New Beginnings, Old Enemies

Chapter Thirteen

Buffy whacked the thick undergrowth out of her way with a branch she had tugged from a dying tree. They had been travelling along the dark and shadowy path for quite some time, and found nothing but more jungle ahead of them.

They were growing weary with the heavy humidity, and both girls felt their bodies calling out for water. As if somebody was reading their minds, the next brushed aside awning of limp palm revealed a shallow stream trickling between a scattering of rocks that crossed their path.

Faith wiped at her brow and licked the salty sweat from her top lip. “Not as refreshing as a nice cold Bud, but it’ll do,” she commented, throwing her jacket to the ground and crouching near the stream.

“Wait, how do we know it’s safe?” Buffy questioned, looking up and down the meandering water as it chased the slight descent they had been walking up. “I mean, seems kinda strange how it’s right here. . .on the path.”

Faith let her fingertips feel the soft cold current as she lowered her hand into the water. “The path starts again at the other side,” she pointed out with her other hand. “Maybe it crosses the valley as it goes down, towards. . .the complete lack of lake at the bottom.” She furrowed her brow, suddenly thinking that maybe Buffy was right to be wary.

Buffy watched as Faith whipped her hand away from the water and stood, inspecting her fingers. “They still all there?” she asked, looking over the taller girl’s shoulder, trying not to stand too close.

“Seems like,” Faith replied, wiggling her digits. “I dunno, B, this place is pretty weird and for all we know this stuff isn’t water at all, but I’m wicked thirsty and hot, and right now. . .being poisoned really doesn’t seem like a bad idea,” Faith decided, disregarding her own concerns and plonking down onto her jacket to take the weight off her feet.

She proceeded to take her boots and socks off and roll up her pants, letting out a sigh of relief as she dipped her feet into the cooling stream.

Buffy stood and watched from behind, her brow glistening with a thin sheen of perspiration as the heat bore down on them. She shook her head and did her best to ignore the droplet of sweat she could see trickling its way into the back of Faith’s tight pants. Faith had her shirt pulled up a little way, revealing the hot skin of her lower back.

Buffy swallowed hard past the thirst. Past her thoughts as she watched the trickle disappear. She broke her gaze away only to look down at her own fingers. Fingers that had touched Faith intimately. Fingers that had eased Faith to orgasm.

Buffy shuddered involuntarily and brought her fingers up to her nostrils. She wished she could smell them, but everything was still just the sharp tang of blood. She closed her eyes, images of the night before making their mark on her memory. Faith’s mouth had been so warm and soft. Her body hot and strong against her. Buffy felt her heart quivering in her chest as it began to beat faster as she recalled what it felt like to let go and be with Faith the way. . .the way she could never allow herself to be, and had fought hard to ignore.

Ignoring it was the only way to cope. It had driven her thus far. It had kept her safe. When Faith had began to confuse Buffy and force her to deal with feelings she hadn’t wanted, her instincts had taken hold. The slayer inside her always pushed Buffy to be strong and resistant, and with Faith it had taken over. It had taken over not long after her arrival.

Maybe it was the ‘darkness’ of the slayer that Giles sometimes rambled about, and that Faith seemed to embrace. Whatever it was, it was the reason Buffy used her anger and her fists against Faith. To keep her away. To keep her own feelings at bay.

Buffy was only just reluctantly realising it, and it made her sick to her stomach. She didn’t want that part of her to be in control, it was destructive, it made her a pawn, and it made her one of the reasons Faith had lost control. It made her question her own ability to stay good. To be just. To keep angry and hurt.

“Well, I’m not dead yet so I think this is ok,” Faith said, turning to Buffy, breaking Buffy’s thought train. “Tastes like cold and it’s good,” she said, her smile broad, flawless, something Buffy had missed.

Despite their earlier argument and Buffy’s need to keep her mind focused on all that was bad about Faith, she tried to hold onto her previous thoughts that maybe, just maybe. . .they could salvage something from the wreckage of their past. If she could get past the overwhelming hurt and feeling of betrayal. If she allowed some of what Faith had said that morning to filter through the hard casing she felt she needed. ‘If’ was a very scary thought, however.

She moved closer to Faith, eyeing up the stream cautiously as the light filtered in sporadically through the canopy, crouching to scoop up some of the water. With a shrug, Buffy splashed it over her face, allowing drops of it to tumble in-between her lips. It felt good.

Faith smiled, her eyes gazing on Buffy, basking in the blonde girl’s effortless beauty as she watched the glistening droplets of water roll across her skin.

Nothing Buffy could do or say would ever change Faith’s mind about how she looked. How she held herself, and how it caused something in Faith to spark. It had sparked from the moment they’d met, and though Faith had struggled to understand, and had ducked and dodged the inevitable conclusion, it was always there. It always had been.

