The Road Less Traveled
Chapter One—Escaping Sunnydale
"What are we gonna do now?"
For a moment, the blonde allowed her mind to explore the possibilities: starting a new life in a new city, Dawn enrolling in a normal high school, owning a car, Norman Rockwell Thanksgivings, washing wine and spaghetti sauce out of her shirts instead of blood and dust.
She closed her eyes and inhaled deeply.
They weren't there yet.
Faith sat on the bus steps, taking a slow drag off her cigarette. Andrew and some of the girls slept around the fire a little ways off. They had all waited until dark to drive the conspicuous school bus full of battle-bloodied people to a larger area, one with a hospital (and a grocery store). Wood and Buffy, along with many of the girls, were going to have to be at the hospital overnight. Willow and Kennedy were to secure a car or van, since they were the least beat-up and had the best driving records. Giles was trying to find a place for all of them to go. And Xander. . .
Faith ground her cigarette into the dirt with her boot.
She hadn't seen Xander for awhile.
Faith stood up, arching her back. She stuck her hands in her pockets and leaned back against the bus. She sighed. Come on, Xander.
Ah. There he was.
She could just make him out in the darkness, slowly making his way back to camp from wherever he'd wandered. He stopped a few hundred feet from the glow of the fire, under one of the few trees in the area.
Faith ducked back in the bus and grabbed a beer from the cooler. It wasn't exactly cold anymore, but it didn't really matter. She started out for the tree.
Xander didn't seem to notice her approaching. She kicked up a few extra rocks and cleared her throat so as not to startle him. He straightened up.
"Oh. Faith. Hey. I was. . ." He let out a short laugh and gestured at the desert. "I was checking out our new place. I cant seem to find any washer/dryer hookups, but hey—it's spacious."
"Can't argue with you there." Faith handed him the beer. Xander looked at her, and took it.
They were both quiet for awhile. The sounds of the desert night were a stark contrast to the last 24 hours; even when it was silent in Sunnydale, there was an anxious vibration in the air that never truly gave you peace. Sometimes that was a good thing; when your mind was racing, preparing, it never really had time to. . .settle.
Xander sighed and ran a hand through his hair.
"She never stopped talking. God," he laughed again, "she would talk to me while I was asleep. I mean, she thought I was asleep. . . heck, I was trying to sleep most of the time, but. . . but I heard her. And now. . ." Xander looked back out over the desert. "It's so empty. I always thought I liked the quiet, you know? And now I've never been so afraid."
Xander took a deep breath, then pressed his hand to his forehead and ran it down over his eyes. "Any sign of Willow yet? I'm keeping my fingers crossed for an old Mustang."
"Not yet. I'm sure one of them will be back soon to check in. I'm kinda surprised none of the superbrats carried a cell phone into battle."
"Especially since some of them did wear heels."
"Seriously? Are you kidding?"
"I know. I tried to warn them. I got horrible blisters last time I did that."
Faith laughed. Xander smiled and took a swig from his beer. She nodded at him and started back for the bus. She'd rather sleep there than risk a Kumbaya by the fire.
"Yeah?" She stopped, cracking her knuckles.
Xander looked at her. "Thanks."
"Don't mention it."
An old Jimmy and a Ford 15-passenger van pulled up to camp within seconds of each other. The sound woke Faith, already a light sleeper. Something's wrong.
Faith ran out of the bus in time to see Willow and Kennedy jump out of the cars. "Hey."
"Hey," Willow exhaled. "We've got to get everyone moving."
"What's going on? What happened?"
Kennedy shook her head, irritated. "The destruction of an entire town didn't go unnoticed. We got everyone set up in the hospital just in time to catch the broadcast."
"They think it was a terrorist attack," Willow said.
Faith did a take. "Are you KIDDING me?"
"No," Kennedy growled.
"Wow. Ok, 'no rest for the weary,' I guess." Faith sighed.
Willow looked worried. "We've got to everyone away from here. We're still too close to Sunnyda. . . to the site."
"We got a plan?"
"We're supposed to drive east and rendezvous with Giles at a hotel in 2 days. We've got two phones; he's got the third. He's going to call us and see how far we've gotten."
"Where the hell is he?"
