Note: And we reach the end! Thanks to everyone who has read and reviewed :) A second season (and a hidden 12th episode) will happen at some point in the future but I'm gonna finish up some other stories first. Thanks again for the continued support and feedback!
Previously on Walk The Line:
"Get to work, my baby. I've been waiting for you," The Last drawled, a content smile upon his face.
Faith didn't say anything; she merely turned around and began to make her way back toward the motorcycle.
Buffy was still sitting on it the wrong way when Faith reached her. The blonde looked up at her and smiled, fidgeting with the zipper on her jacket.
"Sorry about that. Sometimes I get a bit impulsive," Buffy said sheepishly.
She looked up at Faith and didn't see until it was too late that her eyes were black like the night sky; and it was definitely too late to defend herself from the punch that caught her under her jaw and sent her flying off the bike and into the desert darkness.
Faith walked the few steps over and stood above her, sneering in an almost feral way down at the unconscious girl.
Episode 1.11: Invictus
**(Suggested Listening: Sober by Tool)**
Faith pushed the toe of her boot against Buffy's leg, satisfied when the girl's limp body didn't react to the shove. She squatted down and more closely inspected her, looking her up and down from head to toe. Whatever she'd felt for the girl only minutes before was replaced with anger and hate and rage.
Wrath. The most deadliest sin of them all.
Something was stirring deep inside of her. It wasn't the need to protect or envy or love; it was the need to hurt. She wanted to tear the girl down to her level and then push her down some more just because she could. Faith was faster, stronger, better, and she was going to show Buffy that. It'd be a lesson that Buffy wouldn't soon forget.
"Well what am I gonna do with ya now, B? Killin' ya here would just be so . . . unsatisfying," Faith purred.
The Last stepped forward so that he was looking down over her shoulder, an arrogant smile on his face. His plan was finally coming to a head. It would only be hours before Faith committed her final act of wrath and he could collect her energy; the last bit of power he needed to complete his job and absorb the energy of the imploding world.
He just couldn't believe how easy it finally was in the end. What took him years in other dimensions had only taken him months this time around. Maybe this dimension was a little bit more naughty and corrupt than the others. Maybe Las Vegas was the prefect place to plan his assault.
Or maybe having a thorn in his side like Faith had just spurned him on to work harder and faster than ever.
Beating the hero had never felt so good.
"There's an abandoned service shack four miles from here. Take her there. Have a little fun. Be naughty before you put that pitiful thing out of her misery."
Despite the fact that she'd seen and interacted with him before, Faith didn't even know that The Last was there with her. The magic he used cloaked his presence and let him act as an unseen persuasive force. She was merely an oblivious little puppet to an evil and sadistic puppet master.
"How 'bout I tie you to the bike, drag you to a nice empty building I saw a few miles from here? That'd be good fun," Faith crooned, wrapping Buffy's long blonde hair around her fist and tugging it abruptly.
The Last rolled his eyes and sighed.
"No, you idiot. That would most certainly kill her and we need her to hang around a while longer." The desert silence was broken by the sound of a car approaching down the highway. Spotting the vehicle off in the distance, he grinned happily. "The car; you're gonna need it, honey."
Faith stood up as if on cue, her eyes scanning the dark horizon for the car she somehow knew was coming. Seeing its headlights off in the distance and quickly approaching, she began to make her way to the road but not before giving Buffy a hard kick in the side. A sickening crunch of ribs breaking sounded through the air, making Faith smile a little bit bigger, a little bit crueler.
Stopping in the middle of the road facing the car, Faith stood there even as the vehicle got closer with no signs of slowing down. When the driver finally saw her dark form against the dark landscape, he slammed on his brakes making the tires screech loudly on the asphalt. The car stopped less than a meter from Faith though she didn't even flinch in the slightest bit.
"Are you fucking crazy?" the man yelled as he hopped out of the car and checked to make sure that it was okay before eyeing up Faith. "What the fuck are you doin' standing in the middle of the fucking desert at night, you crazy bitch?"
Faith's lips curled up into a sneer as he got into her personal space, trying to intimidate her. Faster than he could react, she reached out and grabbed him by the collar of his shirt and tossed him over to the side of the road and directly into the motorcycle that was still parked there. He groaned loudly as the bike fell over atop him and began to spill fuel but he was unable to move under its weight with the injuries he'd sustained.
Faith watched him struggle for a few moments, taking pleasure in his groans of pain. The more he cursed at her, the better she felt. Something caught the corner of her eye though and she turned her head to the side, smiling when she realized what it was.
Able to see just Buffy's shoes in the narrow beam from the headlights, she walked over to the girl and squatted down, grinning again.
She grabbed Buffy's hands and pulled her up into a sitting position before easily lifting her up and over her shoulder. Ignoring the girls' injuries and the fact that carrying her like that could send one of her broken ribs right through one of her lungs, Faith carried her over to the car, giving her ass a hard slap on the way. She tossed her into the back seat none too gently and closed the door before slipping down into the driver's seat and making herself at home.
Noticing a pack of opened Marlboros on the passenger seat, she pushed the plunger on the car's lighter and let it heat up while she fished one of the cigarettes from the pack and placed it between her full lips. It wasn't long before the lighter popped out and she brought it to the tip of the cigarette, inhaling deeply and letting the smoke fill her lungs.
"That's my car, you cunt!" the man groaned angrily as he struggled to push the bike off his injured body.
When Faith exhaled the cigarette smoke, a plume of black exited her mouth instead of the usual white. It made its way out of the car and into the struggling man who instantly lay back down and relaxed like he hadn't a care in the world.
"Thanks for the lift, buddy," Faith said around the dangling cigarette.
She put the car into drive and began to pull away . . . but not before tossing the lighter out of the opened passenger window and into the fuel pooling around the man. It ignited in a blue and orange blaze which Faith watched in the rearview mirror as she drove away, his screams of pain fading into the dark desert night.
**(Suggested listening: Knife Going In by Tegan and Sara)**
Sara was nearly out of breath by the time she'd made it across the facility from slayer sleeping quarters to staff sleeping quarters. She wasn't exactly sure which room served as Giles' temporary home while research was in high gear and she'd already been warned about using her powers for convenience sake but there was no way she was going to try dealing with the housing directory when she needed to speak to him now.
Standing at the end of a long and narrow corridor, she focused on some far off place in the darkness and began to walk with her arms spread out so that her fingertips touched the walls on either side of her. Her lips quietly mouthed the names of the occupants of each room she passed until she finally found the one she was looking for.
Quickly facing the door in question, she knocked three times and waited for some sign of life on the other side. When a few moments passed and she still heard nothing, she knocked again, louder this time.
"Mr. Giles, it's Sara . . . please open up." Again she waited but received no response. "Please, Mr. Giles . . . I don't know what to do."
"Sara?" Came a voice from off to the side.
She quickly turned to see Giles standing down the hall, bathrobe on with a book tucked under one arm and teacup in hand. She sighed with relief when she realized who it was through the darkness.
"What is it?" he asked as he quickly approached, stopping to set the book and cup down on the ground.
"It's Faith. I saw it but I didn't think . . . I thought that I was wrong. I hoped I was wrong. I thought she would fight and it wouldn't happen . . ."
"What do you mean, 'it's Faith'? Calm down and tell me what's happening. What did you see?" Giles asked, putting his hands on the nearly-frantic girl's arms to steady her.
He guided her down the hall and into a study area littered with books and white boards, all filled with notes about The Last. This had been their hub of operations since they'd outgrown Giles' apartment. Day after day they pored over every text and scroll they could get their hands on, but even with the additional help of some of the younger slayers, they'd barely found any viable information. Their lack of progress had taken an emotional toll on Giles who made it his personal mission to attain help, even if it meant moving to the shared dormitories and sleeping only a few hours every night.
After being led to one of the many leather chairs in the study, Sara collected herself before looking up and noticing one of the white boards just off to her side. It read, 'Time is still on our side; he has yet to make his final move.'
