The dashed white street lines blurred hypnotically as the light blue pickup truck drove down the highway. Aluminum foil and masking tape covered the passenger side windows, blocking the stream of sunlight pouring through the front windshield on the driver’s side. The radio was tuned to an indie rock station, as it had been for the two-hour drive. The vinyl seats creaked with every shift of position by the two passengers in the truck.
Faith pulled her dark hair off her neck with one hand, looped it in a knot, and tucked it under the back of her jacket collar. Her brown eyes, hidden beneath mirrored sunglasses, caught sight of the green sign on the side of the road. Sunnydale. Exit 1 mile.
Flicking on the turn signal of the borrowed truck, she craned her neck to look out the rear window. She sped up, sent a prayer Heavenward that no one was driving alongside her, and merged right.
The brunet vampire beside her grabbed the dash suddenly. “We’re going to crash!”
Faith wasn’t startled, or impressed. “Juvenile, Angelus. Very juvenile.”
Angelus chuckled and relaxed back against the bench seat. His hands were shackled at the wrists, chained to the shackles on his ankles. He claimed they itched. Faith didn’t remove them or volunteer to scratch.
Faith followed the exit off the highway, merging onto the road that led to Sunnydale. She glanced in the rearview mirror. The black sedan that had been behind her since Los Angeles was still tailing her.
“Twenty miles,” Angelus said with an anticipatory purr. His white teeth gleamed from his corner of the darkened cab. “I can’t wait.”
“Yeah, me neither,” Faith mumbled under her breath. She turned up the volume on the radio to drown out any more conversational attempts on Angelus’s part.
The sun was sinking rapidly. They would arrive in Sunnydale shortly before it set completely. Only one person of the “old” crew knew she was coming, as was planned.
“The element of surprise is essential,” Wesley had told her, as he pressed the small metal box into her hands. “Her friends will try and prevent it, she will fight if she’s forewarned, and Angelus will be unstoppable if you don’t act in due haste.”
“So, no pressure,” Faith joked with a tense smile. She had been surprised when Wesley echoed it.
“None whatsoever,” he’d said. “Just business as usual.”
Faith breathed slowly, meditatively, focusing on the task ahead. Angelus was cuffed, preventing him from attempting to kill her on the drive. She’d purposely left while the sun was out, and a car accident in daylight would be iffy for even a vampire to survive, especially because the person following them had orders to dust him if such a thing happened. Once the sun set, events would rapidly unfold, and Faith had to be on the ball. The fate of humanity was at stake.
Faith found it humorous in a macabre way that humanity rested in three killers’ hands. She supposed it made sense, if the theory behind redemption was to be believed. That didn’t make it any less ironic, or the plan a sane one. But it was the only plan they had with a possibility of success.
“Because Buffy is alive again, the balance is out of whack.” The re-stated information had come from the Beholder, a seer who was never wrong. It had been passed to Wesley when the call for assistance had been received from Sunnydale. “We have to reset it if we want any chance of winning.”
And so here Faith was, in Sunnydale to help reset the balance. Her get out of jail card had the caveat of saving the world. Of course, if they lost, the whole world would be a prison for those who considered themselves “good,” or “reformed,” or “mostly bad, but trying.”
The streets were quiet as she drove into town. An ominous pall hung in the air that she could feel inside the closed cab of the truck. Her slayer senses went nuts as she drove past the new high school and she knew that’s where the final smackdown would take place if tonight’s plan worked.
Faith turned left, into the Sunnydale Cemetery, and followed the winding road past the rows of graves shrouded by thick trees with heavy branches of leaves. Number markers lined the rows along the road. She pulled to the side of the road near marker fourteen. The black sedan stopped behind her. She watched in the rearview mirror as the shaman in deep burgundy robes, Wo-Pang, climbed out of the car. He had the small metal box Faith had been given with him. He disappeared between the rows of gravestones, following the directions to the meeting spot. Angelus could not see him because of the foil on the windows. He could, however, see past Faith outside the side window.
“A cemetery. How apropos.” Angelus tapped his fingers on his knee. “What time is dinner served?”
“Sunset.” Faith snapped off the radio and turned off the truck. She stuck the keys in the visor. “Don’t forget: you kill her dead, you’re dust.”
Angelus smirked. “You should be worried about your own neck, honey, because you’re dessert.”
“I’m honored. Really,” Faith said sarcastically. She removed her sunglasses, tossed them on the dash, and got out of the truck.
The sun was dipping below the horizon and a chill crept over Faith that wasn’t because of the temperature. She stretched, working out the kinks after the drive. Her dark gaze scanned the area, searching for danger. The feel of the stake pressing against her lower back was reassuring.