Kennedy shrugged. "No idea. He said not to worry, it's all being taken care of. When he knows where we are, he can get us rooms."
"Wait," Faith said, "What about Buffy? Robin?"
"We figured it was better to leave them at the hospital while we cleared out back here; it will give them a little more time to rest and get proper treatment."
"We'll get them when we drive back through on our way out," Kennedy added.
"Ok," Faith said. She looked towards their 'camp' and shook her head. "We'd better erase as much of this as we can."
"I'll get everyone moving." Kennedy started toward the sleeping forms.
"We gotta ditch the bus."
Thirty minutes later, Faith slowed the bus to a stop. The road started to buckle just past the headlights, and Faith knew they were there. She hopped out. Willow stepped out of the Jimmy and gave her a grim smile.
"Well…here we are. Again."
"I gotta admit, Willow—I really thought we could stay away longer than half a day."
"Nah. It may be a collapsed, demon-y, hell-crater, but it's our collapsed, demon-y hell-crater."
"That it is." Faith sighed. "You ready?"
Faith got into the driver's side of the Jimmy and watched as Willow lit a path for herself in front of the bus. The hole-formerly-known-as-Sunnydale started less than a hundred feet away, but it would still be quite the challenge for the depleted witch. Willow was up for it, however—the bus started to creep forwards. Faith wrapped her hands around the steering wheel and leaned forward. The lower half of the bus was giving off a soft, golden glow, and there was a faint humming in the air that Faith could even feel on her skin. Willow's hair was gently moving, as if caught in a faint breeze. She made no move to brush it out of her face; she was too focused on the task at hand, her hands raised and steady, her eyes unblinking. It took less than a minute for the bus to disappear over the edge and be swallowed by the abyss.
Faith sat up and shook her head slowly. "Damn."
Willow walked slowly back to the car and slid into the passenger's seat. She closed her eyes.
"Willow, you ok?"
"Yeah, I'm fine." Willow opened her eyes and rolled her head around to look at Faith. She smiled. "Let's get the hell outta here."
When they got back to camp, everyone looked locked and loaded. They had done a good job erasing any signs of the fire.
Faith rolled down the driver's window. "Xander, we good?"
Xander glanced at the van, then jogged over. "Yeah; we're good. We're cramped and worried, but good."
"All right then."
Dawn jumped out of the van and ran to the passenger's side of the Jimmy. She opened the door.
". . .Willow?"
Willow smiled slowly. "Hey, Dawnie. You ok?"
"Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine, I just. . ."
"Hate to interrupt you, Pint-Size, but we really gotta split. Willow's fine."
Dawn glared across the car at Faith. Willow quickly intervened.
"Dawnie, you're going to freak Kennedy out, and then where am I gonna be? Hmmm?"
Faith sighed. "Dawn, ride with us a bit. Hop in the back; let's just get going."
Dawn climbed in while Xander made his way back to the van. After a moment, Kennedy gave a thumbs-up out the window. Faith returned it, and they were off.
Faith hated waiting. She also hated hospitals. She leaned against the steering wheel, silently urging Dawn and Xander to pick up the pace. What was the holdup in there?
Willow noticed Faith trying to keep it together. "Hey."
"Yeah? What's up? You see 'em?"
"They'll be here soon."
"Right. Right. Hey, are they gonna be alright, us takin' 'em outta here and everything? Not that I want to leave them here or anything. You know."
"They'll be ok. We just have to keep them rested. But they'll be fine."
"Right. Gotta love that slayer healing."
"Well, yes, but. . ." Willow gave Faith a look. "Robin doesn't quite have that, remember."
Faith got quiet. "No. Right. Of course not."
"He's ok though. I mean, he lost a lot of blood, and his recovery will take a little longer, but he will recover."
"Right." Faith cleared her throat. "Here they are."
Willow watched as Faith jumped out of the car. She turned her eyes to the group. Most everyone was walking out, except for Robin, who was wheeled out by Xander. Buffy was leaning against Dawn.
Willow started as Kennedy opened her door.
"Sorry," Kennedy said, a look of guilt on her face. "I didn't mean to. . . I just wanted to see how you were doing."
