liz_marcs (liz_marcs) wrote,
liz_marcs
liz_marcs

Water Hold Me Down (Part 24)

My, I have been productive fanfic front.

Not for any particular reason, but does anyone know how much blood spatter there would be if you cut the head off a freshly dead body using an axe? Does anyone know where I can find this information?

*whistles innocently*

For the whole story thus far, go here.

For the previous part, go here.

 

Faith had done a lot of weird shit in her day, even before she became a Slayer.

Hitting the main road out of town and looking for a 24-hour store that sold clothes with a guy she barely knew was not one of them. It shouldn’t even rate on her weird scale.

She’d done similar shit before, although the goal changed depending on the guy. Sometimes the goal was fast food; sometimes it was looking for things to boost; sometimes it was a case of just taking off and being crazy.

Yet, this ride and this guy unnerved her on a fundamental level.

Probably it was because Junior wasn’t even trying to make with the small talk. Guys she’d done this with back in the day before she had responsibilities would’ve been flirting or trying to impress her, all with the goal of a earning themselves a righteous fuck when the fun was over. Not Junior. Not a word out of his mouth. He just leaned back against the headrest and kept both eyes on her with no expression on his face.

Plus, something was up with that left eye of his. She couldn’t put her finger on it, but it looked wrong somehow, like it belonged to someone else or that it saw more than the right one.

In a lot of ways, dealing with Junior was like dealing with Rupert when he walked through the freaking walls of her cell like they were made of nothing more than air. She thought she was hallucinating or that some wiseass had spiked her soda with whatever homemade shit prisoners brewed up to get high so they could forget they were locked up.

The feeling—You ain’t real and you ain’t here—was the exact same feeling she got when she got a load of Rupert’s magic act. Junior couldn’t possibly exist, yet there he was in full living color and making no bones about the fact that he was watching her.

Jesus, she wished he’d look out the passenger window, or, shit, at least out the windshield and just do that watching shit out of the corner of his left eye.

The feeling of crossing barriers that should be barriers was one she could never forget; yet another lesson Rupert taught her. Although in Rupert’s case, it was more practical. After laying the whole deal about the First Evil on her, she took his hand so he could lead her through her cell walls to the yard outside, then through the prison walls and fences to the free world beyond that.

She never thought she’d get that uncomfortable feeling again, and yet here it was. There should be a wall right down the center of the car so he’d be locked up and out of her sight. Instinct told her it should be there, and yet it wasn’t and he was roaming free all over her turf.

Yeah, this ride shouldn’t have been able to come close to the weird feeling she had while Rupes lead her out of prison.

Yet this ride beat it hands down.

God help her, after her little chat with Rupert and a more than twenty-mile drive with Junior, she wasn’t sure she really was the most dangerous person in the car.

She wished Junior would do something threatening. Hell, she wished he’d do anything, besides just silently watch her. At least then she’d be able to see his true colors and could act on the fact that he should be locked up and the key tossed away.

This ride should not have the hair on the back of her neck standing on end like that thing with Spike. She still had nightmares about those three dead girls—her responsibility, her girls—with their throats ripped out and their bodies arranged in a triangle while Spike kneeled in the center and sang this creepy-ass song about how they’d never leave him in this crazy, strangled voice. He didn’t even look up when she entered the room and didn’t even so much as twitch when she slammed the stake home and he crumbled to dust.

Yet, the hair on the back of her neck prickled and itched so bad that she caught herself more than once rubbing the area with her hand.

The expression of on Junior’s face should not freak her out like the expression on Angel’s face did as he burned up with the medallion around his neck shining brighter than the center of the sun while the SunnyD Hellmouth collapsed. Okay, maybe the expression on Junior’s face didn’t freak her out that much. But it shouldn’t be number two with a bullet, right after that last glimpse she caught of Angel’s crumbling face.

She finally spied an open Target when the mileage counter hit 31.2.

