Have you ever wondered what it would be like to function without any sense of time whatsoever? No watches, no annoying radio DJ's announcing the hour for the long drive home, no microwaves or televisions with a conveniently placed digital clock. You start to depend on small things to help you figure out some sore of time continuum.
In the old camp, I started out carving little lines in the wall for each day that passed. One, two, three, four lines, and then a slash through them all to mark five days. It seemed to work well. Or should I say, it worked up until the guards started using me as a punching bag. Kinda hard to keep track of the days when you're unconscious for a few at a time.
Dervin used to help me out with days though. He'd tell me how long I was out for at a time, so I was able to piece together the basic calendar of days and weeks and months that passed.
When I got good at days, I started working out the hours.
It was actually pretty easy. There were so many small events that happened every day that let me set up a basic timetable. Guards changing shifts, guards beating slayers for fun, slayers crying for release. Dusk. The vamp guards returning after sunset. Small evening roundups for minor matches during the weeks, and full camp roundups for the big weekend events.
It all became routine after a while. Comforting almost, despite the total badness of it all.
But see, I lost that when I came here. I've been in Faith's cell for god only knows how long. I ate the stupid food and I had a stupid nap, but I have no idea what's going on outside of this stupid cell. Faith hasn't come back and really, who could blame her? I know I was a bitch.
I just don't know how to deal with people anymore.
It's not like I have a social switch that I can just turn on and off. I made a conscientious decision to distance myself from everyone in the last camp. I couldn't be social with them and then turn and kill them in battle. There was no way I was going to lose, so talking to those girls was like talking to a ghost: completely and utterly pointless.
I know Faith was expecting the old Buffy, but she doesn't exist any longer. All that's left is what I've become, and I'm pretty sure that I can't go back to being around people again. Not only do I not want to get close to them . . . but I don't want them to see who I've become.
I can barely stand myself; how can I expect them to understand what I've done?
Still, I'm determined. As long as I know Dawn is out there, I'll fight for her. I'll stay strong through the suffering. Really, I have no other choice. It's who I was. The last part of the old me that I'm still clinging to.
I keep pacing back and forth in the cell, walking to the door now and again when I hear anyone outside. Pretty sure I've heard Faith a few times, laughing with some of the girls, but she's keeping her distance. For her sake or mine, I still don't know.
It's probably for the best though.
More time passes and I can tell that it's getting dark outside. It's normally when night falls that the games begin so I start to prepare myself. I lift my right leg up on the back of the chair and lean over, stretching my muscles. My body is still weary and crying out for a break from it all, but at least the food and rest has helped my slayer healing speed up.
It's pretty amazing actually. Willow's spell – that fucking horrible spell – actually intensified some of the slayer abilities. The quick healing has gotten ten times better, but like anything that intense, it needs to consume energy to work properly. The guards at the last camp knew that but they didn't care. They denied us food so that we would suffer, both from hunger and from wounds that could've healed ten times quicker with a bit of sustenance.
Bastards. I'll kill them all. One day we'll kill them all.
I continue pacing the room, stopping occasionally to ghost a few punches in the air or to stretch my back and legs. I have no clue what I'm up against tonight, but I really hope they keep me away from the girls. No way are they just gonna let me beat on them without sending a world of hurt my way. Pretty sure Faith's trained them that way.
My body reacts like it always does when the sun completely sets. My muscles twitch and flex, the slayer getting ready for the evils that the night usually holds. I hear a small commotion outside and then the cell door opens wide. Two demon guards walk in, both holding a few pieces of body armor in their arms.
"Time to prepare, slayer," one of the guards says. They're not as hostile as the guards at the last camp. Case and point: they leave the armor on the ground in front of me and walk out without playing a game of Smack The Buffy.
It's a really bad game. I don't suggest playing it.
I always lose.
There's no sense in being stubborn; I know I'm fighting tonight whether I want to or not, so I step over to the armor and lift a few of the small pieces in my hands, instantly realizing that it isn't new. It's been worn before, the metal pieces scratched and marred and some of the mesh parts ripped and re-sewn. And just like my old armor, it's pretty much a joke. It won't protect me any more than a bikini would, but I start getting geared up anyhow.
I don't want to think about where it came from or who the last person to wear it was, nor why she was no longer wearing it.
