New Beginnings, Old Enemies

Chapter Fourteen

“I am Garashk, and this is my world,” a booming voice declared, as Buffy and Faith were lead into a large clearing in the middle of the heady jungle.

Buffy looked around at the rotting vegetation, and the dry and shrivelled leaves that lead to a stone altar where a large red demon sat. She raised her eyebrow. “Your world huh? I like what you’ve done with the place, though it could use a few pillows and maybe some drapes,” she said, refusing to be intimidated by a big voice and some over-grown monster muscles.

Faith scratched the back of her head in her usual manner when she became uncomfortable, stifling a chuckle as Buffy crossed her arms as she stopped in front of the demon. She had always admired Buffy’s balls. No matter what they’d been through, or what they were destined to go through, Faith had to admit that Buffy was great at making the bad guys feel very small. It still made her proud to be standing by her side, no matter what scars she bore. No matter what scars they both had caused.

“You’re the slayers,” Garashk said, ignoring Buffy’s comment. “We’ve been expecting you for some time.” He got up from his throne at the altar, standing tall and imposing as he looked down on them both.

His skin was almost translucent. The red colour actually a sea of blood flowing under the surface, ebbing and flowing as he moved towards them. Faith had the good grace to wonder how the hell they could take him down if they needed. She was guessing he was pretty strong, though everything had a weakness. They all had their weakness somewhere.

She glanced over at Buffy, noticing how Buffy was sizing him up. She watched her green eyes take in the bulging muscle and the slow but heavy foot falls as he approached. Buffy didn’t look too worried, but that was no indication of what she was actually thinking.

She was a pro at masking her feelings when she was being the slayer.

“If you were expecting us, why did you leave us to walk all that way? Surely, a guy of your position could have sent a car,” Buffy quipped, walking towards the demon, checking out the area without being too obvious about it.

She wasn’t about to trust a giant walking blood bank. If he knew who they were then he knew what they could do if they wanted. It was doubtful that he would lay himself open to attack. There had to be others around somewhere. Buffy couldn’t see past the darkness of the jungle that circled them, however.

“You’re safe here,” Garashk said, his face contorting into what could only be described as an attempt at smiling. “The sounds you heard in the jungle, they are broken men, and no threat to you. Lost their minds and their will long ago.”

Faith glanced back towards the path they had entered from, wondering why she hadn’t guessed that the sounds she thought were animals were actually something else entirely. Probably people in need of help, or even people or demons that could have been a threat. She shook her head, cursing herself for being so preoccupied with what was going on between her and Buffy. They could have been ambushed at any time.

Garashk chuckled gruffly and stepped closer to Faith. He lifted his hand up to touch her face with his large fingers. As she flinched away and as Buffy made a movement suggesting she was about to pounce on him, he decided it was in his best interests not to touch.

“You were never truly in danger, pretty one,” he said to Faith. “Certainly not from me, or the wandering souls that I rule.” He turned back towards Buffy, making sure he had both their undivided attention. “There is one that would see you perish here, though. One that I need help with before I can free you.”

“Sure, there’s always a catch,” Buffy said, rolling her eyes a little as she moved nearer to Faith, standing by her side so it appeared like they would be much harder to take on if they were together.

Together. It was a word Buffy could barely bring herself to use concerning Faith. Too much water under the bridge. Too much of everything that had always caused her mind to become some kind of spinning top that just wouldn’t stop spinning.

The demon’s smile quickly changed and he raised his voice to a growl that shook the tops of the trees and pushed a rush of adrenaline through both slayers. “You would be wise to take me seriously. This woman has the power to crush your will and grind your soul into dust, and she wants you both gone from here. She knows how much of a threat you are. You’re lucky you came to me first, so we can come up with some kind of deal for you to. . .take her out of the picture,” he said, pounding his fist on the arm of his throne as he circled it.

Faith glanced over at Buffy and caught her eye. She wasn’t believing a word the demon was saying, but Buffy said nothing to her, and didn’t indicate if she was buying it or not.

“How do we know you’re telling the truth?” Buffy asked, pulling her eyes away from Faith and back to Garashk.

“You don’t,” he admitted, “but I can show you this.” He drew a circle in the air with his hefty hand and motioned for the slayers to watch.

Before their eyes an image of Giles’ apartment appeared. Buffy stood forwards for a better view, leaving Faith to linger behind her, watching her back and making sure she could grab onto Buffy and pull her out of there if she needed. They could both see Giles pacing as Willow lit candles and chatted to Xander.

Buffy reached out, wanting to dive into the picture and be safe. She felt Faith close behind her and sensed something deep within telling her she would grab onto Faith and pull her to safety too. . .despite how much she tried to refuse that she would. It seemed Faith was crawling under her skin again. Invading her in ways she didn’t want.

“Not so fast,” the demon grinned. “It doesn’t work like that. The only way I can send you back through, to your home. . .is if you kill the old woman. She holds the key, not I. If you get it from her I can free you and take my rightful place as sole ruler here.”

“You want us to kill an old woman?” Faith questioned, raising her eyebrows. She didn’t like the sound of that one bit. It all just seemed a little too unreal.

