Chapter 35

"Well this is eventful. Where are we?"

Faith looked around her at their surroundings. "No idea. Part of a city somewhere?"

The pair was standing in the middle of an empty road, with darkened business style buildings on either side of the street. It was dark out, the cloud-concealed moon giving off only a faint glow up above.

"This is yourdream."

"Yeah, doesn't mean I know where I am."

"Oh, look, I see you!" Buffy bounced up and down like a child, pointing further down the road. Sure enough, the dream-Faith had just turned a corner and was bolting down the street as fast as she could. "What are you running from?"

"No idea. I never saw it. Let's go, we're gonna lose her – me." She broke off into a fast paced run, Buffy right behind her. The followed the dream-Faith as she made her way through the deserted streets trying to escape whatever she was running from.

Buffy was looking over her shoulder periodically as they followed the other Faith. "I can hear it," she said, "what's following you. But I can't actually see anything." She glanced forward at the same moment dream-Faith turned suddenly to run down an empty alleyway. "Oh, brilliant move," she said with heavy sarcasm as the sound of a trashcan falling over erupted in the silence. "Way to tell it exactly where you are."

"You done criticizing me? Come on," Faith insisted, following where her dream-self had run. They turned the corner and found dream-Faith climbing the straight-ladder hanging down from the fire-escape on the side of one of a building.

"What happens next," Buffy asked, looking up at the fleeing Faith.

"I… I think I break through one of the doors to get inside."

"So… we have to climb up after you?" she asked, clearly not liking the idea.

"No… i-it won't work. I slam the door after me. We won't be able to get up fast enough."

"So, Obi Wan, how do we get inside?"

Faith approached the side of the building, laying her hand on the cool, dark bricks. This is my dream, isn't it? So… can I…? she pressed her hand into the exterior wall, and after a moment it seemed to sink inside the brickwork. Wicked!

"B, this way," she called as she stepped through the wall and into the building.

Right. The motel. She was standing inside her old Sunnydale motel room. Buffy pushed through the wall and stepped into the room next to her. "Well that was…" she noticed where they were, "freaky. This… this is your old motel room."

"Yeah. Carpet stains and all."

"And where are…" Dream-Faith clamoured through the door, slamming it behind her. "Ah, there you are." They watched as the dream version of Faith caught her breath and then moved towards the bathroom. Buffy followed immediately, Faith hung back a few steps.

"Faith?"

"I've already seen it. There's not a whole lot of room for the three of us," she lied.

She just really didn't want to witness it again, listening to Dani plea for her help while she stood there stupidly. Standing in the doorway, she watched Buffy look in the mirror.

"Wow. I…" Buffy said, staring at the split-image of Faith in the mirror. One half her younger self, the other her current self. "I didn't realize how much older you look now."

"Oh, thanks."

"I wasn't insulting you," Buffy insisted. "I'm just saying, looking at the two halves, you can see that you've grown up."

"That isn't me."

"What?"

Faith nodded towards the mirror, where it had begun speaking to dream-Faith. "That's Dani, not me."

"Oh," Buffy whispered quietly.

"I'm not you, Faith. You know who I am."

Dream-Faith looked very confused. "I do?" she asked the girl in the mirror.

"Oh my God, there are too many of you to look at," Buffy whispered to herself. "It's hurting my head."

Faith shushed her, "B. Listen. It's important."

"It's coming, Faith. The darkness. It comes from deep inside the ground. You have to be ready."

"What?"

"Save them, Faith, while you still can."

"Is she talking about the Potentials?"

"No idea," Faith shrugged, turning away from the discussion. She remembered this part of the dream very well; it was where Dani was begging Faith to rescue her. She really didn't want to hear it again. She walked back into the main room, looking around in boredom waiting for the dream to move forward. Eventually her dream-self exited the bathroom and sat down on the bed, inspecting the state of the room. Buffy followed her and stood next to Faith.

"That was intense."

"Yeah," Faith replied dully. Then, after a moment, "You won't like this part."

