"I dreamt of her again last night."
"Dreamt of whom, Juliet?"
"Her. Me. Another me."
"Would you like to share your dream with me?"
There was a short pause before Juliet answered, "Yes."
"Please, continue then."
"I watch her die. She fights an awful man with a wrinkled face and he tries to eat her neck, but she falls in a puddle. She can't breathe with her face in the water."
"That sounds like quite the nightmare. I can speak to Dr. Whittamore. He might be able to prescribe some Prazosin to help."
"It's not a nightmare though. I get better. She gets better. But then I see her again and she's jumping off of a tower into a pretty light."
"Perhaps that's a sign that you're drawn to the light. That you're inherently good."
"Perhaps. But she gets better again. And she fights the wrinkled men with a shiny weapon. Every time I see it, I feel something. It makes my stomach tickle and my skin prickle."
"It's just a dream. You can't feel such things in a dream."
"But I do. I am her, and she is me. I feel what she feels. I see what she sees. Why does that happen, Dr. Walsh?"
Maggie sat back in her chair and continued to look down at Juliet who remained prone on the leather sofa. It was possible that Juliet could be sharing slayer dreams with Buffy. Really, it wasn't that far-fetched an idea; for all intents and purposes, Juliet was Buffy. Maggie internally scolded herself for never having the opportunity to study Buffy better years before at the University of Sunnydale, though she hoped to learn everything she could about slayers now.
With her lips pulled back in a tight smile, she finally responded.
"Because you're very special, Juliet."
Juliet looked from the ceiling and over to Maggie, staring her in the eyes.
"Maybe I don't want to be special."
Maggie chuckled quietly then. The apple certainly didn't fall far from the tree.
"We have no choice over such matters, Juliet. We are who we are, as created by our maker." Seeing the puzzled look on Juliet's face, Maggie smiled gently. "Perhaps discussing origins and philosophy are a bit above your level. I'll call Dr. Whittamore and have him arrange a massage. It will be good for you to relax."
She turned and picked up the phone, ready to dial when Juliet's voice stopped her in her tracks.
"The dream doesn't end there."
Intrigued, Maggie placed the phone back in the cradle and faced Juliet once again, ready to hear the rest of the dream. "Please, continue."
"She finally looks at me. She never sees me except for when she's here."
"Here? At the lab?" Maggie asked, suddenly very interested.
"Yes. She sees me, and then she gets very upset. She hurts Mr. Finn, and then she looks for you."
"And what does she do when she finds me, Juliet?" Maggie asked anxiously.
Juliet tilted her head to the side as she stared at Maggie, an innocent look upon her face.
"She hurts you too."
Maggie stood in her doorway, watching as Juliet was led away to her nightly yoga class and massage. When she was finally out of view, she nodded to Riley who was standing nearby and turned to walk back into her office, Riley hot on her heels.
"Did she tell you about her dreams?" Riley asked anxiously as he closed the door behind them.
"Yes, she did." Maggie made her way over to her desk and sat down in the leather chair, her eyes focused on Juliet through a series of monitors on the wall.
"Then you know that they're slayer dreams. She's dreaming of past slayers, not limited to just Buffy. Two days ago she told me that she dreamt of whom we now know as Nikki Wood. She's also dreamt of Kendra and Faith, or at least that seems accurate from her descriptions."
"And now she's getting a sense of precognition. Amazing, really, what resources the slayers have available to them." After a moment of silent reverie, Maggie looked up to Riley. "You're her handler, Agent Finn. Why didn't you report these findings immediately after you were made aware of them?"
Riley sighed and flopped down onto the leather sofa, running a hand over his sandy brown hair.
"Because up until today, they were just dreams. Adelle had reports that Echo and Sierra had slayer dreams too. They never had any precognition though. Their slayer dreams showed only slayers of the past; they never saw any foreshadowing of events to come."
"I guess the game has changed though, hasn't it," Maggie said rather than asked.
"You don't really think that she's going to come here, do you?"
"You're the one who knows her best, Agent Finn. What do you think?"
Riley's jaw clenched shut as he thought about it. After a moment he looked up at Maggie and drew in a deep breath through his nose.
"I'd lock everything down, ma'am. We can't underestimate Buffy Summers and what she's capable of. Surely you remember what happened when she came after The Initiative."
"Actually, that part happened after Adelle did my memory scan. All that I know, I learned from written reports." She regarded him for a moment, her mind working double time. "I'm truly puzzled, Agent Finn. There was no paper trail that proved another facility existed, nor that we're the ones attached to it. How do you suppose that she could ever find out about us?"
And it was simple, really. What was one of the things that Buffy always had on her side that tipped the balance in her favor when brute force wasn't the answer?
"Oh god, gonna hurl," Faith said as the bright light from the portal faded away behind her. She lifted her forearm up to her mouth and pressed her lips against her skin, biting back the nauseous feeling.
Buffy smiled brightly and practically ran across the room, barreling into a still wobbly Faith.
