Everything is dark but I can make out the feeling of fingertips running through my hair and someone saying my name. My head is swimming and I want nothing more than to just sleep but the soft and tentative voice is relentless and I eventually open my eyes to see who's being so gentle with me. Nothing is ever gentle here.
Needless to say, I'm more than surprised when I see Faith looking down at me, nothing but concern in her eyes. Maybe a little bit of fear too.
"B? Buffy, can you hear me?" she asks, her fingers stopping along the side of my head.
When I try to move, I feel the cold concrete and tiles of the shower floor against my back and wince at the soreness in my muscles. I feel like I've been hit with a ton of bricks and subsequently buried beneath them while a small vehicle was parked on top. I take a quick glance around oh god, head rush and realize that my head is resting on Faith's lap. Her lip is split but healing and she has a really fresh bruise on her cheek.
Still, somehow I think that the small river of drying red blood leading toward the shower drain a few feet away isn't hers.
Faith must realize that I'm trying to figure out what's going on because she starts explaining before I can even ask what happened.
"The other guards gave you a good beating," she says, her fingers starting to move through my hair again. It's a surprisingly calming gesture and I just stare up at her, looking into her troubled eyes. "I tried hard to get to you before they could do any real damage but our guards were holding me back. Killed two of them and gave three others a real whuppin' before I got to the guys that were beatin' you down. Did what I could but I had no weapons, yunno? Only reason we're here now is cos of Bobb-o. Big guy came charging in like a banshee and unleashed hell. Grabbed us before the guards could figure out what happened and ran us here."
"Where is he now?" I ask, my voice hoarse and tired.
Faith shrugs, her eyes glancing up to my forehead that she's stroking with her thumb.
"Pretty sure he's in some kinda trouble. He hugged me, told me to be good, then put you across my lap so I could watch over you. That was two hours ago, ain't heard from him since."
"You don't think he's . . ." I trail off, not wanting to say the words.
"I dunno," she says softly, a hint of pain in her voice. Bobb-o was her friend. Mine too.
And he saved us.
I try to move again but the pain in my back and Faith's hand on my shoulder stop me.
"Don't try to move, B. Not yet. You got hurt pretty bad and the doc said you need to just lay for a while. Slayer healing's working like a charm but it's gonna be all for shit if you tear open again."
My brow furrows when she says that.
"Yeah," she says softly, her thumb brushing my hair back softly again. "Took a sword to the back. Didn't hit anything major so you'll be fine. Dee came a-runnin' in here with her emergency kit her last one. The red stuff's supposed to stay on the inside, yunno? But it was leaking outta ya like crazy and your heartbeat was way too faint. She had to do an emergency transfusion."
"How? From who?" I ask. I look down at my arm and sure enough, there's a piece of white gauze taped there.
"Me. Universal donor right here," she says, trying to crack a smile as she nods down to her similarly bandaged arm.
I look back up at her face and see the effort she's making to keep it together right now. Behind her quiet confidence is fear and pain and worry. I can't help it as I lift my arm and bring my fingertips to her split lip, touching it gently before sliding them up to her bruised cheek to caress it softly.
Something passes between us when I gaze into her eyes and her breath catches in her throat. She shakes it off though and takes a deep breath before sliding her mask back into place.
"Sorry that ya got my blood runnin' through you now, but it was either that or death. I couldn't let that happen."
And suddenly I remember why I'm here in the first place. What happened out in the arena. I slip my hand down from her face and cover my mouth, trying my best to hold in the sob that's fighting its way up my throat.
"Dawnie . . ." I manage to get out before the sob escapes, echoing horribly in the empty shower.
Suddenly Faith's arms are around me and she's holding me against her chest, rocking me slightly as I cry against her skin. The pain in my back is intense but it's nothing compared to the pain in my chest. It's unbearable, like someone stabbed a red hot blade inside my heart and is slowly turning it, tearing me open with every rotation. Every breath hurts.
