Buffy had been hiding completely naked under the blankets of the bed for more than five minutes before Faith had finally managed to convince her to come out and get dressed. Buffy only half-listened; she yanked her clothes from Faith's hands and got dressed under the blankets before making a mad dash for the hallway. Faith watched her go until she'd disappeared into the room across the hall, chuckling quietly the whole time.
While Buffy was embarrassed about the situation, Faith just found it funny as hell. It was a simple accident and there was no reason to be upset over it.
She decided to give Buffy a few more minutes to be embarrassed and walked over to the bathroom door, giving it a quick knock before she opened it up a crack so that Echo could hear her. The shower was still running but she caught Echo's reflection in the mirror and realized that the girl was quietly sitting on the edge of the tub with a towel wrapped around her. She pushed open the door a little wider and leaned against the frame, waiting for Echo to look up at her. When their eyes met, Faith offered her a friendly smile.
"Interesting first day back with the gang, huh," she asked.
"Think your girl is gonna be traumatized for life," Echo replied quietly but with a small smile. She reached behind her and turned the water off so that they could speak easier. When Faith raised an eyebrow at her, she explained, "Didn't wanna snoop on whatever convo followed that whole deal."
Again, Faith laughed and shook her head. "Really wasn't much said besides me laughin' and tellin' her to get dressed. And don't worry about B, she'll get over it. Hell, pretty soon it'll probably be one of those fantasies that gets her through the long, lonely nights when I'm on a mission."
She winked at Echo and Echo kind of laughed, but she looked more troubled than anything and Faith instantly picked up on it.
"Listen, if you're worried about what happened in here, it ain't a big deal."
"Kinda not what I'm worried about," Echo replied quietly, looking deep into Faith's eyes.
Faith nodded but didn't say anything. She knew exactly what Echo was talking about seeing as that it had been their topic of conversation every time Faith could sneak a phone call to her over the last two days.
"Have you had any more dreams?"
Echo shrugged, "Variations of the same one. Doesn't matter how they're different though; they all end the same way."
"And you're sure it's B? The slayer dreams are usually big on the vague."
"I'm sure," Echo said solemnly. "I have no clue where it is but it's definitely another dollhouse. We charge in there all gung-ho but . . . something happens. I dunno what. I can't save her, though. She's in my arms and I feel our connection die."
Faith took in a deep breath through her nose and exhaled slowly. The pain she felt in her chest every time she thought about Echo's dream was indescribable but she couldn't let it get the best of her. If Buffy was going to die in the dollhouse, she'd do everything she could to stop it or die trying herself.
"Well, that basically settles the plan then: we can't take B with us. Gonna have to figure out a way to leave her behind without makin' her feel left behind. If she thinks we're bein' sneaky about something she's gonna come with us outta spite so it's time to be honest."
Faith took a step back and looked towards the exit of the room, then sighed deeply. No way was Buffy gonna be happy about any of this; especially the fact that Faith had known about the dream for two days now.
"Want me to come with? I doubt she'll try to kick your ass if I'm there with ya," Echo offered, and Faith found herself chuckling.
"That's where you're wrong; she'd kick both our asses. Nah, it's better if I do this alone. If ya hear me yelling for mercy, feel free to interrupt. Otherwise, we're meetin' downstairs at 10:00 and goin' to scout a building downtown."
"I'll be there," Echo replied with a nod.
Faith offered Echo one last quick smile and made her way out of the room and across the hall.
Echo gave her a second before getting up and following her to the door. By the time she peeked out into the hall Faith had already disappeared into another room, but she just stood there for a moment and frowned.
"Sorry, Buffy," she apologized softly before stepping back into her room and closing the door behind her.
Faith walked in the room to find Buffy sitting on the bed with her back against the headboard, her legs under the blankets and the remote control in her hand. She was flicking through the channels but Faith could tell that she wasn't paying attention. Deciding what her best move was, she walked over to the TV and switched it off, then kicked off her boots before crawling onto the bed next to Buffy. She laid on her back and rested her head on Buffy's lap so that she could look up into her face.
