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Contagion

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February, 2005 Portland, Oregon

I always wanted to return to the West Coast, ever since I left Sunnydale, and I had plans to do so but they remained filed into the back of my mind.
I didn't think I would be going anytime soon though, and I definitely didn't think it would be like this. If someone had told me four days ago that I would be where I am right now then I would have laughed at them first and then told them specifically to get a fucking clue. After all, I have a good job in Michigan, my own place, and all the slaying I could choose to do just for fits and giggles.

So that's why when Xander called me four days ago and told me that I was needed in Oregon, I did exactly that. He laughed along with me (nervously, although he was anxious throughout the entire conversation), but seemed very displeased at the part where I told him to get a fucking clue. However this unfortunately did not discourage him, and he continued to insist that I get a flight over as soon as possible almost to the point of being belligerent.
"You can't really need something from me Xan, there are at least 30 slayers within busfare distance of Portland not to mention an obscene amount in Utah as everyone knows. I'm sure they could break away from their investigation of demonology within the Mormon temples to come up and help you with this little problem for a few days. I, on the other hand, can't afford the ticket and definitely can't take the time off work." I had said to him over the phone, trying my best not to sound too uptight but it was very difficult not to be annoyed with the entire situation. Plus he was being far too vague about what he wanted me to go literally across the country to help him with.
"I know you're busy," he snapped back at me testily, "but I don't think you understand the severity of what is happening over here. It's not normal, Buffy, and we need you to-"

"Not normal?" I followed this up with a sarcastic laugh. "I know we might have made being a slayer slightly common, but it isn't necessarily considered ordinary just yet. No, I hate to burst your bubble, but the low-paying profession of staking the undead never has been `normal' by any means an-"
"Stop being so fucking patronizing. I know it's not normal. I mean that what's going on here is bigger than anything these baby slayers can handle. And there WERE at least 30 slayers in Portland, but now there's only one, and she's in the hospital. They're dropping like flies out here Buffy, as fast as they can step up to the plate they're being knocked back in a row and it's not pretty. Next time you get your paycheck, pick up a newspaper and look at the follow-up section on a strange `unknown ailment' plaguing half the west coast and quickly spreading to other cities. I'm sure they're talking about it as far as Detroit now and by all means they should be." His voice suddenly became softer, more gentle, like the Xander I used to know back in high school. "I've seen a lot of girls dying here Buffy, and it's enough to break your heart. I know not even you will turn your back on that. They're slayers... but what's more they are simply scared little girls who shouldn't be up against so much more than they could possibly be prepared to handle. They need you."

Nothing could make me say no to that; I knew that I had to go to Portland despite the fact that I had no idea what I would be facing. The worst of it all wasn't the possible demons or vampires, because I'd dealt with them before. No, I wouldn't and didn't know until I arrived just what Oregon had in store for me, not even when I stepped off the plane and saw Xander for the first time in well over a year.

First of all, I didn't recognize him, and I literally brushed right past him while stepping off the plane.

"Wow, I didn't know you were that pissed at me for bringing you out here." He said to my back, causing me to turn around and take in a good look at the new man I had mistaken for a stranger in the crowd. A thin Stephan Jenkins-style goatee lined his jaw and I could have sworn his wide and cherry colored sunglasses said Ray Ban on the frame. He was wearing a black leather jacket with a stand-up collar and perfectly faded Lucky Brand jeans that fell over his Doc Martens. The boy always did have style, but this was the most aesthetically pleasing kind of overkill possible. And the cream filling? Well that would have to be the part that made him most hard for me to recognize. His once-shaggy brunette hair had been shaved down to a near-five o'clock shadow, not even half an inch long and giving him the complete Justin Timberlake-vibe. I would never in my wildest dreams have imagined that he could look so much like a grown- up man and so... sexy. But the surprise was not at all unpleasant especially as he pulled me suddenly close for an enveloping bear hug there in the middle of the terminal, with people swarming by us and my arms barely able to reach around his body which seemed to have tripled in muscle mass since we last embraced. In addition to that I was still holding my carry-on backpack full of stakes... and yes, those are necessities to take on any airline. Quite often the first class passengers are the undead.