She took a deep breath and pointed at it, then met Giles' anxious gaze.
The room was bustling with activity as slayers were woken from their sleep and told to suit up. A fight was coming - no, the fight was here - and they needed to be ready. They weren't sure where they were going to or how they were getting there but they knew better than to question Giles when he was in preparation mode.
Giles had a phone to his ear and was busy trying to reach Willow while Sara was trying to contact Xander and Andrew to no avail.
"Yes, I understand that Willow is on a vision quest but her talents are needed here." He paused as Serena from the coven tried to explain Willow's absence and inability to communicate. "A different plane of existence? How is that even possible? She was just in Los Angeles a few hours ago . . . Well, perhaps you could interrupt her so that she could . . . ahh, I see. If you interrupt her, her body will remain here but her mind will forever be trapped there. Yes, I suppose that's good reason to leave her be. If she wakes you'll tell her I called? Yes, thank you."
He quickly hung up the phone and looked over to Sara who still had a cell phone pressed to her ear.
"I can't reach either of them," she began without being asked. "Xander and Anya are probably still on their flight and Andrew doesn't seem to be getting reception in the casino."
"You're sure that's where he is? How do we know that he hasn't been . . ." Giles trailed off, opting not to voice a concern that he was sure everyone else probably thought at the same moment.
"I see him playing games and having fun. Probably hasn't even checked his phone for missed calls."
Giles looked over to Dawn who was looking pretty frantic at this point. She'd insisted on coming down and helping though, so he figured that giving her a few simple tasks would help distract her a little.
"I've already called the casino," she volunteered. "They have security looking for him but it's a pretty big place and they're at full capacity since that computer convention came to town. They told me not to get my hopes up but that they'd call if they find him."
"What about Angel? Has he heard anything from his sources?"
"They're looking into it but the crazy thing about sharing a bed with the bad guys? They don't like to tell you when evil is winning. They tuck you in and make you comfy and when you least expect it, they steal the blankets. Pretty much sucks that we've both lost our connection to the Powers That Be. We're flying completely blind here."
"I concur," Giles said, his voice low and tired. "Vi? How many slayers are prepared to leave?"
"Twelve, including myself," Vi replied, stepping forward as she awkwardly wrestled to get her belt on over her slayer gear. "We're not really sure which weapons to pack though. How do you fight a demon made of smoke? I mean, I'm sure we can distract him for a while – and Faith, too, if she's all grr like you said she is. But we don't know how to kill The Last or even physically hurt him, and no one wants to even think about having to kill Faith. I don't think any of us could do that knowing that she's only having rogue-slayer flashbacks because she's infected."
Giles took a deep breath in through his nose and crossed his arms over his chest. It was all too much. They still didn't know exactly how to kill The Last and now his two best fighters were out of the game, not to mention he still didn't know what Buffy's current state was. He hung his head and sighed loudly, closing his eyes.
"You're right. I don't know what I was thinking. We can't possibly beat him with what little we know and just a dozen slayers."
"Make that a baker's dozen," came a voice as someone entered the bustling room. Everyone looked up to find Kennedy decked out in full slayer gear, revved up and ready to go.
"Kennedy, thank God. Is Willow with you?" Giles asked, his voice hopeful.
"Sorry jeeves, she's off doing some kinda weird Wicca mind trip."
"But she was here just hours ago and was ready to leave at a moment's notice to attend Xander's wedding. How far could she have gone?"
"Pretty sure she's locked away somewhere in your mother country, courtesy of the coven. Figured that since we had a bit of down time from The Last it was a good time to try to harness some magic, center her chi, spank her inner Wicca; yunno how it goes. Brush up now, beat the baddie later."
"I'm afraid that doesn't help our situation much," he said, defeated.
"Yeah but she couldn't have known that. She did what she thought was right and so did I. Knew she might be tied up there for a while and no way was I leavin' the country again when there's some kinda gnarly apocalypse on the horizon so I stayed behind."
Giles sat down in one of the leather chairs and slouched – actually slouched! – down in defeat.
"Again, I'm afraid that doesn't help our situation."
"Maybe not, but buck up buttercup. I got the skinny on the sitch from the girls and we're gonna go in and do what we can. If we're goin' down, it's gonna be in a blaze of glory and not sittin' here with our tail between our legs. Besides . . . Faith would do the same if any of us got into trouble and you know it."
Giles looked at her long and hard for several moments before finally nodding his assent. Truthfully, Kennedy would've gone to Las Vegas with or without his permission and he knew that. At least this way, he was sure that she wasn't going in completely alone.
"Take one of our phones. We'll be in contact shortly to try to give you an exact location if Sara can pinpoint one."
Kennedy nodded in response before making eye contact with Vi. Both girls quickly made their way out of the room to gather the other slayers who were anxiously getting ready. Giles felt like he was sending them in to certain death even though that was the fate of the world as they knew it if The Last succeeded. They were going to need some kind of miracle to pull this off.
"Perhaps now would be a good time to think about having the coven activate the inter-dimensional safe-houses we've put on standby. We can get the both of you to safety in the event that this apocalypse comes to fruition. I'll send anyone else we can fit in."
He looked over to find both Dawn and Sara looking at him with wide eyes.
"I can't leave without Buffy," Dawn said, shaking her head.
"I can't go either," Sara said. "I'm supposed to stay here. I know I am."
Giles regarded them both, taking in their sincerity and determination. Neither one of the girls were about to give up so easily. Not when people they cared about were involved, and not when their very existence was threatened. Hiding away only made The Last's job easier and there was no way they would let that happen.
Giles would still set up the safe-houses for the others, but Dawn and Sara were staying until the bitter end, and so was he.
"Well, I suppose that leaves the three of us to try to figure this out." There was a long drawn out pause before he sat up straight and continued, "Shall I put on some tea?"
**(Suggested listening: Change by the Deftones)**
Faith took one last pull from her cigarette before tossing it out into the desert air, watching the orange embers flicker and eventually burn out on the dusty ground. She bent down near the metal-framed building and picked up several coils of thick rope, resting them over her shoulder as she finally made her way back inside the dimly lit warehouse.
Buffy lay unconscious still on the middle of the concrete floor, oblivious to everything that had gone on since she'd been knocked out. When it seemed like she was coming to at one point, Faith gave her a solid right hook to the side of her head which explained the now dried trickle of blood at the corner of her swollen lips. She'd drifted off into la-la-land again and still hadn't showed any signs of consciousness.
Faith approached the sleeping girl with the ropes slung over one shoulder and an old wooden chair in her other hand, her boots scraping on the layer of dust and debris that months of abandonment had left on the floor. She placed the chair down beside the girl and dropped the ropes right beside it, barely missing Buffy's head with them.
Without warning she grabbed Buffy by her upper arms and effortlessly lifted her up and onto the chair. Buffy flopped around like a ragdoll and would have fallen right back onto the dirty floor had Faith not held her there with a strong arm against her shoulders.
"Sit pretty, B. Good girls don't slouch."
She took the time to adjust Buffy in an upright position before grabbing one of the coils of rope and walking back behind the chair, wrapping it tightly around Buffy's chest several times before tying a knot that even a slayer would struggle with. It wasn't long before another rope was wrapped around her, then two more around her legs and one for her hands alone.
Slayer power or none, Buffy wasn't budging from that chair unless she was helped.
Content that she was completely restrained, Faith hopped up onto an old metal barrel and rested her back against the metal wall. She lit another cigarette and put the crushed pack back into the inner pocket of her jacket, tucked safely against the knife she always had hidden there for slayage purposes. It sure was gonna do some slaying tonight!
Letting out a carnal laugh, Faith exhaled the smoke and let her feet dangle from the barrel, her heels clanging noisily against it. She waited for some kind of stirring from Buffy; some sign that the girl was finally waking up. Several minutes passed and the girl didn't move an inch, nor did she make a single sound.
