Buffy could vaguely hear someone shouting at her, but her head felt like it was packed with cotton and she couldn't quite make out the words. She opened one heavy eyelid and then the other to find her mother hovering over her in a panic and gently shaking her shoulders.
"Buffy! Buffy, honey, can you hear me?"
"Mom?" Buffy replied groggily, her tongue feeling too thick for her mouth.
Suddenly there was a dart hovering in front of her face and she tried to focus on it while her mother danced it around to keep her focus on it.
"Poison or tranquilizer?"
"Tranq. Two of them," Buffy managed as she sat up with her mother's help, her head still swimming and vision spinning.
"Oh thank god," Joyce replied and tossed the dart to the side so she could help Buffy to her feet. "Buffy, what happened here?"
Buffy knew that she could make up some kind of a lie about a rogue demon hunter or vamp seeking vengeance but knew that would only make her mother worried enough to possibly consider relocating them. She grunted with effort to get to her feet and relaxed a bit when she felt Joyce's arm wrap around her to hold her up.
"Faith," she said evenly, unable to mask the disappointment in her voice.
"Faith broke into our house and shot you with tranquilizers? Buffy, I know you girls aren't getting along these days but I haven't seen her in weeks; I hardly believe she'd just stroll in here and . . ."
"I shot her first," Buffy interrupted, earning a disapproving look in return. "It's a long story but the Council is after Faith and I was trying to help her."
"By . . . shooting her with a tranquilizer gun?" Joyce questioned, unable to follow Buffy's logic.
By now they'd walked down the hall and were in Buffy's room where they gingerly rested down on her bed. Joyce looked confused and concerned and just about two seconds away from crossing into Overprotective Mom zone. Buffy couldn't risk that, especially seeing as that she had to make a hasty escape to find Faith . . . just as soon as her legs decided to wake up, anyway.
"I know it sounds crazy, Mom, but it was for her own good." When Joyce continued to stare at her, Buffy took a deep breath and began to explain. "Somehow the Council got wind that she's not working for us anymore and they're on their way to Sunnydale as we speak. They don't want to ‘rehabilitate' her any longer, whatever that means. They want a pliable new slayer that'll bend to their will."
"But I thought that a new slayer isn't called until the previous slayer . . . passes," Joyce said. She stumbled over her words, not wanting to remember the fact that her daughter had died at some point.
Buffy stayed silent and met her mother's eyes, not wanting to say the words. It took Joyce a moment but then her eyes widened in sudden realization.
"They're coming to kill her?"
"They'll be here in the morning," Buffy said sadly. "I know she and I aren't exactly BFF's these days but I can't let that happen to her. Not by cowards with guns. She doesn't seem to care though -- maybe it's some kind of death wish, I'm not sure – but I thought that if I could keep her hidden away, this would all blow over."
"Did you try speaking to her nicely?"
"Mom, I'm not completely without finesse. I tried it the easy way; she chose the hard way. I thought maybe we were in the process of finding a common ground and then, well . . . and then she shot me."
Buffy could still taste Faith's lip gloss on her lips and it was doing its best to distract her and make her remember what had happened before Faith had shot her. She pushed the memory down though and focused on the task at hand.
"Buffy, I don't like this. There are men with guns coming for her and she's out there alone, but if I let you go after her you're putting yourself in the line of fire."
"All part of the job," Buffy said with a shrug.
Joyce looked at her for a moment before she replied, "No, it's not. But I understand why you want to help her. Maybe, just maybe, it's time we call the police for a change." Buffy started to protest but Joyce cut her off. "Buffy, you're the best darned vampire slayer that I've ever known, but you're not impervious to bullets."
"Neither is Faith," Buffy said after a short silence passed between them. "And if something happens to her . . . there's no one there to help or take care of her. She's alone. I finally get that."
They were quiet for several long moments, letting the silence speak words neither of them wanted to say. Joyce held Buffy's hand tightly; it was apparent that she didn't want to let go but Buffy knew that she would relent in the end. Joyce finally sighed and patted Buffy's hand, then stood up from the bed.
"You'd better get going. Once you find her, you can bring her back here and we'll work on it together. Just . . . please be careful, honey."
"I will. Thanks Mom," Buffy said with a smile, then stood on wobbly legs and gave her a quick hug.