Close enough to a Wal-Mart to make her happy.

“That’ll work,” Junior said.

The unexpected statement startled her a bit.

Jesus, she couldn’t get out of the damn car fast enough.

As they trudged their way across the parking lot, Faith tried again. “So, you’re telling me that you’re from some world without shrimp?”

Out of the corner of her left eye, she saw Junior’s lips twitch in an aborted smile. “That’s the theory.”

“So if there ain’t no shrimp where you’re from, how do you know there’s no shrimp?”

“Oh, there’s shrimp.”

“Right. Back to ‘it’s the concept’ again,” Faith grumbled.

“Which is that I’m from someplace that’s just a little different from here.”

A little different? Sounds like we have a winner for understatement of the fucking year. If she didn’t know any better, she’d think he’d been hanging out with the Limeys.

“Settle my curiosity, Junior,” Faith said. “Whose theory is this again?”

Junior waved a hand. “I just said it was the theory put forth by evil twin and wife. Didn’t say it was the right one.”

“So what do you think?” Faith demanded.

This time Junior did smile. “I’ll take whatever works.”

“But you ain’t going into details until Rupes gets here,” Faith said.

“Don’t want to repeat the same story twice,” Junior said with a shrug. “Besides, we’re almost inside, so we’d have to table the discussion anyway.”

“Because you needing clothes is more important,” Faith said sarcastically.

“Nope. I need clothes that are actually me,” Junior responded with no inflection in his voice. “The costume doesn’t fit.”

So he was back to speaking in fucking riddles again. If she hadn’t been 007ing him and seen what he acted like when he thought no one was watching him, she’d stake his ass right now and save the world the headache.

Once in the store, Junior bee-lined for the men’s department and started grabbing the basics. The only heart-stopping moment occurred when Junior paused near a display of turtlenecks on sale. Faith, remembering how Junior was wearing one when he got killed in the creepy Slayer dream that sent her here, made some smart remark that men with no neck should avoid that fashion choice in an effort to put him off.

Junior’s eyebrows rose at that. “Are you supposed to be Faith or Cordelia?”

“Step away from the turtlenecks, Junior. Don’t make me repeat myself.”

“Fine. Whatever. I’ll avoid the sale items. Just trying to be kind to the Council credit card,” Junior huffed.

“Why the fuck do you care how much the Council spends on your sorry ass?” Faith was legitimately curious about that. He acted like he had to actually look at the damn statements himself.

“How about a flannel shirt? Do flannel shirts pass the sniff test?” Junior testily asked.

“Just so long as it ain’t a turtleneck, we’re as good as we’re ever gonna get,” Faith answered.

Shopping was a piece of cake after that. Junior snatched whatever would fit without really looking, marched into the changing room to make sure, and marched right back out in under ten minutes. It was almost enough to put him back in her good graces. Sure, he clearly didn’t give a shit about what she thought about him beyond the fact she could hook him up with Rupes and the Tweeds, and he wasn’t making the clothing thing as painless as possible just to butter her up, but she appreciated the fact that he was keeping it simple and not going the fashion plate route.

The next tangle happed when they hit the registers. As Junior placed a flannel shirt on the counter, he noticed there was a button missing.

“I’ll be right back. No point in paying for damaged goods,” he said to Faith. He then apologized to the cashier in something resembling a friendly manner before taking off back to the men’s department.

“I’ll just dig out the credit card now,” she said the cashier. As she pulled her wallet out of her jacket pocket—the same pocket that held her cell—the phone escaped and clattered to the floor. She picked it up with a grimace and realized she’d have to turn it on to make sure there was no damage. Good bet the stupid thing’d be ringing in seconds.

Might as well get it over with, she thought as she turned away from the cashier and toggled the switch.

The second the phone picked up a signal, it rang. She flipped the cell open with a sigh. “Hey, Rupert.”

“I’m assuming you’ve made contact with the target.” Rupes sounded pissed.

