"Vi, we're under attack!"
Panting, her forehead covered in sweat, one of the young Slayers of the center had just stormed at the door of the gym and was looking frantically at Faith and Vi, but relieved to find them both still here.
Both women had instinctively turned to the door upon hearing the sound of running footsteps coming closer, and jumped on their feet at the young girl's announcement.
"We're under attack!" she repeated quickly as both older Slayers hurried toward her.
"Are you hurt?" Vi asked at first, watching the girl closely from head to toes, looking for a possible injury.
She shook her head briefly and now relieved, Vi asked quickly:
"What do you mean under attack?"
"Attacked by what?" Faith clarified with a hint of impatience in her voice.
"I'm not sure," the young girl answered in an apologetic tone. "Zombies of sorts."
"Where are they?" Vi demanded. "Have they come in?"
"They arrived through East door, on the dorms side," the Slayer answered. "Camille is trying to contain them downstairs, in the dining hall to prevent them to spread into the whole school and she sent me to warn you."
"Good job," Vi approved with nod.
"Enough talk," Faith growled. "Let's go"
"We need to go first to the armory," Vi replied as they darted. "The girls don't have any weapon with them."
Faith grimaced: she clearly found odd that Slayers were walking around without weapon, but she followed Vi without commenting. The three girls ran at full speed along a corridor after the gym up to stairs behind a double-door which Vi kicked opened without slowing down at all. They raced up the stairs and arrived in another corridor. Vi turned right and entered a room after hastily unlocking the door with a bunch of keys she found in a pocket of her beige military pants. The room was not wide: it must have been used as a laundry room or even as a cupboard back in the day when the mansion was still an ordinary boarding school. Every wall except for the one of the door, were covered with high and wide display cabinets up to the ceiling, All of them contained all sort of weapon. Faith followed Vi to the display cabinet at the back of the room where were exposed dozens of knives, daggers and even swords of all sizes and shapes. For a moment, she remained impressed in front of such a display, but the sound of keys clinking together while Vi was looking for the one opening the cabinet, brought her back to reality.
"What the hell are you doing?" she growled.
"Looking for the right key of course," the redhead replied without looking up to her, her fingers trying to nimbly slide a new key into the lock.
Faith watched her, half-dumbfounded, half-annoyed, and when the key was officially disqualified as being the right one, she slightly shouldered Vi out of the way.
"Go away," Faith said. "I'm taking care of that."
"What?" Vi asked, frowning.
As an answer, Faith threw her right elbow right through the left part of the display cabinet and the window pane exploded before Vi's horrified eyes.
"Faith!" she shrieked.
"We can't lose time!" Faith bellowed without leaving her time to protest more. "Let's take weapons and let's go!"
Vi appeared to be on the verge of protesting, but she changed her mind and did as Faith told. The dark-haired Slayer slid as many knives and swords at her belt as she could before turning to the girl who had come to warn them.
"What about you?" she exclaimed impatiently. "What are you doing?" The girl looked at her for a moment questioningly, and Faith threw her the stake she was holding. "Come and help." She clarified.
The girl complied without hesitation and rushed to Faith who filled her arms with several weapons. The girl did as she had seen Faith doing before and slid the daggers at her belt one after the other before keeping a longer and larger one in hand. Faith and Vi, for their part, grabbed several swords in each hand before starting for the door again, the younger Slayer on their heels. They rushed down the stairs and ran along the corridor up to the other side of the building in no time. They soon heard yelling, exclamations, loud noise of fighting. When they reached the dining hall, Faith did not take a moment to assess the situation. She just jumped into the melee in the middle of overwhelmed Slayers, some terrified, some transcended. Dozens of zombies had managed to come in the building and were tearing the dining hall to pieces, overturning tables and chairs, ripping cabinets' doors off, attacking the young girls more violently than their emaciated frames would let imagine. Others were pressing up against the East door and were trying to force it open while several Slayers were doing their best to keep the door closed, while some of the comrades were protecting them from the zombies already in. In the middle of the shambles, Camille was trying to make herself heard and to lead her fellow Slayers. Hope, for her part, was among those pressed against the door trying to resist to the pressure of the zombies outside.