"You may have to wake sleeping beauty up," The Last said from off to the side, causing Faith to tilt her head to the side as she watched the unconscious girl. "But I don't think a kiss is quite as poetic as those lame-ass fairy tales make them out to be. Broaden your horizons. Get creative. Dazzle me, baby. Show me what you've got inside of you."
Faith hopped down from the barrel as if on cue, taking a moment to stretch her back and shoulders. She slowly approached Buffy, nothing of the new and improved Faith left behind the lifeless black eyes. No, this was more a vision of her old self, tying up and torturing a helpless Wesley. There was no one to talk her down from the ledge this time though; no one that could beat the old magic that infected her and made her do its bidding.
Maybe this was her fate, to be a tool for the bad guys. There were always pawns in the battle between good and evil. She just never thought she'd be the striking blow in the battle that would tip the favor for the bad guys.
Squatting down in front of Buffy, Faith looked up at the girl's face, illuminated only by a single light bulb above them. She took in the curves of her face, the softness of her hair; all of the things that used to make her long for the girl. None of it was there anymore though; now she felt only hate and rage and disgust and the need to cause pain in any way she could.
Taking another deep drag from her cigarette, she blew out the smoke – white this time – right into Buffy's face. Buffy's nose crinkled up in distaste but she showed no other signs of waking. Letting her eyes roam from the girls' face down her bound body, Faith finally smiled when she saw a bit of exposed flesh near her midsection. Without warning she took the still lit cigarette and pushed it against Buffy's skin, causing Buffy to quickly stiffen up and her eyes to immediately open.
Buffy's cry of pain – from both the burn and her broken ribs -- was not enough to cover the sizzling sound of burning flesh along with Faith's appreciative laughter.
"That's right, let it out. Always wanted ya to scream for me, B."
Buffy gasped and held her breath, slamming her eyes shut again not only to try to drown out the pain but also because she couldn't bear to look into Faith's black eyes a moment longer. She knew Faith was infected; she knew that much in her last second of consciousness before Faith had knocked her out at the side of the road earlier. And judging by her behavior, Buffy knew that it wasn't something easy like envy or greed she was dealing with here; she was dealing with wrath.
Faith and anger had never led to good things before. Now the girl was dealing with the most pure, intense form of rage and anger that existed. It wasn't anything she could control either; the darkness that infected her was permeating her body and soul, practically dripping out of every pour and fiber of her being.
Only bad things could come from this, Buffy knew. For the first time in as long as she could even remember, she really felt like this was the end, not only for her but for the world at large.
And all this at the hands of the woman she'd finally realized she lo . . .
"Ah!" Buffy suddenly cried out at the feeling of fingers caressing her raw and burned flesh. "Faith, you're hurting me. You have to . . ."
"I have to what?" Faith quickly interrupted, getting dangerously closer to Buffy's face. "Tell me, B, what do I have to do? You've always liked giving orders, haven't you?"
Buffy writhed in personal agony within the confines of the ropes, refusing to give into Faith's game. The worst thing she could do was make Faith enjoy this even more; that would make the girl prolong it even more.
"Well I'm the one giving orders now," Faith continued.
She stood up from her crouched position and reached into her jacket pocket, pulling out the knife she had stashed there. It caught the dim light from the bulb perfectly, casting a flicker of light over Buffy's anxious face.
"You can fight this. I need you to fight this, Faith. Untie me. Please."
Buffy tried to be stern yet pleading at the same time but mostly ended up just sounding terrified. Faith's lips curled up into a smile as she got closer to Buffy again.
"Nuh uh uh. Forgot to say 'Simon Says.'"
Without warning, she wound back and slapped Buffy across the face. There wasn't even a flicker of any kind of humanity left behind her black eyes as Buffy grimaced, then turned her head back to face her again. She waited a moment to make sure that Buffy was done speaking out of turn before finally continuing.
"For my first order, I say we start with something fun," she crooned, bringing the blade dangerously close to Buffy's exposed neck before trailing it lightly down her bound arm. "It's time to bleed for me, princess."
Kennedy was busy chewing away on some kind of beef jerky, barely taking notice of the fact that she was driving more than thirty miles over the speed limit. Vi was in the front of the van with her while the remaining slayers stayed in the partitioned back, mentally preparing for the battle ahead of them. The redhead looked nervously over the steering wheel at the odometer and bit on her lower lip, trying to fight back the severe scolding she knew was dying to pop out.
"Chill out Vi. No way am I driving the speed limit; it's gonna take us long enough to get there as it is," Kennedy said.
As much as Vi was working on being more laid back and cool these days, she let the façade slip away just long enough to express her concern. Someone had to be the reasonable one!
"I realize that much, but if we're pulled over by the police, I highly doubt that they're going to treat us kindly when they realize that we're armed and dangerous and driving without a valid driver's license."
And despite the fact that Kennedy rolled her eyes at Vi's over-cautiousness, she knew that the girl was right. Dammit! She knew she should have gotten her license when they got back to the States! She eased up on the accelerator just a little and they slowed up just enough for Vi to breathe a little bit easier but not enough for her to keep from checking out the side view mirrors every twenty seconds.
A few quiet minutes passed by before Vi finally couldn't take the silence any longer.
"This is a horrible plan. We're not sure where we're going, we're not sure how we can even fight The Last, and I'm pretty sure that I'm wearing someone else's boots."
"That's kinda sick," Kennedy said after a moment, shooting a wary glance down at Vi's feet. "Slayers are extra sweaty. I mean, think about it; your feet could be takin' a swim in Chao-Ahn's toe-sweat."
"Eww," Vi said with a grimace, trying not to move her toes around within the confines of the slightly-too-big boots. "Seriously, we're about to go up against dastardly evil badness and die a painful horrible death and you can't even give me false comfort in my foot apparel?"
Kennedy tried to hide her chuckle by taking another whopping bite out of her beef jerky and chewing it thoroughly. When she was done chewing and sure that she wasn't going to burst out into inappropriate laughter, she decided to offer the girl a bit of comfort.
"I was just messing with ya, Vi. Besides, you know as well as I do that Chao-Ahn's got the cleanest feet of any slayer we know."
Vi thought about it for a moment before sighing with relief and nodding. "You're right."
"Always am," Kennedy said with a smile, her eyes trained on the road. "Besides, bet for a few minutes there you were more worried about toe-eating bacteria than the big bad we're about to get slammed by, right?"
And Vi was biting on her lower lip again, the ball of nerves back in the pit of her stomach. She glanced over at Kennedy and sighed.
"I liked it better when you were creeping me out about Slayer Foot Rot."
"I know, right?"
Silence fell around them again as they continued to speed along through the night, both girls anxiously waiting for the cell phone to ring with some kind of miraculous news on how to beat the baddie and save the day. There wasn't a peep from the back of the van, all of the other slayers dealing with the general feeling of doom that had settled over them when they were woken up by a frantic Giles.
"Do you really think we're going to come out alive on the other side of this battle?" Vi asked, her voice quiet and unsure.
And as much as Kennedy wanted to offer the girl some hope, the truth was that this battle felt like it could indeed be their last. They couldn't physically fight the bad guy and he was going to use Faith against them, no doubt about it.
Just as Kennedy opened her mouth to reply, the cell phone started chirping from its place in the drink holder between them. She quickly reached out for the phone, sending the van veering off into the adjoining lane. The loud honking of a car horn wasn't enough to stop her from quickly hitting the send button and holding the phone to her ear with her shoulder.
"Gimme good news," she said, ignoring the glare Vi was sending her after narrowly avoiding a collision.
"Sara thinks she knows where you can find them. Do you have the map I gave Vi?" Giles asked.
Kennedy hastily snapped her fingers in the direction of the map that was resting across Vi's lap. Vi quickly fumbled with it and handed it over to Kennedy who was busy trying to pull over to the side of the road so she could get a better look at it. When the van was stopped and she had the map in her hands, Kennedy finally replied.
