FOLLOW YOUR HEART
Disclaimer: All of the materials borrowed from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel the Series belong to Joss Whedon and to the entities and companies associated with their creation. I have borrowed them for creative and entertainment purposes only. No compensation has been or ever shall be received for the writing below. No copyright infringement is intended.
My Website: http://www.dragonwriter17.net/
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Distribution: BuffynFaith.net, The Mystic Muse, and my personal site (If you are interested in posting my story on your site, please contact me first for permission.)
Spoilers: BtVS Season 6 (and beyond)
events of Buffy's resurrection and introduces a number of non-canon plot
changes. One is that Spike leaves town almost immediately after Buffy's
death. Another is that Giles leaves much earlier than he did in the original
episode, long before Buffy is resurrected. The others you can probably
figure out as you go along. (2) The story is written in modified Watchers
style. This means that it uses something similar to scene headers in
screenplays, but the actual text is mostly written in fiction format. Unlike
Watchers, though, I may occasionally show a characterís thoughts in italics.
(3) In Part 1 of my fan fic story "The Buffy Tapes," I
created four flashbacks that occurred behind the scenes of the actual
BTVS Season 3 (one flashback is before "Revelations"; another is between
"Lovers Walk" and "The Wish"; the third is after "Amends"; and the last one
is after the end of "Consequences.") I'm assuming those same events--or
something similar to them--happened in the past of this new story; however,
none of the other non-canonical events of "The Buffy Tapes," other than
those flashbacks, occurred here. (4) Thanks, as always, to Lilly
for the beta read and edit! (5) I would also like to thank the Buffy-vs-Angel
web site, whose transcripts I used ("Faith, Hope and Trick," "Bargaining I
and II," "Afterlife," and "Tabula Rasa") and Bxverse Productions, who
created a music video to accompany the story:
Number of Chapters: 20 chapters are planned.
Story Premise: This story explores Faith's reaction to Buffy's death and resurrection, and it presents a new take on the real reason Buffy was raised from the dead.
It was unclear whether the current space was interior or exterior. There were no walls, floor, or ceiling visible. The area seemed almost gaseous as if one were floating within a nebula.
Gradually, the view cleared, and a figure could be made out--a small blonde woman emerging from what appeared to be a swirling portal. As she stepped forward, a pair of glorious angel's wings spread out behind her. Buffy leaned her head back and gazed at the upper tips in awe.
"Yes, we all love them..." a voice lightly chided. "But, honey...most of us try not to flaunt them."
At her mother's words, Buffy blushed a bit and then reluctantly tore her eyes from her new wings. "Sorry," she said sheepishly. In a flash, she put them away.
Joyce pulled her Buffy into her arms. "Oh, it feels so good to hold you again. I missed you."
"I missed you, too. So much."
When the two finally separated, Joyce looked into her daughter's eyes. "So...life review's over...tell me...what have you learned?"
Buffy glanced away in thought and then walked a few feet away. When she turned around, she said, "Well, I-I-I think that it wasn't enough to just want to see Uncle Henry and Auntie Em--it's that--if I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won't look any further than my own backyard. Because if it isn't there, I never really lost it to begin with! Is that right?"
Joyce gave her daughter a mock glare for the Dorothy quote from the Wizard of Oz. "Smart ass," she said teasingly.
"Mom!" Buffy warned in a hushed voice. "You said 'smart ass' in heaven."
"It's allowed when it's accurate," Joyce countered.
Buffy laughed and then got serious. "I did learn something--a lot of somethings, actually. I learned how lucky I was to have you and Dawn and my friends in my life. I was blessed with a lot of love."
"I'm glad you think so, honey," Joyce said with a smile.
"Unfortunately, I also realized that I was a total screw-up in a lot of ways." Buffy shook her head sadly. "So many things I wish I'd done differently."
"We all learn that," Joyce pointed out. "We're only human."
The two became quiet for a while until Joyce broke the silence with a slight change of subject. "So...are you ready to start being a guardian angel?"
Buffy snickered. "Still can't believe I'm getting to be the star of my own Touched by an Angel episode."
"Have you thought about who you want to watch over?"
Buffy nodded and then gave a hesitant shrug. "I know it should be Dawn..."
"I think I've got her covered," Joyce assured.
"Good 'cause honestly...it's Faith."
Joyce showed no reaction. She just cocked her head and asked, "Not Angel?"
Buffy let out a heavy sigh. "Angel was a mistake. I realize that now. As much as I loved him, it never should have happened."
"What about Willow or Xander?"
"I-I-I know it should be them next to Dawn, I know that," Buffy said, twisting her fingers together, "and I do love them, so much, and I'll worry about them like crazy, but...Faith needs me more." She dropped her gaze to her hands. "She doesn't have anyone. She never did really..."
"Do you feel like you have unfinished business with Faith?" Joyce asked gently.
"Yes," Buffy instantly answered, raising her head to meet her mother's gaze. Then she cringed a little. "Don't be mad."
"I'm not mad, honey," Joyce assured her. "I faced some 'Faith' issues in my own review, if I recall," she admitted.
The slayer's expression saddened. "She had such a tough life in Boston, and when she came to Sunnydale, I should've been a better friend to her. I should've helped her, reached out to her more, I should've--" Buffy stopped and didn't say the rest.
She didn't have to because her mother filled in the blanks. "Told her how you felt?"
Buffy looked up in surprise. "How did you--? I never told anyone."
"I didn't know. Not at first, anyway. It took me a while to piece it all together. Most of it I didn't see or understand until I was here in heaven." Joyce stepped closer to her daughter. "You loved her from the start, didn't you?"
Buffy gave a tearful nod. "I think so. I felt something with her the very first time I met her, but I just thought it was slayer stuff, you know? But it didn't take long to figure out that it was way more than that. It was intense, like, scary intense. I mean, the last time I felt that strongly for someone, it was for Angel, and..."
"And that turned out to be a disaster."
"Exactly," Buffy said. Then she let out another sigh. "No matter how scared I got, though, my feelings kept growing stronger. A-A-And I think hers did, too, but...then Angel came back, and then Faith killed Finch, and then...I lost her. After that, I think we both went a little crazy. I mean, my god...I almost killed her...I almost killed her..."
As her mother tugged her into another warm embrace, Buffy let the tears come. After a moment, though, she forced them down and pulled away. As she wiped the tears from her face, she gave a rueful laugh.
"I swear, sometimes it felt like the universe was against us, like there was some great conspiracy to keep us apart. Every time we got started to get close, something always happened."
Something about Buffy's statement set Joyce to thinking. She glanced away, her brow furrowing. Buffy didn't notice her mother's reaction.
"I thought maybe things would be different when Faith woke up from her coma," Buffy went on, "but she just went berserk all over again. I don't know why I'm telling you--you were there, you remember."
"I do," Joyce said, coming out of her moment of contemplation. "But I think Faith's actions were more about her not being able to face what she had done. It was easier to blame you."
Buffy nodded in agreement. "It must've all come crashing down on her because when I tracked her to L.A. she wasn't angry or blaming. She was just...broken. If I had tried to kill her, she would've let me. I really think she would've let me." She hung her head before continuing. "She was really sorry and wanted to apologize, tried to apologize, but I wouldn't let her. I was too busy playing the justified victim, being all self-righteous." Buffy shook her head sadly. "Angel forgave her and was helping her, but I refused to. I just wanted to punish her."
Buffy finally raised her head and met her mother's gaze again. "And that's why I want to watch over her now. I owe her, and she needs somebody."
"She does need someone," Joyce confessed. "Now more than ever."
"What is it?" Buffy asked worriedly. "What do you know?"
Joyce reached out and squeezed her
daughter's arm. "Let's just say she didn't take your death very well..."
In the common area of her cellblock, Faith was perched on a bench, shit-talking with some of her fellow inmates. When her eye caught the time on the wall clock, the blue-jumpsuit-clad slayer hopped off her bench.
"Gotta run, chicas," she told them cheerily. "Time for my shift in the infirmary."
A scraggly-haired redhead named Lena called out to her in mock complaint, "How come you get all the sweet jobs around here?"
Faith laughed as she backed away. " 'Cause I'm sweet!"
"Yeah right!" Lena shot back. "We know that's a fuckin' lie!"
As Faith passed by another group of inmates, a verbal fight broke out. Debbie, a huge hulk of a woman, was screaming obscenities at a much smaller but just as angry female. When the two started a shoving match, Faith immediately intervened. She leapt over a metal table and put herself between them, pushing them apart.
"Hey! Stop it! I said STOP IT!" Faith yelled.
The smaller woman instantly backed down, but Debbie didn't. She looked ready to turn her wrath on Faith. She balled her fists at her sides and appeared seconds away from decking the slayer.
Two of Debbie's associates came beside her and tugged on her arms. "Come on, Deb. Let it go," one said.
"Yeah, you don't want the Super Bitch comin' down on you," the other whispered to her.
After a very tense moment, Debbie reluctantly let her two associates lead her away.
Once Faith was sure that the situation had been defused, she got back on her path toward the exit.
While watching her walk away, Debbie glared maliciously at the brunette's back. "One day I'm gonna kill that bitch..." she promised.
As Faith was led by a guard out of the common area and into the corridors between cellblocks, he leaned over to her and said, "Thanks for breaking that up. Those two have been going at it for days."
She flashed the guard a slick smile. "Awww, Eddie...nothing says 'thank you' like a new pack of Luckys..." she said in a sing-songy voice as she held up an almost empty pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes.
Eddie laughed and said, "Deal." But then he quickly sobered. "Seriously, watch your back, okay?"
Faith just flashed him another smile. "Don't worry. I can take care of myself."
As he sent Faith on to the next junction, Eddie murmured to himself, "Don't I know it." Once she had been buzzed through, he turned around and headed back to the common area. "Fifteen minutes! Then it's lights out!" he called out. "Get to your cells!"
As the two guards on duty gave her friendly nods and held the door open for her, Faith entered the infirmary. She headed straight for the sink to wash her hands, then called out to the doctor on duty, Dr. Victoria Raine.