Faith threw as many weapon as she could to the young unarmed Slayers around her and saw that Vi was doing the sale. The brunette then joined the central melee, when most of the zombies were gathered, while her counterpart rushed to help the group by the door. After a few minutes of fighting, the arrival of two more experienced Slayers and a collection of weapons turned the tide and the number of fighting zombies started to go down.
"What are we doing for those outside?" Faith yelled to Vi, while beheading a zombie to her right with a single movement of her sword.
"Still working on that part!" Vi replied in the same way, while she ran her direct opponent through with her sword.
They did not have time, however, to gather and discuss the subject. Hope, who was pressing against one the double-door leading to the gardens to help keeping it shut, suddenly experienced a violent cramp in her left arm, and instinctively stepped back and loosened her grip for a brief moment. It was enough for the zombies who had been trying in vain to enter for the past ten minutes to finally find their way in. The side of the door that Hope had briefly left without defense, was smashed to pieces, and dozens of frail and tattered bodies came flooding in the dining hall, pushing violently on their ways, the young Slayers who were trying to prevent them from entering. Hope was swept away by the horde and fell to the ground where she was trampled on by dozens of naked and dirty feet before she could slip out of reach under a nearby table. Vi, who had her back turned to the door at the moment it gave in, hardly had time to turn around to see what was going on before several zombies hurled themselves at her. The redhead raised her left hand, which was firmly gripping a long dagger, and struck twice the closest zombie, while trying to free her sword, still plunged into the stomach of her previous victim.
"Vi!" Faith yelled when she saw the redhead in such a difficult position.
She was about to rush to her help when a high-pitch cry to her right made her turn her head. Camille was also overwhelmed by the numbers and Natalie's help did look to be enough. Faith was only a few feet away from them and she crossed the distance to help the younger girls without thinking. Using the dagger in her left hand, then the one in her right hand, she tore off the back of a zombie, beheaded another, gashed a third's chest before getting a fourth one away with a violent kick in his stomach. When she had finally cleared the group of zombies and Camille and Natalie were free, Faith just asked a quick 'You okay?' and when they nodded, she turned back to where Vi was standing a moment ago. The redhead was nowhere to be seen but a group of Slayers appeared to be desperately trying to free someone from a group of monsters. In two strides, Faith rushed to that new melee and showed all her dexterity to decimate another group of zombies in record time before the younger girls' impressed eyes. She found Vi unconscious lying on the ground near the spot where Faith had seen her standing when the monsters had thrown themselves at her. The brunette rushed to her side while the youngest girls were crying in terror at the sight. Faith checked her pulse and felt relieved when she saw the redhead was breathing. She had been violently hit on the back of her skull and blood was flowing freely from the wound. Faith ripped off a piece of Vi's sleeve and sponged the blood with it before pressing on the wound to stop the bleeding. Behind, she felt –more than actually seeing –Slayers fighting zombies who were trying to reach her. When she had done everything she could to relieve Vi's wound considering the urgency of the situation, she jumped to her feet and watched around her. A few groups of zombies were still fighting in the dining hall. Camille was trying to lead a group of Slayers against them, but they struggled to take the upper hand. Near the door which Hope had released a moment ago, several girls had gathered and were pressing back to prevent more zombies to come in. The room was in a state of indescribable confusion: the girls were running all around, calling out to each other. She glanced at Vi and secretly hoped that the redhead would stand and took back her role of leader, but it did not happen. She briefly thought of Tara, thought about her fireballs and her soothing aura. But Tara was not there. Faith was alone, and she had to manage with the situation. This realization forced her to shake herself up, and she suddenly jumped on one the few still standing tables, in order to draw the younger Slayers' attention to herself.
"Camille!" she yelled to the older girl, and time seemed to stop, everyone stopping whatever they were doing to turn to her. Faith could not help but feel uneasy at the way all the Slayers – and even their opponents – were hanging upon her every word. "Block every possible way out. I don't want anything to go out of this room, take the table, the chairs, whatever you want, but close everything!"
There was not the shadow of a question in the girl's reaction. She nodded, finished the closest zombie off, gestured to two younger Slayers beside her to help her and rushed to the back door where she started to pile chairs and pieces of ripped tables.
"Natalie!" Faith went on when she noticed she was obeyed. "Do whatever you want, but finish the remaining zombies off!"
She ended her sentence by plunging her dagger into the chest of one who was trying to knock over the table where the brunette was standing. "You three go help her!" she added, addressing three younger Slayers who were looking at her in awe.