"It'll be okay, B," Faith whispers, her lips against the top of my head.
"No, it won't be," I cry. "She's dead, Faith. They're all dead! There's no one out there waiting for us. Don't you understand that? We're going to die in here."
"No we're not," she promises, holding me tighter. "There are still good guys, B. We don't know who's alive or how far this whole thing reached."
"We do. Yes we do. Evil won and the good guys are going extinct. What's left to fight for?"
Faith puts her hands on my shoulders and pushes me back just enough so she can look down at my face. She swipes her thumbs awkwardly over my cheeks and wipes away my tears.
"There's always a reason to fight. Always something worth fighting for."
"Then why was it so easy for you to shut down when Jo died, hmm?" I ask, still crying. "She was your friend, Faith. Dawn was my sister. And she's been dead this whole time, but they blackmailed me with her; turned me into a killer so that I would keep fighting for her."
"You're not a killer," she says, swiping more of my tears away and wiping them off on her thighs. "And I shut down because it's what I do. What I've always done. Sometimes it's easier than dealing. I'm not gonna shut down now though, B. I'm here for you, with you side by side. We can get past this. We can make things right."
Maybe this is what I needed when Krista was talking about rising up. Maybe I needed Faith by my side, telling me that things would be okay. That we could make it.
But I don't believe that anymore. Nothing is okay. And we're never getting out of here.
"Fuck!" I finally whisper after a few moments of silence, shaking my head gently. The tears keep falling and I close my eyes, giving in to the sadness that's quickly taking over me.
To the sense of finality in all of this.
Faith wraps her arms around me again but instead of just holding on like before, she stands up with my body against hers. My legs are too weak to stand right now so she swoops one of her arms under my knees until she's holding me like a princess. She winces a little, obviously still in pain from her fight, but she straightens up and looks down at me.
"You feel good enough for me to carry you like this?"
"No," I whisper, my tears saturating her shirt.
She carries me out of the shower anyhow and down the long corridor back to the camp. I half expect her to drop me off at my tent but instead, she stops at the door to her room where there's a new guard waiting. My heart hurts even more when I realize that Bobb-o isn't there for the first time since I've been in this camp.
"I'm taking her in there with me," Faith says and the guard doesn't flinch or move in the slightest. "Listen buddy, get the fuck outta my way or I'll do to you what I did to your buddies earlier. Now either hold the door open or hit me so we can get this done."
The guard eyes her warily before stepping over to the door and pulling it open. Faith carries me inside and lays me on the cot, oblivious to the way he's staring at us from the doorway. She makes sure I'm resting as comfortably as possible, then leans down so that she's near my face.
"I'm gonna go and get Dee, have her come here and check ya over," she says softly.
But terror grips me suddenly when I think of being left alone here, freshly wounded with the new guard on duty. What if he wants revenge for the guards Faith killed?
"Don't leave," I whisper and grab one of her hands between both of mine.
"I'll be right back," she promises, then does something I wasn't expecting. She leans in and gives me the softest kiss right on my lips, lingering there for nearly a minute. I hardly breathe the entire time and neither does she.
It's one of only a few kisses she's given me since we started having sex, and it's by far the best of them. It even manages to take my mind off of how shitty things have gotten for a few brief seconds.
When she finally pulls back and I open my eyes, she's already half way out the door.
"Wait!" I call out. She pops her head back in and looks at me, confused. "Bring Shy."
She stares at me for a second but then nods in understanding. I need to remember Dawn the same way Faith would a fallen slayer. She understands that. After a few seconds she disappears again and I close my eyes, trying to calm myself. The tears keep falling no matter how hard I try to keep myself in check.
I should have known that it wasn't Dawn. They've been showing her to me all along and she was probably dead the whole time. I knew The First had won, so why didn't I realize for a second that It'd try to manipulate me like that? I let my emotions rule me and I played right into Its hand. Willow she's probably gone by now too. Xander god, I never even saw any signs of him. He probably didn't even make it out of the school.
