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Far Beyond Normal

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This story is No. 1 in the series "The Normal-verse Series". You may wish to read the series introduction first.

Summary: Buffy did not survive her confrontation with the First. Fortunately, Buffy has never been one to let death stand in her way...

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Stargate > Buffy-Centered > Theme: ActionjAkLFR1525142,908258674455,21619 Jan 0615 Mar 06Yes
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Chapter 7

Disclaimer: I do not own any characters relating to either Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Stargate SG-1. This story is intended for entertainment purposes only and does not provide any financial compensation.

Far Beyond Normal

Chapter Seven

When they finally got back to Willow’s apartment, if was well past midnight. Intellectually, Willow knew she had nothing to worry about being out so late when she had what was effectively a super-powered bodyguard, but it was a culturally-ingrained response she realized Buffy did not share. One of the things she did, while listening to Buffy talk, was watch her new friend, to observe the differences in her compared to everyone else Willow knew. The way she watched the darkness. Her graceful, almost predatory stride. The poise and confidence not just in her own looks, but in herself. Willow knew how good she was in her chosen field, but aside from that she was pretty much afraid of everything. She would have given almost anything to feel that confident in herself, if only for a single day.

On the other hand, she didn’t think it would have been worth the price of gaining such self-confidence if it meant being tortured. It shocked her to realize she could accept a world of vampires, people traveling between dimensions, and magical powers, but she just couldn’t accept that her government would go around torturing people. That just wasn’t done! Buffy’s demonstration had proven she wasn’t lying about her physical capabilities, but there was no way to test her story about anything else connected with Sunnydale. It would be possible, however, to verify her story about being tortured. If that proved to be a lie, then she would have to reconsider how she might best help the girl. But if it was true… well then, things would quickly get interesting.

Once back in her apartment, Willow immediately sat down in front of a computer which looked souped up enough to handle the launch of a space shuttle. After Buffy’s display of athletic prowess, Willow wanted to demonstrate her own mastery over her electronic domain. Unfortunately Buffy was one of a large majority of people who could appreciate the skills Willow undoubtedly possessed, but hadn’t the slightest interest in the underlying details. She just wanted results.

With what looked like the familiarity of long experience, Buffy left Willow to do the work while she went over to her small kitchenette and fixed them some snacks. Without asking permission she turned on the tv and relaxed on Willow’s bed, occasionally tossing out barbed comments on a random actress’s dress or the stupidity of a gaping hole in the episode’s plotline. Her comments were almost invariably amusing, and Willow found herself constantly giggling over the ludicrousness of many of her quips. And amazed at how comfortable she felt, how genuinely happy she was, without ever having realized that she had been unhappy before.

Until then she would have insisted that it would disturb her should someone in the background constantly interrupt her train of thought with random babbling. But somehow she found it relaxing, like it was almost familiar, like it was the way things between them were meant to be. And she needed that relaxed atmosphere, because what she was trying to do wasn’t easy. She knew that State Security was just a front for a shadowy outfit known as the NID. Breaking into the computers of a terrorism-obsessed, paranoid group like the NID required a degree of technical virtuosity possessed by few people on the planet. Even fewer could do it without leaving an electronic trail that could be traced right back to them. And probably only one had access to the massive mainframes at MIT, which placed enough computational horsepower at her disposal to get the job done in less than a month. Paradoxically it was only possible for her to break into NID because they were so paranoid. NID employees weren’t as conscientious about maintaining their internal security as were, say, FBI agents, simply because they were so confident that they couldn’t be hacked in the first place.

It wasn’t hard to understand. They used an isolated network, physically disconnected from the external internet. With no way to reach them, their computers were theoretically invulnerable. In truth, their most secure databases, the ones protected by ruthlessly-enforced active security precautions, were effectively beyond even the reach of someone with Willow’s skills and resources. But Willow wasn’t interested in learning the names of secret agents; she just wanted to know if they had ever heard of Buffy Summers. It almost frightened her how much she wanted to verify her friends’ story, to prove that she hadn’t been lying. To discover that she was destined for something more important than writing software or designing hardware which would allow someone else to run a program a few seconds faster than their competitors.