"Hey, Doc! What's up?"
As Faith turned around, still drying off her hands, she saw a short, pudgy, salt-and-pepper-haired woman in a white lab coat standing amidst multiple stacks of brown cardboard boxes.
"At the moment, not a single thing," Dr. Raine replied in an exasperated tone, "and therein lies the problem. My supplies shipment arrived today, and now it all needs to be put away. Unfortunately, I have a mountain of charts to attend to as well."
In a flash, Faith's mind took her back in time to Boston, to her memories of her first watcher, Professor Diana Dormer. In the short time she'd known the woman, she'd come to respect her--and then to fail her. Although Dr. Raine didn't really speak or look like her former watcher, Faith was nonetheless reminded of her.
No sense dredgin' up all that shit, she told herself. The Council, slaying, that part of your life's over.
"Why don't you let me handle the restocking while you work on your charts?" Faith suggested. "If I don't know where something goes, I'll ask."
Dr. Raine smiled gratefully. "Sounds perfect. Thank you. You have been a godsend, my dear."
Faith snorted jokingly in response. "First time anybody's ever said that to me."
"Well, it's true," Dr. Raine merrily insisted, moving to her small desk in the corner. "And not just here. Out there, too. All the guards say so."
Faith shrugged off the praise. "Just trying to keep the peace and pass the time."
As Dr. Raine turned her attention to her patient charts, Faith got to work on the shipment of supplies. She put away several boxes of gauze, bandages, and dressings, followed by latex gloves and surgical tape. When she opened the next box, though, a puzzled look came over her face. She picked up one of the items--a small clear bag with a coil of plastic tubing inside it.
"Hey, Doc, where do these oxygen thingees go?" Faith asked, holding up the bagged tubing. "The ones that stick in your nose?"
Dr. Raine looked up to see what Faith was holding. "Nasal cannula," she replied, identifying the item. "They go in the bottom drawer of the red cart here."
"Got it, thanks," Faith answered then headed toward the cart that stood between herself and the doctor. "Cannula...what kind of a word is that, anyway?"
"It's Latin, my dear," the doctor answered, her eyes now back on her charts. "It means 'small reed' because the tube is like a plant stem that's round and hollow."
"Oh, well that makes sens--arggghh!!!"
Faith's comment was cut off as a surge of pain suddenly ripped through her body. Her hand clutched at her chest as she stumbled against the cart, causing items to crash to the floor.
"Faith!" Dr. Raine called out in alarm, rising from her chair.
The pain was so great that it forced Faith to her knees. She doubled over, groaning and grimacing, unable to even form words yet.
Dr. Raine rushed to Faith's side and lifted the slayer's head enough to look her in the eyes. "Faith! What's wrong? Tell me what's happening."
Faith was crying and showed no recognition of the doctor. "Oh god...no..."
-- Buffy making her final words to Dawn then
jumping from the tower
Faith was practically sobbing as Dr. Raine continued to call out to her, trying to pull her from whatever state she had fallen into.
"Oh god...she's dead..." Faith cried. "She's dead, and it's all my fault..."
"Faith, listen to me," Dr. Raine instructed, helping the stricken slayer to her feet. "Let me get you to a table, I need to--"
"NOOO!!!" Faith screamed, violently shoving Dr. Raine away. The doctor slammed into an open cabinet, sending more items crashing to the floor.
Drawn into the infirmary by the noise, the guards rushed Faith and tackled her to the floor. She fought them like a mad woman, and they were unable to restrain her. The ensuing battle was destroying the infirmary piece by piece.
Meanwhile, Dr. Raine got to her feet, hurried to the counter, and pulled a loaded syringe from a drawer. She headed back toward the ongoing fight.
Faith had just kicked one guard away when the other one tackled her again.
"Hold her still!" Dr. Raine ordered the guard.
"I'm trying!" he yelled back.
Dr. Raine finally saw an opening and jabbed the syringe into Faith's leg. Within seconds, the drug took effect, and Faith's struggle weakened. Her eyelids fluttered closed, and she slumped to the floor, unconscious.
The guard who had been trying to hold Faith down rolled off her and lay on the floor beside her, grimacing and trying to catch his breath. The other guard limped over, holding his side, and asked, "What the hell was that all about?!"
Dr. Raine knelt beside Faith and stroked her forehead worriedly. "I haven't the foggiest idea."
When Faith woke up, she found herself face down on a hard, cold tile floor. She blinked groggily as she took in the sight of one half of what would prove to be a very small square cell.
She went to push up from the floor but realized that her upper body was encased in a straight-jacket. She rolled onto her back and used her heels to nudge herself toward the wall. She kept scooting and nudging until she had propped herself up in the corner.
Leaving her legs splayed out before her, she
leaned the side of her head against the wall. Tears leaked out of her eyes,
but her expression was blank, as if she were dead inside.
Outside Faith's cell, a guard watched her through a tiny slit in the door. When he saw her move to the corner and sit up, he stepped over to a nearby phone on the corridor wall. He dialed a number and waited.
"Infirmary," he heard Dr. Raine answer.
"She's awake," he told her.
"I'll be right there."
Once the guard had unlocked the door for her, Dr. Raine cautiously entered the small cell.
"Faith, it's Dr. Raine," she called out to the troubled girl.
Faith didn't reply; she just stared blankly at the wall.
The doctor crossed the cell and knelt down on the floor. "Faith, I just want to help, but I can't help if I don't know what's going on."
Faith remained unresponsive.
Dr. Raine had no choice but to leave and give Faith a little more time.
Hours later, after several more failed attempts to engage Faith, Dr. Raine was standing at her desk. With one hand, she held an ice pack to the back of her head where it had impacted the cabinet after Faith's shove. With her other hand, she rapidly punched in a number on her cell phone. After a substantial pause, it finally began to ring.
When she heard the expected voice answer, she said urgently, in an accent that was now totally British, "Quentin, I have disturbing news."
"Vicky!" exclaimed her brother, Quentin Travers, Head of the Watchers Council. "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine," she replied, "but Faith isn't."
"Faith has had some kind of...reaction. To what, I don't know, but she became so distraught earlier that I had to sedate her." She got a puzzled look on her face. "It doesn't appear to be connected to anything here, though. That's what's so odd about it."
She heard her brother let out a weary sigh. "It's Miss Summers," he told her. "She's dead."
Dr. Raine's mouth fell open. She pulled the ice pack away from her head and sank into her chair. "Dear God..."
After a short, ineffectual sleep and a very busy day, Dr. Raine now sat slumped in her chair, a weary and worried expression on her face. She was so preoccupied with her thoughts that the phone greatly startled her when it suddenly rang. She fumbled for it and then answered in a neutral accent, "Infirmary."
"Lehane's friend is here to see her," the visitation guard informed her. "What should we tell him?"
Dr. Raine thought for a moment then said, "Tell him to wait. I'll call you back."
Dr. Raine found Faith in exactly the same position and demeanor as she had on all of her other visits--despondently propped in the corner, refusing to eat, drink, speak, or even make eye contact.
As before, she knelt beside the stricken slayer and called her name.
"Faith, you have to come out of this," she told her. "Your-your friend is here to see you...the one who always visits...Angel..."
This information got the result she wanted. Faith looked up and met her gaze.
As Angel sat on the other side of the glass, he watched the guards bring Faith in. Unlike previous visits, she was brought in fully restrained--with leg irons and handcuffs attached to a waist chain. Once they had placed her in the chair, the guards unlocked her left handcuff and snapped it onto a large u-shaped bar that jutted from the table. Then they left her alone in the cubicle. Angel could tell by the look in her eyes as she picked up the phone that she already knew what he had come to tell her.
"How did you find out?" he asked her.
"I felt it, and I just knew," she said, her voice nearly breaking. She cleared her throat and made herself ask, "What happened?"
"I don't have all the details," Angel answered, "but the short version is...she went up against a hell god named Glory who was trying to open a portal to the hell dimension she came from. Buffy defeated her but not before the portal was opened. The only way it could be closed was if Buffy sacrificed herself by jumping in."
Both were quiet for a while, still trying to get their minds to accept the truth of Buffy's death. Finally, Faith looked up and met Angel's eyes.
"I'm sorry," she said sincerely. "I know you loved her."
Angel nodded and then said, "I know you loved her, too."
Faith's eyes grew wide, and her mouth dropped open in surprise.
Angel gave her a small smile. "Yeah, I knew."
Guilt eventually overtook Faith's shock, and she dropped her gaze to the scarred table she was handcuffed to. "Sorry," she mumbled.
"For what? For loving her?"
Faith didn't know what to say to that. After a while she raised her head again, the anguish of even more guilt now on her face. "I shoulda been there. If I hadn't screwed things up...if I hadn't ended up here..."
"Don't go there, Faith," Angel said sympathetically.
"Why not?" she shot back. "You have. I can see it in your eyes."
It was Angel's turn to hang his head. He couldn't deny Faith's accusation. He did blame himself for not staying in Sunnydale when he could have. He pushed the guilt down, though, and hurried to finish what he'd come to do. After glancing quickly at the clock, he turned back to Faith.
"I don't have much longer," he said. "I need to tell you something: I won't be coming by for a while." When he saw the hurt in Faith's eyes, he quickly added, "It's only because I've got a job overseas...in Sri Lanka. Might take a few months."
Faith nodded in understanding and then shrugged nonchalantly as if his absence wasn't going to bother her. "No big. I know you got a life to lead." Inside, though, her heart sank even more.
"I'll be back," Angel promised.
"You better," Faith said, forcing a smile. "Bring me a souvenir. Something like 'My vampire sponsor went to Sri Lanka, and all I got was this lousy t-shirt'." Then she sobered and said, "Be careful."
"You too," Angel replied. Then he hung up the phone and left.
Faith slumped in her chair, feeling the cold, lonely, and inescapable darkness settle over her once again.
