Faith and I are sitting high up in the arena in one of the spectator seats, looking down at all of the girls warming up on the dusty field below. It seems like they're moving in slow motion but maybe that's because we're sitting so high up. The silence isn't unwelcomed I can do without Faith's particular brand of sarcastic optimism for a little while but I find myself needing to speak.
"I wonder if they know," I say.
"Know what?" she asks, glancing over at me.
"How this all ends."
"Same story, different day," I answer with a shrug, not moving my gaze from the field below.
" She saved the world. A lot.' "
"Not as of late."
"Doesn't matter. Always openings for the role of hero."
She goes back to watching the girls below so I take a chance to look over at her. Something stirs in me, a memory, and I feel my fists clench again and again.
"Maybe I'm not the hero."
"Maybe you are and you just forgot how to play."
"What if I'm the enemy?" I ask her.
Before I can stop myself, I feel my right hand clench around something cold and hard and I lash out, burying a small silver blade into her abdomen. She gasps and lurches forward, bringing her face inches from mine. Her hand latches onto mine over the blade and keeps it pressed there as her warm blood pours over me.
A shuddery breath escapes her lips and her voice takes on an ethereal quality as I feel it blow over my face.
"An enemy stabs you in the back, but a true friend stabs you in the front."
I gasp and sit up quickly to find myself inside a dark room, my breath coming hard and fast as I try to remember where I am. Blankets. Uncomfortable bed. Dripping water.
I lay back on the cot and close my eyes, trying to push the memory of the nightmare out of my head. I'm used to nightmares. I mean, they never get more pleasant, but they also never feel quite like this one had. It felt familiar. Less lonely.
It felt like a slayer dream.
Fifteen minutes or so pass and I hear noises coming from outside in the camp. Girls waking up, the day starting as usual. I still have to learn the schedule around here, but I'm willing to guess that they're not going to let me lay in bed all day.
A familiar voice nears the door from outside and I know as soon as I hear the click of the lock that Faith has come to re-claim her personal space. I start to sit up . . . and quickly realize that I never put my clothes back on last night after I took off my armor. There's no way I can make it across the room before the door opens so I make sure I'm suitably covered with the thin blanket and pretend to be asleep.
I hear her take a step into the room and pause, kind of like she's considering leaving me alone to sleep more. But then I hear a soft laugh and her walking further into the room as the door closes behind her.
"Can quit pretending, B. I know you're awake."
The lock clicks into place behind her and I know that we're trapped together now.
I crack open one of my eyes and see her sitting on the chair, nibbling on some kind of cereal bar. She's got a few more stacked up next to her, along with what smells like some kind of weak coffee in a ceramic mug.
"You have coffee here?"
She shrugs and takes a big sip from the mug before holding it out for me.
"Yeah, or something that passes for it anyhow. Ain't Starbucks but it does the trick."
I start to sit up and even hold out my arm, but then I remember my nakedness and stop my movement. She raises an eyebrow at me in question and I feel almost shy when I reply,
"You're kind of sitting on my clothes."
Faith's other eyebrow shoots up and she does a bit of a squat-stand and looks under her ass to see my pants and shirt sitting wrinkled under her. She has to fight to keep the cereal bar in her mouth when she starts laughing and easily flicks the clothes over to me, then wipes the back of her hand over her mouth.
"So Buffy sleeps in the buff. While in my bed, might I add. Who woulda known?"
"No one, because I usually don't," I manage to get out as I struggle to pull my pants on under the sheet. I can hear Faith chuckling at the fact that I'm getting dressed under the blankets but trust me, it's better this way.
She doesn't need to see the scars.
When I poke my head out at last, I see her taking another big sip from the mug. The look on my face must be priceless because she holds up her free hand in mock surrender and walks over to hand it to me.
I peer down into the mug once I take it from her and I'm pretty sure I don't remember coffee being that light-colored, but I shrug and take a sip anyhow. It can't be worse than anything I've had over the last year. I'm surprised to find that it tastes pretty good and is even pretty hot. My eyes light up and I look over to Faith who offers me a friendly smile.
"There's more where that came from. Unless the girls drank it all, that is. Gotta get up pretty early if ya want anything good."
And there's the hitch in my plan to get more. I don't want to be out and about with the other girls. I'll just drink this slowly and savor it. I take another sip and let the warm liquid pour down my throat, making me feel almost human again. We're silent for a few minutes but I decide to try my casual conversation skills out just a little. It's been quite a while. Here goes nothing.
"So you get up pretty early these days?"
"Not really," Faith replies noncommittally.
"You just wanted to come and spend some quality time with me then?" It almost sounds like I'm teasing her a little and I'm not even sure where that came from. Like I said, out of practice. I take another sip of coffee and wait for her reply.
