Buffy was pretty sure that she'd never had a panic attack before. Her nerves were generally unshakable especially when it came to protecting those she loved and cared about. Maintaining her cool was something that she normally took pride in.
But as she scrambled around on the old mattress and fumbled with the crumpled sheets to protect her modesty, she was pretty sure that a panic attack was in order. Her first concern was that Faith had disappeared. There was no way she wanted to be caught in the dimension alone, especially when things were getting good between them. Really, really good.
Her second concern though, after she'd opened her eyes, was how the hell had Faith managed to get across the room and dressed in a new outfit in the matter of two seconds, and why the hell was Satsu with her? Was it some kind of cruel joke just so they could watch a Buffy-sized meltdown?
As she finally slipped under the covers and pulled them up -- all the way up and right over her head -- she couldn't help but try to rationalize it all aloud.
"I'm dreaming. I'm dreaming, bad dreams, and this is the part where I'm naked in front of the classroom, except there is no classroom. Why is there no classroom?" She peeked out of the covers and saw the curious gazes still focused on her so she lowered her head back under and continued to freak out. "There is no classroom, and my two lovers - my two female lovers - are looking at me like I'm crazy. Maybe I am crazy. Oh no, I'm hallucinating. Or maybe it's hypoglycemia? Cheese! I need a piece of cheese!"
Across the room, Echo and Sierra watched in confused amusement as the Buffy-shaped lump continued to move around and rant.
"Do you think we should interrupt her?" Echo asked.
"I don't know, this is pretty amusing. Maybe give her a few more minutes."
They both waited for nearly another minute as Buffy continued to rant about some kind of cheese-man and weird dreams. Echo sighed, clearly anxious.
"They sent us here to protect her and we're gonna let her suffocate. We've gotta stop her."
She ignored Sierra's half-hearted protest and walked the few steps to the bed, hesitating for a moment before poking a random spot on the Buffy-shaped lump under the blanket. When Buffy froze and went completely quiet, Echo cleared her throat quietly.
"Umm, hey. I don't have any cheese, but if ya come out of there I'm sure we can make some sense about what's goin on."
It took a few moments, but Buffy finally peeked her head out from under the blankets and looked warily between Sierra and Echo before settling her gaze suspiciously on Echo. She couldn't be Faith, could she? Surely after everything that had just happened between them, Faith would say more than some clever comment about cheese. Still, Buffy had to be sure.
"Fill in the blanks: Slaying makes you what and what?"
Echo stared at her for a good long moment, her head tilted to the side, trying to figure out exactly what Buffy was getting at. The quiet hum throughout her body was pretty distracting though.
"I'm gonna go with sweaty and a bit ripe."
One of Buffy's eyes narrowed even more, eying Echo more suspiciously than before.
"Definitely, definitely not Faith. But if you're not Faith, and Faith's not here, where did she go and how did you get here? And why is Satsu kinda blonde?"
All eyes fell on Sierra who just shrugged nonchalantly.
"Pretty sure I don't have a say in how I look, and the name's Sierra. Ninja Barbie is back with the English guy and the redhead. Kinda trippy meeting her like that. Thought she was gonna puke when she saw me, but then she went from sick to pissed off when the redhead explained to her the deal with Echo and I. Got a feeling she and Faith are gonna tear the shit out of the Dollhouse though."
Buffy's eyes widened more and more as Satsu spoke, unsure if she was hearing things right.
"Wait, you're not Satsu? Satsu was cloned? Oh boy, information overload. This is getting really trippy."
"You think this is bad? Imagine how Satsu and Faith are going to react when they realize they're going undercover as their clones."
Buffy's mouth fell open as she tried to rationalize what Sierra had just told her. That's when a scary reality hit home.
"Are you telling me that Satsu and Faith are back with Giles? Together? At the same time? "
Echo smiled awkwardly and bent down, picking up Buffy's shirt and placing it on the bed next to Buffy.
"You're probably gonna wanna get dressed. There's a lot we need to fill you in on."
Faith hit the floor with a loud thud, unprepared for a proper landing. Two seconds before she'd been a flick of her tongue away from sending Buffy to happy land and now she was flat on the ground, her tongue still sticking comically out of her mouth.
She quickly sat up and looked around, taking in her surroundings and the several pairs of shocked eyes staring at her.
