Buffy walked slowly through the streets of Sunnydale, passing by the wreck of the highschool, firefighters still scooping through the wreckage she had caused. The smell of smoke still hung heavy in the air, and the summer wind bore no relief from the heat that had cloaked the town for the last few days. Dark circles ringed the girl's eyes as she surveyed the massive burn marks, watching as the firefighters started packing up for the day. It was getting on towards dusk, and even, especially after the demon appeared in Sunnydale, no one wanted to be out after dark. Buffy sighed slightly and kept on walking towards Giles's apartment, now that the library was toast, her hands stuffed into her pockets.
Over and over, she kept seeing the dreams she'd been having for the past few days, every night in the week since the mayor's final transformation. Every time she closed her eyes, even to blink out ashes borne on the hot summer wind, she saw herself holding Faith's knife, saw herself drawing Faith's blood, but the scene jumped from there, to her home where she saw Joyce devoured by the crazed vampire the Watcher Council had tried to use in it's sadistic little
test. After that came Willow, drained dry by her vampire twin, still wearing the black leather of that same. It went on and on, everyone Buffy knew and cared about, killed in one fashion or another- always because she had failed in something. Most of all she saw the Mayor in his demon shape making snacks out of her class, the people she'd been fighting for these last three and a half years. She kept telling herself that none of these things were true, but they kept repeating themselves in her dreams.
The others showed similar signs of sleep deprivation, but it didn't end with them. Joyce had been irritable and drank twice her usual supply of coffee every morning, but still struggled to stay awake at night with Buffy, seeming to share her reluctance to sleep. All over town, people seemed to be living through the nightmares over and over, though as usual there was no discussion of the group problems. Sunnydale was ever the land of Denial. Buffy sighed to herself again,
wishing that she could find something non-depressing to think about, but she was just so tired. She blinked a few times to clear the sleepiness from her mind and then broke into a jog, hoping to use some physical exertion to clear the tiredness from her mind. The heat of the fading day caused her to break into a sweat far faster than normal as she went, covering the remaining blocks to Giles's place much more quickly than normal. She wondered what dark and doom-filled prophecy he had for her today, and she silently wished that it could be the cupcake demons or the chocolate horrors, or something else at least edible and threatening. Even sugar could shake the mood she'd been in lately.
Giles answered the door quickly as she knocked, gesturing her inside to see Xander, Willow and Oz already seated around the sturdy oaken dinner table. Buffy took up the fourth unoccupied side chair, dodging piles and boxes and stacks of books saved from the library as she did so. The others all looked similar in one aspect besides being human- dark circles under the eyes. Nobody had been sleeping well it seemed.
"Well, now that we are all assembled, I have something important to discuss with you." Giles spoke with his usual calmness, polishing his glasses with a little handkerchief in the process. "I'm sure you've all noticed the, err...dark pall which has covered the town, and I'm sure you've also noticed that it is more depressing even than the usual level of gothic obsession in this place. I am thinking that the simple psychic shock of seeing a demon might be negatively affecting the lives of those who attended the graduation, and perhaps others. No one has ever had to deal with the aftermath of meeting a demon and surviving, but I have a few ideas about how we might cure them."
"Mochafest 99?" Xander suggested, and was quickly silenced by three withering stares from the others. "What? Who among you would question the healing powers of caffeine?" Giles looked down at his teacup at that, and set it aside swiftly, frowning at Xander.
"No, I was thinking more of a massive magical undertaking- in one of my books I have a spell of Somnabulence, which could conceivably be used to put an entire town to sleep. It was used by the dark wizard Tzerion in the early dark ages on a few occasions to build his power."
"Isn't that like, bad magic then?" asked Willow, her eyes widened both with the thrill of magical undertaking and fear of dark power. Her makeup was not quite effectively concealing lack of sleep, but the thought of a serious spell like that drew her interest.
"Bad only when used for evil. I wanted to use it as a setup, so that we could then cast the Healing of Hecate, hopefully drawing whatever poisons the demon left behind out." Giles polished his glasses again, the second time in five minutes, but even that couldn't erase the fogginess in his vision.
"Oh." Willow seemed subdued for a second, then spoke again "You want my help for this?" It was almost not a question, Willow expecting to participate in this event.
"Yes, I'll need all of you to assist both in gathering the pieces and casting the spell itself. We'll use the mansion since the school is currently..unsuitable for human habitation. I have all the diagrams in this book, and lists here of things I need you all to get. Oz, one of the ingredients is werewolf blood- tomorrow is the first night of the full moon, as you know, and we'll probably have to put you in the mansion in some of those chains Angel left. Oz? Oz?" Giles turned around after receiving no response to his statement, and all the others turned with him to see Oz facedown on the tabletop, hands moving in small predatory chasing gestures beneath. Willow shook him and he jolted awake, blinking sleepily. "I see that we all need to get better rest." Giles said dryly.
"Sleep's a little hard when all you do is run from scary monsters instead of resting." Oz yawned as Buffy spoke, and shook himself fully awake. The others made sounds of agreement and Giles sighed.
"I know that sleep has been...difficult of late, but the spell is supposed to cure all that, so I would appreciate your strongest efforts in completing it. To cure the nightmares, we have to put the people to sleep, and then invoke the healing. If we succeed with enough people, the poisons of the demon will stop harming the psychic climate of the town and let us all get some rest for once." Willow raised her hand with an imploring expression. "Yes Willow?"
"If we put everyone to sleep, including us, how will we cast the
spell?" Giles blinked a moment and then sighed, responding.
"We won't be asleep. There is a protection diagram that is drawn during the spell, allowing the caster or casters to remain aware. We'll use that to escape the spell and use the Healing." Willow responded to this with a quiet "oh" and reached for the list Giles held out to her. The rest of them followed and soon the Scooby Gang was off to search out difficult ingredients ranging from the normal eye of spotted badger to a pound of spiderwebs to pure volcanic sand.
