The red Sebring came to a jerky stop at the intersection. It waited a moment, then fishtailed slightly as the driver stepped too hard on the accelerator. The tires finally bit into the asphalt and the car shot away.
Cordelia rubbed at her eyes with the heel of her right hand. She grimaced in disgust as she saw it come away black. She hazarded a quick glance in the mirror. Her face was a mask of tears and running mascara.
She was driving too fast as she approached the driveway and she braked hard, the Sebring pitching forward, nose-down. She twisted the wheel, the power steering whining in protest as she wrenched the car into the drive. Sobbing, vision blurry with tears, Cordelia took great care to slow down. She punched the button on the garage-door opener and came to a stop as the door crept up.
The Jag was gone (of course), but the new Lexus RX 300 her mom had gotten for Christmas was in the garage. Cordelia maneuvered the Sebring into place; as she turned off the engine she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror.
The sight was shocking—Cordelia Chase, queen of Sunnydale High, her face covered in tears, mascara, and snot, her hair an undone mess. A bruise appeared to be forming on her chin where she'd landed on the library floor. She looked down. The cut on her leg had scabbed over and tracks of dried blood disappeared into her shoe.
She got out of the car and limped to the door. It opened into a small hallway leading to the mud room. Cordelia stifled her crying and listened. She heard nothing. Her hand turned the knob as slowly as possible and she looked in. No one in the office just to the left, but that was no surprise. She crept down the hall and turned into the mud room. The breakfast room was straight ahead, the stairs to the second floor on her right. No one in sight. Snuffling quietly, she put her foot on the stairs. She was just about to go up when she heard movement. Steps, muffled by the thick plush carpet, moving from the great room into the kitchen. Cordelia flattened herself against the wall and held her breath. Steps louder as they crossed onto the tiled floor of the kitchen. Cabinet doors opened and closed, the soft pneumatic hiss of the Sub-Zero refrigerator being breached, sounds in the kitchen, then the steps moving away, back onto the carpet. As the sounds receded back to the great room, Cordelia crept up the stairs.
Faith finished jamming her clothing into the bag and zipped it closed in one furious motion. She slipped the carry strap over her shoulder and stepped to the door. She turned and looked back, hand on the light switch. As she glanced around the room, her eyes fell on another bag, stuffed under the bed. Lindsay's bag. A sharp, stabbing pain lanced through Faith's chest and her eyes filled with tears. She stumbled across the room and pulled the bag from under the bed. It was unzipped and various items of clothing spilled out of the opening. Faith's hand reached down and touched a black sweater. The dark Slayer brought it to her face. It still smelled of Lindsay. Blinded by her tears, Faith fumbled to open her bag, then stuffed the sweater inside. She picked up the bag and returned to the door. She looked around the room again. Her eyes saw it for the shabby, low-rent accommodation it was, but her breaking heart saw the only place where she had ever felt like there was a chance for... for anything. She turned and wrenched the door open with enough force to yank the screws of the top hinge free of the frame. Stepping onto the cracked concrete step, she headed toward the dumpster. As she passed it, she tossed the second bag in. It was as close to a burial as she could give Lindsay; the pervert motel manager wouldn't be able to sell the dead Watcher's clothing to pay any bills. Faith stood by the dumpster for a moment, her hand resting on the cold steel. She bowed her head.
"Good-bye, Lindsay," she whispered. She straightened and looked around, one last look at Sunnydale. "Good-bye," she said in a stronger voice. "Good-bye and go to hell." She walked away into the night, turning up the collar of her jacket.
Xander stood in the parking lot of the ValleyView and looked at the door of Number 6 hanging from its lower hinges. It was pretty obvious that Faith was gone. He turned a complete circle, looking for some sign of what he should do next.
For a brief, mad moment he had considered going out to Cordelia's house, but sanity reasserted itself. He'd called about twenty times already but, surprise surprise, she wasn't picking up. He didn't know what he'd say if she answered. There wasn't much gray area here; he was wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. After all he'd said about being there for Cordelia, about being supportive, he'd dropped his pants and done the dance the first time Faith winked at him. He, Alexander Lavelle Harris, was beneath contempt. Contempt would have to dig down several feet to find him.