"Uh," she began, looking between them in confusion, "little help? Blanket might be a nice way to start. Explanation might be a good way to finish."
Giles casually grabbed the fleece blanket from the back of the sofa and tossed it over to her, seemingly unfazed by her nakedness as he looked at his desk and reached for his cup of tea. Willow, however, couldn't help but stare as Faith opened the blanket up to wrap it around her perfect body that was still on display to the entire room. Was Faith showing up naked par for the course around here?
Wait, if Faith was naked, did that mean . . . had she been naked with Buffy? Mutual slayer nakedness? Willow's mouth fell open in shock.
"Better close it Red, you're gonna catch a fly," Faith said, breaking her out of her daze as she casually stood up and wrapped the blanket around herself like a bath towel. "So, good job with the witchy mojo on gettin' me back guys, but unless she's hiding in another room, ya forgot to zap B back with me."
"I'm afraid that we didn't forget her," Giles replied, finally looking back towards Faith. "It appears that we've found ourselves in a bit of a precarious situation and, at the moment, Buffy is more secure at the safe house than she would be here."
"Situation? You got any idea what she's gonna do when she realizes she's there alone and there's no explanation why I up and vanished? Now that's gonna be a situation."
"You're naked," Willow said, seemingly unaware that she'd said it aloud.
"Ten points to the keen observer," Faith said with a wink.
"Does that mean that Buffy's . . . that you, or, that the both of you . . . well, is there . . .?"
"Workin' out our problems one at a time," Faith interrupted Willow's babbling, the smallest of grins on her face. "Giles? Gonna clue me in on the situation or are we gonna play a game of strip charades? Gotta say, it's gonna get pretty interesting when I guess wrong the first time," she said, indicating the blanket wrapped around her body.
"Though I'm aware of your love of games, I'm afraid we've no time for them now. Faith, you remember Quentin Travers?" he asked and indicated the man sitting on an armchair. When Faith narrowed her eyes at him, Giles continued. "Before you ask, yes, he did die, and no, this isn't a zombie or the First. In his council days, Quentin learned of a company heavily into cloning and promised Slayer DNA in exchange for his own virtual immortality."
Travers just scoffed from across the room and crossed his arms over his chest, obviously unhappy with Giles' explanation.
"B gave me the basics; said that there's a Faith-clone walkin around too. What's the what? She go rogue and now ya want me to take her down?"
Said so casually that Willow's stomach tightened; was that the kind of dark task that Faith was used to these days? Goddess! They really needed to bring Faith and Giles back into the fold.
"Quite the contrary," Giles answered. "Echo - your clone - is truly innocent in all of this, as is Satsu's clone, Sierra."
Something dawned on Faith then. She looked behind her and saw an Asian girl watching her with interest.
"I'm guessing that's Satsu then," she said, nodding her head once in Satsu's direction.
"I'd say the one and only, but from what they're telling me, that's not exactly the case," Satsu said, her arms crossed over her chest.
"Know the feeling," Faith replied evenly, pushing down all of the feelings that were trying to break through to her exterior. Satsu. The one Buffy was with in Scotland. Part of her wondered how a girl like that was the first one to break through Buffy's wholesome, heterosexual barrier. The Gay must be strong in this one, she thought.
That, or Buffy had just been really lonely.
"Quentin has come here in good faith, or so he'd like us to believe. Apparently, the woman who runs the cloning program - Adelle DeWitt - is unhappy with him for giving her your DNA and not that of Buffy."
"How the fuck did he get my DNA in the first place?" Faith asked, looking over at him. Seeing the look on his face, she knew that there was only one opportunity he would've had to get it. "You took my blood when I was in a coma? Of all the fucking cowardly, sneaky-ass things . . ." Her eyes were dark and dangerous as she glared at him, slowing advancing in his direction until she felt a warm hand on her shoulder. She looked back to see Giles there and instantly stopped, giving him a moment to further explain.
"For all intents and purposes, you were dead, Miss Lehane," Travers said, making her look back towards him. "I won't offer insincere apologies; you were a thorn in the Council's side from the moment you were called and I felt no remorse in taking a few meager vials of blood. Besides, we all know that you made it through the ordeal unscathed. I do, however, know that I erred in what I did once I had your DNA, and that's why I'm here. We need to stop Adelle. I fear that if she gets her hands on Miss Summers' DNA - or that of any of the new slayers that Rupert told me about - she'll build a force behind her so strong that no one will be able to stop her."
