Buffy was waiting in the alley, nervously glancing down at her watch again and again while keeping an eye out for Faith at the same time. Faith had said ten minutes; wait ten minutes and leave. Fifteen minutes had passed and Buffy was still waiting, her anxiety growing every minute.
Had the assassins been waiting in the apartment? Was Faith currently fighting for her life? Was she already dead?
And most importantly, why the heck was Buffy standing there waiting like a tool when she could be doing something about it?
Just as she made the decision to sneak into Faith's apartment to see what was taking so long, a black duffel bag flew at her from above. She easily dodged it but wasn't as lucky when a second bag shot over from the other side of the fence. She caught it square in the chest and stumbled back a few steps before regaining her footing. When she looked up, Faith had already scaled the other side of the fence and was hopping over to join her in the alley.
"'Sup?" Faith said nonchalantly as she collected the first bag from the ground.
"Really? Sup'? You're five minutes late in a life or death situation and that's what you come up with?" Buffy asked, annoyed yet relieved at the same time. She pushed the second bag into Faith's arms and made to straighten out her own rumpled clothes.
Faith looked thoughtful for a moment.
"'Sup, Mom?" she asked. When Buffy stopped what she was doing and narrowed her eyes, Faith continued, "Geez, settle down, B. Decided to grab some weapons and lost track of time."
"For the sake of both our sanities, try to be a bit more punctual. You told me to bail after ten minutes."
"Alright, sorry. Whatev. Won't happen again."
There was a noticeable shift in her demeanor and as much as Buffy didn't feel like having a heart to heart in the middle of an alley, she had to ask.
"Yeah, why wouldn't it be," Faith said moodily.
She looked at Buffy expectantly and Buffy, getting the picture that Faith wasn't in the mood for a lecture, began to lead them down the alley. Pulling the list of vacant properties from her pocket, Buffy picked the first address at the top which happened to be close by and decided that it would have to suffice for the night. She folded the list neatly and slipped it back into her pocket for safe keeping.
They were silent only for a few moments more when it seemed as though Faith just couldn't keep a burning question in any longer. Steeling herself for whatever was about to undoubtedly be said, Buffy looked over at Faith and sighed.
"Just say it already," she said.
The hint of mischief in Faith's eyes was easy to see.
"So, for the record," Faith began, "what happens if it does happen again? Will there be a punishment? Some scolding? Not gonna lie here, B: I'm not totally opposed to a nice hearty spanking. Might put me on the straight and narrow once and for all."
Buffy didn't even have it in her to sigh or roll her eyes this time. This was Faith. This was how Faith got to people. But because Buffy knew that Faith had to be scared underneath all of the bravado after all, she had agreed to accept help it didn't seem to annoy her as much as it should have.
"What do you want me to say to that?" Buffy asked neutrally. "That the next time you step out of line I'll don the corset and thigh-high leather boots and crack the whip?"
"Hell yeah! Sounds good to me," Faith said enthusiastically, grinning ear to ear. "In fact, why don't you wait here while I disappear for a little while? An hour long enough to encourage some grade-A wrath?"
Buffy chuckled and shook her head. Leave it to Faith to get inappropriately excited about a little bit of S&M. As amusing as the thought was, this was still a serious situation and they needed to be cautious at all times.
"Keep your mind in the game, Faith. I'm not here to play Mistress of Pain with you despite how disturbingly fascinated you seem by the idea."
"Disturbingly fascinated? Can ya really blame me? Put yourself in my position; hot, right?"
Ignoring her, Buffy continued. "If you really want to disappear for an hour, I guess I can't stop you. In fact, here; I made you a copy of the list Giles gave me." She reached inside her jacket pocket and pulled out a folded piece of paper, then nonchalantly passed it over to Faith. "Hide out where you want when you're done doing whatever you think it is you need to risk your life for. I'll be at 602 Jonah Circle tonight, seeing as that I'm now as deep in this as you are. If you decide you're ready to put your spanking fantasies aside, you're welcome to join me."