Where could Faith be? Pretty obviously she had checked out of the ValleyView for the last time. Xander ran through a mental checklist. Airport didn't seem likely—plane tickets cost money and he hadn't seen much evidence of Faith possessing any. Ditto the bus—cheaper, but still requiring currency. Faith didn't seem like the kind of person to stow away on a ship so that left—
"Train," he whispered, but where would she try to catch one? Two possibilities presented themselves—either down by the port, or at the downtown terminal. The downtown terminal was closer. Xander thrust his hands into the pockets of his jacket and headed that way, past the dumpster and out into the darkening evening.
Willow and Oz sat on the sofa in the Rosenberg living room. The TV was dark, no music played on the stereo, no lights were on. They sat side by side, held hands, and watched the shadows of night creep in through the window.
"What's going to happen?" Willow asked.
Oz shrugged. "Don't know. We did what Giles asked. I don't know what else we could do."
"But shouldn't we do something?"
Oz shook his head. "We got Buffy to her mom."
"And so now we sit and wait?" Willow fretted.
"There's been enough damage for one day." Oz put his arm around Willow. "Let's not make it worse by thrashing around."
Joyce Summers sat on the edge of her daughter's bed. Buffy had cried herself to sleep, just as a baby would. Joyce had held her close, feeling the Slayer's slight frame shaking with sobs until, exhausted beyond even her formidable strength, Buffy had collapsed into slumber. Joyce reached out and touched her daughter's hand. That hand, the nails tipped in pink polish, seemed far too fragile to belong to a girl called to save the world. Willow and Oz's hasty explanation of the problem, delivered as they half-carried a sobbing Buffy into the living room, hadn't been exceptionally clear, but Joyce had garnered the gist of it. She covered her mouth with a hand, stifling hysterical laughter. Teenagers! Even with the fate of the world at stake, sex was still the biggest land mine. The inappropriate laugh turned to a long, shaking sigh. As the evening breeze picked up, Joyce brushed the hair from the Slayer's forehead and watched her daughter, her only child.
As the last light faded and the room passed into the final purple stages of twilight, Cordelia pulled herself up from her bed. She stumbled into her bathroom, ran warm water in the sink, and took a hand towel from the cabinet. She scrubbed her face hard, scraping away makeup and dried tears, turning the water murky and gray. She finally looked up at the mirror. Her skin looked pale and raw, her eyes red and swollen. She pulled her hair back into a ponytail and crept back to her bedroom. She changed into flannel pajama pants, navy blue scattered with small triangles of orange and yellow, and a white T-shirt. She took a fresh pillowcase from the closet shelf and put the soiled case, damp from tears and stiff with mascara and… other substances, into the laundry hamper. Her tired, aching body longed to slip beneath the covers, but she knew she had to do one more thing. Choking back fresh tears that threatened to burst forth, Cordelia started down the shadowy, winding main staircase. The house might be dark, but she knew it wasn't empty.
Mr. Quisling left the restaurant and paused on the sidewalk, checking the weather. The wind had picked up. He buttoned his cashmere overcoat against it and turned left. His car was in the restaurant's lot, beside the building. He turned left again at the corner. As he stepped out of the streetlight's pool of illumination into the dark, a chill raced through him. Annoyed, he shook his head as he unlocked the door of his car and climbed in.
He locked the doors and turned the key. Nothing happened. He frowned and tried again. Nothing.
He turned toward a rapping sound at the window. A man stood there, a length of twisted wires in his hand. Three pieces of information arrived at Quisling's brain almost immediately.
First, those wires were from his car's ignition system, thus his inability to move.
Second, the "man" in question was not a man, but a vampire dressed in rough, mismatched clothing.
Third, he was in a great deal of trouble.
The third fact was verified as the passenger window exploded inward and he was dragged from the car.
Florestan waited patiently. A few minutes on hold meant little to one who had lived for centuries already and would live for centuries more. The line clicked in his ear.
"Yes," he said. "I don't want to waste any of your time, so I'll get right to the point. I have been reviewing your contract. I keep coming back to one particular clause. It states, and I'm quoting here, 'The object or objects shall be delivered in the best and/or most useable condition possible.'"
He waited for a moment, listening. "Yes, well, it's our contention that until we have an thorough understanding of any rituals, sacraments, ceremonies, or rites connected with the item, the contract is not fulfilled. And you know what happens to those in our line of work who don't honor contracts."
He hung up the phone and leaned back in his chair. "Belt and suspenders," he said.
