The Fire in Her Eyes by Imrryr
Act 1 – Chapter 5
“There is love in me the likes of which you've never seen. There is rage in me the likes of which should never escape. If I am not satisfied in the one, I will indulge the other.”
― Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
Sunnydale. May 4, 2000
The next morning, Buffy bounded down the stairs to find Giles and Willow in the dining room together, studying a large book laid out on the table while the soulful sounds of Destiny’s Child played over the portable radio. She hovered around for a minute before coming to conclusion that whatever they were talking about really was as indecipherable as she’d first thought.
When she wandered into the kitchen, she found Tara by the sliding glass door with a cup of coffee. She was gazing out into the backyard at Faith, who looked like she was shadowboxing, or practicing Tai Chi or something. Tara gave a little nod of acknowledgment when she joined her. Buffy could count on one hand the number of times they’d had a conversation without Willow being in the same room.
Her brow furrowed in thought. Maybe she’d need zero hands? “How long has she been out there?” she asked, hoping that the sounds of Sunnydale’s top 40 hits would keep Willow from overhearing. It was much too early in the morning for another fight about Faith.
“Ever since she came downstairs.” Tara was studying the girl intently, and admittedly it wasn’t hard to understand why. Once upon a time, Buffy used watch Faith train … if ‘watched’ was the right word. It probably wasn’t. ‘Leering’ might’ve been more accurate. Well, discreetly leering, of course.
Faith’s technique had been all strength in those days, concerned only with overpowering her opponent, not outsmarting them. It was hard on the equipment, and even harder on Giles. She held nothing back. Admittedly, that was part of the attraction. It was just who Faith was.
This morning was different, but what Buffy saw was enticing in its own way. Faith’s deliberate, flowing movements were more akin to stretching exercises. It was mesmerizing to watch her move so steadily, muscles flexing, her body in constant motion, going from one form to another, in total control of her strength. Did she learn that in prison? “Do you know what she’s doing?” Buffy asked.
“I think it’s Tai Chi… or at least, some of it is. It’s having a positive effect on her aura.”
‘Oh.’ It was easy to forget that such a timid woman had the ability to see so much in people. “What else can you see in auras?”
“Emotions, desires...” Tara said, trailing off for a second. “I try not to look too deeply, it’s kind of an invasion of privacy. When Faith was in your body, the feeling that there was something wrong was impossible to miss, but now that she’s back where she belongs –“
Buffy waited, but Tara didn’t continue. Faith kicked the air several times, her routine becoming more intense, more like sparring. Buffy felt the slayer stirring within her, wanting to come out and fight, even if it was just for practice. ‘That would be fun,’ she thought absently; pitting themselves against each other like they sometimes did in the library, back when there were no bad feelings. Then she shook her head when she realized what she was thinking.
“Your auras have an unusual interaction with each other.”
Buffy blinked. Her heart was beating a bit fast maybe, and there was that normal unsettled feeling she’d always had in Faith’s presence, but there was no attraction, or interaction, or whatever. “Is that like, a slayer thing?”
“Maybe,” Tara said, as Faith continued her exercises, her back now turned towards them. “Some auras naturally attract each other. That could be due to your shared calling, I guess. There’s never been two slayers active at the same time.” Tara’s hair had fallen into her eyes as she looked at her feet.
‘Oh, well, yeah. That was probably it.’ Again there was an awkward silence. Buffy became suddenly aware that her friend-making skills were a little suspect these days. “Is something wrong?”
It took some time before Tara nodded. “I’m a little worried about the spell, actually.”
“You think it won’t work?”
She shook her head. “I know it will work.”
Buffy frowned, totally lost. “Then you don’t think Faith will help?”
“Not exactly.” Tara’s voice became a whisper, “I’m more worried about Willow, actually.”
“Willow?” Buffy straightened and glanced over her shoulder. Her best-friend was in the other room still discussing things with Giles. She looked normal enough. That green shirt suited her nicely.
“It’s not that Willow won’t do all she can to help, of course she will, but with the way she’s been acting lately…” Tara sighed. “She’s just been so obsessed with Faith. She still thinks Faith is going to try something, like maybe during the spell itself.”
“Oh.” Buffy understood the concern, even imagined the same thing in her darker thoughts on the subject, but the longer Faith was here, the less it felt like the girl was going to snap and turn all evil again. Maybe that just meant Buffy was getting soft; that Faith’s constantly wounded looks and soulful brown eyes were getting to her. It wouldn’t exactly be the first time.
She wanted them to be friends again, like last year, just without all the lying and stabbing bits, but surely it was too late for that? Faith had hurt her, more completely than Angel had ever managed, and Angel had an excuse.
Buffy let out a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. “Maybe you should talk to her before we leave? Convince her to play nice until this is over?”
Tara’s answering smile was a little sad. “Actually, I was thinking maybe you could talk to her.”