* * * * * *
In Sunnydale hospital, Faith still lay in her coma- with the difference that now she sometimes stirred, sometimes almost seemed to be calling out, her hands twitching slightly against the sheets, dreams that none could guess passing behind her permanently closed eyes. Buffy visited her almost daily, a guilt ritual she had chosen not to share with anyone else. She had just about screamed when Faith first twitched, but none of her efforts could wake the girl. She hoped this spell of Giles's would help the other slayer as well as herself.
* * * * * *
Just before evening, the group assembled as planned in the mansion. Oz walked over to the wall with the hanging chains and waited as the shackles were fastened around his arms, lowering his eyes to the floor as Willow kissed his spiky-haired head gently, making comforting sounds. Oz just sighed and settled back, waiting for the change. Willow stepped away and went for the tranqulizer rifle, waiting for the sunset.
"Just try not to shoot the face." Oz said that quietly as he waited, imagining he could feel the fur expanding from his body already. Willow looked stricken as she held up the gun, the last rays of the sun passing through the garden. Giles was making chalk marks on the floor, a cup of coffee next to him as he staked out the proper motions for all of them to make. They'd rehearsed the intricate steps already, and the occult paraphernalia scattered around the floor was testament to that. The circle had to be painted onto the ground, but that didn't mean they couldn't cheat and mark it out first. Xander assisted Giles
in setting up all the necessary pieces, noticeably not his usual talkative self. Buffy was out on a brief patrol as sunset finally hit the town, and once she returned, the ritual would begin.
Willow waited nervously as the shadows slid along the garden, slowly falling away into the truer dark of night. Oz waited silently, seemingly made of stone until suddenly he jerked against the chains restraining him, fur expanding from his body as he growled, fierce fangs breaking from his jaws. Willow shrieked softly and fired the gun, striking Oz in the shoulder. Oz fell with a whimper into silence, and Willow took a steadying breath as she set the rifle down and very gently sliced Oz's arm, collecting a vial full of his dark blood that welled up through the fur. She bandaged the injury tightly and stroked him gently, apologizing quietly before she walked away, casting a few glances back at the seemingly-soundly sleeping werewolf.
She handed the vial to Giles with a solemn expression just at the same moment as Buffy came jogging in, mudstains on her cute little cargo pants.
"Well, I'm ready." said the young slayer, tossing aside her stake and bag of other weapons as she bent over to tie a shoelace. Giles straightened and gestured towards Buffy's position.
"The let us all get into places and do remember that it is important to pronounce these words correctly." Giles sounded weary, as they all did, and he raised a stag's antler in one hand, part of the ceremony.
"Syure Jyles. Hookt on fonics reely werkt fer mee." Xander made his first flippant remark in several hours, drawing a dark look from the Englishman. "Just had to get that out of my system." Xander ducked his head slightly and got into place, in one of the corners of the room. The others followed, assuming their places in the corners, one for each direction, and Giles cleared his throat and raised the antler overhead, the signal that they were about to begin.
"Remember Buffy, after you complete the last phase, you have very little time in which to reach the circle." Giles continued to hold the antler overhead as he spoke and Buffy merely nodded, spitting out her gum into a handy kleenex as she looked distastefully at the live crickets in the little cage that she had to release.
As Giles began his incantation, Willow stepped forward with a rowan branch and traced designs in the air, tossing sand alternately over her shoulder and at her feet, speaking ancient words that summoned the spirits of sleep to the town. Xander moved up next, stumbling slightly over the phrases, but he had a handy reference guide written on his arm in ballpoint pen. He scattered cherry blossoms on the ground, moving in the steps required by the chalkmarks. Despite his slowness and frequent checks with his forearm, he got the words right, and made his way to the center where he met up with Giles. Both of them crumbled herbs into a large iron cauldron set in the center, and then Willow took the last three steps and joined them. She continued the central chant while Giles and Xander dropped the less savory ingredients in.
Buffy saw her cue as Willow began the main part of the incantation, and she moved around the group in a circle, opening the cage to release one cricket, the bearers of the magic, into the open air. Each one hopped away as it was released, and she managed not to shudder as they scuttled off. Her own chanting was the same each time one was sent off, a command that they bear the mists of sleep to the town. In the background, Willow's voice rose in the final climactic paragraphs, and she heard Giles and Xander scratching down the protection circle from the spell. She made the last turn and released the final cricket just as Willow spoke the last words of the chant, and the contents of the cauldron began to glow, then spiralled upwards in a stream of green lights which coalesced over the iron until they flew forth and bonded with the crickets, each one immediately taking flight and leaving the mansion room.
Buffy took her cue from that and headed for the circle, feeling her limbs slow from drowsiness as she took two steps- and then amazingly she felt herself start to fall, felt the shoelace she thought she'd tied earlier catch under her other shoe.
She heard Willow shout her name as she landed, hard, upon the stone floor, but she didn't really notice as her eyes steadily closed, despite all wishes to do otherwise.
All over town, people just stopped their motions where they were and collapsed into sleep. There were very few people on the roads as the spell took effect, which was a blessing as they all immediately swerved
and struck trees, telephone poles and signs, but caused no injuries. Joyce summers was reading her evening paper when the spell took her, coffee cup halfway to her mouth. She fell face forward onto the dining room table, coffee spilling out over the newspring, soaking into the long list of obituaries from the past week.
Giles, Xander, and Willow stood horrified as Buffy remained prone upon the ground, unmoving. They couldn't leave the circle. Buffy's chest rose and fell steadily in sleep, her arms cast forward where they had sprawled when she fell. The other three exchanged glances and then Giles spoke up.
"Light the fire. We have work to do." The other two nodded mutely, still staring at Buffy's fallen form as they began the longer and more involved chant of the Healing of Hecate.
* * * * * *
Buffy awoke in a dark, cold place. She shifted and sat up, looking around fearfully as a peal of harsh laughter sounded off somewhere in the distance. She felt the rough springs of a cheap mattress under her hands, and furrowed her brows. The last thing she remembered was the gang casting the spell. She stood slowly and nearly jumped out of her skin as a familiar voice sounded behind her.
