Moving her hand to Faith’s hip, her actions subtle and slow, doing her best not to startle the other slayer or their visitor, Buffy whispered Faith’s name softly. She felt the girl shifting as she woke.
“Don’t move, we’re not alone,” Buffy said as quietly as she could, here eyes never leaving the stranger who was standing no more than thirty feet away.
It was a girl, probably in her twenties, though she looked haunted and hollow. Her eyes were black and sunken, and her hair short, sticking out in clumps on her head like it had been torn out and had grown back unevenly.
“How many?” Faith asked in a husky whisper.
Buffy had to ignore the way her body was feeling, charged and sensitive so close to Faith. Her mind flashing to remnants of the dream they’d shared, of the intimacy, of the way the dream had blurred and taken hold of her, leading her to do something she never would have imagined herself doing.
Never imagined, but sometimes dreamed.
“B!” Faith said quietly, growing agitated.
If there was something going on, Faith wanted to know what it was, and how many butts she had to kick, or vamps she had to dust.
Buffy glanced away from the savage looking but unmoving girl nearby and down to Faith. Faith’s dusky eyes were looking up at her, sleep heavy, sensual, sex haze eyes that locked Buffy within them. She felt her stomach flutter as Faith licked her lower lip. It shocked her, but she was captivated by the depths of Faith’s eyes. Like she could see more in them than she had before. Like there was something new to see.
“Buffy!” Faith called again, louder this time, moving so she could turn to where she supposed the threat was.
Her movement jolted Buffy out of her daze. “Sorry,” she murmured, trying to wipe Faith from her mind in any form that wasn’t the one she hated. “There’s a. . .”
“Weird looking chick that’s staring at us? Yeah, I see her,” Faith pointed out as she swung her legs round to the side of the rock so she was sitting on the edge.
Faith wasn’t sure if the girl was a threat; she looked pretty scrawny and vacant, but you could never tell with demons and vampires. Placing the palms of her hands on the sun-warmed rock she moved to jump off her perch.
“Wait,” Buffy exclaimed, placing a hand on Faith’s shoulder.
“What? Wait for her to rush us? Wait for her to bring us tea?” Faith asked. “We need to go see who she is, B, and if she doesn’t try to eat us maybe she might tell us where the hell we are.”
“I know,” Buffy agreed, then lowered her eyes to Faith’s pants, “but your fly is undone.” She blushed almost redder than the sun, averting her eyes as Faith raised her eyebrow and looked down.
Stifling a chuckle Faith zipped her pants up, choosing not to say anything about it or their night together until after they had figured out who their skinny friend was. She leapt down off the rock, noticing that the stranger backed away in fright.
“Hey,” Faith called out, not waiting for Buffy to pull herself together and be in-charge-girl as per usual. “We’re not gonna hurt you. Unless you start showing fangs or growing tentacles,” Faith pointed out, slowly making her way towards the girl.
“No. No, I didn’t mean it,” the girl said, her voice rough and strained and eyes staring about wildly as she stumbled backwards. “Don’t send him.”
Faith turned to look at Buffy, who was now making her way to Faith’s side. “She’s pretty shaken up. Not sure if she’s a threat,” Faith said, not quite knowing how to handle things that weren’t leaping at her.
Buffy nodded and watched the girl as she wrung her hands, nothing but fear in her sunken eyes.
“We’re lost,” Buffy explained. “If you could tell us where we are, maybe we can help you.”
“Here,” the girl muttered coarsely. “Here is pain. Here is death.”
She turned away from the slayers, her shoulders hunched and back curved like she was carrying the weight of a hundred worlds. Buffy noted that her accent was one she had never heard. She was English, but her words sounded different, like she was from some old English movie. Her torn and ragged clothes were also unfamiliar. She was wearing tatty old cloth; what remained of some kind of dress.
“Where are you from?” Buffy asked, stepping closer to the stranger.
“From? Once, I was from a house so grand I thought it was heaven, but now I am torn. I am hell. I am from hell,” she said, turning back towards them, pointing into the distance. “You must go. Go from here. Tell him I am done. I am done wishing. Done wanting. I will pay for what I did and ask no more to see what I once knew.” Tears began to fall from her eyes.
Buffy moved a little closer, able to see the sores on the poor girl’s head where her hair looked like it had been ripped out. As she got within an arms reach away, the girl jumped back, startled.
“Go, I am done,” she repeated. “He will tell you where you are, and you will wish for an end to your suffering.” She began to walk away, her bare feet scuffing the dust up.
“Wait,” Buffy called. “Who’s he? Where are we?” she asked, feeling even more lost than before.
“Leave her, B,” Faith said, placing her hand on Buffy’s arm to halt her advance.
