We're back in my old bedroom in Sunnydale, neatly tucking the sheets on my bed and smoothing them out so there are no wrinkles. They're fresh and warm from the dryer and the scent washes over me, summer and clean cotton and home. I know it's a dream but I'm happy to go along with it. It's nice to be out of the doom and gloom of the real world, even if only for a few minutes.
Even if I know everything will hurt even more when I open my eyes and realize that it was all a lie.
Faith looks up and gives me a genuine smile.
"Still love the way they smell," she says and I can't help but nod.
"Nothing beats the smell of clean sheets."
"Well, I don't know about that," she says, her smile becoming a little bit predatory now as she starts to walk around the bed toward me. "I've always thought you smell about a thousand times better."
She walks right up into my personal space and all but buries her face in the crook of my neck, breathing in slow and deep. I can't help but tilt my head to the side, giving her more space to graze her nose and lips again. Her lips, barely parted, close softly over my neck and I shudder.
"Kind of senseless, putting these sheets on the bed if we're not even gonna put them to good use," she says, her voice husky and tickling my neck.
"Sheets are for warmth," I remind her.
"Yeah, and I bet we can warm them up real nice."
The next thing I know, she lowers me down onto the soft mattress and crawls up over me, keeping her body just an inch away from mine. Her hair falls around her face like a curtain and hides us away from the rest of the world, her lips just teasingly out of reach.
"Kiss me," I whisper, my fingertips sliding under the bottom of her shirt to grip at her sides.
"It's not possible," she whispers back, her brow suddenly furrowing. "Neither of us is here nor there. Minds without bodies, all jacked up in the head. So close but so far away."
"No," I reply back, shaking my head and moving my hands to the back of her neck so I can pull her down to me. "No riddles; just kiss me. Let's just stay here. We don't have to go."
"You'll wake up with regret," she says, pulling back even further. "This isn't real. None of it is."
"It's the realest thing I've felt in so long. So long."
My heart races in my chest as she lowers her head back down and brushes her lips over mine. Before I can even properly kiss her back though, she lifts her head back up and looks down into my eyes.
"Beep beep beep!"
I almost laugh and ask her why she's imitating a car horn but I feel the edges of the dream start to blur. Before she completely disappears, I pull her back down and kiss her with all I'm worth.
Suddenly her lips are gone and when I open my eyes, I'm back in the world I know. I'm laying on my back in a mostly dark room, a lumpy cot underneath my back rather than the soft mattress that was there in my dream. My heart is still racing and I bring my hand up over it, willing it to slow down. My skin is still sticky with sweat and I wonder how long I've been sleeping.
I'm not supposed to be napping.
That isn't something that's allowed.
As if on cue, the door to Faith's room opens and I look up just in time to see her strolling in, hair wet from the shower. She pauses for a moment when she sees me still here, unsure of what to do next. We've never run into this problem before.
See, I'm used to seeing her leave. For the past five weeks, ever since she . . . did that to me . . . in her room, things have gotten a little bit . . . well, complicated.
Actually, for Faith, it's completely un-complicated. She stays in her room and ‘fucks me' whenever I happen by. When we're done, she kicks me out, or she goes and takes a shower and expects me to be gone by the time she gets back. We've never run into any issues before. We come, I go. That's the unspoken rule.
But today Faith wore me out for almost three hours. I had every intention of getting up and leaving when she stepped out, but I closed my eyes for a split second and I fell asleep. Whether that's because she tired me out today or because she tired me out when I went for a shower before bed last night, I'm still not sure.
We've been doing this - whatever this is - more and more often. To be honest, I didn't plan for it to happen again after the first time in her room. Hell, I hadn't even planned on it happening after our first time in the shower. I wasn't sure I'd wanted it to happen at all in the first place. When I left her room that day, I felt ashamed and dirty. All of the girls wanted to know what happened but I just told them we fought.
I really didn't know what had happened between us, honestly.
But the next day, she caught me in the shower and said . . . well, some really dirty things. And she was crude and my first instinct was to lash out. I didn't though. I hadn't really connected with someone like that in so long, and even though I knew it was illicit and wrong, I gave in.
I just needed the contact and that emotional bond that usually comes with sex.