"How do you know she doesn't have a whole army of slayer-clones there now gettin' ready to come and take what they want?" Faith asked, ignoring Travers' comments about her.
"Echo and Sierra can feel one another via the slayer bond but they don't feel that same connection with any of the other actives," Willow explained. "With the two of them on our side, Adelle's actives don't stand a chance against a slayer."
"So that's it then?" Faith asked, shifting a bit uncomfortably now. "I go in, take out the pawns and kill the queen?"
"When did you start using chess references?" Willow asked, one of her eyebrows raised.
"Since I taught her how to play," Giles answered, standing firm behind Faith. "Faith," he began quietly, getting her attention, "we've discussed what the best course of action is, and we don't believe that involves killing Adelle or the other actives. With the shady activities Adelle has taken part in with the slayers, we don't know who or what the other actives are. The issue of identifying the other actives will need to be addressed , and Adelle herself needs to be put in her place."
"A place with bars and thick cement walls," Willow chimed in.
"And how do you suppose we do that?" Faith asked. "Place like her hideaway's gotta have mad security. You really think they're gonna let me walk through the front door and nab the boss lady?"
An amused grin appeared on Giles face then.
"Actually, yes." He looked over to Satsu and Faith followed his gaze before meeting his eyes again.
Was Giles implying what she thought he was implying? It was really smart yet really stupid all at the same time.
"Seriously?" Faith asked, scratching her head with her index finger. "You want me and the kid to go undercover as . . . our clones?"
"Precisely," Giles said easily.
"Marina and I have conjured up a glamour that will make your appearance and speech patterns match Sierra and Echo's more accurately," Willow said almost excitedly. Then she held out her hand and revealed two glowing white orbs about the size of a marble. "We also conjured these. You swallow it and it will leave your body naturally after a day or so. We're not sure how they have the actives programmed but the orb will let you receive the orders that the programmers send. You won't be inclined to follow the orders like the actives are, but at least you'll know how to respond."
Faith frowned as she stared at the swirly glowy orbs, wondering exactly what the hell 'naturally' meant. Did that mean that she was gonna . . .?
"Yeah, not sure I'm comfortable with that," she said, eying the orbs suspiciously.
"Trust me, if we didn't think that Adelle was a threat and that the slayers weren't in potential trouble, we wouldn't ask this of you, Faith, especially seeing as how closely tied to it you are. I fear we don't have many options at this point though," Giles said sadly, unhappy with the rock and the hard place he was leaving Faith between.
He knew it was the right decision though. Slayers were in trouble, and that's what they did now; helping trouble slayers. And given Faith's state when she'd come from the other dimension, he figured that she'd have a vested interest in it now, for Buffy's sake.
Faith thought about it all for a moment or two, her brow furrowed deeply, before she finally sighed and sagged her shoulders in defeat.
"Fine, but these things get stuck in me? Someone's gonna pay."
She reached out to grab the two small orbs from Willow's hand but stopped when another hand dipped in and took one of the orbs. Looking up, she watched as Satsu popped it into her mouth and swallowed with a loud gulp.
"You didn't think that I was gonna let you have all of that fun alone, did you?" the girl asked with a grin, amused at the confused look on Faith's face.
"Trust me, I'd let you have the whole shebang if it meant I got to go back to B so we could finish what we started," Faith said with a wink, smiling lewdly before popping her orb into her mouth and swallowing it just as easily.
Satsu could have her fun but no way was she getting Buffy again, even if Faith wasn't going to either. Faith could question her sudden possessiveness later. First, she had just one more question. Slowly turning towards Giles, she tilted her head to the side and furrowed her brow in confusion.
"So wait . . . if me and her are playing super-spy, where the hell are Echo and Sierra?"
Buffy slowly exited the bedroom, still adjusting her clothes despite the fact that they were perfect. It didn't matter; she still felt like Echo and Sierra could see through them anyhow. She shut the door behind her, leaving Faith's now neatly folded clothes piled on the bed. Though she wasn't sure where Faith actually was zapped to, she knew she probably made quite an entrance wherever she'd landed.