“Don’t touch me,” Buffy snapped, whirling around to face Faith. “Don’t ever touch me again, and don’t tell me what to do. We need to find out where the hell we are, and how the fuck to get back. So just back off,” she finished, stomping off towards the rock to retrieve her dirty jacket.
Faith attempted to let it go and just allow Buffy to be her usual short-tempered self, but she couldn’t. They couldn’t let things just be. They were stuck together, sharing vivid, confusing dreams. Needing to rely on each other to get back from wherever it was they had landed.
“From what I recall, B. . .it’s you that likes to do the whole touching thing,” Faith remarked, shaking her head as she recalled Buffy’s fingers on her body.
The stranger hurried away, leaving the two slayers locked in their constant turmoil.
“Yeah, well. . .you were in my body, Faith. Remember that?” Buffy cut back, not sure where she wanted the argument to go.
“Yeah, I remember, B,” Faith replied sadly. “I don’t know why you’re bringing that up now, but if you think I did something to you back then you’re wrong. I didn’t touch you, B.”
Buffy narrowed her eyes, looking directly at Faith, watching as cracks appeared. As her words stripped away Faith’s defiant shield. As she nestled into more familiar territory. “You certainly touched my boyfriend though, huh,” she spat.
Faith felt her insides lurch at the memory, at the pain she had caused herself as well as Buffy with her actions. Running a hand through her hair, she sighed, trying not to relive the experience.
“I made mistakes, B,” Faith began, not stopping when Buffy took a breath to interrupt. “Big fucking mistakes that I’ll never be able to live down or make up for. If I could take it all back I would, but that ain’t gonna happen, so we both have to deal with that.”
“You’re wrong,” Buffy said sharply. “I don’t have to deal with anything. I just need you as far away from me as possible. And I don’t wanna hear your sob stories, Faith. I don’t wanna hear about how you never had a puppy, so now you have to take it out on everybody around you.”
Faith bit her lip, holding her anger in check as she squared up to face Buffy. “I don’t have sob stories, B. I have a life that fucked me over. And yunno what? You’re gonna have to hear it, princess, ‘cause we’re stuck here. Me and you. Look around you, B,” Faith said, sweeping her arm out to indicate their barren surroundings. “There’s no escape. Just like I had no escape when I came to you for help. Yeah, that’s right. . .I landed in Sunnydale for help but I was too fucking proud to ask for it.”
“The only help you ever needed was psychiatric,” Buffy interjected, laughing. “I’m done talking about this, Faith.”
Faith winced but stood her ground. “Well, I’m not,” she made clear. “And you’re gonna have to stop being that spoiled brat you like to be ‘cause it’s wearing thin again.”
Faith sighed and rubbed her fingers over her forehead, feeling the after effects of her concussion kicking in once more. She didn’t want to fight. She didn’t want to blame. But Buffy always had a way of backing her into a corner.
“Oh, so it’s all my fault?” Buffy exclaimed out of nowhere. “You did what you did because of me. Right. . .great excuse, Faith. It doesn’t wash, though. I did nothing wrong.”
“I never said it was you’re fault, Buffy. There are no excuses I could ever come up with to explain away what I did. . .but you sure as shit didn’t help,” Faith said, raising her voice, sorry that they had to fight again, especially after the night they had shared.
Buffy shook her head and turned away from Faith, her arms crossed to keep her fists in check.
“You hated me being there, huh,” Faith said, continuing when Buffy gave a confused grunt. “I came to Sunnydale and you suddenly weren’t special anymore. You weren’t the only slayer and you couldn’t stand that. Couldn’t stand me being there taking some of the spot-light,” she said, finally having her say. Her voice being heard if not her words.
“That’s bullshit, Faith, and you know it,” Buffy snapped, turning to point at Faith. “I was nothing but nice to you.”
“Sure, when you knew it would make you look like the ‘good slayer’. You don’t think I have ears though? You don’t think I heard how much you hated me being there?” Faith retorted.
“You don’t know anything,” Buffy shouted, growing uncomfortable in her own skin. Wishing she could just wash Faith away. Wash her out of her. Wash the bad memories. “Nothing.” Buffy wasn’t sure about it all herself. The past was a confused place.
Faith looked down, not really knowing what words should come next. “That’s just it. I never knew anything. I didn’t know who I was meant to be. I didn’t know what I was fighting for anymore.”
“It certainly wasn’t on my side,” Buffy mumbled.
Faith looked up at Buffy, her eyes enveloping Buffy’s as she spoke. “I tried, B. . .like I said, I made mistakes, and one of those was not fitting in. Your side wasn’t for a girl like me, or at least that’s how it seemed at the time.”