"God, you really are wound tighter than a fucking pocketwatch. Chill, alright? I was just havin' some fun with ya. You lead, I follow. That's the plan."
Buffy didn't say anything. She merely kept walking, all too aware of how hard Faith was trying to stay quiet. When they reached a busy street, they took turns scouting in both directions to make sure that there was no sign of the Council goons. When it was obvious that the passersby were only locals, Buffy and Faith made their way across the street as inconspicuously as possibly and ducked behind a brick-faced convenience store.
While they were there, they ducked inside and gathered a few supplies: bottled water for Buffy, Pepsi for Faith, chips, cereal bars, and other snack food that would get them through at least a day or two. It wasn't exactly gourmet but they weren't sure how long they'd be hiding or what accommodations a vacant house might offer them.
There was a side street just off the back lot that would take them down to a subdivision they needed to be in so they sneaked out the back door and quickly crossed the lot. The street was tree-lined and quiet with not a whole heck of a lot of traffic. The houses were your average run of the mill residences that were scattered throughout the town, nothing distinguishable about them. They were well-kempt and modest. However, when they reached the end of the street and approached the subdivision of newer homes on Jonah Circle, Faith looked a bit apprehensive.
"This looks like the kind of place your buddy Cordelia would live," Faith noted. "Don't you think these posh townies are gonna notice us traipsin' through their daisies?"
"This is the place Cordelia lives, or at least I think it is," Buffy said as they passed a large gated house. "I've never exactly been invited inside. And most of the people who live in these homes have jobs that pay for them. My guess? No one but hired help inside of them at this time of day."
"Sure hope you're right."
They continued walking until they reached the last house in the very back of the cul-de-sac. There was a noticeable sale sign on the front lawn that looked like it had been recently mowed.
"Good. We won't have to worry about landscapers peeking in the windows," Buffy said.
She took a perfunctory glance behind them to make sure they weren't being watched before making her way along the side of the house with Faith in tow close behind her. Sure enough, there was a lock box on the back door so that the realtor could get in to show potential buyers the house. Buffy gave it a hard tug and the box opened under her slayer strength, dropping the key right into her waiting hand.
"You take all of the fun out of breaking and entering," Faith groaned.
"Sorry. You can have at it at the next house we stay in. Just make sure to bring your paperclip and credit card for the lock, MacGyver," Buffy replied, hiding her smile. The smile grew even bigger and more noticeable when she heard Faith snicker behind her.
She cautiously slid the key in the fancy brass lock and turned it gently, finding no resistance. The door opened without a creak and Buffy slowly stepped inside, taking a quick glance around.
"Hello?" she called out. It may have seemed silly, shouting a greeting into a vacant house, but who knew if there were any maintenance people lingering inside.
When there was no reply, Buffy sighed with relief and moved to the side so that Faith could step inside too. Faith didn't waste any time in checking the place out, marveling at everything she laid her eyes on. She tested the tap in the deep kitchen sink and smiled when she discovered that the owners had left the water turned on.
There was no way the owners of a house this nice would jeopardize a sale by letting the landscaping go to hell. Regular lawn watering was a must!
"Pretty swank digs," she said, shaking the water from her hands as she looked up at the cathedral ceiling in the kitchen. "Think I could get used to being on the lam if it means we get to stay in places like this."
"Too bad it's not furnished," Buffy said.
"What, princess can't sleep on the floor for a few nights?" Faith asked, winking over her shoulder so that Buffy knew she was just kidding.
"No, it's just that at home I have a bed. And blankets and a pillow. Two in fact." She paused for a moment and frowned. "And clean clothes. I just realized that I pretty much only have the clothes on my back."
"That right there describes the better part of my teenage years so far," Faith threw out casually and must not have noticed Buffy's shocked reaction to that as she changed the subject. "Ya wanna slip back to your Ma's, get some stuff?"
