Buffy walked slowly up the steps of the apartment building, having sneaked back in once the coast was clear of the assassins and vamps. She still wasn't sure if the plan had worked or not; judging by the fact that both the vamps and assassins had left, either the plan was a great success or a terrible, terrible failure. Walking in the back door, she listened for any signs of nosy neighbors or distress throughout the building. Satisfied that no one was wandering about, she crept up the stairs and down the hall to apartment 2B.
The door was wide open and when she looked inside, she grimaced at the carnage that lay before her on the living room floor. There was blood everywhere and she could barely keep the bile from rising up her throat. A wave of panic suddenly washed over her and she ran into the room, falling to her knees at Faith's side.
She was afraid to find out but she reached over anyway and tried to feel for a pulse.
Her hand went right through Faith's form.
She waved her hand through the bodies one more time and then looked up when she heard a door creak open. When she saw Faith peek out of the closet door, she sighed with relief and got back to her feet, feeling as though she might pass out from sheer giddiness.
The plan had worked! Faith was still alive!
Willow was going to get such a good birthday present that year!
"Jesus Christ," Faith said as she walked out of the closet, the confused and frightened professor walking out slowly after her. "It looks like a fuckin' slaughterhouse in here."
"That's what I've been trying to tell you. This scene has been playing on repeat in my mind for days."
"Sorry for ya," Faith said blankly as she stared at the gory scene. As she got closer, she noticed that Buffy was bruised and swollen and her eyes widened with concern. "Shit, did they catch ya on the way out?"
Buffy brought her hand up to the cut she knew was on her lip and smiled as she looked over at Faith. "It's just a little bit of magic."
"It's too late to run right now. You have something you need to do."
"I don't need to do anything." Faith bit back angrily.
"If you want to make it through the next five minutes, you're going to do exactly what I say exactly when I say it," Buffy said evenly, then looked over at the now terrified man. "Professor Worth, you too. We're not going to hurt you but if you don't do exactly as I say, someone else will. Do you have the lease to your apartment?"
"It's in my desk," he replied, his voice shaking.
"Good. Go destroy it, now. When you're done, take the keys to your apartment and toss them out the window."
"Why?" he asked as he began moving toward his desk with his hands up in the air still.
"Because the bad guys can't get in here without an invite, but if no one legally lives here, they can get in."
"We want them in here why exactly?" Faith asked, her brow furrowed with confusion.
"You ever been to a magic show, Faith?"
"You wanna get to the point, B?"
"Sleight of hand. We're going to make them think that they've killed you. If you're dead, the council will back off, the mayor will back off, and we can get you out of Sunnydale nice and easy."
"In case you haven't noticed, I ain't exactly David Copperfield here. How the hell are we supposed to do that?" Faith asked.
Buffy smiled and looked down at the orb on the coffee table. She picked it up and held it out for Faith to see. "Some nice home-grown magic. Having a best friend who's a witch is really starting to come in handy."
The professor came running back into the apartment and stood at Buffy's side. He looked at the orb and reached out to touch it but quickly pulled his hand back when Buffy yanked it away.
"No one can touch it but me or the magic won't work. Here's what happens: the orb is going to take the vision from my head and project it in the room. Sight, sound, smell, noise – it'll all be the same as what I saw. The assassins are already waiting outside . . ."
"Assassins?" Professor Worth asked nervously.
". . . and vampires," Buffy continued, giving him a look, "so there's no way we can get you out until they're sure the both of you are dead. They'll come inside once they see me leave."
"And what the hell are we supposed to do, hide in the closet?" Faith asked. She looked both dubious and hopeful at the same time, something that made Buffy crack a smile.
Faith seemed to think it over for a moment. She looked miserable still, Buffy couldn't deny that, but there was a glimmer of hope in her eyes now. She didn't want to kill Professor Worth or anyone else; she just wanted this to end and Buffy was going to do everything in her power to see that it did.