"Thank God you're here, Buff." He whispered as he squeezed just a little bit tighter. When he didn't let go, I knew that something was terribly wrong.



Xander and I headed straight from the airport to a Denny's (open 24 hours), heading for a table in the back where we would be free from the inevitable skateboarding teens that were searching the restaurant for someone to bum a cigarette off of. My lips curled into a slight smile when I saw them and immediately thought of Faith. She would have pulled them aside and given them a 15 minute lecture on the evils of smoking before getting in their faces and scaring the shit out of them, then casually slipping a new pack. of Camels into their sweaty palms with a devilish wink.

Shaking my head slightly, I let the fond thought of her pass, and focused on Xander. He had taken off his Timberlands for the first time since meeting me at the airport, and I could now clearly distinguish between his real eye and his glass one, although I wouldn't have noticed if I didn't know to look in the first place.

"We probably should have gone straight to the hospital, but I wanted to give you a little warning of everything first." He said gently, staring down into his coffee cup.

"Why would we go to the hospital?" I asked, realizing instantaneously that it wasn't a good question as his eyes met mine with a very cold expression plastered across his face. It was as though I had just asked him for permission to slit his throat, and it made the strange situation even more mysterious and frustrating as I desperately wondered just what the big secret was.
After a pause and a brief sigh, he continued, yet dodged my question. "I told you that things have been bad. This isn't quite of Sunnydale apocalypse proportions - but it's very bad. And a lot of people have been hurt and some... some people are dead."

I could tell he was holding back something, but whether it was emotion or information I didn't know. "Well is it a demon? A group of vamps? I
think I deserve to know what is that I'm going to be facing."

"I wish I could tell you."

The words soaked in for a moment and I know the look on my face was not at all pleasant, and instead one of anger or disgust. I leaned closer to him, practically crawling on the table as I loudly whispered; "What do you mean you can't tell me? Is this some big secret monster that roams around and you can only kill it when you don't know what it is, because the slayer's best friend decides to make it like a surprise birthday party? Surprise! It's the undead and you're about to be the next course."

"I can't tell you because I don't know, ok? No one knows, and no one can explain how it's possible. I've been trying to call Will non-stop for
hours, Giles is in Canada following a pathetic lead that has something to do with ancient mythology. Yeah, like there's any ancient mythology from CANADA." Sarcasm well-noted. "Thirty slayers either ran or dropped dead and the only thing I know is that if we can't see it coming, we can't fight it. Hell for all I know, I could be infected."

"Infected? What do you mean... infected?"

Again, he paused. Only this time I noticed that his hands were shaking, and Xander had begun glancing nervously around the empty restaurant as if the next person to mill through would deserve a gaping head wound for their trespasses. When he looked back at me, he took a deep breath and spoke calmly. "Some how, someone... we have no idea who or what. They've made some kind of virus, Buffy. Everyone thinks they're coming down with the flu and they fall asleep, then wake up dead. And when I say they wake up dead, I'm not trying to make a joke. What I mean is that they actually... wake up.
Dead."

Suddenly the restaurant felt ten times larger, and my body microscopic. I could see why he was so nervous. "So a virus is making people... zombies?"

"No, mostly vampires, but different. It's like the demon inside them is stronger and won't give up as easily, and every slayer that went after them either ended up dead or infected as well within a matter of days. It was literally like sending lambs to the lion's den until Giles and I could figure out what was happening. The hard part was that they would come home, take a shower, go to sleep normal and it wouldn't be until hours later that anyone would discover the change."

"So no biting, no blood-drinking...?" I asked, and he silently shook his head. "How can that be possible? It totally defies every law of the sire, everything that allows one vampire to turn a person just out the window. There has to be more to it, there has to be some kind of bite somewhere along the way that no one is aware of."