"Oh?"

"I remember this. You aren't going to like it."

"What? Why? Why won't I-"

"Faith."

Buffy whirled around at the sound of her own voice. Her jaw dropped when she saw another version of herself standing in the middle of the room. "I'm in your dream?"

Dream-Faith had dropped the piece of fruit she had been holding, "Christ, B. You scared the shit outta me."

"I can see that. But I think you mean I scared the apples out of you." The dream-Buffy sneered.

"I'm a bit of a bitch in your dream," Buffy stated calmly, staring in wonderment at her double.

Faith squeezed her eyes shut a moment, not looking forward to what was going to happen next. It wasn't like she chose for Buffy to be nasty to her in her dream, it just happened that way. She didn't want to see the blonde's reaction to just how bitchy her dream-self became.

"Any particular reason you're here, B? Last I remember you didn't really like this place."

"Well, it seemed li – I wouldn't eat that if I were you."

"Huh?"

"Watch out, the backyard's teeming with them."

Dream-Faith immediately dropped the apple in her hand, which had begun bleeding at Buffy's words. It dropped to the floor and the crimson liquid continued to seep from inside it.

"This is what you remembered, when the house was attacked."

"Yeah. Xand dropped an apple while we were at the store, it triggered me remembering this."

"Well I'm glad you did."

"Don't get too happy."

Buffy looked curiously at her, "Why?"

Faith sighed, "Just… just watch."

"So, what are you doing here?" the dream-Faith asked.

"You mean you, what are you doing here. I've always been here; you're the one that's come back." The blonde shrugged before continuing, not bothering to hide the venom in her voice. "We don't need you back, you know. I mean, it's nice of you to come back and all. But we don't need you. I'm handling things just fine on my own."

"If you're doing so hot, why'd I feel the need to come back?"

Buffy had opened her mouth to say something to Faith, but the dream blonde continued, "Because, Faith, you're like a puppy. We tell you to leave, but you keep coming back. I could beat you with a roll of newspaper and you'd still come back."

Buffy's hand flew to cover her open mouth, appalled at her counterpart's words.

"That hurt, B," The dream-Faith said quietly.

The other girl's voice was rising with anger, "So did you stealing my body, screwing my boyfriend, and trying to take over my life. Oh, and remember you joining the Mayor, poisoning Angel, and all around trying to kill us? That hurt too, Faith. You had your chance. You ruined it. I don't need you here."

"I was messed up, Buffy. I'm-"

"Making excuses. You tried to kill me Faith, sorry if I'm a little bitter."

"Yeah, but I was the one with the knife through the gut."

The dream version of the older Slayer took a threatening step forward, "I'm done with you Faith. Go home. Go back to Angel. Go back to prison. I don't care what you do, but don't stay here. I can't deal with your crap right now."

"Look, Buffy, I know I hurt you; I hurt all of you. But I'm trying to make up for it, I'm trying to-"

The venom dripping from the dream-Buffy's voice was almost visible, "I told you once before, Faith," she spat. "Apologize to me, and I will beat you. To death. We clear?"

"Oh my God," the real Buffy whispered to herself. "Faith, I-"

The Slayer was cut-off by a blood-curdling screaming coming from outside. It made all four Slayers jump in surprise.

While the dream-Buffy instructed the dream-Faith to go outside and look for the source of the screaming, Buffy spoke over her, "Faith… I…"

"It's fine, B. It's just a dream."

"I still feel guilty. Oh my God, no wonder you didn't want to come back to Sunnydale."

"Buffy-"

"Is that… is that how I come off to you?" The blonde whispered, looking like she didn't want to know the answer.

"That was the old you, B. The girl that was pissed at me for ruining her life."

Buffy still looked miserable, ashamed of the words that weren't hers. "I… I'm not her anymore," she said quietly. "I, God, I'm not mad at you anymore, Faith."

"I know."

"And… and you still came back? After seeing this?"

