Buffy rolled onto her back and pulled the blanket up tighter around her neck. Usually she would have fallen right back to sleep but her head was resting awkwardly on a rolled up towel and she was uncomfortable, not to mention cold. Where were her Yummy Sushi pajamas when she really needed them?
Used to sleeping alone, she realized that she'd pulled the blanket around her like a cocoon and that she'd probably left Faith shivering and exposed to the night air. Keeping her eyes closed so she could keep dozing, she fluffed the blanket over to where Faith was laying. It didn't seem to land on anyone though. She reached out her hand to feel for Faith and when all she came into contact with was air, her eyes immediately shot open.
"Faith?" she said aloud, her brow furrowed as she tried to wake herself more. When a few moments passed and there was no reply, she tried again, louder. "Faith?"
The house wasn't that big; even if Faith was in the bathroom with the door closed, she still should have heard her.
Buffy sat up and rubbed her eyes with her palms, trying to clear the sleep from them. When she looked around the room and let her eyes focus, she immediately spotted a bad sign: Faith's clothes were gone.
Faith's clothes were gone and there was a note stuck to the door with what looked like a piece of gum.
She hopped up from the floor and ran over, easily pulling the note down and leaving the sticky blob of gum behind. The writing was hard to make out in the dark so she ran over to the window, hoping the moonlight would be enough. She held the note tight in her hands as she read over it.
I wish I could close my eyes for a second and make all of this go away, but every time I open them everything is still all fucked up and I wanna scream until my throat bleeds. I've gotta do what I gotta do to make it through this, and that's gonna mean doing something bad. It's either that or I have to say goodbye to the world and I ain't ready for that yet. It's been quite a ride, B. Maybe we can't pretend the picture is perfect, but thanks for tryin' for me. Sorry.
Buffy's eyes widened as she read until finally she crumbled the paper up in her palm and stared out the window, jaw clenched and eyes filling with angry tears. Not only had Faith ducked out on her in the middle of the night but it sure sounded like she was about to do something really stupid too. Monumentally stupid.
And in doing so, she was going to fulfill what Buffy had seen in the vision.
Shaking her head angrily, Buffy made her way over to the closet and began to dress in her still damp clothes. Yes she was angry and yes she was going to severely injure Faith if – no, when – she found her, but more than that, she was just scared. Faith had two enemies after her right now and Buffy knew that Faith believed she could outlast the assassins at least for the time being. That meant that she was going to take care of the other enemy.
She was going to prove to the mayor that she was still his girl, even if it was just to buy her some time to get out of town alive.
Running down the steps and out of the house, Buffy ran through the darkened streets until she came upon a liquor store a few blocks away. It was closed but there was a pay phone outside. Realizing that she had absolutely no money on her, she reared back and punched the money bank at the bottom of the phone unit, causing a waterfall of coins to come spilling down around her feet. She picked up a quarter and put it in the slot . . . then completely froze.
She couldn't call Giles' house! What if the assassins had tapped his phone lines? They'd know exactly what was going on! Closing her eyes, she thought hard and scoured her memory banks, trying to remember the number that had been programmed into the cell phone. There were numbers, definitely seven of them, and she was pretty sure there was a five and a one. A three as well; of that she was positive.
Sighing, she slammed the handle on the heavy phone unit hard enough to crack but not destroy it. She couldn't remember the number. Trying not to get too discouraged, she decided to take her chances and dialed the number for the school library. She nearly cried with relief when someone actually answered.
"Buffy? I've been trying to ring you for hours. What happened to your phone?"
"We left the house we were staying at and ran into more of the mayor's vamps than we could handle. Faith and I survived our dunk in the pool but the phone did not."
"But the both of you are okay?"
Buffy sighed. "We were. We went to another house on the list but when I woke up Faith was gone. She's gonna run, Giles, but not before she takes care of something else."
"And I suppose it's the something else that you're worried about."
"You have no idea," Buffy replied sadly. "When we were hiding she confessed that the mayor had been in contact with her. He figured something was up and asked her to kill someone for him; a test of her loyalty."
"Good lord," Giles said alarmingly.
"She's playing right into the vision I saw. If she goes to find that guy, the assassins are going to find her and kill her." She rubbed her forehead and then banged her palm on the phone in her frustration, causing even more coins to spill out the front. "How am I supposed to find her now?"
"I believe I may be able to provide some insight to that," Giles replied. "Someone broke into my office and used my computer. In their haste to leave, they turned the monitor off but left the computer running. Now it may be a coincidence that Faith left you for a few hours last night, I'll admit, but I believe that perhaps she was doing some research of her own."
"How can you be sure?"
"I can't, I'm afraid. But now that you've made me aware of her contact with the mayor and his request, I think that my suspicions may be correct. There was a search engine running and one Professor Lester Worth was the inquiry made."