But Faith tries to keep that from happening. She's still closed off; carrying around her emotional baggage from Jo's death. She hit her breaking point and she hasn't bounced back. I don't know what can even make that happen; if it's even possible. Her life is separate from the camp now, and she keeps whatever we have down to just sex; no emotions, no strings. We fuck and I leave; that's the way she likes it.
And me? I need the connection, no matter how fucked up it might be. The girls in the camp are my friends, and I help them and talk to them. But what I have with Faith; it sates a primal need that all humans crave, I think. Maybe I'm wrong for letting it happen, but I can't help myself now. I'm in here every chance I get, and she's pulling me away from the others every time I walk by.
Needless to say, pretty much everyone in the camp knows something's going on now but I don't give in to their suspicions. I've lost my freedom, my family, my dignity; I'm going to keep what little shreds of privacy that I can.
A few seconds pass and Faith finally makes up her mind. She strolls into the room, letting the door close behind her. Ignoring me, she heads on over to the small table near the toilet and picks up an old hairbrush, running it through her long brown hair.
"Not supposed to be here," she says plainly, her back to me.
"I fell asleep."
There. That's all the explanation she's getting. I'm not going to feel bad for falling asleep after the few hours we spent together on this cot. I'm kinda surprised that she didn't pass out too.
"Yeah, well . . . since you're up and all, you know where the exit is."
She lifts her shirt off and pulls a spare from over the back of a chair, putting it on casually. When it's on, she just stands there and waits, refusing to turn around. I guess that's my cue.
"I certainly do," I grumble as I sit up, feeling around for my clothes. I find them without much hassle and get dressed with my back to Faith.
When I'm nearly done pulling on my pants, I laugh a little to myself. God, we must be quite the picture. Her back's to me, my back's to her, and we're both a couple of chickens. I'm afraid to try to stay and she's afraid to let me.
Not that I'm dying to stay in here with her or anything. When we're not having sex, she's pretty much busy being a grade-A bitch to everyone around her, including Bobb-o. She sure knows how to turn on and off at the flip of a switch. I just . . . it's easier to be here with Faith than to deal with everything else. I can't explain it; it just is.
Sighing, I knock on the door so Bobb-o will unlock it and wait, my back still turned to Faith.
"So," she hedges, "you gonna grab a shower before ya go to bed later?"
And I know exactly what she wants. She wants to meet me there and have her way with me. Again. While it's normally a tempting offer, I'm feeling a bit peeved at being kicked out now while I was so comfortable.
"I think I'll go take one now," I say evenly. "Get in bed early tonight. My nap was cut short."
There's complete silence and I'm pretty glad she can't see my smirk. After a few seconds I hear the lock click and the door opens enough for me to see Bobb-o smiling impishly at me. You know; if giant blubbery demons can even look impish.
But before I can walk out, the force of Faith crashing into me from behind forces the door shut with me pressed against it and Faith against my back. Her breath is warm on my neck and I have to try so hard to keep my body from reacting. We never kiss after sex, we never hug; there's no cuddling to speak of. It's always about the hot and heavy and heat with us. No soft stuff, no emotions.
At least for Faith.
"Playing hard to get?" she asks, her mouth close to my ear. When I don't reply, she continues, pressing even more against me. "Don't play like you don't want it, B. I know you do."
I turn around in the non-existent space between us and look up into her dark eyes. She's smirking like she's already won.
"What you give me, I can get from any person out in that camp," I say, my voice low as I get closer to her face, challenging her.
Neither one of us is backing down now. She's sure that she's the shit, but the only thing I'm sure of is that she's sure I'm bluffing. Truth is, I am. There may be other girls in the camp but the only one I'm interested in is the stubborn one in front of me right now. As much as I like and get along with the other girls, I only feel that connection with Faith. It's just something about the two of us; it has always been this way and probably always will be.
She's staring deep into my eyes now, completely silent. She's waiting for something; waiting for me to talk or make a move. I can't though. I can't let her think I need her more than she needs me.
"Are we done here?" I finally ask, eyebrows raised and defiant.