"Got it. Where are we headed?"
She listened to his directions and traced her finger along a highway route until she came across the area he was speaking about. Grabbing a pen from under the visor, she pulled the cap off with her teeth and laid the map against the steering wheel so that she could circle the area. When Giles finished and hung up, she tossed the phone back into the cup holder and stared at the map long and hard with Vi, distress written across both of their faces.
"It's in the middle of nowhere."
"Shit. Faith has Buffy all the way out there and she's infected with wrath. She ain't there to braid her hair; there's only one way this is gonna end."
They shared a look before Vi grabbed the map from Kennedy's arms and nodded toward the road.
"Put the pedal to the metal. We need to get there, now."
Faith circled slowly around Buffy, her eyes never leaving the bound girl's form. The ropes had tiny spots of blood over them in several areas now, as did the knife that was gripped tightly in Faith's hand. The only sound in the warehouse beside Faith's boots scraping on the dusty floor was the sound of Buffy's shallow and shaky breaths as she tried to rein in her pain, along with a slow drip of blood that was pooling on the floor.
She couldn't let Faith see how badly she was hurt. She needed to figure out a way to cure Faith before she became a victim of the girl's growing wrath. Despite the fact that Faith seemed to be oblivious to his presence, Buffy could see The Last across the room in the darkness, his shiny black skin glistening in the shadow of the dim light. His red eyes glowed fiercely as he watched Faith cut her again and again, urging her on with gusto.
"You'll never win," Buffy said through clenched teeth, her eyes locked on his shadowy figure.
"I've already won, B," Faith said, unaware that Buffy had been speaking to The Last. "You're cold, helpless, bleeding, in pain; and there ain't anyone gonna save you. You're completely alone. What's going through your head?"
Faith took that opportunity to squat down in front of Buffy and look up at the girl, staring at her in wonder like she was trying to read her thoughts. Buffy just looked down at her, trying to calm her shaky breathing. A trickle of blood escaped a gash across her forehead and dripped down over her eyebrow, landing squarely on her bruised cheek.
"I know this isn't you, Faith," she said, trying to keep her voice soft and assuring. "He's filled you with anger and rage because he wants you to destroy me. To destroy us."
"Aww, did you think there was an 'us' princess?" Faith asked, the tone of her voice almost as cruel as her smile.
"I know there was; there is," Buffy clarified. "We drove out here and I had my arms around you and I could feel your heart, Faith. It was beating like crazy."
"That's what sitting on five hundred pounds of vibrating steel does to a girl," Faith said and winked.
"That kiss," Buffy said, trying to rouse any feeling in Faith that could counter the wrath.
"Always knew you were dyin' for a taste, B," Faith said, creeping a bit closer.
"Maybe I was," Buffy confessed. "Maybe I was here to tell you that I wanted you. And you know what, Faith? I know you want me back. The way we got closer, the kissing . . . all of it. I know you want me, too."
She didn't expect her words to work, but she also hadn't expected the outright laughter she got from Faith in response. Suddenly Faith was right in her face, her eyes looking even more horrifying up close and personal.
"You want the truth? How about this: Just a few weeks ago I was gettin' a lap dance from Camryn and it was one of the fuckin hottest things in my life. You think you're the only one that gets me hot? That a little pussy from Buffy-fuckin-Summers is gonna make me all smitten? Keep dreamin', cupcake. Woulda fucked her too if your bestie hadn't showed up and ruined my fun."
Buffy clenched her jaw tightly, fighting back the tears Faith's words were nearly making fall.
"You love me," Buffy said, steeling herself.
"Love?" Faith asked, searching Buffy's face. "No such animal."
Without warning she leaned in the last bit between them and ran her tongue up Buffy's cheek where another drop of blood had fallen moments before. Buffy grimaced but couldn't pull away. She wished she could lift her hands and cover her ears to block out The Last's laughing, and she wished she could cover her eyes and block out the sight of Faith across the room. The girl had suddenly flown into a rage and was busy kicking and punching old wooden crates to smithereens, screaming out the entire time.
Closing her eyes, Buffy tried to drown out the sight, the noise, and her pain. She was a slayer; not some damsel in distress that needed saving every Tuesday. She would get out of this situation; she would save Faith.
She just needed to figure out how.
Giles hung up the phone and took a deep breath, trying to collect his thoughts. The news he'd just received was a bit shocking to say the very least.
"That was Angel," he explained to Dawn and Sara. "They've been researching the packages that both Spike and Anya received. While we both originally believed that the packages were from the Powers That Be – a gift of some sort for serving them – Angel has discovered that they had nothing to do with it."
"Well if they didn't, who did?" Dawn asked, confused. "It's not like anyone could actually benefit from Spike and Anya becoming corporeal."
Giles glanced over at her, the look on his face letting her know that she was obviously wrong.
"Or I'm wrong and you should explain it to me," Dawn corrected.
"The Last could benefit. He has, in fact. He used one of his earthly connections, a follower of some kind, to effectively sever our link to the Powers That Be. Without their help, we had no warning that he was making his final move."
"We did, actually, but I ignored it," Sara said guiltily.
"You couldn't have known," Giles tried to assure her.
"But I should have. My visions; they're rarely wrong. I think I was hoping so badly that were this time that I let it cloud my judgment. It's all conflicting though. The visions have changed again and again from the time I first met Faith. The actions she's taken along her journey have changed her fate. She's changed fate for all of us."
"And what do you see now?" Giles asked, hoping for some positive sign. Just one tiny little pinprick of light at the end of the tunnel.
"Blackness," Sara said with a shrug. "She's infected. It's all black. I can't see Faith anymore; only the darkness inside of her."
"Before tonight, before these last few weeks; back when you first met Faith, what did you see then?" he asked, seemingly onto something.
Sara thought about it for a moment, trying to separate the inter-lapping visions she'd had over the months between. It was very difficult for her and something she was learning to do, but she hadn't yet perfected that craft. They needed more time but they just weren't going to get it.
"She saved us. There was no darkness in her, and she was able to beat him. I didn't see how; I only know that she was okay. We were all okay."
Silence fell over them as they took in that information; the glimmer of hope that they'd been looking for all along. It was far-fetched, of course. There was no one around to try to cure Faith except for Buffy and despite her efforts, Sara couldn't get a read on the girl to even know if she was okay or not.
"If we can find a way to get the wrath out of Faith, she might be able to fight him. I'm not sure how, but if you've seen it . . ." Giles trailed off, his mind working a mile a minute as he poured over the details again and again. "When I spoke with Andrew earlier, he said they'd been offered advice; a way that they might combat the seven deadly sins and defeat The Last."
"The seven heavenly virtues," Sara offered without having to be told. At Giles and Dawn's impressed looks, she explained, "Those seven years of Sunday school seem to have paid off. My mom will be thrilled."
"It's the universal balance; for every evil there is good, dark there is light, yin there is yang," Giles interrupted. "If Buffy's there with her, she may be able to help even if she's incapacitated. It wouldn't require a physical battle; it would merely entail the strength of her will."
"But how?" Sara asked. "Buffy's strong sense of justice and courage can't be enough to combat a power as strong as The Last."
Silence once again descended over them until Dawn cleared her throat nervously and looked up at both Sara and Giles looking suddenly shy.
"If I know my sister, she didn't go to Las Vegas because of courage or justice. What drove her there is the strongest emotion in any one of us; the strongest thing Buffy's ever felt despite the fact that she hasn't been able to admit it yet."
Giles drew in a deep breath through his nose and exhaled as he locked his gaze with Dawn's over the table. If there was one thing he knew about Buffy, it was that her strength had always come from her heart.
Suddenly he realized why Buffy had suddenly up and run off to Las Vegas. It had been clear for a while now yet he hadn't seen it until it was made glaringly obvious.