"We thought of that," Xander quickly interjected, "so we started watching each slay and keeping a close eye on every activity the girls participated in. We even videotaped a few nights in the cemeteries, but came up with nothing. Every time they would stake a vamp without a single little drop of blood being shed or shared, and every time they still became sick after a few days. It seems every time we find some sort of lead, we end up with nothing again, and now it is spreading through the city making new vamps left and right. I swear, they're multiplying like rabbits."

"Then what makes you think that I can do anything? If slaying them only causes you to contract the virus, then what good am I going to be? Maybe I can knock a few off before I end up like the 30 other slayers who already tried?"

"We're running out of options Buffy, and innocent people are beginning to suffer. Pretty soon only two kids will be showing up for their second grade classes because the rest are underground, hiding from daylight."
"Fuck it, Xander. You need to be that dramatic to make a point?"

"I'm just stating the truth here." His face was full of the conviction that I had seen hundreds of times before - the stone cold moral obligation I knew and expected from my best friend. There was no way I could say no to that... not like I had considered saying no for a second since the moment I arrived in town.

With a sigh that could be easily interpreted as hesitant, I leaned back in my chair and squared him up. "Ok, show me where to start with this and we'll take it from there."



It was 5:32 am before I finally got into bed and I was unconscious as soon as my head hit the pillow. Xander and I had been going through medical books, witchcraft books, Vampire books... it was enough to exhaust even the most passionate of scholars - something which neither of us could claim to be. As I was closing the door to his guest room, finally calling the study-fest to a halt, Xander quietly informed me that we would be going to the hospital in a few hours. He still hadn't told me why and I was afraid to ask. All I wanted was to experience sleep that was long overdue in a surprisingly luxurious spare room, especially for a bachelor's apartment. I reminded myself to ask him about that also on the way to the hospital.

Unfortunately that opportunity came much sooner than I had hoped, at 8:40 am when I was awakened by the sound of George Michael coming from the hallway outside my door at a volume that was deafeningly offensive. Without giving it a second thought, I literally jumped up and darted into the living room to ask Xander why he was listening to music so loud, and why oh WHY was it George Michael of all things.

Of course wouldn't you know that he had been trying to wake me up for all of 25 minutes prior to that, doing everything from using a blender to crush ice to literally jumping up and down in the hallway yelling my name at the closed door. It's always nice when you've been friends with someone for so many years that they can completely gage the way you will react to things. Including George Michael.

I chose not to kick his ass for that, however, because he seemed panicked enough about getting to the hospital "in time", whatever time that happened to be.

In the car (a used Kia) I forgot to ask before rolling down the window and lighting up a cigarette, although I suppose asking would have caused near to the same reaction. Xander simply stared at me with his jaw hanging open and then stared straight ahead without saying a word. I could tell he wanted to comment on the fact that I was smoking but if he wasn't going to, then I wasn't either. Traffic was a mess and I had already finished the entire cigarette and put it out by the time we pulled into the hospital parking lot.

"Big place." I commented, breaking the silence.

"Yeah, and it's completely full. Every person who gets the flu rushes in here within hours just so they can be kept awake with drugs, trying like hell not to turn into vamps. Most of the city and now a large percentage of the country has heard about this virus that is killing people left and right, giving them dementia-like symptoms. But most of them don't know what is actually happening, they are just scared out of their minds." He turned off the car and we both stepped out. Merely walking across the parking lot seemed to qualify for aerobic exercise, and this was just the north lot alone.

"So that's what we're here for? To study the people who have already got it?" I asked while weaving around parked cars and trying to keep up with his hastened pace.

"Yeah, something like that." Xander called back over his shoulder.

As I followed him into the hospital we passed the emergency room waiting area, and it was literally filled with people. Some of them appeared to be ill, and some looked completely healthy. I couldn't help but cringe, suddenly feeling very aware of myself and the air around me, moving closer to Xander as if his body could somehow shield me from harm. We hadn't yet discerned the contagion properties of this virus although all signs seemed to indicate that only contact with a vampire would lead to contraction. Yet I remained fearful nonetheless not only for myself, but for him as well.

We took the elevator to the second floor where we were promptly greeted with an enormous sign stating that all cell phones must be turned off. Xander reached for his, a tiny flip-phone to match his stylish outfit and (somewhat) stylish car. I was beginning to wonder just exactly how he had been doing so damn well for himself.

