A few weeks passed. A few weeks of utter misery and introspection that had Buffy wanting to crawl out of her own skin. She’d been keeping to herself; slaying, studying and sulking. She felt so bad for what she’d allowed to happen and she was wallowing in self pity, unable to extricate herself from the gloom she was determined to cling to. Willow and Xander had done their best to pull her out of her funk, but she’d taken to not returning their calls, and being where they were not.
The odd meeting at the Magic Box was about all the interaction she’d had with her friends, and though she knew she was being unfair, and petulant, she needed her space. The way she’d treated Tru had been awful and she felt embarrassed and ashamed. She certainly couldn’t face Faith. Not after everything. Not after the night they’d shared.
Not after remembering the harsh note she’d found the day after that read “Thanks for the fuck. . .”
Her bridges there were all burned.
Buffy knew she’d made a mess of everything, now all she could hope for was to let time heal the wounds, the hurt and the shame. She would be with her friends again soon, and would probably even start talking to Faith again. They’d be different this time, without the tension, without the lust blinding them. They’d gotten it out of their systems now so surely things could only improve between them, once Buffy was able to crawl out of her funk long enough to be around her.
Tonight wasn’t the night to bridge the gaps that had formed between her and the ones she loved and cared for, however. It would be soon, but not now.
Buffy had just come off the phone with Tru, having spoken to her a handful of times over the last few weeks. Things were still awkward between them, but they’d made contact again after Tru had made the first move. They hoped to be friends. Buffy knew they’d make great friends. Sure, she was still attracted to Tru and knew her heart had been close to giving itself to her, but it hadn’t been right. It would never have worked when all was said and done.
They could at least chat now without the threat of tears, without struggling. It wasn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination, but it was worth trying to fix a little of what Buffy had broken.
Tru had told her she’d met Faith and talked with her a few times, though she didn’t elaborate. Apparently Faith wasn’t keen on Tru saying too much about it to Buffy, and Buffy could understand that. Faith seemed determined to keep her distance now as much as Buffy was, and though it hurt, Buffy knew it was the right thing for both of them, even despite the emotion filled night they’d shared in Buffy’s bed. That night had to be forgotten.
All the hurt had to be forgotten if any of them were to ever move on.
With a sigh Buffy slid her stake into the pocket on the inside of her jacket and pulled her boots on, readying herself for a night of slaying. She wasn’t getting her hopes up for an eventful evening as things had been oddly quiet of late. The others had reported the same observation, and though Faith hadn’t spoken to Buffy about it she knew through Giles that she was on edge from a lack of slaying, and from the weird feeling in the air every time she patrolled.
Buffy sensed that same strange atmosphere, letting the quiet of the night roll over her as she stalked through Sunnydale’s cemeteries, doing her best to stay clear of Faith’s patch. Not even Spike bothered much these days to annoy Buffy. He kept to himself, doing God knows what. She could feel him around sometimes, but he stayed in the shadows and she was happy to leave him in them, thankful not to have to deal with his gloating about her failed love life, or listen to him recount stories about his slaying escapades with Faith. She certainly didn’t wish to hear any more about the amount of time Faith spent with Darla.
She listened to her own feet as her boots flattened the grass beneath her feet, leaves rustling and twigs snapping as she veered from the path in one of Sunnydale’s smaller graveyards. There was no tingle down her spine, no noises indicating vamp activity or demons plotting. With her hands in her pockets, Buffy took her time, letting the cool night air ruffle her hair and tease at her clothes. She wasn’t cold but she shivered anyway, suddenly feeling off, feeling that something wasn’t quite right.
The urge to wrap her arms around herself almost made Buffy pull her hands free from her pockets, but she refused to entertain this sudden odd sensation.
Just as she was about to give in and go home her cell phone vibrated under her fingertips and actually made her jump.