The club was packed just like most other nights, though having a big convention in town always seemed to draw in more of a crowd. Camryn was happy to be running drinks tonight, her mind on too many other things for her to focus on dancing and her customers.
She squeezed her way in-between the customers and tables, doing her damnedest not to provoke any of the patrons into an unsolicited grope-fest as she passed them by. She had nearly made it back to the bar without being groped when she felt a warm hand gripping around her wrist. Spinning around to face her groper, she was about to unleash a tirade about the sanctity of personal space when she realized she recognized something about the person before her.
Tilting her head to the side, she let a small smile creep up on her lips. The body was different – much different – from the last time they'd run into one another, but she was able to read who the person was on the inside without any hassle whatsoever.
"Nice look," she said, leaning in to give the man a warm hug.
"Really? I've been thinking about trading it in," Jil'hanesh answered and smiled despite himself.
"Ah. Does that mean you'll be joining us again? I'm pretty sure management is looking for a few more girls . . ."
"That's not why I'm here," he said, the smile on his face instantly falling.
Right away Camryn knew that the situation had to be bad, really bad, if he'd come back to Las Vegas. After helping Faith out the first time, even vaguely, he'd been in a quasi state of hiding, hoping not to draw the wrath of the Powers That be for interfering. He still contended that he hadn't tipped any scales too dramatically; he really just wanted to see the human race succeed.
How could he help being attached after all his time spent living among them?
"Then it must be bad," Camryn said, stepping closer to him so that none of the other patrons heard them speaking.
"The shit has hit the proverbial fan, angelito. We've done what we can. You've helped me as you said you would, and for that I am forever grateful. It's time I hold up my end of the bargain and get you out of here."
Camryn could only stare at him as the reality of the situation hit home. If he was going to take her with him, it could only mean . . .
"He has Faith," she mumbled.
"And the other slayer too. Buffy."
"Can we do anything?"
Jil'hanesh looked miserable as he shook his head no.
"Fate is written; no physical act we or anyone else may try can alter it. It's time that we think about protecting ourselves now."
And as sweet as the offer had once sounded, Camryn knew that she couldn't just abandon ship. Faith was her friend. She saw something in the girl that she'd never seen in anyone else before, not to mention her strong will to survive. If she just up and left with Jil'hanesh, it proved her lack of faith. She couldn't let that happen. Maybe fate was written but she had a strong feeling that Faith – and Buffy – weren't just going to sit back and die. If the will to survive was strong in Faith, it had been even stronger in Buffy when she'd met the girl.
Sure she might not know them incredibly well, but she could tell one thing right away: they were going to fight. The battle for the world would not be one-sided.
And she had the very distinct feeling, despite the ominous warnings, that they were going to win.
"I can't go," she said suddenly, her eyes meeting his again. "I wish I could, but I have to be here. I have to have faith in something because if I don't . . . it'll all fall apart."
Jil'hanesh just looked at her silently, mulling over her words. He might not be human but he understood her plight. It wasn't his place to stay here; this wasn't his Earth, these weren't his people. Yet the thought of abandoning the people and Earth he'd come to cherish made him re-think his escape plan.
Screw the Powers That Be and their personal escape clauses. If this world imploded with him on it, he'd simply be reborn elsewhere. Until then, he was going to stay on this sinking ship and see just how able its crew was to save it.
Sighing deeply, he held out his arm to clear the way for her toward the bar.
"We'll need some drinks. It's going to be a bumpy ride."
Kennedy and Vi squinted into the darkness as they stood just outside the van, looking at what could be some kind of storage facility in the middle of the desert. There had been nothing around for what felt like miles and this was the spot Giles had told them to go to so it had to be the place.
"Is your spidey-sense tingling?" Kennedy asked.
"No but my right foot is still asleep." At Kennedy's raised eyebrow, Vi explained, "Long drive, poor circulation."
They continued to stare at the service shack, looking for any sign that it was brimming with mystical badness. Walking on over and peeking their heads in definitely seemed the smarter thing to do but they couldn't be sure that it wasn't some kind of trap.
"So what's the plan?" Vi asked, taking a sideways glance at Kennedy.
Had it not been for their slayer hearing they probably would've missed it but the distinct sound of a girl – Buffy – crying out in pain rang out through the night then. Vi had her hand on the handle to the back door of the van within seconds and was about to unleash their slayer army when she felt a soft hand on forearm. Confused, she looked over at Kennedy expectantly.
"What are you doing?" she asked.
"Stopping you from getting all those girls killed," Kennedy explained. "Fact of the matter is that runnin' in there with weapons blazing is a completely shitty plan. Buffy's better than the thirteen of us combined and she was no match for the magic. Pretty sure that even if we go in there with the best of intentions, we're gonna be dead before she is."
"If you knew you were going to drag us all the way here from Los Angeles just to chicken out, why did we bother making the trip?" Vi asked angrily.
"No ones chickening out. We're just improvising a little."
"Listen, whether we send just one or all thirteen of us in there, it ain't gonna be pretty. If all thirteen of us go down at once, there's no one around to try to stop all this once it gets beyond that shed if the opportunity comes up."
"So what are we going to do?" Vi asked warily.
She certainly wasn't expecting it when Kennedy took her hand and placed the keys to the van in them.
"Take the girls and get into the city. If this bleeds out into the streets, we're gonna need to keep what little bit of order we can. Not sure if it's gonna end in a big boom or like a wave so being ready for both cases is the best we can do right now."
"And what are you supposed to do here?"
"I'm gonna see if I can get in there and get Buffy out. If there's any chance of saving Faith I'll take it but judging by the screaming we heard a minute ago I'm gonna guess that she's too far gone," Kennedy said sadly.
"Well we can wait here for you . . ." Vi began but Kennedy cut her off.
"That's a waste of resources. Get your team into the city and get ready to fight."
"But what are you going to do if you rescue Buffy? You can't just hide out behind a cactus or hitch a ride on a lizard."
Vi was beginning to panic and Kennedy realized that she needed to stop the girl before it impeded her ability to get herself and the other slayers out of there.
"See that car down there?" Kennedy asked, pointing out into the darkness. Vi squinted as she searched for it and nodded when she finally spotted the vehicle. "Willing to bet money on the fact that it's how Faith got them out here."
"And you really think she's just going to hand you the keys and let you rescue her hostage?" Vi asked incredulously.
"Not exactly. Growing up privileged doesn't mean I'm not street-wise. I can have that thing hot-wired in thirty seconds. The longer we wait around here arguin' about it though, the more likely it is that I'm driving outta here alone."
Kennedy held Vi's gaze in the moonlight until the girl took a deep breath and nodded, tightening her grip around the keys. Without another word, Vi made her way around the other side of the van and hopped up in the driver's seat. She put on her seat belt and started the van before offering Kennedy one last chance to hop in with them.
"Good luck?" she said.
Kennedy nodded and smiled wryly, "Gonna need it."
She stood there and watched the van pull away and made sure it was a safe distance before heading toward the service shack. She made a conscientious effort to walk quietly, not letting the heels of her boots scrape on the bumpy terrain. There was no more screaming from the shack but she heard the unmistakable sound of someone beating on something in there.
Taking a cautious walk around the small building to scope it out before entering, Kennedy finally approached a partially opened metal door and peeked inside, careful to remain hidden in the shadows.
What she saw nearly took her break away.
Buffy was tied up to a chair in the center of the room, broken, bloody, and barely conscious. She wasn't sure what Faith had done to her but it seemed like the torture session was in a lull now. Faith was pulverizing a wooden crate into a hundred pieces, letting it join the thousands that were already on the floor. There was a faint trail of black smoke lingering around her, almost like her body could no longer contain the wrath that was building inside of her.
Glancing even further into the room, Kennedy noticed what Buffy's eyes were trained on: The Last was standing there with his hand over his amulet, seemingly humming from the power within it and coming off of Faith who he was watching intently. By the time she looked back at Buffy, she noticed that the girl was looking over at her, finding her eyes through the impossible darkness of the slightly opened door.