Having been released from the psych ward, Faith was returned to her usual cellblock. As she was led hobbling down the corridor in both handcuffs and leg irons, she could feel the stares, hear the laughs and the speculations.
"...heard she had a meltdown and attacked the doc..."
"...stupid bitch...blew the best job in the joint..."
"...knew she was a fraud...just as fucked up as the rest of us..."
No one dared to taunt her directly, though--none except Debbie.
"Off your high horse now, aren't ya, bitch?" Debbie spat snidely at her through the bars.
"Shut your pie hole!" Eddie yelled, pointing furiously at the trouble-maker.
When they passed Lena's cell, the redhead called out to her fellow inmate. "Yo, S.B.? Faith? You okay? What happened?"
Faith made no answer. She didn't even acknowledge her friend's presence. She just continued down the corridor, a blank, dead expression on her face. She mechanically followed Eddie's commands until he had uncuffed her, placed her inside her cell, and locked the door.
She stood stock still inside her cell for a solid minute before plopping wearily onto her bunk. When she felt a wave of anguish well up inside her, she ran her hands through her hair and forced it down. Then her eye caught the picture she had taped to the wall. She got up, walked over, and plucked it off the cement.
It was a novelty picture from a photo booth containing four separate shots of herself with Buffy. The first two frames showed Buffy and Faith making goofy faces and poses inside the booth. The third frame showed the slayers kissing passionately. The fourth frame showed them looking at each other intently.
Faith couldn't hold the pain back any longer. She pressed the strip of pictures against her heart and leaned face first against the stone wall. Then she let the tears come.
As she had for several days, Faith kept her distance from all the other inmates, even those she called friends. She didn't feel like feeding the gossip hounds, and she sure as hell didn't feel like sharing. She didn't need or want anyone's pity. She sat on the bench on the far corner of the exercise field, smoking cigarette after cigarette from her pack of Luckys.
Most of the other women had kept their distance, too. They knew how dangerous Faith was in a fight. They didn't want to risk pissing her off, especially when the girl had proven to be unstable. Only her friend Lena dared to approach her.
"Hey, S.B.," Lena called out amiably as she joined Faith on the bench. "How ya doing?"
Faith didn't even look her way.
"Eddie says ya lost somebody. If you wanna talk..."
Faith sent her a scathing glare, so Lena instantly left that topic. She cleared her throat nervously and tried again.
"So...um...do you think you'll get your infirmary job back?"
"What do you think?" Faith retorted.
Lena looked away for a bit then scooted closer. "Look, Debbie's making big talk about taking you out--you know, hit you while you're down? You better watch yourself."
Faith just shrugged like she didn't care.
Not knowing what else to say or do, Lena slipped away.
As the other inmates lay sleeping and snoring in their cells, Faith tossed and turned on her bunk, her eyes darting beneath their lids. Her face was tensed in pain as she mumbled incoherently, trapped in a horrible nightmare.
Faith ran through a hellish landscape--stone buildings burning or destroyed, demons roaming freely, humans screaming in torment. She focused on one set of screams.
"Buffy?" she called out. "Buffy?!!" Then she took off toward a particular building that was only half demolished.
As she wound through the crumbling hallways, the screaming she had honed in on grew louder. When she tracked it to its location behind a heavy wooden door, she heard the screaming suddenly stop. She kicked down the door and ran inside. Several demons were hovered over something Faith couldn't see. They turned and rushed the slayer. Even with no weapon, she made quick work of them, ripping them to pieces with her bare hands.
When the demons were dead, Faith hurried to where they'd been hovering. There she found Buffy--chained to a table, her body so ravaged by the tortures the demons had subjected her to that she was almost unrecognizable.
"Oh god, Buffy..." Faith said in horror before reaching for the chains. "I-I-I'm gonna get you out of here...just let me..."
"Don't. You. Touch Me."
The intensity of Buffy's voice made Faith freeze in her attempt to free the woman. She slowly looked up and met Buffy's eyes.
"This is all your fault!" Buffy accused, suddenly and inexplicably able to rise from the table, no longer bound.
Faith backed away in terror. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry...I should've been there to help, but--"
"Poor Faith...finally sorry," Buffy taunted as she descended upon her. "Well, sorry came too late." She grabbed Faith by the throat with both hands and shoved her against the wall, strangling the life from her. "I'm in hell...because of you!!!"
Faith awoke screaming, rousing the entire cellblock. While she grasped at her neck and panted for air, the inmates around her grumbled and cursed.
"Jesus Christ! Not again...every fuckin' night since she got back..."
"Damn psycho...they need to send her ass back to the ward..."
When Faith realized, once again, that it had only been a dream, she sat up and swung her legs over the side of her bunk. She leaned her elbows on her knees, covered her face with her hands, and just cried.
As Faith's body shook with sobs, she couldn't tell that she wasn't actually alone in her cell.
She couldn't see that, there with her, standing right in front of her, glowing wings and all, was Guardian Angel Buffy.
She couldn't feel Buffy's fingers caressing her brow or wiping the tears from her cheeks.
She couldn't hear Buffy telling her again and again, "It's not your fault...I'm not in hell..."
She couldn't see Buffy falling to her knees, crying and pleading with her, "Faith, please don't do this to yourself...please..."
Faith could only sink deeper into her
"I'm trying everything I can," Buffy desperately reported to her mother, "but Faith is getting worse. She blames herself for my death, and now she just wants to die. I don't know what to do!"
Joyce reached out and squeezed her daughter's arm. "Just keep at it, honey. Don't give up."
Buffy nodded, but worry still creased her face.
As Faith sat smoking on her bench at the far corner of the yard, she was closely watched by the guards, particularly by her two closest allies within the correctional officers--Jack, who was positioned on the wall, and Eddie, who was stationed on the ground near the free weights.
They had heard the rumors and knew that Debbie had made threats against Faith. They also knew that Debbie was fully capable of making good on those threats. She was a lifer with no possibility of parole, so she had very little to lose, and her girls were fiercely loyal. So far, Debbie and her gang had minded their own business, but Jack and Eddie weren't convinced of their seeming disinterest.
Suddenly, a fight broke out at the tables near the free weights. As the two women started shoving and slapping, a crowd gathered around them. The ground-level guards moved in. Before they could get there, though, the single fight escalated into a bench-emptying brawl when the two girls' respective friends jumped into the action. Every available guard rushed in to break up the incident before it worsened.
Faith turned back and glanced at the massive fight. For a moment she considered intervening; then she shook her head and returned to her smoking. What the fuck difference does it make? she thought to herself. They're just gonna beat the shit out of each other another day.
The brawl, of course, was Debbie's idea--the perfect distraction that would allow her to make her move against the Super Bitch. While the guards struggled to make a dent in the violent mob, Debbie and five of her most loyal followers hurried over to where Faith sat alone.
From his position on the wall, Jack noticed Debbie and her gang creeping toward Faith and immediately got on his radio. "Eddie! Eddie! Forget the fight! Debbie's moving on Faith!"
Eddie, though, had his hands full within the ongoing brawl. He tried to look in Faith's direction but couldn't see past the crowd.
On the far side of the exercise field, Debbie finally reached Faith. "You're sittin' on my bench, bitch," she called out in challenge.
Faith cut her eyes over her shoulder and then took a long drag off her cigarette. After breathing out the smoke, she said, "Fuck off, Debbie. I'm not in the mood."
"Well, I am."
Faith got up from her bench and shot the larger woman a deadly glare. Then she threw down her cigarette and stalked directly toward Debbie.
For a second, the hulking woman seemed to reconsider her actions, but then she stood firm, determined to follow through. She readied herself, expecting an instant fight. She was surprised when Faith just walked right past her.
"I told you," the brunette growled, "I'm not in the mood."
As Faith walked away, she made no attempt to watch her back. She knew they were going to try something, but at that point, she just didn't care. Debbie took the opportunity given to her and punched Faith hard in her lower back.
Faith fell to one knee, grimacing in pain, but after a moment, she got back up. When she turned around toward her attacker, she saw Debbie's girls begin to surround them. When the circle was complete, Faith lifted her eyes to meet the larger woman's stare, but she kept her arms loose at her sides.
When she realized Faith wasn't going to retaliate, Debbie punched her in the face several times. Each impact made Faith's head snap to the side with such force that it set the slayer to stumbling. Debbie then gave Faith two brutal punches to the gut followed by a vicious uppercut to the chin. Faith hit the ground on her back, seeing stars and spitting blood from her mouth.
Back on the wall, Jack kept yelling at Eddie over the radio. "Get your ass over there! She's not even fighting back!"
Eddie shoved away the woman he'd been trying to restrain and began fighting his way out of the mob.
As Debbie's friends cheered, Faith turned over and crawled along the gravel, trying to get to her feet. When Faith was almost there, Debbie grabbed her by the front of her jumpsuit and yanked her close.
"I'm gonna make you wish you'd never been born!" Debbie snarled.
Faith gave a rueful laugh. "Too late."
Debbie's face scrunched into a scowl, and she tossed Faith to her friends. "Get her!" she ordered.
At Debbie's command, the five women began raining down blows on Faith. After a hailstorm of punches, Faith went down again, this time on her stomach. But the blows didn't stop. They just became kicks and stomps instead of punches.
As Faith lay on the ground, grunting and wincing each time a foot connected with her body, she couldn't see that Guardian Angel Buffy was right there with her.
"Fight back!" Buffy yelled at her. "Damn you, fight back!"
But Faith didn't hear her. She just took all the punishment that Debbie and her gang were putting out. If she was lucky, it would all be over soon--the pain, the guilt, the pathetic life she'd wasted.
When Debbie figured Faith was sufficiently softened up, she called out to her girls, and they picked Faith up and held her upright by her arms.
Blood was pouring down Faith's face from a large gash on her forehead. She kept blinking, as if she were trying to focus her vision. Buffy continued to plead with her to no avail.
Debbie held up a shiv and said, "Time to die, bitch."