Again, Tara looked at her feet. “Willow’s going to say that I don’t know what Faith’s like. It’ll mean more if it comes from you.”
‘Yeah.’ Buffy was pretty sure that Willow came preprogrammed to say those exact words when anyone other than Buffy brought up the subject. But, ugh, few things in life were more terrifying than trying to convince Willow of something when her mind was already made up. “Sure,” she mumbled, sulking as she turned to meet her doom. “Give the slayer the hard job.”
Faith huffed as she finished another series of quick jabs to the air. ‘Maintain your center-line. No, use your entire body, not just your arm.’ She could just picture Ying in the prison yard, cursing her in Chinese every time she fucked something up, which was pretty damn often considering how tired and distracted she’d been lately.
She couldn’t help she was a lousy student, always had been. Discipline just didn’t come naturally to her; not in school, not her personal life, not even when it came to fighting, and that was the only thing she’d ever been any good at.
Well, that and sex, of course.
Faith punched the air again. She wasn’t even sure who she was angry at anymore. Sometimes it just came to her all at once: memories of home and Sunnydale and the way Willow looked at her as she walked by this morning. It all just kind of spiraled into itself.
She shut her eyes. ‘Control yourself, everyone else can think whatever the fuck they want.’ Ying and Angel kept reinforcing the same basic lesson. Though, what worried her now was how she was struggling to remember it. If only the Big Guy were here now to offer some encouragement. Joyce was nice - hell, she was actually kind of awesome - but only Angel really understood the depths to which she had sunk.
She stopped herself in mid-punch, surprised to find Willow’s girlfriend standing before her. “Um, hey,” she said lamely. “What’s up?”
Tara wrung her hands. “I, uh, wanted to talk to you about the enjoining spell.”
Faith let her arms fall to her sides. “Oh, sure,” she said, standing there awkwardly for a moment before leading Tara to the back porch. Why wasn’t Giles handling this? She’d hardly ever spoken to Tara except for that time at the Bronze, and really, first impressions and all...
“Well, as Mister Giles mentioned, the spell combines all our powers into one, but the thing is, it’s a voluntary process, it doesn’t just happen because you say a few magical words. You’ll have some control over what you share with Buffy.”
Faith crossed her arms as she leaned heavily against the wooden railing. “You think I’m gonna hold back. That I’m not gonna help Buffy when the time comes?” The bitterness in her voice was something she had no control over. Tara was a genuinely nice person, she practically radiated niceness, but Faith was fucking tired of everyone already ‘knowing’ what she was thinking and what she was going to do before she did.
They didn’t know shit.
She was caught a little off guard by how Tara had no trouble meeting her angry gaze. “The power needs to be freely given, and the more we hold back, the less effective the spell will be. Willow and Giles won’t have a problem because they’ve known Buffy forever. Their desire to protect her comes naturally to them, so their powers will come naturally to Buffy.”
Faith sighed. The implication was clear. She had spent most of her time in Sunnydale trying to hurt Buffy, to ruin her life in the most complete way possible. Sure, those desires were gone now, but who could say what would happen in the heat of the moment, especially when there was magic involved?
“For the spell to be as effective as possible, you’ll need to concentrate on the positive aspects of your relationship with Buffy.”
That earned a sharp laugh. Faith couldn’t think of a single pleasant moment with Buffy that wasn’t tinged in some way with regret, or jealousy, or feelings of betrayal. “Not many of those to choose from, Glinda.”
Tara blushed and smiled at her new nickname. “I mean, concentrate on the way she makes you feel. The positive things.”
“No offense, but how do you know how I feel? Yeah, I never actually went out and tried to kill her, but I did just about everything else a person could do to fuck up someone’s life.”
The smile disappeared. “I… don’t really know how to say this, but I can sense how you feel about her.”
“What?” Faith asked sharply, tilting her head.
“I can read auras,” Tara began. Her big blue eyes never wavered, and for some reason Faith could sense the truth in her words as Tara attempted to explain what that power entailed. Apparently, everyone’s bodies gave off a kind of light that only a practiced eye could see. By observing that light, Tara could read people’s emotions, hidden desires, even stuff that the person didn’t know themselves.
Faith finally understood; it was that night at the Bronze and the way Buffy’s aura had been fractured… that was what led to everyone finally realizing that something was up. Funny how Tara was the only one perceptive enough to figure it out.
Faith’s eyes darted nervously from one side of Joyce’s yard to the other. “So, if you can see all this, then you know what Buffy thinks about me?”
Now Tara was hiding behind her hair again. It was kind of cute. “It’s, um, hard to say. It’s not exactly like mind-reading,” she explained. “Buffy has very strong feelings, but they’re conflicted. I really shouldn’t say more than that.”
She brushed the hair from her eyes. “Would you want me to tell Buffy how you feel about her?”
‘Fuck, no.’ “Hmm. Good point.”
“I can say that it’s not too late,” she said, eyes brightening.