"Hey B, long time eh? I would ask what you're doing in my personal hell, but then, I suppose I should be able to answer that myself." Faith was standing up next to her, having been on the same large set of springs, a few metal bands poking out here and there from it's surface. Buffy took a deep breath as her eyes adjusted fully to the room. Faith was thinner than she had been, but her expression was the same sardonic half-sneer she'd always worn. Her voice sounded tired, but the tone was mostly the same. The darkness hid most of the details about her. Buffy made out a small barren bulb with a pull-chain attached and a door, and that was all the furniture in the room.
The walls were barren cinderblocks, and the floor was cold cement. She reached for the chain of the lightbulb and was stopped by Faith's firm grip.
"Don't B. Mom really hates bright lights, and if she thinks I'm asleep, she might just go away." Buffy blinked, and outside the door, loud footsteps could be heard, and a rough fit of coughing. A male voice accompanied it, a little louder.
"Faith.. where are we?" Buffy looked at the other slayer in the darkness, pulling her arm out of the brunette's grip.
"My mom's apartment, where do you think? It ain't much, but I used to call it home." Faith looked a little nervous as the footsteps outside drew nearer, the coughing having ceased into a low mumbling, sounding slurred and angry. The male voice said something back, and drew another laugh from the voice Faith called "mom". She lowered her voice as she stepped a little nearer to Buffy, incredibly cautious. Buffy noticed that she was wearing the outfit she'd worn the night they had fought, the huge bloodstain still across the middle. "If we wait until she goes to sleep, we can sneak out before mom or Andrew get violent." Buffy blinked slightly and just nodded, not trusting her voice over the hard knot of fear forming in her stomach. The footsteps continued, the voices subsiding away until a door slammed somewhere in the middle distance.
Faith continued to wait, and a few moments later one set of footsteps came back down the hallway. She cursed under her breath and tensed, an unmistakable look of fear in her eyes. Buffy just watched and waited, holding herself against the barren wall. The footsteps paused outside the door, then came nearer. A soft knock followed a few minutes later, and Faith smothered a shriek, shocking Buffy as she did so. The noise seemed to pass unnoticed however, and steps receded, to the bathroom and then back away again, to the door shutting. Faith took several heavy breaths, turning her face to Buffy only a moment later, her normal mask back in place.
"Let's go B, outta here at least. They'll be passed out by now, and out of our hair." Buffy blinked again, still confused as to what was going on, and didn't immediately move. "Come ON!" Faith still spoke in a stage whisper, and grabbed Buffy's arm again as she headed for the narrow doorway, a thin band of light still reaching under the bottom. Faith cracked the door open and looked out, then pulled the door wider and slipped into the hallway. Buffy followed, and they moved out towards the small kitchen. The floor was covered in cracked linoleum, and there was very little light, mostly cast only by a digital clock that read 2:34 am.
Faith led the way, and as she stepped into the kitchen a large shadowy figure grabbed her by the throat and pushed her back against the wall, smothering her startled scream.
"Why little Faith..you tryin' to leave before I can say hello? Its too late at night for little girls to be going out!" The voice was unmistakably male, and even from three feet away Buffy could smell the alcohol. Buffy's eyes widened but she moved without hesitation, kicking the figure in the ribs, cutting off some statement by the man (as she now knew it was) in midsentence. He fell aside and released Faith, who then stomped hard on his head with one thick-soled boot.
"Fucking bastard son-of-a-bitch think you can treat me like your personal toy-" the rest was mostly incoherent as Faith stomped again, and then a third time on the prone form, tears starting down her cheeks as her expression twisted into pure rage. She raised her foot to assault again, but even in the light of the digital clock Buffy could see the blood starting to flow from the man's head.
"Faith, enough! Come on, let's go!" She still spoke softly, though Faith had half-shouted her anger at the man on the floor, and she took a deep breath and looked away from Buffy, running a sleeve across her eyes as she headed for the front door. A voice from behind stopped them both cold as Faith's hand reached for the knob, causing the hairs to rise on the back of Buffy's neck.
"Faith Spencer, what the HELL are you doing you pathetic little idiot?"
The voice was female, slurred by far too much whiskey. Faith jerked on the door handle, but the deadbolt had been thrown. She fumbled with the latches as a heavy tread came down the hallway. "If you're tryin' to steal my hard-earned money I will whip your ass into next week!" The steps came swiftly down the hall and revealed the form of an overweight woman, presumably Faith's mother. Faith cringed back as the woman converged upon them both, but the woman paused when she saw Buffy and then the man, presumably Andrew, on the floor.
"Why you little bitch! You can't do nothin' for yourself so you have to go and bring in a little slut friend of yours to take away my only comfort! I told you never to bring your worthless friends here, but you just can't listen can you, you damn whore?" The woman moved towards Faith who backed up some more, but came up against the wall of the small apartment quickly. The woman came forward and backhand Faith heavily, snapping the Slayer's head to the side. Faith made no move to resist, only a small sound escaping her as she stayed pressed against the wall.
"I..she.. just came to visit, mom, I didn't do anything, he just drank too much I swear I would never, Mom please-" Faith's pleading was cut off by another slap, the cracking sound loud in the otherwise silent room. Buffy's eyes widened again, reaching a previously unknown record for saucer-eyed, and then she grabbed the woman from behind and tossed her aside, crashing her into the cheap dinette set that filled the room. She then grabbed Faith and headed out the unlocked door, her heart still pounding as the other Slayer followed her without resistance.
They emerged onto a rickety staircase above a dingy looking alleyway. Buffy dashed down the steps with Faith in tow, barely able to see with the small light that filtered in from the streetlights outside the alleyway. She led Faith out onto the street itself, looking around at an eerie stillness. All the shops were boarded up, and the streetlight seemed to be a pale attempt to ward off the darkness. Faith looked around warily and then stopped, taking a few deep breaths as she met Buffy's eyes again.
