New Beginnings, Old Enemies
by Dylan
Rating: NC-17

Disclaimer: These characters do not belong to me, unfortunately. They are the property of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy and whoever the hell else owns them. I make no profit from this.
Timeline: Just after Restless, season 4.

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CHAPTER ONE

Faith brushed her fingertips over the dust free shelf. Her gaze roaming across the trinkets and ornaments on display. Every odd shape and texture clashing with the drab tones framing their existence. The place was like a stuffy old people's home, only. . .weirder.

Picking up a small wooden box with intricate carvings detailing the lid, she turned towards Giles. Her voice, darker than the room's deep shadows, broke a silence that had lingered too long. "What the hell is all this stuff anyway?" she asked.

Sighing, Giles approached the confused girl. "That is an ancient Indian dart box." He paused a few feet away from Faith and looked at the array of curios and oddities he had picked up over the years. "Most of these things are very rare examples of their type, or come from long forgotten tribes with long forgotten beliefs."

Faith just nodded and replaced the box to its rightful place on the shelf, shifting her attention to the greying man before her. She did her best to avoid looking him directly in the eye. Feeling uncomfortable and not knowing what to do with her hands, or the rest of her body as the quietness of the room hung its stagnant net around them once again.

She wasn't sure how she should be acting. If there was an etiquette to this kind of thing. To being landed with somebody you had not so long ago battled against. Had bruised in deeper ways than it was possible to see.

Giles wasn't sure exactly how to handle the situation either, but he was positive about not allowing things to go horribly wrong this time around. He had failed the young girl once, and he wasn't about to do it again. Despite his wariness and his anger, he couldn't turn his back. Not when he was aware that's all the girl had ever known. That all her life she had been left to fend for herself, not knowing how to take help and friendship when it was offered to her. Not knowing when the offer was genuine or just a ploy to take advantage of her.

"So," Faith mumbled, "are you gonna hand me over to the Council?" She looked directly into Giles' eyes for the first time, as she asked her question, completely unsure of the answer despite Angel's assurance that Giles had promised not to turn her in.

"No, Faith," Giles answered truthfully. "I don't believe that's the best place for you. Their 'methods' of rehabilitation are somewhat. . ."

"Fucked up?" Faith interrupted.

"I was thinking more. . .crude," he replied, taking off his glasses. "You'll be safe here, Faith, as long as you're committed and do exactly what you're required to do."

"Which is?" Faith asked.

Resting against the back of his sofa, Giles recounted to Faith the agreement of her release.

He had received a phone call from Angel only a few weeks after Faith had made her hasty confession. After extensive questioning, it was discovered that there just wasn't enough solid evidence to hold Faith on anything. The only witness couldn't be relied upon.

Faith's confession was deemed inadmissible, after she'd had a long talk with the psychologist her state appointed attorney had insisted be brought in. He concluded that any confession she signed was no more than the confused and misguided babble of a teenager in need of therapy. He hadn't room in his scientific mind to allow for the ideas of demons and vampires that slipped out while Faith was under hypnosis.

Little evidence, and a clear case of a troubled youth with possible schizophrenia, meant the cops couldn't charge her with anything solid.

There was sufficient worry, however, for the authorities to insist that she either be taken to a psychiatric ward for therapy and counselling. Or alternatively, that she be placed with a guardian, who would ensure that she visited a therapist once a day to help treat any psychological or behaviour problems she may have.

Angel had stepped forwards immediately. Offering his home as a safe haven, and assuring that Faith would receive the treatment she needed.

Kate Lockley soon put an end to that plan. She convinced the authorities that he wasn't the type of responsible adult that Faith should be placed with.

He could think of only one person to turn to, and as risky and as crazy at it seemed, he knew deep down in his un-beating heart, that Giles wouldn't turn Faith away. Despite everything that had happened. Despite how much damage Faith had done in Sunnydale, Angel was hopeful that she would be safe there.

