Chapter Seventeen

Buffy went through her closet and dresser drawers agonizing over what to pack while Faith sat Indian-style on her bed, doing nothing but watching her. Part of her wanted to ask Faith why she wasn't helping but the other half of her knew that if Faith even tried to help, she'd have to duct-tape the other slayer to the bed.

"I don't even know what kind of clothes I should be packing," she complained aloud. "We'll both be sorry if I pack winter clothes and Giles sends us to Mexico."

"For what it's worth, it could be totally worse. We could end up in summer clothes in Alaska."

Buffy stopped packing and looked up at Faith, a frown upon her face.

"I could see how that would be even less of the good." She sighed and rubbed her palm over her forehead. "This isn't working. I need to know where we're going. Once I do, I can have us packed and out of here in less than five minutes."

"I'll believe that when I see it," Faith replied under her breath, then caught the pair of socks Buffy threw at her head. She reclined back on Buffy's bed with her head on the pillows and began to toss the folded pair of socks into the air, catching it over and over again.

Buffy watched her for a few moments and wondered why it bothered her more that Faith was playing with a pair of her socks than it did that she was laying on her bed. Maybe it was because they'd had to learn to deal with each other over the past couple days, or maybe it was because of the fact that they'd basically shared a makeshift bed the night before.

They'd also shared some kisses in said makeshift bed.

The memory hitting her like a truck, Buffy suddenly realized she was still watching Faith and quickly went back to packing. Her sudden movement caught Faith's attention and Faith stopped throwing the pair of socks up and down long enough to look over at her.

"What?" Faith asked, sensing that the atmosphere had changed somehow.

"What what?" Buffy replied, trying to play it off like nothing.

"What do you mean, what what? What happened?"

"Nothing happened," Buffy said, looking up at Faith and then quickly back down to the bag in front of her.

She felt Faith watching her but didn't look up, pretending to be focused solely on packing. Faith didn't seem to be buying her act though.

"You're thinkin' about it, aren't you?"

"About what?" Buffy asked, stopping what she was doing to shoot Faith a look that would have sent them into an argument spiral previously. All it did this time was make Faith's lips crack up at the corner a little.

"Kissing me," Faith replied easily.

Buffy slowly resumed what she was doing, choosing her reply carefully. She made sure not to look at Faith as she answered, "Sorry to burst your ginormous bubble but I was thinking more about getting us out of here safely."

"Ah," Faith said nonchalantly. She rested back down on the bed and began tossing the socks up in the air again. "To clear things up, you said you were thinking more about our great escape."

"Yes, exactly," Buffy replied, relieved that Faith was finally catching on.

"But you have to be thinking about something at least a little bit to be thinking about something else even more, right?"

Buffy looked up at her and tilted her head to the side a little as she pursed her lips. Why was Faith choosing to focus on this now? Who cared if she'd been thinking about kissing her? It was a little bit difficult to banish from her mind!

Instead of replying, Buffy went back to quietly agonizing over what to toss into the bag next. She was hoping Faith would let it go too but judging by the quiet chuckle and the grin the girl was wearing, she knew that wasn't the case. Laying the sweatshirt she'd been holding down atop the opened bag, she sighed and fully faced Faith. She opened her mouth to speak, ready to freely admit that she'd been thinking about the kiss, when her mother cleared her throat in the doorway. Faith shot up into a sitting position and Buffy looked over at her in question.

"I spoke with Willow, honey. She and Xander are on their way over with your tickets and everything else you'll need."

"Thanks mom," Buffy said with relief.

"I didn't know what I could do to help so I rounded up a bunch of things you might need while gone."

Joyce walked into the room and set a medium-sized manila envelope on the bed and Buffy picked it up, taking a quick peek inside. She could see her passport and her birth certificate, along with a wad of cash that made her eyes bulge. She looked up at her mom who smiled nervously.

"I was saving it to have the roof replaced but you need it more right now," Joyce explained. "I don't know if you'll be gone for two days or two weeks and the thought of you having to live off of pop-tarts and slim jims is making me insane with motherly worry."