Buffy stared down at her with an embarrassed smile on her face and she absently began to stroke Faith's soft hair.
"I thought she was you," she said quietly.
"I know, B. Ain't gotta worry, I'm not pissed. She was in our room. Accidents happen."
"I know, but . . . it shouldn't have," Buffy said softly, staring into Faith's eyes. "You and I . . .we're connected. I should be able to tell the difference between my girlfriend and my non-girlfriend."
Faith frowned as she listened to Buffy speak. She hated that Buffy felt so bad about the situation when, really, it couldn't have been helped.
"You're connected to her too," Faith admitted quietly. "She's me. An exact copy of me, whatever. And just like me, she has feelings for you. They were in me when they made her from my blood. You're gonna feel that pull with her and I get that."
"Does that mean you're gonna feel the same pull with my clone?"
Faith shrugged, "I dunno. I'm not a science guy so I don't know how that shit works, but if they got your blood after we were together? Then your clone's gonna love me too. And she's physically you, B. I can only imagine I'd feel that pull, but it don't matter."
"It does matter, which is why I'm gonna make sure she keeps her fake-Buffy hands off of you," Buffy said with a playful smile.
Faith smiled in reply but it quickly faded when she realized that she had to break the bad news. This could get . . . interesting.
"Actually, you're gonna have to trust that I can keep my hands to myself."
Buffy's hand stilled as it ran through Faith's hair and she narrowed her eyes suspiciously. "And why is that?"
"Because you're stayin' here."
A long tense silence settled around them as they had a mini staring contest. This was something they were still working on in their relationship. They weren't used to taking orders from other people – especially from each other – so they'd clash over the simplest things on occasion. Faith could see that Buffy was trying to keep her cool, so she just sat quietly and waited for her to respond.
"This is personal, Faith. Someone stole my blood. They used it to make some kind of imposter-Buffy and god knows what they're making her do. I'm going," Buffy finally replied, her hand moving in Faith's hair again.
"You're forgetting that I wrote that tune first, babe," Faith said, then sat up so she could face Buffy. "And trust me, ain't nothin' sweeter than catching the people who did it. But this is one fight you're gonna sit out of." Buffy opened her mouth to speak but Faith cut her off right away. "I'm not asking you, B; I'm tellin' you."
Again Buffy went to speak, but this time she stopped herself. She studied Faith's resolve face and quietly noted that it was a lot scarier than Willow's, then decided to give her the benefit of the doubt. She wouldn't argue if Faith had a valid explanation.
Faith took a deep breath and exhaled it slowly. Now or never.
"Because Echo keeps havin' slayer dreams. Long story short, bad things are gonna happen."
"Faith, I . . ."
"To you." Faith finished, effectively silencing Buffy. She watched as several emotions played across the blonde's face and decided to continue before Buffy hit anger. "Now if you really think I'm gonna let you tag along when a slayer dream is showing some wicked bad stuff, you don't know me at all. Don't care if I gotta tie ya to the bed to keep ya here, and believe me when I say I won't be using something as nice as silk scarves this time."
And there was so much Buffy wanted to say, and do; screaming in anger and frustration was on the top of that list, but instead she nodded her head and let Faith take her hand.
Faith stared into her eyes, trying to convey that everything would be okay – that she would make everything okay – and when she saw Buffy's nod, she breathed a sigh of relief. She really didn't like the idea of locking her girlfriend up somewhere just to keep her from getting in trouble.
The idea of something bad happening to Buffy was even worse though and Faith couldn't help herself as she leaned in and kissed her hard on the mouth.
Buffy instantly gave in and wrapped her arms around Faith's back, pulling her as close as they could get. There was an ache deep in her chest and she knew what it was; it was love. The thought of something happening to keep them apart; it was too much to handle. It made her heart ache and her eyes tear up, and it made her cling that much tighter as they slipped down the mattress together and started removing their clothing piece by annoying piece.