Faith couldn’t resist a grin, even though she knew Rupes couldn’t see it. “We’re shopping for clothes.”

“Pardon?”

“You heard me. Turns out our boy borrowed clothes from Harris senior and wasn’t feeling none too comfy. I figured I’d take him for a ride, see if I could get him to talk.”

“And?”

“He wants to wait until you get here.” Faith paused dramatically. “He also wants to remind you to grab the passport since, get this, last time Devon sent you across the sea you forgot it and he doesn’t want to fight it out with British consulate to get you a new one.”

The dead silence at the other end went on so long that Faith thought she lost the signal.

“Bloody hell. Knew I forgot something,” Rupes finally said.

Faith pulled the phone away from her ear and gave it a look like it was about to turn into a snake while she watched.

“Credit card,” said a voice in her ear.

She jumped, gave Junior a glare, and handed him her wallet before turning away again. “Use the Amex,” she ordered as she put the phone back up to her ear.

“—lo? Faith? Faith, are you still there?”

“Standing right here, Rupes. Junior says, ‘Hey.’”

“He’s standing right next to you?” Rupert’s voice was back to pissed.

“I told you that we were—”

“Yes, yes, fine. The coven is beginning the power draw now and we have you located on a map. I should be leaving within the hour. Do not leave your present location.”

A thumb pad was thrust in front of her face as Junior said, “Unh, the cashier asked for you to verify your purchase, but I can’t find a stylus anywhere for an electronic signature.”

“Stylus?” Faith asked. “What are you, from the 90s?”

Junior actually looked startled, a reaction that put Faith’s mind strangely at ease.

“I’m assuming you’re not talking to me,” Rupert said.

“You assume rightly,” Faith said as pressed her thumb against the pad. “Hand it back, Junior. Now, Rupert? We can’t stand right where we are. You’d scare the natives.”

A long-suffering sigh wound its way into her ear. “In the store?” he asked.

“Yup.”

“If you go to the rear of the establishment, it will work as well,” Rupert said.

“So we’ll be hanging around for almost an hour?” Faith asked.

“Perhaps you’ll be able to get ‘Junior’ to talk,” Rupert said. “You’ve been known to be quite persuasive when you wish to be.”

Faith heard the crumpling sound of shopping bags behind her.

“On our way,” she said.

“See you soon,” Rupert said before cutting off the signal.

“Ready?” Junior asked behind her.

Faith jerked her head for Junior to follow and headed for the exit as she shoved her phone in her pocket. The moment they hit the air, she said, “We gotta wait for Rupes behind the store.”

Junior’s attitude switched to suspicious, but he didn’t say anything.

“Christ. You’re safe as houses, Junior. If I wanted to Slay your ass, I had plenty of opportunity while following you around town.”

“This so Giles won’t be seen?” Junior asked.

“Bingo.”

Junior still looked nervous.

She leaned forward, knowing that she was about to say something stupid, but wondering just how Junior’d react. “Afraid I’m gonna get you out of sight and strangle ya?”

Junior went very still and any hint of what he was thinking disappeared from his face so fast that Faith thought he turned to stone.

Faith waited while Junior regarded her with flat eyes.

“What we have is a situation,” Junior finally said.

“And what would that be?”

“I don’t trust you. You don’t trust me.”

”That does appear to be the case.”

“What if I told you that I’m not even worried about you?”

“Ain’t what it looks like to me.”

“As you pointed out, if you wanted me dead, I’d already be dead,” Junior said. “Admit it. You’ve gone all Pandora.”

“Pandora?”

Junior was grinning now, and Faith wondered if somewhere inside he was laughing t her. “You want to see what’s behind door number two.”

Then he turned his back on her and started heading down the walk along the length of store.

“Who the fuck’s Pandora?” she shouted at his retreating back.

Was it her imagination, or did she hear the son of a bitch laughing?

She ran until she caught up with him. “Who the fuck—”

“Do I think I am?” he asked with amusement.

