I don't know exactly what time it is or how I got here, but I find myself walking down the familiar corridor that leads to the showers. The guards are standing on either side of the hall, still as statues as I pass by. They don't meet my gaze which is actually just fine by me; the fewer demons I have to remember, the better.
Time seems to be moving by slowly as the door to the shower room finally enters my vision. There's a sparse flow of steam coming out from under the bottom of the door and I can't help but wonder who might be in there using up all of the hot water. Last I remember, everyone was gathering around the fire in the yard and drifting off to sleep, one by one.
There are no guards stationed at the door so I push it open and step in quietly, listening for any signs of life besides the sounds of falling water on tiled floors. It's vague but I can hear some kind of tapping sound coming from the shower area just around the tiled separator wall, along with deep breathing.
Curiosity gets the best of me and I slowly walk further into the room until I can peek around the corner and into the showers. The entire area is filled with steam so thick I can barely see through it. All of the shower heads are pouring streams of hot water but I can't see anyone actually standing under them. That's when I see something out the corner of my eye. The slightest of a movement. Fully on guard, I take slow steps toward the corner of the room and eventually the steam thins out enough so that I can see two people sitting on stools facing one another.
I instantly recognize Faith who has her head pressed back against the wall, eyes closed and the tiniest of a grimace on her lips. The tapping gets louder as I approach and though the other person pays me no attention, I can see her hands moving in time with the taps. I don't recognize her but as I finally get close enough to see what she's doing, I realize who it is.
"Another tattoo?" I ask, my voice feeling foreign as the words leave my lips.
Both Faith and Shy look over to me, but Shy quickly goes back to work leaving only Faith gazing at me with the corner of her lips curling up into a grin. The smile falters just a bit when Shy taps the wooden stick against her chest again but she tries not to let her discomfort show.
"It's about time for another," she says, her eyes sparkling as she looks up into mine.
"But I thought that you only get them as memorials. No one died."
I take another step closer, trying my best to see what design Shy is making. It's on Faith's chest, right over her heart, and it's tribal just like all of the others. I have to squint to see the name under it but suddenly the steam is gone and it's clear as day.
Taking a step back, my eyes widen and meet Faith's gaze again. She's grinning more now that she realizes I know what the tattoo is.
"What is this?" I ask through clenched teeth. "Why are you getting that? I'm not dead!"
"Maybe not on the outside," she purrs. "Don't worry B; you'll always be in my heart. Or, on it, actually."
She and Shy start to laugh together, watching me as I take several steps back from them. Water from the shower heads rains down on me and I wipe my hands over my face to clear the water from my eyes. When I look down at my hands, they're covered in blood.
My eyes shoot open and I gasp, taking in my surroundings. I'm back at the camp around the now smoking fire and girls are quickly getting up and running off toward different tents. Krista is at my side, watching me intently with a soft hand on my arm.
"Buffy, you were dreaming," she says, concern etched across her features
I feel water splashing down on my face and I realize that it's raining and everyone is taking cover. The sky is midnight blue and the stars are dim, and when I look really hard I can see faint traces of pink and orange out in the distance. It'll be dawn soon.
"C'mon, let's get out of the rain."
She holds out her hand to me and I take it without hesitation, needing to cling to something real. There's no sign of Faith anywhere as she helps me run toward a canvas tent and I have to convince myself that it was all a dream; that she's not in the shower getting a tattoo with my name on it, and that I'm not dead.
Once inside the tent, I see six other girls settling down onto small makeshift beds. There are two left at the far corner so Krista leads us over and sits us down, not noticing or not caring that I haven't let go of her hand.
"Bad dream?" she finally asks after a few minutes when my breathing returns to normal. I nod and she offers me a comforting smile. "We all get em. Just gotta remember that it's a dream and a dream only; it doesn't have power over you."
I know she's right but I'm still shaken up. I'm not sure if it was a slayer dream or just a good old fashioned nightmare but I can't wait to find Faith and see what she has to say about it.
"Try to get some more sleep," Krista says as she rests back on the dusty bedding, finally taking her hand back. "Just try, Buffy. We're all right here if you need us."
I glance around the tent and at the other girls who are trying to look as reassuring as possible after hearing Krista's words. They wait until I lay back before doing the same, all trying to make sure that I'm okay before settling in.
Despite my inner turmoil, I don't feel alone. I feel less scared. Closing my eyes, I drift off to sleep and hope that the dreams won't return but know I won't be alone when I wake if they do.