"Is he local? Do you think it's him?"
"He is, and I believe he may fit the criteria of an assassination attempt by the mayor. Professor Worth made an archaeological discovery and unearthed what he believes a new species. If what he found could threaten the mayor's reputation or any plans he's making in any way, I certainly wouldn't doubt him as a candidate for elimination."
"Then that's our only lead. Where can I find him?" Buffy asked, feeling an ounce of hope that the situation could still be stopped. Giles' sigh brought her right back down to earth though.
"Buffy, if Faith has already decided to go after the professor then her fate is set. That is what the seers at the council observed and that is the vision that they shared with you."
"If they shared it with me, maybe they want me to change it," Buffy said hopefully. "I can't just sit back and do nothing. Please Giles, just tell me where to find her."
There was a long pause on the other end of the line and Buffy danced from foot to foot anxiously. She understood Giles' point but she couldn't wait all night long for a response. Time was not a luxury she had to waste.
"Giles?" she asked again.
"Very well. He lives in an apartment building at 410 Newcastle Way, apartment 2B. Do you know where it is?"
"Roughly. I'm heading there now."
"Wait! Before you go, I must insist that I see you first. Willow has been working night and day on a spell that may help. We'll meet you at the grocery market six blocks east of the apartment in fifteen minutes and show you what you'll need to do."
Buffy looked around the neighborhood to gauge her location and focused on the street sign she saw about a hundred yards away.
"I'll be there in ten. Don't be late or I'm going in."
She hung up the phone and took off running down the darkened street, hoping beyond hope that it wasn't already too late.
Giles hung up the phone and looked off to his side where Willow was standing, obviously having heard the entire conversation judging by the look on her face. She held a crystal orb in her hand that was swirling with various shades of colored smoke.
"Do you think it could work?" he asked quietly.
"I hope so," Willow replied weakly. "We need to move fast if we're going to make it there in time. Come on."
Giles nodded and grabbed his suit jacket from the back of a chair before following Willow out of the library.
Precision and planning was needed to pull it off and they had neither.
It was going to take a miracle.
Buffy stood in the alley beside the grocery store, looking and listening for signs of Giles and Willow. When she heard a car coming down the otherwise abandoned street, she looked out and saw Giles' Citroen pulling up. Willow eagerly jumped out of the vehicle before it was even parked and ran over to Buffy, hugging her tightly.
"I'm so glad you waited for us," Willow said, her voice muffled by Buffy's shoulder.
"And I'm glad you guys showed up," Buffy replied, meeting Giles' gaze as he approached them. "Now tell me what I have to do and tell it to me fast."
"Before we go over the spell, there's something you should know first," Willow said, pulling back from the hug. She looked up at Giles who continued as Buffy waited expectantly.
"We took a different route and drove past the apartment in question," Giles said. "While we didn't see Faith, Willow was able to detect several hostile presences using a protection spell."
"The assassins?" Buffy asked.
"Worse," Willow said. "The assassins and a whole bunch of vamps. They're all out of sight but they're definitely there."
"They're probably waiting to see if she's going to go through with her task," Giles offered.
"Shit," Buffy breathed and looked out into the night. After a moment she steeled herself and looked back at her friends. "Vamps I can handle. I still have my stake so I just have to fight smart. The assassins shouldn't gun for me unless I get in the way. If I can get to Faith before she gets in, we might still have a chance. If she's already in there . . ."
"Even better," Willow said. She reached into her pocket and produced the small orb, handing it carefully to Buffy.
"How does this thing work?" Buffy asked, looking at it curiously.
Willow smiled nervously. "This is what you do . . ."
Faith approached the front of the apartment building and looked up at it, taking note of every detail. Three stories, two apartments on each floor. Five other tenants that she would have to dodge on her way in and way out. Two cars parked in front and several more alongside the building. Neighboring buildings far enough away that she didn't have to worry about anyone hearing her.
She shook her head and took a deep breath, her heart in her throat as she prepared herself for what she was about to do. Cracking her knuckles, she walked up the front steps and into the building, heading up to the address written on the paper that was still hidden away in her pocket.
The three sisters lay prostrate on the hard ground of their hidden chamber, swirls of white smoke dancing around in the air above them. Euphemia groaned and her muscles went rigid as she began to receive a vision. Syntyche and Hypatia soon followed suit, laying with their backs curled and their limbs twitching.
The cloud of white smoke took shape and a scene began to play out before them: Faith walking into the apartment building and approaching the door that read 2B; her hesitation showing before she knocked quietly; the professor opening the door and greeting her friendlily.
"It has begun," Hypatia croaked.
The tallest of the assassins snickered under the shroud of darkness of a large willow tree, the other two assassins flanking him on either side. He popped another sunflower seed into his mouth and crunched it loudly as he watched Faith enter the apartment building across the street, completely unaware of their presence.