Faith’s heart started to race. She wanted to stamp down those faint stirrings of hope that suddenly arose at the mere suggestion that maybe, just maybe, Buffy could look at her one day and not see a murdering psychopath.
“Forgiveness won’t happen overnight, but today is a good day to start, isn’t it?”
She let out a breath. Tara sounded like a certain guy she knew. “So, what you’re basically saying is we’re gonna defeat Adam with the power of love, like some Care Bears shit or something?”
Tara laughed. “Well, the idea is to imbue Buffy with our greatest assets. You want Buffy to win, right?”
Faith huffed and looked away. “Of course I do.”
“That’s not so different from love, is it? We want to see the people we love become the best they can be.”
“Yeah, well, maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be, but I don’t know if you can call what I feel for B ‘love.’” Obsession, maybe. “It certainly wasn’t mutual or anything.”
Despite Faith’s petulance, Tara didn’t lose her patience. “You need to put all that aside though, if you want this to work.”
Faith sighed. “What about you? You’re going to be at this magical love gathering too, but you don’t love Buffy.” Her dark eyes locked with Tara’s, “Do you?”
This time, she actually did flinch. “N- No, but I do love Willow, and Buffy is very important to her.”
Faith slumped in her spot. How different would her life have been if she’d had a friend as selfless and kind as Tara? Completely unrecognizable, probably. “Are all witches as wise as you?”
“I, um, don’t know about me…” she said, blushing again. “But as a whole, yes. Understanding human nature is part of what makes a good witch.”
“What’s Red’s excuse then?”
“Willow’s very… protective,” Tara replied, smiling a little, though there was worry in her eyes too.
Faith grunted. “That’s one way of putting it.”
Her tone grew more serious, “I don’t want you to think about Willow while the spell is going on.”
“Fine, fine,” Faith said, rolling her eyes. “No guarantees, but yeah, I’ll try.”
A moment later, the kitchen door slid open and Buffy exited, followed by Willow. They both looked a little red around the eyes, like they’d been having a conversation of their own, only a much more emotional one.
Willow stood in front of the open door until all eyes were on her and then let out a very put-upon sigh. “We need to put aside our differences if this spell is going to work.”
Okay, that line had obviously been rehearsed, and it was all she said, but Tara and Buffy both smiled, and though Faith waited for the following threat, it never came. Swallowing any residual bitterness, she straightened her back and looked Willow straight in the eyes. “I promise I won’t try anything. If I do, you can turn me into a piece of cheese and feed me to your pet rat or something.”
Buffy sort of half-smiled at that, and Faith felt that ever present weight on her chest ease up a bit.
“Girls?” It was Joyce, poking her head out the door. “Mister Giles was asking for you.”
“I repeat, due to a gas-leak, all Sunnydale residents are being asked to stay indoors,” the voice from the radio announced. “Last night’s aftershocks were centered at Sunnydale Caverns, resulting in numerous cave-ins, with further damage to the UCSD campus, and the SoCal pipeline. An army spokesman has requested residents stay in their homes until further notice -”
Buffy sighed, “They’re really pushing this whole earthquake thing, aren’t they?”
“Sunnydale residents are known for being easily duped,” Giles said, turning down the radio and frowning as the last of the Mayor’s maps were laid out on the dining room table. “Present company excepted, of course.”
Everyone had gathered around, excluding Buffy’s mom who claimed she didn’t want to be a nuisance. Faith stood alone on the opposite end of the table, forcing her to look at the maps upside down, but it was preferable to being too close to Willow. Sure, a truce had been declared, but better safe than sorry, she thought.
“Do you think they’ll blow up the campus just to get to Adam?” Tara asked.
Willow flattened out one of the maps with her hand. “When your only tool is a hammer…”
Giles hummed in agreement as he sipped his tea. “Unfortunately, in this case, the hammer is a self-propelled howitzer.”
Buffy sighed. “Thanks for the depressing metaphors, guys.” She took a bite of one of the donuts Giles and the rest of Team Magic had brought with them. Paper-clipped to the bag was a picture of Xander grinning like a dork. He was with the group in spirit. “I hope I’m not the only one who’s noticed that the military apparently knows where my mom lives, yet Adam has access to the same information and hasn’t gone after any of us.”
“Well, it’s kind of like the Borg,” Willow said with a distracted air as she hunched over the table, studying the largest of the maps intently.
“The Borg, you know, from Star Trek. In one episode, Commander Riker and his away-team beamed aboard their ship but all the Borg ignored him because they didn’t perceive them as a threat. Adam doesn’t perceive us as a threat either.” She looked up when she realized everyone in the room was staring at her. “Hey! Xander and I used to watch it together after school.”
Buffy shook her head and chuckled. “I don’t know you.”
Giles was less pleased. "If I learn that Professor Walsh was inspired to make Adam after watching Star Trek, I think I just might weep."