Buffy's translucent form stepped between the slayer and her attacker. "Faith! Remember what I told you when we were fighting Kakistos? The first rule of slaying? Don't. Die." Buffy practically sobbed her next words, "Faith, please! Please, don't die!"
Something in Faith's eyes changed. It was as if she had actually heard her guardian angel's desperate words. Just as Debbie shoved the thin blade of the shiv through Buffy's glowing form and toward Faith's stomach, Faith yanked her arms free and stopped Debbie's thrust.
Debbie's eyes showed shock, then fury, and when she failed to even budge Faith's grip, they finally showed fear.
Back at the brawl, Eddie at last made it clear of the mob and ran toward Faith. When he arrived, he found Debbie and her gang on the ground--either groaning or unconscious. Faith was beaten and bloody, barely able to remain standing.
When Eddie rushed to her side, she pointed at the others and said in a slurred voice, "I didn'start it...they..."
"I know," Eddie assured her. "I know."
When Faith's eyes promptly rolled back in her head, Eddie caught her and eased her gently to the ground.
When the injured had first arrived in the main infirmary, Dr. Raine had immediately separated Faith from the others and sent her to the facility in the psych ward. The doctor had then summoned all of the prison's on-call medical staff. After doing a rapid triage, Dr. Raine had sent a few of the injured women on to the local hospital and left the rest to be tended to by her staff. Then she had rushed to the psych ward to check on her favorite inmate.
Currently, Faith lay groaning on a gurney as Dr. Raine systematically examined her abdomen for signs of internal bleeding. Satisfied that there was none, the doctor helped Faith sit up and swing her legs off the side. She flashed a pen light in Faith's eyes, rechecking her pupil dilation. After putting her pen light away, she began cleaning the gash on Faith's forehead. Once she had it sufficiently cleaned, she began applying a line of butterfly bandages to pull the wound closed.
As she neared the end of the gash, she said, "Jack tells me you didn't fight back. Not at first. Is that true?"
Faith cut her eyes away and didn't answer.
Dr. Raine stopped her work and demanded, "Am I going to have to put you on suicide watch?"
Faith just shrugged in response.
Dr. Raine huffed in frustration. "Is that it, then? Is that how it's going to be?" she accused, her British accent beginning to leak through. "You not talking, not taking care of yourself, not defending yourself until you end up dead?"
Faith just shrugged again.
"You've got to snap out of this!" Dr. Raine ordered her. "Buffy is gone, and the world needs you! Do you think that giving up is what Buffy would want you to do? Just give up and die?"
Faith hadn't noticed the doctor's use of Buffy's name or the lapse of her accent. She just wearily replied, "I doubt she'd care."
"She bloody well would care!" Dr. Raine shot back, her British accent in full force now. "She'd come in here and kick your slayer arse all around this bloody room!"
This time Faith noticed. She stared at the older woman in shock as the doctor went on.
"Slayers don't let themselves die," Dr. Raine told her. "They don't give up. They never give up."
"Who the hell are you?" Faith asked warily, although she suspected she already knew the answer to that question.
"I work for the Council," she replied. "I was sent here to watch over you."
"Spy on me, you mean," Faith retorted as she pushed past the doctor, slid off the table, and walked a few feet away. "Can't take your eyes off the psycho slayer--she might go out and kill somebody!"
"Faith, I came here to help you."
"Oh? Well, why were you so damn secret about it, huh? Why didn't you just tell me who you were when you got here?"
The doctor ducked her head for a moment before raising it again. "I wanted to, but Quentin...he wanted strict observation only."
" 'Quentin'," Faith noted snarkily, recognizing the first name of the Head of the Watchers Council. "You and the big wig must be mighty close..." she insinuated.
Dr. Raine gave a disgusted huff then informed Faith, "He's my brother." While Faith got an 'oh' look on her face, the doctor continued. "I should have told you sooner, and I'm very sorry that I didn't, but putting that aside for the moment, I have something important to tell you. An offer to make, actually."
Faith's eyes narrowed in suspicion. "What kind of offer?"
"If you'll pull yourself together, the Council will get you out of prison so that you can resume your duties in Sunnydale. With Miss Summers gone, the Hellmouth needs a guardian, and that, my dear, is you."
Faith snorted in disbelief. "The Council wants me back? Come on! Last time I checked they were trying to kill me."
"They've been persuaded that you've reformed."
"Oh yeah? By who?"
"By me," the doctor answered earnestly. "I've been here almost as long as you have, and I've seen the change in you. You've gone from a confused, out-of-control girl consumed by her own rage to a mature young woman determined to redeem herself."
Faith snorted again but without conviction. Glancing away, she said, "I think you're the one who's confused."
"I know you've made mistakes. Serious ones. So serious that you were sent here," Dr. Raine conceded. "But now you have the opportunity to atone for those mistakes, to make a fresh start with the Council. You're needed, Faith."
After a long moment of silence, Faith shook her head and said, "If I die, another slayer can be called...one that's not in prison, one that's not as screwed up as I am."
"No, Faith, no," Dr. Raine said, lifting the girl's chin to make her meet her eyes. "You are the Slayer. You. You have been since the day you were called. It's what you were meant to do, what you were fated to do..."
Faith backed out of the doctor's grasp and turned away to think, her mind instantly bombarded by her inner voices.
This has gotta be some kinda trick, her cynical self asserted. You can't trust the Council.
I dunno, Faith thought. The doc seems cool.
Yeah, well, so did Gwendolyn Post, the watcher from hell.
But you'd be out, another voice countered. No more prison food, no more eight-by-eight cell for a home...you'd be free.
I ain't ever gonna be free. Not really. And I shouldn't be. I don't deserve to be. Not after what I did.
But, but...you'd get to slay! the voice insisted. You know how much you've missed that.
Faith let the various voices battle back and forth until she came to the one question that she knew would settle the matter: What would Buffy do?
She'd fight the good fight, Faith answered herself. She'd go where she was most needed.
With a heavy sigh, Faith turned back around and faced her watcher. "Okay," she told her, though without much enthusiasm.
"Marvelous!" Dr. Raine exclaimed, a pleased smile spreading over her face. Then she began rattling off what would happen. "It will take weeks, perhaps months, to get everything arranged. Until that time, you'll remain here in isolation. You'll have to heal, of course, and then be evaluated, both physically and psychologically. In the meantime, Quentin will need to negotiate your release..."
As Dr. Raine excitedly went on, Faith tuned her out and let out another sigh. Maybe it won't be so bad, she thought. Maybe I can get it right this time.
Guardian Angel Buffy stepped in front of the slayer and caressed her bruised cheek. "You will...you'll make a difference...you'll be twice the slayer I was, I promise..."
Although Faith couldn't consciously hear Buffy's words, she did feel a small sense of reassurance come over her. She turned back to the doctor and gave her new watcher her full attention.
At that, Buffy smiled and then disappeared in a golden flash.
When Buffy arrived in heaven, she immediately found her mother and rushed to tell her the good news. She took no note of the woman Joyce was speaking with.
"I did it, Mom! I did it!" Buffy blurted ecstatically, totally interrupting her mother's conversation. "Faith's going to be okay. It was a close call, she almost let herself get killed, but I got through to her, and she didn't, and now the Council's gonna let her go back to Sunnydale, and I just know things'll be better for her there. She can be a slayer again and--"
"Oh dear, oh dear," said a chiding voice--one that didn't come from her mother.
Buffy finally turned and looked at the woman who was with Joyce. She couldn't believe her eyes. "Pat?"
Joyce's former book club friend smiled condescendingly and reached over to pat Buffy's arm. "Don't you worry, dear. I don't blame you for that whole zombie incident..."
While Buffy tried to shake off her surprise, Pat turned back to Joyce. "You simply have to tell her," she insisted. "I know, I know...the Powers forbade you to speak of it, but she needs to know the truth. Save her the agony of working a hopeless case."
"Mom," Buffy said, her anxiety skyrocketing now. "What is she talking about?"
When Joyce didn't answer right away, Pat eagerly continued for her. "This girl you've chosen to watch over? Faith Lehane? I hate to tell you, but...the poor thing isn't going to make it to her next birthday. And since her redemption will be far from over when that happens, you know what that means..."
Buffy's eyes widened in horror, and her mind went reeling. Faith's going to die? Faith's going to hell?
"And she was making such progress, too," Pat said with fake pity. "Too little, too late, I guess..."
"That's enough!" Joyce said sharply to her one-time friend. "You, you... sanctimonious, self-serving...pain in the ass!"
Pat gasped in wounded outrage.
"I didn't even like you when we were both alive!" Joyce accused. "If I hadn't been so desperate to connect to someone after Buffy ran away, I never would have tolerated you. I don't know how you're even here! But I don't have to put up with you now, so get out! Get away from me, and don't you ever speak to Buffy again!"
Pat was, for once, rendered speechless, and she wisely and quickly scurried away. When Joyce turned to speak to her daughter, though, she found that Buffy was nowhere to be seen.
"Oh, no..." Joyce said with dread. She knew exactly where Buffy had gone.
Buffy was being dragged backwards out of a cavernous chamber by two very burly angels who had hooked their arms around hers.
"Wait! Wait! I just want to talk to them!" she insisted, reaching out toward the front of the chamber.
When it was clear that the angels were not going to listen, she decided that it would be necessary to fight force with force. She wasn't even sure if she still had her slayer powers or if she had any special angel strength, but it was time to find out.
She surged forward, breaking the grip that they had on her arms. When they turned to grab her again, she slammed her elbows back into their guts, making them double over. She spun around and aimed a sweeping high kick right across their jaws as they rose up from clutching their stomachs. They went down in a domino-like heap and didn't move.
As she stood over the downed angels, breathing hard, she started to hear some light applause. She turned and saw seven glowing beings sitting upon thrones at the front of the chamber. They were currently in human form, probably for Buffy's benefit, but they could appear in any form they chose.
The one who was slowly clapping was on the left end of the dais. He was young and handsome and wore a smirk on his bearded face.
"Thank you," he complimented as he stopped his applause. "I've missed watching you work."
