Previously on Walk The Line:
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.
When the couple was suitably robbed of anything valuable, 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."
Two Weeks Later . . .
The street outside of the bus station was dark and dreary, the pavement still wet from the evening's earlier rain. Sara's shoes scraped along the gravel despite her careful steps; she was trying her best to go unnoticed and failing miserably. Despite her time in big cities, a near-abandoned bus station in Los Angeles in the middle of the night just didn't feel like the safest place to be.
She had to leave though and this appeared to be the only way. No one would listen to her warnings and when she asked Giles if she could leave, he hemmed and hawed and finally told her that her best place was with her sister slayers. That was his way, of course, of saying that the Powers That Be didn't want her going back to Las Vegas and he was merely doing what he was told to do until he received further instructions.
Well screw that, Sara thought. Faith had been the one to help her back in Las Vegas and now it was time to return the favor. Sitting around and practicing spin-kicks and stake-throwing wasn't helping Faith and it certainly wasn't stopping the visions she was having.
Blood curdling screams. Clouds of black smoke.
She'd heard about the triumphant defeat of The Last the day after it had happened. She'd seen Willow come back from Las Vegas, ego bruised and heart sick over her failure. Watched Giles smile with pride as Kennedy replayed the events over again for the young slayers. Cheered with them as they jumped around in celebration.
And that was when the first vision had happened, hazy and uncertain, just a glimpse. She'd kept it to herself, hoping that it was just her mind playing tricks on her. Five days and one hundred repeats of the same vision later and she told Giles. A week later and she was sneaking out of the slayer training facility and to a bus station with nothing more than twenty dollars and an address scribbled on the back of a receipt in her pocket.
She made it into the bus station unscathed, receiving only a few wolf-whistles from a small group of guys walking by outside. Safely inside, she looked around and found the station virtually deserted. There were two women waiting on a bench and chatting away while the ticketperson sat behind the dirty plexi-glass and watched the nightly news.
Taking a deep breath, Sara walked up to the window and cleared her throat quietly when the he didn't look up at her.
"Can I help you?" he asked, not moving his gaze from the television in his cubicle.
"I need a ticket to Las Vegas, one way please."
The man punched a few buttons on the keyboard and finally looked over to Sara, his brow furrowing when he noticed how young she was.
"That'll be $42.00. Non-refundable."
Knowing she only had twenty dollars in her pocket, Sara bit her lower lip and pulled the bill out, laying it down on the counter.
"This is all I have."
Groaning, the man sat back in his chair and turned his attention back to the television. "Then you don't have a ticket."
"Please," Sara begged, "I need to get to Las Vegas. Someone could be in trouble."
"Everyone's in some kinda trouble, kid. I'll probably get canned if my boss finds out I'm watching the lottery at work but hey . . . MegaMillions is up to thirty-six million tonight. I'll risk the trouble if it means I get to dump this crap job."
"But you don't understand," she continued but was cut off by the man who held up his hand. The lottery was starting and he wanted to listen, eagerly arranging a stack of tickets on the countertop.
"Tonight's first winning MegaMillions number is . . . one!"
"One? Who the hell picks one?" he griped.
"Tonight's second winning MegaMillions number is . . . two!"
Seemingly forgotten and still no closer to Las Vegas, Sara decided she needed to step things up a bit. It was highly against the rules as well as her better judgment but she was running out of options.
"Fourteen," she said suddenly.
The man scoffed at her and went back to watching the television.
"Tonight's third winning MegaMillions number is . . . fourteen!"
He looked over at Sara in wonder but quickly scoffed again. "Lucky guess."
"Forty-nine," she said, raising an eyebrow in challenge.
"Yeah right," he sneered.
"Tonight's fourth winning MegaMillions number is . . . forty-nine!"
"How are you doing that?"
"Lucky guess, right?" Sara taunted. "Thirty-three."
The man quickly looked at the television to see the number thirty-three appear on the screen. Still gazing at the screen in awe, he only barely heard Sara say, "Twenty."
"And tonight's Mega number is . . . twenty, making tonight's winning MegaMillions numbers one, two, fourteen, forty-nine, and thirty-three and the Mega number twenty."
Fighting the smirk that wanted to creep up on her face, Sara tried to remain as nonchalant as possible as the man slowly looked over at her, his eyes wide with amazement and just a touch of fear. His mouth opened and closed like a fish, unable to process what had just happened.
"You want tomorrow's numbers?" Sara asked. "Get me to Las Vegas."
There was a loud shuffling noise on the front step before the front door of Faith's house came flying open, sent crashing inward by her booted foot. Faith came stumbling into the front room with Andrew slung over her shoulder, doing her best not to hit his head on the door frame. The loud thud followed by a whiney groan coming from him, however, made her realize that she wasn't so successful in that.
Practically dropping him on the armchair, she flopped onto the sofa and put a pillow over her head, trying to block out the early morning sun. Not more than a few moments later, Xander stumbled into the apartment too, closing the now broken door behind him. Seeing both the sofa and comfy armchair taken, he climbed onto the kitchen table and curled up on his side, using a loaf of bread as a pillow.
"Scale of one to ten, how much fun did you guys have tonight?" Faith mumbled from under her pillow.
"Seventeen," Xander yawned.
"Lipstick kisses," Andrew replied sleepily.
Faith chuckled at that and poked her head out from under the pillow to look at Andrew, his face covered in various shades of lip prints. Even though Xander was further away across the room, she could make out the imprint of several sets of lip prints on his face too. Knowing that she didn't have to look in a mirror to find out that she was the only one without them, she put the pillow back over her head and closed her eyes, a genuine smile on her face.
Celebrating a victory had never felt so good, especially now that she had friends at her side to do so with.
It was a few hours later when Anya shimmered into the living room, looking around to find Faith, Andrew and Xander still sleeping where they'd fallen. She was going to calmly wake them and tell them the news of their impending visitor but when the smell of stale alcohol and cigarettes assailed her senses, all calm went out the window.
"Wake up, slackers!" she shouted huffily.
When none of them stirred in even the slightest bit, she tried again.
"I have permission to use violence. I'd suggest you all pay me attention and explain why fun was had and I wasn't invited!"
The only response this time was a quiet snort from Andrew, followed by a mumble about feather boas. Getting more annoyed as the silence continued, Anya crossed her arms over her chest and decided to try one last tactic.
"Fine. Continue to sleep. I'm going to steal your wallets as you lay helpless and spend all of your money at a casino."
She cocked her head to the side then, realizing that she could probably do that if she wanted to. She could take their measly funds and turn it into a large profit. With the way she excelled at everything else she did, surely she'd be a wiz at roulette!
Creeping stealthily across the floor even for a ghost, she used her newly developed concentration to reach into Andrew's pocket, hoping to find his wallet. When all she found was a bottle cap and a gum wrapper, she began to withdraw her hand only to notice at the last moment that Andrew's eyes had blinked open and he was staring at her, confused.
"Why does my mouth taste like a garbage can? And why were you touching my special place?"
