Buffy opened her eyes, letting the darkness penetrate them as she lifted her head from the hard floor beneath her. She instantly felt the cold sheer like ice into her skin. Her damp clothes clung and she shuddered, wanting them to fall from her and leave her warm and comfortable.
As her pupils adjusted to the red tainted light from outside, Buffy watched her breath plume out in a wisp of white smoke. She focused on it, as if looking for answers. Looking for a map and a compass. A way out of her seemingly self-imposed nightmare.
There were no answers, only the cold. Only the rain beating down on the dirt outside, and the pained breathing of the girl at the other side of the small cave. Buffy looked past her breath to the dark figure laid out close by. She watched for movement. For signs of Faith being awake. For signs of needing to be on her guard.
Faith wasn’t moving. At least not more than just the shift of her clothing as she breathed, and as the wind whipped in from outside, sending its chill right over Faith. Buffy scrambled to her feet, brushing dirt from her sodden clothes.
She couldn’t stop her shivers and her teeth were clashing together; the sound echoing off the walls.
“This really. . .really sucks,” Buffy said, wrapping her arms around herself and rubbing her hands over herself in the vain attempt to create some heat.
She tentatively stepped closer to Faith, the ceiling of the cave making her stoop a little in her approach. Using the point of her boot, Buffy nudged at Faith. She did it a little harder when there was no response, pushing her toe into Faith’s thigh.
There was no sign of consciousness from Faith, and even though Buffy was happy not to have to deal with the other girl being awake, she was also just a little concerned. Faith had spent a long time in a coma before. Buffy thought maybe Faith had knocked herself into another one.
“Come on, Faith,” she said, standing over her. “Stop looking for attention.”
Buffy paused, wondering what she should do. As grateful as she was to not have Faith in her face, talking, and being annoying. . .she was feeling a tad lonely. Maybe even a little scared.
Here they were, in a place that was strange, cold, wet. . .a world away from Sunnydale, and she didn’t have the slightest idea how they had got there. She didn’t know how they would work their way back, if that was even possible.
She’d been bored of life in Sunnydale. Of the same old faces, places, boyfriend, and the same old deeds, but she hadn’t planned on leaving. Certainly not the way she had.
Turning to look out beyond their shelter, Buffy brushed a hand through her damp hair. She was a mess; wet from the rain and muddy from the dirt.
“I’m so glad Riley isn’t here,” she said to herself. Looking back towards Faith she continued, “I’m sure you’d be fucking him right now if he was.”
She scowled, feeling the urge to take a running kick at the girl lying on the floor. She held herself back from being violent, trying her hardest to push the bad thoughts out of her head.
“You have a lot to answer for, Faith,” Buffy said through gritted teeth before turning back to the mouth of the cave.
Braving the biting cold, she tugged her thin jacket tighter around herself and moved towards the open. Buffy wasn’t sure it was the smartest idea, but she couldn’t stand around waiting for Faith to wake. She couldn’t attempt to find out where they were by hiding in the dark.
The rain drove down at her as she put her head down and strode out into the onslaught. The wind immediately pushed her back and she hit the wall to the left of the cave. Her breath was taken from her as a wave of rain lashed at her then blew her forwards.
“Fuck, give me a break already,” Buffy yelled into the wind, her words stripped from her and lost to the sound of thunder.
She picked herself up from the floor, and straightened herself out as best she could, leaning up against the shiny rock. There was no way she could walk out into the open. Into the storm she could see swirling all around.
Staying close to the cliff, her shoulder bumping up against it, Buffy headed out, keeping the rock as shelter. She didn’t know what she was looking for, and she certainly didn’t know what to expect. She was just hoping they weren’t alone, or worse still. . .that they weren’t trapped on a world of giant, girl eating monsters. She was a tough slayer, the toughest, but she wasn’t completely indestructible.
Each raindrop felt like a judgment as it burned Buffy’s skin. Doing her best to shrug it off, in her usual stubborn manner she kept going, being certain something would appear that would explain everything.
As the sky turned from red to black, she found nothing. Buffy had walked first in one direction, then crossing the face of the cave she had walked in the other, and at either end. . .she saw no end to the cliff face, and nothing that could tell her where they were and how they could get back home.
It was endless rain, endless cliff, endless darkness beyond where she couldn’t see.
“This is stupid,” Buffy whined as she entered the cave again, pulling her sodden jacket from her cold body.
She threw it to her corner of the cave and wondered whether it would be a good idea to take the rest of her clothes off to let them dry out. She noticed that the wind had shifted, however, and was blowing rain into the little sanctuary. There really wasn’t any room to put her clothes to dry and be safe from the persistent storm.