"Now we let her get acquainted with the good ol' professor and then we do our job."
"Shouldn't we take care of her now before the old guy gets hurt?" one of the other men asked.
"Nah. Saving the geezer isn't a part of the job description. If he gives us trouble, we dispose of him too. He's of no consequence to us."
Seemingly appeased, they continued to stare at the building and looked up at the second floor as a light went on in a front room. The assassin in the middle went to pop another seed into his mouth but completely missed and hit one of the others on the head when he saw a blonde girl go running past and up into the same building just a few minutes later.
"Bloody hell. It's the other one," he grumbled. He opened his cell phone and dialed a number, then spoke when someone answered. "Yeah, we're here. The blonde showed up. You want us to . . .? Right, will do." He clicked the phone shut and crossed his arms over his chest, watching the building as his companions stared at him. "Nothing's changed. We give it a few minutes and then we go in. The cheerleader gets in the way, we take her out too."
Buffy charged up the stairs and to the second floor of the building. She immediately found the door marked 2B and instead of knocking politely, she turned the knob and banged her shoulder into the door, sending it – and her – flying inside. She braced herself, expecting to see a gory mess or catch Faith in the act.
Instead she found Faith sitting on the couch with her elbows on her knees and her head in her hands, the professor sitting next to her and offering her a glass of water. Both the professor and Faith looked up at the intrusion and Buffy sighed with relief to find them both alive.
"Oh thank god," she said to herself. She closed the door behind her and walked into the room as Faith stared at her, looking confused and exhausted.
"What're ya doin' here?" Faith asked. She looked completely miserable and the professor actually had his hand on her back, trying to comfort her.
Buffy looked at the coffee table in front of them and saw Faith's knife resting there. It was sitting closer to the professor, a sure sign that he'd taken it from Faith and put it out of her reach.
"I should be asking you the same thing," Buffy said evenly.
Faith shrugged. "Figured that with the mayor off my back I could ditch the dicks with the guns and get outta here. Guess I figured wrong."
"This?" Buffy indicated the space around them. "This is the vision I had. You walked right into this, Faith! You're making it happen!"
"I didn't have a choice," Faith said miserably, looking back down at her lap. The professor tried once again to offer her the water and she took it this time, sipping from the clear glass.
"You still don't," Buffy replied after a moment, instantly making the professor and Faith look up at her concerned. She took the knife from the table and set the orb down, then looked apologetically at the professor. "I'm so sorry that you're caught up in this mess."
"No one has to get hurt here," he tried to bargain, holding his hands up to show that he was unarmed.
Faith jumped up from her seat and took a step away from Buffy. "B, I can't!"
Buffy stepped closer and held out the knife with its handle toward Faith. "It's too late to run right now. You have something you need to do."
The assassins watched from below as a few shadows crossed in front of the windows. They briefly considered storming in but when Buffy exited the building with a swollen eye and blood dribbling from the corner of their mouth, they were happy that they'd bided their time. If the blonde had gone inside to stop their target, it was obvious that she'd failed and was walking away to lick her wounds.
They waited until she'd limped most of the way down the street before leaving the cover of the shadows and walking out into the night. Looking back up at the apartment, they removed their guns from their holsters and began to walk up to the front door. There was no discernible noise in the building though they could hear footsteps above them. The closer they got to the apartment, they could hear people talking; a man begging and a woman telling him to shut up.
That was their cue.
All three men lined up outside door 2B and screwed the silencers onto their weapons. They waited until they were all ready and then counted to three before charging into the small apartment. They surprised Faith whose knife had just slid across Lester Worth's neck, leaving a deep gash in its wake. Before Faith could even step away from his slumping body, all three assassins took their shot, aiming directly at her chest.
She hit the floor just a second after the professor.
Her hands immediately clasped at her chest, trying to stop the blood flow, but there were more wounds than she had hands. Within moments her eyes widened and her head fell to the side, a small trickle of blood pooling on the carpet from her mouth.
The assassins waited with their guns raised until she was completely still, all signs of life having disappeared with her last breath of air. Her eyes remained opened as they checked her for a pulse, which of course they weren't able to find. Without much more ado, they stepped out into the hall and left the crime scene behind, the front door wedged wide open.
The apartment was completely silent until, just a few minutes after the assassins left, muted footsteps sounded up the stairs and in the hall. A few vampires stood at the doorway, their eyes glowing yellow as they took in the scene before them. They knew already that the professor was dead judging by their ability to enter their apartment without an invite.
Two of the vamps walked into the apartment and approached Faith, looking down at her with disgust.
"Guess the boss' pet isn't number one anymore," one of them said. The other vamp laughed and, after making sure there were no signs that they'd been there, they walked out, ready to deliver the news to the mayor.
Back inside, the orb lay on the coffee table, the smoke still swirling and completely unchanged from when Buffy had put it there.
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