Swiping the back of my hand over my teary cheeks, I try to think of something else. Nothing works though. My mind is constantly on Dawn and my friends and I can't stop thinking how nice it would to be with them, wherever they are. How I'm going to die in this camp without them.
How the only person I have left is Faith.
I'm not sure how long I lay there with silent tears escaping down my cheeks and onto Faith's nearly flat pillow but it feels like forever. When Faith finally walks in with Diane, Krista, and Shy following after her, I sigh with relief.
"How do you feel, Buffy?" Diane asks, taking my wrist into her hands so she can take my pulse.
Krista looks over me with worry and Shy looks like she's trying to maintain her usual calm. Meanwhile, Faith squeezes onto the cot just behind Diane and takes my hand, holding it lightly in her hands. The small gesture surprises me; Faith has never been a touchy-feely kind of person. She still looks worried but she gives me a small smile and nods at me to answer.
"Horrible," I finally reply. A few more tears escape but I wipe them away quickly when she releases my wrist.
"Luckily for us the blade missed your heart, as well as your lungs and everything else that keeps you alive," Diane says as she encourages me onto my side so she can check out my wound. I feel her fingertips touch lightly around the area on my mid-back before she gives me the go-ahead to lie back down. "Also lucky for us that we've had a steady supply of food. Your slayer healing is top notch right now and doing its job nicely. Another few days and you'll be back to normal again. You're gonna be just fine."
"Then why does it hurt so bad?" I ask and Diane furrows her brow in concern.
"Where are you hurting, Buffy?"
"Here." My voice hitches when I point to my chest and I can't hold back the sobs anymore.
Before I can even manage to curl up on my side and pull the sheet up over my head to hide away, Krista squeezes onto the bed between Faith and I and pulls me up into her arms, hugging me gently. I continue to cry with my face pressed against her shoulder. Soon I feel Faith shift around on the cot until she's between me and the wall, her arms wrapping around me from behind.
Diane just takes a seat on the edge of the cot and lays a gentle hand on my arm, rubbing it softly.
"I'm so sorry, Buffy," she says. "Even though I can't begin to imagine how you feel right now, I know that you have lots of people here who care about you. We all love you and we want you to be okay. It's hard now but it'll get easier over time."
"It hurts so much," I say, my voice quiet.
"But you're a real tough cookie, B," Faith says, the strength she's offering me through simple touch unyielding.
"You are, Buffy," Krista says with a nod. "And we're all here for you. You might feel alone but we're all on Team Buffy here."
I don't know how long they sit here with me but Diane is eventually the first to leave, wanting to make sure that the rest of the girls are okay. Krista moves off the cot and sits on the chair across the small room, giving Shy the space she needs to get her kit set up.
"Where would you like your tattoo, Buffy?" she asks.
I look down at my body, trying to figure out where I'll always be able to see it. Where I'll always be able to look down and remember her.
"Think I'm gonna get mine on my arm," Faith says, pointing to her previously un-tattooed forearm. "Then I'll be able to look down whenever I want, remember her."
I look down at my own forearm, then up at Faith's face.
"You're getting one too?" I hadn't thought she would . . .
"Of course I am, B," she says easily. "Lil sis was a good kid. She deserves to be remembered, just like everyone else here."
I stare into her eyes for a few seconds before Shy tries to get my attention again.
"Buffy?" she asks.
I pull my gaze away from Faith's and look back over to Shy, indicating my forearm as well. Shy nods in response and pulls out the wooden stick and needle, ready to begin. The alcohol prep pad is cool on my arm and the first pricks of the needle against my skin burn through the still damp alcohol. The pain is dull and easy compared to what's going on in my heart but I close my eyes anyhow, determined not to look down until it's finished.
When Shy is done with me, she sterilizes the needle with some alcohol and a match before starting on Faith's arm. Neither of us really see the point; I have some of Faith's blood in me now so it's only fair she has some of mine in her but Shy has a procedure and she follows it without fail.