Faith shrugged, not really sure how to reply. "Red said you needed me." Her counterpart was out the door and running by now, "Come on, we can't lose her." She took off after the dream-Faith.

Buffy kept pace with her, "The screaming?"

"Don't remember," she said as they followed her double into the forest on the edge of the highway.

The ground under their running feet shook, causing the three Slayers to stumble. The dream-Faith landed hard on her hands and knees, cursing in pain. The real Faith staggered forward, bracing herself against a tree-trunk to keep from falling. Buffy tripped over a tree root and landed painfully on her stomach.

"Ow," the blonde hissed in pain, "You could have warned me."

"Yeah… I didn't remember that."

"What was it?" Buffy asked, picking herself up and rubbing her front delicately, soothing the pain.

"Hell if I know. Let's go, she's moving again," she nodded to where the other girl had taken off in a slow jog.

"The screaming stopped," Buffy said as she moved after Faith.

A few strides later Faith stopped short, causing Buffy to nearly run into her from behind. The dream-Faith had stopped in the middle of a clearing, staring up at a rather large tree that was being consumed by thick red-orange flames. It was a beautiful sight, despite the morbidity of the situation. Faith could feel the heat from the flames warming her skin.

"Wow." Was all the blonde Slayer said when the fire had burned itself out. Then, "Oh, my," as little green buds began erupting all over the charcoal-singed branches.

"B," Faith said, nodding behind them.

Buffy turned, following Faith's line of sight. She jumped slightly at the sight of an unknown woman approach the tree. "Who's that?"

"You know, you got pissy with me when I was the one asking the questions during your little pow-wow down memory lane."

Buffy ignored her, watching the woman as she stopped to stand beside the dream version of Faith. "It's like the phoenix, isn't it?"

Faith smirked at herself, literally, as the other her jumped nearly a foot in the air and immediately dropped into a defensive crouch, sizing up the stranger.

"On, none of that. I'm not someone you should be worried about."

"She's holding the axe." Buffy said, speaking over the old woman. Sure enough, just as Faith remembered, the frail looking woman in her faded green tunic was holding their mystery weapon in one hand. The red handle and silver of the blade glimmered in the sunlight peeking through the canopy of leaves, the wood of the stake at the bottom end looked polished and ready to do major damage.

Faith watched as her other-self continued to look defensive against the strange, old woman. "Were you the one screaming?"

"I didn't hear anyone screaming."

"What, is she deaf?" Buffy asked sceptically.

"Earlier, it sounded like someone was calling for help."

"They weren't calling for my help, Faith, so I couldn't hear them. Whoever they were, they were calling for you. Unless… maybe it was you calling for help."

"Cryptic," Faith scoffed, not able to get anything more out of what the woman had said then when she'd originally had the dream.

"Now that's a Slayer dream line if I've ever heard of one," Buffy said thoughtfully, studying the woman intently, as if trying to memorize everything she was seeing, "Giles will love it."

"Who are you exactly?"

"A shepherd of sorts, I guard and watch over things very old. I am someone who makes sure things go according to plan; make sure the proper bees move up the line in the hive. I am one of many." The woman stepped back and appraised the dream-Faith with her eyes, "I'm always surprised how adolescent you are. All of you, so infantile. None of you are ever prepared."

"Does she know you're a Slayer?"

"Thinkin' so, yeah."

"But you, Faith," the woman continued, "are powerful. Winning is up to you. Take hold of the power given to you."

"Maybe she's a Watcher."

"I'm dreaming about dead Watchers now?"

"It's possible. I mean… she doesn't look much like a Watcher, but I guess it's possible." Buffy stepped closer to the woman but didn't bring herself close enough to touch. "Obviously she knows something. 'Take hold of the power given to you?' Doesn't that sound more like something you'd say to a brand new Slayer? Or a Potential maybe? And that's exactly what the First Slayer said to me. We already know we're Slayers, what other power is there?"

"Beats me. You went to college, you tell me."

"My Psych class was run by a power-hungry military scientist, not exactly the great collage experience. I think my guess is as good as yours."