“That, too.”

He halted and turned to look at her. “I’m the guy who wants to talk to Giles.”

Faith tried to figure out how in hell she just lost control of the situation. “He could’ve ordered me to off you.”

Junior started walking again. “But he didn’t. If he did, I’d already be dead. Besides, if I’m already dead, I’m pretty sure I can’t be killed again.”

“Again?” Faith found herself hurrying to catch up.

“You’re preening the ol’ Slayer feathers there, Faith,” Junior said. “If you had plans to kill me, you wouldn’t be issuing death threats. You’d just do it. You’re a hell of a lot smarter than that. You know it and I know it.”

Either Junior just paid her a compliment, or he just insulted her.

While Faith tried to work out which it was, Junior added, “This is your M.O. when you’re trying to get a reaction out of someone. So, you figure you’ll get me pissed off enough or scared enough to spill, right?”

Jesus, Junior was talking like he knew her.

“Sorry. No can do,” Junior said airily as he turned the corner heading for the back of the store. “You have to wait for Da Man to put in an appearance. Then you get to see what’s behind door number two. It’s gonna be a real tiger.”

Faith stopped and again found herself staring at his retreating back. Holy shit. He knew. He knew he was causing all sort of problems on her turf and he just didn’t care. Faith clenched her fists and thought that she just might Slay him before Rupert got here. He just proved himself mad, bad, and dangerous with his attitude.

Junior reached the corner and stopped. Next thing she knew, he dropped his bags and dove forward.

The hell? Faith thought as she ran to follow. When she turned the corner saw a body on the ground, three vamps getting up from crouching around it, and Junior running full-tilt at them with a stake out.

Faith slipped her own stake out of her jacket sleeve and joined the fray with a war whoop. It worked exactly the way she wanted. The three vamps got momentarily distracted from Junior and saw her bearing down on them. The ‘oh shit’ reaction from these fuglies did her heart good. Every vamp on the planet knew by now that if some chick was heading for them with stake in hand, they were going to end the night dusty.

Junior managed to reach them first. While the vamps were contemplating their re-death by Slayer, Junior’s stake arm arced out and caught one in the chest. The resulting explosion had the remaining two realizing that they forgot threat number one.

Awwww, hell. These vampires were stupid vampires, which meant the fight would be quick and dirty. Still, a Slay was a Slay and she, for one, wasn’t about to say no to the opportunity.

Junior danced out of the way while she dove in for the kill. She ashed one of the vampires with a quick jab. Vampire two turned tail and ran.

This one was not only stupid, but a coward as well.

Faith took aim and threw her stake as hard as she could into the vampire’s retreating back. It hit home and he, too, disappeared in a shower of dust.

“Beautiful,” Junior happily remarked as he dropped to one knee next to the body on the ground. His good mood quickly evaporated and he swore.

Faith jogged over to Junior’s side. “Let me guess.”

“Dead,” Junior confirmed.

“Not a shock. His body’s a mess.”

“Employee.” Junior gave his head a hard shake. “Sorry, Ramirez.”

“Who’s—”

Junior looked up at her and indicated the nametag with a wave of his hand. “I’m guessing he snuck out here for smoke.”

“Reasonable assumption,” Faith kicked at the ground. “Shit, just a few minutes earlier, and he’d be alive.”

“Don’t remind me,” Junior said quietly.

“We tried,” Faith said.

Junior pinched the bridge of his nose. “Always do.”

Faith bent low so she could get a closer look at the mess of a body over Junior’s shoulder. “Hey, he got a pack on him anywhere?”

Junior gave her a questioning look.

“Ciggies are expensive,” Faith protested. “The cheapest pack costs fifteen bucks and those taste like sawdust. Hell, they probably are sawdust.”

“Faith, he’s covered in blood. Even if the cellophane was coated in gold, I’m pretty sure the cigarettes are pretty much ruined.”