I was touched when Faith decided to get a tattoo also and I held her hand throughout, surprised that she let me. I'm even more surprised though when Krista hops up onto the cot after Faith's tattoo is done, wanting one of her own.
"I know I didn't know her, Buffy," Krista says, gritting her teeth when the needle starts to slowly move across her skin. "But she lost her battle against the bad guys too, just like everyone else here that passed. Besides, if she's anything like you are, I know that she was a pretty awesome girl and definitely deserves to be remembered."
Her words mean more to me than I can say and I grab onto her hand and hold it tightly, smiling at her with tears in my eyes. I keep hold of Faith's hand too and close my eyes, taking in a deep breath. My mind is awake but my body is tired and when I finally manage to open my eyes, I see that everyone has already gone back to the camp except for Faith. She's sitting on the chair which she pulled up to the cot and she's still holding my hand. Her head is resting back against the wall and her eyes are closed but she's not sleeping.
I lay here and watch her for a few minutes, studying the curves of her face and every freckle and mole across her cheeks and jaw. She's still beautiful even when surrounded by all of this ugliness. I don't understand how that's possible. She must realize now that she's being watched because she opens her eyes and looks over at me, surprised to find me awake.
"Hey," she says, her voice hoarse. "You should sleep some more."
"How long was I out for?" I ask, trying to sit up a little. The wound on my back pulls and I wince, realizing that I'm not up to doing things on my own yet.
"An hour or two," she says with a shrug.
She leans forward on the chair and stretches with her arms up over her head, popping her shoulders and back loudly. I can tell that she's trying to work out the kinks in her body from sitting on the uncomfortable chair for that long without moving. I'm sure she'll be happy to have her cot back to herself.
"Do you think you can help me back to the camp?"
"Not a chance," she replies.
"Umm . . . then do you think you can go and get Krista so she can help . . ."
"B, you're an idiot," she interrupts me. "I meant that there was no chance of me helpin' ya back to the camp cos you're gonna stay here with me."
I narrow my eyes at her a little bit, mostly because I don't understand but also because she called me an idiot. Staying isn't allowed. Granted that I'm hurt now, I'm still surprised that she's gonna let me stay. She's just full of surprises today though. She held my hand, she gave me a kiss; I guess that letting me stay is all just part of the pity package.
"Faith, you don't have to do the whole pitying me thing," I tell her, pulling my hand away.
She takes it back in hers and waits until I look back up into her eyes.
"It's not pity, okay?" she says, then takes a deep breath and runs her free hand through her hair. "I mean . . . yeah, I feel bad. I feel really bad, B; not gonna lie about that. But I didn't ask ya to stay because I pity you. I asked you to stay because . . . Jesus, Buffy, you have no idea what fuckin' went through my head when I saw those guards coming for ya. They'd already tried to break you with what the First showed you and then they were gonna physically break you. I knew ya wouldn't fight back; not with what you'd just found out. And I couldn't stand the thought of losing you, B. Thinking that I'd have to be here without you, always wishing you'd walk back in that door; knowing that you'd never come in here again and let me be with you. Fuck, I just about lost my mind."
"It would be better if I was gone," I whisper, tears filling my eyes again. "The First has it out for me, Faith. It's gonna keep gunning for me and everyone around me. It's what It does. It thrives on chaos and pain; maybe when I'm gone, It'll find a new toy to play with far away from here."
"Don't even talk about being gone," she whispers, looking down at my face with such emotion behind her eyes. She brings her hand to my cheek and traces it with her thumb, touching me so gently that I can barely feel the caresses. "Me and the girls, we can handle whatever he throws at us. We're used to it. But without you . . ." she stops and shakes her head, taking in a deep breath, ". . . I don't even wanna think about it."
We stare at each other for what feels like forever before she leans down and brushes her lips so softly over mine, filling my heart with something other than pain, even if only temporarily. I close my eyes and bask in the warm feel of her breath against my face, letting my hand rest softly on her cheek.
