!"
I didn't have time for a reply. The guards jerked me away and dragged me from the house.
In less than a minute I was slammed face first against a van door. As one of the guards held me still by pressing his body weight against me, Travers made his way into my line of sight. Calmly he pulled a syringe from his pocket and filled it from a small vial.
"It's not that we don't trust you," he said as he tapped the syringe and then tested it.
At a nod from him, the guard grabbed me by the hair and pulled, exposing the side of my neck. I struggled to find my footing, to get some leverage, anything, but it didn't work.
"Actually, it is just that," Quentin said snidely before plunging the syringe into my neck.
I felt the jab of the needle, then the burn of the injection, and then I felt nothing at all as everything went black.
Our journey back to England was uneventful. Since we were flying by private jet, we were able to avoid the insanity of the international airports. On Quentin's orders, Miss Lehane was kept both chained and sedated for the duration of the flight.
I considered questioning the necessity of such security measures given the fact that Miss Lehane had freely agreed to accompany us, but I decided that Quentin surely knew what was best.
The first thing I remembered was being really thirsty. My throat was so dry I could hardly swallow. The next thing I realized was that I was face down on some kind of metal surface and that my whole body hurt like hell. I felt like I'd been sleeping on rocks for three days. I went to use my arms to push up from the floor, but then I realized they were still cuffed behind me.
I curled onto my side and blinked my eyes into focusing. I realized I was in the back of a van, and the same four body guards I'd seen at Buffy's house were around me, glaring. The nearest one pulled a radio from his pocket.
He keyed the device and said, "She's awake."
"Understood," came the answer. He put the radio away.
I muscled myself into a sitting position and scooted back until I could lean against the back inside wall of the van.
"Where are we?" I asked.
"You'll see soon enough," said the guard with the radio. Then he turned away from me like he didn't want to hear another peep outta me, so I didn't say anything else.
As the van kept moving, I felt a deep, black fear twist inside my stomach, and I wondered if I'd made a huge mistake in turning myself over to the Council.
Rattled by my doubts, I closed my eyes and tried to focus on Buffy--on what it had felt like to be held in her arms, on what she had said to me before I left. All I could do was pray that she was right—that I really was strong enough to face this.
It took forever before we got word that Faith had arrived safely. It was nearly eighteen hours after Faith had been dragged away that Wesley finally called.
"She's doing fine and getting settled in," he told me in a voice that was way too cheery. "She'll begin her program tomorrow after she's rested from her flight."
"Let me talk to her," I demanded.
"I'm afraid I can't do that," he said. "Faith isn't allowed to have any outside contact. At least not at first."
"What?!!" I practically yelled. "What do you mean 'no outside contact'? How am I gonna know she's okay?"
"You must understand that Faith needs to focus on herself right now, without any outside distractions," he said in that condescending tone of his. "But don't you worry. I'll make daily or at least weekly calls to Mr. Giles to report on her progress. And when she's reached a certain point in the program and proven herself, she'll be allowed to earn privileges, such as phone calls. I'm sure she'll do just fine and will be calling you in no time."
If I could have reached into the phone and strangled that little twit from long distance, I would have, but I decided it was a little early to burn any bridges, not if I wanted to talk to Faith at some point in the future.
"Well, tell her that I love her and that I'm waiting for her."
"I will," he promised before ending the call.
As I hung up the phone, a shiver of dread came over me. I didn't trust Wesley, I didn't trust the Council, and I sure as hell didn't trust Quentin Travers. But I trusted Faith, and I believed in her, and that would have to be enough.
It only took me a few days to realize that the Council rehab thing completely and totally sucked.
It was barely a step up from prison. My room was like a cell: a twelve-by-twelve room with concrete block walls, no windows, and no color. All it had in terms of furnishings was a platform bed that jutted out from the wall, a built-in shelf and bench that served as a table or desk, a toilet, and a sink. I had a foam mattress, a pillow, and a blanket, and that was about it.
No, I take that back. They did grace me with a few luxury items: a set of towels, a bar of soap, and a toothbrush, and oh boy, toilet paper! Yeah, they really knew how to spoil a girl over here in the mother country, let me tell ya.
I didn't have any privileges: no TV, no phone, no radio, nothing. I didn't even get to go outside or go slaying at night. My whole day was programmed with shrink sessions and classes and training. And they actually made me do homework! I had to read about all kinds of demons and write reports on it. Ugh. If I'd-a known they were gonna make me do school stuff, I'd-a taken the twenty-five to life in the state pen.
Not really, o' course, but it was definitely no picnic. I did the best I could, though. I figured that'd be the only way I'd get out of there early. Every time I felt like slappin' the crap out of my instructors, I just repeated my new mantra to myself: 'What Would Buffy Do?' or in this particular case 'What Would Buffy NOT Do?'
The only thing about rehab that I really liked was the physical training. They set me up with this ninja-like sensei. Even without super powers, that dude kicked my ass on a daily basis. Every time I thought I'd have him, he'd be ready for me or he'd counter with some unbelievable move that came outta nowhere.
I finally asked him how he did that. I mean, I was a slayer; I wasn't supposed to be gettin' my ass kicked by a mere human. He started showing me how to use all of my senses in a fight and to observe my opponent's tendencies, how all of that could help me anticipate my opponent's next move. He said I was practically broadcasting all of my moves to him. So he started teaching me a bunch of his little tricks. It wasn't long before I finally got the drop on him in a session. After I smacked him down on the mat, I jumped up and pumped my fist.
"Lehane for the score!" I crowed before helping my sensei to his feet.
He stood up and bowed. "Well done," he told me.
I returned the bow and thanked him. I was smilin' so big I thought my face was gonna crack. Then I saw Q-Tip glaring at me from across the room.
Jesus! I thought. What does that man want from me?
As I watched him leave the gym, I got the sneakin' suspicion that I wasn't ever gonna measure up. Not in his eyes.
At first, Faith did very well, and I had nothing but good words for her when I called to give Giles my reports. She excelled at her physical training, she was applying herself to her studies, and she was even cooperating with Dr. Stahl in all aspects of her psychotherapy.
She was still rather saucy, of course, particularly with Quentin.
She, em, ha-ha, she took to calling him 'Q-Tip.' Ha-ha...I had no idea what that meant, but it infuriated Quentin to no end. Ha-ha...ahem, but, um…a-a-as I said, all in all, I was quite pleased with her progress.
Unfortunately, things soon began to change...
I tried to play along with their whole psychotherapy routine, but after a while it just...it just started to rub me the wrong way, ya know? I didn't feel like I was being rehabilitated; I felt like I was being reprogrammed, like they were trying to brainwash me or something.
I may not be smart, but I know when somebody's tryin' to fuck with my head, and that's what Dr. Stahl was tryin' to do. So I just stopped cooperating with him. I'd give him stupid answers to his questions or make up shit.
Last thing I was gonna do was let the Council turn me into their little 'Stepford Slayer.'
After getting yet another disappointing report from Dr. Stahl, I realized that stronger measures were going to have to be taken. I called a meeting of the Disciplinary Committee and announced my intention to implement the Alternate Program.
I was completely shocked when Quentin announced that we'd be taking a harsher approach with Faith. I couldn't stay silent any longer; I simply had to speak up.
"Excuse me for interrupting," I said, "but don't you think a more lenient approach would have a better effect? Why don't we reward her instead of punish her? Give her a reason to cooperate? For example…let her call Buffy. Tell her that the more she cooperates, the more calls she'll get. I think you'd find her very receptive to such an approach."
"No, no, it's too late for that," Quentin grumbled, getting a nod of agreement from Dr. Stahl. "The bone has already set in the wrong position." He narrowed his eyes and stared off for a moment. Then he said grimly, "No, there's only one thing we can do now: we have to break her."
I literally felt a chill go down my back as he spoke those words. I didn't know exactly what Quentin had in mind, but I knew it couldn't be good. For the first time since we'd arrived, I was afraid—not for myself, but for Faith.
