Faith was pretty sure that her early morning walk down soft rock lane was affecting her brain when she and Angel finally made the truck stop. The digital 6:00 AM on the dashboard clock had her half-giddily remembering a Monkees song about daydream believers and six o'clock alarms that never ring.
"This is it. See any car you recognize?" Angel asked.
"Nope. Doesn't mean he's driving anything I would recognize," Faith replied. "He could've switched horses."
"Right. I'll leave you here. Let's not spook him with too many people waiting in ambush."
"Besides, it's not like you can leave the car, right?"
Angel looked longingly out the windshield. "Right," he replied softly.
Faith took a deep breath. "I'm outta here. Wish me luck."
"Faith, wait," Angel said.
Angel reached inside his jacket and pulled out a small pendant and something that looked like a credit card. "Lorne couldn't tell me why, but he was pretty adamant that you keep this pendant with you at all times and, once you settle down, you keep it in your primary residence."
"I've seen this before. It will shield you from any locator spells."
Faith's eyes widened. "Willow."
"I'm guessing, if she's half as powerful as I believe. And this," Angel held up the credit card-looking object, "is an ATM card."
"Hunh?" Faith was stunned. "Why?"
"As of right now, I'm putting you on a stipend, a generous stipend, courtesy of a blind trust set up by Wolfram & Hart. You'll be able to check your balance or draw funds from any bank in the world without drawing attention to you or the fund. It's all completely untraceable."
"Angel, I don't know what to say."
"Then don't say anything. Take the card and get going."
Faith held out her hand and Angel dropped the card and pendant in her palm. She gently touched the plastic surface with a finger before taking it and the pendant and stuffing both in her pocket. Faith had never held an ATM card in her life. "Thanks," she muttered uncomfortably. "You don't have to do this."
Angel favored her with a smile. "Oh, yes I do. I mean, I got mine. What's the use of all that money if I can't help out some friends in need?"
Faith stood shivering on the side of the road in the traditional hitchhiker pose. So far four cars had stopped to offer her a ride. Since none of the drivers looked even vaguely like a Xansel in distress, she turned them all away.
"Jesus, Xander, how slow can you possibly be driving?" Faith whispered in frustration between her chattering teeth. Judging by the increasing light in the sky, she guessed she'd been standing in front of the truck stop for a half-hour.
She fingered the cell phone on her waistband and wondered if she should try and call Xander. Hell, for all she knew Lorne was wrong, her dream was crap, and Xander was safe and sound in Oxnard. Oh, yeah, like you really believe that. You may not be big on the Slayer dreaming, but you know it when you see it, Faith thought.
She briefly considered maybe calling Willow and just casually asking how Xander was doing. If anything, her dream seemed to put Willow in the trust-worthy column. Still, calling Willow? That was sure to sound the Scooby alarm.
Right. Back to calling Xander. She'd have an excuse. She promised she'd call if she made a decision. She could make all sorts of crazy claims to get him here faster. Then again, if Xander was fleeing Oxnard, he might be teetering on the edge and the last thing she wanted to do was spook him.
Fine. Element of surprise it is then. She shivered miserably as another car pulled up. She peeked in to see an off-duty police officer for one of the local towns look at her. "Where to?"
Faith fought down the panic as she firmly reminded herself that this woman would have no reason to think she was an escaped con. "Sorry. It's kinda a joke. Your car kinda looks like a car this friend of mine is driving. He's supposed to pick me up and he's late. As usual," Faith said with as broad a smile as she could muster.
"That's a relief. A young girl like you shouldn't be sticking your thumb out for a ride," the cop replied.
"Gotchya. Stupid ain't stamped on my forehead," Faith said, maintaining her smile. She stood up and gave a friendly slap on the car's roof. "Thanks anyway!"
Faith the woman wave and watched the car speed off. When the taillights faded, she let her face relax into a worried frown. She had to get out of the escaped con mentality, especially since even if anyone checked, she was a free and full citizen of the good ol' U.S. of A.