The female being next to him rolled her eyes and sighed.
He leaned forward and addressed the other Powers. "I still say she'd be better suited to the warrior ranks than the guardians..."
The gray-haired man in the center of the seven shook his head. "Her place has already been decided," he reminded, and the other man said nothing more. The older man then turned to Buffy and said in a softer tone, "So has the place of Faith Lehane."
"No! It can't be!" Buffy objected. "Y-Y-You haven't given her enough time. She can make up for what she's done. I promise she can. She can do so much good, you'll see. She--"
The elderly man raised his hand, and Buffy fell silent. "It is her fate," he told her solemnly, "and we cannot interfere with fate."
"What?!!" Buffy replied in an incensed voice. "Are you kidding me?! You interfere all the time! It's what you do."
The elderly man pulled his shoulders back in a defensive posture. "Only in the most dire of circumstances."
"This is dire," Buffy insisted. "This is as dire as it gets. This is Dire City!" Then she calmed herself a bit and stepped toward the seven. "Faith is the Slayer. The world needs her."
"When she falls, another will be called," the elderly man announced resolutely. "That is the way it is, the way it has always been."
"Well, your way sucks!!!" Buffy shot back at them before stomping out.
Joyce was wringing her hands as she anxiously awaited Buffy's return. When she saw the door burst open and Buffy come stalking out, she was so relieved. She had been deathly afraid that her daughter would mouth off to the Powers and earn herself a quick ticket to Purgatory, but the fact that Buffy was here instead of there boded well. She hoped.
As Buffy approached her mother, she sent her an angry glare and then proceeded to walk right past her. Joyce reached out and grabbed her arm, stopping her.
"Buffy, I'm sorry," she said sincerely. "They told me not to tell you..."
"I don't need apologies," Buffy coldly replied, pulling out of Joyce's grasp. "I need a way to save Faith."
At that, the slayer stormed away, leaving
her mother behind.
Author's Note: (1) The next several chapters will contain a rehash of portions of "Bargaining I and II" (with some key changes). I apologize in advance for the massive lifting, but it's necessary for the continuity of the story. Please bear with me. (2) One of these key changes to the canon of "Bargaining I and II" is that both Spike and Giles leave Sunnydale weeks before Buffy is resurrected. (3) By the way, Dr. Raine has no connection to Ethan Rayne. They have similar but totally unrelated names.
Dirty and exhausted from substitute slaying, Willow, Xander, and Anya trudged through the front door. Buffybot walked in behind them and shut the door; the android was as chipper as ever, although she too showed signs of wear and tear. Tara rose from the couch to greet them.
"Willow, I need service," Buffybot reminded when a small spark popped on her damaged arm.
"I know," the redhead said wearily. "Just go on up to your room, and I'll be there in a bit. But don't wake Dawn up, okay?"
"Okay!" Buffybot said before heading upstairs.
"Tough night?" Tara asked as the Scoobies sat down in the living room.
"Yeah, you could say that," Xander replied. "We tried to take out this nest of vamps. Didn't exactly go as planned."
"A whole nest?!" Tara exclaimed. "What were you thinking?"
"I thought we could handle it," Willow grumbled. "If we had just kept them contained, I could've...But we didn't, and some of them got away."
"This is getting ridiculous," Anya complained. "We're not slayers. We can't keep doing this."
"Well, what do you suggest?" Willow retorted. "Just sitting on our ass and letting evil take over Sunnydale?"
"No, I was thinking more like saving our ass by getting out of Sunnydale. Like Spike and Giles did."
"We can't do that, An," Xander said. "We have a responsibility. We have to keep going. It's what Buffy would do."
"Buffy's not here," Anya replied. "And that's the problem." She let out a sigh. "We need Buffy."
"Yeah," Xander said in a hopeless voice.
As Tara nodded sadly, Willow frowned and then gazed off in thought. There's gotta be a way...
While Buffy was spending most of her time on earth with Faith, Joyce was following her own line of investigation back in heaven. At the moment, she was meeting up with a friend of hers.
"Hey, Ozzie," she said as she greeted the towering, dark-skinned man.
"Joyce," he replied warmly as he took her hand and guided her to a nearby sitting area.
"Have you thought about what I said?" she asked as they sat across from one another. "About Buffy and Faith?"
"I have, and I see that it has merit," he told her solemnly. "I have reviewed their history, and I believe that you are correct. There have been definite instances of deliberate sabotage designed to thwart any relationship developing between them."
"I knew it!" Joyce exclaimed.
Ozzie continued his analysis. "When the slayers first met and became attracted to one another, what did our foes do? They brought Angel back, long before the Powers-That-Be intended to. When Buffy and Faith began to bond again in spite of Angel's presence, our enemies arranged for Angel to be haunted, causing Buffy to defend him, cling to him, and once again reject Faith's tentative outreaches to her. Using Furies, they systematically baited the slayers, trying to force them to destroy one another. The question is why."
"They're afraid of them," Joyce answered. "They're afraid of them together," she corrected.
Ozzie sighed and considered the idea for a moment. "It could be nothing more than simple 'divide and conquer' tactics," he suggested, playing the devil's advocate.
"I don't think so," Joyce said, thinking deeply. "They know something we don't." She turned to Ozzie with determination in her eyes. "We need Buffy and Faith together, and that means we need Faith alive and Buffy back on earth with her. Those two love each other. Nothing the other side has done has changed that. This time we're going to make sure the girls get it right. Are you in?"
Ozzie nodded. "I'm in."
A FEW WEEKS LATER
"Watch your step, watch your step," Dr. Raine called out cheerily as she guided her brother, Quentin Travers, through a maze of half-filled boxes.
"I see you've finally begun packing..." he noted.
"Don't start with me," she warned teasingly as she led him to a small breakfast nook at the back of the house. "Between my infirmary duties and working with Faith, I've scarcely had time to shower and change my clothes regularly over the last few weeks..."
As Quentin took a seat at the table, Vicky slipped into the kitchen, filled the tea kettle with water, and placed it on the stove to boil. She set two delicate cups with saucers on a tray and dropped a satiny sachet of loose tea into each one.
"Be grateful I actually have tea on hand," she told him.
By the time the kettle was whistling, she had the tray ready with napkins, spoons, sugar, and cream. She filled the cups with hot water, gave the sachets a few dunks, then brought the tray to the table. After handing her brother his cup, she sat down and took up her own.
After they had prepared their teas to taste, Quentin leaned back in his chair and regarded his sister over the rim of his cup. "So...tell me about Miss Lehane. Is she ready? And most importantly, can she be trusted?"
"Yes, and yes," Vicky answered simply. When she saw her brother roll his eyes at her overly concise response, she added, "What do you want me to say that I haven't already said? You've read my reports, we've talked on the phone...She's completely healed from her recent altercation, she's excelled at her training, she is one hundred percent ready to resume her slayer duties."
"It's not her physical abilities that concern me, it's her mental state." He leaned forward and set his cup on the table. "Has she shown any signs of losing control? Has she given any indication that she intends to flee once she's freed?"
"No, and no," Vicky replied, smirking a bit. Before Quentin could roll his eyes again, she went on. "Faith is determined to fulfill her duties to the best of her ability. She won't run. I'm certain of that. She feels responsible for Miss Summers' death. If anything, she'll overcompensate in an effort to assuage her guilt."
Quentin merely murmured a doubtful 'hmmm' at his sister's certainties. "I'll want to speak with her myself, of course, before I finalize her release."
"I assumed you would. I've told her you'll be interviewing her tomorrow."
"Very good, very good," he said before taking a final sip of his tea and getting to his feet. When Vicky also stood, he reached out and lightly grasped her arms. "I'm thankful she didn't hurt you badly that day in the infirmary."
"She was reacting to Miss Summers' death...grieving...in a way we'll probably never be able to understand. Despite their differences, they obviously shared a very unique connection."
After a brief but warm glance, Quentin cleared his throat and stepped back, all official once again. "I'll call you in the morning to confirm a time."
Vicky nodded her agreement. After a bit more small talk, she guided her brother back to the front door and saw him on his way.
When she returned to the kitchen, she cleared the table of the tea tray and came back with a glass and a bottle of scotch. She poured herself a double and took a hefty swig.
"Brother dear, I love you with all my heart, but you really do need to get that cork out of your ass..."
When Quentin had arrived at the prison, Dr. Raine had set him up in the small infirmary office in the psych wing. He now stood behind the desk and watched as a guard escorted Faith inside. He gave the guard a curt nod, dismissing him. Then he gestured toward the chair before the desk, indicating that Faith should sit. Once they had both taken their seats, he leaned back in his chair and wove his fingers together, eyeing the slayer coolly. Faith tried not to fidget, but she found it difficult to meet the watcher's gaze for more than a few seconds at a time.
"Miss Lehane, I won't waste time with meaningless pleasantries...I have serious concerns about releasing you from prison."
"Can't say I blame you."
"So you agree that I shouldn't trust you."
"No, I didn't mean it like that. It's just...I get it if you don't. I know I'll stay on the straight and narrow, but you don't know that."
"Dr. Raine has given you a glowing recommendation, as I'm sure you're aware."
Faith just shrugged in response.
"If these reports had come from anyone else, I would have summarily dismissed them," he told her sternly. "But I've learned to trust my sister's judgment," he admitted begrudgingly, "even when it conflicts with my own."
Faith didn't say anything in reply. She just waited for him go on.
When he did, he leaned forward and placed his hands flat on the desk, pinning the slayer with an intense stare. "Let me be perfectly clear," he told her, "if Vicky comes to any harm on your watch, you will suffer consequences far worse than a life sentence in an American prison."
"I won't let her down," Faith promised. "I swear."
After glaring at her a moment longer, Quentin straightened in his chair and then opened his briefcase. He removed a lengthy document and slid it across the desk. Then he went into an equally lengthy lecture. "The terms of your release are non-negotiable..."