Laughing at how silly that was - considering all the things that failed to scare her as they rushed out of dark places in order to end her life - Buffy pulled out her phone and flipped it open. Seeing Giles’ number she wondered for a moment if the odd feeling and his call were linked, but she brushed that off as being fanciful and quickly pressed the button to take the call.
“Hey, Giles,” she said, knowing she sounded just as solemn as she felt.
“Good evening, Buffy,” Giles said briskly, his voice a little tight. “Sorry to bother you but I was wondering if you’d stumbled upon Faith at all tonight, or the last few nights in fact.”
Buffy’s brow creased as she frowned, hearing the slight shake in Giles’ voice. He sounded worried.
“No, I haven’t,” she replied. “Should I have? Is something wrong?”
Buffy lifted her free hand and wrapped her arm around herself, the cold finally winning out.
“Not wrong I suppose, but. . .”
He paused as if unsure how to explain.
“Just tell me, what is it?”
All kinds of things ran through Buffy’s mind, from Faith hurting somebody, to Faith hurting one of her friends, to Faith doing something so bad she’d had to skip town again. . .then finally to something having happened to Faith. Her heart tripped with her last thoughts, a sharp shudder making her almost drop the phone.
“Well it seems – although we can’t be sure – but there may be a chance. . .”
“Giles, I’m about to strangle you through the phone, tell me what’s wrong,” Buffy said harshly, knowing she had to cut through his blabbering.
“Nobody has seen Faith for the past few days. Three days to be exact,” he finally spat out.
“What do you mean, nobody has seen her?” Buffy pressed, turning and making her way towards the cemetery gates.
“Just that,” he answered. “She hasn’t been to the Magic Box to report to me about her patrols, and neither Willow nor Xander have managed to make contact with her. She isn’t answering her telephone.”
Buffy began to feel panic rising inside her, a twisting sensation nipping at her guts.
“Has anybody been to her apartment?” she asked, rubbing at her forehead as she narrowed her eyes and began making her way towards Faith’s building. “Has anything. . .has there been any reports of. . .”
“Are you attempting to ask if Faith has murdered anybody, Buffy?” Giles questioned, sounding extremely annoyed that she could possibly think such a thing now.
“No,” Buffy replied, not quite knowing if she meant it or not. “No, I just. . .I know that’s not who she is anymore, it’s just hard not to jump to conclusions.”
Buffy was trying to be honest, and the closer she got to Faith’s apartment the more she realised she really didn’t think Faith would hurt anybody now. It was unfair of her to make such assumptions.
“There has been no reports of missing people, or anything untoward, Buffy,” Giles assured. “She’s merely just disappeared.”
“That can’t be good,” Buffy mumbled. She was only a block away now from Faith’s place. “Are you sure she didn’t tell anybody she was leaving, taking a break, meeting up with somebody?”
“Not a word, and I called Angel just an hour ago. He hasn’t heard from her either,” Giles told Buffy. “Maybe we’re being anxious for no reason, but she hasn’t gone a day without popping in to see me. And with Darla still in the picture I’m afraid I’m a little more worried than is probably necessary.”
“I understand, Giles,” she said, hoping to sooth him a little. It was quite clear he’d grown just as attached to Faith now as everybody else. “I’m almost at her apartment. If she isn’t there I’ll come over to yours and we’ll. . .I don’t know, we’ll figure something out.”
She told him she’d call him back soon and then headed up to Faith’s apartment. Worryingly, she discovered that the door was unlocked after knocking and waiting. She pushed it open, her heart beginning to pound. She didn’t know what she was expecting, but an empty apartment might have broken her just that bit more than she thought she could take. She didn’t want Faith to leave, even though they weren’t exactly on speaking terms right now.
The apartment wasn’t empty but it was difficult to see if there was anything missing as the lights were off and the moonlight wasn’t strong enough to push its way through the window into the room.
Flicking the light switch by the door, Buffy held her breath. The sight before her made her chest tighten. Her hand gripped her cell phone tightly, not knowing how she was going to explain this to Giles.