He'd been accepted by Giles after all, and he'd done far worse throughout his un-dead life. Had hurt and killed far more people. If there was acceptance and forgiveness for him, he was certain that there would eventually be the same acceptance and forgiveness for Faith.

She wanted to change. She wanted to put right her wrongs. She needed a safe place to do it.

It took Angel a little time and convincing to get Giles to accept his plea. Giles was worried about how the others would react. Worried about Buffy mostly. Worried because there was so much that could go wrong.

He admitted that there really was no other option, however. Neither of them wanted to see Faith in an institution, and they both agreed that the Council should have no involvement. They would no doubt be on the search for Faith again soon, but for now the Council were apparently on the back foot and on the plane back to England, empty handed.

"So I gotta see a shrink once a day? Fuck. . .that's all I need." Faith slumped down onto Giles' sofa, her feet immediately going up on the coffee table in front of her.

"They'll help, Faith. You need it. And you need some kind of normality, so I've arranged for a tutor to come here every other day. He'll be here for a few hours to school you. I don't think it's prudent you attend college right now." He ignored the fact that Faith didn't quite seem to be listening to him, deciding that just straight out giving her the facts and ground rules was the best way to go.

She needed stability. She needed him to be strong and resolute. He wasn't hiding the fact he would be guarded around her. He was jaded enough not to just take Angel's word on the fact she wouldn't hurt him, or anybody else. There was a lot of bridge building to be done. But he sensed defeat in her, regardless of any attitude she cloaked herself with.

"Sure," she uttered as she picked up a spell book from the table.

"And, Faith. . .boots are not for putting on the table." Giles raised his eyebrow and Faith clattered her heavy boots to the floor.

She wasn't going to argue. Not now. She wanted to change and knew she had a chance here. She had a real chance at getting it right this time. Of course she wasn't looking forward to the rules that were going to come her way. She was looking forward even less to facing her old enemies. Her old battle grounds.

But what choice did she have? She didn't want to go down the 'evil path' again. She didn't like how far she'd slipped into the role of bad-guy so easily.

It had never meant to go so far. She had never imagined she could allow herself to be so cruel. So detached. And so blind to the choices she'd had.

After Angel had dropped her off at Giles' small apartment, she was extremely wary. Angel had been her shield. He didn't judge. He didn't look at her like she needed washed, or beaten to death. But now here she was, alone again, in surroundings that had caused her pain. In a place that had driven her over the edge and into situations she had never wanted to find herself.

She was half expecting Buffy to jump out at her, knife in hand, when Giles had shown her to her room.

There was no Buffy, though. Nobody but Giles telling her the house rules. Telling her that she had to follow his guidance if she truly wanted to get herself on the straight and narrow.

She nodded at every rule with an internal wince of pain. It wasn't going to be easy, but it was going to be worth it. She would prove to herself that running wasn't her only option. She had to, because she had run out of places to escape to. As much as she hated defeat, Sunnydale was her salvation, and she was smart enough to realise that.

"What about Buffy?" Faith asked, her voice tempered by a slight quake as she spoke the other slayer's name aloud.

"She won't be told. At least not yet." He began shuffling papers into a neat pile on his desk, not wanting to think about how Buffy would react if she knew Faith was ensconced in his home.

"But. . ." Faith furrowed her brow, her heart quickening as she thought of Buffy. Not knowing if it was fear she felt, or something else.

"She's busy with college. With slaying and. . .Riley." Giles cleared his throat, subconsciously airing his feelings of unease about Riley, and Buffy's relationship with him. "I'll let her know of the situation once I feel you've become a little more settled." He didn't want a repeat of their epic fights, and he certainly didn't want Faith pushed back into a corner again. She knew only one way to get herself out of a corner, and the world didn't need a rogue slayer on the loose again.

Nodding a little, her dark hair falling in waves around her shoulders, Faith thumbed through the little spell book she was holding. She didn't see what was on the pages. She didn't notice words or phrases. All she could see was Buffy. All her mind would allow her to see was Buffy.

