The ground rumbled under their feet, nearly pitching the Watcher sideways while the two Slayers managed to stand upright. The grass split in front of them, a light shooting into the night sky to pierce the navy blue with blood red. All of the stars that had shone so brightly a moment before vanished against a false veneer, the moon painted crimson. The demons were dispatched, limbs and bodies scattered about on the lawn in front of the trio but the damage had already been done. The Hellmouth began to open and who knew what would escape from it once the portal was completely agape.
“Buffy!” Giles turned to his right and spotted the blonde with a sword in her hands. “We have to close this before it gets too far. I need an orb from my flat. It’s in the cupboard in my study on the second shelf toward the back. Take Faith and retrieve it for me.”
He pushed her toward the other girl gently, to her resistance. “I don’t want to leave you.”
“You must, no one else will be safe right now, but hurry back.”
She nodded and grabbed Faith’s hand, who didn’t protest, taking off running in the direction of his home. He was out of sight before the brunette felt a sharp pain in her gut. Something struck her behind the belly and tugged her back the way she came. She paused and threw a glance over her shoulder, gaining the notice of the blonde who stopped as well. She looked back.
“We have to go.”
“He’s not safe alone.”
“He told us both to go.”
“I don’t like it and I’m not gonna start following orders now.”
“Fine,” she nodded. “Go back and make sure he’s okay. I’ll be back as quickly as I can.”
“Be careful, B.”
The pair parted with her running back toward him. He was closer to the rift now and it unsettled her in a way she couldn’t identify. A ruckus had kicked up in the scant minute or two she was gone, wind whipping around them so that her voice hardly carried at all. She came close and looked past him to the swirling opening in front of them both.
“What are you doing? You shouldn’t have come back!”
“I wasn’t going to leave you alone.”
“You shouldn’t be here, Faith, it isn’t safe.”
It was then that she noticed the cut on his palm with his handkerchief pressed to it and blood on the ground. She noticed a strange pattern traced in the dirt. She looked at him and then back to the Hellmouth, comprehending too late what he’d done. Her eyes widened and rose, catching his own. He offered only a helpless smile.
“The only way to close it is from the inside,” he explained.
“But you sent Buffy to -”
“A necessary deception, I’m afraid. I couldn’t risk either one of you. This has to be done.”
“No, G, we’ll find another way. You don’t have to do this.”
“It’s too late.” He gestured to the vortex. “We only have a minute before it’s opened fully and worse death than we can imagine will escape it. It will flood into this world and not even an army of Slayers will be able to stop it.”
“No!” She choked on the word, turning her face away. “God damnit! You didn’t have to do this!”
“I did. This is my job, Faith. I must protect you girls and the world.”
“I don’t give a shit about the world!” She frowned, her hands balled in fists by her side. Her eyes were on the ground. “What am I going to tell everyone?”
“Tell them I’m proud of them.” He paused, cupping her cheek with one hand and guiding her eyes up. “And you.”
She grabbed the front of his shirt and hauled him toward her, meeting his lips in one fierce, fiery kiss. He returned it without hesitation, wrapping his arms around her body to keep her close for a long moment. When she pulled away his jade eyes were staring into hers. She had his shirt balled in her fists trying to undo this by will, knowing she couldn’t. Instead she nodded.
“We’ll find you.”
“I know you will.”
With one last touch of his hand to her cheek he took a step back, and then another, letting the swirling energy grab hold of him and his magic. It pulled him in, the gravity of magic catching too quickly for any more words.She was the only witness to his disappearance, watching as the red tendrils found him and wrapped around his body, pulling him back toward the gaping hole in the Earth. She thought she saw a resigned smile before he disappeared and she sank to her knees. The rift closed swiftly and the stars reappeared overhead, sparkling in the night sky as if nothing at all had happened. No one in the city would know the sacrifice he’d just made to keep them all safe to see another tomorrow. Faith reached out to touch the blood on the ground, still warm, his blood, fighting the tears that threatened to fall. Footfalls signaled the approach of the other Slayer and she steeled her spine. She stood, turning to face the blonde.
