Previously on Walk The Line:
"So what now?" Faith asked.
"We research, we give you the info, and you kill the bad guy," Buffy answered easily.
Faith looked down, a look of doubt upon her face.
"I don't know if I can."
Buffy smiled and stood up from the bed, adjusting her clothing as she looked down at Faith.
Faith looked up and found Buffy's smile and assurance unwavering. She smiled finally and Buffy winked at her before walking out of the door, greeting Xander and Andrew in the living room downstairs.
Rolling onto her side and grabbing the pillow Buffy was resting on, Faith pulled it up to her chest and buried her face in it, closing her eyes.
"No weird magic this time around, but I'm definitely under your spell, B."
Faith sighed and tried to relax though it was near impossible in her current situation. Andrew was hovering just to her side, trying to affix some type of device to her ear that was emitting a low buzzing noise despite the fact that he said it was safe. He was going on and on about how soft her hair was and, to stop herself from swatting him like a fly against the nearest wall, she tried to distract herself.
Closing her eyes, she thought of happier times. Happier things. A lascivious grin appeared on her face which she quickly hid when her mind drifted to the previous days with Buffy. Sure there were some bad times mixed in there too, but the good overshadowed the bad. Especially the part where they'd fucked like . . .
"Ahh!" Faith yelled, her eyes flying open to look accusingly at Andrew as she cupped her still-stinging ear.
"Sorry, my bad," Andrew shrugged and smiled apologetically.
"Thought you said that thing is safe?"
"It is. It's just the tweaking part that's a little . . . umm, less precise."
Faith gave him a threatening glare before facing forward and giving her ear one last comforting rub. Once again she closed her eyes and tried to get back to her happy place. She felt Andrew's hand soft on the side of her head as he fiddled with the contraption but it wasn't his hand she was imagining now; it was Buffy's. She could still feel Buffy's breath soft against her face as their foreheads rested together, her hand sliding down between them to feel her warm, wet . . .
"Son of a…!" Faith yelled as the earpiece zapped her again, sending a sharp electric current throughout her body. "What the hell do you have that thing hooked up to, a car battery?"
She rubbed her ear tenderly as Andrew fumbled around on the table for another tool that would do the job better.
"Not exactly but you're not that far off either. I had to use a bit of magic to juice this baby up. Mr. Giles gave me the spell. He's really clever, in a Sean Connery as James Bond sort of way." Losing himself temporarily as he stared off dreamily in the distance, he was brought back by Faith's grumbling.
"What's it supposed to do anyhow?"
"We connect it to your mobile phone via a little chip. If you're fighting or running and you lose your phone, you'll still be able to maintain contact with us."
Faith pulled the tiny contraption from her ear and checked it out, poking it here and there as Andrew looked on disapprovingly.
"That's actually pretty cool," she confessed. "How do I dial or whatever?"
"I'm still working on that part," he said as he took the earpiece back from her and once again fitted it over her ear. "I'm thinking voice recognition though I'll have to toy with the software. I should have some time later before our guests arrive."
"When is that supposed to be again?" Faith asked, looking down at her watch.
It wasn't that she was dreading Willow and Kennedy's visit but she wasn't exactly sure what to expect. She'd been on good terms with Willow from the time they left LA together to drive back to Sunnydale, though she wasn't sure how the girl would react to the fact that she had her own getup and Scooby crew now while Buffy looked on from afar.
And even still, she didn't know what Willow expected to accomplish in terms of getting rid of The Last when they'd already done all that they could think of. A little bit of white magic wasn't any match for what he was throwing at them.
Frankly, as much as Faith appreciated the offer of help, she didn't want any more people involved. The few people in the fray, the lower the possibility of one of them getting hurt.
"Last I heard from Mr. Giles, Willow was going to meet with Sara and test some of her capabilities. I'm guessing they won't be here until after dinner which is just unfortunate for them because I'm making homemade veggie lasagna for dinner today."
Faith got lost in her thoughts for a few moments, wondering exactly what business Willow had with Sara. It had been a few months since Faith had saved the young girl and hadn't really heard all that much in regards to her since then. Granted she had a lot on her plate these days but she'd promised the girl's parents that she'd be well taken care of. Now she didn't even know much more about her whereabouts and well-being besides the fact that she was training with Giles and a few of the younger slayers while studying to try to focus her extra abilities.
Heck, maybe they needed to send her back Faith's way. An extra slayer could come in handy, especially one with psychic abilities.
"Maybe they should bring Sara with them. She might be able to tune her frequency to the Last's, get a sneaky-peek and see what he's got planned for us." Then Faith thought of something. "And why the hell are you makin' veggie lasagna? Do I look like a vegetarian to you? Do it up the old fashioned way. I likes my meat."
"Judging by the amount of lesbian sex going on under this very roof over the past few days, I think you should amend your statement," Anya said as she shimmered into the room.
Faith turned her head and scowled at Anya, making Andrew stumble over as he tried to adjust the earpiece.
"You do realize that I was talkin' about food and not sex, right?" Faith grumbled as she looked forward again so Andrew would stop whining at her to stay still.
"Either way you're thinking about things you put in your mouth," Anya stated evenly.
"I'm not talkin' about anything, you are. And why are you here anyway?" Faith asked.
"Keep it in your pants, lesbian, I'm getting to that part." At Faith's scowl, she continued. "The Powers don't think it's wise for Sara to be here. She's training with Giles and becoming the best little slayer that she can be. Even though she's working with the coven to control her psychic abilities, she's still unstable. So while it may seem like a logical step to bring her here to help because hey – the good of the world versus the good of one girl - the answer is no. Apparently my opinion means nothing though because The Powers have already sent word to Giles to keep her in Los Angeles."
Faith thought about it for a moment before shrugging. "Kinda sucks but they're probably right."
"You're supposed to be on my side! There's should be anger; we're supposed to be mutually angry!"
"Who's supposed to be angry, my gorgeous ghost?" Xander asked as he walked into the room from the kitchen with a glass of juice in his hand. When met with silence and raised eyebrows, he tried again. "My wrathful wraith? Fantastic phantom? Spicy spookey?"
"Please quit while you're ahead," Anya said.
"Yes dear." Xander slipped down onto one of the wooden chairs, hoping to get caught up on the conversation. "So why are we angry? Do we get to protest?"
"The Powers won't let Sara come here to help and Faith doesn't seem to care because she's too busy thinking about penises!" Anya said excitedly.
"Oh, Jesus Christ," Faith groaned. "I'm not thinkin' about penises! Far from it, actually." And that was the truth. Buffy was all woman.
"I actually think it's kind of sweet," Andrew began, a dreamy smile on his face as he continued to fiddle with Faith's earpiece. "Once sworn enemies coming together to fight the good fight and finding true feelings along the way . . ."
"True feelings? Hours and hours of girly-humping doesn't exactly indicate any feelings besides lust," Anya said.
Xander casually grabbed a plate from the table and held it over his groin area. "Umm, maybe we could go back to talking about penises."
Faith just stared ahead at the wall, shaking her head slightly as she said through clenched teeth, "I'm in hell. This is hell, which means it's okay to smother them all with a pillow and I can't get sent anyplace worse."
They all began to talk over one another, Andrew continuing to talk about fate and romance while Anya yelled at Xander for picturing Buffy and Faith having sex and taunted him with the fact that she'd actually witnessed the act. Just when Faith thought she couldn't take another second sitting there, she felt her cell phone buzz in her pocket. She pulled it out and looked at the display, smiling when she saw the number.
Without anyone noticing, she sat up from the chair, grabbed her car keys, and made her way out of the door.
It was almost an hour later when Faith walked into the club without much of a hassle, the bouncers at the door aware of the fact that she'd been there before and hadn't caused any problems. She made her way over to the bar to order herself a drink, figuring she'd earned it after what she'd just had to endure back at home.
And for the record, her ear was still stinging like a motherfucker!
Turning her back to the bar as she took a long pull from her bottle of beer, her lips cracked up in the tiniest of smiles when she finally saw Camryn through the crowd of people. The girl hadn't noticed her yet; she was too busy finishing up a lap dance for some random customer. Faith sat back and watched her work, admiring the way her toned body moved and swayed to the music. She'd never seen her dance before and now she was starting to wonder why she hadn't spent more time at the club.