“I guess you’re right though,” Buffy said, ignoring him. “Besides, it’s not like Adam is going to come right to the door or anything.”
A second later, the doorbell rang and Giles nearly spilled tea all over himself. “Bloody hell.”
Instantly, Faith and Buffy were up and in battle stance, but the tension evaporated as quickly as it appeared. Faith didn’t feel anything unusual. Whoever it was, it probably wasn’t a demon. Besides, demons didn’t usually knock.
Joyce was already at the door when the two slayers got there. “Expecting someone?” she asked.
“Not really,” Buffy said, and the uncertain look on her face had her mom backing away while she opened the door.
‘Oh,’ Faith thought the second she laid sight on the man in his military uniform. It was that dude in the jeep from yesterday.
“Miss Buffy Summers?” he asked, taking off his sunglasses and looking directly at Faith.
“Oh, um, no. That’s her, dude,” she said, pointing to Buffy.
Eying the blonde woman somewhat dubiously, he nodded, then reached into his jacket and pulled out a letter. "This is for you," he said, handing it to her before marching quickly away without another word.
For a few moments, Buffy stared at the envelope in disbelief. Upon opening it, she only seemed to grow more confused. Faith looked over her shoulder, but was careful not to get too close. Inside was a map of Downtown Sunnydale. One red arrow pointed to a circle drawn around the University of Sunnydale campus. At the bottom of the paper was a hastily written note, ‘Dear Miss Summers, at twelve-hundred hours today our forces will begin an assault on the Initiative compound. Our men and women have been informed that if they see you or your friends, they are not to stop you from whatever you may have planned. Signed, Colonel Gates.’
Faith crossed her arms and nodded. “Looks like the government’s beginning to understand who gets things done around here.”
Buffy smiled. “If I survive the day, I’m having this framed.”
“Very kind of them to let us know of their plans in advance,” Giles said as he finished reading over the letter. Soon, they were all gathered around the table again. It was still almost three-hours before noon, but the tension in the air had increased dramatically.
Buffy’s tone went completely serious, “Yeah, but they’re walking into a trap.”
“I tend to agree,” Giles replied, equally seriously.
Willow shook her head. “So, what do we do?”
“Well, I suppose we could go in ahead of them,” Giles suggested.
‘That’s a terrible idea,’ Faith thought. “If Adam does has some sort of trap set, you could be blown into a thousand little slayer pieces before you even got through the door.” Sure, this spell was designed to give Buffy superpowers, or maybe that should be super-superpowers, but it didn’t necessarily make her explosion-proof.
Buffy frowned, but it looked like she was thinking the same thing.
“And there’s no other way in?” Giles asked her.
“I went over these for hours last night,” Buffy replied, gesturing at the maps. “There’s nothing there we didn’t already know. It was a waste of time.”
Faith rolled her eyes and bit deeply into her donut to keep from saying anything. She also had a nice tall cup of reasonably warm coffee sitting in front of her, courtesy of Tara. That girl was definitely all right. How she ended up with the Wicked Witch of the West as a girlfriend was a goddamned mystery.
“Well, there’s the secret exit to the caves,” Willow was saying, running a finger along the route. “But we can assume that route is out of commission. And here’s Lab 314.” She shook her head and pushed away from the table. “The Mayor clearly knew more than we did a week ago, but there’s nothing new here. You’d think he would’ve had all sorts of secret tunnels built,” she added, looking directly at Faith.
Faith swallowed while sharing just a hint of a glare with her, but hey, that was progress.
“You know of no other tunnels,” Giles asked, a bit more kindly.
She shook her head. Mayor Wilkins had lots of secrets, but that didn’t mean she was privy to them.
Tara ran a hand over the largest of the maps, the one that depicted the entire city, from the college campus in the northwest, to the docks in the south, and the High School in the east. “I think...“ Her brow furrowed in thought. “I think there’s something else here.”
Willow inched forward, tilting her head. “What do you see?”
Closing her eyes and whispering under her breath, Tara stretched out her hand, palm down. In one sweeping movement, she brushed her arm from left to right. When she opened her eyes again, glowing red outlines appeared on all the maps, but especially the big one. The outlines were the exact same color of the Mayor’s demonic sigil; the color of blood.
Willow gasped. “Wow…”
“What is all this?” Buffy asked.
“Very interesting,” Giles said. “A hidden network of tunnels only a witch or a demon could see.”
Faith met Tara’s eyes. “Nice work, Glinda.”
Tara smiled and ducked her face behind her hair.
As expected, Willow was not smiling, and she not so subtly entwined her hand with Tara’s own, which the older girl seemed to take as a romantic gesture. So, Red was the possessive type. Why wasn’t that surprising?
Buffy was shaking her head. “Why are there so many tunnels?” Indeed, if this map was to be believed, there were a hundred caverns of various sizes, all twisting and turning and radiating out from the Hellmouth like some kind of demonic spider’s web.