Buffy shook her head. "No, it's too risky. If they can't find us in town, they'll be staking out the familiar places. We'll sit tight for today and I can pick up some necessities when we move to the next place on the list tomorrow."
Suddenly Faith was facing her looking pretty dismayed. "Why the hell can't we just stay here? This place is top notch and I'm pretty sure I saw a pool behind the tennis court. A fricken pool, B!"
"Because it's not exactly on the run' if we stay in one place. The more we move around, the less chance they have of finding us. Giles said he'll have Angel patrol until this has all blown over, so all we have to do is sit tight at night when they're most likely to find us and move during the day when there are lots of people around."
"Why can't we just sic the vamp on the baddies? Pretty sure it ain't gonna make a big diff if your boy adds a few more fatalities to his ever-growing naughty list," Faith said casually.
Buffy's first reaction was to lash out and defend Angel but anger and fighting would get them nowhere right now, especially since they were apparently stuck together for the foreseeable future. Instead, she took a deep breath and shook off the anger.
"I'm pretty sure Angel will object to killing humans and I can't say I blame him. We can't play judge, jury and executioner. They need to go to jail so they can be dealt with properly." At Faith's lack of response, Buffy continued. "And he's not my boy.'"
That one got Faith's attention.
"Since . . . I don't know. But he's moving to Los Angeles."
"Sorry," Faith said quietly but without any sincerity.
It didn't even bother Buffy who managed a small smile before turning away and heading toward a different room. Faith followed after her and they explored the rest of the house quietly, stopping to rest only when they reached the last room: the master bedroom on the second floor. It was huge, practically the size of Buffy's entire house, and there was an en suite bathroom with a Jacuzzi bath tub.
"I've died and gone to squatter heaven," Faith said. "This is so my room."
"We should probably stick together. Safest that way and less chance of someone stumbling upon one of us if we're both up here."
Faith thought about it for only a moment before shrugging. "Fine, but fair warning: I sleep in my birthday suit. You get an eyeful, not my prob."
They made a silent agreement and Faith dropped her bags down on the floor near the bathroom door. There was electricity but they didn't dare turn on a light or draw any unnecessary attention to them selves. Hours passed and Faith spent time bouncing a small rubber ball she'd found buried at the bottom of her bag against a nearby wall. The constant bouncing would have driven Buffy nuts if she hadn't had something to focus on.
Staring at the cell phone in her hand was all the distraction she needed. She knew that Giles had to work and take care of some issues, but it was already past eight o'clock and they still hadn't heard a peep from him.
The sound of loud crunching pulled Buffy from her thoughts and she looked over to see Faith digging into yet another bag of chips. She'd finished off two bags earlier and now she was working on the last one.
"You're going to finish off our supplies before we go to bed if you keep up at that pace," Buffy noted, her thumb wiping over the clear screen of the cell phone.
"So we'll get more tomorrow," Faith replied with a shrug. "We're slayers, B. Made us so we gotta put plenty o' fuel in the killing machine."
"If you start touting your H&H theory, I may have to gag you with your own sock," Buffy replied.
She glanced up from the phone to find Faith smirking but thankfully keeping her lips sealed. Faith tipped the bag of chips up over her mouth and caught the last few crumbs in her mouth before crinkling the bag up in her hand and tossing it on the floor beside her. Buffy looked back down at the phone and made a mental note that it wasn't up to her to make sure that Faith cleaned up after herself.
Another hour passed by with an almost comfortable silence between them. It was dark out now and the only light was from the moon and the street lamps shining in through the three large windows against the front wall.
Finally frustrated with staring at the phone, Buffy tossed it onto the thick carpeting next to her and raised her arms over her head, stretching her back. She saw Faith digging around in her jacket pocket and hoped it was for something to wipe her hands off on. Her curiosity was piqued when she noticed Faith pull a small piece of paper from her pocket and glance down at it. First Faith looked surprised but that quickly faded away and left only what looked like annoyance or anger behind.
"What's the matter?" Buffy asked cautiously.