Immediately, all moved into action, and Natalie and the three girls Faith had just chosen, redoubled their efforts to clear the dining hall from the zombies who still standing. Faith then rushed to the double door where most of the girls were joining their efforts to keep the opening shut. The brunette saw all the girls staring at her expectantly as she approached.
"How many outside?" she asked, squinting to try to make things out in the dark. She saw dark figures pressing against the window pane of the door but it was nearly impossible to know how many monsters exactly were standing there. At first sight, it could be dozens of them. Faith turned again toward Camille who had already piled up lots of broken furniture in front of the main door and started to do the same with the trademen's entrance.
"Wait!" she exclaimed to her, and Camille stopped what she was doing to look at her questioningly.
"Hang on a little longer," Faith told the girls who were blocking the double French windows.
Then, she grabbed Hope – who was still half hiding under a table – and pulled her behind her toward Camille.
"Where does this door lead?" Faith asked, trying to open but it was locked. "No zombie gets out here?"
Camille shook her head.
"No," she explained. "I asked Nat to close every door, and they didn't even try this one, they were focused on trying to reach the main door."
Saying this, she gestured to the door she had just blocked up.
"Perfect," Faith approved, as she pulled forcefully on the handle of the narrow door in front of her, before turning to Hope. "Listen, I want you to go upstairs and look out the window how many they are and tell me. Then go and fetch the other Slayers, get them out of bed, took the crossbows and shoot them from the windows upstairs. Is this ok?"
"There are only the younger girls in the other part of the building," Camille said. "They hardly started to train with crossbows"
"It doesn't matter," Faith replied. "They are Slayers after all. Any Slayer can shoot with a crossbow as easily as she walks."
"The younger girls could use this door to escape," Camille suggested instead,gesturing to the girls behind her, obviously not convinced.
"No," Faith answered immediately in a tone brooking no argument. "We wouldn't be enough to face them. They're doing well," she added in a reassuring tone.
Then, she turned back to Hope.
"You ready, Hope?"
The young girl nodded, looking half-terrified, half-ecstatic.
"Go," Faith ordered. She pulled one more time on the door, and this time, the lock gave in, allowing the Slayer to open the door slightly to let the girl in. She immediately ran through the opening and Faith saw her disappear in the shadows of a narrow corridor.
"What now?" Camille asked.
"Seal that door," Faith answered, and she turned back to the double French windows without a last glance for Camille whom she heard yelling instructions to other girls to help block the door.
Faith came back to the dozen of Slayers who were still doing their best to keep the last access to the dining hall shut, while Natalie and her groups had just finished the remaining zombies off.
"Stay focused," Faith ordered when she saw the girls relaxing as the last monster was added to pile of frail corpses lying on the floor of the hall.
They all straightened up against the door again to keep it closed despite the renewed efforts of the zombies still pressed against it outside.
"What are we going to do?" asked a young Slayer who looked terrified, as she glanced at Vi, who was still lying on the floor. "Vi's hurt, or maybe dead and..."
"She's not dead!" another girl protested.
"We won't hold them back forever like this!" said a third one, and many conversations started at once in the room.
"Be quiet!" Faith ordered firmly, and silence came back immediately, almost magically. Faith paused when she noticed that every eyes in the room were turned to her, but she quickly pulled herself together, before it became embarrassing.
"We won't stay there and wait for them to finally open that door, or wait for the cavalry. The best defense is attack. We don't have to be afraid of some zombies. On my mark, we'll open these windows and let them in."
Silence welcomed this announcement at first, then a whisper spread amongst the Slayers and Camille finally voiced everyone's question:
"You think this is a good idea? We already had trouble with those who managed to come in..."
"That's the only thing we can do," Faith replied, sounding more confident than she thought she would. "They can only come in two at a time. We'll get our swords through them as they come in. Stand in line on each side of the door. And you," she gestured to several Slayers as she said this, gesturing to a zone where she wanted them to go, "go and stay there in half a circle behind, just in case..."
Faith took a few steps away then, going to Vi sill lying unconscious. She checked her pulse again, then moved carefully to a safer place under a table. Then she came back to the group and looked at each Slayer in the eye.
"Everyone has a weapon?"
They all nodded as one, and gripped said-weapon tightly.
"Everyone knows what to do?"
