Faith found herself standing in a darkened square-shaped room with a single light beating down on her from a hole in the center of the ceiling, leaving the rest of the room bathed in darkness. She tried to move but her limbs felt heavy like they were filled with lead. Her head was cloudy, barely letting her focus on a single thought. She closed her eyes and tried to concentrate, silently praying that her enhanced slayer hearing would give her some hint of where she was at, but there was nothing. The only sound she heard was an occasional drip somewhere nearby.
"Hello?" she managed to rasp out, her voice thick and hoarse.
As if out of nowhere, she saw a golden light in the corner of the room. It took a moment or two for her eyes to focus but she realized that the light was coming from a person. It was beautiful and warm and eerily familiar.
"Faith," Buffy answered, the golden light around her growing more brilliant as she neared Faith and the center of the room.
"What are you doing here?"
"I'm your beacon in the storm, Faith. Close your eyes and listen to the sound of my voice." Buffy's voice was soft, almost ethereal. She sounded far-off despite the fact that she was standing close enough to Faith now to touch her.
"If I close my eyes, I'll forget you." Her eyes were filled with fear, begging Buffy to understand. "They're gonna break me."
"They can take me from your head but they can't take me from your heart."
Faith regarded her for a moment, burning every inch of her face into her memory before reluctantly closing her eyes.
"Now, open your eyes, Faith."
Her eyelids were heavy and all she could seem to concentrate on was the sound of the drip-drip-dripping, but she slowly and surely began to open her weary eyes.
"Come on, Faith, open your eyes!"
The voice was much louder now and definitely not Buffy's. She focused her eyes just enough to find Satsu hovering above her, her eyes wild as she stared down at her.
"I was dreaming," Faith said as she tried to sit up but was impeded by a number of tubes and electrodes attached to her mostly exposed skin. When the hell had she slipped into the little bikini dealy she was wearing?
"About what?" Satsu asked, trying to distract the girl as she gingerly slid the IV needle out of her hand.
Faith winced slightly but ignored the slight stinging sensation.
"Buffy. She was gonna be my . . . something. My bacon, I think." She looked down and frowned as she noticed what Satsu was doing, then took in the matching bikini-like outfit the girl was wearing.
"Your bacon? Okay, that's just weird. But if you remember Buffy, it means they haven't gotten to you yet, either."
"You mean I still have my memories?" Faith asked, feeling her strength coming back to her ounce by tiny ounce as she sat forward again.
"Either that or you're pretty happy to have some half-naked stranger hovering over you."
Faith chuckled and lifted her arm so that Satsu could remove the last of the electrodes from her sides.
"It's not a bad way to wake up but I'm pretty sure I prefer 'em small and blonde."
"Me too," Satsu said with a wink. "Before you go getting all territorial on me, we've gotta find a way out of here. I've about had it with this freaky clone stuff. No one's been in or outta this room since I came to about fifteen minutes ago."
"How long were we out?"
"Half hour, I think. They had us hooked up to some kinda drug cocktail to keep us down. Diazepam keeps us knocked out and cyclobenzaprine is a muscle relaxant so it's suppressing our slayer strength." Faith raised an eyebrow at her and she continued. "My dad's a doctor."
"How'd you wake up if they had us drugged?"
"The med delivery system stalled. Only needed a few minutes without the stuff pumping through me for my metabolism to start to burn it up. You'll be feeling better in like ten minutes but I don't think we should wait around that long."
At that point Satsu had Faith disconnected from the last of the rubber tubing and she ducked her head under her arm, lifting her up out of the chair. Faith's limbs still felt heavy but she was at least able to stand now with Satsu's help.
"Any sign of the FBI guys?" Faith asked as they hobbled over to the door and slowed down to peek out and check if the coast was clear. The marble floor in the lab area was cold against her bare feet and she suddenly realized that they had her favorite pair of boots stashed somewhere. Bastards!
"Nope. Don't think they made it in. It's too late to worry about it now. We'll have to ask the coven for help because we can't do this on our own."
Finding the hallway completely deserted, they quickly hobbled down it until they stumbled upon a flurry of activity in the large central room. Satsu pulled them over to the side and they hid behind a partial wall so that they were able to watch what was going on.