"Turn your cell off." He mumbled to me.

"I don't have one."

Without another word he briskly took a left and headed down the hallway, it was clear he had been there many times before and knew exactly where to go. I did my best to keep up. We rounded a second corner and then he stopped, turning around to give me a solemn look.

"She knows more than anyone about this." Xander whispered, his face downcast. "I didn't know until she told me last night... before I picked you up. God, this is hard."

He stopped and looked down at the floor, both of us unsure what to say. Although his words were cryptic, I knew exactly what he was telling me I just didn't want to believe it. I knew because I had felt it the moment we entered the hospital, but I told myself it was only the presence of the other slayers in the building making me feel that way. Now his elusive tone was giving away what I had prayed was not the truth. That she was here. In the hospital - and quite likely the only thing separating us now was two steps down the hall and an open doorway.

I couldn't bring myself to speak, it was as though no words were coming to mind and all I could think was that I had to see her, not even knowing what was wrong. Without thinking, I pushed past him and straight into the first door I saw, revealing a dimly-lit, stale room. I could hear Xander say something behind me but my senses were in over-drive and I couldn't make anything clear. I looked in the first bed and saw an elderly woman hooked up to life support. Her eyes were open but her body was completely motionless and I imagine that my storming in was somewhat disruptive to her, but I continued on through the room to check the second bed, behind a blue privacy curtain. Everything seemed so surreal, the dull sounds of `Wheel of Fortune' as it played on the hanging TV set from over the beds, and the sterile atmosphere that always brought bile to my throat, remembering my mother's death.

And Faith, in her coma.

I remembered it all over again and a hundred other scattered memories as I pulled back the curtain and saw her laying there. All the times I had told myself that I was better off without her were a faded memory and an obvious lie when our eyes met, and I stood there with one hand still on the curtain and my body just as motionless as the elderly woman in her bed. She stared straight back at me and it seemed that we were both still images, captured on film and seeing each other through panes of glass that kept us distant.

She looked exactly as she had in her coma, only this time she was awake. The skin under her eyes was dark and her cheeks appeared sunken, as pale and white as the bed sheets. In her hands she was holding a pen and paper and I had clearly interrupted her from writing something when I came in.

"Buffy." She breathed, barely even making a word so much as a sound.

I felt myself panic involuntarily and my heart raced as I realized what this truly meant. "You're sick. It's happened to you too... did you... have you...?"

"I'm alive. I haven't turned." Faith wet her lips and looked away and I knew that she was thinking the same thing that I was. How long would it be before she became the one thing that I couldn't allow to survive? How long would it be before I had to slay the woman I loved just as if she were another vampire wandering the cemeteries after dark searching for a hot meal?

The shock of seeing her would have been bad enough, but seeing her and realizing that she only had a matter of time now and I didn't know how to save her was beyond extreme. Slowly I let go of the curtain and walked around to the left side of her bed, closing the gap between us, her eyes never leaving mine.

As though moving in a fantasy I slowly sat down in the chair beside the bed, knowing Xander had probably spent countless moments there since she was admitted, and my heart ached wishing that I had been the one there to see her over all this time. I wanted to reach out and hold her hand or touch her in even the slightest way, but I was afraid and I simply sat there, taking everything in.

"You shouldn't be here," she strained to say, her breathing labored. "We don't know how it's spread just yet, and you could get it. You have to stop it before that happens. You have to."

"I'll stop it. And if Xander can come close to you without it affecting him, then so can I. Obviously he's not getting sick." I glanced towards what I could see of the room for a glimpse of the subject of our conversation but he was nowhere in sight. In my rush I hadn't even noticed if he had come in from the hallway after me.

"He will though," Faith whispered, "it's hitting everyone just like the cold or flu or whatever the fuck this thing is supposed to be. Only instead of taking three days to get over it, they take two and wake up dead. Only when I say they wake up dead, I don't mean that-"

"I know, they literally wake up dead. It was kinda funny and ironic when Xander said it to me the first time. But A for Effort baby." Oh fuck, I actually called her baby. I prayed silently that she didn't notice.