As drops of water dripped from Buffy’s chin, she caught Faith’s eye. Neither of them looked away. Behind the defiant screaming inside her, Buffy listened to the deeper part that told her not to run and hide. She held Faith’s dark eyes within her own, allowing herself to plummet off the precipice just a little. Forgetting for an instant all that had gone before.

She wanted to smile, but that was maybe a step too far. Though her instincts were to smile at Faith for sitting there with her feet immersed in water, hair damp from its cooling splashes, body relaxed and burning to be touched. . .she couldn’t. Her smile was still caged behind their disastrous history.

Buffy looked down, breaking eye contact with Faith. She pulled her jacket from around her waist and immersed it in the water. She let it soak, wringing out some of the dust, then letting it hold as much water as it could before mopping the back of her neck with the drenched material.

The water ran down her back and front, soaking her shirt and easing some of the heat. She placed the cooled jacket over her shoulders and drank a hand scoop of water, letting the liquid spill over her lips as she quenched her thirst.

Faith tried not to watch, turning her head away so she wasn’t staring and in a position to anger Buffy. She could still see the other girl out of the corner of her eye, and she felt old sensations flooding through her once more. Sensations Buffy pulled from her so easily. It didn’t help that Buffy had triggered so much more in her with her actions during their supposed dream. It had made Faith’s desire solid.

It was no longer just a shimmering glint somewhere Faith couldn’t quite reach. It was burned on her skin. A scorch of deep hidden desire that she could never hope to overlook now.

Her lips wanted to taste more; they wanted to feel the soft skin and drink the drops of water that shimmered on the surface. Her hands knew for certain that they wanted to explore and know and posses, more than Faith was truly aware of herself

But Buffy was a mess of chaos and uncertainty. Whatever it was they had shared that night, it was doubtful they would ever share it again, or even touch upon the subject.

“We shouldn’t stay here long,” Buffy said, standing and rearranging her sticky clothing.

Faith looked down to the pebbles beneath her feet. “I guess,” she said quietly, wishing things could be easier. Wishing there was some magic word she could say that would fix everything. That would help Buffy to see how she wanted to change. How she wanted them to change.

She pushed herself up from the floor and replaced her socks and boots, cringing as she felt the clammy cotton cling to her toes. She didn’t know where they were headed or what they would find when they arrived, but they didn’t have many choices it seemed, and though Buffy was definitely on the wrong side of reasonable most of the time right now. . .Faith knew she had been doing the slayer thing a lot longer, and a lot more successfully.

So she followed.

They pushed through more of the jungle, travelling along the only path they had. Both girls immersed in their own thoughts, no room for arguing or talking. All they could hear was the soft breeze filtering through the leaves, and the rare rustle of some animal or other running from them as they made their way deeper.

It took a while for Buffy to stop and realise that in fact all sound had ceased. Only their footsteps, soft on the mossy floor, littered the silence.

“Faith,” Buffy said softly, holding her hand out to ensure Faith would stop. “Listen.”

Faith stopped next to Buffy, her eyes searching the dark fissures in the foliage. She listened intently for signs of danger.

“I don’t hear anything,” Faith said in a husky whisper.

“Exactly,” Buffy nodded. “It’s gone completely quiet.”

Faith listened again, and found Buffy to be right. The wind no longer made the trees rustle, even though she could still see the tops swaying gently. There was no sound of movement anywhere, except for the hushed scuff of their boots on the ground. It was almost as if something had sucked all the sound out of the air.

“That can’t be good,” Faith pointed out, subconsciously moving closer to Buffy.

“On the contrary,” said a deep, menacing voice from the twist in the path ahead.

Both slayers readied themselves for action; their hands clenching and bodies poised to take care of business. They both knew a demon when they heard one.

* * *

Xander chewed the end of his pen, not looking for nourishment but hoping a mouth full of ink would take his mind off what had happened to Buffy. Research only made the worrier in him worry more.

“The more I look into this ‘over lord’ the less I like it,” Giles muttered, closing the leather bound book he had spent the past hour reading through.

“What did that one say?” Xander asked, not certain he wanted to know the answer.

They had discovered that the so-called Lord of the Valley was a demon from a less remote realm originally. He had been sent to the world he was now trapped in via the same book Buffy and Faith had been sent there with.

He’d committed unspeakable acts amongst his own people, driving them insane for his own pleasure. Creating monster out of otherwise quite placid demons. He’d spent time soaking up the rich power of a hellmouth hundreds of years earlier, and his deplorable deeds had earned him fame and notoriety, until his own people had found a way to rid themselves of his vengeful rule.

They had him banished with the book.

“It described him as having less virtue and more cruelty than Lucifer himself, and that ruling was his most coveted desire. Wherever he went, he ruled, bathing in the blood of his victims and his subjects,” Giles explained. “He is never to be trusted, and yearns to be feared.”