The happy carefree Buffy she had wanted to see more of. The troubled Buffy that did her best to hide how isolated she felt too. The hurt Buffy that made Faith's heart sink to her feet. The anger. The pain. The bitter sting of unforgiveness.

Feeling tears begin to sear the back of her eyes, Faith placed the book to one side and stood. Taking a deep breath that would never stop the sensation of chocking that her regret caused, she walked over to the window, allowing the faint light to settle on her face.

She didn't want to cry. It hurt too much to cry. It brought out too much pain. Too much heartbreak. Not only from Sunnydale, but from as far back as she could remember. It seemed like the only heart she had ever had was broken.

It would still beat. It would still pound in her ears when she felt fear, lust, when she felt Buffy close by. But it was bits and pieces in her chest. A jigsaw she had no hope of putting back together.

"I trust Angel, Faith. . .but you're going to have to prove to me that I can trust you too. I don't want you near Buffy, or the others. You will stay here, unless I've given express permission for you to leave." He made sure she was listening to every word. "You will visit your doctor and learn to take responsibility for your actions and the suffering you caused. It's not going to be easy, Faith."

Faith looked towards him. The light from the window struggling to illuminate her shadowy frame as she stood clothed all in black. Her eyes looked hollow and darker then ever.

She was a powerful presence in the small and cluttered room, but evil didn't have a hand in that presence. It had left her. It had chewed her up and spat her out, and through the defeat and the pain. . .she still had the ability to stun. To cause Giles to wonder in awe about the mystical and powerful being that was the slayer. That was Faith in particular.

He tried his best not to see things as Buffy being the light and Faith being the darkness of slaying, but it was a hard analogy to discount.

They reflected each other. He hoped that didn't mean Faith had a life sentence of always being on the outside. Of always being seen as the 'bad' one of the two. He knew deep down that she wasn't truly bad. She was just lost. Lost and alone, and unable to reach out, or understand and accept the offer of a friendly hand.

Shaking his head from his musings, Giles sat at his desk and continued his schedule for Faith.

He planned to get her training again. To get her focused on what the true meaning of her nature was. To give her an outlet for her pain and anger. To give him a reason to be there again.

He had felt useless for too long now. Buffy didn't need a watcher. Buffy didn't need his fatherly hand, but Faith did.

He had seen a little shop for sale in town, and in his mind he was already detailing training facilities. A place for him to work with Faith. A place for him to show her the true path of the slayer. To show her that allowing herself, and teaching herself to be in charge of the force within her, to garner it and use it for good. . .would make her feel far more powerful than she had ever felt under the influence of the Mayor.

And Giles was well aware of how influential the Mayor been in her downfall, and the way Faith had looked up to him.

Giles saw the little lost girl under all the black leather and red lipstick. He doubted she had ever had a true home, or anybody that cared. He hoped in some way she could learn to look up to him now, before it was too late. Before she became lost to regret and slid down the wrong path again.

There was a lot of work to be done, though. A lot of hurt to get through in order for Faith to grow and become the responsible young woman he hoped she would be.

"Do I get to slay?" Faith asked abruptly, startling Giles, and causing him to wonder how she'd moved so much closer without him noticing.

"All in good time, Faith." Giles smiled a little, feeling the energy crackling from the young slayer in her need to satisfy her desire as one of the chosen.

"Cool," she said almost cheerfully. The darkness from her eyes giving way to a small speck of light within.

Slumping back onto the couch, leaving Giles to do his paperwork, Faith flicked on the TV by the remote. Her feet hovered above the coffee table in her natural instinct to sully all manner of surfaces with her boots. She looked across at Giles. He wasn't looking her way, but she lowered her feet back to the ground anyway.

'Little steps,' she thought to herself. 'Then I get to beat un-dead ass again.'

For a split second she felt easy in herself. There was no threat of impending doom hanging over her head.

But it didn't last. Buffy was never far from her thoughts. Her own monumental screw up was never far from her thoughts, and never allowed her to settle. Knowing she had probably lost her chance at having something, having friends, having Buffy in her life. . .never strayed from her mind at all. Even in sleep, where her nightmares tore at her shattered soul.