Giles looked as fascinated as Faith had ever seen him. “Every Hellmouth is associated with at least a few caves and underground chambers. They attract demons, but most demons can’t abide the light of day. The Sunnydale Hellmouth is very old indeed.”
“Guess that adds to the general hellish ambience,” Buffy mumbled, craning to get a better look. She pointed to the campus. “What’s this line?”
Willow traced the wide double-line with her finger. When touched, the glowing ink briefly turned blue before returning to its natural demonic color. Huh. Perhaps Willow wasn’t secretly an unholy creature from the depths of Hell after all. “It must be a man-made passageway," she said. "See how straight it is? It runs from the Initiative all the way to,” she trailed off, following the line as it ran like an arrow towards its destination. “Sunnydale High.”
Buffy blinked and a smile began to grow on her lips. “That’s it! If Adam doesn’t go through the army, he’ll have to come out here!” She tapped the map, briefly amused by the way the lines turned blue when she did so. Meanwhile, Tara had taken a discreet step back and Faith could sense her increasing discomfort. Strange. Perhaps she felt alienated? Faith could certainly relate to that. Once the Scoobies got going, it was like no one else existed.
“Odd,” Giles said. “It runs under the entire town. Why would the Initiative do this? Digging a tunnel straight to the Hellmouth is just asking for trouble.”
Growing ever so slightly bored, Faith took a look at the documents Buffy had earlier discarded as uninteresting: blank sheets of paper and maps of places like Los Angeles and Cleveland and another one rather ominously titled ‘The Second Plane of Hell.’ At the bottom of the pile was a piece of stationary with ‘Office of the Mayor of Sunnydale’ printed along the top, but where the paper had once been otherwise blank, now it was glowing with hand-written words. She couldn’t read them, but the writing was familiar. ‘The Boss.’ She pushed the paper into Giles’ line of sight.
Instantly, Giles leaned closer, his eyes widening. “Ancient Greek. Fascinating. Where did you find this?”
Buffy pressed closer too. “That’s one of the papers we picked up at the Mayor’s office. What’s it say?”
The watcher cleared his throat. “November 27th, 1998. I finally tracked down the voll I had ordered months ago. Sadly, our new neighbors beneath the University intercepted my shipment. Perhaps they believed volls would make good pets? The poor creature broke loose from its cage and killed a number of them before it was able to escape. By the time it burrowed its way to safety, it was in such a sad state that there was no choice but to put it down.”
“Unfortunately, I doubt I can procure another one in time, but its tunnel may still prove useful. I believe when the time comes I will have to pay our new friends a visit. Responsible pet ownership is no laughing matter.”
That sounded like the Mayor all right. “What the hell’s a voll?” Faith asked.
Giles grimaced. “It’s essentially a giant worm with teeth. Adults are about ten feet wide, forty feet long, and they, um, dig tunnels mostly. Sometimes they pop up from the sewers and eat people. They tend to be attracted to places with strong demonic energy.”
“Really?” Buffy asked, her eyes widening. “And you didn’t mention this before because?”
“They’re only found on the island of Sumatra. In fact, rumor has it that one ate the last slayer who lived there.”
Giles grimaced and looked at Buffy apologetically.
“What does the rest of it say?” Tara asked.
“Hmm. For every pound of meat, add one cup of blood…” His brow furrowed as he scanned the rest of the note, “flour… salt… rhylok eggs…” Giles stood back. “It’s a recipe for voll soufflé.”
Faith suddenly had an urge to throw up things that had been digested months ago. She’d shared dinners with that man -
Giles was quick to change the subject. “Well, then. We could prepare our surprise at the High School. Allow the army to flush Adam out for us?”
“I think it’s Adam who will be doing the flushing,” Buffy said pointedly, before grimacing at the way that sounded. “Besides, he might not know this tunnel exists. If we wait for the army to attack, we could end up being on the wrong side of town when he breaks loose. If he does break loose.”
Everyone seemed pretty unconvinced. There were a lot of ‘ifs’ involved in this plan.
“I think that, considering his history, we should assume that Adam knows what the army has planned,” Giles said finally. “That being the case, we should get to him first and perform the spell as soon as possible.”
“Can we even get down there?” Faith asked, indicating the cave.
Buffy nodded. “We have ropes. Last summer, Giles sent me into one of the caverns beneath the school to find some books. There were caves in every direction, I just didn’t realize they went on for so long.”
“Giles sent you into the Hellmouth to find books?”
“Not into the Hellmouth, just really close to it,” she corrected.
“They were really important books,” Giles added.
He flinched when the doorbell rang again. Everyone listened intently as Joyce descended the stairs, paused suspiciously as she looked through the window, then opened the door. “Um, Buffy? One of your friends is –“
“I can’t believe you were planning to go without me!” Anya cried from the other room.