Ah, right. Buffy.
Shaking her head and looking away, she fought to keep her gaze from returning back to Camryn or any of the other dancers for too long. How fucked up was it that Buffy wasn't even her girl and she was feeling guilty for scoping out other chicks?
Bringing her half-empty beer bottle up to her lips, Faith chuckled as she thought about it all. There was no reason to feel guilty. She wasn't in a relationship, hence she was allowed to look and touch all she wanted.
Gazing back across the large open room at Camryn, Faith decided to allow herself to look seeing as that she knew her conscience would never ever let her touch. She didn't even wanna get into the reasons behind that.
She nearly jumped up and played hero when the guy who was getting a lap dance decided to get a bit grabby but a security guard was on him before he could even cop a real feel. She watched him get escorted out of the bar then looked back to find Camryn headed in her direction with an almost guilty smile on her face.
Faith eyed her up and down briefly, taking in every bit of goodness. Her long blond hair was styled straight and long, almost like Buffy's was back when she was in college . . .
Dammit! She wasn't there to think about Buffy!
"You're lucky your boy was escorted out by security. I wouldn't have been as friendly about it," Faith finally said.
"Feeling a bit protective, are we?" Camryn asked and smiled when Faith shrugged. "Job hazard. You get used to it after a while. Besides, security is normally on them before they get too grabby."
"Next time it happens you should knock the guy out. Not like you'll get in trouble for it," Faith said with a wink and finished off the rest of her beer.
"Exotic dancer turned kung-fu master. It has lifetime movie written all over it," Camryn said, smiling when Faith chuckled. "Not that I'm not happy to see you but what brings you all the way down here today?"
"The sitch at home's a bit crazy. Had to get away to unwind and relax a bit before we get more visitors later. Then I saw your text. Might not believe it but you're like, my only non-ghost non-annoying friend in Vegas."
Camryn laughed, "I'll take that as a compliment."
"It is," Faith said with a grin. "Know you're busy and all but figured I'd drop in and say hey, have a drink, hide out."
Camryn laughed and grabbed Faith's hand, tugging her across the floor and towards the seating area.
"Oh no, you don't get to come here and ‘hide out.' You need to relax and unwind and, hey, I can help you with that. Professional relax-maker here."
Faith's eyes widened as they bypassed several open chairs and headed toward a more private booth. Lap dances weren't technically breaking her no-touching rule since she wouldn't be allowed to touch but her non-technical conscience was still telling her it was wrong and probably a bad idea.
"I don't think anything you're about to do is gonna relax me in any way, shape, or form," Faith said, dragging her feet. "Pretty much the opposite really."
Camryn turned around and faced her, a knowing smile on her face.
"I'm not her, Faith, and I know that. You know that too. I'm not trying to stake a claim on Planet Faith."
"I know that," Faith said, still a bit uneasy that Camryn knew so much about her and Buffy just from looking at them.
"Then shut up and get in here," Camryn said, holding back the thin curtain so Faith could step into the small room.
"I don't have a lotta money," Faith said, pushing her hands into her pocket.
Camryn finally reached over and grabbed Faith's elbow, pulling her into the room.
"Keep your tip, this one's on me."
Faith practically stumbled into the room and flopped onto the plush armchair. As much as she was fixated on Buffy and their last few days together, there was no denying that she was excited seeing the beautiful girl in front of her dressed only in a matching bra and panty set with a see-through camisole over it. Camryn's smile was flirty and Faith knew she was in for one heck of a ride.
The song changed then, a slower and more sensual rhythm beginning to pump through the club speakers. Camryn began to slowly sway her hips, her eyes never leaving Faith's as she pulled the sheer camisole open and let it slip down her bronzed skin to her feet. Faith audibly gulped, torn between staying and enjoying herself or running for the door.
Camryn stepped forward and nudged Faith's legs further apart with her knees, offering her a flirty smile and a wink before she turned around and continued swaying to the beat.
There, now this was better, Faith thought. With the girl facing away from her and her long blonde hair cascading down her back, she could almost pass for Buffy. That was all she needed to do; she'd pretend it was Buffy until the dance was over and then she'd run home and take a very long, very cold shower.
That plan went to hell though when Camryn turned back around midway through the song and leaned in, placing her knees on the outside of Faith's thighs so she was effectively straddling her. Proving nearly as bendy as a slayer, she bent backwards and arched so that her hair was dangling behind her, her hips still rocking to the beat the entire time.
Faith nearly lost it then, her skin prickling and her muscles jumping, reacting to the dance though she was still trying to restrain herself. All she could think about though was Buffy Buffy Buffy.
‘Talk me down, safe and sound,
Camryn began to straighten up then and was about to step up from her lap to continue the dance when their eyes met. She knew it wasn't her eyes Faith was seeing; they were Buffy's. And as she felt Faith's hands on the outsides of her thighs, she knew she had to set things straight before it all got out of hand; before she lost her resolve. Because she knew that no matter how much Faith was a temptation for her, the girl was meant for something greater; someone greater.
"Hold up, cowgirl," she said, taking Faith's hands in her own and placing them back on the chair. "I think you're relaxed enough."
"Ya think?" Faith asked, laughing as the tension began to drain out of her. "I'm a fuckin puddle here. You're good, girl, I'll give ya that much."
They both chuckled, ready to sit up from the chair and rejoin the masses in the main area, when an electrical crackling sounded throughout the room. A burst of energy sent Camryn flying forward into Faith's arms and Faith naturally wrapped them around the girl to protect her. When the haze cleared, Faith focused to see two sets of eyes looking back at her.
Willow and Kennedy? Oh shit. Weren't they supposed to be coming later? Andrew was so getting his ass kicked!
But then eyes were widening. Mouths were opening. Syllables that weren't quite words were being uttered. And Faith knew that things were about to get mighty interesting.
"Faith!" Willow finally managed to utter between the random noises she was making. "You're not . . . I can't believe . . . you and . . . lap dance? Blonde stripper!"
"This?" Faith asked, indicating her current position with the hand that had been wrapped around Camryn's back. "A whole big mess of a misunderstanding. There are explanations. Good ones!"
But Willow's resolve face was on and she was in defense mode. That could only mean one thing: Buffy had to have told her something about what had happened between them. Suddenly Faith was longing to be back home with the annoying ghost and her ear getting zapped again and again.
"Home now. Explain later," Willow said.
And then the electrical crackling was back and Camryn covered her head with her arms, waiting for the storm to blow over or to see her life flash before her eyes. When the room was still again, she peeked through her arms to find that she was alone straddling the now empty chair.
As much as she knew just from reading Willow that the girl was no threat to her, she made a mental note to watch her step. No way did she want to incur the wrath of anyone that strong.
The room was still spinning when Faith finally managed to make it to her feet again. She wiped the back of her hand over her mouth and grimaced when she looked down at the mess she'd made on the hardwood floors. Andrew sighed and went to fetch the mop, leaving Faith alone in the room with Willow and Kennedy.
Kennedy was just looking at her and smirking, happy that she wasn't the one in trouble for a change. But when Willow looked over at her girlfriend disapprovingly, she wiped the smirk off her face at put on a scowl that matched Willow's perfectly.
Talk about being whipped. Faith was just glad she wasn't the only one.
"Do I get a last meal or something?" she finally asked, trying to break the tension. "I mean, besides the fact that I just yakked up my lunch all over my nice new floor, you're looking at me like I'm about to go up against the firing squad. And why aren't you two yakking? Why the hell am I the only one yakking?"
"Because we're used to teleporting," Willow said easily but quickly changed her tone to match her upset outward appearance. "Besides, we're not the ones that deserve to be losing our lunch."
"Why do I deserve it? I wasn't doin' anything wrong," Faith said.
Willow just glared at her and even Kennedy raised an eyebrow at her this time. Indignant, Faith crossed her arms over her chest and waited. No way was she getting down to the nitty gritty with Willow without knowing how much she knew about what had gone on between her and Buffy.
After a few moments of awkward silence, Willow finally gave in, crossing her arms over her chest to mimic Faith.
"Maybe you weren't doing anything wrong but you weren't doing anything right either."
Faith let out a bitter chuckle, unable to stop herself. "Story of my life, Red."