"That's it Xander. On the count of three, your car is coming straight down that road and I'm jumping in front of it," Faith groused. "One. Two…" Her eyes opened wide in shock as she saw one rusted Buick Century weaving its way down the two-lane highway. "Son of a…" she began.
It couldn't be. If Xander was making a break for it, he couldn't possibly be so stupid as to be driving the car he bought this far away from Oxnard. Smart people would've dumped the car and boosted a new one.
Smart people, or people still capable of rational thought.
Faith steeled herself and jumped into the road, wildly waving her arms, forcing the car to come to a screeching halt just inches away from her thighs. She slammed her hands down on the hood and peered through the windshield. Staring back at her was one moon-faced, exhausted, one-eyed, brunette male who looked shocked to see her.
The Slayer fled to the driver's side door, yanked it open, and shouted, "Move over. Move over right now!"
"I don't have time for this! Slide your butt over now and let me drive!" Faith screamed.
Xander threw the car into park and scrambled over to the passenger side while Faith slid into the driver's seat, slamming the door behind her. She made a great show of looking in the rearview mirror before shifting the car back into drive and slamming her foot down on the gas. As the car accelerated to 60 mph, Faith looked over her shoulder and commented, "Good. I'm not being followed."
"Faith, what the hell happened!" Xander exploded.
"Some cops made me and I had to scoot. I'm pretty sure I was dogged all the way here," Faith said. "Hey! How did you know I was going to be here?"
"I…I…didn't," Xander hesitated.
"You didn't?" Faith frowned while her brain raced. "Then what are you doing so far from Oxnard?"
"Ummm, I was, ah, starting my sabbatical."
"Really? The way B was talking, she made it sound like you were sticking around for the long haul." Faith glanced at him to gage his reaction.
Xander dejectedly slumped in the passenger seat, a clear sign that he wasn't being entirely truthful about the 'sabbatical.' "I take it you're going back to Oxnard."
The man's—demon, he's a demon, Faith corrected herself—defeated tone tore her heart just a little. His desire to return to the presence of Queen Buffy apparently was lower than her own.
"Can't. The APB is out and just about every cop in this state is gunning for my ass. The last thing B and the others need is me leading a SWAT team to the motel."
"You'd think Angel and his evil law firm could do something about that," Xander remarked without much heat.
"Fred's working on it, but that shit takes time. They have to search something like a million electronic databases and delete my name from the 'wanted files.' Plus, Fred's all hot and heavy to do a really thorough job and erase all records of my arrest and conviction." She tried not to let any pride in her whopper of a story shine through in her voice.
"How long will it take?"
"Fred said something like six months to a year, but Angel was pretty sure if I stuck close to the corporate office, they could hide me pretty safely. One stupid vampire staking in Beverly Hills shot that idea all to hell." Wow, this story is getting better and better, Faith marveled. Hope I remember it if Xander decides to ask for details.
"If it's possible, your luck is almost as bad as mine."
"Yeah, well, Angel told me to take off while he diddled with the cops and try to throw them off the scent, but I don't think it worked. Some cop saw me while I was hitchhiking early this morning and I've been ducking and covering ever since. Man, I am soooo glad you came along."
"What can I do?"
"'What can I do,' he asks," Faith snorted. "You've got the wheels to get my ass out of California. I can't stay here."
"Faith? The whole point of my little vacation is to be alone, not have some crazy-assed Slayer dragging me all over hell and creation on some…"
Faith slammed her foot on the brake, bringing the car to sharp stop. Xander, who had thus far failed to put on his seatbelt, slammed into dashboard with an impressive thud. "Who are you calling crazy?" she demanded.
"Certainly not you, since you seem hell bent on breaking every bone in my body." Xander growled.
"Okay, look. Sorry. I'm just scared." Well, at least that much is true, Faith allowed herself.
"Faith? No offense, but could you start driving again? We're stopped in the middle of the road."
"Fine," Faith huffed, as she urged the car forward.
