Chapter Ten

Only a week has passed since I was skinned, shished, and kebabed and I'm pretty much fully healed. The skin on my stomach is a bit pink and shiny, but hey – any skin is good skin. I've been doing all kinds of exercises for my shoulder every day and Faith and Krista have been sure to push me extra hard to use it.

It's kind of amazing, actually. Faith was right when she said that things at the camp were okay and that they could only get better with my being here. The younger girls seem so motivated to learn and get better. They're working out more often, pushing themselves harder, and Faith says it's all thanks to me.

I don't like to think of it that way, but if it helps distract them and keeps their hope up? Sure, I can go along with that.

I know this is a different Buffy than most people have seen for the last year, but I guess it just feels kind of good to get a sense of my old self again. I was so alone for so long, and granted that was my own unwise decision . . . I don't know; it just feels good to be back. To be the Buffy that people look up to, not fear.

Not that they actually have to look up to me; Faith never fails to remind me that I'm one of the shortest girls here.

I could live without the vertically-challenged jokes.

Jo has done her best to avoid damn near everyone in the camp. She's become a loner and I know that's my fault, but everyone keeps trying to make my guilt disappear on that one. It's her choice, they tell me, and she'll snap out of it when she's good and ready.

But you know what? It was my choice to be alone too and it took a LOT for me to snap out of it. It took friends. And if Jo won't let anyone close, she's going to be alone for a long while.

I tried to reach out to her yesterday. While everyone else was eating under the caf tent, I took my package of Pop-Tarts and sat next to her in the yard. She didn't even jump up and walk away, telling me to fuck off like she usually did.

I blame Faith for the mouth on that girl.

Instead she sat there, staring down at her knees as she rested back on her palms. When she realized I wasn't going anywhere, she looked over and just watched me for a few minutes. I didn't say anything; I'm still not quite back to 100% socially adjusted Buffy yet. The silence was good though. It did more than words could. She finally opened her mouth to speak but then something caught her eye. She looked up at one of the towers and I followed her gaze to see several guards watching us intently.

I heard her scuffle to get up and then her quickly retreating footsteps across the yard. There was no point in watching her leave. I just kept looking up at the tower, using one arm to shield my eyes from the sun. It was a staring contest and I voluntarily looked away and down at my lunch, not wanting to trigger a bad case of demon bitch mode. The tiny throb that started in my shoulder reminded me of that much.

It wasn't long before Faith and Krista made their way over to me, followed by a handful of girls who started jumping and flipping around to entertain us all. They were laughing. They were positive. Things were good . . .

. . . which should've been a sign right then and there that bad things were on their way.

We've all been too blind to see it, or maybe we're just being purposely naοve. Ignorance is bliss, and sometimes it's easier to live without thinking about the bad things, even if you know deep in your mind that they're just around the corner.

Still, today started just like any other day. I've been staying out in the camp with the girls and Faith has taken her old room back. Just like always, even now she still needs her own personal space now and again. She spends all day with us and then goes off on her own at night.

I still wonder what she does in there at night; if she's alone, or has a guest, or if she cries and screams or just goes to sleep nice and easy. Faith puts on a great show for the girls, positive and cool and controlled, but I wonder what's under the mask when there's no one there to see it slip.

Regardless, we woke up not too long after dawn and everyone slowly migrated to the food tent. Faith was there before all of us, sipping on a cup on weak coffee and staring off into the distance. Something was bothering her and I could see it in her face, but she quickly covered it up as soon as everyone came around.

I didn't have to ask her what was wrong; I knew. Deep down we all did, though most of us pretended not to notice or care.

It's the weekend. It's a fight night.

And as easy as things have been lately – not including the injuries Ha or I got in previous battles – things are about to change. There's been a power shift in the camp. Girls are strong and confident and working as one.

It's about time they bring us down a notch.

We all try to be casual during the day. A bunch of girls do some light stretching and training in the yard but no one really pushes too hard. We have to save our strength just in case. There's no telling what's going to happen later in the arena and I'm pretty sure most of us are doing what we can not to think about it. It's just too hard to think about losing even one person from the camp; from the family they built together and welcomed me into, even after I made it clear I shouldn't be a part of it.

The sun is just beginning to set now and there's a tense silence over the camp as we all listen to the eerie sounds of cheering from within the already full arena. The crowd is going wild and we haven't even walked out there yet. Hell, we haven't even started to suit up yet; it's far too early which means that there's definitely a special fight planned for the night.