What she found in the unsecured parts of the site shocked her. They most certainly knew Buffy. Elizabeth Anne ‘aka Buffy’ Summers was wanted for the murder of seven State Security agents. She had seriously hurt ten more. She was a known terrorist, armed and dangerous, someone with an unstated but implied ‘Shoot On Sight’ message on her Wanted poster. At first Willow had frozen in shock, before she realized that Buffy hadn’t lied to her about this. Had in fact told her about it; but the sheer scale of the violence her friend was capable of unleashing was intimidating. She frowned at the ‘armed’ part of the description. While most assuredly dangerous, Buffy didn’t have a gun and hadn’t shown any need for one. When she looked up the hospital records of the agents she had merely injured she couldn’t help but note that the three who had been shot had all been hit with .38 bullets… the kind fired by the weapons issued to NID agents.

Which didn’t prove she was innocent, but did prove Buffy’s story had been consistent. She hadn’t lied about being in the asylum for much of her life in this universe, nor that it had been her father who turned her in to State Security. When she read that her mother had demanded a divorce and moved out of their house the very day of her capture Willow passed along the news, earning just a grunt in reaction from the Slayer. So she kept digging.

Buffy didn’t need much sleep, explaining to Willow that she could get in a good six hours a night when nothing was going on, but when she was ‘working’ she could go days without requiring any sleep at all. Right then she wasn’t only working, she was having prophetic dreams concerning the end of the world every time she did try to rest. Those dreams frightened her, and anything that could frighten Buffy terrified Willow. Much of the focus of her investigation changed from verifying Buffy’s story to figuring out the meaning behind images of pyramid-shaped starships, Egyptian hieroglyphics, and a ring filled with a silvery shimmer, like water somehow being suspended at ninety degrees. There was something familiar about what she described, rumors she had been hearing whispered among other staff at MIT, private conversations which abruptly ceased whenever those she was overhearing realized that Willow had been listening.

With Buffy insisting that her prophetic dreams were almost certain to come true, Willow started to get a pretty good idea of what life had been like for her counterpart. It terrified her, the knowledge that Buffy was depending on her, that the survival of the entire world might be dependant on her skills. The fear that she might not be up to the task. The new-found determination that she would be.

It was that fierce determination her colleagues noticed most over the next few days. When she showed up at her office and classes the day after her makeover the reaction had been everything she could have hoped for. The astonishment. The complete and abrupt reassessment of her as a woman. The attention from people whose attention she had once desperately wanted. But once the shock wore off it was the change in attitude most people commented on. The new self confidence and the fierce intensity she had previously lacked outside of her work.

Under different circumstances she would have been having the time of her life. Even under the present circumstances she thought she might be happier than she had ever been. She had asked for some time off from her classes to pursue some personal research, and her PhD advisor had granted it without hesitation. Professors she had been too shy to approach suddenly sought her out. The work she was doing was challenging but incredibly fascinating. And each evening Buffy would take her out to dinner, ask about her day, and then regale her with anecdotes about their adventures back in Sunnydale. It was only when they were walking back to her apartment that Willow filled Buffy in on the results of her investigation, what little she had been able to piece together; the rumor that out in Colorado a secret project was absorbing the talents of many of MIT’s best and brightest.

Unable to sleep, Buffy didn’t stay in Willow’s apartment most nights after the first day. She left on what she called a ‘patrol,’ too restless to sit still while Willow worked almost non-stop at her computers. Willow missed her sharp wit, but understood why the restless Slayer needed to get out. In a way she was even happy about it, as it showed how much Buffy trusted her. After all, while she was away there was nothing to prevent Willow from calling State Security at any time to report her. But by then they both knew Willow wasn’t going to. She had already made her choice, even without iron-clad evidence to back it up. Her virtual worms were still twisting their way into the NID computers, still undetected, still searching out the evidence that would prove Buffy’s story. But even without it, Willow had already begun her research seeking the meaning behind the Slayer’s prophetic dreams. She simply liked the person she had become since meeting Buffy too much to go back to being the obsessed technophile she had been before falling into her orbit.