Faith tried to pay attention, but her thoughts soon wandered. Although a part of her longed to be free and to be an active slayer again, the rest of her dreaded returning to Sunnydale. Being there would be a constant reminder that Buffy was gone, that she'd never see her fellow slayer again, never have the chance to say she was sorry.
She wished she could go back in time and change things--take back all the hurtful words, the hate, the violence. Most of all, she wished that she could stop Buffy's death, somehow prevent her from having to jump into that doorway to hell. But she knew she couldn't do any of those things. All she could do was try to honor Buffy's memory now, by being the best slayer she could be.
Although Faith couldn't see her guardian angel, Buffy was with her, surrounding her with love and reassurances.
It was grownup time at the Summers home. While Dawn was at the movies with friends, Willow and Tara had invited Xander and Anya over for dinner. Their meal was interrupted by the doorbell.
"I'll get it!" they heard Buffybot call out cheerily from the living room.
In the dining room, all four friends nearly choked on their food as they tried to yell out a "No!" to the robotic slayer. Despite Willow's best tinkering, Buffybot was still prone to inexplicable bouts of word salad and behaviors that non-Scoobies would certainly find bizarre. By the time they rushed into the living room, though, Buffybot had already opened the door.
Willow and the others froze when they saw Quentin Travers standing on the other side of the threshold.
Buffybot searched her database and immediately spit out the results. "You're Quentin Travers, Head of the Watchers Council...total British tight ass..." she announced. Then she tilted her head and narrowed her eyes. "I don't believe my biological predecessor would appreciate your presence."
"Buffy, it's all right," Willow interjected. "Let him in."
"Okay!" Buffybot chirped and instantly stepped aside.
"Thank you," Quentin said tersely to Willow before passing by Buffybot without a word.
"W-W-What are you doing here?" Willow asked, casting a nervous glance at her friends, fearing that the Council had gotten word of their plan to resurrect Buffy.
"I have news," he answered. "May we sit?"
"Uhh, sure," Willow said, gesturing toward the couch and chairs. Within seconds, they were all seated.
"First of all, I'd like to, ahem, thank you," Quentin said, "not only for your assistance to Miss Summers during her service but also for your undertaking of the slayer's duties after her death."
The Scoobies looked on with surprise, never expecting even reluctant gratitude from the normally dictatorial head of the Council. However, they didn't have to wait long for the watcher they all knew and loathed to quickly return.
"Secondly, I'm here to inform you that the Council will be reinstating Faith Lehane as the slayer here in Sunnydale."
"What?!!" Willow objected. "She's in prison. For murder. And you want to let her go?!"
"The world needs the slayer," Quentin countered. "And, despite your mechanical replica, Miss Lehane is the only one we have. Besides, her watcher tells me that she's reformed, and I'm inclined to believe the assessment."
"Faith's watcher?" Xander replied. "What? Some clueless Wesley clone who's spent less than fifteen minutes with her?"
"Certainly not!" Quentin shot back. "Do you think I'd entrust this endeavor to his like?"
"You did before," Xander pointed out.
"Faith's watcher is my sister, Dr. Victoria Raine. She's been serving as the prison physician for nearly all of Faith's time there. She's had ample opportunity to observe her. Although my sister does have a bit of an idealistic streak, I trust her implicitly."
Quentin got to his feet and looked down at the Scoobies imperiously. "This was just a courtesy call. The Council needs neither your permission nor your approval to reinstate Miss Lehane here in Sunnydale. Any interference with her reinstatement or with her fulfillment of her duties will not be tolerated. Dr. Raine will be contacting you soon with details."
At that, Travers turned on his heel and left the house. For a moment, the Scoobies said nothing, too much in shock to form words. Then Willow spoke up.
"Who does he think he is?" the witch complained. "Mr. High and Mighty. We helped save the freakin' world, more than once, in case he's forgotten."
Xander shook his head in disbelief. "I can't believe the Council is getting her out of prison--letting that psychopath back on the streets."
"And arming her with weapons," Anya added.
"But...her watcher, this Dr. Raine, thinks that Faith has changed," Tara pointed out. "Maybe we shouldn't judge until we see for ourselves. I mean, everybody deserves a second chance...right, Anya?"
"Well, I can't argue with that," the ex-demon conceded.
"She got a second chance," Xander said, "and she used it to team up with the Mayor. In my book, she's out of chances."
"Plus, we don't need her," Willow said firmly.
"But...what if the ritual doesn't work?" Tara asked, wincing a bit. "We're doing okay holding down the fort, but that can't last. Word's bound to get out about Buffy, and we're already seeing more demons than usual. The hellmouth needs a slayer--a real slayer." Tara looked over at Buffybot. "No offense."
"None taken," Buffybot replied with a smile.
"And we'll get one," Willow insisted. "The ritual will work. All we have to do is get our hands on the Urn of Osiris. It's the one missing piece. We find that, then Buffy's as good as back."
SEVERAL WEEKS LATER
In the yard Faith was working out at the chin-up bars. On one set of bars, she went through a dozen chin-ups, reversed her grip to palm out, then did a dozen pull-ups. After letting herself drop to the ground, she shook out her arms. She moved over to the higher bar on the end, where Dr. Raine had installed a punching bag for her. She took a deep breath then started pummeling the heavy bag. The bag shook on its chain as she delivered blow after blow, varying the pace, the target, and the strength of her punches. By the time she heard Dr. Raine calling out her name, she had worked up quite a sweat. She laid one final punch into the bag then walked to where her watcher was waiting beside a bench.
"What's up, Doc?" Faith asked.
Dr. Raine had long since given up on correcting Faith's shortening of her title and name. She made no mention of it and instead pointed toward the bench. When Faith sat down with her, she handed over a bottle of water, which the slayer gratefully took and instantly downed.
"I'm afraid I have some bad news," Dr. Raine reported. "Well, not 'bad' really, just a bit disappointing."
"The house that Quentin's rented for me in Sunnydale...it's not going to be available as soon as scheduled."
"Oh. So I guess we're not headin' to the hellmouth any time soon?"
"It's just as well," the doctor said. "I've still got an enormous amount of packing to do, and I'm not yet satisfied with the transitioning of the new physician who will be taking my place here."
Faith slumped a little in disappointment. She set down her empty water bottle, pulled a cigarette and a book of matches from her pocket, struck a match, and lit her cigarette.
"It's okay. I get it," she said, taking a deep drag then blowing a cloud of smoke away from her watcher. Suddenly, a grin spread over her face, and she turned back to Dr. Raine.
"Unlessssss...you wanna send me on ahead, all early-like..." she suggested with eyebrows raised invitingly.
When the older woman started to get that 'now, now' look on her face, Faith cut her off.
"Didn't the Scoobs tell ya things have been extra demony lately? The sitch could go downhill super fast without a real slayer bein' down there. I mean, I know they got that robot and all, but it's not the same."
Dr. Raine crossed her arms and started to shake her head. Faith kept at her.
"Oh, come on...I'm goin' stir crazy in here, and it's not like I don't already know my way around the place," she pleaded good-naturedly. Then she sobered and said, "Seriously...I'm ready. You can trust me."
Dr. Raine reached over and patted Faith's arm. "I know, dear. I just don't feel comfortable sending you there by yourself. Every slayer needs her watcher."
Faith shot her a teasing smile and took another drag off her cigarette. "You just don't want Big Brother ridin' your ass about it."
Dr. Raine narrowed her eyes at her slayer. "Very sneaky...pushing the ole sibling rivalry button..."
Faith grinned unrepentantly. "Did it work?"
The watcher made a grouchy grumble and got to her feet. When she met Faith's gaze again, she asked, "And where would you stay? My house isn't going to be ready."
"There's plenty o' motels and hotels around there," Faith answered as she stood up. "I mean, it's only for a week or so, right?"
Dr. Raine rolled her eyes and let out a heavy sigh. "Very well," she relented, "but only because I'm concerned about the increase in demonic activity. Putting a knot in my brother's knickers has had no influence in my decision whatsoever."
"Sweet!" Faith crowed, cocking her fist. Then she surprised her watcher by giving her a sudden hug. "Thanks, Doc!"
When the hug was over, Dr. Raine waved her hand in the air to drive away the smoke. Then she pointed at Faith. "There will be no smoking in my house!" she sternly informed the slayer. "So I suggest that you dispose of that habit before I arrive in Sunnydale."
"Awww...come on, Doc...I'm a slayer. Smoking can't hurt me."
"But it can hurt me," the doctor pointed out.
"Oh. Right," she said with a frown. "But, hey, no problem," she added with a grin as she tossed her cigarette to the ground and crushed it under her shoe. "It'll be over and done by the time you get there." Then she placed her right hand over her heart and raised her left hand as if swearing an oath. "Scout's honor," she promised.
Dr. Raine smiled then said, "I'll go make the arrangements with the warden and order your bus ticket. After that, I'll call Miss Rosenberg and let her know to expect you within the next few days."
"Great!" Faith replied excitedly as her watcher turned and went back inside.
Slowly, Faith felt her enthusiasm deflate a bit when she considered how the redhead and her friends would react to the news of the schedule change--not to mention to her actual arrival in Sunnydale.
"Yeah...they're gonna be thrilled..." Faith mumbled.
As Anya checked out a customer, Tara gave her a hand by answering the phone.
"Magic Box," Tara answered. "Oh, D-D-Dr. Raine, hi..." she said, nervously glancing over at Willow and Xander, who sat at the table nearby. "W-W-We're good. You?...Good, that's good...A couple of days?...No, it's just, we weren't expecting her to come so soon, that's all...O-O-Okay, sure. We'll, um, get ready, I guess. Good luck with the move." Tara hung up the phone.
By then, Willow, Xander, and Anya had gathered around her. "What'd she say?" Willow asked.
"Faith will be here in a couple of days. Dr. Raine can't get away quite yet, so she's sending Faith on alone."
"Damn it," Willow said at the news. Then she turned to Anya, "Is the Urn in yet?"
"No," Anya replied, "but Cairo-Casanova assures me it will arrive late this afternoon."