Buffy turned her body so she was facing Faith, though her eyes were fixed on Garashk. Faith noted the show of unity, but didn’t place too much hope in it. She’d been down that road before and been burned in the process.

“She may appear as an old woman but she is so much more than that,” Garashk pointed out, sitting back on his throne, looking down on the two diminutive girls. “Do not be fooled by appearance, she will be your downfall if you fail to end her rule and help me reclaim my world.”

Faith furrowed her brow and waited for Buffy to tell him to get lost. She was positive he was lying through his nasty looking teeth.

“So,” Buffy began as she paced a little in front of Faith, “where do we find her?” she asked.

Garashk smiled broadly, gripping the stone arms of his throne. “You’ve made a wise decision, slayer. I will show you where you need to go, and then it is up to you to take hold of your destiny. Both of your destinies,” he nodded towards Faith.

Buffy glanced over at Faith and could see the disapproving look in her dark eyes. Any hope of getting home was something that had to be physically investigated, so whether Faith agreed or not, they were going to find the person Garashk was talking about. Buffy had to look down each avenue. She had to explore everything before choosing her side. She wasn’t a woman of faith. . .so to speak.

She needed to get to grips with her choices, even though she wasn’t keen on appearing like she was happy to walk into dangerous situations without so much as a glance over the wall to see what they were landing in. She was no longer happy to sit around talking and researching, she was a slayer, and slayers acted. . .they didn’t run, or wait around to be bailed out.

She looked again at Faith, recalling the night Faith had jumped down a manhole expecting her to follow without question. Buffy had had questions back then. She’d had questions for everything, especially about Faith, though they had been intensely personal questions. She was expecting Faith to follow now, switching their roles as she became driven to follow her slayer instincts.

Faith said nothing, watching as Buffy walked away a little as she talked to the demon about where to find the woman and how to kill her. She didn’t like what was happening. She didn’t like the way Buffy seemed to be compelled to walk them from one iffy situation to another. She could see how Buffy had changed since their first time slaying together. She could see cracks and tears in Buffy’s structure.

It saddened Faith, as she knew she’d had a big hand in those cracks. She had pushed Buffy to her limits and it seemed like Buffy had forgotten how to get back.

Faith looked down to her hands as she leaned against the hard rock of the demon’s altar. Her hands had been the cause of so much grief. They had manipulated and moulded, and betrayed her. She clenched her fists as a sharp pain hit her side. The remnants of Faith’s scar reminding her who she was and what she had done. What Buffy had done to stop her.

Buffy whipped round to face Faith, clutching at her stomach, agony etched on her brow. Her green eyes locked onto Faith’s as they shared the moment of pain.

Faith looked at Buffy through teary eyes as she fought to regain composure. As she fought not to experience wonder at why Buffy could also feel her pain. She gripped the stone behind her and slammed her eyelids shut, blocking Buffy out as she felt the memory of a knife slip from her gut. She didn’t want Buffy to feel it. It was her penance for all the wrongs she could never put right. Her judgment for causing Buffy to become so lost in hate.

“Do not be distracted by your lover, slayer,” Garashk said to Buffy quietly, ensuring Faith wouldn’t hear.

“What?” Buffy asked, utterly shocked by his choice of words. “What makes you think. . .”

“I’m sorry if I spoke out of turn,” he interrupted, “I must have misread the situation.”

“There is no situation,” Buffy clarified vehemently, her voice a little shaky as her heart pounded in her ears.

She couldn’t believe he would come to such a conclusion. She wondered what she’d done or said to indicate that her and Faith were together in such a way. In any way at all. In any way that wasn’t mortal enemies. . .despite what had happened when their dream had been corrupted.

“I sense Faith is your weakness, I apologise,” Garashk explained, pulling Buffy into his plot, hoping she would take the bait.

He did indeed sense that Faith was Buffy’s weakness. Faith would drive Buffy to do his bidding. Buffy would do it out of anger and bitterness in her attempt to rid herself of Faith’s grasp. To prove to Faith once and for all that she was always right. That she was finally free of Faith.

He knew different. He knew how deep inside Buffy Faith was. She would never be free, and he was about to be handed the world on a plate because of that.

* * *

Willow measured out a circle precisely, showering a fine white powder around its perimeter. Giles was sure the mix of potions was correct, and they all hoped he was right as it was to ensure the girl’s safety as they travelled back to them through the rift.

They were certain they had found the right one. A distant band of energy that they would have to focus on and work their magic through if they had any chance of saving the slayers. Though the risks were still great, the team had looked into every possibility to make the spell as safe as they could. They had charms and candles and powders and ancient words to speak. And they had Willow and Tara’s power.

They were hopeful for success. They had to be.

“Are we all sure of our parts and which phrases go in which order?” Giles asked as he rolled up his sleeves and placed charms around the large circle Willow had created.

“Yep, I have no clue what I’m saying but I know when to say it,” Xander confirmed, looking pleased with himself.

“Then let’s begin,” Giles nodded, taking his place beside the young boy.