I wasn't exactly sure when the nightmares had first started, but when I ended up having a slew of them three nights in a row, I knew something was up. The details of the dreams were always different, but they all had the same theme: Faith screaming, Faith hurting, Faith crying out to me.
I marched straight over to Giles's apartment that morning and told him what I'd been dreaming about. I told him how worried I was that something bad was happening to Faith…or was going to happen to her.
He confessed that he was worried, too. The latest report from England had convinced him that Wesley wasn't being entirely truthful.
As we wracked our brains trying to come up with something we could do, Giles's fancy new phone rang. When the caller I.D. indicated that Wesley was on the line, he punched the speaker phone button to answer the call.
"Hello, Wesley?" Giles said. "I'm so glad you called. Buffy is here with me, and frankly we're concerned about--"
"You need to come," Wesley said urgently, cutting Giles off. "You need to come now."
"What's going on?" I demanded. "What have you done to Faith?!!"
"I haven't done anything to her," Wesley said. "It's Quentin. He's…I'm afraid he's going to kill her!"
Now, normally I don't condone hacking for monetary gain, but this was an emergency! We needed to fund five nonstop flights from LAX to Heathrow, and at $2000 a pop, we couldn't just dip into the ol' penny jar. I knew I'd have to deal with the consequences later, but for right then, I just did what I had to do. Thank God we all had passports.
By that afternoon, we were in the air—me, Buffy, Xander, Giles, and Mrs. Summers. Buffy had thrown a conniption when her mom had insisted on going along, but I guess you can figure out who won that argument.
I swear sometimes Buffy seems to conveniently forget who's the mother and who's the daughter in this family. Did she really think I was going to let her fly off to another country and lay siege to some super-powerful secret organization without me coming along?
My god, it was bad enough that those bastards had Faith in their clutches. I wasn't going to stand idly by while Buffy risked her life. I didn't have a clue what kind of help I was going to be, but I was going to be there, damn it, whether she liked it or not.
I just hoped and prayed that we'd get there in time and that Faith would be all right.
The flight was on time and smooth, but still quite difficult. It was, essentially, twelve hours of helpless, worried waiting. Having flown this way many times, I tried to encourage the others to sleep during the flight so that they wouldn't be jetlagged when we arrived, but they were no more able to do so than I.
We arrived at Heathrow around noon the following day. After we had claimed our baggage, I rented a car--a four-door Range Rover--and drove us to Devonshire, where we met with Althenea Dimmons, a dear friend of mine, whose coven would be providing key support to our plan to infiltrate the Council.
Wesley was already there, sharing what information he could. Although he had been denied access to Faith's program shortly after his call to us, he was still proving to be quite useful. I was concerned about how Buffy would react to his presence, though. When she finally did see him, she gave him a single blazing glare and then ignored him. He wisely stayed out of her way.
Several hours into our planning, however, he dared to approach her. He drew close and then spoke Buffy's name. She slowly turned to face him, with hatred burning in her eyes.
"If you try to apologize, I swear I will beat you to death," Buffy said with uncharacteristic savagery.
As Wesley silently slipped away, I stepped in to speak with Buffy. "I know you're angry with him, but--"
"Angry? 'Angry' doesn't even begin to describe what I'm feeling right now." Buffy pointed furiously at Wesley's retreating figure. "This is all his fault! If he had just kept his mouth shut, none of this would have happened!"
"I know, but he's helping us now. His detailed memories of the Council facility will allow the coven to teleport us exactly where we need to be."
Buffy said nothing in reply. She just clenched her jaw tightly, turned on her heel, and stalked over to the Council floor plan Willow had printed and pinned on the wall.
There wasn't much I could do, so I just hung out with Buffy's mom. We were both feeling pretty useless, so we decided to label ourselves 'Team Spirit,' and when somebody needed a pep talk, we'd be there.
It was Willow who had been doing most of the work, actually. She had spent the afternoon cracking the Council's online security. She'd been able to get a lot of information, but not Faith's exact location. If she couldn't break that secondary firewall by the next day, then she'd have to wait and do her hacking on-site.
At the moment, though, Willow was in witchy heaven. She was getting a crash course in Wicca Warfare 101. Even though Althenea was gonna be going with us, she wanted to make sure that Willow could handle a few basic spells.
At a break in the instruction, Willow practically skipped over to join us. We could tell she was really pumped up.
"Lookin' good there, Obi-Wan," I teased as she arrived.
"Oh my god, did you see that?" she exclaimed, referring to the shielding spell that she and Althenea had just practiced.
"I'm very impressed," Mrs. Summers said. "I had no idea you were so magically talented."
"Me either!" Willow replied incredulously. "I mean, yeah, I taught myself some things in Sunnydale, but this…I've learned more in three hours here with Al than I ever learned back home. She says, when this whole thing with the Council is over, you know, when Faith is back home safe and sound, I can come back and get some more training."
I couldn't help but chuckle as Willow bounced up and down with excitement.
We finished all of our planning and preparing late that night, but we couldn't do anything until the following night. I nearly went crazy with all the waiting.
I understood why we had to wait. The coven needed time to generate the energy for teleporting, and the Council would be less populated during the midnight hours.
I just couldn't stand thinking about what Faith must be going through; I hated that she had to keep going through it while we were stuck here waiting.
God, it hurt.
When I stopped pacing, when I stopped thinking and rehearsing, when I finally let myself be still and feel…it hurt so much. Across the country Faith was alone and afraid and hurting, and I couldn't stop it, I couldn't save her. Not yet anyway.
All I could do was send her my love and tell her, "We're coming, baby. You're strong. Just hang on."
The next evening, close to midnight, we gathered in the sacred space of the coven room. As Althenea's coven members began to file in, Mrs. Summers, who would not be accompanying us, made her good-byes and dispensed much-needed hugs of encouragement. Once she had left the room, the coven encircled us and began the ritual.
When the energies had sufficiently built up, Althenea gave each of us an amulet, intoning a spell that made the gem in the center emit a faint glow. She put a similar amulet around her own neck, then added a second, before picking up a fist-sized multi-faceted crystal from which the amulets' gems had been taken. As the crystal's own glow began to pulse and intensify, she raised it above her head and belted out the final words of the incantation.
"Traiciamus! Let us cross!"
In a flash we were transported from Devonshire to London.
Holy cow! I felt like my insides were trying to come outside through my bellybutton. I bent over at the waist until the nausea passed, and then I straightened up and looked around.
We were in a dark conference room. The only light in the room was coming from the hallway through the narrow window in the door.
"Is everyone all right?" Giles whispered.
"If feeling like I just rode Space Mountain 27 times in a row without stopping qualifies as 'all right,' then yeah, I'm good," Xander quipped.
After the rest of us answered in the affirmative, we went about our tasks. I pulled out my laptop, plugged it into a network jack, and booted it up. Giles and Xander armed themselves with a variety of weapons--a tranquilizer gun, a Taser, and a pistol. I tried not to be worried by the sight of the pistol. Buffy retrieved the wooden staff that she had strapped to her back and then walked over to Althenea.
"How long do we have?" she asked, pointing at the crystal that Al was tucking into her pocket.
Althenea shrugged. "Twenty to thirty minutes maybe? When the crystal starts glowing again, we can teleport back."
Buffy nodded her understanding and then came over to me. She watched as I began my assault on the second firewall--the one I couldn't get remotely, the one protecting the security systems, among other things. Once I got in, I made myself a secret door so that I could get back in any time I wanted. Might need to get back in here, and in a hurry, I thought to myself.
"I'm in," I told her. "Just give me a second to get a handle on their security menus…"
As the others joined us, I first disabled the Council's alarm system and activated the evacuation protocol that turned off the magnetic locks on all the doors. Then I released a bot into their network that would locate every electronic reference to Faith. The automated procedure would copy every single document and file about Faith to a remote server I'd already set up. Finally, I called up the security grid and zoomed in on the Detention Area. A small square on the screen began to flash.