Faith seemed to suddenly remember herself and she quickly tucked the paper back in her pocket. "Nothing," she grumbled. "Just gettin' antsy. Need to do something with myself."
"Go for a swim. Take a shower. That Jacuzzi tub looks pretty inviting. There's no bubble bath but I'm sure you can trade one luxury for another," Buffy replied, trying to be helpful.
She didn't like the sudden look in Faith's eyes. It was like Faith was reminded that she was scared and angry and that it was starting to make her crawl inside her own skin. And judging by the way Faith was suddenly up and on her feet, Buffy had a feeling that she was right.
"Listen, if I'm gonna be a white hat, I'm going all out. Angel might be strong but he's not a slayer. I'm gonna go and do a quick sweep, see if I can bag me some bad guys."
She was waiting for some kind of response and all Buffy could do was look at her with her mouth open in disbelief. After a moment she shook it off enough to speak.
"Are you insane!"
Okay, not as calm as she was hoping for.
"Nine outta ten doctors would say so," Faith replied with a shrug. When Buffy just glared at her, Faith continued. "I'm gonna avoid cemeteries and I won't go near my apartment or the motel. I'll be back in a few hours. I just need to let off some steam."
Buffy shook her head and stood up, trying to find the right words. It was really difficult when all of the words on the tip of her tongue involved some arrangement of "What the fuck are you thinking?" and "Are you fucking stupid?"
"You want to let off some steam? Fine, let's spar. You walk out that door and you put yourself exactly where they want you: vulnerable and alone. I saw you die, Faith. And hey, maybe by us being here we've changed the future. Yay us. But if you go out, it could lead you right to the place where I saw it all happen."
"Buffy, I'm not a moron. I'm not gonna go walkin' on up to someplace I've never been and ask to be let inside so some fuckers can use me as target practice. From now on, careful is my middle name," Faith said. She bent down and dug around in the black duffel bag until she had what she was looking for. Standing up, she tucked a stake in one pocket and a long silver knife in one of her boots.
"Faith . . ." Buffy began but Faith cut her off.
"Jesus Christ, B. You can come with me if ya want. Gotta warn ya though, I'm not payin' for the babysitting service." She waited for a response but was met with only silence and a pair of nervous eyes that were locked on her. "Well? Ya coming or not."
Buffy thought about it for nearly a minute. She could go with Faith. They were stronger together than they were alone and that was a proven fact. Still, if they were seen together, her mother, friends, and her watcher would all be in jeopardy. There was no knowing the lengths the assassins would go to in order to get the info they wanted. She couldn't put them through that because Faith had a death wish.
"No," Buffy replied quietly, taking a step back.
Faith didn't say anything else. She made sure she had everything she needed and gave Buffy one last look before turning around and walking out the door.
Buffy could hear her footsteps echo as she made it down the stairs, followed closely by the almost inaudible sound of the back door closing softly. She sat back down against the inner wall and rested her head back against it. Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath and sighed.
Against her better judgment, she picked up the cell phone and open the contact list. There was only one number programmed in it. Hesitating for just a moment, she finally hit send and brought the phone up to her ear. The line rang several times before someone picked up.
"Giles, it's me. Yeah, I got the package. Uh-huh. Yeah, she came with me."
As Giles spoke to her, Buffy played over the events of the day in her mind. Faith hadn't been out of her sight since they left Willy's. She'd seemed fine all day until . . . until she'd gone into her apartment. And then she'd played like she was okay until she pulled out whatever was in her pocket.
Something was definitely up.
"Yes, I understand. But . . . I think we might have a problem."
Just outside the back door, Faith looked behind her to make sure that Buffy hadn't followed her down. When she was sure that she was alone, she slipped her hand inside her jacket pocket and pulled the scrap of paper from it.
The grease from the chips had smudged the ink a bit but it was still legible.
"Okay, Lester Worth. Let's see why you're so special."
Sighing, she tucked the paper back in her pocket and began to walk across the back lawn.
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