Buffy was visibly surprised when their unexpected visitor stepped hurriedly into the dining room. "You're coming along?"
Anya looked exited and vaguely terrifying. "And why shouldn't I come along?"
"If Adam kills all of you, then Xander stays in prison - at least until the glamour wears off in a few days – and that means he doesn't get paid, right?"
Giles pursed his lips. "That is correct."
"Then I'm coming!"
He did an admirable job of not letting his annoyance show, “Well, I suppose it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have someone watching over us while the spell is being cast.”
Everyone in the room seemed to agree with that, though Faith had her doubts. "Can you fight?" she asked.
Anya raised her chin. "I was a vengeance demon for over a thousand years."
Faith blinked. "Oh.” She looked her up and down a second time. Anya didn't look like much like a demon. Not like, say, Cordelia, or the Wicked Witch of the West over there.
"Anya's human now," Tara added, earning an irritated quirk of the lips from her girlfriend. Faith rolled her eyes. Willow could stand to learn that jealousy was a completely unattractive character trait.
Buffy appeared to be resigned, "It's a long story.”
Faith sighed. The world had been full of long stories ever since she’d woken from her coma. What was one more?
“Ugh, caves,” Buffy muttered to herself.
“Technically, it’s a tunnel,” Willow replied, earning the barest grunt of recognition.
The descent into what was left of Sunnydale High’s basement hadn’t actually been too difficult. Construction crews had already cleared out most of the ruins, leaving great holes in the earth which they’d only just begun to fill in with waste material.
Like a tour guide, Giles pointed out the Hellmouth as they passed, now lost under freshly poured concrete and scaffolding. They were actually going to rebuild the school on top of it. It was almost comical.
Finding the correct route through the caves was another matter, and they wasted the better part of an hour looking for the proper tunnel. In just the eighteen months since Mayor Wilkins had drawn the map, practically everything had jostled around. Caves that were supposed to go on for miles came to dead ends at twenty feet, other caves curved back onto themselves, and still others seemed to shift even as they travelled through them.
It was all appropriately creepy considering their proximity to the pit of Hell.
Finally, however, they found it: an unusually smooth tunnel about fifteen feet wide that never narrowed or changed course. Faith still had no idea what a voll looked like, but she was quite certain she never wanted to find out.
The hike was a long one. With their slayer sight, Buffy and Faith probably could’ve navigated through the gloom with just the light from their two magical pendants, but they had four other people to protect. So, Buffy and Giles carried flashlights, while everyone except for Anya and the two slayers shouldered backpacks with the necessary magical reagents. This was really not the best place to fight something, and if a demon did show up, Buffy had given firm orders for everyone to get out of the way and give the slayers room to take care of it.
As they walked, water would occasionally drip onto their heads, or at least Faith hoped it was water. They were underneath a complex network of sewer lines and storm drains after all. She tried not to think about it.
“I should think you would be used to it by now,” Giles said. “Caves have been a common hiding place for demons for as long as there have been slayers.”
Faith was admiring the axe she held in her right hand, enjoying the weight of it. “How long have there been slayers anyway?”
“The Council estimates ten-thousand years, possibly more.”
As they walked on, Faith tried to estimate how many slayers that would entail. Buffy had been one for what, five years? But she was probably a special case. That Kendra chick had only lasted like six months or something. She frowned, realizing those two were the only other slayers she knew anything about. Her first watcher had mentioned some others from time to time, but of course Faith had never really paid attention.
‘If a slayer lives an average of maybe two years… that’s what, five-thousand slayers?‘ She wasn’t sure of the math. It was a fuck-ton of slayers either way. She bet none of them ever got paid.
Without warning there came an unearthly deafening roar from ahead, unlike anything Faith had ever heard before. The two slayers instinctively leapt to each side of the tunnel just as something shadowy and massive rushed by. Faith regretted it immediately. It was on its way to Giles and the rest of the gang.
A second later and the tunnel was awash in light. The creature roared and staggered back as its chest burst into flame. Fuck. It was a goddamn minotaur or something; nine feet tall with huge horns and a face like a bull. Buffy was quickly on her feet and dashed towards it, easily leaping onto its back. Faith was about to follow when she sensed something else. She spun around, and in the orange light came face to face with a white-skinned demon, like something out of Hellraiser, crawling out of a hole in the wall, his naked body covered in fresh blood.
Faith’s grip tightened. The axe felt perfect in her hands; it was finally time to use it. The demon stopped short when their eyes met. “All right, Freakshow,” she said, eyes glinting. “Forgive me if I’m a little rusty.”
With a wailing scream, he lunged for her, but Faith easily sidestepped the attack, giving him a powerful kick into the wall of the cave for his trouble. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Buffy fighting that crazy horned creature as the other Scoobies hurried back from where they came. She ducked, and rolled, and was generally doing a fantastic job of making a complete nuisance of herself.