Willow took a deep breath and sighed. This wasn't how she'd wanted things to go. She was there to help; it had been her idea to help when she'd heard about how well Faith was doing for herself there and about the latest Big Bad that she was dealing with. And heck, maybe she was to blame for how quickly things had soured. Maybe when they'd arrived at Faith's and Andrew said she'd stepped out, it would've been more appropriate to wait patiently for her than to teleport to her.
In fact, when it came right down to it, Willow was starting to have a case of the guilties. Sure she was being protective of her best friend but maybe it was time to let Buffy protect herself for a change.
"Listen Faith, I'm sorry," Willow began. "It wasn't right for us to barge in on you and it definitely wasn't right for me not to give you a chance to explain. Heck, you shouldn't have to explain anything to me. I'm here to help! It's just, well . . . with what Buffy told me, I guess I got a case of the wiggins when I saw you with the clothing-impaired lady."
"She's just a friend," Faith said, her walls sliding down just a little.
"There's nakedness but I've been assured it's not mutual nakedness," Anya said as she shimmered in.
"The ghost's right," Faith said. "At least partly. Camryn doesn't get completely naked. Besides, it's her job. I went to relax and she thought she could help."
Willow didn't seem fazed by Anya's entrance or by her ghostly presence. After all, she'd been completely filled in on the situation by both Buffy and Giles and even by Xander who had excitedly called her when he found out she'd be visiting.
Willow narrowed one eye at Faith for just a moment before remembering her newfound cool she was trying to keep.
"You should try chamomile tea the next time. It works better and you won't have to pay it for its services." She tried to hide the small smile that escaped her lips but Faith caught it and couldn't help but smile back.
"You shouldn't worry about the situation with the stripper," Anya said to Willow, interrupting the quiet moment. "Faith seems to be infatuated with only Buffy these days anyhow."
"Anya!" Faith practically growled but Anya continued on, ignoring her.
"Were you aware that she's recently gay?"
"For fuck's sake . . . I am not!" Faith defended. She immediately started planning ways to get Anya back in the basement with the lizards.
"But you had gay sex with Buffy," Anya said matter-of-factly.
Both Willow and Kennedy watched on in amusement as Faith struggled to keep her cool and as Anya managed to look smug in her knowledge of intimate goings-on.
"It was magic!"
"Yes, yes. I'm sure it was magical and the angels sang and the earth moved."
"Ahn, you're about five seconds away from seeing your afterlife flash before your eyes," Faith warned. She couldn't physically harm Anya but she could make her suffer. Andrew could be made to sing more show tunes. Bunnies could be adopted. Money could be burned. Oh yes, there were ways to affect her.
Seemingly able to read Faith's thoughts, Anya plastered on a huge fake smile and looked over at Willow.
"Well it's been just great seeing you again, Willow, Kennedy. Please don't do anything overtly gay while I'm gone. Xander's laundry day isn't until tomorrow and he doesn't have any clean pants to spare," she said nonchalantly. "And now I must return to my duties. I'm very important. I'd be missed if anything were to ever happen to me." She stopped and glanced over at Faith quickly, laughed nervously, then shimmered out.
Faith just stood and watched the spot where Anya had been standing a moment before, looking completely flustered and twitchy.
"Well everyone's going gay these days," Willow said, trying to hide her smile. "I remember back in the day when it was less cool and much scarier to do." When Faith looked at her and narrowed her eyes, Willow held up her hands in mock surrender. There was something to be said about not teasing a charging bull and well . . . ‘Red' just wasn't a colorful nickname.
After the women made their way out of Faith's office, they settled into the living room so they could be a bit more comfortable when they got down to business. As much as it was nice to catch up, they hadn't come to Las Vegas for a social call. There was a Big Bad to beat and both Giles and Faith were hoping that Willow might be the key to turning the tides of the battle.
Besides, with any luck they'd beat The Last by morning so that Willow could use those tickets she'd secretly bought to see Donny & Marie tomorrow night.
No way was she leaving Vegas without having a little bit of fun.
Both she and Kennedy took a seat on the sofa and Faith sat just opposite them on a large armchair. Andrew was busy tidying up and offering drinks, not having had time to prepare for guests like he thought he was going to have.
"South America, huh?" Faith asked after she took a long swig from a can of Pepsi.
"Yeah-huh. I wasn't sure where we'd end up. Kennedy suggested South America . . ."
"Warm sun and topless beaches," Kennedy interrupted with a grin.
". . . and I thought maybe I could visit a coven that I'd heard a lot about from the coven in England," Willow continued, ignoring Kennedy's comment.
"Turns out they'd heard a lot about her too," Kennedy said. "Heard about the spell she used to activate the slayers, wanted her to come and study with them."
"Sounds like a good deal then," Faith said.
"Yeah, ‘cept for me," Kennedy said just a tad bitterly. "Willow went to Hogwarts and I had to do the nude beaches on my own. Do you have any idea what kind of people go to nude beaches, Faith? Old men. Old pervy men with hairy shoulders and wrinkly bal…"
"I think she get's the picture, sweetie," Willow said, taking Kennedy's hand in hers before turning back to Faith. "Needless to say, it wasn't Kennedy's idea of a vacation in paradise but I did get to study with the coven and it was . . . exhilarating."
"They give you some new mojo?" Faith asked
"And then some," Willow said, smiling. "Learning with the coven in England was great. They taught me so much about control and light and keeping the dark at bay. Learning with the new coven was something completely different though. Their magic deals with darker things. South America is filled with so many indigenous tribes and peoples that use older, darker magic."
"Kinda like our new friend that's terrorizing Las Vegas," Faith noted. "Anya's convinced he's using some kinda voodoo. She's even makin' some kinda voodoo doll cos she thinks she's gonna single-handedly take him down with a pencil to his head."
"That's pretty dangerous for a novice," Willow said, frowning. "The Powers That Be support that?"
"You try tellin' Anya she can't do something. It's like threading a needle with a turkey."
"I remember," Willow said, smiling fondly as she remembered times past.
"So do you think you really might be able to help?" Faith asked, moving to the edge of her seat and resting her knees on her elbows.
"I think there's a very good possibility that I can," Willow replied. "Most indigenous peoples believe in demons and spirits, that a person can be possessed by them and used as a puppet for nefarious purposes. If the demon or spirit possesses someone weak, it's too late to save them. That's why when the witch doctors or tribe mystics believe they've found a spirit or a demon lingering nearby, they try to invoke it so that they can mystically exorcise it before someone weak gets possessed."
"Sounds kinda risky."
"It is, to someone who's untrained. The coven taught me all about it though. I was even taken out to a few remote villages to help with some trickster demons."
Faith sat back then and sighed deeply. She had to ask a question and she knew that it might be a bit unfair but completely necessary.
"Listen Red, it's not that I doubt your abilities. You're pretty kickass when it comes to workin' your juju. This demon though – The Last – he isn't some kinda trickster demon or any of the easy little guys that used to kick our ass on a daily basis. He's the top of the fuckin' demon food chain and he's smart."
"Not to toot my own horn here, but . . . toot!" Willow said, her voice going up an octave as she made the horn noise. "I've been trained by the best, Faith. All I need is the right spells and the right equipment and I'll have you one vanquished demon before you can say, well . . . toot!"
"I don't doubt you know what you're doing. The real question is . . . can you handle the darkness, Willow? You've touched it before, been taken over by it. And that was all just a drop in the bucket compared to what The Last has to offer."
Kennedy seemed to perk up then, her attention grabbed by the fact that this could actually be dangerous for Willow. As much as she wanted to be supportive, she wanted to make sure her girlfriend was safe first and foremost.
"Maybe she's right, baby," she said, turning on the couch to face Willow. "You're so good and full of light, but his kind of darkness is the kind that corrupts and blackens. Maybe we should study this all a bit more before you commit."
Willow smiled at Kennedy, not at all hurt by her concern. Quite oppositely, she was happy that her girlfriend cared enough to think of her safety.
"I know I can do this, Kenny. When I held the scythe, I was filled with the purest, lightest power. It made me strong, and even more so it made me confident. I can do this. I'm committed. I'm so committed I'm a committee."
Kennedy looked into her eyes for a few moments, searching for and finding what she needed before looking over to Faith.
"She can do it," she affirmed.