Several of the actives were suited up and waiting for directions from one of the many handlers that were helping them get geared up and combat ready.
Adelle was standing off to the back with her arms crossed over her chest, watching the activity with a pleased smile on her face. Everything was falling into place for her. Sierra and Echo were gone but she had Faith and Satsu to replace them. And the best part of all was that her plan had worked perfectly. When she sent Quentin to locate Giles and the other slayers, she knew that there was no way that they would just let him walk away with the information. In fact, she was counting on them trying to stop him.
She just wasn't counting on him actually trying to help them out.
That didn't matter though; what mattered was that she knew from day one that she could never fully trust Quentin, and that was why, when they'd created his clone, they outfitted him with the ocular hidden camera just like all of the actives had.
Once she'd knocked out Faith and Satsu, downloading the information from the unconscious Quentin was as simple as anything. After watching the footage she knew exactly where to find Giles, and she also knew that they were stashing all of their enrolled slayers in a castle in Scotland.
All she had to do now was gear up her troops, swarm in, and wait for Buffy to come back from her little mystical hideaway. The rest would fall into place. She only wished that she'd made more actives for her team, but she knew that time would come soon enough.
"What do you think they're up to?" Satsu asked as they spied on them from their hidden spot.
"Looks like they're gearing up for war. Betcha any money they had Echo and Sierra followed earlier . . . probably led them right to Giles' place. Why bother with us if they can get their hands on a thousand girls just like us?"
"But it's Buffy she wants; why bother with the peons when she can have the princess?"
"Think about it from a cloning standpoint," Faith whispered, her eyes trained on Adelle. "You don't make a clone from a clone; you make clones from an original. Bitch probably figures it's the same with the slayer. She doesn't want the ones that came after B; she wants the original copy so she can make as many copies of her as she can."
Satsu shook her head and narrowed her eyes, her anger building. She knew that Buffy didn't need a protector but she'd be damned if she didn't feel just the smallest bit protective of the girl. It came with the whole 'being in love with her' deal.
"That's fucked up. She's got a whole room full of actives in there, none of which are slayers. What the hell is she trying to do, build an army?"
"That's precisely what I'm trying to do," Adelle said from across the room, her eyes finally moving over to Satsu and Faith. "Oh, you didn't really think that we don't monitor every square inch of this facility, did you?"
There was no reason to run; they'd never escape from the place without the right security access, and that was if they could make it away from the swarm of actives. With that in mind, Faith stepped out from behind the small wall clad only in the metallic bikini-like outfit they'd dressed her in, ready to make at least a moral stand if not a physical one.
"Well no way am I using your changing rooms then. Next thing I know my goodies will be playing all over the internet."
Satsu stepped up next to her in solidarity as they began a slow stroll into the eye of the storm.
"She's very much like you, you know," Adelle said, tilting her head to the side as she observed Faith. That statement alone was enough to make Faith stop dead in her tracks, seething with anger. "No matter how many times we programmed her with completely unique personality profiles, there's a part of her that always comes out. She's a bit untamed, a bit rough around the edges."
"Guess the clone doesn't fall far from the tree, huh," Faith said, her voice low.
"It doesn't quite matter now, does it?" Adelle asked, approaching them slowly. "Echo is gone, and even if we could get her back, she's fatally flawed. No sense in using faulty product when I can get something better; a sure thing."
"You think that cloning B is gonna take away all your problems? You're dreaming, lady. She's stubborn, proud, and a real pain in the ass. You seriously want more than one of her running around?"
"In fact, I do. Your lesser slayers will provide a nice addition to our standard team, but Miss Summers, well . . . we have special plans for her. Using her blood, we're going to create an army. Heightened senses, preternatural abilities, unmatchable strength, and all from the original source. In the right hands it will be unstoppable."
"And you don't see a problem with that?" Satsu asked, her eyes dark and dangerous as Adelle finally reached them and stood only an arm's length away.
"Why should I?" Adelle asked. "You have your slayer army; why can't I have mine?"