Faith doesn't say anything. She just looks at me for a few more seconds before stepping back and pulling the door open with one hand, then gesturing for me to go through it with the other. I walk out without another word but turn to face her when I'm just on the other side of it.
"Don't forget, arena tomorrow night, and hey, I have this crazy idea." My sarcasm is apparent and Faith moves to close the door, but I step forward and catch it with my hand. "Just hear me out. How about instead of sitting all alone at the side, you join the rest of the girls and let them know you still give a damn about them?"
"Hey, I've got an even better idea," she says with false enthusiasm. "How ‘bout you suck my dick?"
The door slams in my face and I'm torn between shock and laughing. I settle for laughing when I hear Bobb-o tittering behind me. I turn and look at him and he has his big meaty hand over his mouth, covering his smile.
"Dick!" he laughs.
"No, Bobb-o, don't copy Faith," I laugh, putting my hand on his arm. "She'll start saying some really funky things if she knows you're mimicking her."
"Sorry, Bee," he says, trying to cover his smile again.
"It's okay. Are the girls in the camp?"
"Girls practice," he replies and I sigh.
As much as I really don't feel like being social right now, I know that I have to be out there with them. There are a couple girls who aren't dealing so well since Jo's death and they need something to focus on to get past it. The entire camp has been training longer, working harder, and just trying to be their best.
And the best part about that? I haven't had to force them into it. They know they all need to be strong now.
I make my way out to the camp and down the central tunnel to the arena. The sun is bright and hot, I'm already sweaty and in desperate need of a shower, and I may have just pushed Faith away for good.
Just another day in paradise.
Training went off without a hitch. In fact, pretty much the rest of the day did. Even though I said I wasn't going to, I went to the showers last night before bed, hoping to run into Faith there. Krista tried to keep me in the camp with the rest of the girls; they like to be around each other on the nights before fights and she told me I should be there. My conscience knew she was right, but I guess my body had other plans because I walked away when she told me she needed to talk to me, promising that we'd catch up today.
Needless to say, I'm still trying to avoid that chat.
After Faith's no-show, I made my way back to the camp fully determined not to let Krista yell at me for it. She's not dumb; she knows where I've been going and what I've been up to.
I just don't think I can take her disapproval right now.
Instead of going to my usual tent – which happens to house an increasingly unhappy Krista - I snuck into one of the other tents with a different group of girls and hid out there for the night. It was weird not having Krista to talk with but I wasn't ready for any kind of lecture she's preparing to give me. The longer I can go without it, the better.
Now that it's morning, I know I'm going to have to go out into the camp and face the music. All of the slayers in the tent I crashed in are already up and out and I know I can't hide away in here for the rest of the day. Krista will find me and then I'll have nowhere to run to unless I bust out the back of the tent, leaving a Buffy-shaped hole in the canvas in my wake.
After a quick morning stretch, I stick my head out of the tent to peek around and instantly come face to face with a disapproving Krista.
"I can't believe you seriously hid out from me all night long," she says, arms crossed over her chest.
Instead of showing how surprised I am to find her there waiting for me, I go for casual indifference and walk past her towards the cafeteria tent.
"And I can't believe you're stalking me this early in the morning!" I say as I pass by, my voice barely above a whisper so we don't make a scene.
Sure enough, I hear footsteps behind me trying to catch up and then we're walking side by side. She doesn't say anything for a moment, instead trying to come up with a new plan of attack. Clearly, ambushing me didn't work.
"I'm not stalking you," she finally says as we enter the big canvas tent, grateful for the brief respite from the bright morning sun. "I've been trying to talk to you for the last couple days but you keep running off every chance you get or you just plain hide from me like I'm wearing some kind of Buffy-repellent."
"I wasn't hiding," I tell her as I grab one of the brown trays and get into the short line. "It was late. I was tired. I just wanted to sleep."
"That's fine, Buffy. I get it. But you need to know what's been going on in the camp when you haven't been here."
"I'm always here," I tell her, my brow furrowed in a combination of confusion and annoyance.
I don't like where this is headed.
"Maybe. But you're not always exactly . . . available."
Yep. Definitely not liking where this is going. Still going for casual, I move along with the line and grab the first bowl of oatmeal that I can reach. Instead of putting it on my tray, I place it on hers, then grab another one for myself. I glance over and meet her gaze.