Faith’s demon was only getting angrier and angrier. “So, what’s with the nudity? We interrupt something?” Again, Freakshow shrieked and Faith grimaced as the walls shook and the sound echoed down the cave. “Ooh, touchy subject, huh?” He swung at her, but she dodged the blow and her axe blade bit deeply into his arm.
Another scream, this time of pain as he struggled to cover his gushing wound. God, this fucker was noisy.
“I’d love to stick around,” Faith said, "but you've got to split." The sharp blade easily cut through the creature's neck, shutting him up for good and sending his head rolling back into the abyss. She spun around. In the fading light, Buffy was still struggling with her enormous minotaur friend, though his torso was crossed with cuts and his butt had a crossbow bolt sticking out of it. When the slayer sent the demon reeling, Faith cried out her name.
It came to her as easy as breathing; with just the right amount of heft, she sent the bloody axe sailing through the air and Buffy caught the handle effortlessly, allowing the momentum to spin her arm around and carve a deep and fatal gash into the creature’s chest. He fell to the ground in a heap, leaving Buffy and Faith sanding there in the enveloping silence, breathing heavily and staring into each other’s eyes as the sounds of approaching footsteps grew louder.
It felt good, really good, but the moment was broken when Giles shined a flashlight in their faces. “I think we’d better hurry,” he said, the color returning to his skin.
With only thirty minutes before the army’s attack, the tunnel finally widened before opening up into a huge chamber. The floor here was perfectly smooth, as if carved out intentionally, and marred only by several boulders scattered by the wall on the far side. When their flashlights shone on them, it became clear that they weren’t boulders at all, but rather the bodies of slain demons; several resembled Buffy’s bull-headed friend. “I believe that explains the smell,” Giles said as he gently kicked a desiccated tentacle with the toe of his boot.
“What is this place?” Faith wondered out loud. “A demon dumping ground?”
Tara looked alarmed. “Could the Initiative have dumped these bodies here?”
Buffy shook her head. “In the days before we first tried the enjoining spell, Adam was calling to them,” she said, examining another fallen minotaur before sniffing the air and backing quickly away. “Demons were practically knocking on the Initiative’s door, trying to get in. Some of them must have tried to get in this way.”
“Looks like they didn’t make it,” Faith mumbled. That was a positive sign.
Giles was observing the massive spike sticking out of the back of an unlucky polgara demon. “So much for pan-demon cooperation.” He turned his attention to the far wall. “Start looking for a door,” he said, and everyone spread out.
A few minutes later and the anxiety level was through the roof. They’d examined every inch of rock face. Time was running out, but there was no door anywhere.
Tara and Willow continued the search while Giles sat down on a rock, looking completely lost.
Anya finally caught up to them. Throughout this expedition through subterranean Sunnydale she’d made no secret of how utterly bored she was. Still, her skill at bulls-eying demon butts with her crossbow could not be faulted. “Why are you guys just standing there?”
“I should think that was pretty obvious,” Giles muttered, making no effort to mask his frustration.
Stepping past him, and carefully avoiding the dead bodies, Anya walked further along the wall until she came to an unassuming pile of sandstone boulders. “It’s just a glamour spell,” she said, placing a hand on one of them.
Willow was quick to disagree. “No way. I would’ve sensed it.”
Anya rolled her eyes. “Any decent witch could put up a glamour that would be completely undetectable to the average person, of which I am not.”
Faith smiled to herself when Red narrowed her eyes. Completely oblivious, Anya spoke a few words – Greek, perhaps - and the rocks soon began to shine from within, bathing the cave in a white light. “See?” she drawled. “Whoever did this must’ve used the glyph of Daedalus. Excellent choice.”
“Wait. Daedalus?” Willow asked, surprised. “As in the Daedalus? The guy who built the labyrinth?”
Anya nodded. “I got stuck in one once, all because I accidentally stirred up a tiny little rebellion in Crete. I swear, the Venetians had no sense of humor about that sort of thing.”
Giles sighed and tapped his watch. “If you would please –“
“Fine, fine. You’re lucky I’m here, you know. The only way to see through these sorts of glamours is with experience. I was stuck in that labyrinth for five mon-”
“I should be paid. That’s all I’m saying.”
Frowning deeply when Giles only narrowed his eyes at her, Anya mumbled a few words and the boulders vanished. Everyone cringed. As Faith understood it, glamour spells required a subject, something you wanted to make look like something else. In this case, the subject was a bunch of crushed skeletons in Initiative uniforms.
Gruesome, but at least the whole thing provided more evidence that Adam hadn’t been here.
Again taking the lead, the slayers stepped gingerly over the bones and into the passageway with everyone else following behind. However, it wasn’t long before they were all forced to halt again. The passage came to a stop at a perfectly flat slab of concrete which ran from floor to ceiling.
“Is this a glamour too?” Buffy asked over her shoulder. Anya shook her head. “Damn.” She ran a finger along its surface. “Know any good dynamite summoning spells?”