"Cairo-Casanova?" Xander asked, confused.
"The desert gnome I got the urn from," Anya explained. "That's his eBay name."
Tara's eyes went wide. "You found the last known Urn of Osiris on eBay?"
"Yeah, he drove a really hard bargain, too, but I finally got him to throw in a limited edition Backstreet Boys lunchbox for a--"
Xander coughed. Anya paused. Xander looked nervous.
"--a friend," Anya finished.
Tara shot Xander a knowing smile.
Willow shook off her annoyance and went on in a determined voice. "Okay, then, once the urn gets here, it'll be time."
"It's time?" Xander asked anxiously, "Like, time time? With the..." He made a vague hand gesture. "...timeliness?"
"Are you sure?" Anya asked quietly.
"I am," Willow replied resolutely.
Willow returned to the table and began putting her things in a bag.
"But why the sudden rushy-rush?" Xander hedged. "I mean, whoa! Let's apply the brakes and check the rear- and side-view mirrors here." When he had their attention, he went on. "This is deep stuff, Willow. We're talking about raising the dead."
"It's time we stopped talking. Tomorrow night...we're bringing Buffy back."
"Tomorrow? I don't know..." Xander said.
"Um, Di-Discovery Channel has monkeys," Anya interjected. "And our tape machine's all wonky."
"Guys, I need you on board here," Willow told them.
"It's just..." Xander fidgeted nervously. "It feels wrong."
"It is wrong," Tara said, surprising Willow. "It's against all the laws of nature, and practically impossible to do, but it's what we agreed to. If-if you guys are changing your minds--"
"Nobody's changing their minds," Willow stated. "Period."
"Excuse me? Who made you the boss of the group?" Xander questioned.
"You did," Anya answered.
"You said Willow should be boss..." Tara added.
"...and then you said, 'let's vote,' and it was unanimous..."
"...and then you made her this little plaque, that said 'Boss of Us,' and you put little sparkles on it..."
"Valid points, all," Xander stipulated to Anya and Tara. "But we...I mean...we were just talking then."
"Xander, I can do this," Willow promised. "But not without you."
"But...what if something does go wrong?" Tara dared to venture.
"I'm telling you it won't."
"Okay, Scenario," Xander offered, "we raise Buffy from the grave, she tries to eat our brains. Do we, (a) congratulate ourselves on a job well done--"
"Xander, this isn't zombies," Willow corrected.
"Zombies don't eat brains anyway unless instructed to by their zombie masters," Anya supplied. "A lot of people get that wrong."
"This isn't like Dawn trying to bring Mrs. Summers back, or anything we've dealt with before," Willow explained. "Buffy didn't die a natural death. She was killed by mystical energy."
"Which means we do have a shot," Tara added.
"It means more than that," Willow said before turning to Xander. "It means we don't know...where she really is."
"We know where she is, Will," Xander said. "We saw her body. We buried it."
"Her body, yeah," Willow said. "But her soul...her essence...it's somewhere else. She could be trapped, in-in some sort of hell dimension like Angel was..." Tears filled Willow's eyes as she went on. "...suffering eternal torment, just because she saved us, saved the world, and I'm not gonna let--I'm not gonna leave her there. It's Buffy."
Xander looked at her for a long moment before finally saying, "What time do we meet?"
"Ten o'clock," Willow answered. "You're on Dawn duty. Then Anya and Tara and I will head for the gravesite. Before the tomorrow night is out, we're gonna have Buffy back."
The night was dark and quiet; the street was deserted but for one. A young woman was closing up her shop. She locked the door and turned to walk down the street, putting her keys into her purse.
At one point she paused and looked behind herself, then walked on. A little further down the street, she paused again, looked back, then rapidly resumed her walking.
When she entered an alley, a vampire grabbed her from behind, causing her to scream in terror. He pulled her back against him and prepared to bite down on her neck.
"Don't be scared..." he suddenly heard another female voice say. The vampire glanced up in surprise and saw a small blonde woman standing in front of him.
"...I'm going to kill him," Buffybot finished.
"Slayer!" the vampire exclaimed in fear.
"You can run away now," Buffybot told the shopkeeper.
The woman wrested herself out of the vampire's grip and ran out of the alley. The vampire tried to edge away as well.
Buffybot rolled her eyes at the vamp. "Not you!"
When Buffybot ran after him, the vampire pushed a dumpster into her path. She vaulted over it and landed on top of him, knocking him down. When they both got up, she brought him down again with a circle kick. When he rose again, she punched him and then kicked him to the ground.
He crawled toward an empty glass bottle, grabbed it, and then hit Buffybot in the face with it. When she stumbled back, he scrambled to his feet. When the slayer straightened up, he saw that the broken glass had torn a hole in her forehead. But instead of blood and flesh, though, he saw circuitry and sparks. His eyes went wide.
"You're...you're...you're, you're a machine!" he accused.
Buffybot smiled. "Thank you!" Then she saw the vampire backing away. "Stop!"
When she tried to follow him, she walked directly into a stack of large kegs. She backed up a few steps and repeated her attempt, with the same result.
"Vampires...beware..." she warned as she continued walking into the kegs again and again.
The vampire grinned at the sight of damaged slayer robot. "Bet the Hellions will let me in now," he said to himself before dashing off down the alley.
Faith was out of her prison blues and back into street clothes, grateful to be in her apparel of choice--jeans, t-shirt, leather jacket, and boots. She carried a duffel bag over her shoulder as she and Dr. Raine stood in the waiting area near the exit to the bus bays.
"Are you sure you have everything?" Dr. Raine asked worriedly.
"Yes, for the fiftieth time, yes," Faith replied with a smile. "Clothes, shoes, toiletries...in the bag," she said, patting the duffel. "Cash, license, calling card...in the wallet," she said, patting the back pocket of her jeans. "Stake, dagger...in the jacket. Bus ticket in hand. I'm good."
Dr. Raine nodded but kept her worried expression. "I'll be along shortly, I promise, just as soon as I can wrap things up here."
"I know," Faith groaned teasingly. She gave her watcher's arm a small poke. "I'll be five-by-five, don't you worry..."
"I'd feel better about this if I knew that Mr. Giles was still there..."
"Bus 435 southbound to Glenview, San Luce, and Sunnydale...Bay Three..." came the announcement over the intercom.
"That's me," Faith said. "See you in a few..." she told Dr. Raine as she backed toward the exit. With a final wave to her watcher, she turned and headed for her bus.
As she watched Faith leave, Dr. Raine prayed for her slayer's safety and prayed for herself, that she wouldn't regret her decision to send Faith to Sunnydale alone.
An hour north of the penitentiary, in a nothing of a town, on a nothing of a highway, was a dump of a biker bar. Outside, there were the expected lines of parked motorcycles. Inside, however, were the unexpected operators of those vehicles--demon bikers who called themselves the Hellions.
The ugly, large, leather-clad demons milled about, drinking beer and laughing raucously. At the moment, the Hellion called Mag was in the process of dragging a pudgy weakling vampire toward the gang's boss, Razor.
"What's the wannabe blood rat doin' back here?" Razor asked.
"He says the slayer's been replaced by some kind of machine," Mag answered.
"A robot, yeah!" the vampire interjected. "And I kicked her synthetic ass. You shoulda seen the sparks."
Razor got up and walked over to the vamp. "You tellin' me there's no slayer in Sunnydale?"
"That's what I'm saying," the vampire replied, trying to act tough. "They got some kind of decoy standing in for her. Town is wide open."
"Nowhere like the Hellmouth for a party," Mag noted. "There's all kinds of bad in that place."
Razor nodded thoughtfully. He and his cronies all began to laugh.
The vamp laughed, too, then dared to ask, "So...does that mean I can be a Hellion?"
Razor stopped laughing and grabbed him by the neck and squeezed. "No," he said, easily decapitating the vamp. He brushed the ash off his hands then glanced around the room. All of his demon buddies were watching and waiting for the word.
"Let's ride!" the gang leader called out. They all cheered and turned to go.
Soon the Hellions were riding off in a cloud
of dust on their motorcycles.
Author's Note: Just a reminder to bear with me regarding the rehashing of parts of "Bargaining I and II." It makes the story flow better.
As the bus approached the outer limits of Sunnydale, most of the few remaining passengers were still sleeping. They had long since turned off their reading lamps and dozed off. Faith, however, was too nervous for napping. She fidgeted in her window seat, taking turns between staring out the window to her right and glancing around the dimly lit cabin. Guardian Angel Buffy was in the empty seat next to Faith. She rested an ethereal hand on Faith's thigh and tried to surround the worried slayer with a sense of calm.
More than once, Faith started to pull her pack of Luckys from her jacket pocket; each time she stopped herself when she remembered that she couldn't smoke on the bus. On her last reach for her cigarettes, her fingers landed on the one thing she considered to be a prized possession--the strip of photo booth pictures of herself with Buffy. She removed the strip, which was folded in half with the photos facing out. She smiled when she looked at the first two frames. The two slayers had engaged in typical photo booth behavior and had hammed it up for the camera, striking goofy poses and making silly faces.
For a brief moment, Faith looked away and wondered what it would be like to see the 'Buffybot,' if the android was actually as realistic as Quentin had said. Then she turned her eyes back to her photos and let her thoughts drift to happy memories of the past.
-- Buffy and Faith high-fiving after their
synchronized vamp slaying
Faith sighed and turned the strip of photos over to look at the other two frames. The third one showed Buffy and Faith kissing passionately; the fourth showed them staring intensely at one another. For the longest time, Faith sat there, gently running her thumb against Buffy's cheek in the picture of them kissing.
But then her mind took her back to the spiral of events that had followed their moment in the photo booth.
-- Deputy Mayor Allen Finch gurgling with
Faith's stake in his chest
Faith closed her eyes and tried to push the bad memories from her mind. She knew that dwelling on them wouldn't change anything. Buffy and Joyce were gone, and even if they weren't, they probably wouldn't forgive her. And the others--well, she figured she had about a snowball's chance in hell of them giving her another chance.