So she worked while Buffy went out and did whatever it was she did, and Willow didn’t ask what that was. She really didn’t want to know. By then she knew that even in a city the size of Boston there wasn’t much out there her friend couldn’t handle. Given the serious amount of coin Buffy had in her purse, and lack of the more usual marketable skills, Willow had a pretty good idea how she had come into her financial windfall. But she had also seen enough of her friend to know that not only would the person she took it from have deserved the loss, but would have likely been the most dangerous person she could find. Nothing else would have been a suitable challenge for the Slayer.

It would have amazed Willow to realize what Buffy had actually been doing in the four nights since she had started patrolling. She had enough money for her needs already, and after reaching the conclusions she had on the bus she was not willing to tempt insanity by pushing her luck just to pad her stash. Mostly she just wandered about in her restlessness, checking out various parts of the city, keeping an eye out for trouble but not actively seeking it. Eventually, however, she realized what she had until then been only unconsciously seeking.

It hadn’t even been that hard to find her.

There really wasn’t any excuse for not seeking her out. Ever since she came back to Sunnydale to help them out in their battle with the First, Buffy’s long-standing animosity towards Faith had pretty much disappeared. And it wasn’t like she was going out of her way to visit her, what with Faith living right there in Boston. Nor was it very hard to locate her. If she hadn’t been stupid enough to follow the trial obsessively, if only to verify that the bitch really had gotten what was coming to her, Buffy would have had the excuse of not knowing her last name, since Faith had never once mentioned it. But the newspapers had, and Buffy couldn’t pretend she didn’t remember.

Had she had anything better to do, any excuse not to visit her, Buffy would never have sought out her counterpart. They weren’t friends, and on this world Faith wasn’t a Slayer so couldn’t contribute to preventing the coming apocalypse. Okay, she admitted to herself that at first they had been friends, and maybe things between them might have gone differently had Angel not… well, had things gone differently. But they hadn’t, and Faith become resentful, had tried to kill her entire family, and Buffy wasn’t big on forgiveness. Unless it was her friends, like Willow. Who, it had to be admitted, had also become resentful and tried to kill her family…

But that was different.

Scowling at everything, hoping the apocalypse she could feel approaching quickly would get on with it, Buffy looked up her name in the phone book. It was there, and by then Buffy had seen enough of Boston to know that the address listed was in pretty much the worst part of the bad side of town. She recalled bringing up the subject of family back when Faith had first showed up in Sunnydale, and how the other Slayer had made it unequivocally clear that she did not wish to talk about the people who had contributed genetic material, but had absolutely no other connection to her. The rage in her eyes, in her voice, spoke of a childhood of abject horror, and Buffy had never again brought up the subject.

It wasn’t a subject she wanted to think about even now. Other people had overcome bad childhoods, and Buffy did not want to waste her time feeling sorry for Faith. She reminded herself of that fact as she made her way to the seedy neighborhood where this world’s version of Faith probably still lived. In truth ‘seedy’ was too nice a word to describe the place: ‘third-world shithole’ would probably have been more accurate. Not a fun place to have grown up in.

But she was not going to feel sorry for Faith, dammit. Life was tough; suck it up, biatch.

By then it was getting fairly late, nearly one in the morning, but there was still a lot of noise coming from the old, run down apartment buildings lining the street. A baby crying, a shouting match, a small crowd yelling encouragement at a fight going on in the weed-filled ‘lawn’ in front of one of the large houses randomly located between the century-old tenement buildings. Cars were parked along the street, some of them looking like they hadn’t been moved in decades. Garbage was everywhere; the smell was horrendous. Buffy silently apologized to third-world shitholes everywhere for the unflattering comparison. She kept to the shadows, moving with the silence of the predator she was, unseen even by the dogs scavenging among the back alleyways.

But she was not going to feel sorry for Faith!

When she finally located the proper address, the neighborhood had changed a bit, tenements giving way to single- and multi-unit dwellings, most in even worse shape than the larger tenement buildings because the had been built with even cheaper materials. Faith’s house was too decrepit to be called a shack. The glass in most of the windows was broken, and some of them had been covered in plywood. What paint there once was had long since faded, but sprayed graffiti decorated all of the walls. Some light was faintly visible behind a few unwashed windows, but the grime was so thick that nothing inside the house could be seen. The whole place reeked of the smell of motor oil, dog feces, and cigarette smoke.

