ETERNAL NO LONGER

Part III


MAIN STREET: 10 PM THAT NIGHT


Faith walked down the street, looking into store windows and generally not looking like someone who had just committed felony assault five minutes after awakening from a five-month coma. Her apartment had remained untouched, surprisingly enough, and she had broken in and taken the money and supplies she had stockpiled there in case of emergency. A quick but expert application of a set of clippers had changed her long hair into a rough approximation of the look that Janine Turner had made popular a few years back, and a little dye made what was left of her hair jet black. The clothes she bought didn't hang quite right on her, with her recent weight loss, but the changed look was what she was after: the wardrobe was far more Cordelia-esque than she thought anyone she knew would picture her as. . .she still looked hot, she mused, but in a new way.

The Slayer thought about calling a taxi, but the train station was within walking distance: why add another person who would remember having spoken to her, even in disguise? She walked briskly for several minutes, leaving the lights of Main Street behind as she approached the train station.

Abruptly, she began to feel that prickling feeling in the back of her neck that she knew, from personal experience and from talking with Buffy, meant that her Slayer intuition was trying to tell her something was seriously wrong. Without breaking stride, she began to scan the street ahead of her, and quickly spotted the tall man in a trenchcoat keeping stride with her on the other side of the street and just ahead of her. He seemed to be minding his own business, but Faith decided that, given the recent consequences of carelessness on her part, a little caution would be in order. She turned left on the next cross street, planning to take a roundabout route to the train station.

She was not shocked when a sidelong glance revealed that the man was now following her and had picked up his pace. Faith's impulse was to turn on the guy and beat him senseless. . .it had been too long since she had seriously gotten to pummel anyone; however, her Slayer instincts continued to insist that this would be a very bad idea indeed. At the next corner, she turned right, temporarily obscuring the view of her tail, then began running, inwardly cursing at having to sweat into her nice dress. . .but congratulating herself on having the foresight to wear flats with the outfit.

She heard faint cursing, then the sound of his footsteps as he began to pursue her. . .and, then, there was a second set of steps keeping time with the first. She glanced back and managed a curse of her own as she saw another guy, this one shorter, wearing a trenchcoat. * For Christ's sake, we're in Southern California! Where are all these idiots with trenchcoats coming from? * Her endurance had not been diminished by her ordeal, and she quickly outdistanced her angry pursuers. She was congratulating herself for the escape when she walked right into a fist. The blow stunned her, though she rolled at the last second and managed to come up into a crouch. . .where she found herself staring at another guy in a trenchcoat, who was smiling smugly and pointing a 9 mm pistol at Faith. "Miss Stevenson, I presume," the man commented, the pistol not wavering a centimeter as he continued, "There's someone who wants to see you. . .come along quietly."

Faith relaxed, realizing that she was not going to disarm this man unless he was distracted, and replied, "If you shoot me, it's gonna be kind of hard to bring me to your boss. . .so what's my incentive to cooperate, sweet-cheeks?"

The man looked at her with hard eyes and replied coldly, "I have orders. . .if I can't capture you, I am to kill you. The former is preferable, the latter is acceptable. What's it going to be?" Faith was about to reply when the man started momentarily, as if a chill had gone down his spine. He smiled and commented, "Here's my backup. . .I don't think we'll have any more trouble with you. . ."

A rugged looking, dark-haired man who looked like he needed a shave stepped from behind a hedge and shot Faith's captor between the eyes with the .357 Magnum in his right hand. As the stricken man fell, the newcomer commented, "On the other hand, I might prove to be an inconvenience." He turned to Faith and called out, "Faith. . .you're in big trouble. . .I was sent to get you out of it."

Faith raised an eyebrow in disbelief and retorted, "I'M in a lot of trouble! You just blew some guy's brains out on Elm Street, and I'm in a lot of trouble? You're one to talk, fella."

The man smiled grimly and nudged the body, causing the sword hidden beneath the coat to come loose and ring against the sidewalk. He indicated the blade and elaborated, "He'll be up soon. . .do you want to be here when he does?"

Faith blinked, and a certain set of memories from ten months before came flooding back to her. Her eyes widened in shock, and she replied, "Hell no. . .let's get out of here!"

The man started jogging at a good clip, and Faith followed just behind him, noting as she did that her rescuer was also dressed in a trenchcoat, and the outline of a bladed weapon was clearly visible as he ran. They reached a small rental car, and the man opened the driver side door and reached across to open the other door. Faith got in and they began driving.

After a few seconds, Faith looked at the man suspiciously and asked, "How in the hell did you find me, anyway? I went to a lot of trouble to set up this disguise."

The man smiled grimly and replied, "You're a Slayer. . .you give off vibes that Immortals can pick up. . .that's how those guys found you. . .and how I did." He met her eyes and nodded, concluding, "Nick Wolfe, former cop and current Immortal, at your service."

Faith's eyes softened a little, and Nick realized that he had passed a test. The Slayer grinned and commented, "I was wondering if you were going to admit that. . .not that you're hiding it very well. You do realize that you do stand out, wearing that thing here?"

Nick chuckled and replied, "Between that and decapitation. . .I'll take conspicuous." He turned a corner, and Faith's eyes narrowed again. She glared and him and grated, "We're going to Giles' place, aren't we. . .who sent you, anyway?"

Nick paused and looked uncomfortable. Faith's eyes went hard and she snapped, "Stop the car!" The Immortal hesitated, and Faith's gaze became still more chilly as she whispered, "Stop the car or I knock you cold and leave you to take your chances with the Ginsu guys looking for me."