Xander quickly buckled himself in while glaring at his hijacker. "I thought you were seriously thinking of turning yourself in."
"I was, but Angel convinced me I could do more good on the outside," Faith said. "Plus, Xander, you should see the sweet set-up he's got. The penthouse, the fully-equipped training room, gourmet food in the employee cafeteria, hot and cold running men…"
"Sounds like torture," Xander said.
"Yeah, well, if prison was anything like that, I'd be all, 'Chain me to the wall.' Plus, did I tell you? I even got an allowance."
Xander blinked. "Who are you and what have you done with Faith?"
"Look, I'm just saying that if you're going to help save the world, there's no point in doing it while collecting food stamps, know what I mean? Besides, it's not like I spent any of it. I tucked it away in a bank account just in case," Faith shrugged.
"I still don't see why you need me to…"
"Company," Faith quickly said. "I mean you're taking a vacay anyway, right? And I'm thinkin' it's about time I made a triumphant return to Boston."
"Boston? Faith, staying in the country is not your smartest move. I've read John Grisham and let me tell you the FBI has wanted posters of you plastered from here to the ends of the earth."
"Shit." Faith felt schizophrenic. She had to act normal in public, but like a wanted con in front of Xander. Her simple little scheme was becoming a damn sight less simple. "Look, I gotta stay out of the hands of the law until Angel works his magic. I don't care if it means I gotta live in an igloo in the Great White North."
"Fine, so let's go straight to Canada then."
"Wanted posters, remember? Can't cross the border." Damn, I'm fucking awesome, Faith thought with some satisfaction. "Besides, I got a stash of weapons in Boston and right now we got jack shit."
"You thought far enough ahead to have a stash of weapons in Boston," Xander said suspiciously.
"Not me. My watcher. She rented long-term storage and I've got a fucking arsenal just waiting for me."
"Wanted con. Weapons. Not seeing the good here."
"Look, what the hell do you want? To get out of this Land of the Free and Home of the Brave of ours I need a passport. Right now all I got is a shiny new ATM card and no ID." Faith was reaching and she knew it. "I need to find a place where I can disappear in the crowd and lay low until Angel gets the goods to me or Fred gives me the all clear."
"But Boston? Faith, someone might recognize you there and…"
"Hey, Boston's the old stomping grounds. I know it so well that I can disappear without a trace." Faith illustrated her point with a snap of her fingers.
"Fine. Your funeral." Xander crossed his arms in disgust. "And let me just add that there's one other little flaw with your not-so-master plan."
"Flaw? What the fuck are you talking about?"
"While I'm touched you've targeted me for some quality carjacking, I really don't think I'm the safest person to hang with right now."
Faith gripped the steering wheel and did her best to hold her concentration on the road. "Why?"
"I just don't." Xander's tone made it pretty clear he would not discuss it further.
"There's your argument, then. I'm a Slayer and I can kick your ass if you suddenly start acting unsafe. In exchange, you help me get to Boston." When Xander remained silent, Faith added, "It'll only be for a week, two tops. Once I get settled in my hidey-hole and figure out how to get my ass out of the country with a minimum of violence, you can take off for parts unknown and I won't stop ya. My honor as a Girl Scout."
"You were never a Girl Scout."
"Was too, oh, wait, was not. I got kicked out of the Brownies my first week because I didn't know how to use an iron." She looked at him, letting her lower lip quiver. "Please Xander, I really need your help here."
Xander closed his eye and gave a defeated sigh. "Fine. I'll help smuggle you to Boston—I still say you're better off in Mexico—and then I'm outta your hair. Deal?"
"Deal," Faith nodded.
A few moments of uncomfortable silence passed before Xander ventured a question. "Faith?"
"Do you even know how to get to Boston?"
Faith bit her lip, realizing that the last time she traveled cross-country she was hoping freight trains to stay one step ahead of Kakistos. "You head away from the Pacific. Right?"
END Chapter One Where Fools Go