"So fill me in."
Sighing with relief, she follows me over to one of the empty tables near the back and sits in the chair at my side. "You know that the girls have been working really hard lately. Training extra, pushing harder . . ."
"That's a good thing," I tell her, then swallow a bit of my oatmeal.
"Yeah, it is," she continues. "They're stronger. Determined. More confident . . ."
"Again, all good things. Not seeing the problem here."
". . . and they're tired of being scared," she finishes. She doesn't have to say anything more. I know what she's getting at.
The girls are getting tired of this situation. In fact, they're beyond tired with it. They're tired of watching each other die off one by one and they're ready for a change. Ready to take action; to do what it takes to get out of here. They're training. They're preparing.
But preparing for what?
It's not a good idea. Even if we beat the insurmountable odds and get out of here; then what? A hundred girls with no food, no weapons, and no place to go, set on roaming an earth that we don't know anything about anymore. The odds of surviving out there are worse than they are in here.
"It's too risky," I say, shaking my head lightly as I stare into my bowl of oatmeal.
"Any riskier than staying here?" she asks, scooting closer and lowering her voice to a whisper. "Buffy, we're dying off. How long before we're extinct? Not just us but the entire human race?"
"And you think a ragtag group of a hundred teenage girls is going to change that?" I ask cynically.
"We're not ragtag," she says defensively and I know I've said the wrong thing. "We're slayers just like you, Buffy. Just like Faith. We're young but we've all seen the same things you have while here. I'm not gonna run out and try to lead the girls, Buffy, but they're not gonna just sit around like this much longer."
I sigh deeply and put my spoon down, then face Krista fully. A few girls are looking in our direction now so I get closer to her and drop my voice down as low as I can without whispering.
"Krista, I know we all want out. The fact remains that we don't know what's happening out there," I nod to the area behind me; to what lays beyond the tent and the walls of the stadium. "No one can give us any info. Is it just California that's affected? The United States? The world? There's no resistance that we know of; no one has ever been saved or rescued. How long after we break out until they come after us? How long until they get other clans after us?"
"Then we'll kill them all," she says, determined, and I can't help but scoff.
"If that's even possible, we'll lose more than half the girls before we get our first breath of freedom."
"But at least we'll have tried. At least some of us will be able to say we had that one last breath. We don't want to die as slaves."
Again, I have to stop to think about it. Is it worse to sit here and wait for our deaths or to run into it headlong at our own choosing of place and time? Either way sounds horrible. I want to keep everyone safe; want to protect these girls that I've gotten to know since I've been here. But I can't protect them.
I can lead them, but I can't force them to follow me.
"If they're hell bent on starting some kind of blood and guts Spartacus-like revolution, there needs to be a plan. Research. Do not let them start anything until we can discuss this more."
"When will that be? After our next game of hide and seek?"
I know she's mad that I'm not all gung-ho about the mass-suicide plan but I can't help that. I won't let these girls jump into something like that without planning first. Without understanding that they're most likely signing their death warrants in doing so.
"After the arena tonight. We'll talk then."
"Buffy," she begins, sighing in what I can only describe as disappointment, "you know as well as I do that you're not gonna be spending the night with the rest of us tonight."
She's right. I'm usually with Faith. This is important though. The girls need me, and I need to put what I want and need on hold so that I can be there for them. I have to be since Faith isn't anymore.
"I'll be here. You have my word."
Krista stares at me long and hard for a good minute before finally nodding. Without another word, she digs into her now cold oatmeal and tucks it away faster than I do mine. She doesn't linger once she's done; she heads out into the yard and right toward the group of girls who are waiting for her. After I finish my oatmeal, I take a deep breath and head out into the yard to help her.
I can't hide away forever.
(Suggested Listening: Let The Flames Begin by Paramore)
The crowd is roaring with excitement as we make our way out into the arena, dressed in the bits and pieces of armor that have gotten shoddier with every wear. Some girls don't even have wrist guards, but at least there are enough weapons to go around, placed at one of the side tables for us to choose from before the fight starts. The guards always make sure of that; it's not a show without weapons.