Quicker than Adelle could have anticipated, Faith lashed out and spun her around with her arms up in the air, pulling her back against her chest so that she could keep her immobile. She leaned her head down, her lips dangerously close to Adelle's ear, and whispered,
"Because it's wrong."
There was a sudden flurry of activity in the room as the actives jumped into action, surrounding the two girls with their weapons drawn. Satsu stood behind Faith, their backs touching as they spun in a slow circle to gauge their enemies. Adelle didn't struggle; she simply shuffled along with Faith to minimize her discomfort.
"Let her go!" Several of the actives yelled again and again, getting more and more agitated as Faith and Satsu ignored them.
They continued the dance for several minutes, none of the actives willing to get hurt with a reckless false step.
"Nice move, slick. What now?" Satsu asked between clenched teeth.
"You leap into the fray and distract them so I can get the hell outta dodge and have a happily never after with B?"
"Keep dreaming!" Satsu yelled. "I've got seven on my side. We can take 'em."
"Nine on mine, and no we can't. They're human and they're programmed to protect her. They don't have a choice to back down."
"Seems that you're in quite the jam," Adelle said breathlessly and grunted as Faith pulled her arms back a little bit tighter. "They'll not back down. They will protect me and this facility to the death."
Faith grinned maniacally as she leaned down and kissed Adelle fully on the cheek leaving a smudge of her dark lipstick behind.
"Then buckle up, buttercup. I go down, I'm takin' you with me."
She braced herself, muscles coiling under her skin as she prepared to leap into the fray with Adelle as her handy shield, but a new flurry of activity in the room caught her attention and stopped her just in time.
"Hands in the air!"
"Drop your weapons!"
The actives quickly turned to face the intrusion coming face to face with a throng of FBI agents coming at them from behind. Adelle's eyes widened in fear as they actives remained poised to strike, not realizing the actual threat before them. Footsteps behind her made Adelle realize that there were more agents on her other side, effectually surrounding them.
Her actives, deadly and efficient and programmed to follow a specific protocol. Their protocol, this time around, was to never surrender. Her billion dollar project was suddenly facing extinction.
"Shut them down!" she yelled, hoping to catch the attention of one of the frightened technicians over the commotion. "For god's sake, shut them down!"
Luckily for everyone involved, one of the technicians sat behind a large console had heard her loud and clear. He pulled back a plastic bubble and pressed the red button underneath, making all of the actives fall to the ground, unconscious. The FBI agents watched on, confused, but then looked to Faith and Satsu in the middle of the room, still holding Adelle captive with them.
Several of the agents sprang into action again, weapons drawn and aimed right at Faith and Satsu.
"No, no, wait!" came a loud voice from among them and Special Agent Ballard ran forward, waving his arms back and forth to catch their attention. "Stand down! These are the two we're looking for!"
The tension drained from the room again as the agents began to scatter, checking over the fallen actives while rounding up the rest of the people in the facility. Faith continued to hold Adelle against her, unable to believe that she didn't have some kind of horrible backup plan up her sleeve.
Ballard approached Faith and Satsu, his eyes locked on Faith's the entire time.
"You finally remembered me," he said, his eyes wide with wonder.
A smile crept onto Faith's face as she realized how weird it was going to be to explain everything to him. Or to anyone else for that matter.
"Sorry buddy, never seen ya before. I'm not who you think I am but she told us how to get in touch with you. There's a whole mess of shady shit going on here, and this lady," she pulled back on Adelle's arms for emphasis, "is the fucker behind it all."
"I expected as much," Ballard said, his tone changing to one of contempt as he moved over to Adelle and pulled her free from Faith's grip. As soon as he'd pulled one arm down, he had a handcuff slipped around her wrist - tightly. "Dr. Adelle DeWitt has been avoiding the radar since her last stint as an accredited professional. Dr. DeWitt, you're under arrest for numerous gross violations of national and international law."
"My lawyers are going to have a field day with this," she said through clenched teeth as he placed her other wrist in the handcuffs. "This is a private establishment that you've broken into with no verifiable cause."
Ballard smiled then and pulled something out from his pocket. It was Faith's cell phone.