"She's here," I said, pointing at the flashing square.
Giles referenced his hard copy of the floor plan and said, "Cell D4."
"Okay, let's go," Buffy said.
"Wait, I can get a picture," I said. "They've got that whole wing under total video surveillance."
Within seconds I caught the live feed from Faith's cell and displayed it on my screen. My heart stopped when I saw it.
Faith was in a small, well-lit cell, chained to the wall in a torturous stress position. Other than a cloth sack over her head, she was wearing only what appeared to be a hospital gown.
I zoomed the camera so that we could see Faith a little better.
She was kneeling with her arms shackled behind her back. The chain coming from her wrist shackles was bolted to the wall in a way that raised her arms straight and high behind her in a painful contortion. Another chain was bolted to the floor and must have been locked to something around her neck; it held her in a position that was halfway doubled over. The arrangement was obviously designed to keep her in as much pain as possible.
We all froze, completely horrified at what we were seeing. The only good part about it was that we could see Faith moving slightly, so we knew she was alive.
I looked up at Buffy and saw tears rolling down her face. Xander reached over and put his hand on Buffy's back.
"Come on," he said. "Let's go get your girl."
Buffy clicked into action then and led the way to the door. I quickly looped all the security cameras, shut my laptop, snatched up my network cord, and shoved them both in my bag. Then I hurried to catch up.
Thanks to the wily wizardry of Willow "The Whiz" Rosenberg, getting through the Detention Area was a piece o' cake. The hallway doors just popped open, and the guards were nowhere to be seen. We hit a bit of a glitch, though, when we got to Faith's cell. When Buffy pulled back on the knob, the door didn't budge.
"What the hell?" Buffy said, looking to Willow.
Willow stepped in and examined the lock. "Oh, phooey," she said. "It's got a manual key lock, too."
"Gimme that," Buffy said, setting aside her staff and reaching for the knob with both hands, clearly intending to try and rip the door off its hinges.
Luckily, Althenea intervened. "Noise matters," she told Buffy. "Let me try first." Buffy reluctantly picked up her staff and stepped aside.
When Althenea pulled a lock-picking kit from her pocket, I saw Giles shoot her a raised eyebrow. She merely grinned at him and said, "Remnants of a misspent youth." I knew there was a reason I liked the Wonder Witch!
As Al set to work on the lock, I noticed some kind of instrument panel on the wall. "Hey, maybe this thing could open the door," I suggested.
Willow opened the panel's hinged cover and studied the buttons and indicators for a moment. "No, I don't think so. This is for climate control. Son of a--" she suddenly exclaimed. "They've got this thing set on 50 degrees!"
"That doesn't sound so bad," I said hopefully, while trying to figure out what 50 degrees felt like.
"It's about ten degrees warmer than your fridge," Willow informed me.
"Oh," I said, feeling kinda stupid.
I glanced over at Buffy to see if she had heard our conversation. The look on her face told me she had. She was ready to kill somebody. And I didn't blame her. She let her rage slip away, though, when Althenea managed to trick the lock.
As soon as Althenea opened the door, we hurried inside the cell. Buffy instantly cast aside her staff and rushed to kneel beside Faith. Willow and Althenea quickly joined her. I motioned for Xander to keep watch at the doorway. Then I too turned to check on Faith.
The poor girl was shivering uncontrollably and drawing in shallow, ragged breaths as she mumbled incoherently from beneath her hood. When Buffy put a hand on her shoulder, Faith jerked in reaction, trying to pull away from the touch as best she could.
"C-C-Can't...b-b-break...m-m-me..." she stuttered in a raspy voice.
"Faith, it's me...we're gonna get you out of here..." Buffy reassured her as Althenea began working on the locks of the shackles.
Buffy then pulled the hood off Faith's head. She tossed the cloth bag aside and unbuckled the leather collar that kept Faith chained to the floor. Then she used both hands to gently lift Faith's face into view.
Faith swayed unsteadily, still shuddering from the cold. As the brightness of the cell's overhead lights now assaulted her, Faith squeezed her eyes shut.
In that same light, we could all clearly see the true extent of the torture Faith had endured. Her hair was slightly damp and matted from days of neglect. Her face was bruised and swollen in several places as if she'd been beaten repeatedly. Some of the bruises were new, but others were not. What stood out the most, however, were two small burn marks--one at each temple.
"Dear God," I exclaimed in disgust when I realized what Travers and the Council had stooped to.
As Faith began slowly blinking her eyes open, Buffy gingerly touched one of the burn marks. "What did they do?" she whispered.
"Electro-shock therapy, if I had to guess," I answered.
"Son of a bitch!" I heard Xander swear. "We should kill them...kill them all! Just blow this goddamn place to kingdom come!"
His curse was followed by a series of metal clinks.
"Got it," Althenea said as she eased the now-unlocked chains from Faith's wrists.
Free from her bonds but too weak to hold herself up, Faith immediately fell forward into Buffy's arms. Buffy eased her over and held her in her lap.
"Faith, I'm here, baby, I'm here," she cried.
Faith, however, didn't seem to recognize that it was Buffy who was holding her. She made an ineffective attempt at struggling before mumbling once again,
"C-C-Can't…b-b-break…m-m-me…" Then she blinked groggily, and her eyes fluttered closed. Her head lolled to the side, and she stopped moving.
"Faith? FAITH!!!" Buffy tried to rouse the slayer but couldn't. She turned frantically to me. "Giles!"
I rushed over and tried to feel for a pulse at Faith's wrist. Her skin was cold and clammy, and I couldn't get a good read, so I moved to her neck and felt for her pulse there. When I found it, I let out a relieved sigh.
"She's alive," I said. "Her pulse is weak but steady."
"Thank God," Buffy said, caressing Faith's tangled hair.
"But we need to get her to a hospital, now," I said, pulling off my coat and wrapping it around Faith's upper body.
"Rupert's right," Althenea said, taking off her own coat and covering Faith's bare legs. "She's dangerously hypothermic."
"Guys, we've got company coming," Xander warned as he slipped back into the cell and eased the door shut.
At Xander's words, I instantly pulled the teleportation crystal from my pocket and looked at it.
"Can we jump yet?" Buffy asked.
I shook my head. "Not yet. We need a few more minutes." I pulled the extra amulet over my head and looped it around Faith's neck.
"Xander!" Buffy commanded. Xander came running from the cell door to kneel beside Buffy. "I need you and Giles to take Faith," she told him. "Keep her safe, no matter what. Don't fire unless you have to. It's close quarters in here."
Xander did as he was told and took the unconscious slayer from Buffy's arms. Rupert helped him pull Faith to the corner and re-cover her with our coats once they had her in place. Then they crouched in front of her, their weapons drawn.
As Buffy picked up her staff, I handed the crystal off to Willow and rushed to the door. I cast a quick spell and touched the facing of the lock. There was a spark of light as the metal inside welded together. I was just in time because we soon heard a key being tried in the lock. Then the pounding started.
"We can do this," I heard Buffy say. "We just have to hold them off for a few minutes. Right, Al?"
I didn't turn to face her. My attention was focused on what I was sensing on the other side of the door. "Shit!" I growled under my breath.
"Ohhh-kaaay, not the response I was wanting," Buffy said.
"They have a witch," I informed her as I turned to Willow, who was still holding the crystal. "I'll take the witch. You take the teleporting."
As I guided Willow to a position several feet behind me, she babbled in a panic, "Oh, I, but, you…"
"You can do it, Willow," I told her with confidence. "But protect this crystal," I warned. "If it breaks, we won't be going anywhere."
"Okay," she replied in a high-pitched voice, gripping the crystal tightly.
I didn't have time to panic, not really, because as soon as Al turned back toward the door, it blew open with a massive magical blast, nearly coming off the hinges as it slammed against the inside wall.
A tall, middle-aged blonde woman strode in. She immediately set her eyes on Althenea and rushed her. The air around the two witches crackled with power as they grappled with one another.