All of the girls are in the yard, including Jo. She's put a canyon of distance between her and the rest of us but she's here nonetheless. Faith is watching her like a hawk and Jo is defiant – or maybe just plain stupid – holding Faith's gaze and not backing down for a single second. I heard them arguing last night. Jo wanted to go over the wall. She thought it would be better for her to leave and take her chances than to have to kill or be killed by one of the people closest to her. Faith wouldn't hear that though and all but physically dragged her away from the wall. I'm pretty sure she didn't sleep a wink cos she was too busy making sure Jo or nobody else did anything stupid.

While they have a silent battle, the rest of us sit around and watch the horde of guards that are now lining the walls. There's at least triple the amount that are normally on duty.

Our instinct was right; something's definitely up.

The gate to the arena opens without warning and four guards walk through, each carrying a set of battle armor. The armor is all buffed and shiny and I have no doubt in my mind that they want the fight tonight to be a spectacle. I can hear the crowd roaring and stomping even louder than I could before.

A few of the girls closest to the gate shuffle away, hoping that a bit of physical distance from the guards will save them. After seeing those four sets of armor though, I'm pretty sure most of these girls are safe. Krista and I share a knowing glance and look quickly back at the guards. We know exactly what's coming next.

"Stand, slayers," one of the guards shouts. We stand without being told twice but apparently that doesn't make him happy enough. "Line up!"

We do as we're told, forming two lines one in front of the other. Jo is on the far end of the back line and Faith is just in front of her. Krista is in the front row with me down on the other end and we're both trying not to make it obvious that we're looking at Jo and Faith but we just can't seem to stop.

The four guards spread out, two heading toward the far end of the line and two heading toward ours. We all know exactly where they're headed. It's what we've been dreading – and expecting – for some time now.

I keep my eyes down when I see one of the two guards headed in our direction stop before me. He waits for a second before thrusting the armor against my chest, holding it there until I wrap my arms around it and take it from him completely. I don't need to look next to me to know that Krista is holding a set of armor too but I do anyhow. Her hands are trembling but she's trying to keep calm. When the two guards walk away to join the others, her eyes meet mine and I can see just how scared she is.

I don't blame her. I am too. Freaking out isn't going to help anyone though so I just shake my head at her a little, then look past her and down the long line of slayers to see one of the other guards handing Faith some armor. The fourth guard thrusts the last set of armor at Jo but her arms stay limp at her sides, her gaze fixed on the ground.

"Slayer, take your armor and prepare."

We all watch as Jo completely ignores him. Several moments pass and he steps closer into her personal space.

"Take your armor or do not, it makes no difference to me. Either way, you will fight."

Jo suddenly looks up and meets the guard's gaze. She doesn't say anything but she shocks us all by spitting in his face and smiling as he wipes it away. It's not completely unexpected when he winds back and backhands her across the face, making her stumble back a step before regaining her balance. Her lip is split and a trickle of blood leaks down her chin which she touches with her fingertips. She stares at the blood on her fingers for just a moment before grabbing the armor and throwing it down to the ground angrily. She doesn't charge the guard or the fence; instead she looks down the row to me and snarls angrily.

"This is all your fault!" she screams.

She takes the first step of what I can only guess is a running start at me but then Faith's holding her back as the rest of the slayers gasp and look on in shock.

"Let me go!" Jo grunts and when Faith sets her feet back down on the ground, she quickly spins and decks Faith on the chin.

The fire behind Faith's eyes is hard to miss and both Krista and I take off running in an instant, stopping only when we reach them. Krista holds Jo back while I try to restrain Faith. It's a lot like trying to keep a bullet from leaving a gun once the trigger has been pulled.

"Guys, stop!" Krista yells.

It takes a few minutes of struggling but Faith and Jo finally calm down enough so that we can hold them back. The guards along the wall watch and laugh, completely amused by the little show.

We're all so wrapped up in the whole debacle that no one notices a guard coming over with iron shackles until he has one slapped on Faith's wrist and is busy linking the other to mine. We look down at our joined arms, then over at Krista and Jo who are being linked together just the same. Their eyes widen when they realize what's going on.

It's them against us; the original slayers.

"Save your aggression for the arena, you will need it," a guard says gruffly.

He stands by and watches like a hawk as we slip the small pieces of armor on, fastening them as best as we can while chained to one another. I only just have time to clasp on my last forearm guard before he yanks on the chain connecting Faith and I. We barely manage to stay vertical as we stumble along and continue looking back at Jo and Krista. Faith is having another staring contest with Jo but there's something different in their eyes this time. Gone is the anger from just a minute before and now all I can see from both of them is fear. They've seen this before; they know how this works.