And as much as she still wasn't one hundred percent sure that magic was the way to counter The Last, Faith knew they still had to try something. His strength was growing with each passing day and they couldn't risk letting him run amok for much longer. Willow was their safest – and presumably only – bet.
"Right. Guess we're gonna need some kinda plan then," Faith said.
"I've actually discussed it pretty in-depth with Giles," Willow began. "Now, I can invoke The Last directly but the spell that I'll have to use to conjure him will leave me a bit tapped for energy. It wouldn't be wise to have me invoke him while I'm weak; I need to have a full battery so I can chant and will him out once I've invoked him. We both agreed that the wisest thing we can do is to conjure him and then contain him."
"Contain him?" Faith asked with one of her eyebrows raised. "You mean like, a trap?" The sound of the vacuum turning on in her office caught her attention and she looked over to see Andrew doing a bit of extremely untimely housekeeping.
"In essence, yes," Willow said, raising her voice over the sound of the vacuum. "If we can contain him, I can use a spell to weaken his powers while my magical battery recharges. Once I'm ready to go, I can just invoke him from the trap and mystically exorcise him."
"Not sure I'm followin' your thought train here, Red," Faith said confused. She knew brute strength well; magic was a whole new field of study that only ever managed to baffle and scare her just a little.
"Well, think of what we used to have to do with Oz when he had his monthly visitor," Willow said.
"Aunt Flo?" Kennedy asked, confused.
"More like Uncle Harry," Faith corrected with a grin, earning a giggle from Willow. "Sounds like a cool idea but no way is a metal cage gonna contain this fucker. Not sure if ya got the skinny on him but he can turn into smoke," Faith said.
"Giles mentioned that much. We're just going to have to find a suitable container to hold him. Something that can draw him into it while he's in smoke form."
"What?" Faith yelled, the vacuum much louder now as it struggled to suck up something hard from the floor.
"Something that can draw him in while he's in smoke form!" Willow repeated, raising her voice.
Annoyed, Faith stood up and walked over to the electrical outlet, yanking the cord out without warning. The vacuum slowly roared to a stop, the sound of something rattling without the spindle stopping after a few moments as well.
Andrew flicked the switch on and off a few times before turning around and seeing that Faith had pulled the plug.
"Too loud?" he asked, his face scrunched up apologetically.
"Ya think??" Faith replied.
"Well if I've told you once I've told you a hundred times: the Dyson is a powerful machine. It'll pick up all of the paperclips you and Xander like to flick childishly at one another but it will have a good old-fashioned grumble about it."
"Yeah, it really sucks," Faith teased.
She moved to go and sit back in the chair when an idea crossed her mind.
"You think that maybe the kid's onto something?" she asked as she flopped down on the chair, one of her legs thrown over the plushy arm. "He's right, that thing's a beast. Eats paperclips like they're made of air. Why couldn't we just mojo it up and use it to hold The Last?"
Willow looked over at the vacuum, chewing on her lower lip as she studied it intently.
"You know, it just might be crazy enough to work," she said as she thought it over. "A simple binding spell could keep him in there almost indefinitely if we could get him while in his smoke form."
"What are you gonna need to conjure him and do your mojo?" Faith asked, eager to get things started.
"Just a few basics, I think. Kennedy and I will go ingredient shopping and you just sit tight. We'll be back in a jiffy," Willow said as she and Kennedy stood up, holding hands.
Faith stood up too and walked over to the table, grabbing her jacket from the back of one of the chairs. She swung it on easily and grabbed her car keys that jangled loudly as she adjusted the collar of her jacket.
"If you guys get back before me, just get everything set up. Don't start ‘til I get back." She made her way to the door and opened it up, stopping only when she heard Willow call out to her.
"What are you doing?"
She paused and looked down at her feet before looking back over her shoulder at Willow and replying, "Making sure we have a backup plan."
Faith stood before the old church and looked at it warily. A sense of dread filled her and compelled her to turn and run away but she knew she couldn't do that. All she had to do was sneak in, fill up a few empty water bottles with some holy water, and hightail it out of there before anyone noticed she'd been there in the first place. It had been years since she'd been in a church, not counting the time she was in Sunnydale during the whole body-swap deal. She'd entered there in Buffy's body though which was the only real reason she could think of why the walls hadn't come tumbling down around her when she'd walked in. She was just hoping that maybe a little bit of Buffy remained in her now that would fool God into letting her enter in peace.
Taking the last few steps up to the building, Faith smirked and chuckled at herself. She definitely wouldn't mind having a little bit of Buffy in her again. Probably wasn't a good time to be thinking about girl-on-girl fun though seeing as that she was now making her way into the front doors.
The familiar musty smell of the church with its oiled pews and old hymnals assailed her senses as she walked in, sending her back to the days of her youth when Sunday mass was mandatory and she still had people that cared enough to force her to go. When she closed her eyes she could see her tattered old Sunday dress and the white strappy shoes two sizes too big for her feet that her grandmother used to make her wear. She could almost make out the scrapes and bruises on her knees and legs from playing too hard on the playground that ruined the image of the perfect little Catholic girl.
This church wasn't as old as any of the ones she'd been to back in Boston. She was pretty sure that churches were never a big concern in Las Vegas, contractors opting instead to build casinos and other businesses that would make them money rather than tell them that they were amoral and going to hell. No, this building was only a couple of decades old but it still held the same stale and hollow feeling that the old churches of Boston did.
Out of sheer habit she dipped her fingers into the small brass bowl of holy water just inside the door and went to touch her forehead before she stopped herself, wondering what the hell she was doing.
Rubbing her fingertips dry on the back of her jeans she continued to walk further into the church, relieved to find that it was completely empty. The dim yellow lights were on and candles in red glass cups flickered along the left side of the church. For a moment she swore she could see her grandmother kneeling before them and lighting a memoriam votive with the long sticks she liked to pretend were drumsticks when she was a kid. She shook her head to regain her composure and continued to walk toward the front of the church towards the baptismal area.
If there was one thing she remembered, it was that the baptismal stand always held fresh holy water. She was almost home free now. Tipping back the metal lid, all she had to do was fill up the water bottles and get the hell outta . . .
"May I help you?" Came a voice from off to the side.
Faith spun around to see who the voice belonged to, spilling water all around her as she turned. Standing just inside the doorway to the sacristy was a middle-aged man who barely looked like a priest except for the telltale while collar tab peeking out through his black clerics. When did priests get so young and handsome?
Her heart was in her throat and she couldn't speak. Suddenly she was thirteen years old again and getting caught by Father Finnegan stealing church wine from the sacristy.
"May I help you?" he asked again, stepping calmly through the doorway and closer to her.
"Umm, I was just, uhh . . ."
"Stealing holy water?" he finished for her, a gentle smile on his face.
"What? No, I was, uhh . . ." Faith began to babble again, her eyes searching an easy escape route.
"That water hasn't been blessed yet, dear," he explained, finally stopping his approach just a few feet away from her. "If you'd like I can get some for you. It's no trouble at all."
Faith still looked like she was about to bolt at any second but she also looked confused now. She looked him up and down a couple of times before she found her voice again.
"You mean you're not gonna call the cops?"
The priest laughed, clasping his hands together in front of him. "Of course not, why would I go and do such a thing? If it's holy water you seek, we have plenty. If it's money you seek, the collection plates are empty."
"Uhh, just the water is fine," Faith said, relaxing just a bit but keeping her guard up.
"Of course." The priest turned around and began to walk back toward the sacristy and stopped only when he noticed Faith wasn't following.
After a moment she shook her head again and began to follow, stopping briefly to bow a little and make the sign of the cross before stepping up onto the altar area. She scoffed at herself, wondering how exactly she could remember to do that but couldn't remember that the baptismal water wasn't always blessed until the ceremony.
"So you're Catholic then," the priest said rather than asked, smiling at Faith's horrified look when she realized he'd see her make the sign of the cross.
"Was," she corrected, digging her hands deep into her pockets to keep them from betraying her again. "Been a long time."
"Time often leads us back to our roots," he said as he stepped into the sacristy and opened up a cupboard. He reached in and pulled out a few plastic bottles of pre-bottled holy water and placed them on the countertop.
"Ain't got roots anymore," Faith said evasively. "Left all of that behind."
The priest chuckled and leaned back against the countertop, crossing his arms over his chest.