Okay. She was starting to feel just a bit sorry for Faith.

There were three cars parked on the street in front of the house, brand new vehicles in perfect condition, standing out from the local wrecks like peacocks among crows. The blinking blue lights of their security systems provided more illumination that the single low-wattage bulb hanging nakedly from a wire atop the front door of the house. Buffy could not even imagine why vehicles such as those would be present in such a god-forsaken neighborhood. But her spider-sense was tingling, and she intended to find out.

Jumping up to the second story of the house while hidden in the shadows, Buffy caught the window sill and silently lifted the unlocked window. Working her way inside she listened carefully for any sign of life before making her way from the empty bedroom, down a short hall, to stop and stare into another bedroom. Inside, lying on a sagging bed on top of dirty sheets, was a woman who was lost in a drug-induced stupor, saliva dripping down her mouth, showing rotting teeth and the hideous hollow facial structure of those so addicted to heroin that they were beyond hope. Her hair was already grey, her body thinner than even Buffy had been when she escaped into the desert. But from the set of her cheekbones, the color of her bloodshot eyes, Buffy suspected that this was Faith’s mother.

Silently backing out of the room, Buffy knew there wasn’t much need to be quiet, that a marching brass band wouldn’t have disturbed the woman, but she was so horrified by the scene that she didn’t want to take any chances. Making her way down to the main floor she saw old, broken living room furniture, a messy kitchen, dishes from the past week stacked in the sink… but no people. There wasn’t much light, but enough for her eyes to make out the door hidden in even deeper shadow, and she suspected that what she sought was behind it. And suspected even more that she really, really did not want to look behind that door. Not if she ever again wanted to not feel sorry for Faith.

She didn’t know what it was that was setting off every one of her internal alarms, but as she carefully made her way over to the door Buffy realized she was in full Slayer mode, her senses on full alert, adrenaline flooding her system in preparation for a fight. And then she heard what before she had only subconsciously perceived; a muffled shout, a voice calling out for someone to ‘stop,’ a desperate cry for help that the person calling out didn’t expect would ever arrive.

Faith’s voice.

It would have been a lot smarter to plan ahead, to assess the situation and form an optimal strategy; but Buffy wasn’t thinking right about then. Kicking in the door, following its wreckage without even a pause for the shattered splinters to clear, she jumped down the short flight of stairs without touching even one. Two bodyguards, still reaching for their guns, went down in seconds, crushed by blows that would have dropped even master vampires. Both were sent flying, until they crashed into the basement walls ten feet behind them. Not pausing for an instant, Buffy moved with Slayer speed to her left, where the cameraman was only then looking up, but would not have enough time to reach for his gun when the Slayer simply ran into him, her small frame driven by such force he was knocked back even further than the first two, if only because there was more space between him and the wall behind him.

By then she had reached the bed, bathed in floodlights, the naked old man on top of a terrified Faith only then trying to get off her, his pasty-white, flabby skin hanging down even lower than his small erect penis. The man had to be in his sixties, his movements slowed by excitement and age and booze and viagra, so he wasn’t able to get out of the way of the foot Buffy aimed at his balls with enough force to smash through a brick wall. His high-pitched scream of unendurable agony had barely begun when Buffy simply jumped over him, racing to the final bodyguard, who unlike his companions had been given enough time to draw his weapon. But he was still in shock by the speed of events, not able to comprehend what had just happened or how fast Buffy could move, and by the time he fired she was already somewhere else. Grabbing the gun, and the hand holding it, Buffy swung him around to meet a basement support column face-first. The crunch of breaking bones could be heard even over the continuing screams coming from the old man.

Which left just one of them. He had been left for last because he was sitting, and was unarmed. And she suspected, from his pimp-like appearance and ratty clothing, that he wasn’t an outsider, perhaps was even Faith’s father. The shocked expression on his face revealed bad teeth, greasy hair combed straight back in an attempt to conceal a balding pate. He was trying to get up from the chair which had been placed out of the way to the side of the cameraman, and Buffy helped him up by grabbing his shirt with one hand and hauled him bodily from the chair, other fist already coming forward to meet his face. To meet it several times. Real hard.