"Trust me, there's nothing special about it," Anya dismissed his question and wiped off her hand on her pants. "Where is your wallet? How can I get rich if I can't steal your cash to use for seed money?"
Still determined, she stepped over the couch and began to dip into Faith's pocket when Faith's hand shot out and tried to catch her wrist. It went right through said wrist, causing Anya to laugh victoriously.
"Unless you're tryin to cop a feel, you ain't gonna find anything in there. My money's in my bra," Faith grumbled before moving the pillow off of her head. "And before you try, hands off. No one touches the goodies."
"No one except for Buffy," Anya countered, smiling victoriously once again when Faith shot her an annoyed glare.
"Why is the world sideways," Xander groaned as he cracked his eyelid open just a tiny bit and discovered it was a completely squished loaf of bread. "I guess that means French Toast is out of the question."
"I hope you're all very proud of yourselves," Anya began with her hands on her hips, trying to sound self-righteous. "You all smell horrible and look ridiculous with that colorful war paint all over your faces."
"It's not war paint, it's lipstick, and it ain't on me so leave me the hell out of the lecture you're about to give," Faith said, swinging her legs over the end of the couch to sit up straight. She groaned as her head started to spin, last night's alcohol-induced partying taking its toll on her.
Anya looked over at Andrew and Xander, her eyes widening as she realized that it was, in fact, lipstick on their faces.
"Alexander Harris!" she scolded.
Xander jumped at hearing his whole name used like that.
"What? I behaved! There was celebrating and victory dancing. There may have been a lap dance or two thanks to Faith's ever-giving wallet, but these lips have smooched no others, my delicate little lovebug," he said, hoping to appease her.
"It's true, An," Faith said as she stood up and stretched. "Despite the fact that you're all ghostly and can't touch him or have any kind of relationship with the dude, Xan was a perfect gentleman. You've got him whipped good. Andy over here, on the other hand, was a complete stud. The ladies love Crazy A." Her grin was wide as she looked over at Andrew and winked at him, proud that he'd finally caved in and celebrated with them.
Andrew was busy looking down at his feet, noticing that he was only wearing one shoe.
"I vomited in my own shoe last night, didn't I?" he asked.
"Yeah, ya did," Faith answered, trying not to laugh. "Up side? Walkin' with one shoe on gave you a swagger that drove the ladies wild."
The corner of Andrew's mouth curled up in a proud grin but his split-second of pride was stomped on by an ever-sarcastic Anya.
"Pardon me but I think that the alcohol may have given you all temporary retardation. I think we've already come to a mutual agreement here that Andrew is the gayest gay that ever gayed. Honestly, why do we keep pretending that he's not? Is it a game that I wasn't made aware of? Is there a prize?" After a moment she changed her tone to a more inquisitive one. "No really, is there a prize? I'm a fan of gifts."
After a long, awkward silence, Faith finally spoke up.
"How ‘bout we quit takin' bets on the kid's sexuality and you tell us why you've decided to grace us with your presence so early on this fine day."
"It's not early, it's almost noon and I'm here because the Powers said you're to expect a visitor."
"Got my visitor five days ago, An. Thank the big guys up there for lookin' out for my reproductive health though. And hey, why the heck are they bothering me? We killed the baddie, it's time for a bit of R&R."
"Menstruation humor aside, just because you killed one bad guy doesn't mean you can shirk your responsibilities."
"Hey, there's been no shirking. I've been shirk-free since we left LA. Been slaying as usual but last night was for fun. I deserve it and these guys deserve it. Doin' the right thing doesn't mean stayin' home and playin' tiddlywinks though."
"Yes, I understand," Anya said, frustrated. "But while you were out living it up, Sara was sneaking away from Giles and hitching a ride on a bus to get back to Las Vegas. To top it off, she used her psychic powers to get the bus ticket."
"Well where is she now?" Faith asked.
Just as Anya opened her mouth to answer, a tentative knock was heard on the other side of the broken door, sending it swinging inside to reveal Sara standing there with an apologetic smile on her face.
Sara sat awkwardly at the kitchen table, warily eyeing up the squished loaf of bread that still remained there. Andrew was busy in the kitchen brewing up some coffee and making a quick bite to eat for Faith, Xander and Sara despite his own protesting stomach.
"So . . ." Faith began as she took the seat opposite of Sara. She waited for the girl to continue.
"So . . . hi?" Sara tried, knowing that she was more likely than not in trouble. When Faith raised an eyebrow at her, she quickly continued. "I know, I know. There's yelling to be had and lessons to be taught. ‘You're only seventeen, Sara. You're supposed to be with Mr. Giles and the other girls like you. You shouldn't have left without permission. Do you know how dangerous it is for a girl your age to travel alone at night?' I'm prepared for all of those. Is there anything else you need to add before I start explaining?"
"Actually, that about sums it up," Faith said. "Wait, just thought of somethin' else: ya shouldn't use your abilities to benefit yourself."
"Ah right, I forgot about that one," Sara said guiltily. "But I'll have you know that I'm seventeen and a half, I'm strong enough to defend myself against most humans thanks to my uber-slayerness, and I would have gotten permission if Giles would have given it but he was determined to keep me in LA. And I only used my ability because I was desperate. This is a lot more about my ability than anything else."
"What do you mean?" Faith asked as Andrew entered with a tray of juice and freshly cut fruits and muffins. She grabbed a muffin from the tray and wolfed it down, barely able to keep her lips closed around it as she chewed.
"I mean . . . I've been having visions. One vision, actually, on repeat. And I told Giles about it but he kept telling me it was in my best interest to stay there with him."
"It's because that's what the Powers That Be told him to do," Anya interrupted. "They don't want you here. You're supposed to be far away from Las Vegas where things are safer and your life isn't in danger. You should go, now."
"Why would her life be in danger here?" Faith asked around a mouthful of muffin, taking a moment to swallow. "The Last is toast."
"Maybe," Sara cut in.
"Maybe what?" Faith asked, confused.
"Maybe he's toast, maybe he's not."
Faith went to speak again but quickly stopped as she saw Anya clamp her hands over her ears and begin to shout.
"Ahh, I hear you, I hear you!" Anya griped, looking up towards the ceiling as she grimaced. Standing up straight and smoothing out her clothes, she tried to appear calm again as she spoke to Sara. "The Powers That Be ever so kindly request that you return to Los Angeles at once."
"What?" Faith asked, standing up from her chair. "What the hell are the Powers up to? What don't they want me to know?" She turned to Sara then, "And what do you mean ‘maybe he's not?' That fucker is gone, I watched him explode into a million pieces of exorcised bits."
"I don't know," Sara said. "It's the visions. I can't control them. I'm not even sure what they mean."
"Well what do you see?" Faith asked, shooting Anya a glare that quieted her down when she tried to speak again.
Sara looked off to the side, recalling her vision. Red eyes. Black eyes. Oblivion. Shaking her head gently and squeezing her bright blue eyes shut for a moment, she turned back to Faith and looked into her eyes.