When armed guards began slipping in around the battling witches, Buffy moved in with her staff. Wham! Bam! Pow! Thwack! I was starting to run out of onomatopoeias! Buffy was just amazing.
But she was still just one girl, and it didn't take long for a group of guards to disarm her and surround her. It was time for me to step up to the magical plate.
"Buffy, duck!" I screamed out, hoping she'd hear me. Then I let loose with my best magical blast.
It shot across the room and slammed into the circle of guards, knocking them down like bowling pins…unfortunately, right on top of Buffy. She had ducked, but now she had to claw her way out of a pile of stunned-senseless guards. Obviously, I was gonna have to work on the whole accuracy element.
About the time Buffy made it to the top of the pile, Quentin Travers stepped inside, accompanied by his own guard.
"Just kill them all!" Travers yelled.
The guard raised his automatic weapon and released the safety.
Before he could fire, though, Buffy was on him. She snatched the gun from him and smacked him in the face with it, sending him to the floor. Then she turned toward Travers. I saw him freeze in place, terror shining in his eyes.
"You have put me and my family through hell long enough," Buffy said, slowly advancing on the man. "You bust into my house, attack my friends and family, threaten my mother, and then…this." She gestured at the cell we were all standing in. "What you did to Faith…" She clamped her mouth shut and clenched her jaw before raising the gun and training it on Travers. "I think it's time for some payback."
Suddenly, I felt the crystal erupt into life in my hand. I didn't waste a second. I spoke the incantation and then raised the glowing crystal into the air.
"Remitte nos!" I yelled. "Send us back!"
And in a flash, it did just that.
I waited inside the coven room with several of Althenea's coven members. One was studying the gigantic crystal that was the centerpiece of the altar. I had been told that she was magically monitoring the team's teleporting. Two others--a man and a woman--were checking and rechecking the items packed in their EMT bags. It made me feel a lot better knowing that we had trained medics on hand. I hoped to God they wouldn't be needed, but I was glad they were there.
Suddenly, the woman at the altar called out, "They're coming!"
There was a flash so bright I had to close my eyes, but when I opened them, I could see Buffy and the others in the center of the room. I hurried to Buffy's side.
She was shaking her head as if trying to clear it. I let my eyes do a quick pass over her for any sign that she was hurt or injured. I couldn't help but gasp when I saw the gun in her hand.
I had to shut out the mental images of men shooting at my daughter, of her shooting at them, of the danger she must have been in. I made myself focus on asking, "Buffy, are you all right?"
"I'm fine," she said distractedly as she handed me the gun and turned to search the group. "Faith!" she cried out before rushing across the room.
I set the gun on the floor and followed after her. I held her up when I saw that the medics were already tending to Faith. "Let them help her, sweetie," I told her.
She resisted for a moment and then burst into tears. I pulled her into my arms and held her.
"They hurt her so bad, Mom," she managed to say through her sobs.
"I know, honey, I know. But she's gonna be okay now. You got her out of there, and now she's gonna be okay."
As Althenea informed the medics about the condition in which we had found Faith, I left the coven room and found the telephone. I rang my brother's direct line at the air base and waited for him to answer.
"Group Captain Reginald Giles," he said when he picked up.
"It's me, Reggie," I told him.
"Rupert! How did the mission go?"
"We got her out, but…she's in fairly bad shape, I'm afraid. I think we should bring her in."
"I'll notify the gate and have an escort waiting."
"Thank you," I told him sincerely. Then I hung up and returned to the coven room.
Within minutes, we had a two-car caravan headed to RMB Chivenor, where my brother commanded a squadron of the RAF's Search and Rescue Force.
Thanks to Giles's brother, we had been able to drive straight to the emergency room of the air base hospital. Once Faith had been taken back to the treatment area, it was several hours before a man in scrubs finally came out of the double-doors.
He scanned the group until he found Giles; then he walked right over. He held out his hand. "You must be Rupert," he said with a smile. "I can see the resemblance. I'm Dr. Merritt."
Giles shook his hand and smiled back. "How is she, Doctor?" he asked soberly as we all gathered around him.
"She's stabilized," he first told us, and we all sighed in relief. "We had to give her some warmed intravenous fluids, not only to raise her body temperature but also to re-hydrate her."
"We haven't gotten the results from toxicology," the doctor continued, "but it's clear that she underwent multiple injections over several days."
Buffy turned to Giles and asked, "Do you think they gave her that Cruciamentum drug?"
"It's likely," Giles said. "I've asked the doctor to test for it."
Dr. Merritt nodded and then went on, "Scans and x-rays didn't reveal any broken bones other than her left wrist, nor any internal bleeding, although there is significant bruising. However, we did find some fluid in her lungs. Given the lack of cardiogenic and other causes, we suspect simple pulmonary aspiration."
"In English, Doc," Xander interjected.
"She inhaled water into her lungs," he explained. "But all of these things will heal with time and pose no immediate or future threat. Physically at least. Psychologically is another matter entirely, of course."
He paused in his summary, and we all exchanged worried looks.
"It's her brain that concerns me," he said. "The combination of head trauma, unknown drugs, and illegal electro-shock treatments…she could be facing significant neurological damage."
"Like what?" Joyce asked.
"Mental confusion, memory loss, impaired cognitive function…we won't know, really, until she regains consciousness."
"She hasn't woken up yet?" Althenea asked.
Dr. Merritt shook his head.
"Can we see her?" Buffy asked.
"Yes," Dr. Merritt replied, "but only a few at a time."
Buffy looked to her mom, and then they walked over to join the doctor. When Buffy looked back at the rest of us, Xander gave her a wave-away and said, "We're good, Buff. You go. We'll catch her later. You know, when she's sittin' up, complainin' about the lime Jell-O…"
Buffy gave him a warm smile, and then she and her mom followed Dr. Merritt through the double-doors. I reached over and gave Xander a big hug. He could be a total goof sometimes, but every once in while he'd say just the right thing. Like just then.
Once Buffy and her mom left with the doctor to go see Faith, I turned to Giles and held up my laptop case.
"It's time for me to get with the hackin' and crackin'," I said.
"Are you sure?" he asked. "None of us have gotten much sleep, especially you. Perhaps you should rest first."
"No," I told him, shaking my head. "Tired as I am, I know I won't be able to sleep until I'm sure we have what we need from the Council files."
"All right," he said. "I believe that Reggie has set up a space for you…"
Giles led me away from the waiting area and down a hallway. Behind the nurses' station, there was a storage room, where a corner had been quickly converted into a small office. It had a metal table, a desk lamp, a few chairs, a network cord, even a networked printer. That was all I needed.
After hooking up my laptop, I got to work. The first thing I did was link up with the bot I had set into motion at the Council HQ. Within seconds I was downloading and extracting all of the data my bot had collected. While that was working, I activated my backdoor into the Council network.
I could already tell that they had started trying to cover their tracks. Huge chunks of the information related to Faith were missing, including all of the video surveillance. I chuckled smugly to myself. "Heh, heh…too late!"
This time, though, I wasn't searching for data connected to Faith. Now I was looking for something more on Quentin, but what? After winding through a labyrinth of financial records, I finally found something interesting: small amounts of money skimmed from various accounts that didn't end up back in the main fund. But where did it all go?
Just then my computer beeped at me to tell me it had finished downloading and extracting all of the Faith data from my bot. I scanned the directories and decided to start with the security footage. The video surveillance logs would be our best bet for proving the criminal actions of both Quentin and the Council. As I earmarked the recordings for Cell D4, where Faith had been held, I noticed a set of logs for what was called the 'Treatment Rooms.' I ran my finger down the list of dates and times and picked one of the more recent entries; then I cued it up and clicked the play button.
Unlike the hallways, the Treatment Room cameras were equipped for audio, so I could see and hear what was happening. Minutes into the video, my mouth dropped open, and I covered it with my hand. I must have said something like 'Oh my god…' How else can you react to something like that? I mean, I saw Faith when we rescued her, I saw the damage that the Council had done, but this was different.