"I've got your verifiable cause right here, Dr. DeWitt. You should've made sure she ended her call before you knocked her unconscious. Not only did we hear your whole sordid conversation over it, but it also acted as a nice little beacon, leading us right to your doorstep. And, correct me if I'm wrong, but I think that our agents are going to find a whole cornucopia of evidence against you here. So about those lawyers? Yeah, you might want to give them a call. You're going to need them."
Adelle didn't struggle as she was led off by another agent but she did manage to turn around and steal one last glance of Faith who was busy sending her off with a one-finger salute. She turned around and continued walking, vowing to herself that this wasn't over yet. There was still too much work to be done.
Ballard had arranged to get Faith and Satsu out of the building without undergoing any questioning - his small gift to them for finally helping him bust AFH. The girls seriously doubted that they could get very far in Manhattan dressed the way that they were so they called Willow who immediately teleported them back to Scotland where everyone was now waiting for them. Giles and Willow figured that since his place was no longer safe, they had to move to a safely guarded location.
What place better than one protected by one hundred-plus slayers?
Once she'd borrowed a pair of clothes - from Satsu nonetheless - and had a shower, she realized that she felt a particular hum throughout her body. It wasn't any of the slayers, and it wasn't some kind of demon.
It was Buffy.
She knew she had to face her at some point in time but there were other things she had to do first; needed to do first. If Buffy was back, it meant that Sierra and Echo were back to.
And the strange thing was, she could feel the girl. It wasn't the slayer connection, though she could sense that too. Echo was her clone, after all, and that included the slayer bits too. No, this wasn't slayer related; it was something deeper, something instinctual that had her wandering through the castle, ignoring the greeting from everyone she'd passed as she continued on in search.
It eventually brought her to a large wooden door in the middle of a stone wall. She placed her hand on the door and closed her eyes, concentrating on the feeling deep within herself. She didn't know how, but she knew that Echo was just behind that door.
Knocking tentatively - a far cry from her usual barge in and ask questions later attitude - she waited until she heard a 'come in' before stepping almost shyly into the room.
Dark brown eyes greeted her from across the room, holding them in their gaze and rendering her speechless. They could have been twins, only a few things differing between them at all. Echo was slimmer, daily training regimens and a staff nutritionist no doubt contributing to that, no doubt. Faith tried to remember her last meal and vaguely remembered a large pizza and a double order of cheddar fries.
She smiled to herself, thanking god or whoever was listening for slayer metabolism.
"I didn't think you'd stick around long enough to see me," Echo finally said, breaking the awkward silence.
"Why is that?" Faith asked, stopping a few feet away. She couldn't stop looking Echo over, marveling in the near mirror-image of herself.
"Because I'm itching to get the hell out of here too. It's not the people or the scenery; it's just something deep inside making me want to run. I figured I had to get that from you." Her voice was small, tentative; almost as if she was afraid to use it in front of the person she'd been made from.
Faith nodded, pretty sure she understood what Echo was talking about.
"Yeah, I feel it. The old me probably woulda followed it too. Fact is, there's stuff I need to take care of before I go, people I need to see."
It was Echo's turn to nod now. There were so many feelings inside that she was fighting to feel, not sure which were hers and which were from residual programming. Giles and Willow had told her that most of her programming would be reversed in time. She'd be left with who she was, or who she should be, though she didn't know who that person was. That was what scared her the most; she didn't have anyone or anyplace to help her remember that. She had to find out who she was all on her own.
"Giles and Willow told me I'll remember who I am in time. Maybe . . ." she paused, her muscles flexing nervously, "I was thinking that maybe you could give me a heads up. Tell me what I'm in for."
Faith laughed then, not because it was funny, but because she just didn't have an answer. Seeing Echo's confused face, she sighed and sat down on the large bed, running her hand through her hair.
"I'd love to help ya with that, really I would, 'cept for the fact that most days I don't even know who I am myself." She looked down at her lap and didn't look up again until she felt the bed sink down a little bit next to her.
"Great. So we're one of those angsty, self-deprecating kind of people. Goody for me."
Faith chuckled then, a real chuckle, and shook her head.
"You're in for one hell of a ride," Faith said, smiling. "You gonna stick around? Lotsa cool people around here. Sure they wouldn't mind helping out."