"I don't know. All I know is . . . I can still feel him in the air, like a parasite clinging to its host. I wish I could share in the celebrating and happiness but if he's really gone then why am I still getting the visions and why can I still feel him?"
"Maybe it's just some kinda delayed response."
"Maybe," Sara said with a shrug though the look on her face made Faith realize that the young girl didn't really think so.
Sighing, Faith grabbed her car keys from the table and turned to Anya.
"The Powers can kiss my ass. If they think I'm gonna send Sara back to LA and go about on my blissfully ignorant way they can guess again. Go and tell them to fill me in or to fuck off and let me do it on my own."
Biting on her bottom lip, Anya finally nodded and shimmered out, leaving behind her still shocked friends and a regretful looking Sara.
So much for celebrating. So much for being successful. So much for Faith finally getting something right in her life.
Taking a deep breath, Faith turned to Sara. "If he's really back can you tell me where he is?" she asked, deflated.
"No," Sara replied. "But maybe I can show you."
Despite the fact that it was only the afternoon, the Vegas Strip was already fairly busy. Faith, along with Sara, Andrew and Xander had driven there and parked the truck, opting instead to walk around since Sara couldn't seem to get a good read on where the feeling was coming from.
They walked in front of the MGM Grand and over the walkway that lead to New York New York, taking some time to rest on the small bridge as traffic moved below them. Sara closed her eyes and tried to focus.
"Anything?" Faith asked, ignoring the weird looks they were getting from the passersby.
"Nothing distinct," Sara said, frustrated. "I can feel him everywhere but I can't tell where it's coming from specifically. Maybe it's some kind of fluke." She opened her eyes and looked over at Faith, her confusion and frustration evident on her face.
"Chances are it's not a fluke," Faith replied. "Shoulda guessed it wouldn't be that easy to get rid of him. That Catholic mojo was all hocus pocus. Got the demon out but didn't kill him."
"At least Willow is safe," Sara tried to reassure her but Faith just scoffed at that.
"Yeah but no one else is. What the fuck were the Powers That Be thinking? The Last's been out there for two weeks now regrouping and probably infecting hundreds of people while I was out celebrating. Nothing like enabled ignorance to make a girl feel special."
"We couldn't have known, Faith," Xander said.
"Yeah, we coulda, but your honey and the idiots upstairs decided to keep us in the dark for purposes unknown," Faith replied bitterly.
If Anya thought she was off the hook, she was painfully wrong. Faith was definitely stopping at a pet store on the way home. Bunnies made good pets, right?
"Faith, if they were really trying to keep us in the dark don't you think they would stop sending Sara her visions?" Xander tried.
"They didn't want her to know," Sara said thoughtfully, her eyes fixed on some far off place as a look of concentration passed across her face. "If Faith knew he was still alive, she'd lose hope and they'd lose their main player in this battle. They need her."
Faith, Xander and Andrew were all staring at her then, waiting for some kind of explanation. After a few moments she blinked her eyes hard and shook her head, coming back to reality.
"The link is severed now but I was able to tap into The Powers," Sara explained. "They knew I was reading them. They shut down the link but you heard the gist of it."
"Yeah, some gist," Faith said, looking off to the side and taking a deep breath before. If the Powers needed her so badly, why couldn't they just keep her in the fucking loop? Besides, letting her think she'd gotten rid of The Last and then finding out that she really hadn't was an even surer way to make her lose faith in herself. Looking back over at Sara, Faith continued. "Well, they have as much faith in my resolve to get this done as I have in them at this point to give me any kinda actual help."
"I don't mean to interrupt but do you think we could go and have a seat, possibly a bottle of water? A bottle of aspirin too if anyone can spare it?" Andrew asked, his dark sunglasses looking almost comical on his weary face.
"That's what you get for doing body shots off of seven strippers, buddy," Faith replied, a grin tugging at the corner of her lips.
Andrew pressed his lips together in a straight line then, his color taking on a green tone.
"I think I'm gonna be ill," he said, placing his hand over his mouth.
"Hurry, someone give the kid a shoe," Faith joked, earning a pained expression from Andrew.
Xander laughed and took that opportunity to step over to Andrew to help him over to the stairs at the end of the walkway. They quickly made their way down, Andrew stopping just in time to yak up his afternoon coffee at the base of the Statue of Liberty replica. Faith watched on from the walkway above with a grimace on her face, happy that she didn't have to be the one to hold back Andrew's hair or something worse.
Turning back to Sara, Faith was about to speak again but noticed that the girl was concentrating hard, frustration still evident on her face. Deciding to give her a bit of time and space to do her thing, she began to leave to join Xander and Andrew below but stopped when she nearly tripped over something. She looked down to find a young boy of no more than five or six years old standing in front of her, his big blue eyes filled with tears.
"Watch out, kid," she said annoyed, still trying to regain her balance. "Your mother teach ya how to walk?"
And just like that the little boy began to cry loudly, tears streaming down his red cheeks.
"Whoa, settle down junior. I'm sorry. Didn't mean to be all agro," she apologized but the child continued crying. By now several passersby were watching them and Faith suddenly realized that an angry parent was probably about two seconds away from giving her a nice lecture on how to treat kids. "Come on, I barely touched ya. Quit it with the waterworks."
The little boy stopped crying as loudly but continued to sniffle, his bottom lip quivering as he looked up at Faith.
Fairly impressed that he'd listened to her and that she hadn't been stroller-whipped by an angry parent yet, Faith looked around, wondering where exactly said angry-parent was.
"Where's your Ma and why isn't she tryin' to keep you from getting' bratnapped?"
"I don't know," he mumbled, his bottom lip coming out in a sad pout.
"What do you mean you don't know? Pretty sure little kids don't come solo to Vegas for booze and broads." Looking over to Sara who was now standing at her side and witnessing the conversation, Faith asked her, "They don't, right?"
"Pretty sure they're not supposed to," Sara answered, never moving her gaze from the little boy. She squatted down in front of him and offered him a friendly smile. "My name is Sara. What's yours?"
"Ryan, do you know where you mommy is?" she asked sweetly.
"I can't find her," he said, the tears starting to fall a lot faster now. "She put all of her dollars in the machine with the lights on it and then she got mad and she went to get more money so that she could win big but she forgot to come back."
Sara looked up to Faith then, a knowing look on her face.
"From the info Giles has been gathering, that sounds like greed to me," she said. "No wonder I can feel The Last all over. People are infected. I can sense him in them." Turning her attention back to Ryan, she smiled again. "Do you think you can remember which hotel you were at?
Ryan looked around, biting on his lower lip as he tried to remember which building he had come from. The walls on the walkway were too high for him to see though and the tears started to fall again in earnest. He looked up at Sara and tried to stop his tears, opting instead to look up at Faith who gave him a little nod when he managed to keep it together.
"I can't remember," he said sadly.
"It's okay," Sara replied, standing up and holding out her hand to him. "We're gonna take you someplace where they can help you find your mommy."