Another nod and the girls exchanged knowing glances.
"Perfect. On my mark, be ready to open."
Faith came to stand in front of the girls positioned in half a circle in front of the door, dagger at the ready in both hands.
"At the count of three, you're getting away from the door, okay?"
The group of girl still struggling against the door looked at her, apparently terrified, but they all nodded bravely.
"One," Faith yelled.
"Two," the girls moved imperceptibly.
They all released the door as one and the Slayers jumped on each side of the door where they came to stand beside their counterparts already ready to fight.
The double French windows gave in immediately and the zombies spread so quickly in the room that for a second, Faith wondered if her idea was as good as it looked only a moment ago.
"Now!" Faith yelled for the girls. She rushed forward and cut in half the zombie who had come in first.
Her yelling and her fast reaction gave the Slayer the impulsion they needed and all started to move at the same time, and soon, the room was only filled with fluid movements, noise of weapon against weapon and labored breathing.
After a few moments only, Faith could already see how efficient her plan was. The zombies came crashing against the Slayers standing around the door, just like fishes would in a net, and corpses kept falling and piled up in front of the door, so that it soon became difficult to move. Besides, Faith finally heard Hope yelling from upstairs that about a hundred zombies were gathered in the park, and when, out the window, she saw bolts flying from upstairs to take down the zombies still pressing against the door, she knew victory was not far.
Despite the more and more obvious outcome, the zombies did not give in anyway, insisting to enter at all costs, and Faith even saw some of them trying to climb the mansion's walls. She looked around her quickly and noticed that her counterparts had the situation in hands.
"Camille, finish them off here!" Faith yelled, turning to the oldest of the Slayers.
The girl was taking on two monsters at a time, but she nevertheless raised her thumb toward Faith to approve. The brunette then rushed to the door, bringing a few Slayers with her on her way. She made her way to the outside almost easily, and noticed that, as she had expected, the girls firing bolts from upstairs were efficient, piercing the zombies with their arrows without them being able to do anything to defend themselves against the shooters.
"With me!" she told the Slayers at her side.
They rushed to the zombies scattered near the entrance, and boosted as they were by their recent success, the group soon actively took part in the monsters' decimation. Little by little, shot after shot, their number was finally reducing, and the prospect of imminent victory allowed Faith to fight her tiredness while, around her, it was raining bolts over her enemies. She was incidentally taking mental note of the Slayers' ability when a bolt grazed her shoulder.
Faith looked up to the windows above her head, and in the midst of Slayers more focused about what they were doing than the next, she noticed Hope, a hand on her mouth, giving her an apologetic grimace. Faith sighed and came back to action.
A few minutes later, she saw Camille and some other girls running past her and concluded that the interior must have been cleaned up. She glanced around and saw only a small group of enemies remaining. Faith rushed toward them, pushed the young Slayers who were fighting them away, and took care of them herself. Four zombies later, applause and happy exclamations rang in the room, the bolts stopped to whistle in her ears, and Faith realized it was finally over. She stood up from upon the last monster she had just slain and looked around : dozens of grayish corpses lay strewn on the park's grass, and around fifteen girls were gathered around her, gazing at her like she was the Messiah himself, some of them ready to applause again, others carrying wounded or exhausted friends. Faith offered them a small, embarrassed nod, and after a last glance to the bodies on the ground, in order to be sure there were only zombies there, she gestured for the Slayers to follow her inside. As she passed under the second floor windows, she gave the younger Slayers leaning at the windows, the thumbs-ups and smiled.
Inside, the most able-bodied girls freed the barricaded doors, and minutes later, the rest of the school was in the room, from the other Slayers blocked in the other wing of the building to the nurses and cooks.
Someone had taken care of Vi's wound, and the redhead had regained consciousness, though she remained quite groggy and foreign to the mess around her. A few feet away from her, Natalie was dabbing some ointment on Camille's bruised face, while next to her, Hope was telling with a profusion of details how she had run upstairs to look for the cavalry and how she had pierced through dozens of zombies with her crossbow. Of course, she carefully avoided the part where she had nearly ran a bolt through Faith's shoulder, which the brunette found oddly amusing.
As nobody was paying her any attention anymore, everyone busy telling her own version of the night, she plopped down in a chair next to Vi who was slowly coming to.
"How do you feel, Red?" she asked with a mocking smile. "Feeling better after a nap?"