The woman held up the axe in her hand, "I see it has caught your attention. It's very special."

"It's an axe. A fancy looking one, but it's still an axe. Not that special."

Buffy rolled her eyes, "Oh, eloquent. At least I knew right away it was important. Just an axe? Clearly it isn't just an axe."

The brunette bumped her shoulder against the blonde's, "You want to hear what she has to say or not?"

"It's a weapon, a powerful one. Go on, take it. You'll put it to good use."

"It's not mine."

"It can be. It's not yet anyone else's. You shouldn't deny it."

Buffy was now giving the stranger a suspicious look, "Points to you for not taking it. We don't know whose it is or what it is. Or what it can do."

"Hey, I'm a dropout, not a dumbass. Don't take candy from strangers or whatever, right?"

The pair watched as the old woman held out the weapon for the dream-Faith. When she didn't take it, the woman nearly shoved it into the Slayer's hands. The girl jumped back, putting some distance between herself and the old woman.

"You have to learn who to trust, Faith. You know you cannot trust yourself."

"Yeah," Faith laughed, "Because that's totally the way to get me to take something from you."

"Faith," Buffy asked, glancing around, "Where'd the forest go?"

While they had been watching the interaction in front of them they hadn't notice the setting of the dream had changed once again. Now the pair was standing in the middle of a desert, with Faith's double and the old woman standing near the edge of a cliff. The deep and lush greens of the wood had been replaced with dull browns and reds of the dry sand they were standing on.

The elder woman drew herself closer to the dream-Faith, whispering, "It's a test Faith, and right now you're not passing."

Faith felt a swift wave dread come over her. She knew what happened next, remembering how the dream ended. She didn't want Buffy to see this. This was something she didn't want anyone to see. It was something she wanted to take and bury along with all her other painful memories; bury them so deep they would never resurface again.

She backed up a few paces, causing her companion to look at her, "What?"

"Come on, it's over."

"Faith, the dream is still going on. We can't leave."

"Don't worry about it," the younger Slayer insisted. "We just keep arguing about the axe." She reached and grabbed Buffy's arm, trying to pull her away.

"Faith, let go! We have to see the whole dream. We can't miss anything." Buffy broke free of her grasp, jogging a few steps to put some distance between them. "Faith, this is important!"

The brunette ran a shaky hand through her hair, knowing she wouldn't be able to move the other girl.

She didn't want to have to see it again.

"Take the scythe, Faith." The woman urged; the wind around her beginning to pick up and toss her thin, white hair around her face.

"I can't!" The other Faith replied, backing further away from the woman and closer to the edge of the cliff.

"What's wrong with her?" Buffy asked, eyes fixed on the woman. Her features were beginning to shift, her face and body beginning to transform into something new. The white hair grew darker and thicker; the wrinkles around her eyes receded and became covered with dark makeup. The green tunic transforming into leather boots and a skimpy dress. The woman's kind, wise eyes gave way to angered, bloodshot ones.

"Faith, what's going on?"

The Slayer couldn't reply. Just like her dream self was doing now, just like she had when she'd first experienced the dream, she'd felt terror grip her, freezing her body to the spot. She couldn't look away now.

"You could never do anything right, could you?" the new woman asked, raising the axe over her head, her intent to bring it down upon Faith clear in the anger reflected on her features.

Buffy gasped.

Both Faith's screamed. The dream-Faith in fear, the real Faith in rage.

The fury at her mother exploded from somewhere deep inside her. All the pain, all the neglect, all the suffering, all the torment she'd been put through as a child living under Lara Lehane's roof bubbled up inside Faith to the point where she couldn't control herself. The absolute fear she'd always lived in crashed inside Faith like a tidal wave of emotions.

In slow motion she lunged towards her mother, in that moment she took control of her life; everything she'd ever been denied, all the hurt she'd ever felt, she wanted to make her mother feel it too. She wanted Lara to understand all that she'd put her daughters through.