It seemed like they'd only just found each other, and they weren't about to lose that now. Not for anything or anyone.
It was hours later when Faith finally emerged from their dark bedroom to find their bags waiting for them just outside the door. She quietly dragged them in, careful not to wake a still-napping Buffy. She got dressed in her mission clothing as quietly and stealthily as possibly and actually managed not to wake Buffy up. When she was all settled and ready to head out, she walked over to the bed and knelt down on one knee. She used her fingertips to push long strands of blonde hair from her face, then leaned in and pressed the softest of kisses. Buffy mumbled quietly but didn't wake, and Faith could only smile as she looked at her peaceful face.
"Love you," she whispered, then stood up and grabbed her bag of weapons before making her way out of the room.
She'd expected there to be more commotion in the hall but it was still completely quiet and empty. Focusing her senses, she could tell that Echo was in her room across the hall and she knocked quietly on the door to get her attention. A moment later, Echo opened the door, a mirror image of Faith even in the dim light from the bedroom behind her.
"Nice outfit," Echo said with a smirk.
"Slayer-issued," Faith replied back, smiling. "Ready to get this show on the road?"
"Yeah. I'll meet ya downstairs, just gotta grab my gear."
Echo watched and waited as Faith nodded and disappeared down the hall, then turned and went back into her room to collect her gear. The bed was freshly made, though she hadn't had a wink of sleep. The pillow smelled too much like Buffy from when she'd hidden under the blankets and it was too distracting and just too damn painful to have to deal with that. Instead, Echo had curled up on the armchair in the corner and watched a bit of TV. She'd watched the color of the sun change over the Manhattan skyline through the small window, then as the sky changed from blue to black.
Still, her mind never left Buffy and what she'd seen in her dream. She shook her head to try to remove the images but they played again and again no matter what she did. Determined to help make things right and make sure that Buffy stayed safe, she grabbed her bag of gear and made her way to the door. She barely took a step out when the door across the hall and Buffy stepped out, fully dressed and ready to go. Both Buffy and Echo froze when they saw each other, but it was Echo who spoke first.
"Pretty fancy clothes for a night in," she said as she stepped fully into the hall and closed her bedroom door behind her.
"Yeah, I just . . ." Buffy began and stumbled over her words as she tried to come up with a good lie.
"Don't bother, Buffy; I know just what you think you're doing."
Buffy stopped trying to cover and stared defiantly at Echo. And . . . did she just put her hand on her hip? Echo couldn't help but chuckle. This girl really was something.
"Listen," Echo continued, "I know you're itchin' to get the bad guy. Hell, I am too. But if you could see what I do in my dreams? You'd be hiding at the back of your closet right now. It's not safe for you, Buffy."
"I know," Buffy said quietly. "But the safety of a situation has never stopped me from jumping in. It's part of the job description."
Echo nodded in understanding and narrowed her eyes as if she was deep in thought when she asked, "Part of the slayer gig is keepin' people safe too, right?" At Buffy's node, she continued, "Well how safe do you think Faith is gonna be if she's constantly looking out for you?"
A look of understanding suddenly crossed Buffy's face as Echo's words sunk in. It wasn't just about her safety. Sure, she was the one who was in trouble in the dream, but that didn't mean that she was the only one that could get hurt. Swallowing loudly, Buffy nodded again and took a step back into her room, her hand resting on the doorframe as she met Echo's gaze again.
"I'm sorry about . . . earlier. I didn't know . . ."
"Hey, it's okay," Echo quickly interrupted. "And besides? Total high point of my day." She winked at Buffy who had the common decency to blush, then started walking backwards down the hall to the stairwell. "Got your word that you're gonna stay here and behave?"
Buffy smiled and nodded, "I'll stay, but I can't promise I'll behave."
Echo laughed and then turned around, a little bit of an extra skip in her step. Buffy watched her until she disappeared down the stairs, her head tilted to the side.
"Faith was right; hottest threesome ever. Damn."