Echo shrugged, looking around the room. "They seem okay. Kinda figured that if I'm gonna do the whole soul-searching thing though, I should do it without people telling me who I am and how I should act and feel."
Faith stared at her then, looking long and hard as she realized a few things of her own then. She opened her mouth to speak but was interrupted by a quiet knock on the already opened door. She turned her head to find Buffy standing there, looking at them both in wonderment.
"I - I'm sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt. I was looking for you before and Willow said she saw you walk by on auto-pilot. Should I . . . ?"
"You guys talk," Echo said, standing up from the bed.
Faith quickly looked to her, wanting to stop her leaving, but knew that she couldn't. Echo was right; she needed to talk to Buffy.
"You're not going yet, are ya?" Faith asked, watching Echo cross the room.
"Not this minute. Soon as I can though," Echo said easily. She looked over to Buffy then who passed by her on her way into the room. She put her hand over her heart, almost wincing as she watched the girl. "You ever get this feeling?" she asked Faith, her hand still over her heart.
Faith smiled. "Only every time she's nearby."
Echo took one last glance at Buffy and closed the door behind her, leaving Faith and Buffy to have their chat.
Without hesitation, Buffy grabbed Faith's hand and pulled her up into a fierce hug. Faith didn't have any choice but to hug back, wrapping her arms around the girl clinging so tightly to her. She wanted to hold Buffy so badly; to keep her in her arms and make up for every bad thing that happened in their past, but something was stopping her. There was no happy ending for them right now. She couldn't give herself fully to Buffy when she didn't even know who she herself was.
Buffy could practically feel Faith's inner turmoil. She looked up after a few moments and Faith was looking off at some random spot rather than into her eyes.
"I was worried about you," Buffy said quietly, trying to get Faith to look down at her.
"I can take care of myself," Faith said, her voice strained as she tried to hold back all of her emotions. She felt a soft hand on her cheek, guiding her face so that she was finally looking down at Buffy. She furrowed her brows as she looked into those green eyes, not wanting to get trapped in them for the umpteenth time.
"You can let some other people take care of you for a change, you know," Buffy said and leaned up, just an inch away from bringing her lips to Faith's when Faith suddenly turned her head to the side.
"I can't do this, B," the brunette said, fighting the way her arms seemed to be holding Buffy even tighter. "This is so fucked up."
Her voice was barely a whisper as she said the last part, clenching her eyes tightly shut. Buffy tried to understand but she just couldn't.
"What is?" she asked and was surprised when Faith unwrapped her arms from around her and took a big step back.
"This is. We are!" Faith practically shouted. "You think a little sex changes anything?"
"It was hardly a little, and it does," Buffy said, jaw clenched and tears welling up in her eyes. "We both know what it meant."
"Do we?" Faith asked, a miserable look on her face. "There's no doubt we have some mad physical attraction, B. That much is a given. But what about beyond that?"
"I'm in love with you," Buffy said, her voice barely a whisper. "I never knew what it was before but I do now."
"But do I love you? I don't know what I feel or how to act. I don't even know if I'm fucking coming or going half the time. How can I trust what I'm feeling when I don't even trust myself? I don't know who I am, Buffy." Her voice was desperate, reaching for something but she didn't know what.
"You're Faith. And you do love me. That's all you need to know. We can go from there."
"I can't," Faith said, tears forming in her own eyes now. "Not yet. Maybe some day, but . . . I've gotta find myself, B. When I was talking to Echo she said she's gonna go out on her own, find herself. She can't do that with people all around her telling her how to act and feel, and I can't either."
Buffy was freely crying now, her tears rolling slowly down her cheeks.
"So you're just going to leave? Just like that?"
"I have to," Faith said miserably. "Who knows; when I get my head on straight, I might come back. If you'll have me, I might be back."
"And I just play the waiting game until then, hoping when I'm old and gray that you'll show up on my doorstep telling me that you finally love me back?" She was getting upset; this was not going the way she'd planned!
"No, Buffy. You'll live. You'll go about your life as usual. And if I get back here and the time's right . . . we'll go for it."
Buffy could only stare up at her, willing things to be easier for once in her life. It never seemed to go that way though. Sighing in defeat, she lowered her head and nodded slightly.