She took a deep breath and then made her way downstairs and out the front door. Her left arm was still numb from the shoulder down, Faith was missing, there was less than twelve hours until the Council assassins arrived and Buffy still had no idea how to stop them – and Faith – from having their lethal run-in.
A renewed sense of determination washed over her and she smiled as she walked off into the night. She'd always liked a challenge and now she finally had a real one.
It was nearly four hours later and Buffy had been up and down the streets of Sunnydale with no luck. Faith had effectively closed off their slayer connection making it impossible for Buffy to find her using any other means than a watchful eye. There were no signs of the girl anywhere; not at her apartment, the motel, the many cemeteries they'd patrolled, or any of the usual late-night haunts.
It was as if she'd completely up and disappeared.
Heck, maybe she'd finally realized just how dangerous the situation was and skipped town before the shitstorm could rain down on her. Buffy couldn't blame her.
She really couldn't blame her for much of anything anymore.
The night air was cool, her feet were tired, and she was more than looking forward to a nice warm bed but she didn't want it to look like she was giving up so easily. She wasn't giving up; she just had no idea how to find Faith in the first place!
Despite the late hour, Buffy realized that she was close to Giles' apartment. She didn't doubt that he was still awake, anxious about everything that was going on. Although she was sure there was nothing he could do to help besides offer encouragement, she decided to take a chance and knock on the door anyhow.
The living room light was on and it didn't take Giles long to open the door, still fully dressed in his clothing from the previous day. He tilted his head to the side and a look of confusion crept up on his face.
"Buffy? What are you doing here? Where's Faith?"
"Have you ever heard the phrase ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you'?"
There was a long drawn out pause as Giles stared at her intently. "Are you feeling quite right, or was that a biblical quote that just left your mouth?"
Buffy grimaced as she realized where that handy quote had come from.
"Yuck. Can I try again?" At Giles' amused nod, she continued. "How about: an eye for an eye? I tranq'd Faith so she tranq'd . . . I. Long story short? I woke up from happy sleepy time and she was long gone."
"That was a rather unfortunate turn of events," Giles said and stepped aside to let Buffy through.
She breezed in easily enough and walked right over to the couch and had a seat. The urge to kick her feet up on the coffee table was there but she couldn't take more than one Giles lecture after the night she'd had. She wasn't even sure she could take the one she was positive she was about to get.
"I'll say. One minute she was sleeping on my bed and the next minute she was creeping up on me while I was bubble-glove shadow boxing." Buffy looked up and saw the look of complete confusion on Giles' face. "Not important. She was too mad at me for tranqing her to listen. Then she was up in my face and things were said, then the next thing I knew there was a dart in my stomach and another in my shoulder."
She conveniently left out the part about the impromptu kissage; she wasn't sure she could deal with that one alone, let alone with her Watcher knowing too. There had to be boundaries sometimes in Slayer/Watcher relations, and she was putting a big one up. At least for the time being.
Much to her surprise, Giles seemingly abandoned the lecture she was expecting and took a seat down next to her. He remained silent and pensive for several long moments before he finally looked up at her tired face.
"Faith isn't like you or I, Buffy."
"I know. She's reckless and careless and thoughtless, and a whole mess of other words that end in ‘less'."
"I suppose you're right, but you're forgetting a very important adjective that I think is the crux of the problem: friendless. Faith traveled here completely alone from Boston once Professor Dormer was murdered by Kakistos. She's been alone in her pain and guilt, yet she still reached out to you; a kindred."
"We reached out to her, Giles. She slapped our hands away," Buffy defended.
Giles offered her a placating smile and continued.
"Buffy, I don't expect you to see things as I do, but I know how close you are with Xander and Willow. Your friendship with them is quite amazing; strong and caring, resilient . . ."
". . . and completely impenetrable."
Buffy's proud smile faded when Giles finished his sentence. He clasped his hand around hers to show that he wasn't trying to be hurtful; he merely was trying to make a point.
"It's a remarkable friendship; really, you have reason to be quite proud of it. But when Faith arrived, Buffy, it was easy to see that you weren't as welcoming as you'd let on. She tried to become a part of your group but she didn't realize how nearly impossible that was. Cordelia and Oz have found a place but even they sit on the outside from time to time. Most people would understand, but Faith took that as the ultimate rejection."