"Roots run deeper than you think." He paused for a moment and then smiled, shaking his head lightly. "Forgive me, I haven't properly introduced myself. I'm Father Shannon. Tell me; what's your name?"
Faith took a deep breath and held it in, wondering why exactly she wasn't grabbing the water and running out with it. She sighed after a few moments and leaned back against the doorway, crossing her arms over her chest as well.
Father Shannon smiled at that. "Indeed it is. Are you looking to reconnect with the church?"
Faith couldn't help but laugh then, a good and hearty belly chuckle. When she finally managed to calm down, she looked up at Father Shannon with apologetic eyes.
"I could tell you ‘yes' but I'm pretty sure I can't lie to you, padre. If the big guy upstairs wouldn't strike me down my Grams would."
"So tell me the truth then," he said evenly. There was nothing threatening about him or his manner. Faith was pretty sure that given the city he was living in, he was just looking for someone to help. To connect with.
"I don't think I can do that. There are some things you wouldn't understand and that I'd have no idea how to even begin to explain."
"Try," he asked again.
And again, Faith wondered why the hell she was still standing there. Deciding that the truth was the only way she'd get out of there – probably carted away in some kind of looney bin truck – the truth he was going to get.
"Okay, fine. Straight up?" At his nod, she continued. "There's a crazy evil out there in the city right now, and I'm not talkin' indecency and depravity and immorality and whatever else the bible-beaters go on about. I'm talkin' an ancient evil that's infecting people and using them to kill each other off so that he can destroy the world and inherit its power. I've got a friend that thinks she can destroy the evil and if she can't?" She nodded toward the bottles of holy water. "Those are my insurance policy."
Father Shannon looked at her blankly for several long moments, his body language giving away nothing as to what he was thinking. Faith was ready to be yelled at, laughed at, kicked out, something, but it never came. Instead Father Shannon calmly opened the cupboards again and pulled out a few more bottles of holy water, adding them to the ones already placed on the countertop.
"I guess a few more of these couldn't hurt then, could they?"
Faith looked at him in wonder. "You mean you're not gonna call the looney bin and have me taken away?"
"No, no," he said. "If what you say is true, I'd best not stand in your way. The world isn't always colored in shades of gray, Faith. There is black and white, good and evil. We can't expect to understand it all but we can try to persevere. Sometimes that's all we can do."
"Yeah," Faith said after a moment. "So, thanks for, uhh, yunno . . . not freakin' and throwin' me out."
Father Shannon laughed and gathered up the bottles. He slowly made his way toward Faith, finally meeting her eyes when he stood just before her.
"You're quite welcome. And thank you for coming here for help, even if it was only to get holy water. A city like this, sometimes people don't want help. It's good to feel needed, even if only for a short while."
Faith smiled at him and took the proffered bottles, shoving them into her pockets where she could. She didn't know what else to say; didn't know what was appropriate after the conversation they'd just had. She looked him in the eyes one more time before turning around and making her way down the aisle, stopped only when she heard Father Shannon call out to her again.
"Yeah?" she asked, turning around to look back at him.
"Be careful. If . . . if there's anything else you need . . ."
"Got it, padre," she said with a typical Faith grin, then turned around and left the church like she'd never been there in the first place.
Faith arrived back at her place to find Willow and Kennedy already there, setting up everything that they'd need for the spell. Andrew was off in the corner pouting, upset that they were going to use his Dyson for such non-cleaning related purposes. The sun was already getting lower in the sky and dusk would be upon them shortly.
It seemed like an ominously perfect time to get things started.
"You guys get everything you need?" she asked as she took off her jacket and hung it over the back of the chair.
Willow and Kennedy looked up as they fiddled with the vacuum cleaner, trying to make sure that it was physically capable of containing The Last. They sealed the edges of the debris canister with black electrical tape so that the only thing left to do was enchant it with magic.
"Yup, we're just about ready to go. Do you have what you needed to get?" Willow asked as she stood up, leaving Kennedy to give the vacuum a last once-over.
Faith reached into her pockets and produced several bottles of holy water and lined them up on the table. Seeing them there, Andrew made his way into the kitchen and returned with a glass bowl full of ague root and tulsi, the items they'd needed when they had all become infected the last time. He tossed a match into the bowl and let the flame consume the herbs, white smoke beginning to swell from the bowl.
"Now I do," Faith answered. "Once you conjure The Last and get him into the container, how long can we keep him in there and how long do you need to recharge?"
"Conjuring him will be a piece of cake. With the enchantments I'm placing on the container we should be able to keep him in there for hours, days; weeks even. I'll just need a few hours to get back to full strength."
"Wills will do a little spell, then I'll work a little of my own mojo on her, and when she wakes up she'll be ready to go," Kennedy said with a grin, earning a smack on the arm from Willow as she approached her.
"Vague sexual reference not so vague, actually," Faith said, wincing.
"There were sexual references and I missed them? Anya's gotten to you, hasn't she?" Xander asked as he breezed into the room, then looked over at Faith and greeted her with a warm smile. "This is gonna be it, Faith. I feel it in my bones. The bad guy's going down."
"From what I hear Kennedy will be too," Faith said, laughing when Xander gave her a thankful smile for keeping him involved in the dirty references despite Anya's warnings. "Hope you're right though, Xan. Let's just hope your girl Red hasn't gotten rusty on her extended holiday," she teased, earning an instant scoff from Willow.
"Oh please," Willow said, a grin tugging at the corners of her mouth. She held out both arms and instantly rays of white light shot out, surrounding and filling the vacuum container. The container shone brilliantly for a few moments, then returned back to its normal appearance. Taking one last look over her shoulder at her friends and offering them a playful wink, she closed her eyes and began chanting in Latin.
White light began to surround her, radiating from the top of her head to the bottom of her feet. Everyone watched on in awe, shielding their eyes from the sheer brilliance of the light. When the glowing and the chanting stopped, they all adjusted their senses to find another presence in the room: The Last.
He looked disoriented at first, then angry as he took in his surroundings. His eyes glowed red as he looked at Faith and snarled, then at Willow who was grinning maniacally.
"A witch?" he asked incredulously. "A witch?! You may as well try guns, sweetie. Ain't no magic can hurt . . ."
"Mutatio!" Willow yelled, still grinning as The Last's eyes widened just before he exploded into a plume of black smoke. Kennedy took that as her cue and turned on the vacuum, aiming the hose into the center of the smoke.
Sure enough, the smoke began to fill the canister, the engine whirring loudly until every last trace of smoke was gone from the room. Faith stood by with a bottle of holy water in each hand, ready to do something, anything if things went awry. They didn't though; the silence that followed the motor coming to stop was replaced with a loud cheer as Xander and Andrew high-fived each other in the background. Willow smiled proudly and Kennedy ran to her and lifted her up, swinging her around in a circle as they hugged.
"That's it?" Faith asked. It couldn't have been that easy, could it have been? Was The Last really wasting away in that little container, just waiting to be exorcised and vanquished forever?
"That's it!" Willow said excitedly as Kennedy finally set her down. Her legs began to wobble from the energy drain the spell had put on her so Kennedy lifted her up again, holding her tightly. "I just need a few hours. Just a few hours and I can finish this off."
Her voice was tired and airy and both Kennedy and Faith knew that she needed a safe place to recharge.
"Upstairs, first door on the left or right, take your pick," Faith said.
Kennedy nodded at Faith and began to climb the stairs with Willow in her arms, off to let the girl get some rest. Faith watched as they disappeared around the corner, then turned her attention back to the canister and the black smoke swirling around within it.
"You really think it's all just gonna be that easy, Xan?"
"I think we shouldn't doubt Willow. She's saved us more times than I can count."
"Yeah," she began, her voice low and nervous, "but tomorrow's a whole different story. Even if this hunk of junk can hold him, do we really think it's gonna go over just as easily? Don't get me wrong, Red's pretty kickass but still . . . something just doesn't feel . . ."
"Don't worry, Faith," Xander interrupted, laying a comforting hand on her shoulder. "It'll be easy like Sunday morning."
Without much more ado, Xander went to find where Andrew had scampered off to. With hours to wait until Willow was all charged up and ready to complete the invocation, he had lots of time to kill and was intent on finding ways to let Las Vegas corrupt Andrew.