A couple hours of dreamless sleep pass and I wake up to find the bright morning sun shining in through the entrance of the tent. The girls are awake and talking softly among themselves but they all quiet down when they notice I'm awake.
"Welcome back to the world of the living," Krista says, smiling when she sees the stress from last night gone from my face.
I feel well-rested for a change. Maybe being around all these girls kept the dreams away. In any case, I shoot them all an appreciative smile as I sit up carefully. My stomach and shoulder hurt but not as badly as last night. In fact, they feel pretty good, all things considered. I lift my arm up and test my injured shoulder, surprised at how much more I can move it around today.
"Gotta love that slayer healing," I say, my voice raspy and low.
The girls smile at me and begin to stand and stretch. It seems like they'd been awake for a while but didn't get up until just now. I don't think they wanted to leave me alone here.
"If we head over to the caf now we still might be able to get some breakfast," Krista says as she stretches her arms up over her head. Her tattered shirt rides up a little and I can see a small tattoo near her hip. She sees me notice it and gets a little closer so I can inspect it easier.
Just like Faith's, it's a tribal design and there's a name written under it.
"Jessa. She was my best friend. We were here together from right near the beginning."
She looks thoughtful for a moment but then smiles and offers me a hand to help me up. I gratefully accept it and pull myself up, grimacing just a little at the tightness over my abdomen.
Despite the fact that I was able to shower last night, I feel gritty from the dust and slimy from my wounds. I should probably check on my stomach too, make sure that it hasn't fallen out or anything. I stop walking when we approach the eating area and Krista turns to face me, waiting for some kind of an explanation.
"I'm gonna head to my Faith's room really quickly and get cleaned up. Maybe Bobb-o can wrassle me up a different shirt too because this one's pretty gruesome now."
We both look down and see traces of blood and yuck all over it and Krista nods in understanding.
"You want me to come with?"
"I think I can manage," I tell her. She nods and starts to turn away but I stop her with a soft hand on her arm. "I never had a chance to thank you. For . . . everything."
Krista smiles but doesn't say anything. She holds my gaze for a second and then she's off under the tent with the other girls, trying to scrounge up whatever food she can gather. I watch her for a moment longer before heading off toward my room. I go slow and steady with measured steps, careful not to exert myself too much.
I can see Bobb-o standing outside the door from far down the corridor. He's kind of hard to miss, all four-hundred pounds of him. He sees me coming and starts waving excitedly, then decides to meet me halfway.
"Yes, but Bee dirty. What are the chances that a big and powerful demon such as yourself might be able to get his hands on a new shirt for me?"
His face lights up animatedly and I'm starting to realize that he's pretty easily won over. No wonder he's so close to Faith; she's a great sweet-talker. He doesn't say anything; he just shuffles off down the hall to what looks like some kind of a supply closet and disappears inside.
Since I know I'll probably have some time before he's back, I move to step into my room but that's when I hear voices. I get closer and instantly recognize them as Faith and Jo's, and it sounds to me like they're arguing.
"It's not a good idea."
"It's not an idea, Jo, it's a reality. B's here to stay, so she's gonna be a part of us."
"And what if she pulls another stunt like she did with my nose?"
"That ain't gonna happen. She's found herself again. We keep her from gettin' lost and everything's gonna be fine."
"Nothing is gonna be fine!" Jo yells and I take a couple steps back without realizing it. "Faith, you were here; you know what's gonna happen."
"Maybe it won't this time," Faith says quietly, and I wish I could see her face right now.
"It will and you know it. A ship can only have one captain, Faith. We've already seen what happens when there are too many. Krista and I aren't you and Buffy, but we're leaders too. The girls in the camp recognize that so it means that the demons will see it too if they haven't already."
"Things change. They ain't had a problem with the three of us, so why would they do it again now?"
"Because things are getting desperate," Jo says and I can almost hear the desperation in her voice.
I don't know what the hell is going on but now that I know it involves me, I'm almost scared to find out.
"Faith, there are more girls and less supplies," she continues, not yelling any longer. "If we're feeling the pinch in the camp, they're feeling it outside the camp. Things are gonna start getting bad. Worse than they are right now."
"Things here are just fine," Faith replies and I can tell that she's speaking with her teeth clenched tightly.
"Yeah? Tell that to Jamie and Rachel, and everyone we've lost since them."
Suddenly the door flies open and Jo comes storming out, giving me a death glare as she passes. I look back into the room and catch Faith's gaze just for a moment before the heavy door closes between us. She looked more troubled than I've seen her look in years but I know she won't tell me about it. Not when it involves me, especially since she's trying so hard to have me be a part of everything here.
