On the road. After the death. Faith POV.
Joss owns all.
Because nothing's more riveting than Chaucer and Boccaccio
The hell of it is, you have to keep slashing your arm if you want to travel.
Cuz, see, that's how you know if you have it or not. If you cut yourself and the
cut heals green and oozy, you have IT, the Death, the pestilence, and no one's
going to do anything but shoot you on sight and burn everything within a ten
foot radius of you.
By law, you aren't supposed to move if you had the mark, but human denial's a
river that runs deep. It took a quarter of the prison dying off to let the
guards finally give it up that they were in charge. The rest of us burnt it to
the ground--probably with most of the guards and some healthy people still
inside, but no chances were taken. Only people with clean cuts left that place
alive, for safety. I had to kill my two best friends in there because one of
them had it and the other was fucking her. No one was going to die of the
pestilence on my watch.
Pestilence. It's an old word, a funny sort of word that Giles or Wesley would
use, but that's how people talk about the Death 'round here and it's no good to
stick out. People don't trust travellers, even clean ones. Too many folks here
got taken for a lot by con artists and thieves from the LA Basin during the
Here's where the food is, even if the ocean's too far away. Central Valley,
California, somewhere between Bakersfield and Fresno, still with the Aqueduct,
still with the food.
And here I am, with a cut. Three years after the Death came, cutting like a
knife through butter, worse than any anthrax or chem warfare could have been.
Before the news cut out for good out here, President What's His Dumb Ass was
saying it was Saddaam and the Iraqis or Osama and the Evil Folks but I knew. Cut
healed green and oozy? Then it killed you?
Nobody believes in demons, though. Like I said, human denial? River. A fuckin'
river that drowns out reality.
Travelling, it like, brings out the poet in me, you know? Also the cutting. I
get out a lot of the old bloodlust in making that cut fresh every day--the Death
takes three days, but I heal fast, so every morning, I cut myself--and watching
the skin heal.
It's funny the way it heals, all puckery and seamed. Like someone sewed it and
if it weren't for the fact that sewing a permanent cut into your skin would make
it bleed and if you bleed green, you have the plague, no matter how real the
sewed cut looked, that's how I'd get past people if I had it.
Instead I have a nice seam on the inside of my right arm, looking like a suicide
wannabe. That and a lot of knowledge about demon-lore that nobody wants to hear.
Of course, if I call it plague-lore, it's all good, but mention that maybe the
Death's caused by a demon?
Fuck you, bitch, we don't need your devil-talk.
And here I am, with a cut, walking up the Valley, heading for Sacramento, maybe.
Heard that cars might be back up working in Sacramento, maybe even planes, and
if that's true, I'll fuckin' turn tricks if I have to, but I'll be on a plane
out of this fuckin' state in a week, flying as far and fast away as I can go. I
hate California and I always did. Stupid state, with its airy-spacey hippies and
the endless heat and drought and desertness.
Stupid state, stupid time slaying here, stupid Death. Stupid stopping in
Bakersfield for eight months to get enough supplies to survive up to Fresno.
Stupid currently being out of supplies and alone on the remains of Highway 99.
I'm tired of walking, so I sit down on the side of the road, wondering if I
should have tried my luck walking up 5, but nah. No towns. I would have really
starved to death.
So I sit. Maybe I even cry, but Slayers don't cry, especially ex-con Slayers who
managed to survive the fucking Death, the Death that killed one out of every two
people in California and one out of every five people in the Western Hemisphere.
But the cuts on my arm are still clean. The blood's still red, uninfected by
And I sit.
Finally, I see, like, a van. And fuck pride, I'm on my feet, waving my arms like
crazy, willing to deal with the van guy being a psycho who'll try to kill me
before he lets me into the van, but I can't walk to Fresno. And it's been...it's
been three months since I saw anyone with a car that had enough gas in it to
The van slows down. It stops.
The door slides open.
I know the guy in the van. At least one of the guys, which is fucking
impossible. Sunnydale had like, a ninety-percent death rate (I told you that the
Death is fucking demon-related), and B and all her people were dead in the First
"Faith," the guy says. His hair isn't spiky anymore, which is weird. Actually,
it's just shaved off, like most guys, like most people. Less stuff to spread
contagion into. "Right?"
"Yeah," I say. "Oz, right?"
"Yeah," he says. "You contagious?"