Staring at the outstretched hand for a few seconds, Ryan quickly stepped around her and took Faith's hand instead, earning a strange look from Faith who held their clasped hands out like she was attached to a bomb.
"Oh great," she grumbled.
"Las Vegas Metro, please hold," the man behind the desk said into the telephone, putting it back down on the hook temporarily so that he could finish speaking to the people standing before him. "Look, I've already told you, there's not much we can do. We'll put his info in our database and if one of his parents come to look for him, everyone gets a happy ending."
"But his mother is gambling in one of the casinos," Sara explained to the officer as calmly as possible. "You know how gambling addicts are; she probably doesn't even realize that he isn't there."
There was no way that she could tell him that his mother was infected by greed without him thinking that she herself was infected with crazy. Gambling addict it was.
"Then he's probably better off without her," the officer said.
"So what's gonna happen to him?" Faith finally asked after having been quiet the whole time they'd been there. Police stations still freaked her out after all this time.
All three of them looked over to the bench in the hall where Xander, Andrew and Ryan were sitting, Andrew nursing a bottle of water while Xander read a comic book to the little boy.
"Family services will come and take him, put him in a temporary facility until he can be placed with a family."
"Foster care?" Faith asked grimly, looking to the officer and back to the boy. She'd had her own experience with foster care back when she was a teenager. Trying to ignore the chill that went down her spine, she listened to the officer.
"If he doesn't have a family member to stay with, it's the best we can do." At Faith's glare, he continued, "Lady, we're not babysitters here and there's no way we can canvass every casino in Las Vegas with a flyer of the kid, hoping that someone recognizes him."
"Whatever," Faith said, looking back over at Ryan who was now laughing at something Xander was showing him. When big blue eyes looked up and over at her, so innocent and young and trusting, she knew she couldn't do to him what had screwed her up so badly when she was young.
"I'm just gonna need you to fill out this report," the officer said, looking around his messy desk for the paperwork he'd had in his hands just two minutes before.
By the time he managed to find it and put it on a clipboard, he looked up to find he was alone at the desk and that the bench was now empty. He looked up and down the hall, wondering where exactly they'd disappeared to so quickly. He didn't have time for this! About to pick up the phone to alert his superiors to the situation, he was thrown off guard as two lines began to ring simultaneously.
And just like that, the lost little boy was forgotten about again and one more child was spared from the foster care system.
Faith's house was thrown into a flurry of activity as they went back there to regroup and come up with some kind of a game plan. Xander was put on Ryan-watching duty seeing as though the little boy had taken a liking to him, though Ryan wouldn't let Faith out of his sight before he started to panic a little. She didn't understand why he seemed strangely attached to her and truth be told she didn't have time to ponder her child magnetism. She had bigger problems to tend to.
"Andrew, get Giles on the phone and see if he knew about any of this shit. Let him know Sara's here and safe and that she's not coming back until we know what the hell's going on."
"Permission to clean up the language just a smidge?"
"Whatever, just make sure he knows I'm pissed." When Andrew turned to make the call, Faith turned her attention to Sara who preempted her orders.
"I know, I know, call my parents. I'm on it."
Faith pointed her in the direction of the kitchen so she could have a bit of privacy. With Sara and Andrew busy making calls and Xander busy entertaining Ryan with a game on the Xbox, Faith made her way into her office and called out to Anya. Seconds later a shimmer appeared and Anya was standing before her looking as meek and mild as ever.
"Please don't yell at me," Anya began before Faith could start. "They're yelling at me up there, you're yelling at me down here, I'm feeling very helpless and I can't even have chocolate or sex to make me feel better."
"Sounds like a real rough sitch," Faith said tongue-in-cheek. "We can just ignore the whole deal with The Last and the lost little boy so I can feel sorry for you for a little while."
"Really?" Anya asked, a small smile on her face. When she saw Faith raise an eyebrow at her in disbelief, her shoulders slumped and she sighed. "Sarcasm. Excellent. Just what I need."
"I need you to tell me exactly what's going on and I need to know five minutes ago."
Using her concentration, Anya flopped back into one of the chairs and sighed, not even knowing where to begin.
"Nothing is certain. The Powers knew that The Last wasn't gone but they couldn't let you know that and before you ask, they never really told me either. I knew something was up but when I asked they ignored me. It wasn't pleasant."
"Why would they let me go on thinking he was gone?" Faith asked, annoyed.
"Because they knew you were already losing hope because you hadn't found a way to beat him yet. They thought that if you thought you'd won, it would make you proud again and willing to fight harder when the truth came out."
Faith thought about that for a moment before saying, "That's some fucked up logic. Why don't they want Sara here?"
"Because they don't think she's ready for something of this magnitude. If The Last knows we have someone powerful like her on our side, he's going to gun for her. She's too important an asset."
"So what now? Sara's here and I know the truth."
"They don't know what to do now. Instead there's arguing and fighting over what the right course of action is."
"And until they figure it out?"
Anya pressed her lips into a tight line and drew in a deep breath through her nose as she thought about it.
"Take your own course of action. That's not what they told me to tell you, of course, but I think that's what you should do. I'm usually right about these kinds of things."
Faith couldn't help but chuckle at that. No matter what the Powers told Anya to do or say, she always managed to do things her own way as well. It was probably time for her to start doing the same thing too.
Anya's gaze flickered up to the ceiling, then back to Faith.
"They're calling me. I'll see what I can find out. In the meanwhile . . ."
". . . help the little boy," Faith said with a nod, knowing that finding his mom and saving her would mean saving him as well.
Anya didn't say anything further. She just nodded and shimmered out, leaving Faith alone in the office to figure out her own mess. Faith was just about to get up and check on her friends when her cell phone started to ring. She pulled it from her pocket and smiled when she saw Buffy's name on the display.
"What's up, B?" she said as she answered the call, unable to keep the small smile from her lips despite the load of shit she'd just had dumped on her otherwise happy existence.
"Is it true?"
"Depends what you're talkin' about."
"Andrew's on the other line with Giles. He said that The Last's not really gone," Buffy explained.
"Ahh yeah, that," Faith said and sighed as she rested back in her chair. "'fraid so. Not really sure what's goin' on yet but the exorcism didn't work like we thought. Got The Last outta Red but didn't kill him."
There was a short pause on the line before Buffy responded, "I'm sorry."
"Why would you need to be sorry?" Faith asked, confused. "Unless you were in on the big secret you have nothing to be sorry for."
"No, no secrets. I just feel . . . like I should be there. I feel like I'm being selfish by not helping with anything more strenuous than research."
Faith laughed quietly. "I dunno about that. Research can be pretty strenuous. Some of those books Giles has are wicked heavy. Bet you probably struggle with those scrawny little arms of yours."
"There's nothing scrawny about my arms, I'll have you know," Buffy defended.
"Got me there, B. They're pretty damn perfect, just like the rest of you."
Faith listened to the silence on the other end, practically able to hear the blush creep up on Buffy's cheeks. This was how there conversations had gone over the last couple of weeks. Faith would flirt, Buffy would flirt back, but it never went beyond that. Still, Faith was happy with having even that. At least it wasn't like in the days back in Sunnydale where she would flirt and Buffy would run away. Or, yunno, smack her around a bit.