Sighing, Buffy squelched away from the cave entrance. Now that she wasn’t walking she felt the cold begin to penetrate her bones once again. A muffled groan interrupted her flow of feeling sorry for herself and she sharply looked over at Faith.
Squinting in the dull light, Buffy went on the alert. Her fists clenching and body ready to attack. Faith wasn’t waking up, but she was certainly more animated than she had previously been.
Edging closer, Buffy could see that Faith was twitching. Her breathing was erratic and her body shuddering. Little pained groans came out with each violent jerk and Buffy could make out that Faith’s hand was gripping roughly at her stomach.
She watched for a short time, her arms wrapped tight around herself as Faith eventually whimpered herself quiet, her closed eyes shedding tears into her dark tresses. Buffy supposed that Faith must have been dreaming, or having some kind of nightmare. She didn’t particularly care why, and she certainly wasn’t about to feel sympathy for Faith, but she couldn’t just walk away.
Faith had ceased to grasp at her stomach and groan in pain, but she was still shuddering terribly.
Her body lay exposed to the storm’s elements now that the wind was invading their safe haven, and a film of water had Faith blanketed from top to bottom. She was drenched and turning blue, the chattering of her teeth clearly audible despite the rolling thunder.
Buffy willed herself to turn around and leave Faith vulnerable. To leave her own morals and obligations outside with the screaming gusts. She couldn’t do it. She couldn’t leave Faith to freeze, to die, to haunt her anymore than she already did.
Taking a deep breath Buffy crept closer to the other slayer. “Faith,” she called above the noise of the rain, “if you’re awake say so now. I’m not dragging your ass over here if you can do it yourself.”
There was no answer, just shuddering.
Buffy scooped Faith’s limp body into her arms, bumping her own head on the ceiling as she moved her away from the rain. She swore at the ceiling and swore at the rain, then swore at their damp clothes as they clung when she settled Faith back onto the floor.
She pushed Faith up against the cave edge, as far from the chilling wind as she could, arranging her so her back was to the wall. Without having to think about it this time, Buffy made sure Faith’s arms and legs weren’t trapped under her. She also spent a little time sweeping her dark hair into less of a tangled mess.
Buffy avoided listening to her inner thoughts as she treated Faith with far more care than she should have been doing or than she wanted to. Now wasn’t the time for battling with her demons or her buried feelings when it came to Faith. To keep a grip on herself, she had to keep a grip on the fact that the only true feeling she had for Faith was contempt.
Buffy stood next to Faith, not sure what to do with herself. Needing to do something. To figure out what the hell was going on. It was pointless going back out into the storm, and it was pointless wracking her brain for answers. She didn’t have clue where the hell they were, and she didn’t have a clue how she was going to cope being forced to deal with Faith in the way she was.
For all she knew. . .they could be trapped forever, or in some kind of hell or parallel universe where time went quicker than normal. Her thoughts drifted to Angel and how scarred he had been after his time in a place just like that. They could be there for hundreds of years, not aging, nothing changing, and the world they knew could have moved just an hour. Just a heartbeat, as they hid for an eternity in a dark cave, huddled away from the possible terrors outside.
She looked down at the state of herself, willing herself to think positive. Her clothes were still drenched and dirty. Rips had appeared where she had scuffed up against the jagged rock. She wanted to strip them off and be clean. She wanted to be at home wrapped in a blanket with Mr Gordo.
As Faith began to shiver more violently a lonely tear rolled down Buffy’s cheek. She sniffed and wiped at her nose with her sleeve. “I can’t be here,” Buffy said softly, her eyes threatening to spill more tears. “I can’t be here with you.”
A sob choked out and Buffy began to shiver along with Faith. It seemed to be getting colder as the wind invaded and pierced its way through her. She looked around herself and down to the floor. Down to Faith who seemed to be having trouble breathing.
Falling to her knees, Buffy felt a wave of panic rush through her. Her heart jumped to her throat and her hands began to shake. A sharp pain ripped its way into her stomach and she doubled over, almost landing on the girl before her.
Gasping as she watched Faith begin to struggle in her dreams once more, Buffy felt her mind being twisted and distorted. She saw Faith flashing before her eyes. The Faith before her, bruised and vulnerable. The Faith she had grown to like, brash and exiting. The Faith she tried not to think about, dark and alluring. And again. . .Faith, broken, bruised, her eyes dull and sad as Buffy told her she could never forgive her.
Each image played through her mind like a music video. She felt like she was being dragged into it. The strobe light white flashes blinding her as each turning thought took her back to a knife in her hand. A knife covered with Faith’s blood. Faith. . .falling, ever falling from a rooftop to be brushed aside and forgotten about.