A tight smile appears on her face after a minute and she says, "An enemy stabs you in the back, but a true friend stabs you in the front."
I can barely finish swallowing before my body stiffens up, my eyes meeting hers across the short distance. She's looking right at me, waiting to see if I'll acknowledge what she said. I guess my attempt at non-reaction was answer enough.
"Slayer dream or not, it's still just a dream, Buffy. Lots of the girls have them, but they venture into nightmare territory more often than into any kind of helpful premonition territory."
"So you're not upset that I stabbed you in the gut in the dream?" I ask, forgetting myself for a moment.
She just shrugs and tries to smile but it doesn't reach her eyes. "Not the first time you've stabbed me, B. Lucky for me this time was a dream and not the real deal."
I nod at her and things go quiet again, awkwardly so. It seems like there's something she's waiting to say but she's not so sure about it. She catches me staring at the cereal bars and tosses a couple over so they land in my lap as I sit with my back against the cool wall. They taste decent even though they're a little stale but I guess beggars can't be choosy; I'm pretty sure that General Mills doesn't operate post-Apocalypse.
"Kinda wanted to talk to ya about last night," she says, pausing for a moment afterwards to finish chewing her bit of cereal bar.
This could go badly. It can turn into a fight about my stubbornness, or about how she's going to throw me over the fence by my head. As much as I appreciate the enthusiasm behind her earlier threats, I really think it's better for the both of us if we don't get into it now. Not when we're locked in a small room together.
"Look, I know. I did things my way and someone got hurt. I'll try to get it right next time but you have no idea how hard it is for me to . . ."
"That's not what I'm talkin' about, B, but now that ya said something . . . yeah, that was pretty stupid too." At my unimpressed look, she looks down at her hands for a moment before looking back up to my eyes. "Dawn."
"Yeah," I say quietly, staring down at my own lap now.
"How long they been usin' her to get you to fight?"
"Since the first time," I reply and look up at Faith, making sure to keep all of my emotions in check. "She's out there somewhere, Faith. I don't know where, and I don't know for how much longer, but she needs me. Willow's there with her and they both need me. If I can get to them if I can find them, and Giles and Xander we can regroup."
"B," she interrupts, her voice quiet, but I shake my head to stop her.
"Don't," I say. "You're fighting because these girls depend on you. They need you to get them through."
"B," she tries again but I stop her once more.
"Well I'm fighting because my friends depend on me. They need me to get them through. And I won't let anything stop me."
"They're probably all dead by now, Buffy," she finally says, surprising even herself.
My hand goes up over my mouth as it falls open in shock and I shake my head, unwilling to believe her.
"It's a fucking sucky reality, but it is what it is."
"You have no proof," I say, fighting back my emotions.
I can tell by the pained expression on her face that maybe I spoke too soon.
"Months back word got around the camp about a human the demons had; they were trying to get him to use magic to call more slayers. Figured he could do it because he was used to being around magic and stuff. Plan was to have him call slayers over and over again; the sadistic fun would never end. He tried the magic and it worked once, but he couldn't do it again. There's no way to be sure, but I think it was Giles, B. And when they found out his magic was tapped, they killed him."
The blood on Willow's shirt; could that have been from Giles?
I sit forward on the edge of the cot and put my head in my hands, taking a deep breath. Faith isn't done though.
"They needed a new way to call slayers though, so they went to the original source."
"Willow," I mumble out.
"Yeah. She's been calling them ever since. Not often; it takes her so long to recuperate her magic that she needs a pretty big down time. But the entire camp is talkin about it, Buffy. One of the girls heard the guards talking earlier; he said that the witch ran out of steam and that they had to replace her."
It hurts to listen to this, not because it's horrifying but because it could be true. What Faith is saying could actually be real, and everything I've seen, everything I've done . . . I shake my head to stop the horrible images from playing over in my mind.
Could this be why Willow wasn't with Dawn the last few times they put on the Dawn-cam? Is my sister out there alone and scared and giving up hope that I'll ever get there? It hits me like a brick wall and I'm on my hands and knees on the ground before I realize it, emptying my stomach. Faith is at my side in a flash, pulling my hair away from my face with a soft hand on my back.
I flinch at her touch but she doesn't realize it; she probably thinks I'm dry-heaving again but doesn't realize that I'm just not used to that kind of human contact any longer.
"It's just camp talk, B, but it all seems scary-right when ya think about it. You can keep fightin' for them if you want, but you need to find something else to fight for too. You need to start fighting for yourself, because you want to live."
"It's all shit," I utter out as I sit back against the side of the cot, resting my head back against it with my eyes closed. "Everything is shit. I'm in a nightmare and I can't wake up, and they have my sister and I'm stuck here."
For the first time in as long as I remember, I let myself cry. I don't sob and I don't wail. I barely make a noise. The tears fall silently from the corners of my eyes and Faith just sits back against the cot with me, tracing little patterns in the dirt on the floor as she waits for me to calm down.