This was definitely a new chapter in the book that was Faith's Buffy Obsession. She liked to call it, Not Quite Unrequited. It was definitely a step in the right direction.
"I'm thinking about ending my retirement. I should be there helping," Buffy said sincerely, a bit of apprehension in her voice.
And as flattered as Faith was that Buffy wanted to help, she knew this was something she needed to handle on her own.
"It's cool that you offered Buffy, really, it is. You need to do what's right for you though, and tryin' to clean up my mess isn't the answer." When Buffy began to protest, Faith continued. "Besides, you really wanna help me? Just talk dirty to me for a little while."
She grinned to herself, once again amused at the thought of Buffy squirming around uncomfortably. Normally she'd never be this open with the flirting but something had changed between them. The awkwardness was gone. Openly flirting? She'd be damned if it didn't feel kinda right.
"You're really going for it tonight, aren't you?" Buffy asked playfully.
"Don't have much to lose at this point, B," Faith answered, holding her breath for Buffy's response. "So what are ya waitin' for?"
She expected to be brushed off or laughed at. She definitely wasn't ready for the response she got back.
"Do you really want me to?"
"Hell yeah!" she laughed in disbelief. Any second now Buffy was going to laugh at her and reveal the evil plot to dupe her. She was ready for it. All she had to do was wait and . . .
"Well, uh, how do I start?"
And Faith definitely had to laugh aloud now. This was all a bit surreal! She needed to see how it was going to play out though.
"You go somewhere private and tell me what you're wearing."
And then she heard Buffy getting up and walking through the house. What . . . was this really happening? Was Buffy really going to talk dirty to her? A huge smile gracing her face, Faith leaned back in her chair and ran a hand through her hair, still in disbelief. That's when she caught a small movement from the corner of her eye. She looked over to the door and saw Ryan there practically hugging the doorframe as he stared at her.
"Can I help you?" she asked, her smile falling from her face.
"Well you can tell me how this works for starters. I'm in virgin territory here," Buffy answered as the sound of a door closing came through the phone.
"Not you B, hold up a sec," Faith said into the phone before pulling it away from her face a bit. She looked at Ryan expectantly, waiting for him to say something.
"There were horsies," he said quietly.
"Where?" Faith asked, confused.
"Where I was with my mommy. There were horsies and knights. And chicken."
"Faith?" Buffy asked.
"I have no idea what this kid just said," Faith said blankly, staring at the little boy. But then something clicked in her mind; Andrew asking her day in and day out when they could go and see the Tournament of Kings. Horses and knights. "Excalibur."
"What? Is this a part of the dirty talking?"
"What? B, no . . . shit, I'm gonna kick myself for this but I have to go."
"Oh. Okay. Was it something I said? Or something I didn't say? Because, in general, is there really a correct response to ‘exaclibur' that I didn't learn in high school?" Buffy asked, confused.
"You defo didn't say anything wrong. It was all kinds of right. But something just kinda came up and it probably deserves some attention."
"I get it. Time to play superhero," Buffy said easily. It was the life of a slayer; she was used to it by now.
"If you think I'm lettin' ya off the hook though you're crazy wrong. I'm gonna call you later after I clean up this other mess so that we can continue this."
"I'll be here."
"Better be," Faith said and clicked the phone shut, impressed with her forwardness and Buffy's reception to it but too distracted to focus on it now. She turned her attention back to Ryan. "Think I might know where we can find your Ma, kid."
"Have I mentioned how excited I am? You guys are going to be completely impressed," Andrew said as they all walked into the front entrance of Excalibur, one of the many themed hotel and casinos on the strip.
From the outside the hotel looked like a huge medieval castle, complete with colored turrets, draw-bridges and flags. Much of that theme continued inside where court jesters and other actors were dressed up like medieval characters, entertaining the guests.
Ryan's eyes lit up as he looked around, instantly recognizing the casino floor.
"This is where me and mommy were!"
Faith barely heard the words coming out of his mouth, instead only able to focus on the way he was holding her hand like his life depended on it. She didn't like kids; she didn't understand them. She didn't know why he felt the need to cling to her. All she knew was that there was something sticky on his palm and that every time she tried to pull away, the stickiness kept them stuck together.
Getting covered in a demon's guts was easy. Having a kid put his sticky paws all over her was another story.
"Great, now all we have to do is hope that she hasn't moved on to a different casino," Xander said, standing on the tips of his toes to get a better look around.
"No, she's here," Sara said, her eyes focused on some far away place as a vision showed her what they needed to know. "Quarter slots. Black shirt. Brown hair."
"Everyone hear that? Keep an eye out for her. Might be easiest if we split up in groups of two, cover more territory at once," Faith suggested.
"And if we find her?" Andrew asked. "She's infected. I highly doubt she'll just come with us if she's feeling greed for this long."
Faith held up a small leather backpack with her free hand and smiled. "That's why we brought the supplies with us, Andy ol' boy. Xan, you go with Sara. Andrew, you're with me. Call if you spot her."
Xander and Sara nodded at Faith, then headed off in search of Ryan's mom. Faith and Andrew headed in the opposite direction, Faith checking out the machines as they passed for any type of quarter slots. Ryan let himself be tugged along, gripping tighter and tighter onto Faith's hand every time she tried to pull away.
When they passed by a large ticketing counter, Andrew glanced over at it, a big smile appearing on his face.
"That's where we get the tickets for the Tournament of Kings. Maybe I should go over now while there's no line and get our tickets for later."
"No one ever agreed to go to that, yunno," Faith explained.
"Oh, you will," Andrew said as he stood next to a poster of the Tournament. He held his hands out like he was Vanna White turning the letters around on the Wheel of Fortune, proudly displaying the teaser of the show.
Faith just chuckled and looked away, glancing over at the ticket counter. She did a double-take when she read a sign at the window that she read aloud. "We apologize for the inconvenience but the Tournament of Kings is closed until further notice."
"What?" Andrew asked, visibly upset.
Faith nodded her head in the direction of the counter and they made their way over to it. She finally managed to pry her hand away from Ryan, rolling her eyes when a panicked look crossed his face. Reaching into her pocket, she pulled out a ten dollar bill -- which stuck to the sticky goo on her hand left over from Ryan -- and handed it to him. She needed to talk to the person at the ticket counter and couldn't do that with him clinging to her.
"See those machines over there?" she indicated a row of slot machines near the escalators to the lower floor. "Go and play."
Ryan looked at the money in his hand, then back up to Faith with a questioning look on his face.
Faith sighed, "Put the money in, get more money out? Spend it on toys and candy? Any of this sound familiar?"
Ryan stared at her for a moment longer before shrugging and running over toward the machines.
"I'm pretty sure that children aren't allowed to gamble," Andrew said.
