Bruised and Borrowed by Mary Borsellino

A strange little AU. Death and darkness.

Disclaimer: The characters of BtVs and AtS are not mine.


If she didn't love him as much as she did, who knows how things might have gone? She probably wouldn't be here, at any rate. One booted foot pressing down on the throat of the fair-haired, Teutonic soldier with broad shoulders and blood all over him. His blood, and hers too, because it's been a dirty fight and she doubts her hearing's ever going to get back to what it was before.

"Where. Is. He?" she asks again, head cocked to one side, speaking slowly, taking her foot off his neck so he can reply. She knows he'll reply. Nobody really wants to die.

"I don't know. The will of God -"

That's quite enough. Whether he knows or not she doesn't care anymore. She'll find someone else, another knight who's smarter and doesn't know what to shut up. This one's taken up too much of her valuable time for her to bother listening to more Byzantium garbage. She cracks his spine with a stamp of her foot and he goes limp, eyes open blankly in the evening rain.

"No luck?" Faith asks when they meet up again and Buffy submits to the second slayer's attempts to dress the cuts all over her arms and the bruises on the rest of her.

"No. I think he knew, but if he did the knowledge died with him." Buffy answers. Faith swallows her sympathetic sigh and nods, the lashes on her good eye blinking down.

"We've still got a few days, though." Buffy says resolutely. "We'll find him." and she sounds like she almost believes it, a mad waver in her voice betraying how long it's been since they slept, how close to the end of the world they are.

Tara and Dru are still out of it when Buffy and Faith get back to the old dorm building that's used by most of the humans in town as a hideout. Buffy hopes they find what they're looking for, out in the ether. Hopes that they'll be able to decipher any clues they do find.

Oz has caught four of the scruffy helldogs that run the streets and he and Joyce are doing their best to prepare the meat, which is safe it eat provided the hungry people don't mind nightmares. And everybody has them anyway.

"Did you find anything out?" Joyce asks her daughter before Buffy and Faith even has the chance to greet everyone. Buffy doesn't answer, but Joyce's shoulders slump as she realizes that she'd have known without asking if the girls had found any information. It's a little weird, Faith thinks to herself. Joyce knows that Johnny's not really her grandson, but still the ache's there like a fist in the woman's chest. If the monks hadn't done such a job on it, if they didn't all feel one hundred percent like Johnny was for real, then who knows where they might be?

Faith's anger at the monks never lets up. Couldn't they have been up front about it? "Oh, we've got all this energy stuff that a supreme being or two might want to get their hands on, can you mind it for a minute?" and she often tells them so, before she kills them.

The Gods are dead. Wiped each other out, after reducing most of America to a plate of month-old Jell-O. But that didn't stop the knights. No, Johnny had to be destroyed. After everything they'd lost, lovers and friends and allies, and everything they'd given saving the world, the knights wanted to take away one of the few bright things they had left.

They still don't know what memories are real and which ones were made up later, but as far as their uncertain memories know Johnny was conceived in that golden time after Angel became human, when Buffy was visiting LA.

For a little while, it had been like nothing could go wrong. Everyone was happy, everything was right. Faith looks back and feels sure the knights must have screwed with some stuff, because it's all too neat, and surely someone must have said something when Buffy found out she was pregnant and decided to drop out of college. Would Joyce have let her do that, in the real version of things? Faith doesn't know, and sometimes on the edge of nightmares feels the chill of other things changed. A man in an alley. Blood. Darkness. A pain in her gut, like someone's stabbed her. Dru, as if hearing her nightmare, murmurs crazy things to her until she falls back into restless, dreamless sleep. Vampires and humans can't afford to fight anymore. Not with the other things out there.

Once, Faith asked Tara about this stuff, because Tara's brain is so disconnected she probably doesn't know what reality she's in anyway. Tara told her that it didn't matter, because now this was the way things had always been. That makes Faith furious, because was that golden time that may not have happened at all really worth this, this rust, and blood, and cold, and gamy hellmeat for dinner and screams outside all night as the survivors cower in this old building with torn posters of rock bands that are undoubtedly dead now on the walls and the textbooks of dead students to put on the fires to keep from dying in the winter that's all over the world?

"We'll try again tomorrow." Oz soothes Buffy, and she nods, crouching by the fire and reaching in to grab out a tin of baked beans. They've only got a few dozen left, but Buffy's strict about her vegetarianism. Faith can't say for sure, but thinks it may come from the sight of the sacrifices, when it looked like Glory was going to win and people started killing children in a frenzied worship of the god. Johnny had been a year old then, and with Angel and later Jonathan both dead Buffy had been caring for the baby alone. She'd entrusted Johnny to Spike and Drusilla to guard until the fanatics had stopped their madness. They'd complied, old rivalries just didn't mean anything anymore. A mob had torn Spike apart but his sacrifice had given Drusilla time to run with the bundle of squalling child, time for Faith to find them and fight the crazies off. Faith lost her eye in the process, but Johnny was safe and that was all that was important. Luckily, none of the gods had ever found out the form the key was hiding in. Faith didn't like to think what she might have had to lose then.

Buffy ignores the way the can's burning her hand and pulls the ring top, dumping the contents onto a plate and beginning to eat it. Faith couldn't say for sure when they last ate, but it wasn't today or the day before.

"Would you sacrifice him?" Faith asks Buffy, sitting beside her and picking at the piece of meat she really should be eating, needs her strength. "If he turned out to be the key to a better world or something? Someplace without, you know, hell on earth?"

Buffy glares at her.

"Don't ask me bullshit questions like that. Of course I would. I love him, but what kind of life is he going to have here? Assuming that we find him before the knights kill him."

"Maybe you get to have him anyway. Maybe the only thing different is that he's the key."