“Good point.” Faith looked around. “I’ll go check near the door. Maybe I got lucky and he dropped them.”

“See? Now? Now you’re scaring me.”

“You really are from California,” Faith remarked as she trotted over to the door. “I threaten you, you laugh. I look for cigarettes, you’re scared.”

“Fuck.”

“Maybe later,” Faith cracked. She grinned as she swooped in to pick up the forgotten pack.

“Not you.” Junior sounded irritated.

“Don’t know what you’re missing,” Faith said. “Check it out. Camel Primes! We’re talking $26.95 a pack! On minimum wage? I. Don’t. Think. So. Someone’s been a bad boy.”

“Someone’s going to be a worse boy if you don’t have a sword or axe on you,” Junior snapped.

Faith spun around and sped back to Junior’s side. “What?” she demanded.

“Checked his mouth,” Junior said as he looked up at her. “They weren’t killing him. They were turning him.”

“Let me find my stake.”

“Stake’s not going to work this early. He has to rise first and that won’t happen for at least a day or two. We’ll be long gone by then.”

“I know that, dumbass,” Faith snapped. “I don’t know if you noticed, but I don’t have sword on me. TSA frowns on it when you try to bring one of those puppies on the plane in your carryon.”

“The guys that operate the airport scanner?” Junior asked. “You’re worried about sneaking something past glorified rent-a-cops?”

“Jesus. The more you talk, the more I think you haven’t been keeping up,” Faith said. “TSA are the bad-ass dudes with the submachine guns that patrol the airports and operate the airport scanners. Only reason I can get the stakes on board is because they’re not metal or explosive.”

Guns?

“Welcome to the twenty-first century. How long ya been sleeping Rip Van Harris?”

“Twelve years according to whatever I’m looking at,” Junior said as turned back to the future vampire. “So how is a stake going to help us?”

“Maybe I could hack his head off with it.”

“Messy,” Junior remarked.

“Messy and fucking difficult,” Faith agreed. “Could always go back inside and buy an axe.”

“Oh. That’s great. Sure. Why didn’t I think of that,” Junior flung up his hands. “We go back in, buy an axe, and the next guy who comes out here on break sees that one of their buddies have been beheaded. If we’re lucky, maybe we won’t still be here waiting for Giles. Maybe we’ll be ten miles down the road when the police catch up with us and charge us with murder.”

“Ah. Good point,” Faith nodded. “Which brings up another one. We’re standing around with a dead body on our hands and we could get caught and charged anyway.”

Junior looked to the heavens. “You can stop doing this now.”

“Who are you talking to?”

“Wait. Wait. I got it.” Junior looked at her with a grin. “Pull the car around and we’ll dump the body in the trunk. Then we buy an axe somewhere else, find some place that isn’t overdeveloped suburban sprawl hell, dump the body there, behead this guy, and take off.”

“Put that mess in a rental car trunk? What are you? Nuts?” Faith asked. “Do you know how much they’ll charge to clean blood out of the trunk? And when some dog walker trips over the body and those police start looking for the guy who chopped this guy’s head off, who the hell do you think is going to wind up being the main suspect?”

“Fine. Got any cash on you?”

“Some.”

“I go back in and buy some trash bags so we can wrap up the body up so the car will stay neat. You pull the car around so we can dump the body in the trunk.”

Faith whipped out her cell phone. “Better idea. First I call Rupert and tell him to make sure he brings an axe with his passport. Then we do what you said. Once we get down the road a bit, we chop off his head.”

“Now that’s a plan,” Junior agreed with a grin.

***

The sound of confusion drew Faith out of the library and into the entrance hall. Dawn was already bent over one of the girls while the other Slayers milled around.

“Get upstairs and get cleaned up and then get some rest,” Buffy’s voice rose of the din. “Dawn and I’ll take care of Jeanne.”

Rona zipped in behind Faith and let out a gasp.

“Go. We’ve got it handled,” Buffy said as she attempted to herd the girls upstairs.