Obediently, Nick pulled to the curb and waited for her to continue. The Slayer's eyes relented a bit, but her tone was still terse as she stated, "Buffy sent you, didn't she?"

Nick blinked, then replied, "Buffy and Giles, yes. . .we split up to look for you after we heard the news that you had awakened. . .we're supposed to meet back at Giles' apartment."

Faith unfastened her seatbelt, and turned to the Immortal, commenting, "Look. . .thanks for saving my ass back there, but given a choice, I'd rather take my chances with the guys who haven't actually gutted me yet." Faith began to open the car door, then felt Nick gently restrain her with his hand. Her first impulse was to carry out her threat to knock him cold, but she turned and saw the look of complete sincerity in his eyes, and the urge to strike out diminished. She sighed, and stated bluntly: "You've got one minute. . .start talking."

Nick nodded, then met Faith's gaze with sad eyes as he began, "Faith. . .I'm here with Duncan MacLeod and two of our Immortal friends. . .we came because something terrible has happened. . .Alyssa is dead."

Nick watched as the news hit Faith. . .the look in her eyes was like nothing he had seen before. . .grief, but distorted by a sense that something totally unimaginable had happened. . .something that she apparently had considered impossible. He watched her blink, then heard her ask in a small voice, "How?"

Nick told her the whole story, including what they had all seen on the tape, the involvement of Quentin Travers, and the prophecy about the Slayers. Faith's eyes were dull with shock as Nick finished the story, and the former cop was preparing to try to say something that would help her deal with her obvious grief when she blinked twice. The hard look returned, and Faith snapped, "Are we going to kill the son of a bitch?"

Nick looked at her and nodded slowly. The Slayer's eyes lit up with cold fury, and she snarled, "Then let's not waste any more time. . .I always thought that bastard would look better without his head anyway." She re-fastened her seatbelt, and turned away from Nick, staring out the window into the darkness.

The rest of the drive went by in silence, and if at times a certain amount of moisture appeared in the eyes of the newly awakened Slayer, Nick carefully refrained from commenting on it.


* * * * *


GILES' APARTMENT: 10:45 PM


Buffy opened the apartment door, and found it empty. She gestured to Amanda, and they walked in. Buffy poured some tea that Giles had brewing on the stove, and brought Amanda a cup. They sat in silence for a moment before Buffy chuckled and asked, "Does living to be a thousand teach you how to deal with those uncomfortable silences?"

Amanda shook her head and replied, "Not really. . .other than having to get used to being alone for extended periods. . .friends die, nations fall, and we remain. . .it can be a lonely life, Buffy."

Buffy paled momentarily and whispered, "I'm sorry. . .I didn't mean to-"

"Hey," Amanda interjected as she reached out to grasp Buffy's hand and stopped her halting apology, "I wasn't trying to make you feel bad. . .I was just trying to. . ." She paused, then continued, "I've known about Slayers for a long time, Buffy. . .long before Duncan did. When you live over a thousand years, you see just about everything. When I realized what your lives were like. . .that you faced constant death from the time you were Called until you died, it made even my experiences as an Immortal seem rather tame. . ."" She paused again, visibly uncomfortable, then continued, "Buffy, I've done some things in my life that I've regretted, but as a whole, I've loved my life, and the thought of an existence so inherently short as that of a Slayer has been. . .disquieting to me. But then I think of how much impact what you do has. . .there is something in me that longs for that level of meaning in my life." Amanda saw the expression on Buffy's face and held up a hand, elaborating, "Don't get me wrong. . .I wouldn't want to switch places with you. . .but the saying about the grass being greener on the other side of the fence comes to mind. . .sometimes it's not fun having sociopaths follow you around wanting to decapitate you, either. . ." The platinum blonde Immortal frowned and looked at Buffy, asking, "Did that make any sense at all?"

Buffy smiled, and Amanda saw the light in her eyes that Duncan had described at length as the Slayer commented, "Yeah, it did. . .and thank you." The front door opened, and Nick walked in, his face grim. Buffy and Amanda stood, and Buffy asked, "Any luck, Nick?"

Nick turned and gestured, and after a moment Faith walked into the room. Buffy felt a momentary shock at seeing her after so long, and took a moment to examine her minutely. The short, black hair was a stark difference, and the contrast between it and her pale skin was striking. She could see the haunted look in Faith's eyes, and she decided to grab the bull by the horns: "Faith, I-"

The dark eyes flared, and Faith savagely raised a hand as she interjected, "Just don't, B." She locked eyes with Buffy and whispered, "I'm here to help you find that son of a bitch Travers and kill him. . .after that, I'm leaving. . .over the body of anyone who tries to stop me. Clear?"

Buffy met Faith's glare without flinching, then nodded once. Faith nodded in reply, then called out, "I'm going to shower and change. . .make sure no one tries to kill me when I come out, OK, B?" She vanished into Giles' bathroom, and Buffy had to repress the desire to laugh hysterically at the sudden diffusion of tension that Faith's irreverent remark had caused. She looked back and saw that Nick and Amanda were visibly concerned. She managed a dry chuckle, and commented, "Believe it or not. . .that's Faith in an even mood. . .she'll be OK for now." More sounds at the door announced the arrival of more searchers, and Buffy's face turned grim again as she called out, "All right. . .we've found Faith. . .now we have to find Travers." She turned back to the closed bathroom door, and concluded silently:

*Before it's too late *




. . .to be continued


As before, comments are welcome and desired.