"Thanks or something B. They're always less mean in the mornings." She made a pale attempt at a smile, and in the greater illumination of the streetlights, she noticed that Faith had a black eye, showing the yellowing at the edges of a day-old bruise. "Less energy for doing anything but making me take care of their hangovers." Buffy almost choked and then shook her head, looking at Faith as she mutely tried to figure out what was going on.
"How did we get here Faith?" She looked again along the street as a car drove past, a band of young men inside shouting catcalls at them.
"I live here, but I don't know about you. Or I used to live here. Or something. After I got out of the hospital.. I don't know, mom is my only family so I guess I got released to her again, even though..well..that's not important. You came to visit me, I think, but I can't..I can't remember." Buffy frowned- something was terribly wrong here, but she couldn't quite place what. She knew she had come to visit Faith recently, but it seemed like she should know the way home if she had- but she had no idea where they were.
"Well Faith, we have to go somewhere. We need to find Giles or something, see what's going on." Faith looked shocked at the mention of Giles and then her sardonic smile returned.
"No can do B, remember, I sort of busted my place as second Slayer with him. But we better go somewhere, like the bus station. This isn't a good part of town." Faith started walking and Buffy followed swiftly, blinking as she tried to remember everything that had gone past. It seemed important, but it was so hard to recall accurately.
"But Faith- you could go back, just...apologize or something. I mean, you can't stay here, wherever here is." Faith frowned at Buffy as she walked, heading swiftly down the more brightly lit side of the street.
"I don't want to apologize Buffy, and where would I go but here? There's nowhere left for me anywhere else." The last was said almost fatalistically as Faith walked, not looking at Buffy. "You and your friends killed the only person who really took care of me, or I guess you did, since the Mayor never came and got me.." she trailed off there, seeming upset by that thought.
"We killed a demon. He wasn't the mayor anymore at that point. He was using you as his little slayer-lackey, and the fact that he didn't hit you doesn't make him a good and loving father-figure Faith. You were working for a dark power that wanted to kill everyone- how could you leave us, leave me, to help him?" Buffy said all this in a rush as Faith kept walking, taking longer steps to keep up with the taller brunette's stride.
"Easy Buff- nobody cares about me but me, so I just sought out the greatest material rewards." Faith still didn't turn around as she kept walking, her bootheels striking hard on the concrete.
"That's not true Faith- I care, and so did Giles and all the rest, including my mom. You could have had so much more than just an apartment...you could have had mmrph-" Buffy's last words were cut off as a dark shape suddenly lashed out behind her, the form of a vampire taking hold of her from behind. Faith's eyes widened, but she charged forward to the attack, punching the vampire in the face as he tried to keep a hold of the struggling Buffy.
The vampire recoiled, then smiled at them both, and Buffy recognized the figure of the crazy vampire the Watcher Council had tried to release on her. She lifted her mouth in a snarl and prepared to fight, then saw her mother lying in a pool of blood just behind them. She screamed out "MOM!" as Faith shouted "Mrs. Summers!" at the same moment. Buffy charged the vampire with a look of pure hatred on her face, only to be backhanded out of the way. Faith circled more warily, a look of rage in her own eyes. She moved in and swung at the vamp, managing to hit him again in the face. At that moment, Buffy jumped up and moved after him from the other side, punching him in the back of the head and knocking him to the ground. She continued to punch and kick and strike him while he was down, realizing quickly that she had no stakes on her. Faith looked around and noticed more figures slinking out of the shadows, low chuckles emerging from some of them.
"Come on B.." Faith said anxiously as she tried to pull Buffy away. "He's got friends and we got no stakes." Buffy growled out something else horribly angry as she looked around, and then noticed that her mother's corpse was gone. She blinked, then saw the figures approaching. She exchanged a glance with Faith, then broke into a run, matched by the other Slayer. They dashed away with Faith in the lead, finally turning down another alleyway filled with crates. The two Slayers immediately busted open several wooden boxes, releasing several strange scuttling black things, much like the ones the mayor had had to eat from his little box. These weren't intent on grabbing faces however, and they quickly scuttled away as the slayers grabbed the newly made stakes. The vampires followed swiftly, a whole pack of them near-completely shadowed in the dimmer light of the alleyway. The Slayers backed up near the brick wall at the end of the path, taking deep breaths in readiness.
"I really did miss this B, going out and killing things with you." Faith had her fighting smile on, watching as the vamps began to circle. There were more and more of them, numbers expanding steadily from ten to twenty.
"Yeah, well, now is a good time for that sort of reminiscing I suppose." Buffy struck first as one of the more daring vamps strayed into range, and quickly dusted him. Faith took the chance and staked another, but three more appeared at the end of the alleyway.
"I suppose I should also say that I'm not mad at you for killing me, or trying really hard, or whatever. I know that-" Faith kicked down one vampire, knocking him into another as she staked a third who tried to charge into the opportunity. "-You probably have more right to be mad than I do, and, I... never meant to hurt you."
"Faith I-" Whatever Buffy had been about to say was cut off as two vamps closed in from either side, forcing her to kick one swiftly before staking the other. They still kept coming from the end of the alleyway,
more and more and more. "I never wanted to hurt you either." Faith made no reply this time, as the vamps struck at her in twos and threes. Buffy had her own problems to deal with, the swarm coming closer and thicker upon her. The two of them were quickly pressed up against the brick wall of the alleyway, fighting for their very lives as the vamps kept on coming, all laughing softly at the shared joke of two Slayers so badly outnumbered.
They kept fighting, kept staking, but the swarm didn't end. Finally, Buffy lost her stake as a big vamp swung at her. Faith stepped in the way, blocking the next attack that would have hit Buffy, and was struck from behind as a reward. She stumbled over the shorter blonde and they both fell back against the alley wall, watching the vamps approach. They came nearer, their chuckling moving into dark and eerie laughter at this point, rising into a deeper crescendo of mirth.