“What happened?” Rona asked.

“There’s nothing I can do for the ankle,” Dawn said to Jeanne. “The good news is the break will be healed tomorrow, but you’ll probably be limping for a day or two.”

“Shouldn’t she be in the hospital?” Rona demanded.

“Bad idea,” Faith said. “We take her to the emergency room, there’ll be a record. If she shows up for a follow-up visit, they’re gonna wanna know how she healed so fast, especially if I hear Dawn right and there’s broken bones.”

“But—” Rona began.

“Welcome to reality, chica,” Faith said.

“I can at least do something about the cuts,” Dawn said. “We’ll clean those out and bandage you up.”

Rona huffed behind her. “So what you’re saying is we’re pretty much stuck with Dawn’s Red Cross certificate classes for healthcare?”

“And Slayer healing, don’t forget the Slayer healing,” Faith said.

“Which means no hospital or doctors for us,” Rona said. “Yeah, real benefit there.”

“You shouldn’t be knocking it, especially since you got the benefit when we was hauling ass out of Sunnydale,” Faith answered.

“Yeah, but that’s different,” Rona protested.

“Always is when it’s someone else,” Faith said.

As the last of the girls finally began mounting the stairs, Buffy turned to Jeanne. “How is she?”

Jeanne let out a whimper.

“Hurting,” Dawn said in a business-like voice. “She’ll be sore a day or two if I know my Slayers,” here she gave Buffy a grin. “Go easy on her for a few days and she’ll be punching through walls in no time.”

“Faith, help me get her up to bed,” Buffy said.

“I think it’d be better if we could keep her down here,” Dawn argued.

“Moving her upstairs can’t possibly hurt her more,” Buffy said. “Slayer, remember? The rules are a little different.”

Dawn glared up from her crouched position. “You’re right. But she’s still in pain and I don’t want to move her more than we have to because it’ll just hurt her that much more. There’s no point to it.”

Buffy took a step back and seemed to be considering Li’l Sis in a new light. “Fair enough,” she finally said. “Would the couch be okay?”

“Give me a pint of Ben and Jerry’s, a cheesy movie, and Cosmo and I’ll take it,” Jeanne weakly joked.

A relieved grin spread across Buffy’s face. “If I give you the ice cream and the Cosmo, are you willing to trade the movie for some sleep?”

“Done and done,” Jeanne agreed.

As Dawn and Rona disappeared upstairs for the first aid kit, Buffy and Faith moved a groaning Jeanne to the couch. Faith went off to dig up a blanket while Buffy quietly talked to Jeanne. By the time Faith returned, Dawn was already at work cleaning the cuts while Rona watched Dawn do her thing.

Buffy stood there looking a little lost.

“What happened?” Faith asked as she handed Rona the blanket.

Buffy jerked her head for Faith to follow her and turned to leave the room.

The second they hit the kitchen, Buffy dropped into a chair. “We walked right into that,” she said without preamble.

“Into what?”

“We were checking out the Flats. I know that’s one of the territories your team takes care of, but you’ve been tied up here and I thought the newer girls were ready,” Buffy said.

Faith dropped into a chair of her own and waited.

“Seems like the local vampire population had been paying attention and noticed they’ve been going undusty for a few days,” Buffy winced. “It was a real cat’s away situation.”

Faith deflated. “Awww, shit. Don’t tell me.”

“That’s what I just don’t get about vampires,” Buffy said. “The poor impulse control.”

“Unh, this from someone who hung with Spike?” Faith asked.

“Angel wasn’t like that,” Buffy said. “I kinda thought it was a Spike thing.”

“And an Angelus thing. How long you been a Slayer again?” Faith asked.

“Thanks for voting me dim-bulb Buffy,” the other Slayer sighed. “Okay, poor impulse control is wrong. Dumb is more like it. You’d think they’d realize we’d be back in there sooner rather than later, right? But no. They go back to business as usual before we moved into town. You’d think they like totally forgot we lived here.”