Everyone was already in the transport center and waiting for their orders when Echo walked in and stood next to Faith. All eyes were on the two of them as every slayer and non-slayer alike stood in awe of their similarities. Faith tolerated it for about six seconds before she groaned and pushed off of the wall she'd been resting against.
"Oh, for fuck's sake . . . yes, we look alike. Get your ogling over with cos once we walk through that portal, if I see one person with their guard down, I'm gonna crack some skulls."
Suddenly it seemed as though everyone found something else interesting to look at. Well, everyone except for Andrew who was staring at Faith with dreamy eyes. She'd never understand that kid; wasn't he supposed to be gay or something?
"We ready to do this?" Faith asked, her voice much less harsh than it had been a moment ago.
"I'd say it's time to get in there and find some bad guys," Kennedy replied, hopping up from the stone ledge she was perched on and cracking her knuckles.
"What about Buffy?" Willow asked.
Faith and Echo shared a look and Faith sighed as she looked back at the expectant group.
"I asked her not to come." Seeing the confused look she was getting from damn near everyone – and why wouldn't they be confused; Buffy was their leader – she decided to elaborate. "Echo's been getting' slayer dreams."
"What? Why didn't you tell us earlier?" Willow sounded frazzled and that was never a good sign.
"Cos she only told me about them two days ago and I wanted a chance to talk with her face-to-face before we decided if it's a bad thing or not," Faith answered easily enough.
"And the outcome of that?" Willow asked, looking between Faith and Echo.
When Faith looked over at her too, Echo took that as her cue to step in.
"It's a bad thing," she replied sadly. "I keep seeing Buffy die, and it wasn't one of her other deaths either. It's something new. I hold her as she dies. I think we all know how much that can't happen, so she's sitting out until we're sure she's safe. And, uh, someone might wanna keep an eye on her cos I just saw her tryin' to creep outta her room upstairs."
"What? She was sleepin!" Faith said with disbelief.
"Yeah, well . . . she was faking it," Echo replied, trying to hide her smile. "Had a chat with her; she agreed to stay here."
"Yeah, right," Faith said, disgruntled. "Alright, listen up. Change of plans. We're goin' in three teams and we're gonna split up. Echo and Rona are leading one team and me and Vi are taking another. Rob, gonna need you to keep a group of girls with you in the sewers in case we need backup."
"I'll stay with Robin, make sure the girls have a handle on the sitch," Kennedy said, hopping excitedly from foot to foot.
"'fraid not, Ken-doll. You're stayin' here with your girl to keep an eye on things here," Faith replied.
"What?" Kennedy asked angrily. "That's bullshit, Faith. I'm the best fighter we have. You need me there with you."
"You're right, Ken; you're the best one here. But we're not going to fight; we're going to scout. And if Buffy starts gettin' ornery, I need you to keep her here. She's the original slayer, kid, and you're the only one that's gonna be able to hold her back."
While Kennedy was still upset at her sudden demotion, she seemed to understand why Faith needed her to stay and she gave her a quick nod in compliance. Willow laced her fingers through Kennedy's and tried to console her even further.
"And Kenny, I'll be here with you too," she said cheerfully. "We can sneak some smoochies when no one's looking." Her smile was incandescent and Kennedy couldn't help but smile at her girlfriend.
With that situation smoothed over, Faith was ready to get this over with already. If this was the building they were looking for, they had a lot of work cut out for them over the next few days. As much as she hated the whole scout and surveillance gig, she was willing to do whatever that had to do to procure Buffy's safety.
"Alright, open the portal, Red. We've got us some bad guys to catch."
"Before we do that," Willow began, a mischievous look upon her face, "I've got something new I want to try out with everyone that's going."
"What do you mean, something new?" Faith asked skeptically.
"Well, we've had some time now to study the things we found at the other Dollhouse. A lot of it is so advanced I can't make heads or tails of it. Yet. But I was able to snoop on some of their tech and mimic it for our own purposes."
"Please tell me you're not gonna make us into dolls," Faith said.