“What happened? Where’s Giles?” Buffy could see plainly the distress she was in and felt a knot clench in her stomach. “Faith, where is Giles?”
“He’s gone.” The words were ghosts and she hated to speak them, a tumult of emotions rolling around inside her.
“What do you mean gone?”
“The only way to close the portal was from the inside.”
“Inside.” Her eyes widened and she let out a horrified sound, looking down at the ground where the rift had been. “He’s in the Hellmouth?”
“I think so.”
“Then why did he send me for…”
She stared at the orb in her hand, tempted to throw it in spite. When he needed her she should have been there! The thought of what he’d done made her sick with guilt.
“He wanted to keep us safe. I think maybe he didn’t want us to see.”
“But you did. You saw. What did he say?”
“He’s proud of you.”
“There wasn’t a lot of time.”
“What will we- I mean, how can we? Willow. We should call Willow.”
“Every second he’s in there he could die, Faith.”
“He’s strong, B. We’ll find a way.”
The other girl looked at her, hearing a new tone in her voice full of resignation and a strange sense of calm. She let it flood her with reassurance, taking a deep breath. Faith looked down at her hand and realized she was still holding his handkerchief, his blood vivid against the white linen. The other girl followed her gaze.
“His blood. He cut himself for the magic to work.”
Tears swam in the blonde’s eyes as she allowed herself to be led away from the Hellmouth. There was no library marking this one - nothing except a great oak tree in a clearing in the middle of the woods. Faith felt odd being the voice of calm and reason, having never served in the role before. Like much of the evening the mantle didn’t sit right. She was supposed to be the one that was separate from all of this. Instead, she helped her companion into his car, finding the keys still in the ignition. She drove them back to his place, glancing every so often at the blonde’s pensive expression reflected in the passenger window.
“There’s nothing we could have done.”
“We should have tried! I should have seen through that - God, I shouldn’t have left him!”
“We’ll fix it.”
“We have to fix it. We have to. I can’t…” A huge sob erupted from her, greater for being held back too long. “I can’t lose him too.”
“I don’t want to lose him either,” she admitted quietly. “I promised we’d find him.”
They pulled up to the townhouse he was renting, letting themselves in with his keys. Buffy moved to the phone and Faith to the liquor cabinet, pouring herself a strong drink in a crystal tumbler. She hardly winced as she took a long pull, the burning unable to register against how numb she felt inside. She’d kissed him, said goodbye. It hurt; everything hurt.
“Willow’s on her way. She’s picking up Xander first.”
“Good. We need them to help.” She looked up, her glass half empty. “We should try to sleep.”
“Sleep is the last thing I want to do.”
“We’re no good like this. Our best chance is to try to rest, clear the emotions from our heads. We start fresh in the morning when the shock is gone.”
“We’ll set up Xander and Willow with the research first,” she conceded. “Take shifts trying to piece something together.”
“It’s a plan.” The only one they had.
The other part of the Scoobies arrived as quickly as they could, letting themselves in. Neither looked great and there were hugs all around that Faith shied away from. She let Buffy do most of the talking, drinking much more than her share to keep the pain as numb as shock initially made it. Books were pulled from his personal collection and laid on a table ready for the shifts of research already beginning.
“I’m going to bed.” She announced, standing up and wobbling in place.
She stumbled to his bedroom, closing the door behind her to claim the room as her own temporary haven. She even managed to lock the door, looking around first. It was all too surreal, looking at his personal effects scattered around her and knowing that he wasn’t going to come home to claim them until they managed to pull him out of hell. She moved to his nightstand and saw his watch sitting there. She slipped it onto her wrist, a size or two bigger than she fit, and took comfort in the constant ticking. She kicked off her shoes and climbed into his bed tugging at the pillow next to the used nightstand, she assumed it was his pillow, and hugged it to her body. Only then did she allow the tears to come, replaying his last few minutes over and over in her head until there was no energy left to cry.
Eventually she passed into fitful sleep and was troubled by nightmares.