Once I'm dressed and ready to go, I sit back on Faith's bed and prop my back against the wall, falling into one of my old rituals. I close my eyes and block everything out, trying to clear my mind of as much as possible. There's no room for regret or hesitation right now.
Several long minutes pass by before I hear shuffling outside the door again. I don't wait for them to come in and get me; I stand up and wait in front of the door, head down and muscles tensed. I can hear a loud crowd from out in the arena and I know that in a few minutes, I'll get to see firsthand how many demons have come out for the show.
Keys jingle in the door and it opens slowly to reveal Bobb-O standing there, a big and drooly smile on his face.
That's right: the big, flabby, drooly demon is smiling at me.
My day is now complete.
He starts to say something in a language I can't understand, oblivious to the fact that I have no clue what he's saying. I just look at him, my head tilted to the side as I try to figure it out. He mimics, tilting his head to the side and waiting for me to say something. Several long awkward moments and a staring contest ensues before I finally break the silence.
"I think we need an interpreter."
He jabbers on some more, maybe thinking that the silence has helped me to understand him, and then turns around and starts walking, beckoning me after him. I follow behind him, keeping a respectable distance but not straying too far either. Who knows if anyone has it out for me here?
We round a few corners, getting closer and closer to the arena entrance, when he stops and motions over toward a small open courtyard between halls. I look over and see most of the slayers there. They're all geared up and ready to go but it looks like they're all taking some time to just hang out and, dare I say, mess around a bit.
One of the slayers is leap-frogging over another's back while the others watch on and laugh. Faith is resting back against one of the cinderblock walls, her arms crossed over her chest and a small smile on her face. She isn't laughing and messing around with the girls, but she's very much a part of it all.
These girls are able to act the way they are because Faith has made it that way for them.
Bobb-O makes a gruffling sound and I immediately look over to him, wiling him with the powers of my mind to shut up and keep walking so I can follow him. There's no way I can be over there with those girls.
I look back to the group of slayers to see if anyone noticed and sure enough, Faith is making her way over to where I'm standing with Bobb-O. There's a very loud sigh that wants to make its way out of me but I'm trying to rein it in. The last thing I need right now is for Faith to be all up in my face about my attitude again.
Somehow her threats seem worse than the ones I've received from any demon or guard.
"I see ya got the old armor I sent over," she says, stopping a few feet in front of me.
I look down at my armor, noticing that it's nowhere as new and nice as Faith's. It's then that I also notice a small ‘F' scraped into the metal on the wrist protectors.
"Let me guess: your sloppy seconds?" I ask before I can stop myself.
I wince a little at my own words and look back up to her face to find her chuckling.
"You're a real trip, Summers. For the record, it was either that or nothing. Figured you'd want what little protection it offers."
"You're right. Thank you," I say quietly. I can't help but look over at the other girls as silence falls over us. Despite the fact that we're all headed out into the arena soon, they're still in decent spirits. A few are sitting quietly but quite a few of them are jumping and chasing each other around. They're like a little family.
A little, dysfunctional family.
Faith must notice where I'm looking because she's suddenly standing a step closer to me and indicating the group of girls over her shoulder with her thumb.
"You wanna meet ‘em? They're good girls."
I look from the girls up to Faith and shake my head no. Emphatically no.
"B . . ." she begins and sighs before continuing, "you're gonna be here for awhile. Crazy thing is, so are these girls. Get over what happened in your old camp and get to know them. They've heard lotsa stories about ya and hey, it'd probably do ya some good too."
There's no getting over what happened, and there's no going back to being friendly with people who are just going to end up dead anyhow – pretty likely by my own hand. Faith can be their buddy. I need to focus on getting out of here.
"No," I say evenly and take a few steps back into the hall, stopping when I'm a few feet inside but still able to see out to the courtyard.
I need to size up my potential foes.
Faith watches me for a second and looks back to the girls before finally shaking her head and walking over to where I'm standing. She braces herself back against the wall opposite me and crosses her arms over her chest, looking out at the girls like I am.
"Any pointers you want to throw my way?" I ask.
"Got a couple things I wanna throw your way, that's for sure," Faith says with a chuckle. "Pointers though? Yeah, sure. The tall blonde Amazon that's standing at the back? That's Marissa. Her power's in her legs. You wanna avoid her kicks at all costs cos they'll seriously fuck you up. Uhh, let's see…" she sticks her neck out and looks past the corner of the wall, "ahh, right. The chick with the long black hair in the ponytail is Ha."