Faith watched as he walked off and then once again turned her attention back to the canister. She wanted to trust Xander; wanted to trust Willow and her ability to get this done once and for all. But she couldn't fool herself into thinking it could all be this easy. Not after all they'd seen, all they'd lost.
Instead of going up to her room to get some rest, she sat down on the couch and kicked her feet up on the coffee table, preparing to keep a vigilant watch over the vacuum cleaner prison.
It was well after midnight and the house was completely dark save for a light on in the kitchen that barely illuminated the lower floor. Andrew and Xander had been out and were back already, Andrew snoring away in his own room while Xander crashed in the last guest room. Faith had fallen asleep on the couch and woke only when she had the urgent need to use the bathroom. With the house silent and still, it was hard to believe that no one heard the sound of plastic cracking within the living room.
The container on the vacuum was still fully sealed but the black smoke within it was swirling around, expanding and filling the small space. Another side of it cracked as well, the long jagged crack running from top to bottom but not completely through. It was only a matter of time though as the black smoke continued to expand.
Upstairs Willow's eyes flew open, a look of panic across her face. She sat up and pulled the blankets off, just barely rousing a still sleeping Kennedy.
"Baby?" Kennedy mumbled, feeling only warm sheets where Willow had been lying a moment before.
"He's getting out!" Willow yelled, already on her way out of the room before Kennedy could sit up.
She ran down the stairs just in time to see the container crack and splinter through, letting a steady trail of black smoke escape. It began to swirl around her, completely ignoring Kennedy who was now standing at the bottom of the stairs yelling at Willow to run.
It was too late, though. Willow couldn't run. She couldn't even invoke The Last; she wasn't yet prepared. He was going to possess her, he was going to use her powers, and he was going to kill her. She did the only thing she could think of: she bound her own powers.
A swirl of white began to surround her as the black smoke entered her every pore, completely filling her up with the darkness that no mortal was strong enough to fight.
Faith came running out of the bathroom, watching as the last of the black smoke entered Willow and the swirling white light surrounded her like chains. They crossed over her chest and torso, keeping her arms bound close to her sides so that only her head could move.
Kennedy ran over to Faith and watched in horror as the commotion finally stopped to reveal Willow with a smirk on her face and blood-red eyes. The Last was inside of her; he was fully possessing her and the only thing keeping him rooted right now was the white-magic binding spell.
"Willow!" Kennedy yelled. She lunged forward and tried to touch her but a plume of black smoke shot out from Willow's hand and entered her nose and mouth, temporarily stunning the girl.
"Fuck!" Faith yelled and pulled Kennedy back to the couch.
She laid the girl down and ran across the room, yelling for Andrew and Xander as she grabbed one of the bottles of holy water. When she turned around she saw more black plumes of smoke leaving Willow's fingertips and headed straight for her. She opened the nozzle on the bottle and sprayed the water at the smoke, stopping it dead in its tracks before it disintegrated altogether.
"What happened?" Xander asked as he came running down the stairs tugging his shirt on over his head.
"He got out," Faith explained. "I think he's inside Willow."
"She bound her powers," Xander said, pointing to the white-energy chains. "If he's in there he isn't going to be able to use her powers."
"Kennedy's infected." She handed Xander a bottle of holy water and continued, "You see black smoke, squirt the hell out of it. We need to fix Kennedy so she can help us."
"Help us do what?" Xander asked, unable to move his gaze from his best friend who was staring back at him with blood-red eyes.
"Damned if I know yet."
Faith ran over to Kennedy's side and checked that she was okay before spraying her with a few sprinkles of the water.
"Vindico nos ex malum!" she yelled, repeating the words Dawn had said to save them. Instantly black smoke poured out of Kennedy and dissipated in the air, leaving the girl gasping for a breath.
"It got me?" Kennedy asked breathlessly.
"Yup. Now get up and help us figure out what the hell to do."
Kennedy stood up on shaky legs with Faith's help and suddenly all eyes were back on Willow's rigid form.
"You should've listened to me, babies," The Last said, his deep southern accent sounding almost comical coming out of Willow's mouth. "No magic can harm me, no magic can hold me."
"I dunno, seems like you're being held pretty good, asshole," Faith spat back.
"This white magic?" he asked, looking down at the white binding chains. "It's for sissies."
Willow's head was suddenly thrown back and black smoke started to pour from her mouth and eyes. Despite The Last's possession of her body, a very distinctive scream in Willow's actual voice sounded throughout the room.
"Baby!" Kennedy yelled and moved to lunge forward again but Xander held her back with a strong hand on her arm. She struggled to get free though and Faith knew she had to do something, anything.
With the bottle of holy water in her hand, she stepped in front of Kennedy and squeezed it hard, covering Willow's body in a fresh mist of the liquid. The Last howled in pain and tried to thrash about but only his head could move. In the few seconds where he struggled, Willow's voice fought through again.
"Get . . . back!" Willow cried, her voice strangled as The Last thrashed around inside of her.
"Baby, can you exorcise him?" Kennedy asked, still trying to push past Faith and Xander.
"Too . . . strong," Willow choked out, but then her voice was gone and The Last's was back again. "She can't hold me back for long, kiddies."
Ever the impatient one, Faith squirted the remaining contents of the bottle at Willow's body, once again making The Last howl in pain.
"Hang on Willow, I'm gonna get some help. Just keep fighting him," she said. She made her way over to the table and grabbed two water bottles, handing one to both Kennedy and Xander. "He starts acting up, douse him."
Andrew came walking down the stairs then, his sleepy eyes suddenly widening as he saw what was going on.
"Andy, get Giles on the phone, tell him Willow's possessed. See if he can contact the coven, anyone that can help."
"What about you?" Xander asked as Faith fumbled for her cell phone on the table and picked it up, quickly punching in a few numbers.
"I have an idea," she said, listening intently to the phone. When the other line picked up, she continued, "Camryn? It's Faith. I need a favor."
"How the heck do I get myself into these situations?" Camryn asked herself as she walked around the small building looking for an unlocked door or window. She'd already tried the buzzer and no one had answered, but seriously – where the heck would a priest be at 1:00am if not in bed?
Probably at some casino spending the day's collections.
She'd been at work when Faith had called, working a double-shift since a few of the dancers had gotten the same stomach bug the day before. Her boss wasn't exactly happy with her when she'd told him she was leaving but if Faith was desperate enough to call in a favor after their awkward encounter earlier, it had to be a big deal.
Walking around the rectory a second time, she finally decided to peek into one of the lower windows to see if she could find Father Shannon. She approached the window and stood on her tippy-toes, using her fingertips on the ledge to boost her up those few extra inches to see inside. Just as she thought she saw a light on inside, one of her heels began to sink into the dirt, causing her to stumble backwards.
"Stupid window. Stupid shoe. Stupid dirt!" she grumbled quietly. Bending down to retrieve her shoe from the dirt, she stood up quickly when she heard someone clear his throat behind her.
"May I help you?"
"I, uhh . . . Father Shannon?" she asked, trying to pull her small jacket closed around her skimpy underclothing.
"Yes. I don't suppose you're here for mass."
"No, no," she laughed nervously. "I . . . my name is Camryn and I need your help. Faith sent me. I'm not sure what's going on but she said that it has to do with what she spoke with you about earlier."
Father Shannon's smile faltered then as he realized the urgency of the situation. He quickly locked the rectory door and headed toward the church with Camryn hot on his heels.
"Umm, does this mean you'll help?" she asked as she limped along, one shoe in her hand and the other on her foot.
"I don't believe I have any other choice. But first we'll need supplies."
"How much do you have left?" Faith asked Xander who was busy taking a turn spraying Willow with the holy water.
The bottle made a comical farting noise as the last of its contents spurted out, temporarily fighting back The Last's infections smoke.
"This well is officially dry."
"Got enough for one more time. How about you?"
"One, two tops. Andy? What's Giles gotta say?"
"He's speaking with the coven but they can't get a read on Willow because of her binding spell. He says to buy them some more time."
"They've got less than five minutes. Anya!" she shouted and after a moment, Anya shimmered in looking as panicked as ever. "What the hell is going on up there? We need some fucking help and we need it now."
"They're well aware of the situation. It's probably not good news that they're just as panicked as you are. They said help is coming though."