Faith hadn't any rational thought in those long, stretched out seconds. Had she, she would have expected to impact her mother and tackle he to the ground, or at least to pass through the woman seeing as Faith was only a bystander in the dream. Neither happened.

The brunette Slayer felt a jolt of pain as she threw herself at her mother. The red hot heat that shot through her was gone almost instantaneously, leaving her sprawled on the ground on her hands and knees.

"Faith!" She felt the blonde's hands on her shoulders, encouraging her to sit up. Faith complied, leaning back on her heels, but kept her head tilted downwards, away from Buffy's inquisitive eyes.

"Faith, Faith you're shaking," Buffy said nervously. "She's gone. It's okay, she's gone."

"Fuck," Faith breathed out, feeling her throat closing up on her. Her whole body was shaking without her permission. She ran a hand through her hair, its little uncontrolled spasms causing her fingers to get tangled in her brown locks.

Buffy's fingers enclosed hers, pulling them from her hair. The blonde shifted so she was facing Faith, "Faith… what…?"

Feeling the bile rising inside her, Faith lurched to her feet and away from Buffy. She staggered a few steps, willing everything to stay inside her stomach. "Damn it," she said shakily.

They were alone. Both Lara and the other Faith had disappeared the moment Faith's body connected with her mother's.

"Faith?" Buffy asked hesitantly, seeming to understand that Faith needed space.

"I'm sorry," the brunette managed to get out, "I… I couldn't watch that again."

"She… she was going to hurt you," the other Slayer's voice was sympathetic. "That… that was your mother." It wasn't a question.

"Got it in one," Faith said, forcing a laugh. It felt flat and hollow, echoing in the emptiness that stretched out around them.

"My God, she…" the blonde had been rendered speechless.

Faith let her legs go limp, collapsing back down into the sand. Her dark eyes squeezed shut and her hands balled into fists. She would not cry in front of Buffy.

The blonde made her way over to Faith again, "Are you…?" she asked, stopping herself from asking 'are you okay;' which Faith was clearly not.

"I'm sorry."

"What? Why? She was going to hurt you – the other you. I'm not mad because of how you acted."

Faith shook her head, not looking at the other girl. "I… I changed it. T-the dream, it… it ended there last time."

"I don't understand."

The younger girl gestured around her, "This… this didn't happen. In the dream, I just let her… and it ended. I changed it. I interfered. We're… fuck, we're stuck here."

Buffy seemed to suddenly take this into consideration. "Oh."

"Yeah," Faith said lamely. She finally looked at Buffy, who was peering intently over Faith's shoulders. "What?"

Buffy frowned and shook her head, walking a few strides past Faith. Faith turned her head to follow the other girl's movements. The blonde bent down some feet away, picking up the axe.

"It's still here. She dropped it when you… What did the woman call it, the scythe?"

Faith shrugged, uninterested.

Buffy answered herself, "Yeah, I think that's what she called it. The scythe. I-It's warm. I can feel it; it feels hot under my fingers. It feels… powerful. Old. Like, really old."

"You got all that from a piece of metal?"

Buffy rolled her eyes, "Here."

She tossed the scythe to Faith, who caught it easily. Still sitting on the ground, Faith examined the weapon, focusing on it instead of her receding fear. Buffy was right, it did feel old. Everywhere her skin touched it she felt… a tug, a pull deep inside her.

It belongs to the Slayer. She wasn't sure where the thought came from, but the moment it came to her she couldn't deny it. The Slayer inside her recognized the weapon, reacting instantly to its power and claiming it as its own. She stood and tossed it back to Buffy, "It belongs to the Slayer. I can feel it. It's yours."

Buffy looked puzzled. "You're the Slayer, too."

The brunette shook her head, "Always been second fiddle to you. You're the leader. It's yours, you're the Slayer."

Buffy walked towards the other girl, extending the scythe out in front of her. "If it belongs to the Slayer, then it belongs to both us, Faith. Come on, we can sha-"

The moment both Faith and Buffy were both in contact with the scythe everything swirled into darkness.