Faith glanced at her watch. In ten minutes, Buffy and Spike would meet her and Angelus at the crypt. She released a few quick, short breaths, cracked her neck, and looked up at the sky, as the sun finally set. “God, I hope this works.”
She checked that the cuff keys were her jeans pocket and rounded the truck to the passenger side. She stood clear as she opened the door, smiling knowingly when Angelus appeared ready to grab her. She shook her head and gestured for him to get out. “Let’s go.”
The walk to the crypt was slow going due to the restraints. Angelus sang an obnoxious Irish ditty, which Faith ignored. Nostalgia washed over her as they made their way through the cemetery. Being behind bars was mostly day after day of boredom, and she’d longed for the nights of patrol and slaying vamps and demons.
The James family crypt was relatively large, made of cracked, weathered stone, pillars, and an A-frame roof. The heavy black door was ajar, but Faith did not go inside. Around them, the headstones rose from the ground without uniformity, graves marked by statues, blocks, tombstones, or crosses. Other crypts were visible from where she stood, crumbling bit by bit as time passed and decay set in.
Faith unlocked the cuffs on Angelus’s wrists and let them and the connecting chain fall to the ground. She left the ankle cuffs in place, the chains hidden by the uncut grass. Angelus tucked his hands in his pockets and leaned his weight casually on one leg. Faith stood beside him, just out of reach.
Faith was nervous. Her stomach churned uncomfortably. She sort of wanted to be back on the inside, sitting in class earning college credit or working her job. Freedom was great, but responsibility was overwhelming this go-around. She sent a little prayer skyward for strength.
She heard voices in the distance that grew steadily louder. “Heads up. They’re here.”
“Joy,” Angelus said with mocking delight.
Faith moved closer to him. “Remember the deal. You kill-kill her, you’re fertilizer.”
Angelus’s smile gleamed. “Trust me.”
Faith snorted, but said nothing. She knew Angelus would prefer a vamped Slayer at his side, rather than a dead one, especially because it was Buffy. She focused half her attention on the two approaching.
“One more time: why are we meeting here?”
“To stave off discomfort at the house. Everyone’s tolerance level is stretched thin as it is; we don’t want them to be the reason it snaps.”
“We couldn’t have met at the Espresso Pump?”
“I thought privacy would be appropriate, pet.”
Faith plastered a huge, false grin on her face, as Buffy and Spike rounded the corner of the crypt. Buffy’s hair was tied off her neck. Perfect. “Hey, B!”
“Hi, Buffy,” Angelus said, acting up a brooding storm.
Buffy smiled genuinely. “Hi, Faith. Angel. Faith, you look good.”
“So do you.” Faith opened her arms, looking expectantly at Buffy. Her heart thundered in her chest. “Well, come on. Give me some love. Let me practice my ‘hugs before slugs’ rehab motto.”
Buffy, as hoped, stepped forward and embraced Faith. Faith moved instantly, not hesitating despite her nerves and last minute questions whether this was a good plan. She held tight to Buffy and spun them both around. Angelus immediately fisted his hand in Buffy’s hair, pulled her head back and to the side, and sank his fangs into her neck. He wrapped his other arm around both girls, holding Buffy trapped in the middle.
Buffy cried out and struggled. “Spike!”
Spike rushed over, but instead of helping her, he grabbed both her wrists and pinned them against Faith’s back.
“I’m sorry, love,” he said sadly from behind Faith.
Buffy’s breathing was loud in Faith’s ear, and gusted against the side of her cheek where their faces pressed together. She could feel Buffy’s heart pounding in fear and her stomach twisted in knots as it began to slow.
“We’re saving the world, B,” Faith whispered. “Forgive us.”
Angelus removed his fangs, bit his wrist, and pressed it over Buffy’s near death-slackened mouth. Faith moved her head back and saw crimson blood staining Buffy’s lips and chin. Her perpetually sad eyes were glazed and unseeing. Faith wanted to cry.
Instead, she let Buffy fall dead to the ground the second Angelus released her. Faith vaulted over Buffy’s body, tackling Angelus, as Spike yelled, “Now!”
The shaman pulled open the crypt door and stood in the entryway. He held a murky yellow glass orb in his hand. Behind him, a demon that looked like a bipedal, skinned dog – Clem – hovered nervously. The shaman began chanting.
“Transfundo anima, recursus corpus…”
Spike jumped on Angelus, as well, inelegantly landing lengthwise across his shoulders and head. With Slayer blood coursing through his system, Angelus was extra powerful and it would take both Faith and Spike, and the quickness of the shaman in restoring Angelus’s soul, to keep him down.