As Willow and Giles discussed what to do, Faith felt the stirrings of something familiar. Instinctively, she placed a hand against the wall and got that shivery feeling up her back again. After a moment, the Mayor’s red sigil appeared. “B?”
This time, Buffy was buoyed by the sight instead of horrified. “Okay. You do your thing, and if Adam is waiting on the other side, the plan is: I knee him in the groin and you guys run.”
Faith grinned. “Solid plan, B.” She handed Buffy her axe and recited the password. Again, there was that draining sensation, compounded by the unsettled faces of Giles, Willow, and Tara. It was like getting caught stealing after you’d just promised to be good. She didn’t want them seeing this.
Fortunately, even Willow kept her big mouth shut. A gust of foul air rushed by when the door silently vanished, and for a second no one so much as breathed. The hole opened up to an empty cell with an open glass door. Pressing forward, they spilled out into the Initiative’s prison block, what Buffy called ‘HST Containment.’ Five cells down on the right was a metal door, but in the other direction the line of cells appeared to be endless. The sickly yellow glow of emergency lighting lit the entire row.
“This is where they used to keep Spike and Oz,” Buffy said, her voice low.
Faith nodded. “I don’t sense anything nearby.” The word ‘nearby’ was important, because the second the invisible door went down, she began to sense something; something big, and very, very powerful. It didn’t exactly help that there were bloodstains all over the walls and floor, yet no sign of any bodies.
“We can’t stay here. It’s not defensible.” Buffy turned right with Faith still at her side while everyone else crept slowly behind. The metal door at the end of the hall was wide enough to drive a car through. Above it, stenciled onto the wall, were the words ‘Restricted Area.’ “Red,” Buffy whispered, indicating the lights on the keypad. “That’s usually bad.”
‘Locked.’ Faith looked for hinges, but there weren’t any. The door looked like it slid down from the top or the sides, but there was no place to get a grip. “Fuckin’ futuristic shit,” she muttered.
Buffy pressed against it, testing the door’s strength. It gave just a little. “We can break through this,” she said. “There’s only one problem.”
“We do it and everyone knows we’re here?”
There was nothing else for it. “Okay. So, once we do our Kool-Aid Man impression, where do we go?”
B’s lips quirked a bit. “We find an empty room, someplace where you can bar the door and perform the spell. Don’t go left though.”
Faith’s raised eyebrow asked the question.
“That hallway leads to the gathering area. All those demons you’re sensing? That’s where they are.”
“Lovely.” Faith grimaced and looked over her shoulder. Two slayers could probably plow through whatever demons might be waiting on the other side, as long as Adam wasn’t among them, but Team Magic was a different story. “Okay. We break this door down, you lead the way, the Scoobies follow, and I cover the rear.”
Buffy nodded, but looked a little unsure. This was it. Either they won, or they’d be dead in less than five minutes.
Buffy’s friends had all gathered around. It was the time for inspiring speeches, affirmations of sisterhood, promises they’ll all make it out together… that sort of crap. Faith had nothing, yet the desire to say something was overpowering, just in case this really was the end. “Hey, B?” she asked softly. “You remember that time you brought a banana on patrol and I stole it out of your coat pocket and ate it?”
Whatever Buffy had expected to hear, that was definitely not it. “I, uh, yeah,” she replied equally quietly but smiling a little.
“Well, today I’m gonna make up for that.”
She couldn’t have looked more confused if she tried. It was sort of ridiculously adorable. “I don’t understand.”
Everyone’s eyes were on her, but Faith didn’t care. She needed to get this out, even if she hated how unsteady her voice sounded. “The way I see it, I’ve got like a thousand things to make up for, and in order from the mildly annoying stuff to the completely unforgiveable stuff, I think that one ranks at the very bottom. Gotta start somewhere, right?”
A hundred bad memories were probably playing through Buffy’s mind at that moment. Try as they might, the past would never escape them. ‘Apologize to me and I will beat you to death.’ Faith kept her voice low, as if that alone would keep Buffy’s anger in check, “You have every right to hate me, B.”
Buffy only looked forward, not making eye contact. When she spoke, her voice was only the smallest whisper, “I know.” The words held no malice. They were sad, almost regretful.
It was practically nothing, yet it was more than Faith felt she deserved. It was only the tiniest amount of progress, yet it gave her hope.
Giles glanced at his watch. He didn’t say anything, but he didn’t have to. They needed to get moving.
Steeling herself, Faith stepped back until she and Buffy were the same distance from the door. “On the count of three then?”
Shaken from her thoughts, Buffy nodded. “You guys ready?” she asked, looking over her shoulder.
Everyone murmured their assent. Tara’s eyes darted to Faith’s and she smiled. Faith smiled back.
Finally, Buffy met her gaze again, her expression confident. “Ready?”
Faith grinned, “Let’s do it.”