It didn't take long for Buffy to realize they weren't heading to the village bar, only as long as it took for Faith to point right at the end of the lane instead of left, and despite her misgivings she was excited that they were going somewhere nice for her birthday meal.
The roads into Cleveland were still all traffic-y because of the early hour. She hated traffic; all the slowing down and speeding up confused her feet. It was a bonus tonight, though; with so many cars around them it would be hard to notice a tail.
"So we're going to the place we went before?" she asked.
"Come on, tell me!" Buffy whined with her most ingratiating smile. "You have to be nice to me, it's my birthday!"
Faith just laughed, lightly rubbing her stomach.
"Is he kicking?"
"Just rolling over I think. Doing that a lot today."
"Well, your tummy probably isn't the comfiest place in the world, despite its size."
"Ha ha. You wanna eat from a sidewalk cart on your birthday?"
"I don't know, will you be sitting on it?" It wasn't hard to get back into Faith's good books. Food or sex would do it; combine the two and Buffy could get away with anything.
To prove it, Faith leered, hand sneaking over the central console to squeeze her thigh. "Be a good birthday girl and I'll sit on your face."
Buffy's life flashed before her eyes, and not because one wrong move in that position could potentially smother her to death at the moment, but because some asshead had cut in front of her right at the same time as Faith's touch had relaxed her attention on the road and her foot on the brake.
"Shiiit!" she screamed as beside her Faith yelled something much more profane and slammed her groping hand down hard on Buffy's knee, trying to force her foot onto the brake pedal.
Between the snow-tires, the plowed roads and Buffy's terrified vice-grip on the steering wheel they avoided hitting the car in front as they skidded to a stand-still on the busy freeway.
Nothing she could do could stop the car behind from crashing into them.
The impact wasn't life-threatening thanks to the slow moving traffic, but they were jolted forward half a car-length and Buffy suddenly had a face-full of airbag reminiscent of the nightmare fantasy she'd just had of Faith's reward of good(girl) behavior.
The passenger airbag must have been a second later in deploying because even over the sounds of cars honking as they veered around, she heard the sounds of it popping out of its home and then a thump followed by a hissing sound.
"You just killed the airbag, didn't you?" she asked, voice muffled by her own.
"Punched it," Faith admitted without remorse. "Those things are lethal if you're pregnant."
"Kind of lethal even when you're not." She had to let her chair back all the way to escape the one trying to suffocate her. "You okay otherwise?"
"Yeah, fine. You?"
She was, but she checked Faith over herself just to make sure. It was only when she was sure that she thought about anything else. Like the fact that they'd just been rammed from behind and the driver hadn't hit and run but nobody was getting out of the large vehicle behind them to swap insurance details either.
Was it suspicious or were they hurt?
Buffy didn't know which was worse. The accident had been her fault -- well, Faith's -- but that was nit-picking, and she didn't actually have a legal license. It was on her to do list, it really was, but where was the time? She hardly ever drove anyway, so it wasn't like it was ever the first thing on her mind. She wouldn't be driving tonight if Faith wasn't so pregnant and hadn't insisted on not having a chauffeur.
See, she didn't even need to nit-pick for it to be all Faith's fault!
So if someone was seriously hurt in the car - more of a truck really - she was in serious trouble. And if they weren't, surely that spelt ambush?
But if it was an ambush, why were they hiding instead of being all ambushy?
She whipped her head from one side to the other and around, trying to look out of every window at once to see if demons were creeping up on them. But on the right there was just empty snowy ground giving way to darkness beyond the crash barrier and on the left a stream of twenty mile an hour traffic, plenty of which were still honking at them as they passed. Ahead a series of red lights stretched on into the darkness as vehicles veered around them and behind . . . the truck that had crashed into them.
Faith was still grumbling about airbags when Buffy decided she had to act. Whether they were hurt or the enemy she had to go and check.
"What the fuck are you doing?"
Buffy stopped with the broadsword half out of the weapons bag behind the front seats. "One of us has to check if they're still alive."
"And if they're not you're going to finish them off? Be cheaper to pay the damages, babe, than find you a good homicide lawyer." Faith took her seatbelt off, rubbing her stomach a little where it must have cut into her and the baby. "I'll go check on them."
"No, you need to stay in the car!"
"Why the fuck why?"
"Just . . ." She couldn't think of a good lie in time and was there really any reason to anyway? "What if it's Troy?"
"Oh for fuck's sake!" Faith opened her door to the icy cold. "Someone could be dying in there and you're getting jealous of my ex?"
"No it's more than . . ." Buffy began pleadingly but Faith had already struggled up and was gone.
Forgetting the broadsword, she threw her own seatbelt off and hurried to join her. The cars weren't exactly whizzing by but they still scared her, more because Faith was strolling along the center of the freeway than for her own safety.
Faith was already peering through the window of the truck. "It's empty."
How was that possible? She'd been keeping a pretty close eye on it and no one had fled the vehicle. Her thoughts lingered on ghost cars for a moment, because whose wouldn't, but it felt too neat and tidy for her birthday curse.
"Door's open," Faith called. "Maybe they crawled in the back."