Aimlessly switching channels in the vain attempt to distract herself from the pain and guilt, from the need to slay, and from the feeling of being trapped by rules already, Faith tried to focus her mind on the future instead of the past.

But the future was terrifying. And she was scared. Fighting to keep her sanity, but scared of herself. More so than she was of anything Sunnydale or Buffy could throw at her.

Her future was in her own two hands, but she'd only ever used them to bruise, and hurt. . .and kill.

CHAPTER TWO

Buffy drew her curtains, blocking out the dark night and the smell of rain in the air. She wrapped her arms around herself, feeling a chill that hadn't been there earlier.

She hoped she wasn't getting sick. Buffy wanted to have some time to just relax and take it easy after recent events. She didn't want to spend her time in bed, eating yucky soup her mom forced upon her.

Sunnydale may have just avoided being taken over by a crazed sewn together demon, but there were still vampires to kill, and the odd random apocalypse to be ready for. Sniffles with her slaying wasn't something she enjoyed.

Hearing her mother making her way up the stairs, Buffy smiled. She had missed being at home, despite the fun and independence living at the dorm had given her. It was just nice to be somewhere she felt safe. Even though she had no silly ideas of ever being completely safe anywhere, home always had that affect on her, and she had been away too long it felt.

Buffy was also glad to be close to her mother again. After the ordeal with Faith, and the latest turmoil in Sunnydale, she felt like she needed to be there. After all, she could still visit Riley whenever she wanted, and have her fun.

Sighing as she undressed for bed, slowly slipping out of her clothes and laying them neatly on a chair, Buffy tried not to let her mind stray. She didn't want to think too much about anything right now. And she especially didn't want to think about Riley. Or more to the point. . .Faith and Riley.

She'd done her best to get over it. To get over her. But it wasn't easy. Faith had a way of lingering. Her actions had a way of lingering.

Buffy was still mad, and hurt, and upset about the whole thing, and she couldn't deal with it in any positive way, so she tried her best to bury it.

If she didn't imagine Riley with Faith. . .then she could convince herself that it didn't happen. At least that was the hope. It wasn't very effective at times she was alone, but it was better than the alternative. The alternative just brought about too much emotion, and she'd eventually arrive right back to angry again. She didn't want to spend her life being angry.

"Buffy, I've locked up for the night and I'm going to bed," Joyce called as she passed Buffy's door.

"Ok, mom, goodnight," Buffy shouted, picking up her favourite soft toy and clutching it to her chest.

Sometimes she wished she was just a little girl again.

"Just you and me, Mr Gordo," she said to the old fading pig, looking down at it and wondering where one of his eyes had disappeared to. "We'll have to get that fixed," she told it, and then kissed it on its worn nose.

Placing the pig on one side of the bed, she shuffled in, a little moan of pleasure escaping her lips as soft cotton brushed against her skin. Pulling the blankets and comforter up around herself, shutting out the night's cool edge, Buffy closed her eyes and hoped for pleasant dreams.

She was tired of nightmares. Tired of confusing slayer dreams. Tired of being responsible.

As her body slowly crept its way over the precipice of sleep, Buffy felt a warmth spread through her. Like she had just lowered herself into a warm bath full of bubbles. Bubbles that caressed her body like soft yet tenacious fingers.

She knew the feeling. It was one that usually preceded a slayer dream, with Faith as the guest star.

Buffy never knew quite how to take them. She never knew if Faith was aware of the dreams. If they were sharing the same one, or if maybe she was just creating it in her own head. For comfort. For closure. She didn't know exactly what for, but always woke a little more confused about the entire situation.

She refused to tell anybody about them now. She wasn't keen on having her inner thoughts laid open for Giles, or whoever, to poke over with a pointy stick of dissection. There were just some things you kept to yourself, and things like repeatedly dreaming of stabbing somebody, was probably one of those things.