“Dumb is definitely better,” Faith agreed.

“So, anyway, I pretty much see we’ve got our work cut out for us and I get everyone to pair up so we can cover more ground,” Buffy said.

“Sounds like a plan,” Faith agreed.

“I told them to stick with their partners,” Buffy angrily said. “I told them. If they saw something they thought was too much to handle, they were supposed to contact me on my cell and I’d be there.”

“Ahhh, that would be the flaw in the plan,” Faith pointed out. “You know how competitive we get on the Slay front.”

“On the every front,” Buffy said.

“Let me guess, ol’ Jeanne thought she could handle it.”

“Jeanne saw one vampire leading what she thought was a victim to an alley and took off after it without telling her partner,” Buffy said. “Now, from what I get, she followed them down the alley, through the back door of this club, and stumbled right into a little party just before it got started.” Buffy gave Faith a meaningful look. “Orpheus is in town.”

“Oh, fuck.”

“Yeah, do not get between Orpheus heads and their fix, and that goes for the humans too,” Buffy said.

“So how—”

“Lynne at least knows how to follow orders. She noticed her partner sneaking off and followed. She got one look in that backroom, got out of there before she got noticed, and was on the phone to me before she got out of the alley.”

“Good thing. Lucky for Jeanne.”

“True that,” Buffy said with a nod. “We were on them pretty quick, but sadly all of them were sober. Like I said, the party hadn’t started yet, so we were fighting not just the vampires, but also the humans who were hooked on the stuff. God it was a mess.”

Faith felt a chill up her spine. “No one got killed?”

Buffy looked miserable. “We got lucky there, too. The human half of the equation gave up pretty quickly and took off. We managed to stake about half the vampires, but a lot of them got away.”

“You’re lucky Jeanne was the only one hurt.”

“More lucky all around than we deserved, then” Buffy glumly agreed. “Sometimes I wonder if I did the right thing.”

“B, stop beating yourself up. From what I hear, Jeanne pretty much screwed the pooch.”

“Not that,” Buffy said with a wave of her hand. “The spell. The one that made them Slayers. It hit me tonight that we’ve been lucky since the First and that there’s no way the luck’s going to hold. Sooner or later, we’re going to lose one of those girls.”

“Last I checked, we all agreed to that scheme,” Faith pointed out. “It ain’t on just your head.”

“It was my idea,” Buffy said.

“An idea’s dangerous only if you can pull it off, and you wouldn’t have pulled it off if we didn’t all agree to it.”

Buffy studied Faith through tired eyes. “Wish I could say that made me feel better. Speaking of which,” Buffy gave her head a shake, “how’s Giles?”

“Yeah. About that. I think Tweedy needs you,” Faith squirmed. “Just for the company, I think.”

“I was hoping you’d say he was getting rest.”

“He promised to get some sleep when Willow was ready to take over.”

Buffy looked to the ceiling. “Great. Willow and Giles are exhausted. So who do I think needs the sleep more?”

“Right. Like G is going to put up with you bossing him around when there’s research to be done,” Faith said.

“Choosing between people you care about,” Buffy said absently. “How do you choose? I was never any good at it. Seems like I always choose wrong and people get hurt or killed.”

“Done is done, B,” Faith said. “Besides, last I checked, you ain’t the only one who made some dicey choices on the people front.”

Buffy laughed a half-hearted painful laugh. “Yeah, but how many people can say their choices have multiple body counts.”

“Sitting right here,” Faith said.

“Yeah. It really is like one more gift for being a Slayer.” Buffy rubbed her tired eyes.

“And we have a house full of them all just waiting to make the same exciting mistakes,” Faith glumly said.

“You know? I kind of envy Xander,” Buffy said. “Aside from the dancing demon incident, I can’t think of any decision he’s ever made that’s led directly to people ending up dead.”

Continued in Part 25

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