I turn around quickly to find Bobb-o standing there with a small t-shirt in his big meaty hands. His smile is gone and he looks just as troubled as Faith now. I hesitate for a moment and then paste on a fake smile for him.
"Yeah, Bee fine. Thanks for the shirt, Bobb-o. You're the man."
I take the shirt from his hands and give him one last quick smile before walking toward the camp and away from my room. Faith isn't ready to face me just yet, and I'm not sure I'm ready to hear her tell me I'm the reason for all of their problems.
Instead I take a small detour into one of the communal restrooms and quickly change my soiled shirt. My stomach looks surprisingly better but it's gonna take a good week before it's back to normal. When I'm done getting changed I wash up quickly and head out to the camp, hoping that I might be able to snag a quick bite to eat before all of the food is gone.
Most of the girls are still in the food tent, talking animatedly and eating small cereal bars and boxes of dry cereal. Sure enough the weak coffee is gone but I guess that's what I get for not being up early enough to beat the other girls to it. There are only a few tables and not many seats but Krista flags me over to the empty seat beside her.
For a brief second I think about what Jo said and wonder if I'm bad for everyone here, but with the excited smile on Krista's face I can't help but move over to her anyhow.
"I saved you some chow," she says, tossing me a couple cereal bars.
I tear into them easily and take a big bite, giving her a crumb-filled but appreciative smile.
"These would be so much better with some coffee," I mumble out between bites.
"Thought you might say that."
She slides a small cup over my way and I nearly fall over when I realize that it's coffee. My face must be comical because she laughs at me and shakes her head.
"God, Faith was right. You are a coffee fiend."
I take a big gulp and sigh happily.
"Coffee, tea, mocha, cappuccino; anything in the caffeine family, really."
We make small talk for a while and it seems like the entire tent full of girls go quiet when Jo walks in and up to the main table. She grabs a couple cereal bars and then walks out without saying a word to anyone, going out into the yard to eat alone.
"What's her problem?" Laura asks and a few of the girls at the table with Krista and I start grumbling.
"She doesn't like playing second fiddle to Buffy," Hazel says. "She knows that Faith and Buff have history and thinks she's being replaced."
"I'm not replacing anyone," I say quietly. "I'm just trying to figure everything out again."
"Yeah, well Jo can be as big a bitch as she wants; Faith isn't gonna play that game with her," Laura says.
The girls laugh but Krista doesn't; she sits a bit straighter and I can almost feel the power of the slayer radiating from her. The other girls must too because they all look over at her and she meets each of their gazes before speaking.
"Say what you want but Jo's just trying to protect everyone. She knows she's not top dog and that everything comes down to Faith, but that doesn't stop her from worryin' about all of us. Show her a little bit of respect, yeah?"
The rest of the girls stop their laughing and snickering and go back to eating in silence. I guess I kind of get what Jo meant when she said that she and Krista are leaders. Krista takes a back seat when it comes to Faith, but she has a good grip on the rest of the girls when she needs to.
We sit in silence a little while longer, the girls not wanting to get into any more trouble and me lost in thoughts about Faith and Jo's argument. I don't know how forthcoming Faith will be if I ask her so I decide to go for broke and see what I can find out from everyone else.
"What happened to Rachel and Jamie?"
Suddenly everyone at the table is looking up at me, completely silent. They look to one another and then all eyes settle on Krista. I guess they're waiting to see if she's going to answer me or not. Krista puts the rest of her cereal bar back down and wipes her hands off on her pants before standing up and lifting her shirt to reveal the same tattoo Faith has on her stomach. Under it is written the names Rachel and Jamie, and when I look up to Krista's face, I see that she's staring at it, smiling sadly.
"They were our friends. Our sisters," she says as she sits back down, her voice quiet so that everyone under the tent can't listen in. "They were here with Faith from the beginning before we all arrived; the only ones that survived the dragon beside Faith and Jo."
"Faith told me about that day," I say quietly.
"Then you know what they went through together, and you can probably understand that it brought them crazy close together. The girls that didn't have to fight, they looked up to the four of them. When new girls were brought in, they told us all about it. We all looked up to them. And they trained us, and taught us to be brave and strong."
"Taught us how to fight," Hazel adds.
"How to be slayers," Laura clarifies.
"The four of them were inseparable," Krista continues. "They pretty much had an army of young girls under them that would've done anything they said. Not that they ever would've told us to do anything dangerous, but the threat was there. Even separate they thought alike, and the demons that run the place caught onto that really quickly.