On every wall there was graffiti. The scrawled ramblings of somebody in an obvious rage. Words full of hate, of vengeance. She read what it said on one wall, repeating the words out loud.
“You deserve to die.” It said. “You stole her and you deserve to die.”
Similar words defaced the walls and things were broken all around the small space. Buffy felt tears beginning to form in her eyes. She was unsure what she was seeing. Unsure what it meant.
“What the hell happened here?” she muttered to herself.
Quickly, she made her way through the rest of the apartment, seeing the same destruction as she went. There was no visible blood, however. No sign that somebody had been hurt here, or worse.
Hoping that this had happened without Faith’s knowledge, Buffy wondered if maybe Faith was in LA with Tru and had just been unfortunate enough to have been burgled, but even as she dialled Tru’s number and lifted the cell phone to her ear she knew she was grasping at straws.
“Buffy, hi,” Tru answered, sounding confused by the late call, but not dissatisfied.
“Hey,” Buffy said, trying to calm her breathing, not wishing to freak Tru out. “Sorry to call so late but, um. . .you haven’t seen or heard from Faith in the last few days have you?”
Buffy winced, hoping Tru wouldn’t get angry at her for asking about Faith. It was still very much a touchy subject.
“No, I haven’t,” Tru answered without hesitation. “Why? Has something happened?”
She must have been able to hear the concern in Buffy’s voice, her own now sounding worried.
“I’m not sure,” Buffy answered. “She hasn’t been seen for three days apparently and. . .her apartment looks like it’s been trashed. If she calls, please let me know.”
“Of course,” Tru replied, her breathing indicating that she was fearing the worst.
“Try not to worry, I’m sure she’s fine,” Buffy tried to reassure, failing miserably.
“Find her, Buffy,” Tru pleaded. “She’s more vulnerable than she lets on.”
The words struck Buffy for a moment and she felt a tear roll down her cheek. Swiping it away, Buffy fought back the emotion threatening to engulf her.
“I know,” she said tightly.
She couldn’t help but remember that night with Faith in her bed; Faith clinging to Buffy with words of longing, of fear, of guilt and love. Yes, love. Buffy knew she’d heard those words muttered even though she’d tried not to believe or buy in to what Faith had said in her drunken state. The following morning had turned those words into bitter and twisted lies in Buffy’s mind, but she knew. . .somehow she knew that Faith loved her. She felt it inside. In her heart.
“I’ll find her,” Buffy promised.
“She might be difficult sometimes, but I don’t want to lose her,” Tru admitted. “I think we need each other now. And she needs you.”
Swallowing hard, Buffy tried not to let the tears flow. She had to focus on how to find Faith, if indeed she needed finding, but Tru’s words made her heart ache. She knew it must have been difficult for Tru to say such a thing, so Buffy did her best to accept the truth.
“I think I need her too,” she said quietly, hoping Tru understood.
“Then when you find her, you should tell her,” Tru implored.
Tru didn’t sound bitter or hurt, she sounded resigned to the fact that love just wasn’t so easily ignored or fooled. There was so much between Faith and Buffy, and not all of it was bad. Tru seemed to understand that better than Buffy ever had.
“I will,” Buffy accepted, her voice cracking. “I’ll call you when I hear anything.”
Tru thanked Buffy and then hung up.
Buffy stared at the phone for a moment, her eyes shrouded in tears. She had been so lucky to meet Tru, and given different circumstances she knew they would have been wonderful together. But Faith had wormed her way in to Buffy’s heart long before Tru had stumbled onto the scene. The last few months of Buffy’s life had read like a tragic romance novel and she wasn’t even anywhere near the end of the book yet.
With a sad shake of her head, Buffy pushed her phone back into her pocket and looked around the apartment a little more closely, hoping to find a clue, any clue about Faith’s whereabouts.