"I'm sorry I was such a dick to you the last few weeks," she whispers against my lips, then turns her head to kiss my palm.
"It's okay," I whisper back and gaze up into her eyes when she pulls away and looks down at me.
"No goin' anywhere, kay?"
Her nose brushes against mine and she crawls onto the cot, lying on her side next to me while I stay on my back. My hand finds hers and I close my eyes, feeling the stress of the day melt away just enough so that I can get some more sleep.
It's the best night of sleep I have in over two years.
"Oh, Faith," I sigh out, my body finally relaxing after teetering on the edge for what felt like ever. Faith is an expert at teasing; she brings me right to the edge and then pulls me back over and over again. When she finally pushes me over, it's like nothing I've ever felt before.
And she totally knows that, judging by the way that she's smirking down at me now while I catch my breath.
"Morning," she whispers against my lips before kissing me, letting me taste myself on her lips. Weirdly enough, it doesn't bother me.
"Morning to you too," I mumble. She pulls away a little and I push her hair back so I can look up at her face. She's smiling down at me and I can't help but lean up to capture her lips in another kiss.
Yeah, we pretty much got rid of all the rules. There's kissing. There's staying. And there's occasionally sweetness when Faith isn't too busy trying to act like her usual tough self. Then again, this has all been behind closed doors because I haven't been leaving Faith's room all that much.
I'm still not in the best place mentally at least that's what Faith has been telling everyone in the camp and I feel at my best when I'm here with her. It's easiest to forget the hurt and the pain when Faith makes me feel so many other things, and I don't just mean through sex.
Though I'm sure you can imagine that the sex is out of this world.
The guards let me skip the next arena night a week after I was beaten, which was a complete surprise. Bobb-o, who was given his position back as Faith's guard, came to get her but made me stay in bed. Truth is, my wounds were fully healed by then and Bobb-o knew that. I was still having a hard time dealing with Dawn's death though and both he and Faith thought it was best that I didn't go out into the arena all distracted.
Needless to say, I was pretty grateful. It hadn't been an easy fight night though. Instead of making the more experienced girls fight, the bosses arranged a fight between a few of the newer girls and some pretty nasty demons. We lost two girls before the last demon was dead. All of the girls have been in mourning this week and I know that firsthand because I left Faith's room the next day and spent as much time as I could with them before my emotions started to get the best of me. Hearing their stories of the fight and of the two young girls that were killed . . . it was too much for me. I wanted to be there for them but all I could think about was Dawn.
All I could think about was how sad I still felt beneath it all.
Faith was the only thing keeping me floating.
So it was that day that Faith decided that I still needed to limit my time in the camp. We stay in her room most of the time and go out only for meals or to shower. Sometimes she goes out there alone to make sure that the girls are okay and handling the situation but she makes me stay in her room, far away from anything that will make me get any worse. The girls see us every day and most come over and say hello, but when Faith goes out there, she says that the girls are all secretive. She thinks they're all gossiping about us but neither of us really cares.
She pulls back from the kiss and moves to sit on the edge of the cot so she can put her pants on. I try to pull her back under the sheets but she wriggles out of my reach and laughs when she stands up and faces me.
"C'mon, B. Get out of bed so we can go for breakfast."
"Do I have to?" I whine, leaning up on my elbows.
"Can't you like, bring me back something instead?"
"What do I look like, room service?" she asks, grinning at me.
I return her grin, "Well, you would look pretty hot in one of those little French Maid outfits."
"Hussy!" She tosses my shirt over and it smacks me in the head.
I guess that's my cue to get up. Sighing, I get up from the cot and start to get dressed. I manage to pull my shirt on just as Faith presses me against the door and looks into my eyes.
"I won't make you if you don't feel up to it, B," she says seriously.
"I'm fine," I tell her with a weak smile.