"Fight it, Faith. No way am I kissing you if you start turning inside-out all over the place again," she said, wrapping her arms around Faith who managed to hug her back after a moment or two. She knew then that Faith wasn't going to be sick so she proceeded to pepper her lips with several quick kisses.
"Mmm," Faith began, "I thought Red was tweaking the portal spell to nix the blowing chunks part?"
Her words were muffled against Buffy's lips but she didn't care; all that mattered was that they were finally kissing. She'd been separated from those lips for five days while on a mission with Giles and they were long overdue some serious smoochage. The sex would come soon enough, preferably without the audience that was watching and giggling at them now.
"Well, mmm," Buffy said, finally pulling her lips away for a second, "she's been trying, but the results have been mixed so far."
Faith's lips stopped moving suddenly and she pulled back from Buffy, one of her eyebrows raised in question.
"That sounds ominous."
Buffy tried her best to hide her smile. "Don't worry baby, the effects will wear off in about ten hours."
Faith's eyes widened almost comically when she felt something brush against her back. She quickly spun around once, twice, three times, then gave up and looked over the back of her shoulder.
"Oh, for fuck's sake . . . a tail? Really?"
And there was no way to deny the fact that she had a long, shaggy, white and brown tail sticking out from the back of her jeans, waggling excitedly behind her. The giggles in the room turned into full out laughter and Buffy bit her bottom lip trying to hold back her own laughter.
"You . . . you knew this was gonna happen!" Faith said in shock, pointing accusingly at Buffy.
"I wasn't 100% sure it wouldn't, that's true," Buffy defended. "But it's been five days and I missed you and I just wanted you home. And hey . . ." she pointed at the tail, "you might be upset but I know you're still happy to see me. Your tail is wagging. It's your tell."
Faith narrowed her eyes at Buffy, wanting so badly to be angry but she just couldn't be. Truth be told she would've happily grown a hairlip and a nice set of tentacles when it came to getting back to Buffy after her trips away with Giles. The two slayers were pretty inseparable these days and no way was a little tail going to get in the way of their relationship.
"Ten hours you said?" Faith asked.
"Or thereabout," Buffy answered guiltily and then grunted softly as Faith lifted her up and over her shoulder with her ass up in the air. "What are you doing!?"
Faith grinned and growled, turning her head to the side and giving Buffy's ass a quick bite before slapping it playfully.
"Don't know what's come over me, B. Think my animal side is taking over. Got a wicked craving to hump your leg and lick you all over."
The younger slayers in the room groaned loudly and went back to their business, more than bored with yet another Buffy and Faith sexual interlude. Faith walked towards the large stone staircase with Buffy dangling comically over her shoulder. Buffy looked over at Xander who was watching them amusedly and shrugged at him, unable to do much more in her current position. He watched as they disappeared up the stairs, not moving back to his monitor until they were fully out of view.
He smiled widely and shook his head, not the least bit disturbed by what he'd just witnessed.
"That's our Faith: always the horn-dog."
The brakes on the old truck screeched as it came to a halt in front of Bernie's Paint Supplies Plus in the middle of the small town. There was more dust on the road than there was gravel, but no one in town ever complained about it. They were used to the thin layer of grit that seemed to cover just about everything.
The old men sitting on the bench in front of the store looked up and watched the young brunette exit the truck like she'd done a few times in the last two months. She smiled at them and nodded but didn't say hi; as much as she enjoyed the small town, Echo just wasn't one to make small-talk with the older men there.
It was the only way to stop the inevitable barrage of the usual questions – No husband? No boyfriend? All alone in that old house? No visitors? I've got a grandson you might like . . .
No, silence was indeed easier.
She walked into the small shop and the bell on the door alerted Bernie to her presence. He was a gray-haired man well into his 70's, and his eyebrows were way too bushy for his face, but it made him look all the friendlier.
"Ah, good afternoon, Echo," he said, his voice jovial as he walked out from behind the counter and toward a supply shelf.
"Hey Bernie. Am I too early? I can come back . . ."
"You're right on time, dear. David finished mixing up your paint on his lunch break. I swear, that boy's face lights up every time he knows you're coming in." He reached for a thick cardboard box on the shelf and lifted it with a quiet grunt, barely able to turn and face Echo before she grabbed the heavy load from his hands.
"It's just cos he knows I'm a big tipper, Bern," she replied with a wink, stepping back so that Bernie could maneuver back behind the counter.
"Oh, he's just sweet on you, honey. You know, I'm sure he wouldn't mind coming and helping you out with your project. It must get lonely up in that old house . . ."
"It's peaceful," Echo quickly interrupted, trying to avoid his attempts at matchmaker yet again. "Besides, when I'm lonely, I just come and talk to you," she finished with a winning smile.
Bernie just chuckled to himself as he pushed the stubborn buttons on the old-fashioned cash register.
"And what about your sister?" He asked, not noticing the way her smile faltered just a little. "Has she been back to visit at all? Shame she couldn't stay a bit longer and help you set up properly."
"Faith's got her own life," she answered with a shrug. "She offers to come and visit but . . . I dunno, I don't want her to put her own life on hold for me."