Faith felt the gravel crunch underneath her shoes as she shifted her weight. The wind was whipping pretty good, and she turned up her collar and hunched her shoulders inside her jacket. The motion caused the duffel bag to thump against her thigh. She pulled her wind-blown hair from her face and tucked it up under the watch cap. She looked down the tracks and when she looked back he was standing across the tracks. He looked terrible, hunched inside that corduroy jacket, his face pale in the darkness.
"Hey, Xander," Faith said. "What's up? Ooh, sorry."
"Hilarious. You're a regular Carrot Top."
"Sticks and stones, Xan. Sticks and stones."
Xander stepped carefully over the tracks and stopped a few feet away from her. "Yeah, but words really hurt this time, didn't they?"
Faith shrugged. "Only 'cause they were true."
Xander bit his lip and kicked at the gravel. "That was really lousy, Faith."
Faith's grin mocked him. "I didn't cheat on anybody."
He nodded. "I get it. I'm scum. I'm what scum scrapes off its shoe. Scum looks at me and says 'Hey, I'm not that guy.' All true. I'm a jackass. But Cordelia didn't deserve that."
"Cordelia ought to thank me. I just showed her that her boyfriend couldn't be trusted." Faith cocked her head. "Besides, where was all this concern for Cordy last night?" Xander ducked his head. Faith leaned forward. "You weren't thinking of her while I was, uh, mmmmm, were you?"
Xander looked stricken. "That's low."
"I call bullshit." Faith's voice was hard and flat. "I don't think she ever crossed your mind while you were taking off your pants." Faith smiled at him. "Hey, don't be so hard on yourself. You were pretty good. It's Cordelia's loss. Who knows, maybe last night wasn't a one-time thing." She laughed again as Xander gaped. "You want that, don't you? All your concern and guilt, it's just a sham. You want a little more, you just don't want anyone else to think you're a skank for gettin' it." Faith laughed as the wind tore through her hair. "You're pathetic."
"You're right, I am. I betrayed someone who trusted me, just like you."
"Me?" Faith's anger flared.
"Yeah, you. Cordelia trusted me and I... I failed her. But at least I can say it was a moment of weakness. You, you did this on purpose, and you did it to Buffy, and to all of us. We trusted you-"
"Fuck you!" Faith screamed. "Why is it all about you? You're all so selfish. 'Oh, Faith, you were so meeeeaaaannnn to us.' Buncha babies, you make me puke."
"You could have been—you were one of us. You still could be. They are good people, and you know how I know? Because as bad as I've been, as terrible as what I did was, they will still be my friends. I failed, but we've all failed, and gotten past it. Buffy knows. She's done it before. When she thought the Master might be resurrected, last summer… Willow, Willow fell in love with a demon on the Internet. We've been there. I know you're hurting since Lindsay—"
"Don't you say her name!" Faith bawled at the top of her lungs. "Don't you ever say her name!" She swung the duffel bag at him. It was too large and clumsy for the blow to do much damage, but it knocked him off-balance. She dropped the bag and began to rain blows on his head and shoulders. Xander ducked and covered as much as possible. The blows hurt, a lot. He stumbled backward and fell.
Faith stood over him, panting. The cap had been knocked from her head and her hair blew wild and free. Xander scrambled back crabwise.
The train whistle blew.
Faith turned. The light cut through the darkness, two hundred yards down the track. It was slow, gathering speed after passing through the terminal yard. Faith kicked gravel at the cowering Xander, then grabbed the bag and began to run toward the tracks. Xander got to his feet and hurried after her. Faith drew even with the train, Xander pounding after her. The Slayer grabbed the rungs of the ladder, duffel bag bouncing off her hip. Xander strained to catch her. She took three long strides and swung her feet up onto the ladder.
Xander grabbed the duffel bag. He barely kept his feet. "Faith," he screamed. "Don't."
"Let go!" she yelled and yanked the bag from his hands. Xander stumbled, lurching forward and to his left. Toward the train. He threw up his hands as he fell toward the flashing wheels.
The front corner of the trailing car caught him in the back. His head snapped back, searing pain filling his skull. He whirled away, felt his right arm strike the side of the car and knew, in an oddly detached way, that his forearm was shattered. He bounced away from the boxcar and landed on his left foot. The leg folded, breaking like the stem of a crystal goblet. He flopped to the ground, the pain so intense that his nervous system could no longer process it. Blackness rolled over him in a wave.
Faith hung on the ladder. Xander's body was soon swallowed up in the darkness and she was alone. Gone. Gone from Sunnydale.
End of "Tore Down House."