The vampires didn't close in for the kill however, letting their ranks part to admit another figure who came up quickly into the thin light. It was Kakistos, and his wide grin matched Faith and Buffy's wide eyes. He stepped in closer and then froze as the darkness above him split like torn fabric admitting a beam of sunlight. He howled as the light struck him and burst into flames. Other vamps joined him swiftly as the darkness disappeared. The entire huge pack of them fell into dust just as suddenly as they had appeared, but the vanishing didn't stop there- the alleyway and the building dissolved around them, soundlessly and quickly, leaving only featureless greyness behind.
The sunlight that had killed the vamps was nowhere in sight at this point as the two slayers looked around, feeling an odd sense of vertigo from the empty greyness. There was some sort of ground under their feet, and Faith stood unsteadily, helping Buffy to her feet. The two of them clung together as they looked around, this being almost more creepy than the original setting.
* * * * * *
"Why isn't she waking up?" Willow peered down at the still-sleeping Buffy sprawled out on the floor. The Healing of Hecate had taken hours, exhausting all three of them, especially without the fourth member of the casting crew. They had lifted the spell of Somnabulence from the city, and Oz had come quickly awake and was his happily growling and snarling werewolf self, straining at the chains that bound him to the wall. Buffy, however, would not be disturbed. Giles straighened his glasses as he bent down to examine her more closely. Shaking, yelling, even lifting her partway from the floor and dropping her hadn't worked. He peered at her closely and frowned, spotting something strange on her forehead. As he bent down and looked closer still, leaving his behind in the air, he noticed a small symbol on the Slayer's forehead, gleaming just very faintly beneath the skin. It wasn't one he immediately recognized, but it was terribly familiar to him.
"Willow, Xander, come here a moment and look at this." Giles remained stooped over the Slayer's prone form as the other two came closer and peered at the symbol where Giles pointed.
"Wow, like, mega-creepy.." Willow bit her lip nervously as she looked back at Giles "I don't recognize it right away, but I bet some of your books would tell us." Xander nodded in mute agreement with Willow, settling back on his heels again as he surveyed the other two.
"Why don't Giles and I take his excuse for a car back to the place and see if we can scare anything out of those manuals of the occult while you keep a watch on sleeping beauty and the furred wonder." Willow almost made to reply to Xander's statement, but Giles interjected.
"Right, we'll have to hurry. I think I know what that is, and what book to look in, but it is definitely the symbol of a demon." As if to underscore his point, Buffy stirred and curled into a tiny ball upon the floor, seeming to whimper slightly. Willow put a hand on Buffy's side comfortingly.
"We're here for you Buffy. Go swiftly and fetch!" Willow pointed out the door as she looked at the other two, and then stood to fetch the tranqulizer rifle, putting her empty backpack under Buffy's head as a bit of a pillow while she watched Oz. Giles and Xander didn't need to be told twice, and they vanished out the door into the pre-dawn light, almost time for Oz to return to normal, and definitely time for a little Slayer to wake up.
* * * * * *
"So now what?" Faith looked around hurriedly, never quite separating from the other Slayer. Buffy just shrugged, not releasing her hold on Faith's arms either. They themselves were the only solid objects in sight, former enemies or not. They both turned around slowly as vague howlings filled the air, seeming to come from a hundred miles away, but not any particular direction.
"I guess we wait or something, since moving wouldn't be real productive." Buffy bit her lip and didn't look around again, certain that whatever was going to come out of the mist would come out from behind whatever direction she was looking in at the time. Faith furrowed her brows at the noises in the distance, but didn't say anything else for a few moments, just holding onto the other Slayer.
"I suppose its fortunate that you didn't just kill me back in the apartment." Faith spoke in reference to the earlier episode with the frightening figure of her mom and the guy. Buffy looked somewhat startled as she looked up at Faith.
"I meant what I said- I never wanted to hurt you at all. I got mad, but Angel's life was on the line. I'm sure you would have done the same." The last was spoken with a little more venom, but none of the truly biting, Cordelia-style anger that she'd had when Faith had tied her up while Angel played evil.
"I also suppose I can understand your being mad, but it wasn't that big a deal, I mean, well, before...before that whole thing with the Books of Ascension." Faith meant killing Allan, the guilt from that still eating at her in a part of herself that she tried her very hardest not to acknowledge. In the background, the howling grew louder and more insistent without seeming to get any closer. Faith idly wondered if the goal was to make them starve to death or kill each other.
"It was a big deal Faith, but it wasn't about blaming you. Killing people is never okay, and lying about it and trying to blame me for it wasn't either." She stared fiercely into the other girl's eyes at that, her voice having risen in timbre.
"I'm sorry about the lying part." Faith said that softly, not meeting Buffy's eyes. "I'm not sorry about working for the Mayor, but at first, at least, I thought I was going undercover or something...and it just went too far. I never meant to hurt you." Her voice was still soft, and she wouldn't look Buffy in the face, but she couldn't look at the greyness, so mostly she just looked at the other girl's collarbone, which had a very find definition.
"It did hurt Faith, every time you pushed me away, every time you hurt my friends...I cannot tell you how much I wanted to have you back to 'normal Faith', whatever that means, to have reacted just a little faster that first night. I would have given you everything I could." She felt those words spill out in a rush, staring at Faith's downturned eyes, feeling the other's closeness almost like a drug. Faith seemed to shrink in on herself slightly, the livid bruise on her eye starting to gain a cousin on the cheek. Buffy felt eyes upon her, but fought the urge to turn around, changing the subject instead. "Faith, is there anything behind me?" Faith's eyes came up at that question, and she searched behind Buffy swiftly and saw nothing, shaking her head as an answer.