“Sounds like a nice guy,” Xander said with a grimace.

“All that hellmouth mojo, and all that blood. . .I’m betting he’s pretty powerful,” Willow frowned, gripping onto Tara’s hand for comfort.

“Indeed,” Giles nodded, placing his glasses next to his untouched and now cold cup of tea. “Let’s hope the girls don’t come across him. By all accounts it seems their only hope of salvation, if we’re unsuccessful in finding the correct rift. . .is with the old bookseller, and staying well out of this demons way.”

“So, the old lady could help them?” Xander asked, not quite comprehending all that was happening, but doing his best to follow the important points that he’d been told.

“It seems so,” Giles replied. “She is the rightful owner of the book, and as old as the world she comes from. From what we can gather, if she is sure the captured soul is being held there unjustly, then only she can free it.”

“Great, then the Buffster just has to lay it on the line for her and she’ll be back here, beating up the local vamps before you can say. . .Riley has a hair piece,” Xander grinned, feeling a little lighter.

“Ah, it’s not really quite as simple as that, however,” Giles interjected. “Buffy may hold no guilt within her for any crimes, but I’m certain Faith does.”

“So? Let Faith stay there and rot, as long as we get Buffy back,” Xander decreed.

Giles shook his head sadly at Xander’s attitude. “Overlooking your complete lack of concern and humanitarianism for a moment,” Giles stood and stretched his legs, feeling his aging bones crack as he did so, “allow me to clarify something. I was of course worried that Faith would indeed be the one in more strife than Buffy, taking into account her past and her deep feelings of guilt. . . I should point out, however, that they were pulled into the book together. A first as far as I can ascertain. This doesn’t bode well for either of them. If they are intrinsically linked in some way, through their slayer line possibly, then without Faith there will be no Buffy. They must come back together, or not at all.”

Xander blinked, attempting to understand.

“What he means is. . .if we can’t get them back, then they’re pretty much stuck if Faith can’t get past the fact she isn’t a murderer,” Willow sighed, wishing she herself could find some way to see Faith as guilt free.

“Then what are we waiting for,” Xander exclaimed, throwing his chewed pen down to the book strewn table. “Let’s get rifting. I can chant, and wear beads. . .point me in the direction of witchery so we can get our Buffy back.”

Willow smiled gently and passed him a candle. “We’ll do just that,” she assured hopefully.

* * *

Faith felt the prickles tickling down her spine, a clear indication that they were near a demon or something similar. She felt the slayer in her awake and quickly scanned the area for possible weapons. It had been too long and she was ready for some action.

Both girls stood their ground, waiting for an attacker to charge at them from the way ahead. They were expecting a huge, mountain of a demon going by his voice, but what appeared. . .was a rather scrawny little old man wearing a shabby loin-cloth.

He teetered towards them, wringing his hands.

Buffy stood straighter once she was sure he was alone, tilting her head and raising her eyebrow as he made his slow way to get to them. Faith wasn’t taking any chances and stayed on her guard. For all she knew, the old guy could suddenly grow another couple of monster strength arms.

“My master wishes to speak with you both,” he said hoarsely, indicating that they should follow him.

Buffy furrowed her brow, glancing over at Faith to make sure she was paying attention. “And who’s your master,” she asked turning back to him, trying to figure out where his thick European accent was from.

“The Lord of the Valley,” he said, grinning a toothless grin. “He can help you get home.”

Faith made a doubtful noise, but Buffy wasn’t going to discount the claim quite so readily. Not after what the haunted looking English girl had told them. Not when she knew that places like this always had a head honcho who wanted something in return for some kind of assistance or request.

“Ok,” Buffy nodded, not asking Faith’s opinion as it really didn’t count when it came to slayer-sized decisions.

“B,” Faith said, moving a little in front of Buffy before she went ahead and followed the little fellow. “You sure we should go? I mean, we don’t know what we’re headed into.”

Faith had never been the sit-around-and-wait kind of girl, but lately. . .she had decided that “Wait. Stop. Think.” was a good rule of thumb to go by. It surprised her, unnerved her and encouraged her all at once.

“We’re going, Faith. We have no other choices here,” Buffy pointed out. “Plus, we have super powers and demons are our bread and butter. . .whatever that means. The point is, we’ll handle whatever we find, because we have no choice. Now stop fidgeting with your jacket and come on.” Buffy tugged at Faith’s wrist, pulling her with her as she followed the quickly vanishing old man.

Faith stumbled behind, tripping over her own boots as Buffy’s hand slipped into hers from her wrist. For a brief moment that they both seemed to clutch onto for as long as possible, they were holding hands. . .deep in a dank and threatening jungle, in a world they knew nothing about, having feelings they both knew they would finally have to deal with sooner or later.

Feelings being exposed. Secrets laid bare. Wounds waiting to be healed.



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