"As you probably know, it's not always about fighting demons here. Now and again they have us fight each other; always a weak girl paired with a strong girl. But with Faith, Jo, Rachel and Jamie, they knew they couldn't let them all be in charge like that. So they arranged a special battle. A real show for the spectators.
"They tethered Faith to Jo and Jamie to Rachel . . . and they told them to fight. Two of them weren't walking out of the arena, and they knew that. They cried, and they fought hard like slayers do. You don't need to know the gory details. Faith and Jo made it. Rachel and Jamie didn't."
"Oh God," I mumble, looking down at the table as I realize how horrible that had to be for them. They'd come together as a team to make it through their first battle, and they fought as enemies during their final battle.
"Yeah," Krista says quietly, looking down at her lap. "So Jo was scared when the girls started looking up to me, and now she's terrified because you're one of the original two slayers; everyone here looks up to you, even Faith. When you locked yourself away, Jo felt safe again; you weren't part of us. But now you've proven that you're here and that you're on our team, and she's afraid that it's all going to happen again."
"I don't want to lead anyone," I say and they all look up at me. "I've been the leader and I've been the loner; I'm just trying to find a middle ground. Faith is the boss, and Jo and Kris can hold the reins too. I'll just fall into line and there won't be any problems."
"It doesn't matter what you want, or where you think you fit in, Buffy," Kris says. "The guards, the crowd; they've all seen you fight. They saw you save me, and Mel, and then watched you take one for the team. Earned yourself a bunch of fans in the camp and a watchful eye from the guys in charge."
"And you guys are gonna earn yourself an ass-kicking from the alpha bitch if ya keep tryin' to scare B," comes a voice from behind us.
Faith strolls over to the table and all of the girls except Krista jump up and make their way into the courtyard, claiming innocence as they cartwheel and jump over one another. She has a seat on the other side of Krista, effectively keeping her between the two of us.
Krista looks a bit uncomfortable and stands up, grabbing a cereal bar from the table before smiling down at Faith.
"As much as being in the middle of a Buffy and Faith sandwich sounds wicked as hell, I don't wanna be around for the doom and gloom talk. Mind if I take off?"
Faith leans back in her chair and holds her arms out, indicating the space around us.
"Ain't nothin' but sunshine and roses over here, K, but go if ya gotta," she teases, then watches Krista walk off until she's outta sight. "She's a good kid, B, but whatever she told ya and whatever ya heard between me and Jo? Just forget about it. We're all good here and everything's five by five."
I hear the effort behind her words and know that she's trying to convince herself as much as she is me, but I know the real truth now.
"Faith, the situation is hardly five by five. I think we're barely two by two right now, but it's bearable. I don't want to mess that up for anyone here."
"You're not messin' anything up, B. You're gonna make it better. Girls lose hope every now and then, yunno? Food gets scarce or we lose someone and morale gets low. But now they got the slayer that started it all right here with them and they feel like we got some kinda secret weapon on our side. They're gonna try more, fight harder, and we're gonna be okay."
She's definitely sounding more optimistic but I know the situation now. I know what's at risk, and I feel like I need to at least offer to make things right.
"I asked the girls why Jo's so mad and they said that she's afraid things are gonna get worse because there's more than a handful of power players in the camp now," I say, avoiding the part about Jamie and Rachel. I'm gonna let Faith tell that part to me on her own time.
"Well, Jo don't know shit," Faith says. "Don't matter if there's two of us or ten of us. The guards always watch, and they're gonna do with us what they want. You being here, B? Ain't gonna change that. Only thing it's gonna do is make the girls stronger, so stop listening to these blockheads already, alright?"
And though she's acting casually, I can see how hard she's trying to convince me and herself that everything will be okay. The whole time I've been here I've been impressed with how good she looks, strong and sure. But now I can see that she's tired, and stressed, and keeping herself together for the sake of everyone else here.
Well, if she can pretend she's okay, so can I.
"Alright, Faith. Everything will be fine. I get it."
She watches my face for a few moments and then she smiles, letting some of the tension in her body roll off of her. Before I can stop her, she reaches across the table and grabs my cup, then takes a big chug of my coffee. I'm torn between crying and slapping her but I settle for kicking her in the shin and stealing my cup back before she splutters all over it.
"Fighting dirty, I see," she says as she rubs her shin. "Now that's the Buffy I remember."
She winks at me and I can't help but smile as I take one last sip of my now lukewarm coffee. I know she was joking but it's true; I'm starting to feel more like the old me every day.
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