"He said that to you? The bastard, I'm the one who came up with it. Why does he always have to steal the funny shit I say?"

I couldn't help it, this made me smile. Granted, it was very slight, but it was a smile nonetheless and it brought warmth into her eyes.

"You called me baby."

Shit, she HAD heard it. Shit. Shit. Shit.

"Buffy..." she began, her voice growing incredibly soft. It reminded me of the way she used to sound when she would try and coax me into bed with her. Of course I always gave up, and I nearly went numb now hearing that tone from her again. "I didn't want Xander to bring you here so you would... I didn't want you to see me. I'm a fucking wreck. Obviously. And we don't know how much longer it will be. Hell, it's amazing I've made it five days without turning yet."

Hearing her confirm the facts of her completely questionable status of being one of the living brought on the tears that I had been holding in, and they rolled down my cheeks without so much as an audible sniffle from me - because that part I managed to somehow keep back.

"Please don't cry, because it's all going to be fine. You can't cry B, you can't let yourself think that somehow this changes how you feel about me, because it doesn't. I knew that if you saw me you would feel sorry for me, but you can't do that... it isn't..." Faith choked on her words and looked away. "It isn't love. It's pity."

I wanted to tell her that it was love, that I'd never stopped loving her, I'd just accepted that we couldn't live with each other and managed to let myself move forward and find peace through work and the proverbial "little things" everyone always goes on about. But it wasn't right, it wasn't the right time or place and I knew that with the first word out of my mouth I really would begin to sob uncontrollably.

"We're going to stop this thing. It's not going to take another life now that you're here. The chosen two, right B? And nothing ever survives when the chosen two come after it."

"Right." I whispered. But even as I said it all I could think was that if I came face to face with her once she had turned, I would let her drink from me until none was left before I could ever possibly put a stake through the heart of the woman I loved.

September, 2003 Detroit, Michigan

"Baby! I brought you a present, get your hot little ass out here!"

I had heard her obnoxiously loud steel-toe boots coming up the stairs even before I heard her keys in the door. I was in the kitchen cooking waffles and scrambled eggs (enough to feed an army, of course), and with a smile as wide as a kid on Christmas morning, I stayed cleverly out of view from the entrance of our apartment. She had been bringing me presents quite often lately, and this time I decided to give her one in return, one that would be rather unexpected to say the least.

I heard the door open, then close, and her feet shuffling lazily across the floor towards the bathroom. I knew she was probably expecting to find me throwing up in there or laying down in the bathtub, since that was where I had been for the past week every night, battling a flu that would make pregnancy seem like a holiday.

Fortunately I didn't know that from firsthand experience - the pregnancy part, that is.

"Baby?" She called out again.

I tried my hardest to quit giggling with pure joy. Finding me out of bed would be something, but finding me cooking her dinner and wearing nothing but a white tank top and panties would be a whole different something indeed. And as she entered the doorway of the kitchen and her jaw practically hit the floor I saw that my predictions had been entirely correct.

"Y-you're out of bed." She stammered, her face flushing instantly.

"Mm-hmm." I looked down at the frying pan to hide my grin.

"I uh... I brought you a... you know it really doesn't matter right now, you can see it later." Her deep brown eyes were making their way over my body, ravishing every inch and I could practically feel them penetrating my skin. "Aren't you cold? It's kinda cold in here to wear that B, maybe you should cover up with something. Like... maybe you should get in bed."

I turned to protest but caught sight of the mischievous glint in her eyes that only meant one thing. I'd seen it countless times but it still made me shiver, and I did now. Fortunately her timing was perfect and before she could take the three steps forward that would put her body against mine I was able to reach over and turn the stove-top burner off. Had it not been for that, our dinner would have become rubber and eventually only a crisp memory of the food it once had potential to be.

Her hands made contact with me first, gently sliding over my ribcage and down to my waist while her firm gaze held mine, that look of pure lust constant in her eyes.