"Are you going with Echo then?"
"I was thinking about it," Faith replied, sniffling just a little. "Kinda seems shitty to let her go and not go with her."
"When do you leave?"
"Soon as she's ready."
There was an awkward silence that passed between them, both girls lost in their own thoughts. It was finally Faith who spoke up again.
"Yunno, B, it's probably good for me to be gone for a while. You and me being together right now is like adding fertilizer to a bomb that's about to explode."
Buffy paused before saying, "Sounds like a load of shit to me."
And Faith couldn't help but laugh loudly, her body doing what was natural as she grabbed Buffy's hand and pulled her into another tight hug.
"Do me a favor and don't change, Buffy. Never, for anyone."
Buffy smiled just a little and rested her head on Faith's chest, tucked right under her chin.
"I'll try not to, but just realize that the longer you stay gone, the older and more cantankerous I'm going to get. You're giving up my golden years so you can go and play self-explorer."
Faith smiled softly and brought her hands up to Buffy's face, running her thumbs over her cheeks before leaning down and giving her a chaste but lingering kiss right on her lips. She felt her heart begin to beat faster in her chest and realized that she'd probably find herself back here faster than she could anticipate.
She finally pulled back and rested her forehead against Buffy's, closing her eyes tightly.
"You should go and say goodbye to Echo. I don't think she'll want to leave without seeing you again."
"How do you know?"
"It's why I had Willow bring me back here in the first place."
Echo was in a room just down the hall, trying her best to keep herself busy. Whatever drugs they'd had her on must've slightly hindered her abilities which were now returning back to her faster than anticipated.
Including her slayer hearing.
She'd heard most of Buffy and Faith's conversation though she'd tried her best to block it out, and now she knew that Buffy was on her way to say goodbye. She didn't know if she could stand being around her right now; she was certain that she loved the girl but knew that Buffy's heart belonged to Faith.
Pretty fucked up situation if she had to say so herself!
"So I hear that you're leaving," came a voice from behind her. She turned to see Buffy standing in the doorway, her eyes still red from crying.
"Figure it's what's best right now. Been around people molding me to be what they want long enough. Not that I think you'd do that but . . . I've gotta be able to grow into who I am without all the extra influence."
"What about Sierra?"
"Heard she's thinking about staying here. She's taken a weird interest in Satsu."
Buffy took a few steps into the room, her arms wrapped tightly around herself.
"You're welcome here any time you like. You're a slayer, after all, and you should be around people like you. It's a big world out there; it can get pretty lonely."
"Thanks for the offer and all. Maybe some day I'll take ya up on that."
Buffy chuckled, shaking her head lightly as she just stared into Echo's eyes. She was just like Faith, right down to the noncommittal responses.
"Just like her," she said in a daze. Unable to stop herself, she raised one hand up and cupped the side of Echo's face.
Echo unconsciously leaned into the touch, lost in Buffy's green eyes. Her heart was beating like crazy in her chest, making her breath come out a little raggedly.
"I know one way I'm not like her, you know."
"How's that?" Buffy asked, her voice a whisper.
"I don't know who I am but I still know that I love you." Buffy's breath hitched in her throat and Echo continued. "I know I'm not her but . . . doesn't stop me feeling it. Whatever was in her when they made me, kinda got passed to me."
"But that would mean . . ." Buffy began, knowing now that Faith had loved her even as she lay wasting away in a coma almost four years earlier.
"Yeah," Echo interrupted. "So don't give up. She'll be back."
Tears forming in her eyes again, Buffy merely nodded in response. There really wasn't much more she could say.
Echo closed the small distance between them and pressed her lips to Buffy's cheek, her eyes fluttering shut as she basked in the feel of it all. When she felt a tear pool on her lips, she pulled back and looked into Buffy's eyes, and then to the door where Faith stood watching them. She pulled back slowly, looking at Buffy one more time before smiling sadly and walking towards the door.
Buffy turned around just in time to see Echo walk out into the hall. Faith held her gaze for nearly a minute, her sad silence telling Buffy more than her words ever had. She finally turned on her heel and followed Echo, out of the castle and into the unknown.
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