Willow stepped to one side of the circle as Tara moved to the other. They held hands across the gap and closed their eyes. After a few minutes, the white chalk circle marking Giles’ carpet glowed red as he began to recite ancient text from one of his most precious magic books.

The room around them fell into darkness and the circle became the only light they could see. It cast a red haze over their faces and Xander’s hands began to shake a little. He had never been keen on the whole magic thing. The potential of being turned into a frog or something similar was just too potent.

He had thought about opting out and watching from the sidelines, but Willow had reminded him that Buffy’s life was in their hands. He couldn’t allow a little fear of being fried by magic put him off doing his best for Buffy. After all, she had always been there for him, so now it was his turn to repay the favour.

He waited for Giles to stop chanting and said his lines, speaking in a language he had no hope to understand. The room began to shake, but they all held fast. The magic was strong and it was flowing right out of the two witches and into the swirling portal that had formed between them.

* * *

Faith walked slowly behind Buffy, wishing there was something she could say that would break the silence without it causing more friction. She had tried to tell Buffy how unhappy she was about going along with Garashk’s request, but Buffy had merely told her to stay away if she didn’t want to come. Faith wasn’t about to let Buffy wander off back into the desert alone, however.

She trailed behind, watching the confident stride Buffy took them forwards with. She was a girl on a mission, and Faith was sure it was the wrong mission. She hadn’t read the slayer handbook, but she was pretty sure that somewhere within. . .it would say something about not taking the word of big, translucent, blood engorged demons.

“I can hear you sighing, Faith,” Buffy said over her shoulder. “If you don’t want to be part of this then go sit on that rock over there, because we’re almost where he said she’d be.”

Faith shook her head and said nothing, quickening her pace to catch up with Buffy. She watched Buffy out of the corner of her eye as they slowed to a stop, turning in a circle to scan the area and witness the heat waves flowing like fluid up to the sky from the hot ground beneath.

She rubbed the back of her neck, hearing nothing but Buffy’s breathing. Feeling nothing but Buffy’s breathing as they waited. She squinted up at the sun, still surprised by how much light came from something seemingly so dull, ruby red and beating down on them in the choked atmosphere.

There was so much she wanted to say to Buffy. Wished she could say. Wished she knew how to express. A hundred lives had passed them by, leaving them nothing but pain. Hope, turning to pain and all the hazy areas in-between that neither of them knew how to deal with. So much flowing between them unspoken. Misunderstood. Missed.

Buffy took a steady breath and glanced over to Faith as she looked up at the sun. She noted the soft tumble of Faith’s hair as it rolled over her shoulders. The hard curve of her jaw. The tension. The fire that bubbled underneath her apparent serenity.

“Why won’t you trust that I know what I’m doing?” Buffy asked, not wanting validation but finding the words on her lips anyway. “This could be our only way home.”

Faith’s eyes rested on Buffy. Faith looked tired. She was tired. She just wanted to do her time with Giles and learn to be a better slayer. A better person. She wasn’t ready for Buffy, or for dealing with how much Buffy could mess with her mind. It wore her out. The constant back and forth. Green light and red light. The fighting then the moments of apparent tenderness. Buffy couldn’t seem to come to any kind of solid conclusion about her, and Faith was exhausted with it.

She shrugged and answered Buffy finally. “It just doesn’t feel right,” Faith told her.

Buffy could see the defeat that Faith carried around with her. She remembered how Faith had been. . .full of life, full of excitement at just being alive, being a slayer. Being in Sunnydale with her. She looked down sadly, the lead ball of their past weighing her down. Faith by far had been the most confusing person Buffy had ever known. She had a way of making Buffy feel like she should be on the defensive all the time.

Buffy had tried to understand her. She had tried to understand herself and her response to Faith, but the spinning wouldn’t stop. What she thought she knew, often seemed to be completely wrong, and she hated being wrong.

Buffy recalled what Garashk had said about them earlier, pushing it from her head before it had time to linger and make her question everything about Faith again. “Since when did you have feelings, Faith?” Buffy jibed, turning away to make it clear she wasn’t expecting an answer. Her defences back as her mind whirled with past memories. Faith couldn’t feel. . .otherwise she would never have hurt her the way she had.

Faith shook her head, letting out a quiet, exasperated sigh. It was just like Buffy to try to make her believe she was less of a person. Like she was subnormal, or at least. . .not up to Buffy-standards. She had an idea why, but it was still infuriating. She wanted to grab Buffy and shake her. Shake her eyes open. Shake her into seeing what they had been, and what they were. But it wouldn’t help.

Buffy would have to be willing for them to talk, and that didn’t look like it was going to happen anytime soon. At least not without an argument, which would probably do more damage than good at this point.

Faith decided it was time she walked away and left Buffy to her demons; inside and out. She had enough of her own to deal with. As she took a step to leave, a blast of light behind her made her twist until she was squinting into a glowing sphere just ahead of them.

It took shape and form, and as the two slayers moved closer together in a silent, and deeply inherent act of solidarity, a frail looking old woman stepped from the remnants of pure white light.



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