Willow smiled and took Kennedy's hand. "Don't worry. I'm of the good."
Kennedy nodded and looked away.
Willow's brow furrowed. She squeezed Kennedy's hand. "Hey."
"Sorry, I just. . ." She laughed nervously. "I just thought this was done. You know? I thought I'd just be holding you tonight. Safe."
"I know." Willow wrapped her arms around Kennedy's waist. "You know. . .I still shouldn't drive. You need someone shotgun?"
Kennedy smiled and brushed Willow's hair behind her ear. "Totally."
"What do you mean, we don't know where he is?"
"I don't know, Buff, but you know Giles, he—"
"Do I?" Buffy said angrily, taking her arm from around Dawn and straightening up. "Xander, he—"
"—fought at your side yesterday, just like the rest of us," Xander finished. "Buffy, I'm sorry, but we just don't have time to get into this again. We have to—"
"—drive two days into nowhere. With injured people. And then wait for his call? I'm sorry, but—"
"What, it's too weird? Really Buffy, for us this sounds pretty mundane."
"Xander, I just don't see how. . ." Buffy grew quiet as her hand traveled up to hold her stomach. She closed her eyes and reached out for the stability of the car.
Buffy grimaced. "I'm ok, Dawn." She sighed and looked up at Xander. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry; you're right. Let's just get out of here before people start asking questions."
"All right. Here," Xander held open the passenger door of the Jimmy for her. Willow had already resettled in the van. Buffy eased herself in.
Xander clapped a hand on Dawn's shoulder. "All right, Dawnie; you're in the van with the rest of us. There won't be any more room once we load Robin in the back here; he's got to lie down."
Buffy closed her eyes as Faith and Xander slowly worked Robin into the backseat. At first he'd seemed coherent; but anyone who got close enough to hear him could tell it was nonsense words coming out of his mouth. Drugs were wonderful things. When he was secure, Faith came back around to the driver's side and got in. She glanced at Buffy. "B? You good?"
Buffy didn't open her eyes. "I'm fine. Let's go."
Faith shook her head and started the car.
"Where are we?"
Faith gripped the steering wheel and looked at the passenger seat. Buffy was awake. She'd slept the rest of the night through, not even waking up when Dawn kept calling to check in.
"Uh, Arizona. Somewhere."
Buffy slowly sat up straighter, grimacing as she did so. "What time is it?"
Buffy raised an eyebrow. "Hey, Speed Racer."
"What? B, we had to get out of that place! And anyway, we're not that far in." "Fine. Where are the others?"
"About 2 hours behind us."
"Why? What happened?"
"Geez, Buffy—nothing happened! They just have about 12 more bathroom and food breaks to worry about than we do. Everything's ok." Faith grabbed her cigarettes off the dash. Empty. Damn.
Buffy leaned back. "Sorry."
They heard movement in the backseat. Faith glanced in the rearview mirror. "Robin?"
He murmured something before dropping off again. Faith's focus turned back to the road. Buffy was watching her.
"He's going to be ok, you know. The doctors said we wouldn't have to worry."
"Yeah. That's good."
Buffy's brow furrowed, but she said nothing. It grew quiet again. Buffy stared out the window. As the dry terrain whipped past them, Buffy was reminded of her last wheeled escape from Sunnydale. So much time had passed since then; so much had happened. And of course, the first one had come with knights on horseback. Hmmm. Wait. She glanced over her shoulder. Ok. No horses. We're good.
"I said you should probably get the phone; I'm sure it's Dawn again. She's been worried about you."
Buffy glanced to the phone Faith was holding out. She hadn't even heard it ringing.
While Buffy talked to her sister, Faith fidgeted in the driver's seat. She needed a break. Badly. Unlike the other car, Faith hadn't stopped for anything. Driving away from Sunnydale had felt so natural, so good. Driving east, she'd met the sunrise of a new day head-on. She felt like she was truly beginning a whole new life, that she was in control of what happened next.
But now Buffy was awake. Faith was frustrated with herself, that her sense of peace and control were never where they should be when Buffy was around. There was always anxiety just below the surface. Now that the spell was broken, Faith realized how hungry she was, how much she had to pee, and how much the car needed gas. She turned off at the next exit.