“You didn’t give. . .” Buffy stopped before uttering the word me, “it a chance.” She couldn’t deny that Faith had made her feel less ‘special’, and that the other slayer’s presence had affected her more than she knew how to admit. That wasn’t the whole story, however. The rest lay hidden within herself.
“I didn’t feel like I had a chance, B. I’m. . .”
“Don’t say it,” Buffy demanded abruptly, sensing what Faith wanted to say. She didn’t want to hear how sorry Faith was. She didn’t want to feel it. Didn’t dare to know she meant it.
It would change everything.
Faith looked down once again, prodding with her boot at a lone rock amongst the orange dirt. She gave it a kick, sending it far into the distance. She understood why Buffy wouldn’t allow her to apologise. Buffy needed to hold onto her hatred. It made the world a more stable place. Evil was evil and good. . .wasn’t Faith.
Faith knew that herself. She would never completely leave her demons behind. They were part of her. The inner most dark part of her, dwelling with the pure power of the slayer within.
It was within Buffy too, but Buffy denied its existence. She always would.
Faith took a breath, wanting to continue. Needing to say more, even if she was being refused the right to be sorry.
“Don’t, Faith,” Buffy interjected, her green eyes laying heavy on Faith. “I don’t wanna talk anymore.”
Buffy brushed down her jacket and placed it around her hips. There wasn’t much point; it was ripped and dirty and no more than a rag now. She wanted to cry; for her jacket, for her scuffed boots, for the fact she was far away from everything that kept her feeling safe, for what had happened with Faith in their semi-dream. It was all too much.
Faith watched as Buffy rubbed at her eyes before fixing her tangled blonde hair. She wanted to back down, but there was still something left unsaid. Still something that needed addressing, for the sake of her own sanity.
“We need to talk about last night, B,” Faith pushed, her words almost trembling from her lips.
Buffy felt her heart stop momentarily. The small, tiny, infinitesimal hope that Faith wouldn’t remember dissolved. She pushed a stray strand of blonde from her eyes and turned to fully face the other slayer.
“We’re not gonna talk about anything, Faith,” Buffy said slowly, making sure Faith heard every syllable.
She turned away from Faith and swallowed the threat of tears. It was all far too much.
Faith sighed and looked up, the strands of red and yellow light weaving around a cloudless sky giving her no answers. No solace. As she was about to whisper a small plea to the heavens a loud noise ripped its way towards them.
It was a roar, spewing from the valley ahead like bubbling lava from a volcano. Within the challenging sound Faith heard distinct words.
“Fear me, and run no more,” came the demonic snarl.
“Well, I guess that’s where we’re headed,” Buffy shrugged, setting off towards the terrible screeching noise as it quietened.
“Sure, death-wish girl,” Faith muttered, following Buffy without hesitation, wishing she still had her smokes.
A few hours passed and the valley and its surrounding hills loomed larger ahead of them. They’d heard no more demonic voices bar the one in Faith’s head pleading with her for a cigarette. The sand had so far ceased to try to devour them and they had come across no more wandering English girls.
Faith wasn’t sure they should be headed towards the valley, but it was the only thing they could head for. There was nothing else on the horizon. The hills on either side rose up out of lush green vegetation, completely unlike anything they had so far come across.
She clenched her jaw and narrowed her eyes, feeling they were walking straight into a trap. She’d done her fighting for the day with Buffy, so said nothing. It would be easier brawling with demons than getting Buffy to change her mind or their direction.
Their feet finally hit soft, green grass, and they looked into the darkness of the trees ahead of them between the menacing hills. The way seemed blocked with branches and thick jungle-like undergrowth. There was no light from within, and none seeping into the foliage from the brightness all around them.
“Looks pretty blocked to me,” Faith said, uttering the first words that had passed between them since their earlier argument.
“Looks can be deceiving,” Buffy replied, not even glancing Faith’s way as she pushed aside a large branch, revealing a leaf-strewn path before them.
Faith raised her eyebrows and squinted into the darkness, seeing nothing, but hearing scratching and rustling from deep within. The path wasn’t a very inviting prospect.
“After you, princess,” Faith said, sweeping her hand out, indicating for Buffy to go first.
“Since when did you become the cautious one?” Buffy asked, laughing quietly to herself as she recalled a time Faith used to love to jump into things with both feet.
“Since I got burned for being the impulsive one, B,” Faith replied. “You don’t kill somebody by accident and not learn from that,” she finished sadly.
Buffy paused, some part of herself wanting to say something. She pushed it away, ignoring the implications. Ignoring the fact the way ahead seemed less than welcoming.
She was a slayer. The slayer. There was no way she was going to stay lost without a fight.