It wasn't like she wanted to stab Faith every time she was in her dream, but that's the way it always went. Buffy was always holding the knife, and it always ended up in Faith.

She didn't consider it a nightmare, however. That particular tag was reserved for the dreams in which her friends and family were slaughtered by hordes of demons and vampires. Or the nights she dreamt she was normal. Those were the worst, and Buffy would wake clawing at her sheets, wanting to be freed from the feeling of being weak and restrained by being ordinary.

The night brought no such nightmares. Only more questions to be answered as she dreamt about Faith. As she slid the cold hard steel into the other slayer's stomach. No remorse on her own face as Faith's eyes tore into her soul, searching for her own answers. Their depths haunting her with sorrow. With fear. With disbelief.

As darkness quietly gave way to the morning sun, Buffy stirred, her acute hearing picking up every sigh and shift of the house as the day spread its fingers out to touch the cold shadows.

She'd had only one dream that night. A Faith dream that left her uneasy as usual.

Buffy was certain it was too early to be waking though. Her alarm hadn't screamed in her ear. The sun hadn't climbed high enough to break through her curtains and warm her bed.

She hadn't even snuggled into Mr Gordo yet.

Stretching her legs out under the soft blankets, Buffy rubbed her eyes, trying to come to terms with waking so early for seemingly no reason at all. She wasn't normally an early riser, and certainly wasn't a crack of dawn riser.

As she was about to bury her head back under the covers and go in search of more sleep, Buffy heard a whisper.

It took her breath away. It made a pounding drum out of her heart.

It was Faith.

She was sure it was Faith, whispering her name. A soft and husky "Buffy", just twice, and just audible under the quiet murmur of morning.

Buffy held her breath. Her gaze darting around in the gloom of her surroundings. She almost felt like diving under the blanket and staying as still as possible in hope that. . .whatever it was would go away.

It was almost like the whispering of a ghost, and Buffy's hair was suitably standing on end.

Seeing nothing and hearing nothing further, the slayer pushed her covers back and slowly crept over to the window. Flattening her back to the wall beside it, avoiding any possible attack, she peeked out into the garden and to the street beyond.

There was nobody there. No Faith. No ghost floating around. Nothing but a few birds stretching their wings and getting ready for their wormy goodness.

Buffy hastily pulled the curtain, back to its place keeping out the encroaching day. Then she walked as stealthily as she could towards her bedroom door, not satisfied that Faith wasn't somehow there, ready to achieve her revenge.

She searched the house. She shook her head. She scorned herself for being scared, if only for a second. If only for the time it took her to reduce the rapid beating of her heart.

There was no way Faith was there. She was locked up. Out of her life. . .for good.

Buffy paused in her journey back to bed, her heart doing that rapid and clumsy beating that she wasn't used to. It felt like a vice was squeezing it. Forcing it to panic in the confines of her chest.

She didn't understand it. Could she really be scared?

She wouldn't allow herself to believe that, so pushing her chin out and holding her back straight, Buffy climbed the stairs back to bed. No haunting whisper was going to disrupt her lazy day any longer.

After falling back to sleep and having far less confusing dreams for a few more hours, Buffy woke late in the morning to the sound of her mother yelling up the stairs.

"Buffy. . .Riley's here."

Buffy yawned and tumbled out of bed, leaving Mr Gordo tangled in the disarray of blankets she'd left behind. "Coming," she yelled back, stifling another yawn.

She discovered Riley in the hallway, looking hopeful.

"Hey," Buffy said as she smiled, letting him lean down to kiss her.

He pulled away after a second and handed her a small white flower. "I saw this and thought of you."

Buffy took the rather sorry looking flower and tried to think of a suitable response to such a sweet gesture. "Thanks, I like it when people compare me to limp things they've pulled out of the ground." She winced as he tried to cover up his hurt look. She couldn't help it. She just wasn't great at the romance stuff he liked so much. "It's. . .nice, Riley. Really."

He still looked a little wounded despite her attempts to fix it. It was probably going to take a little more than just a sweet smile in his direction though.