But Buffy had never forgotten her. Faith had always been there. Always creeping up on her in her dreams and in her most private moments. Always waiting on the edges of her mind. There. . .taunting, tempting, teasing. Blinding Buffy’s thoughts with confusion.
“Please. . .just stop,” Buffy cried, curling up into a ball next to Faith. “I can’t do this now.”
Buffy’s sobs filled the cave with sorrow and she crawled nearer to Faith, pulling on the girl’s jacket to get her closer, so they were touching. Buffy muttered something about body heat to herself, and buried her head underneath Faith’s chin. She rubbed her hands over Faith’s back under her jacket and prayed for them both to stop shivering.
* * *
Giles took a sip of his hot tea, crossing his legs as he settled back onto the couch for a break. They had been researching none stop for the past few hours. Willow was putting his computer to good use, trawling all the sites she knew of to find information about the book and its origins.
Tara had been reading everything she could, looking for clues amongst Giles’ vast library of magic books and history books. Giles had asked for a little help from his contacts, but nobody knew enough about the book and its magic to be of much help.
They had managed to gather a few facts they could use, but they were pretty much in the dark still, grasping at anything that looked hopeful.
“Here,” Willow called from across the room, “I think I’ve found something.”
Giles placed his cup down and walked over to the computer Willow was hunched over. He pushed his glasses onto his nose and followed Willow’s pointing finger as she directed it at the screen.
He found himself looking at a painting. It looked like a nightmare version of Mars, or some other desolate planet. A bright red burning sun hung low on the horizon of the barren landscape. Jagged rocks jutted out of the ground. Swirls of dust made angry paths amongst bleached bones. A whirling black hole lay at the centre, looking like a gaping mouth with sharp teeth.
Giles rubbed his forehead and squinted at the text beneath the picture. “A lost world for condemned souls, full of terror and monstrous horrors that no man can withstand,” he read aloud.
“Yep,” Willow nodded excitedly. “That’s the place. That’s where they are.”
Tara smiled over at Willow, confident that her girlfriend would find Buffy and Faith.
Giles pulled a chair next to Willow and sat to read more of the text on the site. It mentioned the book, and recounted that there was no evidence to indicate if it had ever actually been used to capture criminals, or if it was just a myth. The picture was painted from a description passed down from long ago, and could by no means be proven that it was a correct portrayal of the world in which the captured souls would be sent to.
It was all just conjecture.
But there were things in, and outside of the world that most people would find it impossible to believe. The average person wouldn’t guess that vampires roamed the night, and that demons held down jobs and mingled amongst humans. It wasn’t common knowledge that hellmouths existed or that there were many dimensions where true horror resided.
Giles hoped they had found something valuable. Something they could use in order to get the slayers back. . .but he was doubtful.
“The ancient law of the book tells us that once a soul is inside the book, or once it has been placed in the dimension or hell that governs the book. . .the person will never be free again,” Giles said, speaking slowly, not wanting his words to be true. “If that’s correct, then accounts of the dimension must surely be mere speculation. There’s no description in the book itself. There’s no real, solid explanation or testimony anywhere that we’ve looked. All we have is a painting based on. . .nothing but hearsay. Nobody comes back, that’s all we know for sure.”
Giles sighed and began to pace, his frown digging into his brow.
Tara gave Willow a sympathetic smile as she watched disappointment cover her face. She wished she could fix what was upsetting her girlfriend. As she thumbed over the next page of her current book, a small idea crossed her mind.
“But w-what if somebody did come back?” Tara asked, shyly. “Maybe that’s why so little is known, yet there’s this one small p-piece of evidence that shows us where they are. It doesn’t get recognition because nobody should be able to g-get out.”
Giles stopped pacing and looked over at Tara, causing her to blush a little.
“So you’re suggesting we shouldn’t discount this. . .picture evidence,” Giles said, waving his glasses towards the computer screen.
“And we should look for the description it came from,” Willow butted in. “It has to be written down somewhere. If we find that. . .we’ll probably find the way to get them back.”
Giles looked from Tara to Willow, unable to quash his disappearing hope of finding his lost slayers. “The question is. . .will we have a hope in hell of finding this text, or an account of it? We’ve looked pretty intently so far.”
“So. . .we’ll look even more like tents and get working on this right now,” Willow said cheerfully, doing her best to stay positive.
The fact remained, however. . .that even if they found where Buffy and Faith were, there was no guarantee they could bring them back. There was no guarantee that the girls wouldn't be damaged beyond repair due to the harsh world they had been sent to, or at each other's hands.