"Maybe." Buffy doesn't sound like she believes it for a second, but it's a nice thought anyway. Maybe she and Angel did marry, and he did have a chance to hold his son before he died. Maybe Faith and Xander did run off to Mexico for four weeks and have a lot of drunken sex after he graduated high school. Maybe Johnny is the key to that better world, where all the good things are the same but Willow didn't get trapped in her own spell trying to seal off the second hellmouth that opened. Giles and Xander and Harmony weren't taken over by the gods to be their earthly forms.

Buffy wants to believe that. Wants to lie down and fall into a dream where her last memory of her watcher isn't the way he looked with Glory in him, dressed in red, sucking the mind out of Jonathan while Buffy cowered behind an overturned pickup truck with Johnny crushed against her breast, praying he wouldn't start screaming. That she wouldn't start either.

"What'll you do, if we find that world?" Faith asks, putting the meat aside. She's just not hungry enough tonight, even though she feels faint.

"Go on being the slayer. There's always darkness." Buffy answers, and offers Faith half her beans. Faith takes the plate with a small smile. "What about you?"

"Me?" Faith asks, and for a second her brain touches the dark bruise of her nightmare and she winces, the murky green tones of her dreams forming into shadowed shapes of a confined space, a hospital or a jail or a mental home or something. Maybe that's it. Maybe it's her that's crazy in that other world, not Tara. Maybe she's crazy now, and everything's just her lunatic imagination. No hell creatures outside in the night. No missing child being held captive by knights who are awaiting the solstice to kill him. Just the imagination of some crazy chick in a mental home.

Faith shrugs. "I don't know. I think I might check myself into some place. Get a little r&r, you know?"

"Ok, I'm in on that. We'll go stay at a swanky resort for three weeks straight." Buffy smiles in the flickering light of the fire, her bruises a dark purplegreenbrown blotch on her cheek. Faith considers explaining that's not quite what she meant, that she's got the feeling the other, better world is still a dark place for her, but she doesn't say it. Why say it?

They go to sleep eventually, under blankets too thin at spots too far from the fire, but they have to stay a little distance from the flames in case anything comes out of them. Halfway through the night the television, which has been dead since the electricity went, flickers to life and Faith wakes up to see a grainy, green-gray image of Cordelia screaming inside the coffin that she'd been found in, too late, two years ago. Faith turns the television off before anyone else can wake up, and then smashes the glass for good measure.

Oz twitches in his sleep, Faith wonders if tonight was supposed to be a full moon. So much magic was lost when the moon fell, the seas swept costal cities away all over Europe with the tides gone mad. Faith hasn't menstruated since then, but she doesn't miss it. Nobody would want to have children anymore, bring a baby into a dying world.

It's cold tonight, but it's cold every night and Faith's used to it now. Pulling the blanket around her bare shoulders (they sleep nude so they can wash their clothing and wear it again), she sits and wonders about another world, somewhere else, somewhere not so broken. Not so aimless and lonely and desperate.

Then she goes out to find the knights.

The body of the one Buffy killed earlier is gone, but Faith's good at tracking and it's not too long before she finds two more that are burying the dead one. She kills one to get her point across and then asks the other for directions.

He's rather helpful, but Faith's in a bad mood and breaks his wrist anyway. He doesn't scream.

Oz catches up with her, he found her gone and followed her trail just as she was following the knights. Faith explains what she's going to do and he nods, once, and they walk together without speaking.

As dawn breaks they find them, chanting over the boy and muttering incantations. Oz and Faith, standing side by side and filthy and tired and halfway to mad already, feel like their minds are being pulled through a wringer at the strange, weaving chant. The dusty ground is red-brown, with darker stains showing where old deaths occurred.

They explain to the knights why they're there. A better world, they say. Somewhere that's better. Anywhere that's better. Is Johnny the key to that? The knights nod, and Faith thinks they're probably lying, but she doesn't care anymore. Any ending is better than the continuation of things as they are.

She closes her eyes for a moment and remembers Xander, how wonderful it was in Mexico, sticky and hot (she misses summer more than she misses almost anything else from before) and just them and alcohol and days screwing in the heat. Buffy and Angel, kissing on their wedding day, the bride plump with pregnancy and everyone looking so happy for them. Giles crying and Joyce handing him a tissue. Faith doesn't pray, for fear that gods will hear her, but she does hope that at least some of them will have a chance to be happy in a different world.

Faith and Oz kneel either side of the baby in the circle of knights, and Faith hopes and hopes and hopes that Johnny will be happy in the new world. Not caring that she's interrupting the chanting again, she asks one of the knights about that. He tells her that the key will simply be destroyed. Faith looks down at Johnny and kisses the tiny child's, really still a baby, forehead gently. Energy can never be created or destroyed, so she knows that the knights are lying. She hopes that whatever Johnny becomes, he'll be happier than he would have been here. They all borrowed this world, these lives, for a little while, but Faith's ready to give hers back. To take whatever the universe spews up instead of this existence.

It's not the solstice, but perhaps she and Oz make a difference, because one of the knights steps forward and holds a sword up above the child's body. Faith doesn't want to watch but she can't make herself look away, expecting the knight to stab down and kill Johnny. But instead he continues to chant, and then, very calmly, draws the blade across his wrists, letting the first blood fall on Johnny. He hands the sword to the next knight, who does the same and then hands the sword to Oz. Oz hesitates, looks at Faith, then cuts across his arms and tries to join in the chanting.

Eventually it's Faith's turn and she does it without hesitation. One slayer dies, and the next is called. You can be me when I'm gone. Somebody else can play the game now, Faith's tired. She doesn't care anymore if it's all a lie. Any ending is better than none.

Last thing she hears is Johnny begin to wail.