"How do you know they won't hurt you?" Faith suddenly asked, staring into Buffy's green eyes. Buffy smiled.
"Because they're going to think we fought and that I'm hurt and they'll be too focused on you to bother with me, so long as I'm not getting in their way. Now come on, we don't have much time."
She walked over to the closed door in the side hallway and opened it up, taking a quick peek inside. It was safer than the bedrooms; no one exactly ransacked closets for their linens but bedrooms were another story. She stepped back and held the door open.
"All aboard." She watched as the professor quickly ran in and then looked over to Faith who made her way over and lingered before stepped inside.
"Just wanted to say thanks," Faith said, looking from her feet up to Buffy's face, "for not givin' up on me."
"You can thank me after I knock your ass around for running out on me like that in the middle of the night."
"Fair enough," Faith replied with a grin, then wiggled her eyebrows. "You get me out of this, you can do whatever the hell you want with my ass."
"Still flirting in the face of death?"
"Still letting me?"
Smirking, Faith walked into the closet and turned around. As Buffy began to close the door she winked, but suddenly her hand shot out though and stopped the door closing all the way. Buffy looked at her and Faith was serious once again.
"How do I know when it's over?"
"When I come back for you," Buffy said easily.
"Ya better," Faith replied, and then Buffy closed the door the rest of the way.
She looked around the living room and took in a deep breath as she rolled the crystal orb around in her hands. Nodding to herself, she brought the orb up to her face and stared into it as it began to glow with bright vivid colors. The smoke inside it churned ominously and eventually began to settle down. Satisfied that the magic had done what it was supposed to, Buffy set the orb carefully down on the table where it was sure to be safe and made her way to the door. When she opened it up, she saw Faith on the other side, staring down at the knife in her hands with a distraught look upon her face.
The magic was indeed working.
She caught a glimpse of her own face in the mirror near the door and saw that the secondary spell Willow had created had also worked; it looked like she'd been in a regular knock-down drag-out fight. Touching her swollen eye but feeling nothing but smooth unmarred skin, she smiled a little at herself, then looked back at the girl still standing nervously in the hallway.
She reached out and tried to touch Faith's face but her hand went right through the image. Taking a deep breath, Buffy walked through the illusion and out into the hall, only looking back for a brief moment.
"Good luck, Faith," she whispered, then made her way down the stairs and out into the night.
Faith reached out and touched Buffy's face, surprised when she too felt smooth skin instead of the gross swelling and bruises.
"You ain't gonna stay like that forever, are ya? Be a real shame if I come outta this the same and you get stuck looking like the Elephant Man."
Buffy glared at her. "No. The spell will end when the immediate threat is gone, so pretty much when the assassins board their flight back to England. Once all of this disappears, we know it's safe to leave."
"Leave to where?"
"Wherever Giles can get us tickets to on such short notice. I told him nowhere cold. If we're hiding out, we're hiding out in style."
"We? You still plannin' on comin' with?"
"Yup. Until we're sure that the council has backed off, I'm stuck to you like glue. You might not be able to come back with me until we've dealt with the mayor, but I do want you to come back, Faith. This is your home now."
Faith smiled a little but didn't say anything. Instead she walked over to where her fake corpse lay and squatted down next to it, fully taking in the scene. She shook her head sadly and couldn't seem to look away.
"That was supposed to be me. Still can't fuckin' believe it."
"I know," Buffy said as she slowly walked over and stood behind Faith. "And we're not exactly out of the woods yet but Willow and Giles are working on it. The council won't know you're not dead right away. It'll be at least a day before they realize another slayer hasn't been called, but by then we'll be somewhere far away from here and hidden by a cloaking spell."
"Sounds like I'm still gonna have to do a whole lotta runnin'," Faith said.
Buffy nodded despite the fact that Faith couldn't see it and squatted down next to her. "Kinda beats the alternative though, huh."