Slowly making her way to the kitchen area, she found Echo and Sierra sitting at the kitchen table waiting for her. Echo looked up at her and their eyes met, a definite moment passing between them. Though it did the trick for Buffy in New York, convincing her that Echo was Faith, it just didn't work anymore. She knew that Echo wasn't Faith, and despite her obvious attraction to the girl . . . it ended there.
She walked the last few steps to the table and sat down across from them, her gaze now shifting to Sierra. There were several noticeable differences between Satsu and Sierra, the hair being the most obvious, but there was no doubt that they were the same person. That led Buffy's mind down a whole new path, contemplating just how many slayers had been cloned and exactly how that had been done without anyone knowing.
Wanting to distract herself from that scary thought, Buffy decided to get a few questions off her mind.
"Well, I guess my first question is, if Faith and Satsu are going undercover at AFH, why are the two of you here? Wouldn't it be wise for the both of you to go with them? Strength in numbers and all that?"
"I was thinking the same, but your pal Giles told us that we'd be better served playing guard dog to you," Sierra answered.
Echo gave her a silent look and the girl backed down, letting Echo take the lead.
"You met Adelle, right?" she asked, watching Buffy's face closely. When Buffy nodded, she continued, "Well, if she's anything, it's driven. She found out you're the original slayer and she wants your blood. She's not gonna stop until she gets it, one way or another."
"How did she find out about me?"
Echo shrugged, her hands anxiously fiddling with the old checkered tablecloth.
"The redhead - Willow? - her and that other chick worked some kinda mojo on me and Sierra, found out that we have some kind of recording device in our heads. Whatever you said to me when we had our encounter, Adelle got a private screening of it."
Buffy's eyes once again widened when she realized that if Adelle saw their conversation, she also saw her extracurricular bedroom activities with Echo. Her cheeks instantly reddened and she could barely bring herself to look up at Echo's face again.
"Wait!" Buffy yelled and then disappeared under the table before Echo or Sierra could stop her. "Is it still recording? The head-cam? Did she see me just now?"
Echo bent over and lifted up the table cloth, looking under at Buffy.
"You're safe, Buffy. Willow worked some kind of a glamour. Whatever your Faith and Satsu see, that's what she'll see. At the moment, Adelle's probably seeing what she thinks is me and Sierra roughing up your friends while trying to find you."
Giving Buffy a moment to digest that info, Echo sat back up and looked over at Sierra, ignoring the look that the girl was giving her. Sure Buffy was acting a bit nutty, but could you blame her? Her world had been turned upside down with the whole clone thing, and having seen her in the state she was in when she and Sierra first appeared, well . . . it was pretty safe to assume that Faith and Buffy were having some kind of a relationship together.
After a few moments, Buffy climbed out from under the table and sat back on the chair, a sheepish look upon her face.
"Sorry about the slight case of zany. I'm not normally this crazy," she half-heartedly explained.
"It's okay, you're understandably freaked. You really don't have much to worry about though," Echo reassured her. "Giles told us that there was no way Adelle could access this place without a slayer and a witch, and there's no witch that could pull off accessing it besides the two that already knew about it."
As crazy as it sounded, Buffy wasn't worried about herself. Her only real threat was a loaded gun and she was pretty sure that no one could get one in or out of the safe house. Her concern, of course, was how long she'd have to be stuck there for.
"Did they say when they were going to carry out their plan?" she asked.
"Well, we gave them a short briefing of what to expect when at AFH and Willow was working some more of her mojo. Pretty sure they were almost set to leave when they sent us here and they're hoping to have the mess mopped up pretty quickly. Willow's still planning on zapping you back with us at the one day mark, so you just gotta sit back and be patient."
Buffy scoffed, smiling to herself as she finally sat back in the old wooden chair.
"Easier said than done." A few moments of silence passed as she began to think of Faith and Satsu and of the danger they were facing in trying to breach the Dollhouse. Would Willow's magic really hold out and convince Adelle that they were Echo and Sierra? And even then, what were they supposed to do when they got there? Buffy shook her head, her thoughts drifting to another place. "The both of you seem to be taking all of this really well. Is that something you're programmed to do? To adapt really easily?"
Echo and Sierra looked at one another before Echo offered Buffy a small shrug.
"Don't know. I don't know what's me and what's just a program, yunno? I mean, I guess we've probably seen it all so it really shouldn't faze us, but it's hard to say. I don't really remember much of anything except what I've seen and heard today."