I hold my arm up and display the mark. "Clean as a whistle."
"You must have to cut deep to get it to stay all day," he says, waving me in.
"Where are you headed?"
"North. Sacramento," I say, climbing into the van with my backpack and my mouth
dry as it could be.
Someone laughs. "Nothing there."
"I heard maybe planes," I said stubbornly. "Cars, definitely."
"No, the Death came back through there," Oz said. "We just came from there on a
sweep. Nothing there. Two out of three dead. The survivors mostly starving to
death. We went down to Bakersfield, but they're not letting people in."
"Fuck," I say.
"Yeah, no fuckin' kidding," the driver says. "We're thinking of trying to get
past state borders into Oregon. Decon's pretty harsh but once you're there,
you're a hero for surviving the pestilence."
"Maybe," Oz says.
"Definitely," the driver says.
"Yeah, and definitely there were cars and planes in Sacramento," Oz says
pithily. He looks at me. "Water?"
"Yeah," I say. "How much?"
"You're a Slayer," Oz says, raising an eyebrow. "We've been tracking you since
we heard you were on the road to Fresno."
He hands me a bottle of water. I take it, eyeing him.
"Protection at nights."
I bite my lip. It's not that I can't take anything out there--I can--but if
someone infected with the Death were to jump me, I'd be dead. Three days, dead.
Or if I survived (and the Death has something like a sixteen percent survival
rate), I'd die because they'd leave me on the side of the road and I'd dehydrate
or I'd be killed by someone who was afraid they would die of it.
"Deal," I say, taking a drink of water. "It's getting worse, then?"
"It's adapting itself," one of the other guys in the van says. "Sooner or later,
the demon carrying this thing will infect someone allowed to cross back and
forth and we're all dead."
"You said demon," I say, stunned.
"Well, it's a demon-based contagion that's three times as deadly as the bubonic
plague--what they used to call the Death--and it's green and pus-y and the viral
carrier's not human," the guy says. "So it's either alien or demon and there
aren't any aliens and there are demons."
I'm impressed. Maybe, finally, the fact that we're all doomed means that the
river of denial has shrunk up and we're finally going to face reality in all of
its tough beautiful reality.
"Yeah," the driver says. "But fuck that. Demons can go fuck themselves. What I'm
wondering, you know, is if we can find a drummer in Oregon."
Oz looks at me and grins. "Dev's obsessed with starting the band again," he
explains quietly. "He thinks that's the best way to deal with it, by moving on,
by being human again."
"What do you think?"
"I'm not really human," he says quietly. "Your cut's starting to go away."
He touches the sore skin on my arm, where the seam is more a memory than a
"It's been a bitch. Most people don't even believe in Slayers, so I have to keep
cutting and cutting and it won't stay."
He nods. "You cut it before you go out and when you come in mornings," he says.
"We can't afford contagion. We almost had a thing in Bakersfield."
I nod. "Someone you knew?"
"Yeah," he says, like it hurts. "Cordelia."
"That cheerleader girl? Angel's secretary? She--"
He shakes his head, like he's a little sad, but mostly surprised that it
happened at all.
"She swore she was clean, almost came on board--but she tripped. She cut
herself. In Bakersfield. Well, just outside. She was sitting outside, crying,
His voice fades out. I get the picture. I've seen as many of them as he has,
looking fine except for where the cut is, where the red blood is tinged with
green and you know--you fucking KNOW--that tomorrow or tomorrow or tomorrow, the
"She said she was already a demon," Oz mutters into his hands. "She said she
He looks at his feet. I look with him and I see the gun.
"You do it?" I ask.
"Didn't have a choice. Werewolves don't get this--we're immune to blood-based
pathogens--and I couldn't let the rest of them die."
I knew. I could see it in my head, could see any of those little Sunnydalers,
crying, begging, swearing. You swear a lot of things when you've got the
"How many did it take to put her down?"
"Four--she wouldn't lay down, and I--"
I nod. "I dig."
"Nobody's going to die of the pestilence on my watch," Oz says, looking at me. I
take another long gulp of water, wipe my mouth. The van's a fuckin' oven. We go
over a bump and I realize that it's a long way to Oregon.
If there's still an Oregon.
"Nothing to worry about from me," I reply.
We look at my arm. There's nothing left of the cut except fresh pink skin.
I close my eyes and count down the minutes until we stop.