Several minutes pass by before she speaks again.
"Listen, I'm sorry for giving you the big ugly dose of reality. Maybe I shoulda just kept my mouth shut."
I can't do anything but nod. There are too many thoughts running through my head to answer her.
"Got an idea you're probably gonna hate," she continues, "but I'm gonna run it by ya anyway. Guards got a shower facility the teams used to use when this place was less about the carnage and more about the football. Bobb-o's a big softy and sneaks me down there now and again when I get a bit ripe. Bet he'd be willin' to take us down there if I asked him to. So let's go get some more grub, say hey to the girls, and go and hose off."
As much as the food and shower sound tempting, I don't want to be around anyone right now. I just found out that Giles is probably dead, possibly Willow too, and all I want is to be alone to find a way to deal with that in my head.
"Thanks, but I'll pass."
Faith takes a deep breath and lets it out through her nose, studying the side of my face the entire time. I know she really wants me to go with her but it's just not gonna happen. Not now.
"I think it'd be a really good idea if you'd just . . ."
"Look," I stop her, a bit of my irritation coming through. "I just got a whole bushel of bad news dropped on my already aching head. I appreciate the hospitality I do but parading around with the other slayers isn't going to make me feel any better."
"How do you know that?" she asks, her irritation bubbling to the surface a little. "You haven't given them the chance to try. They're slayers just like you and me, B. They're a family; they take care of and look out for each other, and they want you to be a part of that."
"I just need to be alone for a little while," I mumble out, my voice small and tired.
I think she finally gets the hint because she stands up and brushes the dust from the back of her pants a little too brusquely. She raps her knuckles on the back of the door and the lock clicks then slowly opens.
"Like you haven't already been alone enough the last year and a half," she says gruffly. "I understand you're in a rough sitch emotionally and all that but so is everyone else. Keep isolating yourself like this and you're gonna find that when you're ready to be around people, no one's gonna want to be around you."
She walks out and the door closes and locks quickly behind her. I hear her footsteps receding, then quickly approaching once again.
"And if you think I'm givin' up my room to you forever, you're dreaming. One more night, B. I'm serious about that too."
A second later I hear her walk away again and take a big breath of relief. I didn't feel like arguing with her all day about my social schedule. After the bombshell she dropped on me, I just need some time to think.
Still, I know she wasn't lying when she said I only had one more night in here. That means I'm with the general population of slayers tomorrow. I haven't had to be around others like that in so long . . . I have no idea how I'm going to handle that. Maybe I should've taken Faith up on her offer to go get to know the girls if I'm gonna be spending lots of time with them soon, but I think I'd like to take the rest of my alone time before it's gone.
I sit back on Faith's cot and try to down another cereal bar. It doesn't taste as good without some of the weak coffee to go with it but it's better than nothing. I can hear the sounds of girls messing around in the yard outside, then of Faith joining them for some light sparring. She's teaching them some advanced blocking techniques and I can't help but wonder when she'd learned them; Faith was always the one to strike first, not defend against blows.
Hours pass and I can practically feel the sun slip down behind the horizon. The arena is quiet tonight no carnage for the masses so the girls are having a night to themselves. I can't believe how different things are here; back at the other camp the girls would be hidden away and trying to avoid nightly beatings right about now.
I know I told Faith earlier that I wanted to be alone, and I did; I do. But I guess that I should probably go and play nice if I want things to stay civil around here.
Trust me, I think I'm better off on my own and I think the girls are better off without me too but like I've been reminded on more than one occasion, this isn't my show.
I make my way over to the basin and splash my face with some cool water, then try to make myself look as presentable as possible in the small mirror Faith has hung up on the wall. My hair is long and in need of some deep conditioning and I can definitely use some facial moisturizer, but somehow I don't think anyone here will hold that against me.
Taking a deep breath, I walk over to the door and hesitate before knocking on it gently. There's a shuffling sound on the other side and then Bobb-o's smiling face is in the small window.
Oh my god. Is it possible that I'm starting to understand him?
"Umm, hi. I'd like to go and see Faith."
He makes what sounds like a pleased snarfle and quickly unlocks the door. I step out and begin to walk toward the camp but Bobb-o's meaty hand on my shoulder stops me. He nods in the other direction and walks off, gesturing for me to follow him. I keep a few steps behind but follow him down a long corridor and to another locked door. We pass lots of other guards on the way but none of them seem to pay us attention.
When he opens the door, he doesn't go inside, he simply steps back and waits for me to enter. I hesitate and look at him and he offers me another dopey smile.
Right, guess I'm not getting any clues for what's behind door number two.