“Ow!” Angelus pulled Faith’s hair, twisting her head back at an unnatural angle. His other arm was pinned temporarily behind his back on the ground.
“Conglutino anima a corpus….”
“Any day now!” Spike growled loudly, digging his fingers into the grass. “The bloody sod’s biting me!”
Faith jammed her knuckles into Angelus’s ribs. She felt the lower ones break beneath her strike. Angelus arched, trying to buck her off. Faith hooked a leg under his, straddling his thigh. She grabbed the wrist of the hand holding her hair and dug her fingernails into his skin. Her upper body was twisted in contortion to keep him from breaking her neck. Spike’s way of helping was simply not to move, keeping his weight fully on Angelus’s head and shoulders.
“Continui aevum!” Faith saw a golden yellow ball of light streak like lightning from the glass orb the shaman held directly towards the three on the ground. The light struck Angelus in the center of his chest, right above Faith’s head. A muffled scream was heard from Angelus, smothered by Spike’s body covering his face. Angelus shuddered beneath Faith, hard enough to rattle her teeth, before going completely limp. His hand fell from her hair and flopped onto the ground.
“Clem?” Spike questioned, looking over at the vest-wearing demon.
Clem stepped around the monk and sniffed the air. “Four souls, one dead body.”
Despite the check, Faith and Spike rose cautiously. Angelus – or rather Angel, hopefully – was unconscious.
“Be careful,” Spike told Faith. He gestured to Angel. “He may have a soul, but we helped him turn Buffy.”
Faith nodded and moved out of immediate reach of the vampire on the ground. The first part of the plan was successful. Her eyes followed Spike as he disappeared into the crypt with the shaman. The last part was underway.
“He’s really going through with it?” Clem looked towards the crypt.
“Looks that way,” Faith said. Her gaze turned to Buffy, lifeless on the cemetery ground. Blood smeared her mouth, chin, and neck. Vivid puncture wounds and the outline of sharp lower teeth created a horrifying smile on the side of her neck. Her sightless eyes stared up at the night sky. “If this doesn’t work, we’re in deep shit.”
They waited in worried silence. Minutes stretched on forever. Angel did not stir. Buffy wouldn’t for at least a few hours, if Wesley’s calculations were correct. The older the vampire, the faster his childer awoke and the more powerful they were, which was why they’d used Angelus to sire her.
The Beholder had said that Buffy’s being alive had caused the unbalance. The demon seer never said anything about her being a souled undead.
The shaman emerged from the crypt, a murky yellow glass orb cradled in his palm. He nodded to Faith. Faith gave him a tight-lipped smile and went into the crypt.
Spike stood in the open area near the entry, every one of his hundred-plus years writing on his face. His duster was thrown over the back of an easy chair, sitting in front of an old screen television with rabbit ears. There was a nest of blankets in the corner. The floor was gritty with dirt, but otherwise the crypt was relatively clean and cobweb-free.
“Let’s get this over with,” Spike said, squaring his shoulders.
Faith pulled the stake from the waistband of her jeans. “You’re sure this is the only way?”
“Do you see any other spare souls lying about?”
“Yours isn’t in you any more,” Faith pointed out.
“But I need to be dead for it to go to Buffy,” Spike said. He smirked dryly. “Well, more dead, anyway, otherwise there’s a rubberband effect.” He shrugged. “Besides, Buffy couldn’t, in good conscious, let a soulless vampire run around and this will save her the trouble of having to kill me.”
Faith closed the distance between them and pressed the tip of the stake against his chest. She saw determination and resignation mixing in his blue eyes. “What do you want me to tell her?”
“That I left.” Spike gave her a stern look. “I don’t want her guilt-tripping about my death or because she has my soul. I’m glad to be rid of it, that thing was ruddy painful.”
“Okay.” Faith geared herself up to finish it. “You know, for a soulless vampire, you’re pretty selfless.”
The corners of Spike’s mouth curved in a self-deprecating smile. “Either I’m in love or a bloody fool, take your pick. Though, I reckon they mean the same thing.” He placed his hand over Faith’s on the stake. “See you in hell, eh?”
He jerked the stake, and Faith watched with burning eyes as the vampire disintegrated in front of her. Spike was nothing more than a memory.
Faith wiped her eyes with the back of her sleeve and looked down at the pile of dust at her feet. At that moment, she understood what redemption really meant. It wasn’t a soul that made a man; it was what was in his heart.
“You’re wrong, Spike. I have a feeling I’ll be seeing you in Heaven.”