"Never hurt me when I was a kid," Faith replied nonchalantly, ignoring the way one of Andrew's eyebrows quirked up when she'd said that. Yup, the kid was definitely picking up on some of her habits. Her smirk turned into a smile as one of the attendants at the ticket counter made her way over.
"I'm sorry," the woman began, a friendly smile on her face, "we're not selling tickets for the Tournament of Kings until further notice."
"That's a shame," Faith replied, feigning disappointment. "Think it'll be open tomorrow? The kids were really psyched about it." She shrugged her left shoulder in the direction of Andrew who was appropriately wearing his wounded-puppy look.
"I'm not really sure about that," the woman answered regretfully. "The horses have been acting up and we can't put on a show if it's dangerous for our actors. We do have some great restaurants and clubs though, I'm sure we can accommodate your needs."
Faith was about to speak but was distracted by the feeling of something tugging on her shirt. She turned to see Ryan standing there, a huge smile on his face.
"I won! I won!"
"Good job, kiddo," Faith said and ruffled his hair . . . which promptly stuck to the sticky spot on her hand and created an awkward scene as she tried to pull it away. When she finally managed to pry it away, Ryan's hair was sticking up crazily. Reaching into her pocket with her non-sticky hand, she pulled out another ten dollar bill and handed it to him.
Thankfully, he hopped off again which gave Faith another opportunity to speak with the ticketperson who was confused by the scene she'd just witnessed.
"Problem horses, huh," she said casually. "Maybe a day's rest will do them good."
The woman smiled pleasantly though it was easy to see she was getting a bit uncomfortable. Was that little boy gambling?
"We're not really sure. Something's spooked them and they're just not right. They're trying to redevelop the show without them until we can find a more permanent fix."
"That so? Well, we'll just have to come back when it's all back to normal." Offering the woman one last sweet smile, Faith grabbed Andrew's elbow and tugged him away from the counter until they were out of earshot. "Animals can sense evil, right?"
"I don't know, I'm not an evil veterinarian," Andrew replied, rubbing his now sore elbow.
"Pretty sure they can, and if that's the case, the horses are probably spooked cos they can sense The Last lingering around. We should probably call . . ."
And once again, Faith was interrupted by someone tugging her shirt. Ryan was standing there again, jumping around with a cup full of quarters in his hands.
"I won! I won!" he said excitedly, the quarters jangling noisily.
Faith put her index finger on the rim of the cup and tipped it in her direction just enough to see that it was indeed filled with quarters. Needless to say, she was pretty impressed. Maybe they needed to keep him around a little bit longer.
"That's pretty lucky, Ry. Gotta show me which machine you were playin' on so I can . . ."
And before she could finish her sentence, Ryan had his sticky hand in hers and was pulling her along to the row of slot machines. He walked right up to the one on the end . . . and then right past it to a change machine that was adjacent to it.
"A change machine?" Faith asked, her voice flat.
"I put the money in and I win every time!" Ryan replied, not quite understanding the concept of a change machine.
There were sarcastic comments that needed to be made. Fun that needed to be had at his expense. Faith wasn't even sure where to start, though Andrew's own laughter made a smile tug at the corner of her lips. Ryan could only look up at her with a big smile on his face, proud that he'd done good.
And really, who was she to tell him that he hadn't?
Opting this time not to rustle his hair – or touch any part of him where a sticky candy trail remained – she gave him a firm nod which just made him smile even bigger.
Luckily for them the moment never went to an awkward place as Faith's cell phone started to ring. Seeing Xander's number she quickly answered it, her focus moving back to the gambling floor.
"Tell me good news," she answered.
"We found her," Xander answered. "We're just opposite the poker tables."
"On our way."
Without thinking, Faith grabbed Ryan's hand and tugged him along as she headed across the casino floor. Andrew pointed them in the right direction having spent some time in the casino there before. While he wasn't one to gamble, he did enjoy wandering around and watching other people win. Besides, it was fun to watch the jesters harass people.
A short walk later and Faith saw Xander standing out in an aisle flagging them over. Ryan let go of Faith's hand and ran ahead, zipping past Xander and toward Sara who was standing next to his mother.
The woman definitely wasn't looking very well. It looked like she hadn't moved from the seat in days, her eyes transfixed on the machine before her. She'd probably been infected for a while and was no longer able to fight the greed within her. She was going to continue to play until she couldn't any longer; or until The Last decided it was time to collect his sin.
"Mommy!" Ryan yelled, clinging onto her leg as he hugged her tightly.
She barely even registered that he was there. She raised her arm and pulled the lever down once again, watching the three wheels spin until they stopped. The machine dinged loudly: she'd gotten three cherries. Roughly forty dollars was added to her credits and the ghost of a smile tugged at the corner of her lips for a split second before she reached up for the lever again.
"She's pretty bad," Xander whispered to Faith, frowning as he watched the scene unfold.
"Ya think?" Faith asked, her eyes focusing on the little boy who now had tears in his eyes again.
"Mommy, can we please go home now? I just wanna go home. Please?" Ryan pleaded.
Again he went unanswered as his mother pulled the lever again. The greed was consuming her; her body couldn't react in any other way. Faith made her way over and stood dangerously close to the woman, her lips only inches from her ear as she spoke through gritted teeth.
"Get your shit together and take your son home," she said quiet enough so that Ryan couldn't' hear her. He looked up at her with pleading eyes as her words went unanswered by his mother. "Givin' you one last chance and then we do this the hard way."
Again, she got no response. Sighing loudly, she looked around, her eyes lighting up when she saw a restroom just down the aisle. She knew what she had to do. A beep from her pocket distracted her for a moment. She pulled her phone from her pocket to see a text message from Camryn.
the girls had a gr8 time last night. they want u 2 bring Andrew back sum time. maybe we'll c u later?
Faith quickly texted back; if anything went wrong she didn't want it to look like she and her friends had just up and disappeared.
probs not. Last is back & bein a pain in my ass. tryin 2 save sum1. will xplain later.
She tucked her phone back in her pocket and sighed. Why were things never easy? Was a demon-free vacation in Maui with Buffy serving her fruity drinks while topless too much to ask for?
Looking around one last time, she made sure no one was paying them special attention before slipping one arm around the woman's back and another under her knees and lifting her up, Ryan still busy clinging to her leg.
"What? Put me down, I have to keep playing. I'm winning!" The woman said, though her voice was fairly quiet and raspy and didn't garner any attention.
"What are we doing?" Xander whispered loudly, eagerly looking around to see if anyone was witnessing the spectacle.
"We're taking her to the bathroom. You really want people to see us dousing her with holy water and chanting in Latin?"
"Good point," Xander said. He ran ahead of Faith and opened the door, coming face to face with an old lady who was exiting with her walker.
"Pervert," she said under her breath as she scooted away.
"Ma'am, I'm not . . . it's just . . . there's an emergency!" he said quickly.
The old lady just scooted away quicker, still grumbling under her breath. There was no time to dwell on it though as Faith approached and stepped inside the opened door, quickly making her way into the restroom while Ryan's mom protested and Ryan wept.