The redhead looked mortified at this, and Faith regretted immediately. She had hardly finished her sentence that she tried to make up for a remark.
"I mean, how do you feel? Really? You gave me a fright you know"
The brunette's tone had changed so quickly that Vi did not have time to flush with anger. She brought her hand to her head, where she had been hurt, and shrugged.
"I have a terrible headache," she said bitterly.
She tried to stand and almost fell over. Faith rushed forward to catch her and tried to force her to sit, but Vi pushed her away.
"No, no," she protested. "I need to call the roll and make sure everyone is there and safe."
"No one has been severely hurt," Faith assured her.
But Vi shook her head and freed herself from Faith's grasp.
"I need to be sure."
She took a few steps toward the center of the room and called out the girls.
"Camille, Natalie, Martha, Tori, report!" she exclaimed in a strong voice, and a complete and immediate silence fell on the room. The aforementioned Slayers took a step forward, staring at her. "Call the roll of your group, check that everyone is there and report any injury to me. Understood?"
They nodded together and left in different directions. Faith wanted to make Vi sit again, but she started a conversation with one of the cook who had come to ask about her condition, and with the school's doctor who was cleaning a gash on a young girl's arm while Vi was giving her a warn look. Faith gave up then, and plopped down back on her chair, feeling exhaustion finally getting the better of her.
She remained a long time just watching thoughtfully around her, the girls who were asking after each other or telling their adventures, those who came to ask Vi how she felt; she was still daydreaming on her chair like that when Vi came back to her ten or fifteen minutes later. The room was not empty but most Slayers had left for their room, even though Vi perfectly knew that it would be long before everyone sleep, if the girls slept at all. Only Hope, Camille and two or three other girls were still there, obviously waiting for the doctor to finish to check on one of them.
"We'll clean this mess tomorrow," Vi told Faith as she looked around her wearily. "I don't know what we'll make of all these corpses... I'll have to call Mr Giles to know if there's anything particular to consider..."
"At least, vampires don't fill your dining hall once dead," Faith remarked, and Vi nodded thoughtfully as she watched closely a corpse at her feet.
"Still..." she was thinking out loud. "I wonder where they came from... Another thing to solve tomorrow..."
"No need to wait for tomorrow," Faith replied, lifting slightly the corpse with her feet. "Look at their skin and feet."
Vi did as she was instructed, then looked up to Faith, not understanding.
"Look that mud everywhere on their skin." Faith explained after rolling her eyes in a knowing way. "The color, the texture... They didn't frequent lounges..."
"Thanks for that essential information." Vi replied dryly. Then she leaned over the corpse to watch more closely the deposit on the skin.
She frowned, and after a moment, she whispered, more for herself than for Faith:
"It's not simple mud, it's mud from a swamp..."
Her head turned round at lightning speed, and Vi jumped to her feet.
"Hope!" she yelled, sounded utterly furious.
The girl nearly fell over when she heard her name called like that, and looked at Vi, looking extremely uneasy.
"Do you know where all these monsters came from?" the redhead shouted, marching toward her with Faith – who had hastily stood – on her heels. "From a swamp!" Vi went on without leaving time to anyone to say anything. "And who just recently went to take a walk in a swamp and disturbed a monster who only wanted to be left alone?"
Hope's cheeks flushed and she looked down, as every pair of eyes in the room were now staring at her.
"Do you think we're trying to prevent you to have fun when we forbid you to throw yourself in a swamp infested with zombies?" Vi resumed, still furious. "Do you see where your great ideas lead? Someone could have been killed tonight! A cook, one of your friend, or yourself!"
"Vi..." Faith said lowly, but the redhead was so angry that she hesitated to interrupt her more frankly. "It's probably because I killed the demon..." she tried to explain in a soothing tone.
"You! Don't say a thing!" Vi screamed as she turned to the brunette so quickly that it was difficult to believe she had been severely injured an hour before. "It ended well and that's good, but it could have ended very badly! And here, we do everything in our powers for things to end well!" She turned back to Hope. "Most of us do anyway!"
She fell silent to catch her breath and glared at the girl while obviously trying to contain her anger. Finally, after what probably felt an eternity to Hope who was still looking down, Vi concluded in an icy tone:
"We'll talk about it tomorrow. Everyone to bed now and be quiet."