I don't get very far inside before I hear the sound of water running. It's not a faucet; it's a shower. The air is a lot moister and I can see a bit of steam creeping around the corner just ahead of me. I take a few steps forward and peek around the corner to see a very naked Faith with her face in the warm spray of a shower, seemingly oblivious to my presence.
I open my mouth to say something but I can only manage a surprised squeak.
Faith moves her face from the spray and blinks the water from her eyes a few times before smiling broadly. She doesn't try to cover up, doesn't get embarrassed; in fact, she turns around and lets the water run down her back, leaving her front side on full display.
When did she get so many tattoos? There's one on her stomach and one on her thigh that goes from just above her knee all the way up to her . . .
"Knew you couldn't resist a hot shower."
I quickly avert my gaze from where it was traveling to and clear my throat. Trying to appear casual, I lean back against the wall and cross my arms over my chest.
"I had no idea this was the shower. I . . ." I pause and take a deep breath, "I asked Bobb-o to bring me to you. Figured that since you're kicking me out of your room tomorrow, I might as well take you up on getting to know the girls."
Her smile grows and I can tell that she's pleasantly surprised. She quickly turns the water off and heads directly toward me, then stops about a foot away and waits expectantly.
What, does she expect me to hug the water off or something?
"You're kinda on my towel, B."
She points behind me and I realize that in my attempt to be casual, I've commandeered her towel as a wall cushion. I quickly step away and let her grab it, looking anywhere but at her while she dries off and gets changed.
"Let's head on over to the girls and say hey before it gets too late. I'll have Bobb-o bring ya back for a shower tomorrow."
"Sure," is all I can manage to reply.
Truth be told, my stomach is suddenly in a ball of knots knowing that I'm gonna have to go and be with the other slayers. I'm not ready. This is too much but it seems to be my only choice.
We make our way to the door and Bobb-o leads us back to the common area on the outside of the stadium where all of the girls are gathered and sitting around. There are two of them in the middle of the group, acting out some kind of skit and doing acrobatics to entertain the girls. I pretty much feel like I've just walked into a slumber party except there's no popcorn and no overbearing mother walking in with Tang and rice-krispy treats.
Someone notices us walk up and then all attention is on Faith and I more specifically Faith as she greets a bunch of the girls by name.
"Guys, you all know Buffy by now. Take it easy on her, yeah?" Faith says.
A few random girls say hi and then one yells out, "Hey Laura, that means no trying to molest her."
Everyone laughs and hoots and hollers and even Faith is laughing with them now.
"Shut up, Haze. You know I'd only molest her if she wanted me to," a girl who must be Laura yells back, then winks at me.
Perfect. First and eyeful of Faith's nudie business and now this. I'm suddenly craving the dark and dank of Faith's room again. Faith sees me get a little uncomfortable and gives me a smile and a nod. She wants me to know I'm doing well.
She can think what she wants; I feel like a rubberband that's being pulled too tightly and is about to snap. My insides are squirming and my muscles are tight; I can't be here with them right now. They can't depend on me. I'll only end up hurting them in the long run.
I turn to leave and find myself face to face with a girl at least a foot taller than I am. She holds out her hand . . . and something inside of me snaps. A memory floods my mind from the old camp; a tall slayer named Trish and I in the middle of the ring. She was fighting for her life and managed a few lucky blows, one of them being a small blade in my shoulder. I remember the blade in her hand gliding through the air and digging into my shoulder. The pain. And what I had to do to her after all of that.
I'm so wrapped up in the memory that when the girl in front of me puts her hand on my shoulder to see if I'm okay . . . I lash out. I send my palm up to her face and feel the sickening crunch of bone and cartilage. I don't even get a chance to land a second blow before I feel myself being restrained from behind.
Despite the fact that I know where I am, I can't get the image of the old arena and the old camp out of my head. I start kicking and thrashing, thinking I'm being carried away by a guard, and don't stop until I'm thrown through the door of Faith's room. The door slams behind me and I look up with panic to find Faith standing there looking madder than I've ever seen her.
Trust me, that's not a good thing.
She takes a few steps toward me . . . then uppercuts me and sends me flying backward into the wall. I feel pieces of concrete break off and hit the ground around me.
"What the fuck were you doing back there?" she practically growls.
I don't get a chance to answer. She takes four determined steps toward me and crouches down until she's right in my face.
"I don't know who the fuck you think you are, but I'll tell you one thing: that was your one chance and you fucking blew it. Stay in here and rot forever since that's what you fucking seem to want. But I'll never let you near those girls again if you're gonna hurt them when they just wanna fucking be there for you."
She turns around and grabs a few things of hers from around the room, then knocks on the door. Bobb-o opens it, a scared look on his face, and Faith moves to leave.
"Faith," I call out and she stops but doesn't turn back.
"Fuck off, Buffy. The welcome wagon is gone. You're on your fucking own."
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