"Bed sounds like a good idea." I whispered softly. With the tip of my finger I reached up and slowly traced along the inside of her leather jacket, wanting to drive her crazy but also knowing that it had been long enough since we made love and neither of us needed much anticipation.

"Oh... but you made such a good dinner. We should eat before it gets cold." Faith replied, ignoring as my fingertips traced from her right hip to just above the top button of her faded low-rise jeans.

"Yes but I don't think that the dinner will whimper and beg if you don't eat it right away."

Her expression suddenly became desperate. "Please don't beg. That's just not nice."

My smile widened and I broke away from her touch to lazily wander out of the kitchen and onto the bed, turning around to face her as I sat on the edge and I reclined back onto my elbows, noting the fact that my nipples were incredibly hard and incredibly visible through my thin, tight shirt. Clearly Faith noticed this fact as well, and I hoped that the look I was giving her was as coy and seductive as I intended for it to be. I began to slide my hands over my chest, exaggerating my breath just to give her a show, but she wouldn't tolerate it. In less than a second Faith moved towards me and push me back onto the bed, crawling up so that her knees were between mine, her hands beside my shoulders holding her above me.

As she looked down at me tenderly, I mustered up the most innocent look I could manage, which was undeniably weak. "What's wrong lover, don't want to watch tonight?"

She wet her lips and seemed to consider that offer for a moment before responding. "No," she mumbled huskily, "I want you too much already." As she spoke her hands moved down and I felt them grip my thighs tightly, her nails digging in gently as she pulled my legs up to wrap around her slender waist. I moaned at the instant contact of her between my legs, shuddering at the full contact of our bodies. Without giving it a single thought I reached up to tenderly brush her thick auburn hair back and she lowered her full lips to meet mine, passionately yet so incredibly slow. It seemed like the sweetest kiss I had ever felt, when in reality we had shared thousands of them but being without her touch for so long had renewed my senses.

Her impatience to find her body on top of mine was now combating with her natural tendency to make love to me leisurely, something that it had taken me a while to discover and know of her for certain. I could feel her muscles tighten and relax all at once, as though she was simply breathing in all that she could take while we kissed in a way that would satisfy her raging desire yet allow her to thirst for more - I knew it so well because it was exactly what I felt, too.

Her velvet tongue slid over my lips and I eagerly allowed it into my mouth, sucking slightly and feeling her breaths slow just barely in the process as we both concentrated on the sensation of my tongue against hers.

After several moments, Faith pulled away, placing her hands on either side of my body to support her own weight above me and staring down into my eyes with her lips only centimeters from mine.

"Are you feeling better?" She whispered, her breath hot against my face and I wished I was feeling that heat someplace much lower.

"Yes, much better..." I reached up and cupped her face with my hand, brushing my thumb over her cheek and her lips and she turned her head to kiss my palm affectionately. Nothing could express the love I felt for her, the wholeness that only she could give me in that moment. But I whispered that I loved her anyway, because it was the best I could do, and I whispered that with her in my arms, I was complete.

Faith sighed deeply, smiling down at me and I absent-mindedly traced the outlines of her dimples with my fingertips.

"I love you too Buffy... I always will, even if I forget to tell you." Her brown eyes grew seemingly darker, as though something intense was on her mind. "We're still the chosen two you know, and that means you're stuck with me forever. Nothing can break us apart."

For a moment I allowed her words to sink in, I guess I was still waiting for her to make some wise crack about how beer might do it, or really big pliers... anything that was `typical' of her to say. But it didn't come and she just stared down at me with love in her eyes.

"Since when did you get all mushy?" I playfully asked, although my voice cracked slightly as I did.

"Me? Oh I dunno, that's just how all us bitches from Boston talk nowadays."

"Mm... you're my bitch tonight."

That earned a grin out of her as well as Faith's hand sharply coming down against my ass. "We'll see who the bitch is when you're begging me to fuck you in 10 minutes."My supportive moan was stifled by her lips closing over mine in another passionate kiss. And she was right - I did beg her to fuck me, only it was in 8 minutes.