Hope did not need to be told twice, and she turned on her heels as soon as Vi had finished to send them away. She almost ran to the door and disappeared in the corridor, the other girls following behind and whispering together as fast and low as possible.
An hour later, Faith was slumped into an armchair in Vi's office while the redhead had collapsed onto a small worn sofa near a fireplace where a fire was burning.
"Some scratches here and there but no serious injury." Vi announced. She had calmed down and looked exhausted now. "No one's missing. We're lucky that nobody was severely hurt."
She remained thoughtful for a moment, then turned to Faith.
"It's because of you, thank you."
"I just did what I had to do."
"You did it well," Vi replied firmly.
"Your kids did well too," Faith insisted. "They have a good coach." She added in a nice and sincere tone.
Vi suppressed a smile and shrugged in her turn.
"That's my job."
"Then, you're doing it well." Faith answered, obviously determined to be nice.
Vi smiled at her counterpart's answer, similar to her own a moment sooner, and she settled cozily in her sofa.
"When I think to the work waiting for us tomorrow..." she mumbled. "I should leave Hope to clean the mess all by herself..."
"Don"t be too hard on her," Faith said carefully. "I think she's a good kid, she just needs to find where and how to fit."
Vi gave her a weird look and for a moment, Faith thought she was about to get angry again and reply she had no right to give her advice. But it did not happen and Vi only sighed.
"Well, probably..." she finally said.
Faith felt surprised to not have to spend more energy in Hope's defense, but she was relieved to not be forced to insist on the matter.
"Did you manage to call Giles to ask what to do with the bodies?" she changed the subject.
Vi shook her head.
"I left a message a moment ago. He's going to..."
The ringing of the phone interrupted her and she slightly jumped. She sat up to grab her phone in her jeans' back pocket and glanced at the screen where Giles' name was blinking.
"Speaking of the devil..." she commented, and she pressed the answering button.
Faith listened to her telling the events of the night and assuring Giles that everyone was fine, then praising the brunette's merits in the victory. Finally, she watched the redhead taking notes on a worn notebook as she listened religiously to the Watcher. Something like fifteen minutes later, Vi thanked Giles vehemently, promised again that the girls and herself were safe and sound, and eventually handed the phone to Faith.
"He wants to speak with you." she said.
Faith grabbed the phone and sticked it to her ear.
"Yeah G," she said casually.
"Hum, good evening Faith," Giles answered, obviously finding such familiarity disconcerting. "I really wanted to thank you myself for bringing Hope back like I asked you, and for saving the center and the girls from the attack."
"Take it easy," Faith protested. "I can't really say that I 'saved' the girls. I'm pretty positive that they would have done great without me."
"I'm sorry Faith, but I have my doubts," Giles replied. "I am quite certain that your presence, your experience and your skills were precious for this success. You should not minimize the significance of your actions, what you did was wonderful."
The brunette found herself at a loss for words to answer this simple and direct praise, and she just nodded awkwardly, looking embarrassed, though Giles could not see her. A silence followed, Giles apparently thinking about something and Faith looking for something to say.
"Hum, Faith..." Giles finally resumed after a moment of hesitation. "I know it might be a little early to ask you about what I am about to ask you, but I'd really like you to consider the matter before answering anything and..."
"Spit it out Giles," Faith interrupted, half amused, half worried, seeing how careful Giles was with her. "What is it?"
The Watcher choked with shock, and Faith figured that the way she had talked to him had thrown him a little off balance. The British man took a few seconds to pull himself together before resuming where Faith had interrupted him.
"Considering everything Violet told me, it seems that you were at your best in leading these young Slayers when they were running a great risk and..."
Faith had to refrain herself from interrupting him again. She did not, thinking that she would know quicker what Giles wanted to tell her if she listened quietly instead of interrupting him every ten seconds.
"... and I was wondering if you were ready to change your mind and take back a job at the Council."
He fell silent for a second, waited for her reaction, but finally resumed before she had time to say anything:
"Of course, you would have responsibilities with the new Slayers, you would be a squad leader indeed..." he paused again, then went on once more before Faith said anything: "To be frank, the situation in Cleveland is so dire that a Slayer with you talent to lead all these younger girls would be an invaluable advantage..."
New pause, and new resuming before the Slayer could answer.