She found nothing and her anxiety only grew with each passing minute. After a quick call to Giles, she arranged to meet with him – and with Willow and Xander. It didn’t take long for them to gather, all of them looking a little awkward and uncomfortable. Buffy knew it was her fault.
“I’m sorry I haven’t been around,” Buffy said, looking at her feet. “If anything has happened to Faith. . .I know it’s my fault.”
“How would it be your fault?” Willow asked, stepping close to Buffy and resting a hand on her arm. “We understand that things have been a little crazy, but you haven’t done anything to cause this, unless. . .you have.”
Buffy looked up sharply into Willow’s eyes, seeing the doubt within them.
“No, I didn’t do anything,” Buffy assured. “But I should have been around more.”
“So you didn’t say anything that might have made her take off?” Xander asked, sounding as if he really didn’t want to believe Buffy would do something like that.
“Of course not,” Buffy replied. “I haven’t spoken to her, and I don’t want her to leave. Things have been hard for me recently but we weren’t fighting.”
Giles nodded, and both Xander and Willow gave Buffy sympathetic looks. Giles didn’t know what had happened with Tru – he didn’t even know about Tru as Faith had yet to say anything to him about her – but Buffy’s friends knew, they had seen her heart broken and wretched over it all. And then Buffy had distanced herself from them. From everybody.
“Is there anywhere she might have gone? You guys have been hanging out with her, can you think of anywhere?” Buffy asked, not knowing how to even begin looking for Faith.
“No, we’ve looked everywhere, and called everywhere,” Xander replied. “The only lead we have is that she was on to something. Willy said she’d been in asking around about some new demon.”
“A new demon? What new demon?” Buffy turned to Giles. She knew she was out of the loop but she’d heard no mention about a new demon that could be causing trouble.
“We’re not exactly sure, Buffy,” Giles answered. “Faith just had a hunch that. . .”
“That something strange is going on,” Buffy finished for him. “I’ve felt it too. Did she say if there was anywhere she might go looking for this demon? A cemetery? The warehouses?”
“The dock,” Xander mumbled, then repeated himself louder. “I heard her say something about the docks, but I didn’t think she was going there alone.”
“We’ll start there,” Buffy decided, even though there was only a slim chance that she’d actually even gone there.
“Do you think she got into some kind of trouble?” Willow asked, her eyes wide. “Maybe I should have asked Tara to come. We could both have helped if. . .”
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, I’m sure Faith is fine,” Giles interrupted. “But we should probably make our way there now.”
They all agreed, bundling into Giles’ car, trying not to fret too much.
It didn’t take long before they were close to the docks, leaving the heat of the car and preparing themselves for. . .well, they didn’t know what for. Buffy pulled her stake from her jacket and Giles opened the trunk of the car, grabbing a small axe and throwing it to Xander. Willow stood by looking frightened and worried, but Buffy was aware that Willow was much stronger and more capable than she knew herself to be. Giles pulled out a bag filled with more stakes and some knives, slinging it over his shoulder and nodding to Buffy.
“Just in case,” he said.
She grimaced, hoping they were wrong in expecting the worst.
“You guys stay by the car,” Buffy instructed. “If I need you I’ll yell, but for now there’s no point in all of us making a noise through this place.”
Buffy stared off into the dark buildings and alleys that bumped up next to the dock. There was one boat tied up; just a small cargo vessel. She thought about asking Giles to follow her but changed her mind. They really didn’t know what could be lurking around the corners and she didn’t want to put any of them in direct danger. They would act as backup, as always.
Taking a sturdy knife from Giles’ bag she set off into the shadows, turning back and telling her friends not to worry. She doubted she’d find Faith here, or any trouble for that matter, but her heart was pounding anyway.
Passing a few buildings, Buffy focused on her slayer senses. She once more had the sensation that something just wasn’t quite right, but she pushed that aside and tried to feel for Faith through their connection.