"And me?" Buffy didn't see anything in her field of vision, hearing just the eerie howls and laughs that had started, all seeming at once near, and at once distant. "This place is driving me nuts." Faith seemed more shaken than before as she scanned the air behind Buffy again, secretly grateful for the distraction from talking about her personal feelings which were terribly muddled as far as a certain Slayer was concerned.
"That might be the idea. Faith, was that your real home before?" She didn't know if this qualified as real or not, but she was determined to take advantage of this time to talk.
"Yeah. My mom never liked me much. My sort-of-stepdad...sort of liked me too much." She had never admitted either of those things to others before, but now seemed like as good a time as any, since they were both likely going to die in this place as far as she knew. Buffy's mouth tightened at that information and she just sort of nodded, repressing the urge to hug the other girl.
"I'm sorry." There was nothing else to say, and Faith sort of shrugged.
"Nothing you could do, at least, until back there. Fact is, I left home long before I was big enough to really fight back, and I wasn't a Slayer anyway. I was sort of hoping they'd both die of cirrhosis before I turned fifteen, but no such luck." Faith managed a half-smile as she said that, eyebrows lifting slightly.
"That's terrible Faith. I thought I would die when my parents split up, but they were both adoring yuppies. Hearing them fight tore me up, but they never did anything to me. They fought over me..." She straggled off, not sure what to say next. Her struggling was ended as a twisted figure approached, seeming to appear in the near distance as it strode forward. The two Slayers stood to face this new threat, still clasping each other's hand, needing that support now more than ever.
This new beast approached, a mass of pinkish flesh seemingly half-flayed from a four-armed and hunchbacked skeleton. Two of the hands held little puppets dangling from twisted strings. One had brown hair and one had blonde, and both had large wooden pieces driven through their hearts. The two slayers looked up from the battered puppets to the leering face, half the cheek torn away to reveal a mouth full of fangs, deeply reddened eyes gazing back at them as the laughter and howling grew louder and shadowy forms without any definite shape started crawling through the greyness towards them.
"Welcome toys...I am Magurados, demon of insanity. Since you won't play my games properly and just kill each other like good little mortal enemies, I'll have to help you out."
* * * * * *
Giles and Xander found the book quickly and read through the passages. Magurados, a demon of insanity, worked only through possession of dreams. It was said to have no physical form and had to be driven out of it's victims with a ritual exorcism outlined in the same book. It also said that it was usually a matter of a few hours for Magurados to drive it's victims mad within their sleeping and leave them either dead or shells of their former selves, forever unable to face the night or sleep.
"Well this is pleasant, and will make my rest tonight, alone, that much easier." Xander flipped the book closed and stood as Giles sighed.
"Yes, well, we'd better head back and drive that demon out of Buffy as quickly as possible." Xander nodded and they both stood, heading back out to the car in a hurry.
They made it back to the mansion to find Willow still crouched over Buffy, and Buffy still curled in a fetal ball, shivering as if eighty degrees just wasn't warm enough. They opened the book and started making drawings in chalk. The ritual was one of diagrams rather than ingredients, which was good, and Giles read off the words as they finished the pictures on the floor around the sleeping Slayer.
Buffy stirred slowly and then sat bolt upright, a look of naked fear in her face. She looked at the three others and blinked a few times, still shivering as she glanced around.
"Pinch me." Buffy wanted to be sure this was not just another mock-up made by the demon. She and Faith had been surrounded by horrible shadow-things as the demon made their little puppets dance, all the while with that eerie noise it made...Faith! Faith was in trouble. Xander had reached out and obligingly pinched Buffy's arm, as she stood up, and she jumped nearly a foot. "Thanks. We have to help Faith- she's in trouble too!"
"Err.. the last time I checked, Faith was in a coma...not exactly prime waking-up and helping material besides the whole tried-to-kill-us-all bit..." They all stood with Buffy, Willow having voiced their sentiments well.
"Maybe so, but we can't just leave her to die at that demon's hands." Buffy headed for the door, not noticing as Oz reverted to normal in the corner. The others followed, likewise not looking back. Oz was left blinking tiredly and calling after them, noting how drafty it could get in this mansion when one was naked.
* * * * * *
The hospital was quiet at that hour. The automatic doors to the main section were locked, so they detoured through the ER. The nurse on duty tried to stop them, but Buffy simply shoved her aside saying something about being right out. Faith's room was not far from the ER, just one more person from Sunnydale in Intensive Care.
They found Faith half curled upon the bed, audibly whimpering in her sleep. The vital sign monitor next to her showed erratic patterns of her heart as Buffy pointed.
"Help her- please. I don't think she'll wake up right away, but we can't just let her die." Giles and Willow exchanged a glance and got out the book, looking around for something to make the diagrams on the floor with. Xander finally found a solution in petroleum jelly.
"Its at least low-friction." Xander grinned somewhat sheepishly as he handed over the little jar. Giles made a strangled sound as Willow grabbed the jar and started with the symbols. Buffy just watched them both as she held onto Faith's limp hand, watching the monitor's unsteady rhythms. Faith continued to whine softly, still completely unconcious as the others started on the spell. The symbol on her forehead started gaining an eerie glow as the spell progressed, strange arcane words not quite drowning out the beeping from the monitor, until suddenly the beeping stopped and went into a steady drone. Buffy jerked around to see the Faith flatlined, and she immediately looked up at the others. They had all paused as they too heard the sound, until Buffy shouted them back into motion.
"Finish the spell!" She turned around to Faith and began CPR, hoping that the semester of Health class she'd been forced to take hadn't faded too far from her mind. Was it two beats a second, or one? She couldn't remember, but she straddled Faith's middle like in the videos and steadily pressed down on Faith's chest for a full minute, counting carefully to herself as the arcane phrases from Giles and Willow made a creepy backdrop to her efforts. Finally, the others finished the spell, and with a single great burst of light, the symbol vanished from Faith's forehead, but her vital signs did not improve. Buffy took a deep breath, then leaned down to apply mouth to mouth on Faith, feeling the other girl's lungs inflate as she did so. She leaned up and took another breath and tried again, imagining that she felt a pulse under her hands.