Buffy's eyes were wide and she was very gently shaking her head 'no' but that wasn't about to stop Kennedy from at least trying to free her. Dying now or in an hour didn't matter, so long as she could say she tried.
Using all of the stealth that she could muster, Kennedy slipped inside the door and into the shadows against the wall, hoping that her entrance had gone unnoticed. When neither The Last nor Faith seemed to flinch, she crept slowly toward the center of the room, barely even breathing.
Buffy's breathing was quick and uneven as Kennedy slipped her fingertips under the ropes on her chest, trying unsuccessfully to slip them down or loosen them even the slightest bit. She learned the hard way that Buffy was injured under the ropes by the almost unnoticeable squeak of pain that Buffy let out
Suddenly the frantic smashing of crates halted and Kennedy looked over to find Faith's black eyes staring at her. Kennedy's first instinct was to retreat; to get the hell out of there and as far away as possible,
Her feet wouldn't move though, and instead she blindly tugged on the ropes binding Buffy's hands, one last ditch effort to free the girl. She was so busy keeping her focus on Faith that she didn't see the trail of black smoke headed for her, coiling around her legs and torso and finally entering her through her nose and mouth.
She stumbled at first and was just about to topple over when she suddenly stood straight and looked around the room lazily. The Last merely watched with amusement as the girl found a nice cuddly corner of the room and curled up nice and cozy on the floor.
Ah, sloth. It was one of his favorite sins.
"A team of slayers and witches at their disposal and that's who the Scooby Team sends?" Faith taunted as she approached Buffy once again, her knuckles bleeding from the abuse she let loose on the crates. "Gotta say, B; really looks like you slipped down a couple rungs on the ladder of importance since retiring."
Buffy remained quiet as Faith lazily picked wooden splinters from her knuckles. Kennedy had been right there and she was still no better off now than she had been before her arrival. The bindings on her hands were a bit looser now though, and maybe if she could just . . .
"How does it feel to know that your friends aren't coming for you this time, B?" Faith asked as she slowly circled Buffy, letting the tip of her knife scrape over the ropes as she went.
She didn't notice the way Buffy was moving and stretching her hands, getting the ropes looser and looser with every second that passed by.
"It makes me feel happy. At least I know they're safe."
Faith chuckled and let the blade slip between the ropes for a fleeting moment to slice another angry red line into Buffy's flesh.
"You really think a couple hundred miles is gonna save your pals?" Faith asked. Suddenly she was straddling Buffy's lap, staring right into her eyes. "Remember what The First did to Sunnydale? This is gonna make that look like some kid kicking over an anthill in comparison."
"Don't even bring up that sissy," The Last said angrily as he stepped further into the light. Faith didn't react to his words but Buffy looked over at him from the corner of her eyes. "The whole entire demon population was talking about how close he came to finishing off the place but no one seems to remember how often he fails. Do you know what they fail to acknowledge every time?"
Buffy didn't answer but merely continued to look up at him as he got closer and closer.
"I never fail," he said, his smile incandescent as he held out his arms proudly. "You can't beat me; no one can. I'm the evil that's present inside every man woman and child. There's no getting rid of me unless you wipe yourselves out too."
"So why don't you leave us to our vices then?" Buffy asked. "Humans are self-destructive; give us two-hundred years and we'll do the job ourselves."
The Last laughed at that and turned his back on them as he walked back toward the shadows, caressing his amulet once again.
"Because I like your power. All of that dark energy in each and every one of you . . . I could just eat it up with a spoon, darling. Do you know what my sin is? Greed. I want all of that energy." He turned around and faced them then, his eyes meeting Buffy's once again. "And it's about time I collect. Faith? Show her what you're made of, baby."
Buffy quickly looked back at Faith and could practically feel the wrath coming off of her in waves. This was it; the end. It was her very last chance to stop this. She had to think fast.
"D-do you remember that time in Sunnydale, when you came back and took the girls out to The Bronze?" she began quickly, her voice stuttery as she tried to arrange her thoughts. When Faith didn't react, she swiftly continued. "I was mad that you took them out, sure, but I was even more upset that you hadn't asked me to go."
"Always needed to be the center of attention, didn't ya?" Faith asked angrily, letting the knife dance along the ropes again.
Buffy ignored the way Faith was trying to bait her and continued on.
"You came back, and even after everything you'd been through, you grew into a fun and good and better person than I ever thought possible. I was envious, and jealous, and I wanted so badly for you to need me like you did when we were younger."
"Always about you, ain't it princess?" Faith asked, letting the knife slip shallowly into Buffy's shoulder.
Buffy gasped loudly but fought back the pain so that she could continue again.
"You got hurt and we finally talked – finally came to some kind of an understanding – and I watched over you when you slept that night. You didn't know I did but I was there, and I watched you, and I was amazed at the person you'd become. And then when I came to Las Vegas, you kept on amazing me again and again. You had this life that I never thought I wanted again, but you made me want it. You made me want you, Faith. I wanted to be here with you, and I wanted you to look at me the way you used to; the way I was starting to look at you. I needed you, and I wanted you to need me."
"Needed you like I needed another hole in my head," Faith practically snarled, black smoke starting to swirl gently around her.
"I envied you. I wanted you, the life you have here. I was feeding The Last without him ever having to infect me."
"He certainly did infect you though, didn't he," Faith asked and looked Buffy up and down, not noticing that her hands were mostly untied now. "Fucked like bunnies for the better part of a day. Nothin' like a bit of lust to get your motor running."
"I didn't need to be infected to feel that, Faith. Even when Dawn saved us, I looked up at you and I didn't want you to stop. And later that night when it was just the two of us, I wanted you again."
"Once you pop, you can't stop? Isn't that right?" Faith asked, pumping her hips forward just once for emphasis.
Her lewdness wasn't lost on Buffy but there was no way Buffy was going to let it thwart her now. She was still alive, which had to mean she was doing something right. Taking a chance, she shook her right hand free from the now loose rope and sneakily took Faith's free hand in hers. The Last hadn't seen the small action because Faith's body had been blocking it but Faith certainly took notice and looked down at their joined hands with confusion on her face.
"No, I can't stop," Buffy said quietly, her eyes pleading with Faith's. "I want you, Faith. I want to make up for all the time we spent fighting. You made me see the real you, and once I did, I . . ."
Buffy suddenly gasped and looked down to see the knife in Faith's hand, now wedged firmly between the ropes and into the side of her abdomen. The pain was white hot but not as painful as the realization that she was going to die without Faith knowing exactly what she meant to her. She slammed her eyes shut and took a few shaky breaths, unable to stop the tears that spilled down her cheeks and over her lips.
When she opened them, Faith was staring at her intently, nothing but a void behind her black eyes.
"What are you waiting for?" The Last asked. "Finish her off!"
Using the last of her strength, Buffy slipped her hand from around Faith's and raised it up to the girl's face, cupping it softly.
"I love you," she said with a shuddery breath.
Before Faith realized what was happening, Buffy surged forward the few inches between them and pressed their lips together, kissing her ever so softly.
One last kiss before oblivion.
A fire grew in Faith's heart that quickly spread throughout the rest of her body. She suddenly flew off of Buffy's lap and across the room, crashing into a wall and sliding down it like a ragdoll. Black smoke poured out of her and began to swirl around the room like a tornado, picking up all kinds of debris and tossing it dangerously around.
She was dazed for a few moments but when she came to she shook her head and looked around trying to figure out what was real and what was a dream. Kennedy was laying across the room and The Last was shouting and screaming all kinds of nonsense at her, but then she saw Buffy in the middle of the room with a panicked look on her face.
"Faith!" Buffy yelled, in her own personal agony that she couldn't check that the girl was okay or not.
"B?" Faith began, confused, then took in the girl's injured state. "Oh shit, Buffy!"