Only one of them is walking out of this alive, and now their last memory is of the stupid fight they were having over this. Over me.

I look over at Krista and her eyes are locked on mine, wide with fear. I know what's supposed to happen in the arena, but . . . I know I won't be able to do it. Looking at Krista now, I know I could never hurt her. Faith and her . . . they saved me from myself.

"I won't do it," I say, barely even loud enough for my own ears to hear as the guard continues pulling Faith and I away. "I promise, I won't."

Her lips barely whisper my name before I'm yanked even harder, sending Faith and I stumbling out into the arena. There's a huge roar and the crowd surges as they see us for the first time this evening. I guess that Faith has always been a crowd favorite here and word has gotten out about me too. Seeing us chained together as one big ass-kicking machine is making them insane with excitement.

It's making me insane with anger.

The guard parades us around the outside of the arena in a big circle, occasionally thrusting his arm up victoriously, like he caught us or something. He's got to be more than six feet tall, so every time he raises his arm – and the chain that connects us – Faith and I have to hang there like morose little puppets.

It's humiliating, and between that and the look on Krista's face as he yanked us away from her and Jo, I'm getting angrier by the second.

I think that's the whole point. They want us vicious.

By the time he gets us around full circle and to the center of the ring, I see Jo and Krista already there waiting for us. I steal a glance over at Faith and I see her jaw clenched tightly as she stares up into the crowd. The fear is still there, but now she's furious. Our misery has been made a spectacle of from the first day they started us fighting in the arenas, but this is too much.

There's been no plotting or scheming, no dissent from within the camp. This is completely uncalled for and Faith isn't going to let it happen easily. Neither will I.

The guard that's been dragging us around whips us over so that we almost collide with Krista and Jo. The only thing that stops us is Faith who quickly regains her footing and pulls on the chain, just barely stopping me crashing into them head first. We take a few steps away, hoping for some crazy reason that a bit of distance will help. I can see Krista trembling from here but there's nothing I can do about it and Jo certainly isn't helping with how she's focused only on Faith.

There's no table of weapons for us to choose from and that's pretty alarming in itself but for now I choose to see it as a bonus. If we're left to punches and kicks, we can keep things from going too bad too fast.

"This is Jamie and Rachel all over again," Faith says more to herself than anything. She's looking around the arena, completely disgusted but unable to do anything to change this. After a moment she stops her slow turn to the side and harshly says, "B."

I follow her gaze and look up through the crowd and to a monitor at one end of the arena. There are a slew of demons there that run the camp, smiling cruelly as they watch me staring at a bloodied and bruised Dawn on the screen. My breath catches in my throat and my eyes get blurry with tears that will never fall.

"Oh god. She's still alive."

"Don't give them what they want," Faith says, her words quiet.

"What's that?" I manage to mumble out.

"A shell. Remember who you are. Remember who they are."

She nods her head towards Jo and Krista. It's hard but I finally manage to pry my eyes from the image of Dawn on the screen and look over them. They look terrified. They're terrified of us.

"They're here, Buffy, still alive, too. Can you do it? Can you turn off everything inside you again and kill them?"

It takes me a minute but I finally shake my head, tears stinging my eyes.


"Neither can I."

"How can we stop this?"

"We can't," she replies sadly, eyes now focused on a pair of guards that are walking across the arena from the armory with a few weapons in their arms.

The closer they get, the better I'm able to see that they're not carrying weapons for all of us; there are two swords and two shields. He hands a sword to Faith and a shield to me, then a sword to Jo and a shield to Krista. We stand and face each other, mirror images of the same scared girls.

"It appears that our warriors are ready," a voice rings out from the loudspeakers throughout the arena and the crowd roars in response. "Can you feel the fear, the anger? It's intoxicating."

"I'm gonna kill ‘em all. One day I'm gonna kill ‘em all," Faith says through clenched teeth. Her hand is gripping the sword hilt so hard that I think she might break it.

"Then we need to live," I say to her, tearing my eyes away from Krista's for a moment to look up at Faith's face.

"We all need to live."

"Then we need to come up with a fucking plan!" I yell, and I think I actually shocked her. She looks over at me, startled, but I can tell she's trying to work something out behind those brown eyes of hers.

An airhorn sounds and the crowd roars even louder, cheering like mad. That's the signal; the fight has begun. The four of us stand still and look at each other, confused. We haven't started fighting; why are they sounding the horns?