"Mom, you don't have to . . ." Buffy began but Joyce cut her off.

"Yes I do. I'm your mother, Buffy, and it's my job to take care of you and worry about you. Now is there anything else that I can do?"

Buffy thought about it and looked over at Faith who didn't seem to react at all except to return her gaze.

"Uh, some sandwiches maybe? We haven't really eaten properly and I don't know how long we'll be traveling for before we reach our destination."

"Of course," Joyce said with a smile. "Peanut butter and bananas on whole grain?" At Buffy's nod, Joyce looked over at Faith. "Ham and swiss on rye?"

Faith looked a bit shell-shocked that Joyce had remembered her favorite sandwich but somehow managed to nod through her disbelief. Joyce smiled and turned to walk out but Buffy stopped her right at the threshold.

"Mom, wait," she began nervously and Joyce turned around, waiting for her to continue. "There's one more thing. After this is all over with; once the dust is settled and it's safe for us to come back . . ." she paused and took a shaky breath, "do you think we could clean out the spare room for Faith?"

She could feel Faith look over at her but she didn't meet her gaze, afraid that she'd lose her nerve or possibly that Faith would see something that Buffy wasn't quite comfortable revealing. Not when they still hadn't quite yet landed on steady ground in their friendship.

Joyce looked suddenly very proud of her daughter and nodded her head. "I'll start working on it today."

Buffy watched as Joyce looked over at Faith and smiled, then turned and walked out the door and down the steps. Not knowing quite what to do next, Buffy focused once again on the bag in front of her. She could feel Faith glance at her but she didn't look up.

"Why'd you do that?" Faith said after a few minutes, sounding as though her voice didn't want to cooperate with her.

Daring to look up, Buffy found herself lost in Faith's intense gaze. She opened her mouth to speak but discovered she was having a hard time with her words as well.

"Because I wanted to," she replied simply.

They might have stood there staring at one another for the rest of the day but the sounds of footsteps jogging up the carpeted steps pulled them from their quiet moment. Buffy looked away first, putting on a shaky smile when Willow entered the room with a few items dangling from her hands.

"Hey Wills," Buffy greeted her. "Hi Buffy," Willow replied, then looked over at Faith and managed a smile. "Hi Faith."

"Red," Faith nodded. She swung her legs over the side of the bed and stood up, approaching the two girls. "I should probably thank you for, uh, what you did earlier."

A genuine smile on her face now, Willow's eyes lit up and she waved her hand dismissively. "It was nothing. Besides, you should save your thanks for when you get back. And I do mean when and not if. I don't want to brag but . . . okay, I'm totally going to brag: the protection charms that I made are so cool!"

She eagerly dumped the things she'd been carrying onto the bed and sorted through them until she found what she was looking for. Pulling what looked like a hemp bracelet from the pile, she checked it over and then began to tie it on Faith's wrist. It had a small dull stone woven into it and Faith looked at it while Willow worked away.

"This will protect you from even their most powerful seers," Willow explained. "It's a Dyruvian holy stone. Keep it on you at all times and they won't be able to use magic on you and you won't end up getting hurt."

"Hurt me?" Faith asked. "Assassins don't hurt people, they kill them."

"But their assassins failed so they'll move on to the next phase now," Willow replied. "They'll use magic to find you and magic to hurt you or worse. Giles wasn't exactly clear on their methods but he told me that witches and mystics are the second response."

"Great," Faith said bleakly. She sat back down on the edge of the bed and looked down at the bracelet, running it through her fingers.

"But we can protect you against them. If the bracelet fails, we have a second line of defense: Buffy."

Willow put her fingers through what looked like some kind of ancient brass knuckles but made of dull stone and covered with intricate engravings. Buffy raised one of her eyebrows.

"I'm going to punch the magic people with brass knuckles made by some kind of voodoo cavemen?" she asked doubtfully.

When Willow gave her an apologetic look, Buffy raised her other eyebrow. She didn't have time to defend herself from the blow Willow threw at her chest. Her fist landed square on Buffy's sternum and though she winced, she didn't get the pain she'd been expecting . . . until Willow pulled her fist back and an intense burning sensation began on her ribs.