I finally had to turn the sound off. I couldn't bear to hear Faith screaming.
Once the doctor had cleared us, Buffy and I quietly eased into Faith's room and over to her bed.
I had thought that Faith would look better, that everything would somehow seem less frightening once we had gotten her to the hospital. But the sight of her there...in the starkness of that room...it nearly made me lose my breath. Even slightly propped up, she was so pale, so still. If the doctor hadn't assured us that she was alive and stable, I--
You know, I try to comfort myself with the thought that slayers are somehow indestructible, invincible. If I didn't do that, if I didn't try to believe that Buffy could make it through anything, I don't think I could stay sane.
But seeing Faith like that...it made things all too real. This could have been my daughter. This could have been Buffy.
But it wasn't. I felt guilty for being grateful for that, but I couldn't help it. Buffy was my daughter, and she would always be first in my heart. But that didn't mean I wasn't concerned about Faith. I was. And not just because my daughter was in love with her. I cared about Faith, and I was appalled and disgusted by what the Council had done to her.
I knew Faith was used to dealing with monsters, but this time the monsters responsible for putting a slayer in the hospital weren't vampires or demons. They were members of the very institution that should have been protecting her. What they did to Faith...there was no excuse for that, no justification, and there would be no forgiveness. These people needed to be punished.
As soon as I walked into the room and saw Faith, I started to cry. She looked so…broken. Like a doll that had been trampled. I couldn't bear to think of what she'd been through.
"Oh god, Faith…I'm so sorry…" I cried over and over.
I felt Mom's hand on my back, and I knew she was trying to tell me with that touch not to blame myself, but how could I not? I was the one who had convinced Faith to tell the truth. If we had just done what Faith wanted and stayed quiet, none of this would've happened.
After a few minutes, I finally shook off the guilt fest. No matter how much I deserved a good blaming, it wasn't really going to help Faith. I needed to be strong for her now. So I pulled myself together and moved to the far side of the room, where I could stand next to her bed and be out of the way of any nurses or doctors who came in. Mom followed but stood closer to the foot of the bed, giving me a little space.
"Hey, you," I said to Faith, making sure I smiled as I leaned over to look at her.
I gave her a kiss on the forehead and then gently trailed my fingers down the side of her bruised face, avoiding the small tube that was bringing oxygen to her nose.
"Everything's gonna be fine now," I told her, trying not to notice how labored her breathing was. "We got you out of there, and now you can just rest and get better. Okay?"
As I straightened back up, I brought my hands down to Faith's left arm, where she now had a cast on her wrist. I kept my right hand at Faith's shoulder and slid my left hand under hers, lightly grasping her swollen fingers. With the cast in the way, it was the closest I could get to holding her hand.
I looked over at Mom, and she gave me an encouraging smile as she caressed the blanket covering Faith's legs. I guess we were thinking the same thing. We hoped Faith could somehow feel us there even if she wasn't awake.
We stayed there like that for I don't know how long, talking to Faith and touching her and asking her to wake up. At some point, Giles came in and stood vigil with us but on the other side of the bed. He didn't get to stay there long, though, because the nurse came in to check Faith, so he just moved to the foot of the bed and stood next to my mom.
The nurse activated the cuff around Faith's right arm and recorded her blood pressure and pulse on her chart. She checked the IV machine and then examined the IV in Faith's right hand. When the nurse started adjusting the oxygen tube draped across Faith's face, though, we all got a surprise: Faith woke up.
She let out a kind of groan and then opened her eyes. We all started calling out to her at once, and I guess we must have scared her because she completely freaked out. As weak as she was, she started fighting us off and trying to get out of the bed. I didn't want to hurt her, but I was afraid she was going to hurt herself, so I just grabbed her arms and kept calling her name.
The first thing I noticed was the pain. I was hurtin'...bad. But in a way it felt sort of...I don't know...far away, if that makes any sense.
I could hear people talking around me, but they sounded weird, like a tape being played too slow.
When I opened my eyes, I couldn't see real good, but I could tell I was on a gurney, and I could feel people holding me down. Their hands were on my arms and shoulders, and they were putting something on my head, and I knew they were gonna shock me again, and I couldn't let that happen. I shook their hands off me and pushed myself up on my elbows, trying to sit up. Pain was screaming through me, but I just screamed with it and kept fighting.
When I finally managed to sit up, I felt strong hands clamp around my arms. I started to panic then because I knew it was over and I wasn't gonna be able to stop them no matter how hard I tried. But then I heard something through the chaos. A voice calling my name. Buffy's voice.
I stopped and turned toward the sound. I blinked my eyes several times to get them to focus, and then I saw her. She was touching my face and telling me that I was okay, that I was safe, that I wasn't at the Council anymore.
I couldn't believe it. For days I had hoped for it, wished for it--shit, I had even prayed for it--but I don't think I ever believed it would really happen. Now that it had, I was kinda stunned for a minute. When it finally hit me, I just lost it. I just blubbered like a two year old. I grabbed onto Buffy and didn't let go. It hurt like hell to cry like that, but I couldn't help it. I was never so glad to see somebody in all my life.
But at least I wasn't cryin' by myself. Buffy was bawling her eyes out, too. She'd probably say this was a 'good cry,' but they all suck if you ask me. I don't know how long we cried, but it seemed like forever. We eventually stopped, though, and we pulled apart and looked at each other.
By then I was really short of breath, so it was hard to talk. Which is probably just as well because my brain wasn't exactly firin' on all cylinders right then. About all I could do was say Buffy's name in total disbelief.
She smiled at me and kissed me and then started saying a bunch of stuff to me. I tried to focus on what she was saying, but the pain was gettin' worse. It didn't feel so far away anymore. It felt like it was right on top o' me, like it was squeezin' the air out of me. I had to lay back against the pillows, and things kinda went fuzzy again. I think I remember the doctor, but that was about it.
When Faith first awoke, she was understandably frightened and disoriented. She fought back until she realized that Buffy was with her. She calmed somewhat, but by then her exertions had already taken their toll. She appeared to be in great pain and was struggling to breathe. The nurse immediately called for the doctor, cleared us away from the bed, and began emergency measures. I'm not completely certain what exactly she and the doctor did, it all happened so fast, but within a matter of minutes, Faith was out of danger and resting peacefully.
Dr. Merritt then pulled us aside to speak with us. He explained that Faith's air exchange had been compromised by the water she had previously inhaled. The tissues of her lungs were inflamed, and their ability to process oxygen was greatly reduced.
Compounding that problem was the fact that Faith's ribs were badly bruised; as a result, she was in an excruciating amount of pain. It quite literally hurt to breathe, he told us. She'd been on a low dose of pain medication while she was unconscious, but once she'd awakened, it hadn't been enough, especially not for her panicked initial reaction.
When the doctor finished his explanation, Buffy asked, "What did they do to her? How did she end up inhaling water?"
"You'll have to ask her," Dr. Merritt replied, "but I suspect water-boarding."
"Water-boarding?" Joyce inquired. "What's that?"
"It's considered to be an 'interrogation' technique, but it's pure torture if you ask me. The victim is strapped onto an inclined board. A hood is placed over his head, and water is poured over his face in order to simulate drowning. It's repeated, sometimes multiple times a day, to insure maximum stress and fear."
"That's horrible!" Joyce exclaimed.
Dr. Merritt nodded his agreement. "It's supposed to be non-life-threatening, but the truth is that it can be just as dangerous as near drowning because it can lead to pneumonia, particularly if a significant amount of water is aspirated."
"But you said Faith doesn't have that, so she's gonna be okay, right?" Buffy asked.
"Only time will tell," the doctor informed us. "I have her on antibiotics to fight infection and steroids to reduce inflammation, but what she needs now is rest."