"Close the door, put the ‘out of service' sign out," Faith directed and Sara and Andrew quickly complied, then ran into the long and narrow room to make sure that all of the stalls were empty.
Finally content that they were alone and would be for the next few minutes, Faith dropped the woman onto the vanity, careful not to let her butt slip down into one of the wet sinks. If there was one thing Faith knew, it was that walking around with wet pants was never fun. After all, she'd gone out slaying with Buffy night after night when they were back in Sunnydale, though maybe that was just a little bit different . . .
"What are you doing?" the woman asked, her eyes wide with fear as she watched Faith digging into the leather backpack.
Faith handed Andrew a small bowl filled with two plastic baggies which he immediately opened and began preparing. He crumbled the herbs into the ceramic bowl and tossed a lit match in with them, engulfing them in a yellow flame. When the smoke started to billow and fill the room, Faith knew that it was her time to shine.
Ryan's mom was nearly in full panic mode now. She didn't know who these people were or what they were doing and even worse, someone had probably already taken her seat at the machine she'd been playing on minutes before. They hadn't even let her collect her money before dragging her off!
"Ryan baby, do mommy a favor," she began. "Go back out there and find the machine mommy was playing on. You sit there and don't let anyone touch it."
"I just wanna go home," Ryan cried, pulling on her shorts. Everyone could see the absolute anguish he was in despite his earlier cheerfulness. It reminded Faith a little bit too much of her childhood.
The bar was dark and dingy, just the way Meg Lehane liked them. She was on her ninth vodka martini – or was it tenth? – when she felt a tugging on her shirt. Looking over her shoulder she found her daughter Faith there, a scrawny little thing even at ten years old.
"It's time to come home, Mom."
"I'll come home when I'm good and ready."
Blinking the memory away, Faith stood up straight with a small plastic bottle in her hand. Ryan's mom eyed her warily, inching back even further on the counter.
"What are you doing?"
"Saving you," Faith said blankly before squeezing the bottle, covering the woman with a fine mist of holy water. "Vindico nos ex malum!"
Everyone watched with bated breath, waiting for the moment of release; for the black smoke to leave her body and free her from her sin. The woman just looked down at her wet clothes irritably and then back up at her captors.
"What was that all about?" she asked angrily. "As soon as I'm done collecting my winnings I'm going to find hotel security and report you all!"
Faith looked from Xander to Andrew, a confused look on her face. They all shrugged and Faith tried again, spraying even more water on the now spluttering woman.
"Vindico nos ex malum?"
Again they waited for the appropriate response but all they got was an annoyed huff as she wiped the water from her face.
"Maybe you're saying it wrong?"
"I'm not, that's how I said it last time."
"But last time didn't exactly work, right?"
"Hey, those were different circumstances!"
"Maybe a course in Latin would help you next time."
"Shut up! I'm not sayin' it wrong, I know I ain't."
Xander, Andrew and Faith continued to bicker among themselves as Sara looked on in confusion. No one was paying any attention to the woman or to Ryan now and thus missed it when Ryan wrapped his little arms around his mother's calves and rested his face on her knee, his tears spilling over her skin.
"Please don't leave me again. I'll be a good boy, I promise. I love you, mommy."
All arguing stopped then as a thick plume of black smoke filtered out of the woman's nose and mouth, leaving her gasping for air in its wake. Ryan watched with wide eyes, a look of terror on his face until he heard a shaky voice,
"Ryan, baby?" A moment passed before Ryan was scrambling up into her arms and they were fiercely hugging. "I'm so sorry, baby, so sorry. I didn't . . . I couldn't . . ."
"It wasn't your fault," Faith interrupted. "You were sick but we got it out of you."
"But why did you spray me with water?" the woman asked, puzzled. "Twice."
To that Faith could only shrug, looking at her friends for some kind of help.
"Maybe it was because she was infected longer than we were? It took a little bit of extra effort?" Andrew suggested with a shrug.
"Well, whatever you did . . . thank you. Thank you for bringing my little boy back to me."
"Can we go home now please?" Ryan asked, his voice muffled with his face pressed against her shoulder.
"Of course, baby. Of course." She hopped down from the countertop with Ryan still in her arms, clutching him protectively. She looked around at the people watching her, a grateful smile on her face. "Thank you."
The way Ryan was positioned, he was able to look right up into Faith's eyes. He held her gaze for a moment . . . then promptly knuckle-bumped her when she held out her fist. Faith chuckled and reached out, rustling his hair one last time.
"Take care, Ry-guy. And keep your mom away from those slots, yeah?"
Ryan simply smiled at Faith in response and rested his head back on his mother's shoulder, letting her carry him out of the bathroom, out of the casino, and back home where they belonged.
Out in the desert The Last howled in anger, his red eyes glowing even more fiercely than usual. He pulled his tie aside and revealed the amulet embedded in his chest that was swirling with black smoke. He held his hand over it and felt its energy, letting it temporarily soothe him.
"Bitch thinks she can ruin my plans, she has another thing coming. It's time to hit her where it hurts the most."
He kept his hand over the amulet and laughed to himself, his fingers strumming over it in a steady rhythm. A heartbeat.
Yes indeed, he'd hit Faith right where it would hurt her the most.
They entered the apartment to find Anya pacing around feverishly. Had she been corporeal there would have been a worn spot on the floor by now. She stopped as soon as they'd all entered, wringing her hands nervously instead.
"Thank god you're back. I was afraid that my involvement might have contributed in some way to your early demise. I was beside myself. I considered going into the basement for punishment by lizard but figured I'd wait until I heard some kind of news." She paused for a moment before continuing quickly, "I'm so happy you're all home and unscathed!"
"We live to see another day," Faith said as she plopped down on the armchair. "Doesn't mean you're off the hook though. Or them assholes up there either for that matter," she nodded her head up toward the heavens.
"I understand, as do they. They're prepared to fully cooperate with you. Whatever knowledge they have, they're going to give to you. They're busy trying to pinpoint a way to vanquish him without him being able to come back," Anya explained.
"Been thinkin' about that too," Faith said. "Let's face it though kids, sin and evil are inherent in us. Long as humans are runnin' around, we're juicin' up his big evil battery."
"Just for the record," Xander interrupted, "if anyone suggest taking out the human race so that we can beat this guy, I'm gonna have to vote against it."
"Me too," Andrew said, holding up one of his arms.
"Me three," Sara said. All eyes fell on her then and she looked taken aback. "Was it something I said?"
"No, just not used to havin' three people back me up here. Kinda messin with the group dynamic," she said and winked at the girl before addressing the group again. "No one's killing any humans, not on my watch. If we can't make him go away, we need to find a way to take away his power."
"Yes! Excellent! I like where your head is at!" Anya cheered. "Now how do we do that?"
"Fucked if I know," Faith shrugged. "Bet your ass we're gonna figure it out though."
And again, everyone's hope seemed to be lifted. All it took was a bit of successful teamwork and Faith back in the game to make them realize that they could really win this battle. They shared a few smiles and relaxed back for a few minutes, just taking it all in.