Faith nodded this time though and managed to pry her gaze away from the bodies to look over at Buffy, who reached over and squeezed her hand. Faith squeezed back and, had it not been for the professor coming up next to them, there was no telling what could have happened next.
"I don't mean to sound ungrateful," he interrupted, "but I have a class to teach at eight-thirty and if I won't be there, I need to inform the university so they can cancel my classes for the day."
Taking a deep breath, Buffy stood up and offered him the biggest, fakest smile that she could muster. She hooked her arms through his and began leading him through the living room at a slow stroll.
"Actually, Professor, I think you may want to take a trip out of town for a while. If you're seen out in public, there's a good chance that scene," she hiked her thumb over her shoulder, "could become a reality again, just with less Faith. Do you think you can disappear for a while?"
The professor began to ramble about different dig sites he could travel to, excitedly jabbering on with more zest for his work than any one person should have. Buffy pretended to listen but stole a glance back at Faith who was still squatted down next to the gory illusion.
Faith reached out to touch the image of her own face but pulled her hand back at the last moment. She shook her head and looked over at Buffy, her eyes dancing with emotion. Buffy simply gave her a small smile.
They'd changed fate, together.
Now she just hoped that the new path they'd created would be better than the last one.
The sun had risen hours before but Buffy and Faith were still stuck in the small apartment, both of them trying to avoid the scene in the living room. The professor had decided to stay hidden away in his bedroom, packing some clothes away for the trip he'd be taking. Knowing they needed to stay out of eye sight as well, Buffy and Faith took to sitting around in the kitchen, neither girl particularly chatty but comfortable with the silence.
Faith had helped herself to the fridge and was currently munching away on some left over Chinese take away that Buffy decided smelled a bit too questionable to try.
"This is taking forever. When the hell are those creeps gonna leave town?" Faith complained with a mouthful of food.
"Soon, I hope. If they don't leave today we're gonna have problems dodging the council when they realize there's no new slayer." She took a deep breath and then grimaced, her face screwing up in distaste. "That stuff smells like your boots."
"Quit hatin'. You ain't ever smelled my boots," Faith replied as she slurped a long lo-mein noodle into her mouth.
"Trust me on this: they're quite aromatic." She peeked down into the carton Faith was eating from and grimaced. "You really should have rethought your snack choice. That can't be fresh. It looks all disgusting and wrong."
"So does your face," Faith retorted. She laughed at herself and Buffy rolled her eyes, but when Buffy looked back at her, she noticed that Faith had stopped chewing and was actually staring at her face in wonder. "Actually, it ain't. You can quit moping now, B. You're gorgeous again."
Buffy furrowed her brow and touched her face but it felt exactly the same still. Unable to find any mirrors in the kitchen, she peeked out the kitchen door and into the living room which was now clear of any sign of holographic gore. She looked back at Faith, her smile big and eyes wide.
"It's back to normal. The assassins are gone."
"A-fucking-men," Faith replied. She shoveled a few more forkfuls of food into her mouth and then stood up, tossing the empty carton into the trash. Buffy felt her walk up and peek over her shoulder into the living room. "Isn't this our cue to make a run for it? Suns up so we've got a short break before the mayor's vamps are back up and around. They think I'm dead but that doesn't mean the mayor is gonna just gonna let this mess sit here. He's gonna call in a clean-up crew and when they find a shocking lack of bodies, the hunt's gonna be back on."
Buffy nodded, "So we've got until dusk to get out of town. We can't risk going back to your place but we can swing by mine and grab some stuff. I have to tell my mom what's going on, then I have to get the magical protection from Willow, and then we have to meet Giles and get the tickets . . ."
"Then why the hell are we still standin' here then?"
Not waiting for a reply, Faith grabbed her hand and led Buffy out of the kitchen and through the apartment to the front door. Before she could pull her out, Buffy shouted back over her shoulder, "You can leave now, Professor Worth! Keep safe!"
"You too, young ladies!" he shouted after them as they peeked out into the hallway and raced out when they found it empty.
