Faith kicked a small rock ahead of her as she strode across the barren wastelands; it trundled its way through the dust leaving a trail for them to follow. She’d been kicking the same rock now for almost 2 hours.
“Faith, quit doing that it’s driving me insane,” Buffy whined.
Faith sighed and gave the rock one last kick sending it flying skywards, watching as it bounced back down to its eventual resting place. “Sure, B. Whatever you say.”
She wasn’t about to argue. She didn’t have the energy nor the will.
They had been walking for what seemed like hours now. Searching for some clue, some sign telling them where they were. They had yet to see any such sign, so they continued forwards, watching where the sun’s position was in the muddy sky to keep their bearing.
They had woken up to the red sun streaming in through the cave entrance, warming it and them up. Its tickling rays dancing over their skin, thawing it and drying out any remnant of the wild rain they had been caught under.
It had been a little awkward at first, as Buffy untangled herself from Faith, having turned in her slumber to wrap herself around the younger girl. Using her as her own personal mattress.
Faith had made sure not to say anything to upset Buffy, preferring just to let Buffy scamper to her feet. She’d tried not to watch as Buffy had done her best to tidy herself up, pulling her blonde hair into a ponytail using a scrap of material she’d ripped from the bottom of her already torn shirt, but she couldn’t help herself. Faith’s gaze had always been prone to resting on Buffy.
She had grown tired of questioning herself why. There was no point in agonising over how Buffy affected her. There were no guidelines, and no handy directions with easy to follow diagrams. Buffy had made her feel things right from the start. Things she didn’t understand. Things that changed her view of herself.
It just was. It was Buffy, and Faith was always going to be eating the scraps from her table, and wishing she was that little bit closer. That little bit nearer to being seen through eyes that held no anxious fear, no contempt, no warning.
Buffy’s attempt at appearing tidy seemed to work pretty well, and she looked less frightful than she had when Faith had woken up the first time. That probably had something to do with the fact she was no longer keeping her fists clenched when she was around Faith, which Faith was grateful for. There was no way she could keep from saying or doing something to antagonise Buffy if Buffy was eagerly waiting for it.
Faith had always been good at letting people down when she thought they expected it. If you thought the worst of her. . .she would give her worst. It wasn’t a good way to live, and Faith was doing her best to stop being so self-destructive, but it was going to take time, and it would also take a little bit of effort from the people around her. They would have to have more faith in her for her to believe in herself.
She could never expect Buffy to do that, however, and didn’t want to. It was up to Buffy to come to terms with what had happened and let them both move on. Faith knew she had no right to ask Buffy to forgive her, or to even understand her. So she would just keep as quiet as she could, and as far away from Buffy’s fists as she could.
“Why the hell aren’t there any people here? Or even monsters? I wouldn’t mind monsters. That’s better than nothing. In fact some of them are very helpful. . .and we could really use some help here, even if it’s of the fangy and scaly type,” Buffy chattered, mostly to herself as she had practically refused to look at Faith since they had woken up.
Buffy hadn’t expected to find herself almost laying on Faith after their very cold, and very restless night. . .but she had. She’d hoped she could extract herself gracefully without Faith waking up, but as soon as her arm had moved out from the inside of Faith’s jacket, she had stirred.
Buffy had looked right into Faith’s eyes, like a deer caught in the headlights, then jumped off her as quickly as possible. Neither of them had said anything about it. Buffy had felt like she should make some kind of joke to make it less weird, but then she’d recalled that she didn’t care what Faith thought and got on with trying to make herself look less like shit.
She’d tied her hair up and straightened out her tattered clothes, feeling Faith’s eyes on her all the while. It had made her skin crawl and she’d shuddered. She was sure it was out of disgust, but that didn’t quite sit right as Angel had caused similar physical reactions in her, and she knew for sure she didn’t find him disgusting.
Buffy wasn’t given the chance to dwell on her thoughts, as Faith had rushed outside past her, yelling that she had to pee.
After having listened to Faith releasing what seemed like a torrent, Buffy had been ready to move. She’d wanted them to head out now that the rain had stopped, and that’s what they’d done. Faith hadn’t bothered to argue or tell Buffy she still really didn’t feel good. There would have been no point, as Buffy had started walking and Faith had no choice but to follow.
Now they were walking in step, though Faith kept getting dizzy and slowing down, forcing Buffy to slow her pace too.
Thankfully, Buffy wasn’t being too much of a bitch about it to Faith, giving her a little leeway as it was clear she was still shaken up after being unconscious. Faith couldn’t expect anything more. She continued to follow blindly, letting Buffy lead them out into the open, past the rocks, past the swirls in the sand that covered the hard dirt ground. Past more rocks and more sand.