Ha? Is that a joke? I look at Faith and quirk an eyebrow at her and she just smiles as she watches the girl stretch.
"Yeah, ya heard me right: Ha. She's Vietnamese. Think it means ‘River' or somethin' like that. Anyhow, she's trained in Vo Binh Dinh which is like this really gnarly kinda martial arts. She's fuckin' fast as lightning and completely lethal with any kind of staff, so watch out for her."
I look at the girl Faith is describing and I tilt my head to the side.
"She looks like she's fifteen."
"Close, fourteen. Age ain't nothin' but a number when ya got slayer powers and some training under your belt though," she says, then scans the crowd again. "And uh….the brunette with the bandana on is Cassie. She's not the best fighter yet but I'm working on it with her. The kid can scream like a fuckin' banshee though. Watch you ears."
I size up the three girls she mentioned, taking in their size and girth. Marissa definitely has me in size but I've fought bigger foes. As far as the screamer goes, I think I'm immune. She's got nothing on Dawn's shriek.
"And which one am I fighting?" I ask, remembering the task at hand. What I have to do.
"None of ‘em. They're bringing in a group of friendly demons tonight, the kind that co-exist with humans. They're the most common kinda foes, cos then the baddies don't lose anyone on their side and they don't lose any slayers who entertain them so much."
For the first time since I've gotten here, I heard a real sense of bitterness in Faith's voice then. She might let on like she's all cool and collected, but I know right now for sure that she hates them just as much as I do.
I feel a small sense of relief as it finally dawns on me what Faith said: I don't have to fight any of the slayers. I'd happily kill a friendly demon if it meant I didn't have to shed any more human blood.
"Wait, if I'm not fighting against the slayers, why are you filling me in on their fighting styles?"
"Because they're gonna be fighting behind ya. It's good to know who's on your side and what they can do in case you find yourself needing some backup. They'll keep an eye on your back."
I look over at her and study her face. She's watching them intently, an almost proud look on her face.
"What makes you think I'll need help?"
She shrugs like it's nothing. "Maybe you won't. They might need you to watch theirs on occasion too. It's what we do here. We keep each other safe. And I swear to god B, I wasn't kidding earlier when I told you I'd pick ya up and toss you out myself. I know you're a kickass fighter, been on the other side of your punches more times than I care to count. Point is, I see you standing around and doing nothing while one of my girls is getting whomped on, we're gonna have us a situation. That clear?"
She holds my gaze, silently challenging me to test her, but I won't. If I don't have to protect myself from the girls, I can try to help. It doesn't mean we're buddies though. It just means that I'd like to get out of here safe and sound some time and I'd like more people on my side to make that happen.
"Good, because not only are we fighting demons tonight, but it's a tether match. You're gonna be tied to another slayer."
My eyes widen. She can't be serious, can she? How the hell am I supposed to do my job when I have some kid tied to me holding me back?
"That's just great," I sigh, shaking my head back and forth. "Anything else I should know?"
"Yeah," Faith says, smiling wide, "keep away from the front corners of the arena. They're . . . tricky."
There's something she's not telling me but I guess I'll have to find out the hard way. The guards have stepped in and they're here to lead us into the arena.
I'd like to say that this arena is just like the last, but that's not true. This one holds a lot more spectators. And since they've got a bigger viewing audience, they've doctored the whole place up a little. There's a small area with tall walls like a maze. There are a few stone platforms to jump up on and large marble columns. A few cages here and there.
I can see a chain-gang of demons on the other side of the arena, probably the ones we're gonna be fighting. They look scared; like they know they have no chance of getting out of here alive. Judging by what I've seen, they're probably right.
The slayers behind me are getting into fight mode, their sneers and snarls almost feral in nature. The only other one beside myself that's quiet is Faith, and I think that's only because she's watching me intently, trying to see who's going to be my partner.
There's a cool slap of metal on my left wrist and I look down to see an iron manacle on it. The other end is firmly attached to Ha who is now staring at me with a wild smile on her face. Gotta say, it's a bit unnerving.
"Hey B," Ha says, adopting Faith's nickname for me. "I hear many stories of you. I thought you would be taller girl." I ignore Faith's laughter from behind me. "Don't worry, we go easy first time out. Just follow me and keep head down."