Despite her current bulk she was up and in before Buffy could beg her to wait. By the time she reached the open driver's door an argument was already happening. Buffy cringed, thinking Faith was taking the heat for her accident, but by the time she'd climbed up she understood just what was going on without needing to look.
Now, if she could juuust sneak back out, jump the crash barrier and make a run for it . . .
"Can you believe these assholes?" Faith twisted to her while Buffy still had one foot dangling, reaching tentatively back towards the slick road surface. Leaving her, in theory, with at least the one leg to stand on, but it wasn't going to be enough. "I ask for one fucking night, but they just can't not meddle can they? Who ordered this?"
"Right behind us, guys? Xander, I thought you were being army guy tonight? Didn't your training include subtlety?" Buffy blurted to her best friend and eight slayers before she realized Faith's question had let her off the hook.
Faith didn't miss a trick and twisted again. "You knew, B?"
"Hey, don't blame us," Xander defended himself. "We started off five cars behind, but you were driving so slow people kept over-taking you!"
Faith had heard enough and started the slow process of backing out of the narrow gap. "Come on, B, let's go."
"You're not mad?"
"Oh, I'm hella mad, but there's steam coming out of their fender and I wanna go before they can fix it and come after us again."
"Effie, are you really sure that's wise? I had them follow us for a . . . "
Faith had turned now and was bumping her back out of the truck with her stomach as she carefully stepped down onto the asphalt. "I'm sure. And if you don't wanna eat a stale pretzel from the Gas and Go for your birthday you're coming with."
Buffy glared at Xander and the eight slayers huddled in the back of the truck before following her out.
They were back in the car, which had somehow escaped with only a busted taillight. Faith promised her that two hot chicks like them could get away with it if they were pulled over, and if not, they always had the superpowers to fall back on. Heading down the freeway once more, Buffy tried,
"I just wanted a little back-up."
"Eight slayers is not little."
"It's my birthday, is it so wrong to want everything to go smoothly?"
Faith sighed and edged forward to fiddle with the crappy radio. "Way I see it, B, you're the only one sabotaging your birthday this year."
Faith should have been upset at the deceit – Buffy might have preferred it if she had been – but instead she was all about seeing the funny side; and apparently there were a lot of funny sides.
"Who tails someone bumper to bumper?" Buffy sighed in agreement. "And in an unmarked, black van. How obvious were they trying to be? Woulda drawn less attention if Red had glammed them a bug convertible and had all the slayers in bikinis."
"It's January," she reminded her annoying lover through gritted teeth.
"Fur bikinis then."
She wanted to stay irritated that her safety precautions had gone awry, but fur bikinis reminded her of a conversation between them, a conversation filled with excitement and promise, and it relaxed her more than she would have thought possible. It had felt like such an impossible thing back then, but they'd made it. They'd beaten the odds – and those odds had included an unstoppable foe and Hell itself – and they were together. Really together!
Things still weren't easy, but then what relationship was all plain sailing? Buffy had definitely never been in one of those before. And Faith and Troy might have looked perfect from the outside, but Buffy knew she'd put more than one cramp in their style.
Besides, with any luck Kennedy was still out there somewhere, keeping pace with her and ready to arrive at their destination shortly after they did. She tried not to check her mirrors too often to see if she could spot the car. It would have been difficult anyway now that they were reaching the city limits and drivers were weaving around each other to get where they needed to be.
"So, should I just pick a lane at random or are you still giving directions?"
Faith didn't look up from cleaning her nails with her dagger. "Head for the middle."
Buffy nodded a few times, her grip tightening on the steering wheel. "And how do I do that?"
"You can read signs, can't you? How did I end up with a moron?"
"Excuse me?" Buffy glared at her.
Faith laughed easily at her face and calmly said, "Road, B."
"It's still there, F! Don't call me a moron. You're a moron."
"Yep." Faith rubbed her stomach and sat up straighter. "Head for West Sixth Street."
Buffy was none the wiser, but she wasn't admitting it. Not after being called a moron. It would serve Faith right if they spent the entire evening driving around lost.
Somehow, after Faith laughing a lot at her inability to read signs, her lack of a sense of direction and her general driving skills, they made it to the mystery destination. Buffy mounted the sidewalk as she tried to pull smoothly into a parking space and Faith laughed again.
"I feel like I should get out and kiss the ground."
"Good luck getting back to your feet without help."
"Don't even. You've been a jerk the whole drive here!"
"No, I really mean ouch!" Faith was rubbing her stomach again. "He's dancing in here. Takes after his mom," she said with a smile. "And his dad."
"What? I can dance too!"
Faith gave her a blank look. "What's that got to do with anything?"
Grumbling under her breath, Buffy just got out of the car. This was going to be a long night, but as the curse on her birthday went . . . well, nobody had ever died from irritation and jealousy before. At least she hadn't.
"Sure you got some moves, B, but you've seen the way Troy dances. It's like he's dipped his hips in freakin' lube he's so fluid and shit. Besides, the kid ain't even yours so he's hardly going to be like you before he's even met you. And . . ."
'Yet! I haven't died from it YET!' Buffy amended, slamming her door and stalking off while Faith was still busy running her mouth and squeezing herself out of the car.
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