"That's gotta suck," Buffy said quietly, a sympathetic look on her face.
"Didn't until I knew about it all," Echo said with a self-deprecating laugh. "Not that I'm complaining," she quickly continued, "I don't have memories but I can still feel certain things; I can feel Satsu, and I can feel you too. Giles says it's cos I'm a slayer too, but . . . I dunno. Doesn't matter, I guess. I'm happy to bring the place down if they're hurting people and being all shady. Just don't know what it means for us once all's said and done."
"Giles will help. We all will," Buffy said, trying to sound enthusiastic and reassuring even though she was unsure of what she was saying. "Willow can work on restoring your memories, and hey - if you're a slayer, you can work with us."
Echo smiled sadly. She appreciated what Buffy was saying even if she knew herself that it wouldn't quite work that way.
"I appreciate the optimism but I've gotta face the fact that I have no memories that are my own. I was never given a chance to make any. I'm not even a real person."
Echo's inner conflict was palpable and Buffy couldn't stop herself from reaching out and putting a gentle hand over hers, making the girl look up at her.
"I know it's all really crazy right now but things have a weird way of working out around us." She offered Echo the most reassuring smile that she could and did her best to ignore the current that seemed to be running up her arm from the simple touch.
Echo smiled back weakly and only hoped that the info she'd given Faith and Satsu was enough to make Adelle's glass castle come tumbling down, for all of their sakes.
Faith anxiously looked out the window of the helicopter and down at the rapidly approaching city, wondering silently when was the last time she'd been to New York. She remembered going to a Sox game at Yankee Stadium shortly before she got called, sneaking in with her friend Jamie and trying to hitchhike back to Boston when they'd missed their train.
That felt like ages away though and she couldn't help but think back to the now and the very real threat of this whole thing falling through and her and Satsu getting caught. She really hoped Willow was as good as she'd been when she'd called the slayers back in Sunnydale because it was going to take that caliber of magic to fool Adelle.
She finally looked back over at Satsu and at Travers who was sat between them looking as calm and collected as ever.
"What'd ya do, take a Valium or something?" she asked, put off by his nonchalance. "Share 'em if ya got 'em cos I feel like I'm 'bout to burst a blood vessel or something."
Travers just laughed to himself, not even sparing her a second glance.
"I have no choice but to be perfectly calm," he answered. "If Adelle sees me nervous and thinks for even one second that I've gone behind her back, she'll have no qualms about killing me on the spot. You and Miss Miura, on the other hand, are completely safe. There's no way she'd put an investment as big as either of you at risk by her own hands. Miss Rosenberg used her magicks and I'm confident that she won't fail you. The only real test will be to control your anger and not let the plan fall apart."
"He says to the ex-con with anger management issues," she mumbled under her breath, eying the pilot warily.
"Just play it cool, Faith," Satsu said, looking over at her from across Travers' lap. "Echo gave you the card, right?"
Faith reached down into her jacket pocket and plucked out a plain business card with just a telephone number printed on it. Holding it up, she nodded at Satsu.
"Good," Satsu continued. "We're close enough; make the call now. Tell him he's got ten minutes to get there if he wants his chance to blow the lid on this place. If he can't get there, we need to get in there and try to finish this anyhow. Be sharp and think on your feet. Willow's magic will guide us; all we have to do is be smart and play it cool."
"Jesus Christ, no wonder B took ya under her wing, you're like a little carbon copy of her," Faith said with a nervous smile. "Pretty soon you'll be leading your own slayer squad."
"That's the plan," Satsu said, sitting back in her seat and gazing out the window. "I'm all about Buffy being happy, but that doesn't mean I want to stick around and watch her make kissy face with you either."
"Good thing cos I don't like an audience," Faith said, grinning as she watched Satsu roll her eyes.
"I think it goes without saying that if I hear it through the grapevine that you've hurt her in any way, I'll kick your slayer ass, right?" She glanced back over at Faith, offering her own grin.
Faith just chuckled and flipped open a small black phone, shaking her head slightly.
"Got a feeling I'm gonna be hearing a lot of that."
Travers shook his own head and crossed his arms over his chest.
"I've heard of some bizarre love triangles in my day but this one takes the proverbial cake."
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