"We never meant for it to be that way; I never meant for it to be that way," Buffy said quietly.
"I know you didn't, dear," Giles replied, giving her hand a comforting squeeze. "The most unfortunate part is that we can't go back and change that; I can't go back and try to make things easier for her, take her from that horrid motel and give her a proper home, and you can't go back and try to welcome her more fully. We've passed that point, and I don't believe Faith would allow us that chance even if we could offer it now. Her ego is bruised and she'll do anything she can to prove that she doesn't fit with us so that she doesn't have to face any more rejection."
Buffy smiled wryly to herself as she stared down at her lap.
"Thanks for the pep-talk, Giles. Go Team Buffy!"
"Buffy, you know that I'll always support you. I just think it's time Faith had some support too. I've . . ." he chuckled to himself and took off his glasses, rubbing the bridge of his nose, "I've been going over it again and again all night long and can't help but feel the sting of guilt for not having been more helpful. The Council is sending men to kill Faith and I feel partly responsible for the entire predicament."
Now it was Buffy's turn to console Giles with a comforting hand on his back.
"Well, you can take a load off, Giles, because I'm here to carry my share of it. Maybe now we can try to put things right by not letting it happen. I'll hit the streets in the morning; it's useless now, she's hiding from me. Maybe I can catch her off guard if I start early. If I find her . . . when I find her . . . we'll need your help to find a safe place to stay."
"Yes, of course. I'll see to it right away . . ." he began to stand but a small hand around his forearm stopped him.
"I appreciate the eagerness but we both need some rest. Do you mind if I stay here for a few hours? We can start fresh in the morning."
Giles nodded and grabbed the phone from its perch, handing it to her.
"You'll inform your mother of the plan so she doesn't worry all night?"
"She'll worry anyway, but sure."
She took the phone and dialed the familiar number, smiling as Giles patted her shoulder before making his way up the steps to his bedroom. Sleep might not come easily, but at least trying to might distract her from the feeling of guilt that was plaguing her weary body.
Buffy awoke with a start, slipping off the uncomfortable couch and landing with a thud on Giles' living room floor. The morning sun was shining through the window and she looked around confused, trying to get her bearings.
Couch. Books. Saucer and teacup.
Right, she was definitely at Giles'.
She didn't dwell on it though; she realized what had woken her suddenly from her dream and tossed her off the couch. Since she'd been looking for Faith the day before, she'd left their slayer connection wide open. Faith seemed to have blocked it once she'd tranq'd Buffy, but now it was back and stronger than ever and coursing through her like lightning.
Closing her eyes, she focused on the pull of the connection. It was warm and tingly and . . . her eyes shot open and she leapt up from the floor.
"Giles! I know where she is!" she shouted as she ran toward the front door. "Start looking for a safehouse; I'm not coming back without her!"
She didn't stick around and wait to see that Giles had heard her. The way she had yelled, she was pretty sure that the whole block had heard her. There was no time to linger though; she knew exactly where Faith was and judging by the position of the sun in the sky, it was one of the stupidest places she could be in right now!
It didn't take her very long to reach the familiar motel. The parking lot was nearly deserted with the exception of a handful of old cars and one black sedan that was eerily out of place. Keeping her eyes trained on it, she quickly approached the building and stopped dead in her tracks when she reached the bottom of the few stairs that led to Faith's motel room.
Her breath caught in her throat and she had to take a step back around the corner to stop the three men dressed in black standing just outside Faith's door from seeing her. She could feel Faith and knew that she had to be just inside the door, completely unaware of the danger that lurked just outside. Straining her ears to listen, she heard one of the men knock on the door and a strained silence followed.
"Go ahead and knock it down," one of them said quietly.
Suddenly the door went flying in and Buffy jumped from the loud bang it made.
How could Faith be so stupid as to actually come back here? It was probably the first place they were going to look for her! And now she was trapped in there with them!
Steeling herself, Buffy took a deep breath. She knew what she had to do.
Turning quickly around the corner of the building, she ran up the five steps and approached the door. Just as she was about to run inside, someone grabbed her from behind and covered her mouth to muffle the surprised scream she let out.
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