I can only manage to raise an eyebrow at the girl. She grabs a long spear from the weapons table and I hear the other girls groan aloud. Before I realize what's going on, she breaks out into some kinda dancing ninja routine, swinging and jabbing the spear everywhere but through me. The demons start yelling and cheering from within the stadium and right away I know I've been locked to the crowd favorite.
Over the loud buzz of the crowd, someone starts speaking. It's one of the demons that run the camp. He's up on a podium and he's making some kind of a speech about newcomers and exciting events being planned, but I'm not really paying attention.
I can only pay attention to the jumbotron on the far end of the stadium that's displaying a live feed of my little sister.
"What the fuck?" I hear Faith from behind me. "B?"
Dawn's only half-conscious, her skin pale and dirty and her eyes red and tired. She's gazing at whoever is taping her but she's looking past the camera like she doesn't even know it's there. She's suffering and there's nothing I can do about it. I don't even want to think about what they've done with Willow. This is the first time she hasn't been there with Dawn, unconscious and tied up in the background.
I still hear Faith behind me but there's no time to explain what's going on. A loud horn has sounded and the guards are pushing us out into the fray. I'm still moving slow but Ha is literally pulling me around by the chain connecting us, yelling at me about dragging my feet.
The demons across the way are released too and they scatter, spreading out around the arena. That's their first mistake. It's easy to pick them off when it's one at a time. Strength in numbers. Wish it could've been that easy at the last camp, but no numbers could conquer me there.
I'm pulled from my thoughts when a huge sword swipes between Ha and I, just narrowly missing the both of us.
"Canh gác nó!" she yells, jumping up and kicking her legs out to knock down the demon that tried to sneak up on us from the side. The demon stumbles backwards and into another pair of slayers who take him out in less than five hits. They don't linger and they don't draw out the kill; they do their job and they move on. "Pay attention!" Ha yells at me, yanking on the chain to get my attention.
She's really cruising for a bruising but I don't have time to make threats because I'm being yanked along again. We near the corner of the arena and I can see a demon lurking back there trying to hide. I instantly start to head for him but Ha is pulling me in the other direction, her eyes wide.
"No, we go this way!"
I look at the direction she's pointing in and see a handful of demons but they're all being handled by the slayers around us. Why the hell isn't anyone going for the guy in the corner?
"No, we go this way," I mimic her and give the chain a tug, making Ha stumble along behind me.
"No, wait . . . stop . . . dừng lại!"
She's still tugging on the chain but her strength is no match for mine. We get within a few yards from the demon and I hear the crowd start to roar. Suddenly the ground goes out from beneath my feet and I start to slip down an incline but Ha stands firm on the ground, pulling me back up by the chain. She whips me out of the way just as a Tiger comes leaping out and swipes at us. He missed me but his claws catch Ha on her lower right leg. She tucks down into a somersault and rolls out of the tiger's path, just barely escaping his grasp as he reaches the end of his chain.
You've gotta be fucking kidding me. It's official. I'm in a Russell Crowe movie. This is getting beyond ridiculous.
"You crazy, lady!" she yells, her hand grasping her leg. I pull her hand away and look at the wound which isn't as bad as it could've been.
"You'll live. Come on." I take her other hand and pull her up, then take her arm and throw it over the back of my neck so I can help her limp away.
By now a whole throng of slayers have made their way over and are checking us over.
"What the fuck, B. Didn't I tell ya to avoid the corners?" Faith asks, checking out Ha's leg.
"You said it was tricky, Faith. You didn't mention anything about a fucking zoo," I answer back angrily.
The slayers around us take out the tiger as he made a midnight snack of the demon who was hiding out. The crowd roars loudly and I hear the slayers start to cheer too. I look around trying to figure out what the hell is going on but everyone is too busy high-fiving and hugging to throw me a bone.
Faith ducks under Ha's other arm and nods toward one of the exits to the slayer camps. We help Ha hobble along as the crowd cheers and roars, the other slayers eventually falling in line behind us.
Apparently, we were only the opening act. Now it's a demon versus demon death match, a tournament of sorts.
That's it? Really? I keep looking around, waiting for someone to say that it's a joke and that we'll be going back out to kill each other soon, but this looks to be the end of our fighting for the night.