When she saw her slayer frowning, Buffy began to caress Faith's forehead and whisper comforting words to her. As soon as Faith started to relax, though, a rapidly approaching roar made Faith's eyes shoot open.
The slayer stood up and turned around, but the bus had no back window. When the roar came alongside the bus, she rushed right through her invisible angel, crossed the aisle, crawled over the empty seats, and glanced out of the window. She saw a long line of bikers pass the bus at a high rate of speed. Although she hadn't been able to get a good look at the bikers because of the darkness, she had an uneasy feeling about them. After watching the last set of tail lights disappear, she sank into the seat she was at.
Buffy seemed as unsettled by the motorcycle gang as Faith was. She stood up and stepped into the aisle, glancing worriedly at the bikers in the far distance before finally turning back to Faith. Before she could return to her place beside the slayer, her mother suddenly materialized in front of her.
Joyce took hold of her daughter's arm and said, "Buffy, I need you to come with me. Now."
"No," Buffy refused, pulling her arm out of her mother's grip. "I'm not leaving Faith. Not when she's so close to Sunnydale. I don't know what's going to happen, when it's going to happen, I have to be there, I have to be ready, maybe I can--"
"Honey, it's important."
Buffy saw both the seriousness and the urgency in her mother's eyes. "What is it?" she made herself ask.
"I think we found a way to help Faith," Joyce answered.
While Xander watched Dawn back at the Summers home, Willow, Tara, and Anya knelt around Buffy's grave--Willow at its base, Tara and Anya on its sides. Tara and Anya held lit candles. Willow held the Urn of Osiris--a flower-vase-sized vessel of red clay etched with Egyptian hieroglyphs.
As Tara and Anya looked on nervously, Willow began the ritual. She produced a small jar and poured its contents into the urn.
"Osiris, keeper of the gate, master of all fate, hear us."
She dipped her finger into the urn and marked her forehead and both cheeks with what appeared to be blood.
"Before time...and after. Before knowing...and nothing."
She poured the contents of the urn onto the earth and set the urn on the grave.
"Accept our offering. Know our prayer."
Suddenly, she jerked backward, panting, and her arms fly out at her sides. Deep ugly gashes appeared on her arms.
"Willow!" Tara reached out in alarm.
"No!" Anya reminded the blonde. "She told us she'd be tested. This is supposed to happen."
"Osiris!" Willow called out. "Here lies the warrior of the people. Let her cross over."
Willow winced and moaned in pain. Blood ran from the cuts on her arms, and round shapes began moving under her skin. The round things moved up her arms and over her chest toward her neck.
"She needs help!" Tara insisted.
"She's strong!" Anya countered. "She said not to stop, no matter what. If we break the cycle now, it's over."
Willow continued breathing heavily. When Anya and Tara heard a loud rumbling nearby, they looked around nervously.
"Oh god, what is that noise?" Anya asked.
People screamed in fear as demons on motorcycles roared through the downtown area. The rampaging Hellions drove over cars, through curbside restaurant tables, and between pedestrians.
One demon grabbed a woman and pulled her onto his bike. Several others threw garbage cans through windows and hit cars with baseball bats. One Hellion lit a Molotov cocktail and threw it through a store window.
Pedestrians continued screaming and running away.
Willow still knelt with her arms held out, panting. The others watched with concern as she forced herself to yell, "Osiris, let her cross over!"
When the round things under her skin moved up her neck, Willow began to choke.
"Oh my god, oh my god..." Tara cried.
Still gagging, Willow leaned forward and put her hands on the ground. A snake head appeared in her open mouth. As she clutched the grass, the snake slithered out of her mouth and onto the ground. The others looked horrified.
"It's a test, it's a test," Tara repeated to herself. Then she whimpered, "Willow..."
As Willow straightened up, a reddish-orange light engulfed her. She cried out in pain as the energies racked her body.
The demons were still running rampant, pillaging and destroying everything in their path. As people could be heard screaming, a couple of demons rummaged through a woman's purse. The Hellion Mag was taking stuff out of a smashed window display when he heard a stern voice behind him.
"That doesn't belong to you," the voice said.
Mag turned and saw Buffybot standing there with her hands on hips.
"Put it back," Buffybot commanded.
Mag opened his mouth and let out a high-pitched squeal. All the other demons turned his way. Buffybot looked around nervously as the demons began to converge on her. Razor came right up to her as the others formed a circle around them.
"Slayer," Razor said, "I've been hearing interesting things about you."
"Yes. I am interesting," Buffybot replied. "These your friends?"
"They're my boys, yeah."
"Good. Now tell them to get back on their loud bicycles and go back wherever they came from."
"Or what?" Razor asked snidely. "You'll electrocute us?"
He punched her in the face. She staggered back into a couple of other demons, who caught her and held her arms.
"Hold her," Razor ordered.
Buffybot struggled as Razor came forward and lifted his right hand, revealing a set of ugly claws. Then an even uglier set of serrated metal claws popped out at the ends of his fingers.
He reached out and swiped at Buffybot. The claws ripped slashes in her shirt and shoulder. Blue sparks sizzled from the wounds.
"You're nothing but a toy," he told her. "A pretty toy. Wanna play?"
He moved a little closer, and Buffybot kneed him in the groin. As he doubled over, she went into a back flip, kicking him in the face with both feet and breaking free from her captors.
"I would, but you've injured me," Buffybot announced. "I have to return to Willow."
She turned and delivered spin-kicks to two of the demons, laid out four or five more of them in quick succession with kicks and punches. She leaped over the prone bodies and ran off.
Razor lifted up onto an elbow. "Get her!" he bellowed.
A few more demons tried to stop Buffybot, but she punched them out of the way. The rest of the demons got on their bikes and tore off after her.
Anya and Tara continued staring as reddish light swirled around Willow, who was forcing her way through the rest of the ritual.
"Osiris...release her!" she demanded between heaving breaths just as Buffybot ran up behind Tara.
"Willow! I need service!" Buffybot informed Willow.
At the sound of approaching motorcycles, Buffybot ran away, only to be cut off by the Hellions who had been chasing her. The demons rode their bikes around Buffybot and around the grave, forcing Anya and Tara to move away. Willow, though, was still trapped within the energies of the spell.
"Willow!" Tara cried out just as one of the demons drove directly over the Urn of Osiris, shattering it.
"Nooooo!!!" Willow screamed as the orange light instantly dissipated. She fell to the ground unconscious.
Tara called out Willow's name again and ran forward, but Mag rode in front of her, cutting her off. She screamed and moved back.
"Look what I found!" Mag bragged as he and his brothers rode circles around Buffybot.
Eventually Tara and Anya saw an opening in the chaos and dashed forward. They grabbed Willow and pulled her out of the way just as Mag rode his bike through the spot where Willow had been lying.
Tara whipped around and sent a magic bolt against Mag. He flew off his bike and crashed into a tree. The other demons continued to move in on Buffybot.
Tara and Anya picked Willow up and carried her away. After a few minutes of running, they had to stop, too tired to go on. They hid behind some bushes and tried to catch their breath. Willow started to mumble.
Tara cradled Willow's head in her lap. "Willow! Are you okay?"
Willow weakly blinked her eyes open. "Did it work?"
Tara shook her head. "No, I'm sorry."
Willow passed out again.
Tara touched Willow's face and then turned to Anya. "We need to get her home."
With the sound of motorcycles roaring around, they picked Willow back up and headed away.
When Joyce and her daughter zapped back to Heaven, Buffy found herself in an area she had never seen before. The room was immense, and everything inside it was made of stone and covered in hieroglyphs.
In the center of the room was a black pit swirling with energy. Near it, at a stone table, was a tall, dark-skinned man that Buffy vaguely recognized as one of the very important higher-ups in the heavenly hierarchy.
"Isn't that--?" Buffy asked.
"Osiris? Yes, it is," Joyce supplied. She turned to him and asked, "Is everything ready, Ozzie?"
He gazed into a bowl that he had been monitoring and said, "Yes, but we have to hurry."
"Mom, what's going on?" Buffy inquired. "You said you found a way to help Faith."
"We did, but...there's a catch. Several, actually."
"I don't care," Buffy said. "Just help me save Faith."
Joyce took a deep breath and let it out. "The only way we could come up with was for you to return to earth as your human self."
"That's fine," Buffy insisted. "I'll go back. Just get me there."
"There's more," Joyce told her. "I wish we had an easier way, but without the assistance of the Powers-That-Be, we don't. This is all we've got, and I hate to tell you, but it's going to hurt like hell."
"Hey, I was the slayer," Buffy quipped. "I ate pain for lunch."
Joyce shook her head and met Buffy's eyes. "Not pain like this."
Buffy sobered and for a moment seemed worried. Then she affirmed, "I can handle it."
Joyce gave a nod of acknowledgment and then went on. "Also, you won't remember anything from your time here in heaven. You'll remember your own past and how you died, and you'll remember that you were in heaven, but that's all. You won't remember any details, including the real reason you're going back."
"What?!!" Buffy exclaimed. "How can I help Faith if I can't remember why I'm there?"
Joyce gently rested her palm on Buffy's chest. "Honey, you'll just have to follow your heart."
Buffy thought a bit, calmed herself, and then put her hand over her mother's. "Okay, I can do that."
"It's time," they both heard Osiris say. When they looked, they saw that he had moved to the edge of the pit.
"I'm ready," Buffy said, joining him beside the portal. "What do I have to do?"
"Everything is prepared," he answered. "All you have to do...is Fall." Then he tilted his head toward the swirling blackness.
Buffy turned and looked down. She swallowed hard as she stared at the massive maelstrom of energy. After stepping to its very edge, she steeled herself, fanned out her wings, and dove right in.
While plummeting toward the earth, she cried
out in indescribable pain as every aspect of her heavenly self was stripped
from her being. Those same cries became screams of utter agony when, in the
last moments of her fall, her angel's wings were ripped from her body.
TO BE CONTINUED IN PART 7...