"Sar, what did your parents say when you told them you were in Las Vegas?" Faith asked, finally breaking the silence.
"They told me that I should have called and that I should be back in LA learning about my gifts so that I can come home and be safe."
"Smart folks. You wanna go an' see ‘em before we ship your ass back to LA on a bus? That you're payin' for? With your own money and not with the Jedi mind games?"
Sara nodded and Xander stood up, grabbing his car keys from the hook at the door.
"I can take her on my way home," Xander offered, earning a grateful smile from Faith. "Ahn? You wanna come for the ride?"
Anya smiled happily and began to make her way to the door when she stopped and faced Faith.
"I'm sorry that I wasn't more forthcoming but it's difficult when the mean guys in white robes have you by your ghostly balls. I've already stood my ground and told them that I'll no longer keep things from you even if they think it's in our best interests. My loyalties will lie solely with you and I told them that if they don't like it, they can replace me."
Faith narrowed her eyes a little but she couldn't be too mad at Anya for simply following the orders of those that had sent her back to Earth.
"I'm still pissed, let's be clear on that. But I have a feelin' you wanna beat this bastard as much as I do. So go with Xander if you want, get your ghostly rocks off, whatever. But when it comes time to get down to business . . ."
". . . I'm your ghost," Anya finished for her with a pleased smile on her face.
When only Andrew and Faith were left in the house, Andrew excused himself to his bedroom. Despite the business of the day, he was still nursing a hangover that he believed only a James Bond movie marathon would cure.
Faith grabbed a can of Pepsi from the kitchen and came back into the living room, grabbing the remote control from the table before plopping down on the couch. The day had been long and interesting to say the least. They'd been suckered by the Powers That Be, found out the hard way, and still had an upward battle to fight.
Still, she couldn't help but feel optimistic. For the first time in a long time, she was feeling confident and sure. It was a good feeling. There were only two things that could make her night better – slaying and sex – but she was too damned tired to drag her ass out of the house to kill a few vamps.
With that new confidence bolstering her up, she turned off the TV and climbed the stairs two at a time, making her way to her bedroom. She closed the door behind her and locked it just in case, then proceeded to undress down to her panties and tee-shirt. She grabbed her cell phone from her pants pocket before tossing them over a chair in the corner and jumped up onto her comfortable bed, wriggling around until she was good and comfy. Clicking open the phone, she dialed an all-too-familiar number and waited as the line rang, chewing nervously on her thumbnail.
It wasn't sex but it'd have to do.
"Bet ya didn't think I'd actually call back, did ya?"
She heard Buffy laugh quietly and it made her smile. Since when had things become so easy between them? She didn't know for sure but she'd be damned if she was gonna try to jinx it by thinking on it for too long.
"Actually, I thought you would. Figured that dangling the possibility of phone sex in front of you was a sure fire way to keep you interested."
"Know me better than I know myself," Faith joked. "Sorry it took me so long to get back to you. Was kinda a crazy day."
"I can imagine. Giles gave me the cliff notes. Is the little boy okay?"
Faith shrugged even though Buffy couldn't see it. "Back with Mom."
"And The Last?"
"Still a douche."
Buffy laughed again and Faith tried to ignore the way it made her heart flutter and her stomach do somersaults.
"But you'll beat him,"
Buffy said confidently.
"That's the plan," Faith said just as surely. "I'm not wakin' you up or anything am I?"
"No, no. I got into bed a while ago but I haven't been able to sleep."
"No?" Faith asked, smirking a little.
"Nope. Feeling a little bit on edge," Buffy said purposefully vague.
"Pretty sure I know something that could take the edge off."
"Oh yeah? And what might that be?"
"Me," Faith answered, her grin even bigger now.
The short silence on the other end of the line didn't scare Faith. This was definitely new territory for them but Buffy hadn't shied away when she'd brought it up earlier as a joke. She was pretty sure that was a sign of some kind and she wanted to see just how far they could take this thing that was between them, whatever it might be.
"And how would you propose you'd do that?" Buffy asked, her flirty tone not lost on the brunette.
"You sure you wanna know, B?"
One last chance to back out. She only hoped Buffy wouldn't take it.
"Well," Buffy began and paused painfully long, "now you have my interest piqued. I kind of have to find out."
Faith smiled – the kind of smile that she knew made Buffy take notice – and slid one of her hands down and rested it on the exposed skin of her stomach, just letting it sit there.
"I'd probably start by gettin' you naked," she began, waiting for some kind of response from Buffy. She heard the girl rustling around a little, softly grunting with effort. "You're not startin' without me are you?"
"No, I'm . . . ungh . . . trying to take my clothes off." The material of her shirt scraped over the phone as she pulled it off over her head and tossed it over the edge of the bed where her panties had landed a moment before.
Faith looked down at her own panties and shirt and made quick work of ridding herself of them. And then there was silence again, both girls waiting for the other to say something. Anything. Faith cleared her throat quietly and chuckled just a little.
"What are we doing?"
" . . . I thought that was pretty clear," Buffy said, puzzled.
"No, no, I get that," Faith laughed. "I just mean . . . what's going on here? I don't think this is something friends generally do." She paused. "Or do they?"
"I can honestly say it's not something Willow and I ever tried," Buffy laughed.
"So why me? Why now?"
Ugh! Who let those words out of her mouth? Now wasn't about talking, it was about hot phone sex! Who the hell had taken control away from her groin and given it to her stupid brain?
"Faith, I don't . . . I don't have any answers for you. All I know is that . . . I feel . . ."
And in classic bad timing, Faith's other line beeped and made the line click. She looked at the display and saw Camryn's name. Dammit! Why hadn't she called her back earlier when they got back to the house? Now the girl was going to worry until she knew that everyone was okay.
"Shit, B . . . hold that thought. It's Cam and I've gotta get rid of her quick. Two minutes, don't go anywhere!" She listened for a minute before hitting the button, putting Buffy on hold and answering Camryn's call. "Cam?"
"Hey you. I take it everything worked out then?"
"For the most part. The Last is back – or really, he never went away – but we're gonna find a way to take his power away."
"And how're you gonna do that?"
"I ain't got no fuckin clue. I'd get into it a bit more but . . . shit, worst timing ever Cam.. Raincheck on convo for tomorrow?"
"Yeah, that's fine. Tell Buffy I said hi, Faith," Camryn said easily, unable to help the small smirk that formed on her lips.
"Yeah, later." Faith eagerly clicked over to the other line and took a deep breath. "B?" When met with silence, she tried again. "Buffy?"
The only response this time was the sound of a dial tone.
Buffy had hung up on her.
"God dammit," she cursed to herself, clicking the phone shut and flicking it onto the bedside table.
She laid back on the pillows, grabbing the one from the left side of the bed and holding it against her chest. Sighing loudly she closed her eyes, hoping that sleep would take her soon. The cool pillow case licked at her naked warm skin as the scent of Buffy's shampoo from a few weeks back still managed to assail her senses.
It wasn't sex but it'd have to do.
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