Hearing her mom bustling about in the basement, she tugged on Riley's hand, winking at him and leading him to her bedroom.

He was unsure at first, but a quick shake of her backside made up his mind. He could never resist her cute little ass. She probably didn't know it, but he was pretty much wrapped around her finger.

It broke him somewhat to be weaker than her, or any woman. Women weren't meant to be stronger or tougher than men. It didn't sit easy with him when she took on the role of leader either, and expected him to follow. But he loved her, and in a lot of ways he needed her.

Buffy pulled him into her room and shut the door. Riley's eyes widened as she stripped off the large tee shirt she had presumably been wearing to bed. He looked towards the door, then back to Buffy, not quite believing she would do what he thought she was suggesting.

"Come on, big boy," Buffy said coyly, stepping backwards towards her bed.

The light made Buffy's skin shimmer as it drifted in between the small gap of her curtains. She always looked too fragile to touch. Too delicate to hold. And though he knew she was neither of those two things, he couldn't help but treat her that way. And he couldn't help but think it was a bad idea for Buffy to be pulling off her panties as she seductively laid back on her bed.

"Buffy, I don't think. . ."

"You think too much, Riley," she interrupted. Her eyes full of mischief.

He wasn't about to cave in to her demands this time, however.

"I can't make love to you here, Buffy. Not while your mom is just downstairs," he pointed out.

Buffy rolled her eyes, wondering if she should mention that she didn't want him to `make love' to her. Wondering why exactly it was she was so hung up on him.

"Ok, fine. If you don't want any of this," she said as she trailed her fingers over the inside of her thigh, allowing her legs to fall open in a final attempt to entice her boyfriend, "then I guess you should go. I have a busy day of lazing around to get on with."

Riley stood with his mouth hanging open, not quite able to work out what was going on with his girlfriend. She was the kind of girl who slept with a stuffed pig, not the kind of girl who would lay sprawled out on a bed like a hooker.

He was shocked. Stuck somewhere between being appalled and turned on.

"Buffy, I. . ." he stumbled over his words as Buffy pulled her tee shirt back on and went about opening her curtains and straightening her bed. "I wanted to ask if you'd spend the day with me. I. . ."

Buffy didn't allow him to finish. If he wasn't prepared to give her what she wanted, then she wasn't prepared to change her plans for him. "You know that I'd love to, Riley, but I promised my mom I would spend the day here with her."

She didn't listen to his pleas, or promises to give her a nice day with a picnic and more flowers. She wanted some time to herself. She wanted to stretch out and feel free. She wanted her mind to be released from its constant turmoil.

Buffy didn't like that her mind was so mixed up right now, and she couldn't really attribute it to one thing in-particular. There may have been a few things giving her reason to feel unsettled, but she couldn't distinguish them from the blur in her head.

After pushing Riley out of the door and grabbing something completely unsuitable for breakfast, Buffy made her way to the shower. Allowing the hot water to prickle her skin, she revelled in the delicious sensation it created. Watching as the rivulets of water charted her body.

After thoroughly washing her hair, she soaped up, slipping her hands over her arms, her legs, and her taut stomach. Just before she was about to move onto gliding her hands over her chest, she felt a sharp pain to the right of her belly button.

It caused her to drop the soap and crumple to the shower floor, the water cascading over her as she winced and whimpered.

Buffy clutched at her stomach, trying to ease the searing pain, but only managing to make it worse. She pulled her hand away, certain there would be blood dripping from her palm, but not having a clue why.

Her hand was clean. There was no blood, and thankfully. . .the unbearable pain slowly began to ease.

Trying to stand without crying out, Buffy fought to catch her breath. The pain had winded her as much as baffled her.

As she stood stooped under the water, beginning to feel normal again, she looked at her stomach. There was nothing there but soap and a red mark where she had dug her fingers in, in her attempt to crush the stifling ache. She frowned, not knowing what the hell could have caused such a random thing to happen.