She was quickly on her feet and running towards Buffy, ignoring the shards of wood that cut and sliced her skin as she passed through the tornado of black smoke. Her hands were pulling at the ropes and trying to free the girl and she was vaguely aware that she was being spoken to but she couldn't get past her own inner-panic that she'd done that to Buffy.
"Listen to me!" Buffy yelled, finally getting the girl's attention. "He's absorbing the energy."
Faith looked over and saw The Last standing with his arms spread and his eyes closed, a pleasure-filled smile on his face as the black smoke from the tornado began to pour into the glowing amulet embedded in his chest.
"He's vulnerable, Faith!" Buffy shouted, her voice barely audible of the sound of the whipping wind. "Faith, now!"
Without another word, Faith suddenly charged at The Last as the last remnants of black smoke swirled around her and tried to get back to the amulet. She was a slayer though; inherently fast and strong and better than whatever the fuck the smoke was. She jumped and flew through the air with her feet out and directed right at The Last's chest. He opened his eyes a split-second before her boots hit the amulet with a sickening crunch, shoving the now broken jewel even deeper within his chest cavity.
Both the momentum from the kick and the explosive pressure of black smoke leaving the amulet in a whirlwind sent him flying backwards into a heap of wooden crates. He was pinned there as the smoke swirled out of him and into the room, creating a raging storm within the confines of the metal-walled building. The pressure was too much and the roof and all four walls blew off with no warning, leaving them all exposed to the night air.
The black smoke quickly dissipated in the desert blackness, free at last. The dust and debris began to settle, leaving Buffy, Faith, and a now non-infected Kennedy coughing while The Last spluttered in horror. He tried to stand but felt weakened by his lack of power and fell back to the crates in a rage.
"Now you're in trouble, you bitch," he growled at Faith, his red eyes glowing menacingly as he continued into another tirade about how big and bad he was, yada yada yada.
His power was gone though, vanished out into the night. Black blood dripped from his chest where the amulet was embedded, sharp shards still sticking out of the hole.
He was just another bad guy now.
Faith looked over at him and then down at her feet as some debris – a torn up piece of the metal wall – landed at her feet. She casually bent down and picked it up, then wound back at tossed it like a Frisbee over at The Last.
His words were cut off mid-sentence . . . along with his head. His body slouched down and his head rolled down the crates and onto the floor, landing at Faith's feet.
She looked at it only for a moment or two before an angry look crossed her face. She quickly lifted her foot and brought it down hard, pulverizing the head under her boot. Several moments passed by as she looked down at what had been his head, recalling everything that he'd put her through over the months. He was gone now but the scars remained.
A noise behind her jarred Faith and she quickly spun around to see Kennedy standing at Buffy's side, untying the remaining ropes around the girl. Buffy was looking up at her warily, trying to gauge what was going on behind her brown eyes.
"Faith?" she asked quietly as she tried to stand. She hissed in pain though, obviously too injured to stand on her own just yet.
Kennedy quickly ducked under Buffy's arm and helped her up while Faith just watched with a look of pure horror on her face.
"Faith . . ." Buffy tried again but was cut off by Faith this time.
"Don't, B. Just . . . don't."
The atmosphere back at Faith's place was positively jubilant as everyone gathered there to celebrate. Anya and Xander had made it back to Las Vegas just an hour before having jumped right on a return flight as soon as they'd landed and received the dozens of messages Dawn and Sara had left them.
Anya was completely shattered that she'd missed the excitement and even more so that she'd never really gotten the chance to help out as her time as a liaison to the Powers That Be. There was pouting and a bit of moping, but when she felt Xander pull her into his arms and hug her tightly, she knew that being here on Earth with him was exactly where she'd belonged the whole time.
Andrew, of course, was completely guilt-ridden and making snacks and appetizers aplenty to make up for his lack of involvement in saving the day. When they'd found him in the lower carnival level of Excalibur, he was playing skeeball completely oblivious to the fact that he had nearly thirty messages and texts waiting for him. He'd been cooking and serving since the moment they returned, anxious to be helpful even after the fact.
And hey, his talents sure were appreciated. He had thirteen slayers to feed and a handful of other guests who were sitting around now wherever they could find room as they listened to Kennedy tell the tale of what had happened.
"So I'm sneaking across the room, right? And Faith is off in the back havin' a spazz attack and unleashing on these old wooden crates while The Last was totally creepin' on her. I got over to Buffy and she was all shaking her head no and trying to make me leave but no way could I just run out of there. So I'm playing tug-o-war with the ropes and losing when my finger hits something squishy under them and I realize I'm fingering up one of her wounds."
"Yeah, totally," Kennedy continued. "B let's out this little yelp and I look up and Faith is looking at me like I'm a sandwich and she hasn't eaten in a week. I was stuck there; like my legs weren't workin' with me to get the hell outta dodge. So I just start pulling at the ropes again and I was freaking out too much to notice that The Last let out some of the toxic gas."
"It was black smoke, not toxic gas," Anya interrupted. "If you want toxic gas, you should have tried having sex in the airplane bathroom like Xander and I did after the man who'd been eating burritos in the airport used it before us."
The room went deadly quiet as all gazes moved from her to Xander. He could only sit there with wide eyes for a moment before squeezing Anya's hand a little and smiling. He couldn't be embarrassed; he was too damned happy that he had her back to be embarrassed of her!
"Anyway," Kennedy continued, "the fucker zapped me with sloth again and all I wanted to do was lay down and do absolutely nothing."
"That doesn't sound like you and your lazy ass at all," Rona piped up, earning a glare from Kennedy and a laugh from all of the other slayers around them.
"What happened next?" Anya asked, then looked over at Xander. "This is so exciting!"
"Faith started doing the whole possessed by darkness thing; yunno taunting Buffy and trying to hurt her and stuff. And I think that Buffy knew that it was the end cos she just went into this whole speech thing."
"What did she say?" Anya asked excitedly.
Kennedy smiled and looked down at her lap, remembering the things Buffy had said to Faith to bring her down from the edge. It had been personal, and thinking back on it she felt kind of bad for having been there when those words were finally spoken, but she was happy for hearing them anyhow. Maybe after all these years, Buffy and Faith could finally have the happiness they deserved – together.
"Just a bunch of stuff," Kennedy said and shrugged. When everyone booed and began to throw popcorn at her for being so vague, she quickly stood and batted it away while laughing. "Hey, hey . . . it's not my business, and it's not your business either. You want that part of the story, you've gotta go straight to the sources."
And with both Buffy and Faith noticeably absent from the festivities, no one was going to nag her about that much longer. They wanted to know how it ended!
"Come on, get to the good part!" Anya encouraged her.
"Fine, fine," Kennedy said, taking her seat on the arm of the sofa again. "So Faith gets knocked back and there's smoke pouring outta her like crazy, and it starts swirling around like some kind of tornado. It took her a second to come to but when she did, she realized what was going on. She went to help Buffy but that's when she realized that The Last was absorbing the power and that he was vulnerable. A well-placed flying kick later and The Lasts' amulet was in pieces in his chest. The black tornado was back and the walls blew out all crazy and then BAM: Invincible bad guy was just a good old-fashioned bad guy again."
"So what happened then?" Anya asked, sitting on the edge of her seat. "Faith pummeled him into oblivion? Punched his face in? Kicked his butt seven ways to Sunday?"
Kennedy kinda chuckled and answered, "'fraid not, Ahn. There was this piece of jagged metal that just happened to be nearby. One toss later and The Last was no more. Kinda lost his head over it."
The slayers all hooted and hollered while Anya flomped back and looked mildly disappointed.
"Well that was rather anti-climactic," she said. "I wanted bloodshed and gore. Is it wrong to expect more violence?"
"I, for one, am just glad it's all over," Xander said happily. "Maybe we can all get back to some kind of a semblance of a normal life now." And suddenly he was covered in popcorn as everyone booed and laughed at him. "Was it something I said?"