Beyond the roar of the crowd, my slayer hearing picks up on some other sound. It's a low rumbling and I can feel it vibrating throughout my body. It takes me a second but I know where I've felt it before. By the way Faith's eyes are widening, I know she does too. We barely have a chance to look at each other before we see them pouring into every entrance of the arena like locusts.

Ubervamps. Hundreds of them.

"Holy shit!" Krista yells as both she and Jo quickly run up to us.

"Back to back. Get back to back!" Faith yells.

"What do we do?" Jo shouts, gripping her sword like a baseball bat.

"Take off their heads!" Faith yells as she easily slices the heads off the first two ubervamps that approach. "Just keep them the fuck off of us!"

Several more are approaching quickly and I know we have maybe five seconds before we're under full attack.

"B," Faith starts, her eyes never leaving the vamps.

"I know. I'll keep us safe. All of us."

No sooner than the words leave my mouth are we thrown back by the next wave of ubervamps. The only reason we're still standing is because Jo and Krista were attacked at the same time, sending them barreling back into us as well. I dig my left foot into the ground and brace the shield on my left shoulder, then thrust out with as much strength as I can muster. About six ubervamps go flying backwards and into the next wave, scattering them like bowling pins. Another wave is right behind them though and they walk over the vamps still struggling to get back to their feet. They're on us in an instant and Faith strikes out with everything she has.

Dust scatters all around us as Jo and Faith behead as many vamps as they can. Krista and I hold back the ones that they miss, lashing out with punches and kicks wherever we're able. Understandably, it's all a little awkward when you're shackled to another person. Faith has had to run a few of the vamps through with her sword and the injured lay all around us, clawing at our legs and feet to make us stumble.

Krista screams out in pain and I look down to see a huge gash on her leg where an ubervamp managed to claw her. Jo manages to slice his head off as he was looking up at us but the injury is already there and looking pretty grotesque.

"I'm okay!" Krista gasps out but I can see the pain in her eyes.

"This is insanity!" Jo yells as she takes out three vamps at once, showering the next wave of vamps with dust.

"No, insanity woulda been us doing this to each other!" Faith yells back.

A vamp charges from the side and I shield bash him, sending him flying through the air, unconscious.

We continue on like this for what feels like hours but I know it's actually so much less than that. The waves are getting slower and more spread out and I'll be damned if Jo and Faith aren't actually having a bit of fun with this now. They're proud. We're injured, bleeding, and exhausted and the crowd is booing and throwing stuff into the arena, but they're proud. They have every right to be.

We just took on an army with two swords and two shields and we're gonna win.

As far as victories go, this one is pretty darn sweet.

Jo and Faith easily take out the last of the stragglers, leaving only a few severely incapacitated or unconscious ubervamps lying around. I don't take part in the high-fives Faith and Jo give each other but instead put my shield down and kneel next to Krista to take a look at her leg. She's got the worst injury by far but she's trying to tough it out even now.

"It's okay, Buffy, I'm fine," she says.

"I know you are," I tell her, offering her a small smile before focusing on her leg again. There's a piece of skin flopping around that I'm pretty sure shouldn't be but I don't want to get her upset by panicking.

I rip off a piece of my cloth shirt from under my armor and press it tightly to her leg, making her hiss out in pain.

"Hey, watch it! I'm trying not to look like a pussy over here!" she says with a grin.

"No way are you a pussy, K. That leg is gnarly! Gonna have a killer scar from it," Faith shouted over the noise of the booing crowd.

"Just what I need, more battle scars."

I try to stand but my legs are tired and I just wobble around on the ground for a minute before Faith holds her hand out to me, a proud smile on her face.

"And you. Kept your shit together good, B. Gotta say, I'm impressed."

"I'm just glad we're all okay."

"I'll drink to that," Jo says. "Now when the hell can we get outta this dust bowl and into the showers? Think I inhaled some ubervamp."

Faith laughs, "Still got a lot to learn, kid. Girl can slay a dragon but still doesn't know to close her mouth when she kills a . . ."

Suddenly Faith's words trail off and her eyes widen. I look over to see one of the ubervamps who had been laying unconscious just seconds ago standing right behind Jo with his crude weapon already pulled back, ready to strike.

"No!" Faith calls out and dives forward, pulling me along with her. Her sword slices easily through the ubervamp's neck, showering us all with a fresh layer of dust as the three of us fall to the ground in a heap with Krista nearly toppling over right onto us.

We quickly get back onto our feet and move to help Jo but it's too late. Her eyes are wide open staring up into the night sky, the crude sword protruding through her chest from her back.

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