They had both been surprised by how dry the dirt was after such a storm. Not a drop of water had been left after the sun had burned it up whilst they slept. The weird thing was that neither Buffy nor Faith actually felt too hot despite that fact.
Despite the apparent heat, which was causing waves in the air, they weren’t getting sunburned and they didn’t feel thirsty. They were warm, sure. . .Faith had taken her jacket off and placed it around her waist, but the desert heat wasn’t desert hot.
“This place is fucked up,” Faith said, trailing her boots in the dust as they slowed their pace.
“It feels like we’re walking in circles,” Buffy piped up, stopping and resting her hands on her hips as she looked up to the sky.
The warm sun made her feel so much better than she had felt earlier, but the further they went, the more concerned she became. There was no end to the desert, and that didn’t bode too well if they wanted to find a way home.
“We’re not, though,” Faith declared, stretching out the kinks in her back, wishing her head would stop pounding.
She felt much better now. Not as sick, not as sore. . .but she knew she wasn’t up to scratch. She’d obviously landed with one hell of a thud, and she felt it all over.
“You can’t say that, there’s no. . .reference points. It’s like a big forest where every tree looks the same. Like in Blair Witch, and we’re about to be eaten by a bear or something,” Buffy said, scrunching her brow up as she scanned the empty horizon ahead.
“B, is the sun getting to you?” Faith asked, raising her eyebrow as she chuckled a little.
She turned around, then gently took Buffy by the elbow and encouraged her to turn too. They stood looking at a pathway of footprints that they had made in the sand.
“Oh,” Buffy mumbled.
“I noticed way back that our footprints were leaving a real good trail behind. We haven’t crossed them and as you might notice, if you look past the entire lack of bears. . .they go on as far as you can see,” Faith pointed out, only just realising she hadn’t let go of Buffy’s elbow.
Buffy looked down to where Faith was holding her, her fingers gentle on her skin. She felt the urge to recoil, but held out. . .wondering how she would feel if she just allowed, for a brief moment, for them to be ok. For it not to be weird that they were stood side by side, as they once did, tackling evil together. Doing what they were meant to do. . .together.
For the brief time they had done that it had felt good. It had felt good to share, and as much as Buffy didn’t understand her. . .it had felt good to be sharing it with Faith.
“Sorry, B,” Faith mumbled, pulling her hand away from Buffy.
She’d taken the long hard stare at her hand on Buffy’s elbow as a warning. In any other circumstance it would have been. Maybe not when they’d first known each other. . .but it was certainly the case now.
Buffy opened her mouth to tell Faith there was no need to apologise, but she kept the words within, watching as Faith turned back to the direction they were headed in. The younger slayer started walking, the boot of her heel kicking up little plumes of sand. Buffy could see the slump of Faith’s shoulders and the heaviness to her stride.
She couldn’t let Faith know she was questioning her determination to hate her, however. She could barely allow herself to know that, let alone the person that had run riot over her life so easily. So readily.
* * *
Willow turned away from the computer screen, her eyes heavy and tired. She smiled over at her girlfriend who was snoozing on the couch, took a deep breath, and caught Giles’ attention.
“I’ve found it. It was well hidden, and I’m lucky I have access to the site. Lucky that I know quite a few witches,” Willow said, her mind trying to process what she had discovered so far.
Giles got up from his chair and walked over to the computer. He leant over Willow and looked at what was on the screen. It was a picture of some very old and stained paper. The words on the paper were also old, but the translation below was clear.
He read the translation aloud. “I was accused of a killing. A killing I committed out of honour for my wife. The man was brutal and had stripped my wife of her dignity and her life. He paid the price, but I paid a bigger one.” Giles noticed Tara stirring on the couch and waited for her to rub her eyes and pay attention before he continued. “The world I was sent to was a horror more than nightmares. More than the most violent storm. More than my visions of hell and all its evils. I was sent there by a lady who bore the name of a bookseller, but was so much more.”
The translation went on to describe the vast deserts, the red sun that didn’t burn the skin, and the bones that had been in the picture. It continued, describing abominations, great evil, plains of torture and lightning that struck like retribution.
The author described great madness amongst poor souls that wandered and perished there. He described a valley, and a lord of the valley who he depicted as more evil and sadistic than the devil himself. He didn’t go into too much detail, however. Only going on to state that those who tried to speak with, or find solace from the lord never returned the same. They were beyond mad. Beyond help. They would claw at their own skin, ripping themselves fleshless. They would scream until blood gurgled from their throats.
Giles coughed uncomfortably, feeling a little more uneasy and afraid for the two slayers. Willow and Tara looked at each other sadly.
“The worst was the earth. The hungry earth that would eat you alive and spit out your bones. No escape. I saw nobody escape,” Giles read from the computer screen. “I escaped that fate and others through luck, through courage and the knowledge that I was innocent of the crimes accused. I felt it in my soul, and I believe that is what kept me safe, and what brought me home.”