The Last stopped howling in pain and once again began to send out plumes of black smoke which didn't make it very far. Kennedy sprayed the last of her water out, cringing as she heard Willow's voice again crying out in pain and fear.
"Oh god, I can't take this anymore," Kennedy said. Ignoring Faith's command to stop she walked over to Willow's side and took her hand into her own, holding it tightly. "I'm right here, baby. I'm right at your side and I'm not going anywhere."
With no more water at his disposal, Xander tossed the empty bottle aside and walked over to Willow's side, taking her other hand in his own as well.
"We're all right here, Wills," he said sadly, caressing her hand gently.
Faith gripped onto the bottle in her hand tightly, her jaw clenched tightly as tears of anger started to fill her eyes. This wasn't how this was supposed to go. Willow was so confident and Xander had assured her that it would be as easy. How did everything always get so fucked up? Were the Powers secretly against her?
Feeling the despair finally start to sink in, Faith nearly jumped out of her skin as the front door was thrown open and both Camryn and Father Shannon came running into the room.
"Cam!" Faith said, unable to hide the relief in her voice.
"Who ordered the priest?" Camryn said, trying to smile despite the sight in front of her. She'd seen the same red-haired girl earlier that afternoon but she was pretty sure the glowy red eyes and black smoke was something new and not a schnazzy special effect.
Following Camryn's gaze, Faith squeezed the bottle of water, once again dousing Willow and fighting back The Last's powers.
"Just in time," she said, shaking the nearly empty bottle. "Padre, thanks for coming."
"I wish I could say it was a pleasure," Father Shannon said, his eyes never leaving Willow's form. "I'll do what I can but this is something very advanced; something that only venerated and experienced holy men attempt."
"We're down to our last shot. Without you we have nothing," Faith said and Father Shannon nodded. "Anya, get out of here."
And being a ghost herself, Anya was happy to get out of dodge post haste. She wasn't sure how she was religiously classified and didn't want any kind of churchy mojo to make her go kablooey. As soon as she was gone, Father Shannon began his prayer.
"In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen. Most glorious Prince of the heavenly armies, Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in our battle against principalities and powers, against the rulers of this world of darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places."
"Ugh, Catholics," The Last spat out and rolled his eyes, struggling even more within his magical barrier. "You'll be the next I'll obliterate."
Undeterred, Father Shannon continued, "In the Name of Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, strengthened by the intercession of the Immaculate Virgin Mary, Mother of God, of Blessed Michael the Archangel, of the blessed apostles Peter and Paul and all the Saints. And powerful in the holy authority of our ministry, we confidently undertake to repulse the attacks and deceits of the devil."
He stepped forward then with a small brass container in his hands, trying his best to keep from shaking. The Last snarled at him as he approached and Faith used the last of her holy water to keep him at bay. While he was busy howling in pain, Father Shannon dipped his thumb into the brass container and traced a cross on Willow's forehead and again on her chest.
"Child, do you reject Satan and all his works and empty promises?"
"Yes!" Willow gasped out.
Father Shannon nodded his head and reached for the small book he had tucked away in his inner pocket. He quickly opened it to the dog-eared page and took a deep breath before looking into Willow's blood-red eyes.
"Deus, in nómine tuo salvum me fac, et virtúte tua age causam meam," he began and at once The Last started to thrash around violently.
The white energy chain-like restraints began to flicker and dim as The Last struggled. Both Kennedy and Xander held tight to Willow's hands, not willing to leave her side for a single second. Not if this was the end; not if this could be their end.
Father Shannon continued to speak in Latin, each word causing The Last to react more and more violently. When black smoke started to escape him again, Faith grabbed the holy water from Father Shannon's pocket and doused Willow thoroughly, hoping to keep everyone safe until the ritual was finished.
If they could even finish it.
"I beseech thee through Jesus Christ our Lord, leave this girl!" Father Shannon yelled.
"Come on, baby, fight," Kennedy pleaded, tears rolling down her face as Willow's voice came through once again to scream in agony.
"I beseech thee through Jesus Christ our Lord, leave this girl!" Father Shannon yelled again, only to be sent stumbling backwards a few feet by a blast of energy.
"Come on, Wills," Xander encouraged. "We love you."
"Please, Willow," Kennedy implored, her voice wavering. "I love you so much. Please, baby, fight."
"I beseech thee through Jesus Christ our Lord, leave this girl!" Father Shannon yelled one last time and was sent flying through the air, stopping only when he hit the wall and slid down to lay unconscious on the floor.
Both Camryn and Faith ran to him while Andrew was already busy checking him over. They were all so wrapped up in making sure that he was okay that they didn't see the last of the magical restraints dissolve away under The Last's struggling.
He was freed. He could do what he wanted.
He couldn't seem to stop struggling though, Willow's entire body jerking and shuddering with his efforts. A loud roar escaped The Last before he exploded into a plume of black smoke from within Willow, instantly dissolving as it hit the air. Willow began to collapse to the ground but both Kennedy and Xander kept her upright, Kennedy pulling her into her arms and hugging her tightly.
"Baby!" Kennedy yelled, running her hand over Willow's back to make sure she was okay.
"Willow!" Xander yelled, getting a tired groan in reply as Willow passed out with her head on Kennedy's shoulder.
"What just happened?" Camryn asked Faith who, after realizing Father Shannon was okay, slumped down on the floor next to him with Camryn mimicking her on his other side.
"I think we vanquished The Last," Faith said. "Or actually, he did," she nodded toward Father Shannon.
"How can you be sure he's gone?"
"Can you read Willow? See if he's in her still? Cos if he's not, he dissolved into nothing. He's gotta be gone."
Camryn looked over at Willow and studied her, finding it almost difficult to read her from the overwhelming feelings of joy and elation rolling off of Kennedy and Xander in waves.
"There's only good in her now," she finally said, earning a sigh of relief from Faith who closed her eyes and rested her head back against the wall.
"Easy as Sunday morning, right?"
It took nearly a full day of rest for Willow to be able to get back on her feet again, though she stayed hidden away in the guest room the whole time. Xander and Kennedy were with her constantly, making sure she was okay and properly looked after. Physically she was fine; the possession left her weakened but not harmed. But emotionally and psychologically? She was hurting.
She'd been so confident, so sure of herself and her powers. She'd studied hard and done everything she was taught but she still wasn't strong enough, good enough. Granted she'd never really had the proper chance to invoke The Last on her own terms, it was still a huge blow to her ego and she felt horrible that she hadn't been able to help her friends. Even worse that she'd put them in harms way.
When all was said and done, it came down to a man with an invisible God and a musty old book that saved the day.
A small knock on the door brought Willow to her senses. Kennedy had already taken their bags downstairs and was waiting with Xander in the living room. She was fairly certain when she heard the sounds of Mortal Kombat coming from downstairs that it could only be one person at her door.
"Come on in, Faith," she called out from her seat on the edge of the bed.
The door opened slowly and Faith peeked her head in, smiling softly when Willow waved her in.
"You should be more careful. I coulda been Andrew. Next thing ya know he'd be braiding your hair and telling you about his first crush." She made her way over to the bed and sat next to Willow, her hands resting on her knees.
"Next time I'll be more cautious," Willow replied, trying to smile through her own inner turmoil.
"Gotta stop beatin' yourself up, Red," Faith said after a few moments, realizing exactly what she was going through.
"I can't help it," Willow said glumly. "That whole fiasco was my fault."
"Was a total accident though. You had no idea he'd get outta there after all the magic you put on it. Besides, I'm the one who fell asleep when I was supposed to be watching it. It was just a series of really shitty events."
"I should have known better. My plan was risky; I put everyone here at risk."
"Maybe, but you didn't exactly come up with the plan on your own, Willow. I was the genius that suggested the vacuum cleaner, remember? We all got into this together."
"I just feel like I let everyone down," Willow said sadly, unable to meet Faith's eyes as she stared into her own lap.
A brief silence fell between them before Faith asked, "How do you think I feel? I've been here for months now. It took us this long to finally beat the baddie and we lost Robin in the process. Do you have any idea . . ." she paused and steeled herself, choosing her words carefully, ". . . this all woulda been done and over with ages ago if B had been in charge here."
Willow finally looked up at her with eyes still swollen from crying and tried to interrupt but Faith held up her hand and stopped her.