The clock was once again ticking and they needed to move, fast.
Despite the fact that the immediate danger was gone, Buffy and Faith still stuck to the back streets on their way back to Buffy's house. Daytime traffic was always fairly non-existent in Sunnydale so they didn't run into too many people. As they approached her house, Buffy saw that her mom's car was still in the driveway and she started jogging up to the front door. Joyce opened it just as Buffy was about to.
"Oh, Buffy!" Joyce said. She pulled Buffy into her arms and Buffy happily hugged her back, feeling like she was finally able to breathe again after the whole ordeal.
Why did moms have that safe-feeling effect? It puzzled Buffy but instead of questioning it, she basked while she could and started mentally preparing herself for what she was going to have to tell her mother.
"I'm so glad you're safe," Joyce said as they pulled back from the hug, her hands still on Buffy's upper arms. She looked over at Faith and, though it took her a moment, she smiled at the girl as well. "The both of you."
"Sorry for the drama, Mrs. S," Faith apologized, looking fairly self-conscious. Buffy knew she didn't have to be; her mom was one of the most forgiving people she knew. That and she'd always seemed to have a soft spot for Faith.
"Don't apologize, honey," Joyce said, stepping back into the house and indicating for them to follow. "I'm just glad that the two of you were able to work through your differences and get past this as a team. It's such a relief to know that there's someone else out there like, Buffy. As a mother it makes me sleep a tiny bit easier knowing that you girls can take care of each other."
Faith smiled though Buffy could see the guilt in her eyes. The brunette was going to have to get over that if they were going to stand a chance at staying safe together. But then it was Buffy's turn to feel guilty; how was she going to explain to her mom that she was leaving Sunnydale?
"Speaking of taking care of each other," Buffy began, looking up at her mother through her eyelashes, "Faith isn't exactly out of the woods yet. The council will be looking for her once they realize she's not dead and she's got some other bad luck following her too. Until we can find a way to keep her safe, she needs to leave Sunnydale."
Joyce frowned. "Buffy, I know you're an expert at this slayer stuff and that I'm just supposed to support you unconditionally – which I really try to do – but don't you think that now's a bad time to split up?"
"It's funny that you should say that," Buffy said brightly, "because it is a bad idea to split up, so we're not going to."
"Well thank god for that," Joyce replied.
"Which is why I have to go with her."
A silence fell over the room as Buffy had a staring contest with her mother. Joyce didn't look angry; she merely looked like she was weighing the pros and cons . . . and maybe thinking of ways to punish Buffy when this was all over. Buffy stood her ground, her gaze not wavering. She could feel Faith staring at her but she couldn't look away from her mother; it was a sign of weakness and she could not afford to look weak right now.
After several agonizing moments, Joyce finally signed and shook her head.
"I don't like it. I don't like it one bit."
"Mom," Buffy began pleadingly but Joyce cut her off.
"Let me finish. I don't like it. I don't like any of this life or death business." She took a long deep breath. "But I guess that sometimes things are too important for my displeasure to overrule. Buffy, I'm proud of you. Faith needs help and well, if it's protecting she needs, you're the person for the job. You're the best darn slayer I know." She quickly looked over to Faith. "No offense, dear."
"None taken," Faith replied with a grin.
"Mom?" Buffy said and Joyce looked back over at her, finally managing a smile.
"Do what you need to do, Buffy. You have my support. Just stay together, and please, please – stay safe."
Smiling, Buffy slipped into her mother's embrace once again and hugged her tightly. She basked for as long as she could but the sound of Faith's foot tapping eagerly brought her back to reality.
"We need to pack. We're leaving today," she said as she pulled out of the hug.
"So soon?" Joyce asked, surprised, and Buffy nodded.
"We need to be out of town before dusk. Would you mind calling Willow and letting her know we're here while I get some stuff together in my room?"
"Of course, dear."
"Thanks," Buffy replied, then looked over at Faith. "Come on."
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