"Of course, we will discuss about your wishes when you come. You would be employed by the Council and would have an apartment at your disposal."
This time, he fell silent for good and an uneasy silence followed. Faith was utterly surprised and tried to think about what Giles was suggesting. After all, she should not be surprised after everything Vi had told her about Cleveland. But she had never taken time to really think about that possibility and now, she felt at a loss.
Strangely though, she found some appeal to the suggestion, even if she could not get herself to answer positively and sacrifice the freedom she enjoyed so much.
"Giles, I..." she started hesitantly. "I don't really know. I..."
She tried to imagine what her life would look like there, then what her life would look like if she refused. Nothing clear appeared in her mind in any of these situations, but suddenly, something else became clearer than it ever had been.
"Faith, obviously, we..."
"Don't bother," the brunette interrupted again. "I can't give you any guarantee, but I will think about it. But before I can give you an answer or anything, I have something important to do. I'll think about it afterwards and I'll call you back."
Giles wanted to insist a little but he decided against it.
"Fine. If you have any question, feel free to call me. I will be happy to answer."
"We will talk later Faith. My regards to Tara."
"Hum, Giles," Faith resumed quickly to prevent him from hanging up, and she changed completely the tone of her voice: "Before you go, there's a page about me in the Slayer's handbook?"
Dawn was hardly rising the next morning as Faith was loading her belongings in her car, along with loads of groceries and new weapons offered by the school. Vi, Camille and Hope were all standing around the car and watched the brunette, handing a pack from time to time. When everything was loaded, Faith held her hand to Camille who took it frankly.
"Keep it up kid," the brunette told her. "You will be a great Slayer."
The girl nodded and smiled proudly in return.
"Thanks for everything and good luck. I hope we'll see each other again. In Cleveland maybe."
"Maybe." Faith concluded.
Then she turned to Hope, who was looking sternly at her feet, obviously sad that the brunette was leaving. When Faith held her hand to her, she did not took it, and the Slayer leaned to her to talk to her without the two other girls being able to hear.
"C'mon kid, I'm pretty sure Vi will forgive you this time. But I need you to promise to stop getting yourself into trouble, okay?"
"You're sure I can't come with you?" Hope asked, completely ignoring Faith's question. She looked up, and Faith saw that the question was sincere. "Your life's great." Hope went on in a low voice. "Alone, on the road… You can go wherever you want, whenever you want, without anyone…"
"My life's not great as you make it sound." Faith interrupted gently but firmly. "It may not be always easy around here for you, but you have a lot of great friends, people around you who care and are ready to help. It's important as you have probably noticed last night. All alone, or even alone with me, you wouldn't have make it through, would you?"
Hope nodded miserably and looked down again.
"Are you going to write?" she asked, in such a low voice that Faith barely heard her.
The unexpected question caught Faith off guard.
"Hum… I have to admit that I'm not very keen on writing y'know…" she started. "…but I might make an effort…" she finished when she saw the begging look on the girl's face. "But you have to promise to watch your step!"
"I promise!" Hope answered.
Faith then clumsily patted her shoulder by way of goodbye, and Hope grabbed Camille's wrist and both girls left to come back to the mansion.
"So?" Vi asked as they remained alone. "Do you have everything you need?"
"We can say that," Faith approved as she closed the trunk of the car. "Thanks for everything."
"You're the one who needs to be thanked for everything," Vi replied. "I don't know how things would have ended if you had not take matters in your hands."
"Probably very badly according to Giles!" Faith joked, and she was rewarded with a faint smile from the redhead.
"What are you going to do?" Vi asked. "Are you planning to come back to Cleveland?"
Faith looked thoughtful for a moment, then she answered in a somewhat enigmatic tone:
"Just as I told Giles, I have something important to do first. I'll think about it afterwards."
"Must be indeed very important for you to wake up this early," Vi remarked, and Faith was thankful that she did not ask questions.
"It is." She confirmed.
Vi only nodded and when Faith held her hand to her in her turn, she hugged her briefly instead.
"Take care of you," she told her.
"You too," Faith replied as she got into her car.
"And call Kenn one of these days," Vi concluded as Faith started the engine.
The brunette nodded her assent and started the car. Vi then turned around and walked down the alley leading her back to the mansion while Faith was driving away in the rising sun.
End of 'Wars'
Next time, finale episode of the 'season' : 'Alive'