Finally, after another two minutes of alternating heart stimulations and assisted breathing, Faith started to cough. Buffy leaned up and watched as the other girl slowly regained her breath, and the monitor beeped back to life steadily. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Faith opened her eyes.
"Morning sunshine." It was very soft and hoarse, but it was Faith, still lying prone beneath Buffy as the others looked on. Buffy hadn't wanted Faith to die at the hands of that demon, but she didn't know what to do now that Faith had awakened. "I see that you brought your lackeys as always." She cast a glance at Buffy's hands still resting on her chest, and lifted her brows slightly. "You're also welcome to have your way with me anytime you want, but I don't generally prefer an audience."
Giles cleared his throat and then glanced at the other two, then at Buffy, and then at the hospital security accompanying the ER nurse they'd shoved aside during their entry. "I think we should be going now."
The nurse glowered at them as Buffy reluctantly worked her way off Faith's middle, earning a small groan from the girl as her weight came down too heavily on Faith's injured stomach. Buffy made a soft apology as she stood and walked over to the others, and the nurse just shook her head.
"Whatever you did in here, it saved her life. I don't believe in demons or witches, or I didn't, but I'll let you all leave quietly now." The four of them nodded and moved meekly towards the door under the watchful eyes of the two security guards who truthfully looked too scared to do much.
"Wait- let her stay... please?" That was Faith, struggling to sit up on her elbows as they started to file out. The nurse looked startled but shook her head firmly.
"Visiting hours begin at nine. Until then your friends will have to go home. You should be resting." Faith furrowed her brows and seemed about to say more until Buffy just shook her head.
"I'll come back at nine. Watch out for the petroleum jelly on the floor." Buffy led the rest of them out of the hospital and away down the hall. She could feel their eyes on her back as she went, and wondered what she had gotten herself into this time.
* * * * * *
"Well we can't just let her run loose again!" That was Giles, lecturing Buffy as they sat again around his dining room table. Oz had been released from the mansion and reclothed, looking none the worse for his evening except a bandage around his forearm.
"She's gonna be in the hospital for a little while longer at least- I'll go back and talk to her, see what her plans are. I just can't stomach the idea of killing her and I definitely don't want to give her to those council bastards." Buffy had been stubbornly adamant about not sending Faith off to meet whatever passed for Watcher Council justice. Willow, Oz, and Xander didn't really like the idea of killing her either, but they didn't want Faith loose in the world to wreak havoc again. Giles wanted her to go to England, but secretly understood where Buffy was coming from.
"If you go talk to her, be careful. She may be weakened, but she's still a Slayer." Buffy sighed a little and nodded, and walked over to the improvised weapon place- one corner where all the implements of destruction were tossed. She picked up a knife and tucked it carefully under her shirt, checking to be sure it was concealed.
"I'll be careful, and I don't want her loose again either- I just don't think she's beyond help, now or ever."
* * * * * *
Buffy walked back into the hospital at exactly five minutes after nine. The nurse on duty was different than the one who had been in the ER, a fact for which Buffy was grateful. She checked herself in as a visitor and followed the nurse down to Faith's room, inwardly wondering just what sort of reception awaited her there. The nurse opened the door and looked in, gesturing Buffy forward with a "Miss Spencer, you have a visitor."
"Hi." Buffy walked in nevously, holding out the small stuffed dog she'd bought along the way, along with a bag of Hershey's kisses with almonds. "Peace offering, or something like that."
"Sweet." Faith didn't make it clear whether she meant the gesture or the candy, one of which she immediately unwrapped and popped into her mouth, setting the stuffed dog next to her pillow. "They don't give you sugar when you're in a coma; all glucose, all the time. I'm starved, but the docs are amazed that I woke up at all. I suppose I should thank you or something, for chasing off that demon." Faith looked bad, thinner and somehow smaller than before, though Buffy knew that to be an illusion of the bed and the skimpy hospital gown Faith was wearing. "But have a seat B. We were having something like an interesting discussion that kept getting rudely interrupted."
There were no chairs in the room. Buffy settled herself on the side of Faith's bed, feeling the knife under her clothing bite painfully into her side. She shifted it around as subtly as she could, looking down at Faith, now propped up on several pillows with the bed half elevated.
"Yeah, demons these days, no respect for conversational niceties." Buffy didn't quite know how to start talking to Faith. The urgency that had gripped them before was nowhere in sight- nothing like the fear of death to compel personal revelations. She decided to start with immediate issues. "What're your plans?"
"I dunno, life in the Sunndydale ICU seems sufficient for now, at least until my health coverage from the mayor gets cancelled once all this 'He was a demon' dust gets settled. After that, bus tickets don't cost much." Faith stared at the wall as she said that, one hand absent-mindedly stroking the fur of the little stuffed dog Buffy had given her.
"You don't have to leave..." Buffy said doubtfully. Even as the words came out of her mouth, she wondered at what she was saying. "I mean, you could stay with me and my mom, or something, and Giles won't report you to the Watcher Council, since as far as they know, you're in a coma with no possibility of recovery and, well.. I just don't want you to go." Buffy shocked herself with that last sentence, not something she'd meant to say at all, in any fashion, during this lifetime. She stopped and looked back at Faith, wondering if somehow she'd gotten the Willows during the past day or so. Faith looked back at her in equal shock, and didn't say anything for a long moment.
"Don't you think you should ask you mom about that first?" Faith said, lifting a brow in a normal display of cynicism.
"She won't mind- she loves you, and I never told her about... that other stuff that happened." Buffy managed to keep her tone normal, and avoided biting her lip. She had to keep up her mask when Faith was around just as Faith kept her mask up to everyone. Faith seemed to look thoughtful for a moment and then shrugged.
"If you don't mind having a psychopathic killer sleeping on your couch, then I suppose I don't really mind either. I do wonder how all those other white hats you hang around with will take the idea." They were avoiding the topic of the past, carefully, but both knew it would haunt them for many years to come yet.