Giles rustled about on the desk, retrieving his pen and notebook so he could make sure he didn’t miss the details.
He continued. “I came across the bookseller in this desert hell, and she listened to my plea. Though her eyes were black and her hair was fire, she didn’t drive me mad nor cut me down. She looked into my soul and saw my innocence, because I held it true within me. I had no doubt of my innocence. I had no fear. I had no guilt. And then I was free. Spewed back onto my land. I write this in the year 1650, of sound mind and good will.”
The translation ended abruptly there.
Giles removed his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose. If their fate relied on the belief that any crime they had been sucked into the world for was not their doing, he wasn’t sure Faith would be coming back. Though he knew she wasn’t guilty of murder. Though the authorities were sure of her innocence, she herself was not.
Faith believed herself to be guilty, and to be deserving of punishment. Her soul was tainted by that, and her soul was now lost and likely to be judged as such.
* * *
An hour or so more had passed, and both girls were growing weary. The sun had reached mid sky, but it had gone no further in the longest time. It was just another thing about the place that was off. That was clearly otherworldly.
Something else was worrying them far more, however. And that was the sporadic scattering of bones amongst the dust and sand.
Faith stopped by a pile close to them, getting down on her haunches to look them over. She picked up what appeared to be a jawbone, clearly human. It was bleached white by the sun and all the teeth were gone, but no other damage marred its surface. The same could be said of all the bones in the pile. They were clean, and flawless.
“They weren’t chewed up and spat out then at least,” Buffy said, peering over Faith’s shoulder. “I really didn’t wanna be eaten by anything today.”
“I hear ya. I already feel like I’ve been spat out by one of your invisible bears,” Faith said, frowning as she looked around her, seeing more piles of bones off into the distance.
Buffy let the comment go. There was no point in fighting, or bullying Faith into shutting up. They had to do their best to get over their differences, to get over Buffy’s festering dislike of Faith and her attitude, and their inability to spend more than five minutes together without some kind of misunderstanding making the air prickly. They had no choice. There wasn’t a door marked exit anywhere near by.
“We should keep moving,” Buffy suggested, touching Faith on the shoulder to indicate she should get up so they could move on.
Faith flinched at the touch but stood abruptly, puffing out her chest and tightening her jacket around her waist in a show of nonchalance. She nodded and began walking again.
“Yeah, I’m not feeling too great about the bones thing,” Faith said, trying to hide the fact she had flinched so obviously at Buffy’s hand. “You think maybe their skin just fell off? Like, they got so bored in this place that their only escape was to just. . .shed?”
“I doubt it, Faith,” Buffy answered, stifling a laugh.
She waited and watched for a moment as Faith busied herself lifting her hair from the back of her neck to cool down. She was only walking idly so she wasn’t putting too much distance between her and Buffy. Buffy had time to just stop and take-stock of Faith for a second.
Faith piled her thick dark hair on top of her head, holding it there with one hand as she rubbed the back of her neck with the other. She looked like any other girl right then. Just a teenager that liked dark clothes. Just a girl.
Just a girl that could kill with a flick of her wrist. That had killed.
Buffy shuddered again, seemingly required to do that because of Faith these days. The reasons always escaped her, but the physical reactions were always there. Probably always had been.
She started walking, her pace taking her closer to Faith with every step. . .until her footing slipped. Or rather, her foot slipped into something.
Buffy looked down, wondering why it felt like she had just stepped off a ledge. It didn’t take her long to realise that the ground directly beneath her had given way, and like quick sand, was pulling her in.
She yanked her foot upwards, but it didn’t shift. Then her other foot began to sink below the ground to where she couldn’t see it. She was moving fast, the ground swallowing her up to her knees. It wasn’t liquid like quicksand, though. . .the ground was still solid.
Buffy watched as Faith kept walking. She grasped at the earth around her, trying to keep herself from going further, but it was no use, and she was forced to call for help.
“Faith!” Buffy yelled, a little panic clearly tainting her voice.
Faith dropped her hair back onto her neck and instantly spun around at the sound of Buffy’s yell. Before she even saw what was going on she could tell something was wrong. She knew Buffy’s call for help by heart.
Her dark eyes went wide at the sight of Buffy, waist deep in the thin scattering of sand on the parched ground.
Buffy locked eyes with Faith, fear clouding her vision as she felt herself sinking lower. As she recognised there was no escape and her only hope was that Faith could somehow save her.
Neither girl moved for what felt like forever. . .and Buffy suddenly realised that, given Faith’s history with her, it was possible that she would just leave her to perish.
Buffy’s body went numb as the earth shifted to devour more of her. She swallowed hard. . .and reached her hand out towards Faith despite fearing, and finally believing. . .it wouldn’t be taken.