"You jinxed it," Anya said, picking popcorn from his hair. "It's a good thing you're so handsome and well-endowed or I might have a hard time forgiving you."
There was a resounding groan throughout the room echoed by everyone but Xander who was just smiling proudly.
"But when do we get to find out what Buffy said to fix Faith?" Rona asked. "And where is Buffy anyhow?"
Kennedy's smile faltered and eventually fell as she looked down at her lap again.
"She checked into a hotel. Think she just needed some time to be alone. So much happened; I guess it's just a lot to take in. A little bit of quiet, a little bit of time; I'm sure she'll be back to her normal self soon."
"What about Faith?" Xander asked, looking intently at Kennedy.
The girl finally looked up and met his gaze, a knowing look passing between them. They both knew Faith, and they both knew that she was going to be beating herself up over this.
"Hopefully she'll be okay too."
**(Suggested listening: Flames by VAST)**
Buffy stood in front of the bathroom mirror, looking over the angry cuts and bruises that marred her body. They were in various states of healing and would be completely gone within a week, but just looking at them now filled her with something that she couldn't put her finger on. Just stripping down had been a chore and had taken longer than it should have, but she needed to get out of those bloody clothes and into a hot shower.
Kennedy was right; Buffy probably did need a visit to the hospital for a couple of stitches but that was the last place she wanted to be right now. She needed to be here, in the hotel, far away from doctors and young slayers that were just dying to ask her a million questions. That could come later. Right now, she just needed this.
She pulled back the glass door and turned on the water in the shower, adjusting it to the perfect temperature before stepping in and under the warm spray. The water ran over her scarred body and down to the floor where it swirled in shades of red and pink, evidence of her injuries. She turned around and tucked her chin against her chest, then closed her eyes and let the water beat on her back. She stayed like that for several minutes until she opened her eyes and looked down, noticing that the water was running clear.
Taking a deep breath, she turned around and grabbed a wash cloth, holding it under the water until it was thoroughly soaked. Hotel soap wasn't exactly nice but it would do the job. She grabbed it and placed it within the wash cloth, then gently rubbed it back and forth until the cloth was full of sudsy bubbles. She hadn't even had a chance to finish putting the soap back on the ledge when she felt someone step in the shower behind her and close the door quickly so that none of the water could drench the floor.
There was a tense silence before she felt two hands running gently down her arms, careful to avoid her injuries. The hands traveled all the way down to her fingertips where she was still holding the sudsy cloth.
Ever so carefully, the hands took the cloth and began to softly run it over her abdomen, over her chest and shoulders, then down her arms again.
Buffy couldn't take the silence any longer, though, and quickly turned around to come face to face with Faith who was still having a hard time meeting her gaze.
Faith's eyes darkened when she saw the full extent of Buffy's injuries up close and personal. She began to pull her hands away, horrified at having been the one to inflict the damage, but Buffy didn't let her go far. The blonde took Faith's hands in hers and wrapped them behind her so that Faith was holding her.
Faith was still looking down, avoiding Buffy's eyes, but Buffy brought her hand under Faith's chin and made her look up, finally sharing a gaze with the girl. Faith looked absolutely miserable and guilt-ridden. Her eyes were wet with tears that she was too stubborn to let fall.
"B . . ." she began, but Buffy's finger on her lips stopped her from going on.
"It wasn't you," Buffy said quietly.
"How do you know that? How can you be here with me right now after everything . . .?"
"Because this is you, Faith," Buffy interrupted, letting her hand rest over Faith's heart. Then she grabbed one of Faith's hands and held it over her heart, too. "This is us. And if you're guilt-ridden forever, we're never going to be able to get past this."
"I'm so sorry," Faith uttered, her voice barely audible. She couldn't help herself any longer and suddenly pulled Buffy into her embrace, just holding the girl under the warm spray.
Buffy ran her hands down Faith's hair and over her back again and again, trying to soothe her. She heard Faith sniffle a few times before she rested her head on Buffy's shoulder and took in several deep breaths, then let her lips graze gently over her neck in the softest of kisses.
Buffy closed her eyes and felt her heart immediately begin to beat a little faster, a little harder. Faith was kissing her neck so slowly, so softly, and she felt like she just might melt into a big puddle of goo on the shower floor.
She didn't though; Faith held her tight and didn't let her go anywhere. Faith's lips eventually made their way up over Buffy's jaw, to the corner of her mouth, and finally to her lips where they were met with equally gentle kisses.
Buffy felt water spilling on her cheeks and she knew that it wasn't from the shower. She smiled to herself, so happy that they were finally here; that this was really, finally happening.
It had been a long, strange, and often difficult journey, but they'd finally reached their destination. It could only get better from here.
She felt Faith rest her forehead against hers and then heard the words whispered that she wasn't sure she'd ever hear:
"I love you, Buffy."
Buffy hugged Faith a little tighter, injuries be damned, and couldn't fight the huge smile that appeared on her face.
"I love you, too."
Jil'hanesh walked along through the ether with his new friend, a big smile on his face as he looked down on the scene before them.
"Are you sure it's safe for them to be doing that? I mean, hello . . . slayer constitution and all, but still, they're both pretty gruesome and injured. And for the record, don't you feel like a bit of a creeper watching them do that?"
Jil'hanesh watched only for a moment longer as Faith lay above Buffy on the hotel bed, moving gently over her lover. The girls couldn't seem to stop kissing for a moment and the love pouring from them could be felt even from a half a world away.
"They wouldn't be doing that if they couldn't. And it's only creeping if you get off on it," he answered easily.
"Oh." There was a short pause before the girl replied, "Well, Cordelia Chase may be a lot of things – including dead – but she certainly doesn't get off on lesbian pseudo-porn."
"Then neither of us are creepers. The angels sing, the heavens rejoice."
"Yeah, yeah," Cordelia said dismissively. She looked at the heavens around them before continuing, "It's pretty nice up here."
"Yeah, but it's even nicer down there."
"That's very true," Cordelia said somewhat sadly. "But knowing that they're all okay; that we can look down on them and keep them safe; I guess it's an OK deal."
"Sometimes it is," he answered vaguely. "But when you're like me . . . when you can travel to and from, and you know the darkness that lies ahead; sometimes it can all be a bit much."
"Maybe you just need a vacation," Cordelia suggested, earning a playful glare from Jil'hanesh.
"The world is a dark place, Cordelia. People fight to see the good, but one day they're going to wake up and see that the darkness is winning. That it's on its way now and that they are powerless against it."
"Blah blah blah. Are you always this pessimistic?"
Jil'hanesh merely chuckled, his eyes focused on the vision before them again. Suddenly he became very serious, his eyes never leaving Faith's form.
"Maybe I should tell her."
"No, you can't do that," Cordelia said, shaking her head.
"Maybe if she knew; if they all knew. Maybe they could prepare."
"They have to figure it out on their own. The Powers That Be have already threatened to anchor you if you interfere again."
"They can use the heads up. Life can be tough."
"Yeah, but people are tougher."
And Cordelia was right. When faced with certain doom, people always seemed to come through. It was one of the resounding qualities about humans that he just loved so much.
"Maybe you're right."
"Of course I am. I'm Queen C, and the buck stops with me."
Jil'hanesh chuckled again and finally looked away from the vision and met Cordelia's gaze.
"Are you sure I can't just give them a little warning? I can be there and back before anyone knows . . ."
"Oh no you don't, Bub!" Cordelia said and grabbed his arm, dragging him off toward the sunset. "You let them have this time; they deserve it."
"I'm sure they wouldn't mind . . ."
Their voices faded as they walked along, leaving only the opened vision behind them. Faith and Buffy were wrapped around one another, staring into one another's eyes and smiling softly.
Cordelia was right; people were tough. Buffy and Faith were evident of that much. Five years of ups and downs and here they were, finally together.
And only together could they fight the coming storm.
"Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul."
--Invictus by William Ernest Henley