Dropping to her knees, Buffy clasped one hand to her chest and braced herself up with her other hand on the carpet, looking up at Willow with tears stinging her eyes. Both Willow and Faith dropped down next to her, Faith giving Willow angry looks between worrying about Buffy.

"I'm sorry!" Willow apologized. "Giles said it would take your breath but he didn't say it would be this bad!"

"What did you do?" Buffy asked, trying to catch her breath as the pain began to subside.

She started to get up and Faith immediately ducked under her arm, lifting her with ease. Faith walked her to the edge of the bed and sat down alongside her, checking her over. Buffy couldn't stop looking at Willow though and at the now smooth brass knuckles on her hand.

"It's a cloaking spell," Willow explained, kneeling on the floor and looking up at Buffy. "It takes a swift blow to transfer the markings from the object to a person. They're engraved on your ribs now. They'll wear off over time but for the time being, the council can't see or find you."

"Then why didn't you just put them on me?" Faith asked angrily.

"Because you both need to be protected. Buffy will wear a bracelet too but we needed a second line of defense and that's her. So long as you stay within one hundred yards of each other, you'll both be protected by its magic."

"I still don't get why . . ." Faith began but then went quiet, obviously trying to work it out in her head. Buffy looked over at her and her heart sank when she saw the hurt flash behind Faith's eyes. "Right. Got it. If something happens to me, B still needs both lines of protection."

"It was the best plan we could come up with on such short notice and with only one rune stone," Willow said sadly, looking from Faith to Buffy with worry in her eyes.

With the pain in her ribs now completely gone, Buffy reached out and laced her fingers through Faith's. When Faith looked over, she offered her a tentative smile.

"Hey, it's okay. We're gonna be together anyway so it doesn't really matter. Besides, you were beat up enough the other night. Time for me to take my share of it."

Nodding her thanks, Faith looked down at the mattress and noticed the other bracelet that was meant for Buffy. She picked it up and let go of Buffy's hand so that she could tie it on her. Buffy regarded the bracelet and then groaned softly.

"Couldn't you have at least picked out something that goes better with my wardrobe?" she asked and Willow grinned.

"Sorry, Buff. Magic isn't always the best for the fashion conscious. At least you'll be safe though."

"Yeah, but at what cost," Buffy said playfully.

"Speaking of cost," Xander chimed in as he entered through the doorway with a sandwich in one hand and some papers in the other, "you're gonna owe Giles big time when he realizes how much of his cash I used on these tickets."

Buffy smiled brightly. "Mexico?"

"New York?" Faith asked.

"Even better," he replied. He tossed the tickets over to Buffy and then took a whopping bite from his sandwich, crumbs falling messily from his lips.

Buffy quickly opened the tickets and her smile fell when she looked them over. "Montana?"

"Yup!" he said excitedly.

Buffy opened her mouth to speak but the closed it, knitting her eyebrows together in confusion. She let Faith grab the tickets from her hands and watched as Faith had much of the same reaction.

"Why the hell would you send us to Montana?" she asked, equally confused.

"Because nobody would go to Montana! It's the perfect place to hide out!" he said enthusiastically. "Think about it: the council has people all over the big cities and they'd pretty much be able to figure out all of the other obvious spots. Montana has mountains and possibly some livestock, though I think it'd be better to hide in the mountains than under a cow. Just my opinion there."

"He's probably right," Faith said after a moment. I woulda picked LA or New York City. Never woulda even considered Montana."

"Is this really our best option?" Buffy asked, directing her attention to Willow. It wasn't that she didn't trust Xander, she just questioned his judgment on occasion. Example: why would he pick Montana when he could have picked Mexico and pictured them frolicking in bikinis? And didn't he know she loved the beach? She tried very hard to suppress her pout.

"I think it is," Willow said. "Besides, they can get to big cities a lot quicker. Were they to send anyone after the two of you . . ."