"Nope, but this tech really goes hand in hand with that. The Dollhouse uses the neural framework of the dolls to monitor their vital statistics while they're on engagements. They can see if they're happy, or stressed, or . . .well, aroused. It was their way of making sure that the engagements stick to what they were specified for. If someone was on a romantic encounter and their adrenaline was spiking in non-sexy ways, they knew something was wrong."
"And you're gonna use that on us how?" Echo asked warily. She'd been used as a guinea pig for too long and wasn't quite so willing to put herself in that position again.
"Oh, don't worry, it's not invasive," Willow assured them. "I enhanced it mystically so that we don't actually need the neural framework that the dolls do. All I do is stick this handy little heart monitors that I've tinkered with to your chest as we can monitor everything from here. If things get hairy, I can have everyone out in twenty, thirty seconds."
She picked up a handful of the monitors that looked kind of like little suction cups and walked throughout the room, applying them to all of the girls who were going through the portal. When she finally reached Faith and Echo, she had the last monitor in her hand and she looked up at them, worried.
"Kennedy's is already in place. She made me put it on her hours ago because she was so excited that she might get to beat someone up. I didn't know Echo was going so I don't have enough," she said with a frown.
Echo looked down at the monitor in Willow's hand, then up at Willow's worried face. "I've still got the neural framework. Think you can tap into it?"
Willow's face lit up and she nodded, then led Echo over to one of the small gray monitors nearby. She placed one hand on the monitor and the other on Echo's forehead before chanting a few words in Latin. Suddenly the monitor lit up with a myriad of colors and swirls, attracting everyone's attention.
"This is what we'll be watching. If anyone gets into a bad situation, we'll probably know it before you even realize you're in trouble. If we can't contact you on your radios to make sure everything is okay, we'll have you back here in a jiff."
"But we're not anticipating any fighting at this point," Robin clarified, speaking loudly enough so that everyone could hear him. "This is reconnaissance, girls. Study, explore, but do not engage unless you're left with no other choice. Remember: bad guys tend to have guns. We don't."
The girls quietly murmured to one another as Willow made her way back over to Faith with the last of the monitors. Faith looked at it distastefully but when Willow used her resolve face, she pulled down the neck of her shirt and exposed her upper chest for Willow to stick the monitor to.
"Red, don't think I need to tell you twice that B can be pretty tricky when she's being stubborn. Don't let her anywhere near that portal or that building. I don't care what she tries; use your magic juju if you have to."
"You have my word," Willow said firmly.
"If anything happens to her . . ." Faith began but her words cut off as her throat constricted with emotion.
"I know, Faith. I know."
Willow put a comforting hand on Faith's bicep and gave it a reassuring squeeze before walked toward the center of the room and holding her arms out.
"Everyone ready?" she asked.
Receiving several yes's and nods, she closed her eyes and focused, pulling energy up from the earth and filtering it through her body until it flickered at her fingertips in steady waves of crackling white and blue. Her eyes opened and she gasped, a devilish little smile on her face. Suddenly the energy jumped from her fingertips and began swirling until a large portal was formed.
The slayers and Robin gathered their gear and made their way through in groups of two until only Faith and Echo were left. The two girls walked up to the portal and paused at the same time as Willow called out to them.
"Good luck, guys. We'll be watching you," she said.
The two brunettes nodded once in unison and then turned back to the portal. A moment later they stepped through and the portal closed behind them, leaving the room empty with the exception of a few slayers manning the monitors, and Kennedy and Willow.
"Can't believe I'm stuck here," Kennedy complained.
Willow couldn't help but laugh. Kennedy's petulance was something that she always found endearing and now was no exception. Knowing that she needed to find a new and important job to appease her girlfriend, she suggested she go upstairs and find Buffy to make sure she was okay. Kennedy went - reluctantly - and Willow turned back to the monitors, waiting for the first sign of danger.
She had a sinking feeling that things weren't going to be as easy as they'd all hoped for.
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