"I'd never make you do something you don't wanna do."
My smile grows bigger and I lean forward to give her a soft kiss before pulling back to look up into her eyes. "I know you wouldn't."
She hesitates for a second, looking kind of nervous. Her fingertips push a stray strand of hair behind my ear and she bites on her lower lip before taking a deep breath.
"You know that I . . ." she begins but is cut off when someone pounds on the other side of the door.
My breath catches in my throat both from the surprise thumping against the door and from what I think she was about to say.
Because we haven't said it yet.
I think we want to, but we haven't made that leap. And I can't believe she was going to now on our way to breakfast!
"Faith awake? Breakfast time!" Bobb-o shouts through the door.
"Yeah, we're coming right out," Faith yells back looking slightly annoyed. Knowing that the moment is lost, she takes my hand in one of hers and opens the door with her other one. "C'mon, let's get some grub."
The walk to the food tent is uneventful and Faith holds my hand right up until we're out in the open. She stays close to me though and puts her hand on my lower back to guide me before her into the tent. The girls are all bunched together at a table when we walk in but they quickly scatter, leaving us one empty table as they greet us with cheery smiles and waves.
A couple of girls come over and say hi to us and make small talk while we eat our oatmeal and cereal bars. It's almost a pleasant atmosphere until one of the girls asks me if I'll be in the arena tonight. It's something I've been trying not to think about for the last week and I guess it must show because Krista comes over and asks the girls to give me some quiet time to eat.
That doesn't stop her from sitting down next to me though and starting up a conversation.
Faith excuses herself and goes over to talk to Diane, telling me that she's ready to go back whenever I am and to come and get her when I'm done talking. Truth is, I'm ready to go back now but I can't just leave Krista hanging like that.
"How've you been feeling, Buffy?" she asks me, trying to smile politely.
"I have good days and bad days. Good moments and bad moments," I reply, pushing the last of my oatmeal around the plastic bowl.
"I hear ya. Lots of the girls are going through the same kind of thing right now."
"Yeah, I know," I say quietly.
There's an awkward silence for a few minutes before Krista speaks again.
"Buffy, we never got to finish up our conversation."
"I know. And for what it's worth, I'm sorry. I never expected that things would just . . . fall apart like that."
"I get that," Krista replies. "But we still need to have that talk, and the sooner the better. Right now, in fact. After what happened to the two girls last week and what happened to you with your sister the week before . . ."
She keeps talking but I've already checked out. My mind is back on Dawn and everything horrible in the world and I desperately want this conversation to be over. I don't want anyone to see me breakdown.
"Everything okay over here?" I hear from beside me and I look up to see Faith staring down at me with her brow furrowed and concern written across her face.
"Everything's fine, Faith," Krista says, obviously annoyed but trying to be respectful.
"B? Ya good?" Faith asks, ignoring Krista.
"Actually," I begin, standing up, "I kind of think I need to lay down for a bit."
Faith puts her hand on my lower back again and starts to escort me out of the tent and back to her room without question, obviously keen that Krista had said something to trigger my sadness. We only get a few steps away before Krista springs up and jumps in front of us, looking right into my eyes.
"Buffy, please. I know your brain is in a craptastic place right now but we really need to talk. Just for a few minutes."
"And B said she's tired so we're going back to my room. Both you and me know she ain't ready to deal with camp stress right now so just have a seat and chill, K. You can talk to her tomorrow."
I can feel Krista's gaze locked on me but I can't look up at her. The rest of the girls in the tent are completely silent. They're all looking at me too, waiting for me to say something. Waiting for me to show them that I'm not as broken as they think I am. That I can still guide them and lead them, and help them plan like I told Krista I would.
I can't though. Not now. They've been here almost two years; they can wait a little bit longer.
Krista sighs and finally steps out of the way, letting Faith and I pass by.
When we're out of the tent and a few feet away, my slayer hearing picks up a quiet apology from Krista's lips.
I hope she hears mine too.
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