Dropping the unconscious greaseball, her fist covered in blood from his shattered nose and jaw, Buffy only then looked back towards the bed, where a naked Faith was looking at her with the same shocked, terrified expression as the others had given her before being introduced to her fists. She looked like she would have liked to have been able to run, likely more afraid of her than she had been of the old man, but she was tied to the bed, sprawl-eagle fashion, naked and helpless. Beside her was a small table, where unfamiliar implements Buffy didn’t want to ever be able to recognize glistened with reflected light from the floods. Moving over to the table and grabbing a long serrated blade, Buffy swiftly cut away the restraining ropes, but was still too angry to pause and attempt to reassure the undoubtedly terrified girl. “Get dressed. We’re out of here.”

What?! Who the fuck are you?!”

The voice was Faith’s, smoky and sensual even in these circumstances. But the girl was young, even younger than she had been when she first showed up in Sunnydale; another oddity Buffy didn’t have time to ponder. “Does it matter? Is there anything I can do to you that would be worse than staying here?” Not even looking back to see if the girl followed her instructions, Buffy went over to each of the men lying in various degrees of unconsciousness around the basement and cleaned out their pockets. She found a plastic bag and tossed everything into it; wallets, keys, various and assorted weapons. By the time she had collected it all Faith had almost finished putting on her clothing. Picking up the camera, Buffy didn’t look at her as she crushed it in her hands. “Does this happen often?”

She didn’t think Faith was going to answer, until finally, her voice more under control, Faith admitted this wasn’t the first time. “Its how they pay for the drugs.” She didn’t add any more and Buffy didn’t ask.

“Go upstairs and put everything you need into a bag. If that fat old prick can afford four bodyguards, chances are there are others who will be keeping a pretty close eye on him. We need to be out of here in a hurry.”

Nodding, already almost back in control, Faith started to move towards the stairs before pausing, then abruptly turned back to face the writhing old man who had been raping her… and who had intended to do a lot worse. His hand were covering his genitals, agonized whimpering coming from his mouth, his eyes shut against the all-enveloping pain. Faith looked down on him for a few seconds before suddenly kicking out, likely shattering his fingers, and not doing a whole lot of good to his testicles either. Only then did she walk by Buffy and up the stairs.

Following the girl all the way up to the second floor, Buffy returned to the empty bedroom and jumped from the window, searching for any additional guards. It didn’t take her long to find one, despite the way he hid in the shadows, his expensive suit completely out of place in the decrepit neighborhood. He never saw her as Buffy silently snuck up behind him and almost casually knocked him unconscious. After cleaning out his pockets she made her way back to the cars, grabbing a set of keys from the bag, and pressed the button. One vehicle beeped, so she opened the door, and tossed in the bag, before bringing up the knife she had brought up from the basement.

It only took a minute for her to slash all of the tires on the other cars, and she returned to the working vehicle, got in, and turned it on. While waiting for Faith to arrive she removed the cellular phones from the bag, crushing them and tossing them onto the street. Only a few minutes later Faith left the house, ran over to the running vehicle, jumped into the passenger seat, and tossed a small pack into the back seat. Without turning on the lights Buffy put the car in gear and hit the gas, not quite able to hit the speeds she had on the road to Vegas, but obviously going far faster than Faith –or anyone else—would have considered safe, given the fact that most of the street lights weren’t working and there was other traffic on the roads.

She didn’t know where she was going, but knew where she wanted to end up, so trusted her internal compass to keep her heading in the right direction as she bombed down side streets and back alleyways at speeds a normal driver would have considered insane even on major highways. Once, passing through a major street while driving between two alleys, they barely missed cars traveling in both directions, their blacked-out vehicle invisible until the very last second to the other cars. By that point Faith had had enough, and screamed for her to slow down and turn on the damned lights. To her surprise, Buffy did as she demanded.

“Who the hell are you?”

Scaring Faith by looking away from the road, despite still traveling way too fast for anyone else to consider safe given the road conditions, she finally introduced herself. “I’m Buffy.”

That earned her a hard look. “You’re joking.”

Pouting at the familiar response to her name, Buffy merely said that she wasn’t.