"It's not always this easy," Faith says quietly so that only Ha and I can hear her, though Ha is too busy groaning and cursing at me in Vietnamese to listen. "Tonight was a good night. No slayers dead, only one or two injured."
"Why don't they make us fight each other?" I ask, the only question that's really on my mind right now. I'm truly puzzled.
"Because they don't want us to die. Not until they know they can get a steady stream of new slayers in here to replace us."
I notice that we're headed toward a familiar area of the camp. The infirmary. Diane is waiting patiently, a small tray of medical supplies next to her.
"Who's hurt?" she asks, taking Faith's place under Ha's arm and helping me move her over to a cot.
"Jaslene and Ha. Jaslene got it easy, just a few scratches. Ha's not so lucky. She's gonna need some stitches," Faith explains, then looks around in earnest. "Bobb-O? We need these chains gone."
Bobb-O comes meandering over with an old iron key in his hand. He smiles almost shyly at me before unlocking the manacles. I instantly rub my wrist, realizing how sore it is from the iron. He moves around the other slayers then, unshackling them and setting them free. The girls whoop and holler, doing flips and cartwheels around the yard. Faith watches with a smile, then turns and looks at me.
"They're celebrating. No deaths and only two treatable injuries. It's a good night."
"Yeah, just swell," I reply, grimacing at the sticky blood covering my leg from Ha's wound.
"Listen . . . stay with us. I promise, you don't have to have any kinda fun. You don't even have to laugh or smile. Just . . . be with the girls, B. They need it. You need it."
The thought of having fun makes me want to be sick. I can't be around this. If the girls want to celebrate, they can, but I have too much to mourn for still. I can't get the image of Dawn out of my head and I need some silence.
"If it's all the same to you, I need some alone time. Ritual and all. You guys have your fun. I can't do that."
She watches me for a few long moments, then shakes her head in disappointment.
"Fine, B. You're not gonna find any alone time or quiet out here. Just, uh . . . you can stay in my cell tonight. I'll bunk with the girls."
As much as I know I should be meek and deny her offer, I honestly don't think I can be out here with them. I don't know how to be around people anymore.
"Thanks," I simply reply. "I'm just gonna . . ." I point in the direction of her cell and she nods. I nod back just once and then head off, following the dime lights along the way. I notice that Bobb-O is following not too far behind me, trying not to be too obvious.
Ahh, right. I'm not one of ‘them' yet. He's gonna have to lock me in.
I step into the cell and am startled back by a little furball that charges at me and starts running around my feet. He's barking and wagging his tail excitedly, obviously thinking that I'm someone else.
Bobb-O starts laughing behind me and says something that roughly sounds like ‘socky'. That's when I hear someone jogging up to the cell.
"Hey, Saucey, come on. We're gonna sleep with the girls tonight," Faith says, not even paying me any attention as the dog runs over to her excitedly and hops up into her arms. She turns and carries him back into the camp, talking to him like he actually understands her.
I look back at Bobb-O and he's waving his big meaty hand at me as he closes the door.
"Night night," he gruffles out.
The door shuts with a loud clink and the lock clicks into place a moment later. I close my eyes and take in a deep breath, finally alone again. It always used to be a comforting feeling for me – being back in my cell all alone after a fight. It's all wrong now though. I can hear the girls messing around in the yard not too far away, celebrating their good work.
Part of me wishes I could be out there with them, but I know that I can't. It's just not my place anymore.
I unclasp and shrug my armor off onto the floor, then make my way over to the sink and wash up as best as I can in the small basin. It may be small, but it's still about a bajillion times better than the bowl of water I'm used to getting. I take a bit of extra time, cleaning off the dirt and grime of the day. The water runs red as I clean off Ha's blood, but it eventually turns clear again. The blood washed away.
Momentarily exhausted, I stumble over to Faith's cot and collapse onto it, not bothering to pull on my regular clothing. The sheets are scratchy and hard against my skin but it feels good. It reminds me where I am so I can't dream about happier places and wake up thinking that I'm still in them.
I close my eyes and I feel sleep tugging at me already. As far as days go, this one wasn't the worst ever. Weird, definitely, but not the worst. I probably shouldn't get my hopes up though.
I'll start small. Maybe I'll have a night without nightmares.
It would be a first.
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