Dr. Merritt made certain she received that rest by keeping Faith mildly sedated for the next 24 hours. During that time he transferred her to a private room with a bathroom so that Buffy and Joyce could stay with her. While Faith slept, Buffy and Joyce worked on gingerly untangling Faith's curly mane of hair. By the time Faith was strong enough for a group visit, they had returned her to some semblance of her former self.
We were so excited! Faith was finally well enough for a visit from all the Scoobies, including our newest member, Althenea. Faith hadn't actually met her yet--not while she was conscious anyway.
On the way to Faith's room, Xander and I tried to explain the whole Scoobies thing to Al, but she just wasn't getting it.
"Oh my poor, poor British friend," Xander told her as we neared Faith's door. "So deprived of culture."
We laughed for a moment but hushed ourselves before entering Faith's room.
When we got inside, we found Faith sitting up, with Buffy and her mom standing beside the bed. We gave Faith enthusiastic waves and hey's before filling in the small space around her bed.
After Faith had responded to the greetings, her eyes settled quizzically on Althenea, so I introduced them.
"Faith, this is Althenea Dimmons. She's a witch friend of Giles's. She helped get you out of the Council."
Althenea flashed Faith a sincere smile and said, "Call me Al."
As soon as Althenea spoke those words, Xander instantly began to sing his new favorite song from the past few days: " ' If you'll be my bodyguard, I can be your long lost pal! I can call you Betty, and Betty, when you call me, you can…' "
Althenea turned to Xander and held up her finger in warning. "Toad, Xander. Toad."
Xander wisely trailed off before singing the final words of the Paul Simon chorus.
Faith let out a small chuckle at Xander's antics but quickly sobered. "Thanks," she told us sincerely. "All of you. I don't know what else to say, but that." She ducked her head and stared at her hands. "I don't think I would've lasted much longer."
We all looked away, and the room fell into a long, awkward silence.
I didn't know Faith very well, but I knew that she hated being weak, hated being vulnerable. I could see that she blamed herself, as if she somehow should have managed to get herself out of there or at the very least should have held up better. Which is crazy! I mean, my god, it's a miracle she held up at all, especially since she didn't have her slayer powers.
When Faith looked back up, her eyes went straight to Giles. She held up her left arm, which was still encased in a cast. "I'm not healing. Did they…?" She had to stop and clear her throat before finishing. "Did they take away my slayer powers for good?"
"No," he assured her. "The drug they used was designed to be temporary. You should see your powers return within a few days."
Faith visibly relaxed and let out a shaky breath. Then she shot us a smirk. "Good, 'cause if this is what it feels like to be you 'un-chosen' peons, then it sucks."
We all laughed with her, glad to see a glimpse of the old Faith, even if it was a forced one.
It didn't take long for Faith's attention to waver, though. As the conversation progressed, she started to zone out on us, chiming in only when a question was repeated to her. When it happened for the third time, Buffy locked eyes with me, and I nodded in silent reply. I started up the see-ya-later's, and within minutes we had cleared the room.
After the others left, the nurse came and gave Faith some medication through her IV. Seconds later, Faith was drifting off to sleep. Mom decided to take a walk break, but I stayed with Faith.
A short time later, the nurse came back to take Faith for a follow-up CT scan. When the nurse spoke to her, Faith opened her eyes for a moment, mumbled an 'okay,' then closed her eyes again.
I asked the nurse if I could go with Faith. She told me that I could, but I'd have to leave the room when it was time for the actual scan. I thanked her and said that was fine, and we set out for the radiology department.
When we got to the CT room, the nurse let me come inside while she and the technician got Faith situated for the test. As they moved her from the bed to the scanning table, Faith started to wake up. She blinked her eyes groggily and tried to sit up. The nurse and technician carefully and gently pushed her back into place on the table.
"You just lie back and relax and go back to sleep," the nurse crooned to her, "and before you know it, this will be all over."
"I thought you gave her a sedative," the technician complained as Faith continued to resist their efforts.
"I did," the nurse insisted.
"We're gonna have to strap her down," the technician said.
I started to say something to them, but before I could, they had straps secured across Faith's legs and hips. When they went to pin down her arms, Faith shot up with roar.
"No…no…NOOO!" she screamed as she fought off their hands.
I ran over to help, but they wouldn't let me. They yelled at me to stay back. Faith was stronger than they expected, though, so I ignored them and jumped into the fray. I snatched the technician away and did the same for the nurse. Then I grabbed Faith by the arms and held her in place.
"Faith! It's me, you're okay!" I called out to her, trying to calm her down. She continued to fight for a while until recognition finally set in. When I let go of her, she grabbed my shirt with her right hand and pulled me close, complete panic in her eyes.
"They were strapping me down!" she cried out. "They were strapping me down!"
"I know, I know," I told her, "but they're not trying to hurt you, I swear." When her eyes darted toward the nurse and technician, I reached up and guided her gaze back to mine. "You're not at the Council anymore, and no one's gonna hurt you like that ever again."
She nervously glanced around herself, taking in the sight of the hospital's scanning room. When she realized where she was, she hung her head and then hunched over with her arms crossed over her chest.
"Shit," she whispered as the unwanted tears came. "God, Buffy…" she sobbed, "they fucked me up…they fucked me up so bad…"
I did the only thing I could do. I pulled her into my arms and held her. And then I cried with her.
By the time we finished crying, the radiology doctor was there. He checked Faith's vitals and conferred with the nurse, then gave Faith a second, heavier dose of the sedative. This time Faith went out and stayed out, and the technician was able to get his scan done.
When the scan was over, the nurse took Faith back to her room. Mom was there waiting for us. I pulled her into the hall and told her what had happened. After crying a little more, I asked her to stay with Faith while I went to talk to Willow and Xander.
Will and I were in her makeshift office, wincing and seething our way through yet another security recording when we saw Buffy come in. We'd been reviewing the video evidence Willow had compiled, including the one I called 'the nail in Quentin's coffin.' Will quickly paused the recording and minimized the screen so that Buffy couldn't see what we'd been watching.
When Buffy got closer, we could see that she'd been crying. We jumped out of our seats and rushed over to her.
"What is it?" Willow asked. "Is Faith okay?"
"No, she's not," Buffy wailed as she pushed between us and plopped into the chair I'd been sitting in.
Then she told us about what had happened in the scanning room--how Faith had had a total meltdown when they tried to strap her down for the scan.
Will tried to be reassuring. "It'll be okay, Buffy," she told her. "The doctor said she'd have reactions like this at first. You know, post-traumatic stress and all. But she'll get better. You'll see."
I was too angry to be reassuring. All I could think about was what I had just seen on that security tape. Before I knew it, I blurted out bitterly, "I'm not surprised after what that bastard did to her. He stood right there and watched, ordered it all, even did it himself!"
"Who? Travers?" Buffy asked. She grew grim and turned to Willow. "Show me," she demanded.
"Buffy, please…" Willow begged. "Don't do this to yourself."
Buffy flashed her own version of the 'resolve' face, so Willow had no choice but to give in. She sat back down in her chair and maximized her screen. She reset the recording to start from the beginning and then paused it.
"This footage is from the day we got her out," Will explained, "but all along, in all the sessions Travers has been at, he's asked her the same question over and over: 'Whom do you serve?' Faith never once gave him the answer he wanted, but every time she flipped him off, the punishments got worse. Are you sure you want to see this?"
"I have to," Buffy replied.
Willow sighed and turned back to her computer. Reluctantly, she clicked the play button.
On the screen, the guards dragged Faith into the electro-shock treatment room. She looked like they'd just beaten the crap out of her, and her hair was still wet, so they must've done that water-boarding thing on her earlier. As hurt as she was, though, Faith kept fighting and cursing. When they threw her down on the gurney and started strapping her down, that was when she really lost it. She was screaming 'no' over and over, in this frantic, hysterical voice that gave us shivers.
I looked over at Buffy. Tears were streaming down her face, and she held her hand over her mouth, but she forced herself to keep watching.