“So what the hell is your story? Are you like some bounty hunter or hired assassin out to waste those assholes?”

“No. I was… well, I was kinda just in the neighborhood.”

“What the fuck?! You do shit like that a lot?”

“Not like that. That was pretty gross, actually. I can’t believe anyone would…”

She left it there, and Faith let the subject drop. Despite being from the area she was completely lost, but the girl driving… ‘Buffy?! WTF?!?’… seemed to know where she was going. And a few minutes later she realized where they were as well, suddenly coming out on a major artery that connected with every major highway out of the city. Faith hadn’t even known you could get to this road the way Buffy had done it. And in about half the time it should have taken.

“Where are we going?” Once Faith thought about it, the name ‘Buffy’ suited the other girl; a golden princess, almost certainly the pampered, privileged offspring of American nobility. But she had to give the girl credit; she sure had the moves, and so far had come up with a pretty good plan of action, doing as good a job at covering their trail as could be done considering she was making it up on the fly. Faith knew that left to her own devices, she would have fucked everything up about six times already. She was more than happy to leave the thinking to the princess. In fact, she hoped never to have to think again in her entire life.

She should have known that Edgar was planning on something. He had been too nice, especially in not freaking out when the stupid bitch took enough junk to drop an elephant. But she hadn’t seen it coming, had thought he had been intimidated by her threats to kill him in his sleep if it ever happened again. Looking back, she saw her mistake. The fucking cops had brought her back every time she ran away, thanks to federal ‘Family Protection Laws’ that in her case meant ‘fucked by your family’ laws. But she was getting better at it, and given that she would soon turn 17 chances were the cops wouldn’t look too hard for her next time. And she knew that old man Rutherford wanted her bad. Sonuvabitch would have offered Edgar a lot for her, and good old Edgar probably figured it was his last chance to get something for her before she finally disappeared for good.

Faith smiled then, her eyes hard as nails. But they never saw the Buffinator coming! Fuck, Faith still couldn’t believe it. Rutherford had good security, but the princess had gone through them like shit through a goose. Faith had never seen anyone move that fast, hit that hard, or figure out what to do next so quickly. The princess was so tiny Faith was pretty sure that Rutherford shat turds bigger than her, but fuck, was she ever hell on wheels when the chips were down! So Faith figured she’d let her do the thinking. As rescuers went she wasn’t likely to find one better; not that anyone else had been exactly volunteering for the job. As tired and messed up as she was right now, she was perfectly willing to do pretty much anything Buffy asked.

To her surprise, however, the girl was pulling the car over to the side of the road. “Can you drive?”

“Me? Sure.”

“Good. You take the car. Don’t take it too far; not as far as New York. Park it on the street in a residential neighborhood. Take a bus and head west. Don’t go all the way at once; take your time. Use cash for everything. If you’ve got a bank card get to a machine right now and empty it, then throw away the card. I’d suggest going all the way to LA. With your looks Vegas would have been better, you’d have been able to get a job there easy, but my bet is that the old guy had mob connections so you don’t want to mess with their town. Change your look, your name, everything. Never forget that they’ll be looking for you.”

Faith was stunned, her hope that salvation was at hand suddenly dashed. “No! I want to go with you!”

Buffy shook her head, unable to bear Faith’s expression. “You can’t. The cops are after me. The feds, everybody is after me. And when those jerks back there start talking everyone will know I’m here. There aren’t a whole lot of other people who look like me and can do what I just did. There’s pretty much a death warrant out on me, and I’m not going to put you in the middle of it. I won’t have that on my conscience.”

The pleading in Faith’s eyes tore her heart. But there was no way she would risk getting her killed. That would have put Faith ahead on points in their little ‘blame game’ and nothing was worth that. But Faith didn’t realize it, and reached over to grab Buffy’s arm. “Please. I’ve tried to get away before, tried a bunch of times! I’m no good at it; they always find me, they always bring me back! You know what you’re doing, you can take care of yourself when they come for you in the dark. I don’t; I can’t! Please. I’ll do anything you want… anything.”