Just as she was beginning to think it was time to turn back, Buffy rounded a very tight corner into an alley strewn with sodden cardboard and old wooden crates. There was a door about half way down, the hinges appearing battered and broken. With a quick glance around, Buffy picked her way over the rubbish in the alley, her heart beating faster as she finally felt that connection to Faith. That feeling she could never quite describe.
She was nearby, possibly within the building that Buffy was approaching.
The sensation grew as Buffy quietly pulled on the broken door. She winced as metal grated against metal, but as soon as she was in she heard voices. She heard a gruff laugh, chains clanking, a man – or possibly a demon – talking in riddles that Buffy could not understand.
Her heart was in her mouth, her fingers gripping tight to the knife in her hand. She realised too late that she should have brought something larger.
Pushing silently through another doorway in the dim, dark building, Buffy suppressed a cough as dust floated up into her face. She was temporarily blinded as it clouded her vision, but as soon as she stepped further into the next room she saw a body on the floor – twisted and broken. Certainly dead. Her gasp barely suppressed, she registered only momentarily that it was Darla before her eyes flicked up and she saw the demon.
For a moment she thought her heart had stopped, all thoughts flying from her head, all ability to move drifting from her limbs.
It was Riley. She was sure it was Riley but he was enormous. Grotesque. His arms bulged, flesh green and scaly in parts, eyes red, metal and skin fused over half of his face. She knew it was him. Knew because he had Faith in his hands, a heavy chain slowly tightening around her neck as he spat vile words in her face.
“You’re nothing,” he snarled, meaty fingers holding Faith down. “Buffy is not yours. Buffy is. . .Buffy is. . .”
He couldn’t speak through his anger and as Faith struggled Buffy saw his muscles flex more firmly, squeezing the chain tighter around Faith’s neck. Buffy froze long enough for Faith’s eyes to suddenly find hers. Long enough for Faith to push against Riley a little harder, with all she had left.
Buffy saw then that Faith had her fingers between the chain and her neck, but it was still biting into her flesh, still on the verge of choking the life out of her. With a shake of her head Buffy woke herself up, her own anger now coursing through her veins as she assessed her choices. Riley hadn’t yet noticed her entrance at least.
“I’ll snap your neck,” Riley grunted at Faith with a hideous laugh. “Snap you in two. I’ve seen you with her. Seen you. . .”
Buffy knew she had to move fast but smart. If she lunged at him with just a knife he was liable to break Faith’s neck before she did any damage at all; his flesh didn’t even look human anymore. She had seconds. Seconds to make her choice.
As quietly as she could, Buffy bent and wrapped her fingers around a length of metal pole, its jagged end looking lethal enough to kill this monster that had once been her boyfriend. Now all she had to do was plunge it into his chest. She had to be careful, though. One false move and he could kill Faith. One false move and the pole could pass right through him and into Faith.
Her hands were shaking and she knew any mistake would be fatal. Looking into Faith’s watery eyes one last time, Buffy straightened up with the pole. The scraping noise it made instantly drew Riley’s attention, though his hands remained hard and fast on Faith.
“No!” he growled, pulling Faith closer to him, her body limp as her eyes began to close through lack of oxygen.
Buffy couldn’t strike now without damaging Faith further.
“Put her down, Riley,” she snapped, her whole body eager to rip him apart for how he was hurting Faith.
“All you had to do was love me,” he droned, his voice breaking into a demonic growl.
She had to take a chance. She had to take him down now before it was too late. Faith couldn’t hold on any longer.
As she lifted the pole, aiming for his chest, he lifted Faith from her knees and tightened his hands around her neck.
“No!” Buffy yelled. “Don’t kill her!”
She struck, but he was quick. She felt the pole swiped aside, the strength of the blow shaking up her arms and rattling her whole body.
In an instant Faith could be dead.
“No!” Buffy cried again, a deep sob bursting from her lungs.