As the guards strapped Faith's head to the gurney and placed the electrodes at her temples, Travers and Dr. Stahl argued over the electro-shock setting. Finally, Travers pushed Dr. Stahl aside and activated the device himself, cranking it up to its highest setting.
Faith instantly went into a grueling, body-wrenching convulsion. As Faith strained and thrashed against the straps holding her down, a strangled and muted scream came through her clenched teeth.
It was obvious that Travers was letting the shock go on way longer than he should have because even Stahl looked desperate to turn the machine off. Travers wasn't done, though. He leaned over Faith and scowled at her. "Defy me, will you?" he taunted. "Your pain has only just begun! I will break you. I WILL!!!"
After that, Travers stood up and cut the power, and Faith's convulsions stopped. Travers stepped back, and Dr. Stahl rushed forward. As Travers calmly went about straightening his tie, Dr. Stahl hurriedly checked Faith's pulse and breathing.
"She's alive," Dr. Stahl said in a relieved tone. The guards seemed relieved, too, but Travers was back to being Mr. Stone-Faced Cold-Heart.
"When she has regained consciousness, chain her in her cell," he told them. "Use the collar position this time."
When Travers strode from the room, Willow stopped the recording, and we both looked over at Buffy. What we saw scared the bejeesus out of us. I mean, Buffy's always had those 'killer glares' that she gives demons, but this was waaayyyy beyond that. Buffy had murder in her eyes.
All she said was, "I'm going to kill that son of a bitch." Then she rushed out of the room.
Rupert and I were having tea in the waiting room, discussing the importance of procuring intensive, long-term counseling for Faith, when Buffy descended upon us. I assumed that she had come to speak with Rupert, but no, she bore down on me instead.
"I want you to get me back inside the Council, now!" Buffy said in a cold, hard voice.
"What?!" Rupert and I said in simultaneous reply.
"Do I need to get an American-to-British translator?!!" Buffy barked. "I want back in the Council, and I want it now!!!"
When Buffy's out-of-breath friends arrived on the scene, Rupert turned to them and asked, "Willow, Xander, what's going on? What's this all about?"
"She saw the video," Willow explained.
"And now she wants to kill Quentin Travers," Xander added. "Even more than she wanted to kill him before."
Buffy glared at Rupert and me. "Any other questions?"
"Don't you 'now Buffy' me!" she shot back. "Did you see the video? Did you see what he did?"
"Yes, I did," Rupert admitted, "and, like you, I want to see Quentin punished for what he's done, but you simply cannot take matters into your own hands."
Buffy shook her head then said, "That man deserves to die."
"But you don't," Rupert countered gently. He moved closer and dared to touch his slayer's shoulders. I was afraid she wouldn't let him, but she did. "Buffy, surely you know…if you go there to mete out vengeance against Quentin, it's only going to get you killed."
Buffy's eyes filled with tears, and her voice broke. "He should pay, Giles…he needs to pay..."
"I know, and he will, I promise you. But you must think of Faith. She needs you. Now more than ever."
"Besides," Willow added, "I-I-I have a better idea, a safer idea. One that doesn't involve you getting killed or rotting away in a British prison." When all eyes turned to her, she announced, "I call it 'remote Revenge'."
CHAIR OF THE COMMAND COUNCIL OF THE WATCHERS COUNCIL
You can imagine how surprised I was to receive that email. It was accurately addressed to me: Benjamin Rayne, Chair of the Command Council of the Watchers Council. Its return address indicated that it was from Quentin Travers; its content, however, soon revealed that it hadn't come from Quentin at all.
The evidence contained therein was shocking to say the least. As Chair of the Disciplinary Committee, Quentin had been given free rein to handle the situation with Slayer Lehane. If we on the Command Council had known how cruelly disturbed he was, we most certainly would have removed him from all positions of authority.
Still, the email was very explicit in its instructions: take Quentin Travers and his lackeys into custody and be ready to negotiate at a video conference the following day. Failure to comply would result in an international, multi-media revelation, not only of Quentin's malfeasance but also of the Council's existence and operations.
With no other avenue available to us within the indicated timeline, we did as the email instructed.
Giles's brother lent us some equipment and allowed us to set up for our video conference in one of the larger consultation rooms on the first floor. After Faith's incident in the scanning room, we all agreed that she probably shouldn't be a part of the conference, so it was just me, Giles, Buffy, and Xander. Mrs. Summers and Althenea were staying with Faith.
When we reached the pre-arranged time, Giles and Buffy took their places in front of the video camera I'd connected to my laptop. I ran a feed from my computer to a large TV so that they could see what was on my screen. Once Xander gave me a thumbs-up from behind the camera tripod, I activated our end of the connection and sent a message to the Chair of the Command Council. Within seconds, the video link was established, and the stern face of Benjamin Rayne appeared on the screen. Behind him were a dozen similarly-sour-looking men sitting at a large conference table.
"Rupert," Chairman Rayne said evenly.
"Benjamin," Giles replied in kind.
Rayne let his gaze fall on Buffy but then turned away and addressed Giles. "I assume you have some sort of demand to make?"
"We do," Giles stated. "First, we want Quentin Travers, his guards, and Dr. Stahl punished for what they've done to Faith."
"Quentin, I understand, but the others…" Rayne said, "…well, they were just following orders."
"They beat and tortured an eighteen-year-old girl for days," Giles said savagely. "They are NOT excused by 'orders'!"
Rayne narrowed his eyes and then glanced away. After a moment he looked back and said, "Very well. Quentin has already been incarcerated in a psychiatric facility. He's apparently had a complete break with reality. He'll undoubtedly remain there for the rest of his life. The others will be disciplined. You have my word."
"Good," Giles said before continuing with the demands. "Second, we want the Council to leave us in peace. There will be no attempts to recall either Faith or Buffy…no retaliations against them, their families, or their friends…and no interference of any kind, particularly not in the case of Allan Finch's death. If you fail to honor these demands, we will release the evidence we've collected. You may have friends in high places, but you also have enemies, and I know who those enemies are. Do not test me."
"And if you're thinking you can get to my evidence stash here on my handy dandy laptop," I interjected as Xander swung the camera around to me, "think again. I've got multiple copies hidden on servers around the world, ready to deploy at a moment's notice. Face it, gentlemen, I've got ya by the short hairs."
When Xander swung the camera back, Giles asked Rayne, "So, are we agreed?"
"One more thing," Buffy said, cutting in. As she turned toward the camera, her expression transformed into that same ultra-scary look that Xander and I had seen on her face the previous day. Her eyes practically burned through the video feed as she slowly said, "If you do anything to hurt Faith or my friends or my family, I will kill you. That goes for all of you. I know slayers aren't supposed to kill humans, but in my book, none of you qualify, so my conscience is clear."
Buffy's threat made me shiver, and I'm her best friend! I could tell by the look on Rayne's face that he felt it, too. Satisfied that he'd gotten her message, Buffy signaled to me to sever the connection, so I did.
As soon as the link was broken, we all heaved a sigh of relief. Buffy turned to Giles and asked, "Do you think he'll keep his end of the bargain?"
"I do," Giles answered, "but it doesn't mean we're out of danger. The leadership of the Council could change. There's always the possibility that rogue elements could seek us out. Still, we've made our situation as safe as we can."
"Now all we need to do is get Faith out of here," Buffy said. "Get her home where she belongs, where she can get better. I'm not exactly sure how we're gonna do that yet, but we'll figure it out."
Xander snickered and gave me a nudge. "Can we tell 'em about the money now?"
Giles and Buffy looked at us curiously. "What money?" Buffy asked.
"You haven't been stealing again, have you?" Giles objected. "We'll have to pay all that back, you know…"
"We won't have to pay this back," Xander said with delight. "Tell 'em, Will."
I know I was grinning like the Cheshire cat, but I couldn't help myself. "Turns out Quentin's been a naughty boy in the finance department," I told them as Xander and I came out from behind the equipment to join Buffy and Giles. "He's been skimming from the Council funds for years. He has quite a hefty nest egg tucked away in the Caymans--or used to have, I should say, until I transferred ownership to Faith. I'll spread it out into a variety of U.S. accounts before we leave."