"Faith, I don't think you're a psycho. Seeing you in that dreamworld...well, you acted like any other frightened and abused teenager would." She stopped herself there, knowing well how quickly Faith became defensive with any sort of personal discussion.
"Well, there you're wrong- I am a psycho, but not the really bad world-destroying kind." Faith ate another Hershey's kiss, and offered one to Buffy. Buffy took the little chocolate into her mouth and carefully sucked on it, trying to melt away the chocolate around the almond.
"Look Faif..." Buffy quickly crunched down on the almond and remaining chocolate. "I'm willing to start semi-fresh, not exactly a blank slate, but no anger. I think you have issues that need confronting, and maybe I do too, but I'd rather not confront with knives anymore. Alright?" Faith looked thoughtful for a moment, emotions visibly warring in her face as she considered Buffy's words, her oldest habits pulling her to flee Sunnydale as quickly as possible, but another, newer part wanting nothing but to stay here, with the first people who had ever started to accept her.
"Alright. I'll stay. I'll even promise to be good, or at least not attack anyone who doesn't have fangs." She didn't want to give up Slaying, and the rush of power she got from each battle, the thrill of hunting the hunters, among other things.
"That seems like more than I expected, so I'll go ask my mom. We still have much to discuss Faith. Ask the docs how long you have to stay here." Faith nodded as Buffy stood up, and shifted around on her little bed as she watched Buffy stand.
"Later B." To Faith, the only argument that was keeping her in Sunnydale was the one Buffy hadn't meant to say- Buffy didn't want her to leave. That meant more to Faith than all the rest, the offer of a place to crash and everything. Her mother had always tried very hard to get rid of her, and eventually succeeded. Someone wanted her around, besides the Mayor, who had been cool and all, but he was a world-devouring demon. Buffy was just cute, in and out.
* * * * * *
"I'll keep an eye on her." Buffy had gotten an easy agreement with her mother, Joyce being very concerned that Faith's finances were running out and she couldn't stay in that hotel room anymore. Joyce like Faith for Faith, and she also was very glad for the extra protection for Buffy that Faith represented. Giles was less enthusiastic, and Buffy was very glad that the others were off doing other things for the moment.
"Buffy, Faith is terribly dangerous, and you know that- I just cannot believe that you would let her so close." Giles had given up on getting Buffy to cooperate in getting Faith to the Watchers. With Wesley gone, at least they had the option of acting without the Watcher Council knowing.
"I know she's dangerous Giles, but if she leaves town, who knows what she'll do without other-Slayer supervision? This way at least I can keep an eye on her, and maybe she'll respond to gentler persuasion during this apparent respite from active demonic activity in the wake of the Mayor." Buffy looked up at Giles pitifully, blinking large eyes at him in her best pleading mode. Giles wondered how Buffy had managed to grow up with any semblance of responsibility with a melting expression like that, and sighed, knowing he was losing this argument.
"Buffy, I am concerned for the both of you, but mostly for you. You trust her too far I think, but this might work out for the best. Be certain that I'll be coming to check up on you frequently. Perhaps I should give her that compound used for the testing." Not that Buffy ever went long without seeing Giles, but usually it was at his place and not hers. Buffy looked a little upset at the thought of the chemicals Giles had used to make her weak and she frowned at the thought, filing it away for future argument.
"I'll be extra-specially knife carryingly careful Giles." Buffy blinked her eyes again and then stood up "But right now I have to go tell Faith and see about getting everything arranged." Giles sighed again and gestured her out of the room, wondering if he should give up tea and just switch to coffee forever, as tension seemed to be his lot in life.
* * * * * *
Faith smiled when Buffy told her it was okay, and she straighened up in the bed a little bit more, wincing a bit at the pain still lingering in her abdomen and head.
"The docs say I have to stay here for a few days at least for observation, but they are flatly astounded at my recovery time. I'm not too astounded of course, since that's part of the Slayer-coolness, but until then I must remain a trapped hospital animal. When I do get out, I don't really have anything to wear though- my other clothes weren't in the greatest shape, and the hospital just threw them out, since nobody expected me to wake up."
"I'll bring some stuff from your old place. I'm betting that no one has bothered to move your stuff out yet, so I'll go through it and bring at least some of it to my house, and we can work from there." Buffy smiled weakly, still wondering just what she was getting herself into, knowing full well that Faith was still dangerous, but she couldn't resist this chance.
"That'd be nice I suppose. Be sure to bring the Playstation. I don't know how I'll pass the time without being able to virtually kick people in the neck until dark." Buffy rolled her eyes a little but nodded.
"Will do. I'll come back tomorrow to see how the 'observation' is going, and more chat or something. We still have loads to discuss." She stood up, noticing that Faith had eaten half the bag of Hershey's kisses.
"Later again B."
* * * * * *
Buffy headed back into the hospital again the next day. The gang had reacted somewhat poorly to her announcement, but they were mollified in part at the idea that Buffy would be watching Faith. They had made her promise to keep weapons handy at all times and never to let her guard down. Buffy had promised and generally tried to allay their fears. It was going to be a more difficult summer than she expected, but that would be okay. It was more important to have Faith around, for reasons she didn't want to discuss with herself at the moment.
The nurse let her in again, recognizing her from her multiple visits in the past day or so, and let her find her own way into Faith's room. She licked her lips and knocked on the door, getting no response. She frowned and knocked louder, still getting no answer. Finally, figuring they must have drugged Faith, she pushed open the door.
Faith was gone. Not just gone without a trace though- there was blood on the sheets and the floor, but whoever had taken her had carefully kept the droplets from leaving a trail. The monitors and IV were knocked over and broken, and the one bedrail was actually dented. Buffy blinked, not believing the scene before her, then she rushed out of the room to find the nurse. Faith hadn't left. Faith had been kidnapped. Anything dangerous enough to steal Faith was bad, bad news.