"We'd have more time to run," Buffy finished for her. "Ok, I get it. The best plan beats the more attractive bikini plan." She ignored the weird looks they all gave her and decided she had another question that needed answering. "Won't the council think it's weird that I'm missing too?"

Willow and Xander looked at each other and shared a knowing smile. Reaching for one of the last items on the bed, Willow opened up the small velvet satchel and pulled yet another crystal orb from it. The orb was already swirling with smoke, a spell having already been cast on it.

"We're going to throw them off your scent. Giles is going to tell them that you've gone to visit your Dad in Miami. They can check up on you all that they want and they'll see a nice scene of you frolicking on the beach and having lots of fun in the sun."

"Nice," Buffy said. She took the orb from Willow's hand and inspected it carefully, then frowned as she realized something. "Wait, you had to take the visuals from my head to make it work the last time. How did you get the visuals this time?"

Willow didn't answer. Instead she looked over to Xander who was looking a little bit more then guilty. Buffy's eyes widened and Faith couldn't help but grin.

"Sorry Buffster," he apologized with a sheepish smile. "I'm a teenage boy. I can't be held responsible for the party my brain has when I have such lovely female friends."

Buffy had the common decency to blush and Willow cut in once again, trying to save her from any more embarrassment.

"We're sending the orb with a special courier later today. It'll reach Miami tomorrow and Giles has a friend who's going to receive it and set it up. By then you and Faith should be stashed safely away in a cabin resort in Montana. Giles had me pick up another rechargeable cell phone," she took the cell phone from the mattress, the last item she'd brought with her, and handed it to Buffy with the power cord. "He said not to test its water resistance this time."

"I'll try my best," Buffy replied. She took the tickets back from Faith and looked them over once again. "Our flight leaves in three hours so we need to get a move on. I'll finish packing some clothes for us. Wills, Faith is gonna need some ID if we want to get her on the plane. Do you think you can cook something up?"

"I'm on it," Willow said with a nod. She made her way downstairs, her determination obvious in every step she took.

"What about me?" Xander asked excitedly. He took another whopping bite of his sandwich and waited for a task.

"Well you can stop eating my sandwich for starters," Faith said.

He stopped chewing, his eyes wide as he looked down at the half-eaten sandwich. Looking back up, he swallowed loudly and held the sandwich out for her which she eagerly took and began eating.

"Sorry," he apologized. "When someone hands me a sandwich, my first instinct is to eat first and ask questions later. Anything else I can do to help?"

"We'll be ready to leave shortly," Buffy told him. "Go and get another sandwich if you want. We'll be down in a few minutes."

Nodding, Xander left them alone in the room and went downstairs to see if Willow needed any help. Buffy began to properly pack now, taking t-shirts for the days and sweaters for at night. Her jeans would be too short on Faith so she packed several pairs of yoga pants and anything else she found that she thought might fit. She began tucking the clothing into the first bag and then into a second when the first one was full.

"Try not to worry about clothes," Buffy said. "Once we're settled and figure out where we are and what's around us, we can buy you some replacements until we come home."

"Think your friends would mind stopping by my old place and packing up some stuff before the mayor clears the place out?" Faith asked.

The mayor! Buffy had almost forgotten about him.

"Shoot, I knew I was forgetting something," she replied. "I'll ask Angel to do it. He's busy planning his move to LA but I'm sure it's something he can take care of quickly. Besides, Giles is gonna have to recruit him to help take down the mayor since we won't exactly be here to do it."

Faith sighed and ran a hand through her hair. "You sure you wanna do this, B? The Hellmouth needs a slayer, especially with the mayor up to no good."

"I'm sure," Buffy said with a nod. "Angel's a good fighter and he's been around more baddies than I care to think about. He can handle what's going on in Sunnydale until we get back. Besides, if things get really hairy, we can come back and just stow you away for a few days. Whatever happens, it'll be fine. We'll be fine."

After sharing a look, Faith stood from the bed and began to help Buffy packing clothes into the bags. They were heading off to the middle of nowhere with no weapons, no friends, limited funds, a questionable wardrobe, and no idea how long they had to stay there.

But at least they were going together.

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