"How…how much?" Buffy asked in disbelief.
"Over ten million dollars."
After a jaw-dropping, eye-blinking moment of complete and utter shock, Buffy snatched me up in a hug, fortunately without her slayer strength. "You are a Goddess!" she told me. "A web-hackin', bad-guy smackin' Internet Goddess!"
"I helped," Xander playfully interjected. "If I hadn't kept Will fueled with bad British coffee and Cadbury Crunchies, she never woulda cracked it."
Buffy laughed and told him, "Of course, you helped. You always help." She pulled Xander into the hug as well. "Thank you both so much."
When Buffy released us, I shrugged and said, "I figured Quentin and the Council owed her, you know? Plus, she's gonna need a lot of help once she's back home."
"She is indeed," Giles said. "You've done a very good thing, Willow."
"Of course, with ten mil in the bank, we don't exactly have to fly coach," Xander pointed out. "What'd'ya say to a private luxury jet that we have all to ourselves?"
"That sounds wonderful," Buffy confessed.
After another day of recovery at the base hospital, Faith was well enough to travel home to Sunnydale. Thanks to Willow's confiscation of Quentin's embezzlement fund, we had been able to charter a private jet for our return trip to the States. With clearance from my brother, it would be allowed to pick us up right here at RMB Chivenor.
Fearing retaliation from the Council despite Benjamin Rayne's reassurances to the contrary, I had asked Willow to mask our travel plans any way she could. She had chirped a chipper 'no problem' and immediately proceeded to hack into the CAA (the Civil Aviation Authority). I must confess that there are times when Willow's abilities truly frighten me.
At any rate, as we waited for the charter to arrive, we were all gathered in the lobby of the hospital. Faith had already been discharged and was now dressed in a pair of jeans and a RAF sweatshirt as she sat in the wheelchair she'd been brought down in. Although her slayer healing was beginning to kick in, she was still bruised and easily exhausted and continued to be great deal of pain.
When we saw our motor escort pull up to the entrance, we began repeating our thanks and saying our good-byes to Reggie and Althenea and to many others who had assisted us in the rescue or had cared for Faith during her stay at the base hospital. Eventually we pried ourselves away and joined our escort.
Within minutes, we were at the airstrip. As the RAF airmen saw to our bags, we stood gawking at the sleek jet before us.
"Is that mine?" Faith asked in disbelief as Buffy helped her move closer to the aircraft.
"Nope, it's just a charter," Willow crowed. "But it could be. You're a bona fide millionaire, Faith."
Faith shot Willow a grateful smile but then shook her head. "Still can't believe it."
Buffy moved in front of Faith and gave her a warm kiss. "Believe it, babe."
As Faith started up the jet's steep and narrow steps, I stayed right behind her to make sure that she didn't fall. It took her a full minute or more, but she did it.
The climb wiped her out, though, and she was breathing hard as we walked through the cabin and claimed the couch at the back. Faith groaned as she sat down, and I saw her face twitch in pain.
"Do you want one of your meds?" I asked in concern.
Faith grimaced again but refused the offer. "Not yet. Let's wait till we're in the air."
I nodded in reply, and we sat in silence as the rest of the gang boarded the jet, and the crew prepared us for takeoff. Soon we were roaring off the runway and into the sky.
As cool as it was, it didn't take long for the excitement of the luxury jet to give way to exhaustion. Willow was the first to go, dozing off right in the middle of Xander's demonstration of the on-board satellite TV. Mom and Giles were next. With no one else to talk to, Xander settled into his seat and fell sound asleep. When she saw Faith stretch out on the couch and put her head in my lap, the flight attendant eased our way and asked us if we wanted the cabin lights dimmed. I told her yes. After doing so, she slipped out of the cabin and into the galley, allowing us our privacy.
I knew it wouldn't be long before Faith's pain medication kicked in, and there was something I wanted to tell her. I leaned down and smiled at her, then lightly stroked her cheek.
"I know I've already said it, but…I love you so much, and I am so proud of you. How you held on…it was just incredible. You are incredible."
Faith smiled back and said, "You know what kept me going?"
I shook my head.
"You," she whispered. "I knew if I kept thinking of you, they couldn't break me."
I swallowed down the lump in my throat and kissed her.
"That's us…" I told her, "…unbreakable."
It's been six months since we brought Faith home from England. Thanks to Willow, the Council has kept its distance--and its nose out of our business. And, due to lack of evidence, the Allan Finch investigation has been put into the unsolved file at the Sunnydale PD, where hopefully it will stay forever. Faith's got enough to deal with as it is.
She was pretty much a wreck at first, as you can imagine. Physically she was healing okay, but emotionally she was…like I said, a wreck…a sixty-car pileup on the interstate kind of wreck.
One day early on, she gave me a real scare. I went out to pick up some lunch, and when I came back, she wasn't upstairs. I looked all over the house and finally found her in the basement. She was sitting on the floor, leaning against the dryer. She was wearing only her robe, and her hair was damp as if she'd just gotten out of the shower. But what scared me was that she had a butcher knife in her hand. I could tell she'd been crying, but now she was just staring at the knife in her lap. I crept forward slowly and softly called out her name. When she lifted her head to look at me, my heart just broke. Her eyes were so…I don't even have a word for how hopeless and anguished they were.
"I can't live like this," she whispered.
I knelt in front of her and gently touched her bare leg. I didn't want to frighten her by lunging straight for the knife, so I said, "Faith, I know you're hurting, but this isn't the way. Please give me the knife."
She shook her head and gripped the knife more tightly. "I can't function…I can't even take a fuckin' shower without having a breakdown…I can't…I can't…"
Her voice cracked, and she started to cry again. When she pulled her knees to her chest and wrapped her arms around her legs, I grabbed her fist. She didn't resist when I eased the knife from her fingers and set it aside on the floor.
"I can't do it, B, I can't…" she cried. "Why didn't they just kill me? God, I wish I was dead…"
All I could do was hold her and tell her everything would be okay, that she wouldn't always feel like this. And, luckily, time didn't make a liar out of me.
It took me a while to climb outta that circle o' hell I was in at first, but I finally did it. With help, of course. I couldn't have done it without Buffy…and everybody else. Annnnd as much as I hate to admit it, the thousands of dollars' worth of shrink visits didn't hurt, either.
I wish I could say that I was 100%, but I'm not. I don't think I ever will be.
But, hey…I'm better'n I was, and I'm slaying again, so I'm good--as good as I'm gonna get, I guess.
I still get triggered sometimes--the shower, the rain on my face, even an innocent pop of static electricity. I never really know when a flashback is gonna hit me. At least they're not as bad as they were. I can go a whole week, sometimes two, without having one.
Some of my memories are gone, though. Doc says it was the shock treatment that probably did it. Far as I can tell, most of what got zapped away was pre-Sunnydale, so no big loss there, except that…sometimes I feel…I don't know…disconnected or something.
Anyway, me and B are still together, believe it or not. And her mom and Giles and the rest of the gang--they're like my family now. More of a family than I ever had back home.
It's been weird, though…having people who care. Especially somebody like Buffy. I really thought she would've given up on me by now, but she hasn't. She's been pretty amazing, actually.
Back when all the Council stuff went down, she told me I was strong, that I could take anything. Truth is, she's the strong one. She's taken sooo much shit from me over the last six months.
And I've given her an out I don't know how many times. I've said, "Look--I'm damaged goods, and we both know it, so just go out there and find somebody who isn't so fucked up."
But she's never taken me up on it. Hasn't even considered it. Not even once. And that just makes me love her more.
Maybe she was right. Maybe we are unbreakable--together at least.
Hell, if we can make it through all this, we can make it through anything.
You know what? I think I just figured out what my next tatt is gonna be--and Buffy's first, if I can talk her into it:
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