It was the second time Buffy had been propositioned by a woman in a week. She wondered if she was giving off a vibe she didn’t know about. But this time it was Faith doing it, and Faith had always been able to do something to her that no other woman could. There was an innate sensuality to her, a sexiness that even other women recognized, and responded to. She remembered, back in the beginning, when Faith first arrived in Sunnydale, the subtle --and sometimes not so subtle-- hints that their relationship could have progressed in a direction she wouldn’t ordinarily have considered. But it was Faith… and she had been tempted. Until Angel made a better offer. But she had always wondered what might have happened if…

Breaking off that line of thought, Buffy again shook her head, trying to pry her gaze away from Faith’s pleading eyes. “The people after me are above the law. They will do anything, kill anyone, destroy anything that gets in their way. With them after me, even if everything goes well I’ll probably be dead in a week. If I try to protect you I wouldn’t last a day. We wouldn’t last a day. I’m sorry Faith, but if we stay together we’re dead. If we travel separately we both might have a chance to survive.”

The girl looked momentarily confused. “You know my name.”

Inwardly scowling as the slip, Buffy just shrugged. “All I know is your name. I don’t know who you are, or what you’ve been through before tonight, what your dreams are or what you hope to become. I don’t know you. And I’m not willing to get you killed to learn any of that. I’m sorry. I wish I could help you, but I can’t even help myself. No matter how bad things might get on your own, they’d be worse if you were with me.” Reaching into the back seat, Buffy grabbed the bag and started going through the wallets, dropping wads of cash into Faith’s surprised hands. There was a lot of it… more than two thousand dollars, but to her amazement Buffy frowned. It wasn’t enough. Reaching into her jacket pocket she pulled out a thick wad of twenties and tossed them into the pile.

“Jeezus, Buf! You can’t give me all your money!”

“I’ve got enough. And you’ll need it.”

Her expression changed, excitement over having actual money giving way to understanding the meaning behind it. The smaller girl wasn’t messing with her; she really was doing everything she could to help her survive. Nobody had ever helped Faith before, not without expecting something in return. And she had made it pretty clear to the princess that she was more than willing to pay her in the coin most people expected. Even that had been rejected; although Faith had a pretty good idea the other girl had been at least a little bit tempted. But the rejection hadn’t been due to a rejection of her; just a realization that it simply wasn’t the best strategy, and Faith wasn’t used to thinking in terms of anything except immediate gratification. “If they know you’re here, why don’t you come with me, at least for a couple of days? I could go places you can’t if they know what you look like and don’t have a picture of me. We could be a team, right B!?”

The princess had been smiling just a bit, but her expression froze when Faith called her ‘B,’ a look of sadness and regret passing so quickly Faith almost missed it. Her green eyes were so expressive, her delicate face so open, that virtually every feeling in her heart was reflected in her eyes. How that was possible in someone capable of such violence Faith could not begin to fathom. If she were able to kick ass like the blonde could, she’d be cold, unemotional, like one of those chicks in video games whose expression never changed, win or lose… and it was thinking irrelevant shit like that which always caused Faith to screw things up, because she couldn’t keep her mind on the problem at hand. “C’mon, B! We’d be great!”

Sadly shaking her head, Buffy said “We’d be dead…” and got out of the car. Sighing in frustration, knowing that the other girl had made up her mind, Faith moved into the drivers’ seat.

Looking out at her sadly, Faith tried to hold back the tears she could feel gathering. “I’d really rather stay with you, B. I don’t know anyone in LA. Or anywhere else, really. I’ve known you maybe fifteen minutes and you’re pretty much the best friend I’ve ever had.”

The sadness in her tone tore at Buffy’s heart. After thinking about it for a minute, she decided telling her wouldn’t really make much difference. “There are things I have to finish here before I can leave. But as soon as I can get out of here I’ll be heading to Colorado.”

For a second Faith just looked at her, studying her. And then suddenly, without warning, she reached out and kissed her. Frozen in place –in shock, Buffy told herself— neither moved for a minute before she was able to pull back a bit. Noticing the reaction she had gotten, which partially revived her flagging confidence, Faith gave her the same cocky grin Buffy remembered so well, winked at her, then turned the key. “Then that’s where I’m going. Look me up when you get there.”

The car slowly pulled away from the curb. Neither felt the need to say anything else.
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