"B's something I could never even hope to be. I'm here doing what I can with what I've got and I'll still never be good enough."
Willow did something that surprised even herself then. She reached over and took Faith's hand in her own and squeezed it tightly, elated that Faith hadn't pushed her off the bed or yanked her arm off.
"The fact that you're here and trying? I think that speaks volumes. And maybe it didn't happen the way we'd planned it but The Last is toast. As for Buffy, well," she stopped and smiled, "I think she thinks more of you than you do of yourself. Just remember that."
Giving her hand one last squeeze, she got up from the bed and made her way to the door, stopping in the doorway to look back at Faith one last time.
"Tell Father Shannon thanks again for me?"
"Sure thing, Red," Faith said with a smile. "The little Jewish witch that was saved by the Catholic priest. How do ya feel?" she teased.
Willow giggled and said, "Like I should be praying the rosary while spinning the dradle and calling the corners."
"You sure you guys can't stay for a while? Andy's been itchin' to take us to the Tournament of Kings and I know how much Kennedy likes eating with her hands."
"You're terrible, Faith," Willow laughed. "Thanks for the offer and all but I think I'd really just like to get back and relax. I've had enough excitement for a while." She paused for a moment, a thoughtful look upon her face. "You should call Buffy and tell her about our adventures. I'm sure she'd like to hear your take on it all."
Offering Faith one last knowing smile, she left the room and walked down the hall, ready for Kennedy to take her home.
Faith got up and was about to follow her downstairs but instead made a detour to her bedroom and closed the door before flopping onto the bed. She reached into her pocket and pulled out her cell phone, looking at it for a few minutes before getting up the nerve to dial the familiar number. Holding the phone to her ear, she held her breath as she listened to the other line, waiting for an answer.
"Hey, B," she said, a smile instantly forming on her face.
"Hey superhero," Buffy said easily. "I hear you finally got the bad guy."
"Guess good news travels fast, huh."
"Almost as fast as bad news. So what are you gonna do now?"
"Was thinking about goin' to Disneyland," Faith joked. "Life as normal, I guess."
"How's Willow holding up?"
"She's a tough girl, she'll be five by five in no time. Shoulda seen her fighting though, she gave that bastard a real run for his money," Faith said with a chuckle.
"That's my Wills," Buffy said proudly. "Kennedy said that you really kept your head when all hell was breaking loose."
"I tried," Faith said. "Trust me, running the hell outta the door was looking like a better and better option but then I thought, W.W.B.D?"
"What Would Buffy Do," Faith clarified, trying to hold in her laughter.
"And what exactly was the result of that?"
"Called him an asshole, squirted him with some holy water. Totally messed up his hair."
And then Buffy was scoffing and they were both laughing, enjoying the ease with which they could talk to each other now.
"I guess you know me better than I think you do," Buffy said. She let the sentence hang there, waiting for some kind of response from Faith.
"Maybe," Faith said quietly. It got her thinking. Maybe she did know Buffy pretty well. She knew that despite Buffy's heartfelt congratulations, she was probably a bit upset that she hadn't been there to help. She also knew that when Willow and Kennedy got back and filled her in on everything that had happened, Buffy would likely find out about how they'd found her in the strip club with Camryn half-dressed and straddling her lap.
And if she knew Buffy at all, she knew that she wouldn't like to hear that from her friends. It was something she probably had to tell her herself.
"Hey, B . . . listen, before you hear it from anyone else, I just wanna set the record straight so that you don't go back to hating me."
"I don't think I could hate you anymore, Faith," Buffy said sincerely.
"Wait to hear the rest before you say that," Faith said, cringing a little bit. "When Red and Ken got here, I wasn't home so they came to find me. Kinda caught me in a compromising position that wasn't actually as compromising as it looked."
"Yeah. It was kinda crazy around here so I went out to blow off some steam. Ended up at the club and, uhh . . . well, Camryn gave me a lapdance but it didn't mean anything, B."
There was a short silence from the other end before Buffy cleared her throat.
"You don't have to tell me that, Faith. That's . . . your business," she said, trying to sound as even as possible even though she was a bit shocked to hear it.
"Yeah, it is my business. But I don't want you to go thinking that I ran off to her after everything that . . . happened between us."
Vague, party of two?
"It's okay, Faith. I'm not your mother or your angry wife waiting at home for you. What happened between us was . . ."
"Wait, don't finish that, Buffy. I just . . . I just needed you to know that I'm not into Camryn. She's a friend, that's all, and she thought she was doing me a favor."
"…some favor," Buffy said with a short chuckle.
"Yeah. Doesn't matter though. Couldn't stop thinking about someone else anyhow," Faith said teasingly, unable to hide the smirk that crept up on her lips.
"Anyone I know?" Buffy asked playfully.
Faith didn't get to answer right away though because her phone beeped, signaling a call on the other line. She pulled the phone away from her ear quickly and looked at the number, noticing that it was Camryn.
"Shit. B, can you hang on a second? Kinda gotta get this other line."
Faith clicked over to the other line and answered, "Hey Cam."
"Hey Faith. I just got a call from Father Shannon. He was released from the hospital this afternoon and he's feeling better. He didn't have your number so he asked me to call you and let you know."
"Thanks. I'll have to run over and thank him for everything. He really came through, yunno?"
"Yeah. It was a pretty crazy situation."
"For real, right?" Faith said and laughed. "Sorry I had to drag you into it all, Cam. Didn't have anyone else to call."
"I was happy to help, Faith. Listen, I've gotta run, I'm already late for work. I'll talk to you later?"
"Yeah. Later." She hit the send button and the line switched over to the other call. "Sorry, B."
"It's okay," Buffy said. "Camryn?"
"Yeah. Was fillin' me in on Father Shannon's progress. He's back home now and doing well."
"Do you need to go?" Buffy asked. She really hoped Faith would say no; she liked Camryn but no way did she want to play second fiddle to her.
"Nope. Besides, I was just about to dazzle you with my heroic tale."
"Well then I need to prepare to be dazzled," Buffy said.
Faith heard footsteps on the other end of the line followed by a door closing. Then there was a rustling sound and she just couldn't sit and wonder what exactly Buffy was doing.
"What are you doing, B?" she asked with a smile.
"I was in the living room and Dawn was harassing me. I'm in my room now, laying on my bed and fully prepared to be dazzled."
"Uh, I know I'm pretty good but I'm not sure I can do that from this far away," Faith teased, earning a laugh from Buffy.
"Start at the beginning, you goof. You were getting a lap dance . . ."
"Do I have to start there?" Faith asked, cringing again.
"Yes, and I want details. Go."
Faith laughed, then put one of her arms behind her head and relaxed. "Right, so I was getting a lap dance – a lap dance that totally doesn't matter -- and there's this crazy crackling sound all around us. I look up and I see Red and Kennedy there and I shit you not, there was almost steam blowing out of her ears."
"Sounds just like Willow. Then what happened?"
"Well," Faith continued, not at all bothered by the fact that she'd be there for a good hour telling the story and missing the impromptu celebration Xander and Andrew were having downstairs.
Night fell on Las Vegas and the lights and sounds made the Strip come alive like it was daytime. People were everywhere, crammed onto the busy sidewalks and walkways. The bright lights never seemed to reach the dark and dangerous alleys though where a group of four young men were holding up an older couple at knifepoint.
"Get everything, Jose," one thug said to another who was busy taking the couple's wallets and jewelry. "Don't forget his hat, we could get good money for that!"
When the couple was suitably robbed of anything valuable, Jose and the rest of the thugs took off down the alley, stopping only when they were sure there was no one following them. They began to divvy up the loot, bickering over who got what until a loud argument broke out among them.
They weren't sure who threw the first punch but suddenly all four men were pummeling one another in a flurry of fists and feet. The biggest of the four men easily had the upper hand and he knocked out all three of his companions before running down the alley with all of the loot tucked under his arm. He didn't make it far though; he was stopped when his breath got knocked out of him and a thick dark smoke left his body, as well as the unconscious bodies of his friends. He fell to the ground, gasping uncontrollably until he was finally still.
The smoke gathered and pooled until The Last took shape, his fierce eyes glowing red as he dusted off his red Armani suit and the amulet on his chest that still swirled with dark smoke.
"It's gonna take a lot more than that to get rid of me, kiddies."
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