Bernie sighed quietly as he took a few wooden paint-stirrers from under the counter and placed them in the box. He wanted so much to see this young girl happy and settled and not alone for a change, but he knew that she was set on handling things on her own. That and she was just really stubborn sometimes!
"Dear, she's your twin. I'm sure she'd set her life aside to make sure that you're okay, just like you'd do for her. Maybe you could go and visit her? I'd keep an eye on your place for you; you'd have nothing to worry about here."
And as much as some company would be happily welcomed or as much as seeing Faith again sounded like a good idea, there were things stopping Echo from following through with them. There was no way that Faith would leave Scotland for an extended time without bringing Buffy, and there was no way Echo could go to Scotland and see the two of them there together either.
It just reminded her too much of everything she wanted but couldn't have.
Covering her small frown with a smile, Echo looked up and met Bernie's concerned gaze again. She placed a hundred dollar bill on the counter and grabbed the box of supplies easily, ignoring the way he always seemed surprised by her strength.
"Aww, I know what you're up to, Bern. You want Faith to come back so you can try the matchmaker thing with her and David since I'm not biting. Tell ya what: next time I talk to her, I'll ask her to stop by."
Bernie laughed again though there was a bit of sadness in his voice.
"You do that, Echo. In the meanwhile, you just give us a holler if you need anything. Anything at all, dear."
Echo smiled and nodded, holding his gaze for just a moment longer than usual before making her way out of the shop and back to her truck. She unloaded the box in the back of the bed and then hopped up into the driver's seat, giving the old men on the bench a quick smile before pulling away and leaving a small dust cloud in her wake.
The warm afternoon sun beat down on her through the windshield, making a thin sheen of sweat form on her skin despite the opened windows. Most people would be put off by the heat but she welcomed it. It made her feel warm, alive. Reminded her that the sun would be back the next day, and the next, and that she would remember each and every sunrise and sunset.
It was comforting more than it was uncomfortable.
A short ten-minute drive later and she pulled off the road and onto the dirt path that was her driveway. The small white ranch house at the end of the drive sure didn't look like much from the outside, but it was cheap to buy and easy to fix up with a little bit of good old fashioned elbow grease.
The brakes screeched once again as she stopped and parked the truck on a small patch of grass near the front door. She hopped out easily and closed the rusty door behind her and made her way to the back of the truck to fetch her supplies. The afternoon sun was now beating down on her already tanned skin. She briefly thought about grabbing a blanket from inside the house and laying down in the adjoining field, but she decided on getting some work done instead.
She carried the box of paint supplies up to the house in both hands and balanced it against her hip while she opened the door. There was no need to lock it; not out in the middle of nowhere like she was.
The inside of the house was in better condition than the outside, though that was mainly due to the fact that she'd been working on it since she'd arrived. The walls were freshly plastered and ready for their last coat of paint, and the new snap-in floors had already been ordered and were waiting for her in six large boxes in the spare bedroom.
There was lots of work to be done, but Echo had nothing but time on her hands. She just worried about what would happen when the work was done and she was left with only time.
She spent the rest of the afternoon working, stirring and pouring the paint before sticking the roller in the sticky blue-gray pool and rolling it onto the walls. The color reminded her of the mountains at sunset as she and Faith had driven through Colorado. They'd pulled over and watched the sun set completely, the mountains changing from near white to a gray-blue and finally to black as the night fell around them.
Faith had told her that the night was their time; that the slayer got to dance then, to bend and flex her muscles in ritual. She'd felt it then too, the slayer pulling and pushing within her. These days it was different though. Night would fall and she would go to bed, and all she could think and feel was Buffy.
It was a hard reality, knowing that the girl of her dreams was very much out there and in love with her. It was just the wrong her that she was in love with.
At least she knew now what Faith had been going through all of those years when they were apart, loving Buffy fully but never knowing that love in return. It was painful and difficult but feeling that pain reminded her that she was alive. That she lived and breathed, and that no one was making her choices for her any longer.
As darkness finally began to fall around the small white house and the dim lights inside were no longer bright enough for her to keep working, Echo closed up the paint tins and washed out the brushes and rollers. She could continue the next day. In fact, she would slow down and enjoy the process. She was starting to learn that there weren't many feelings greater than a hard job done right.
The water in the shower was just hot enough to turn her skin red, but it ran cool long before she was ready to step out. The coolness was refreshing after the heat, but it was less fulfilling. It left her feeling cold, alone.
She didn't bother to dry her hair like usual. Instead she turned off the last of the lights and crept into bed, pulling the sheets up tight to her neck. She'd never used sheets before she moved here, used to sleeping within the confines of a temperature-controlled cell. The Egyptian cotton that Faith promised ‘would change her world' felt amazing against her skin, though she was sure that she'd felt softer things than those sheets against her. Her memories were fleeting and still only coming back bit by bit, but she remembered her night spent with Buffy before everything came crashing down. Remembered the way they'd talked, and they way they came together in the hotel bed, skin hot and slick against each other.
Sighing loudly, Echo turned on her side and stared at the red numbers on her alarm clock. The time read 11:27. She knew it would be hours before she fell asleep.
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