We file into the area at the side of the ring designated for slayers and wait to see what's going to happen. It's not a tether match and there are no foes for us in the arena yet which is either a good thing or a really, really bad thing.
I'm thinking it's the latter. There's no such thing as a good thing here.
I glance up to the area where the bosses sit and it's still empty. Definitely bad. That means they're going to make an announcement or something big; they enjoy the spectacle of walking out to applause and cheers. Turning my head in disgust, I see Faith walking into the arena with Bobb-o at her side. He guides her over to an empty bench where she sits alone, completely disregarding the rest of us. She won't even look this way despite the handful of girls that are waving and calling to her.
God, I could kill her right now.
But now that she's here, I guess it's time to get things started. The demon bosses walk out into their area above with the proper pomp and circumstance, smiling and waving to the crowd. I don't have to look around me to know that every single slayer around me is glaring up at them, nothing but hate and defiance and rage in their eyes. I can feel it rolling off of them in waves. They're not scared little girls anymore.
They're ready to stand up.
They're ready to take their world back.
And for the first time in as long as I can remember, I feel it too. It washes over me from the top of my head down to my toes, making my fists flex and my jaw clench tightly. I feel it coming from them; the want to be free; the need to fight. The need for something more than this.
This is going to happen. We're going to get out of here. I'll find my friends, my family. We can change the world. We can make this right. We can . . .
My breath hitches in my throat and I flinch when I see someone else walk out behind the bosses. He's here. He's here and he's staring right at me, smiling. My stomach churns and I feel my legs start to go weak. This can't be happening.
"Ladies and gentlemen, we have a special guest with us tonight," one of the bosses speaks, his blood-red mouth smiling in the most horrific way. "He's traveled a far distance with some of his highest quality slayers to entertain us all. I present to you, Lord Nikolos!"
And just like that, the vampire who ordered me beaten nearly every day for a year and a half and nearly starved me and every other girl in my old camp walks up to the microphone, his eyes never leaving mine.
"Thank you for extending the invitation and for the wonderful introduction," he says, smiling viciously. "I see you've taken care of my most prized slayer very nicely. She's almost as good as yours is, I hear."
I feel a hand on my arm but I don't need to look over to know that it's Krista, trying to keep me calm. I'm pretty sure I see Faith inching closer out of the corner of my eye but I'm too busy focusing on Nikolos to be sure.
"I figured that, this being our big reunion, I should bring a gift for my former number one. If I can direct your attention up to the monitors . . ."
Suddenly the monitor flickers on and I gaze over just in time to see Dawn pop up on the screen looking worse than ever. She's bruised, bloodied, and looking completely near death. I try to lunge forward – for what, I don't know – but I'm stopped by several of the girls.
"You bastard!" I yell, making the crowd laugh and cheer.
"It must be horrible, not knowing her fate," Nikolos taunts and the crowd grows even louder. He waits until they calm down again before continuing, his smile fading as his eyes bore into mine. "It's cruel, keeping you in suspense, isn't it? Well then, my gift to you, slayer."
He nods to one of the demons who then says something into a small walkie-talkie. He keeps his focus on me but I can't help but look over to the screen when I see a large demon walking up behind Dawn with a sword in his hands.
I lunge again and actually manage to break free from the girls . . . just as the sword enters Dawn from behind and comes through her abdomen. Her eyes widen and she looks right into the camera like she can see me. My name leaves her lips in a whisper and I fall to my knees, tears falling down my face.
The crowd roars once again but I drown it out, unable to look away from the screen. Unable to understand what's happening. Unable to understand how the sword slides right through Dawn after a minute like she's made of air. Unable to understand why she's smiling and laughing.
But when her façade fades and shifts before us all until I'm looking at a perfect replica of myself, I finally get it.
I've been duped. I've been strung along this entire time.
"Surprise! She's dead," my replica says, smiling smugly with her arms crossed over her chest.
And I know she's right. After all, The First can only take the form of people who have died.
The last thing I hear before a swarm of Nikolos' armed guards come in and surround me is the sound of Faith kicking and screaming while the other slayers are forcefully removed from the arena.
If this is death, let it be swift. I hope it was for Dawn.
I close my eyes as the blows start to land and wait for the end.
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