She didn't get cramps when it was her time of the month. She had never had a stomach ache that brought her to her knees. She couldn't think of any reason at all for it to have happened.

Rinsing the soap from her body, her hands shaking a little, the slayer flat out refused to allow her mind to linger on the incident. She also refused to let it wander to thoughts of Faith and how she had stabbed her in the same spot.

If she didn't think about it, it never happened.

It made complete sense to her and had worked for her so far.

She did ponder about maybe telling Giles, but Giles didn't seem to want to help her out so much these days. Willow was busy with college, and with Tara. Xander would probably use it as an excuse to get her to take her shirt off for him. And Riley. . .there was something about him lately that just didn't seem right.

Or maybe it was her. Maybe she wasn't right. Whatever it was, Buffy wasn't keen on sharing this with him.

Somewhere in the back of her mind she had a sneaking suspicion that the sudden pain was linked to the whisper she had heard earlier. But it couldn't possibly be anything more than her own psyche messing with her.

Maybe she had been too hasty in her unwillingness to hear Faith out. To accept her apology and the fact that she wanted to make things right.

Chuckling to herself and shaking her head, Buffy dismissed that idea. The Powers That Be were crazy, but she was fairly sure they weren't complete Sadists. There had to be another solution. Another reason.

She didn't want nor need Faith messing up her life again.

CHAPTER THREE

Faith pushed the covers of the bed from her body, her hand pressed against the scar that still lingered on her stomach. Beads of sweat ran in rivers down her temples, and the air rushed in and out of her lungs as she fought to breathe.

She hated these episodes. The reminders. The punch of guilt and remorse that caused her nightmares and that slicing pain that yanked her from her sleep. From her daydreams. From herself.

They happened without warning, and the pain was as real, as fierce and unforgiving as the exact moment Buffy had slid Faith's own knife deep into her.

She felt it twist inside her every day. She clawed back tears when it happened, and bit back screams of pain. It wasn't so bad when she was alone, at least she could hold her stomach and grit her teeth as the pain sliced her in two.

She had to hide it from Giles, however. From her therapist who thought she was mad enough as it was.

Faith knew it wasn't real pain. Not physical. It was more than that. It went deeper, and came without warning. It came as a price for fucking up. As a way of reminding her that she deserved that feeling of cold steel entering her body, ripping at her flesh, and scraping at her guts.

She had asked for it, and she wasn't going to grumble about it now. So whenever it hit her when Giles was around, Faith would stand tall, harden her stomach muscles and deal with the punishment handed to her. She didn't dare feel sorry for herself. She deserved it, and more.

"Faith, I'll be leaving for the Magic Box in 20 minutes," Giles shouted up the stairs.

Faith swung her legs out from under the blankets and placed her feet on the hard wood floor. The cool wood felt good against her hot skin. She sighed and released the pressure on her stomach as the pain subsided.

She had been living with Giles, hidden away, for almost three weeks.

He'd kept her secret from the others, from Buffy. He'd bought his little magic shop with money he had saved, and had Faith train there during the day while Buffy was at college.

There had been a few near misses, but so far. . .Faith had not been discovered, and nobody had a clue that she was in Sunnydale, visiting her therapist daily, and being tutored every other day by a nice old man who had time and patience, and didn't get angry with her when she didn't understand something.

It wasn't a bad life. It was better than prison for certain. But Faith wasn't happy.

She didn't think she could ever be happy. The tough little Boston girl in fact doubted that she had ever been truly happy before.

Faith had been ok. She'd lived life as fast and as dangerous as possible. She'd laughed a lot and `had fun', but she wasn't sure she knew what happiness was.

It certainly wasn't spending every day waiting for pain, waiting for the next lesson, the next training session. The nights without dancing, without slaying, without the wind in her hair as she lashed out at whichever unlucky vamp or demon happened to cross her path.

She missed feeling free. She missed feeling strong and untouchable, and wild. She missed feeling Buffy.

"Don't forget your appointment with Dr. Tan, Faith," Giles reminded her, like he did every morning.

She never forgot. There was no way she was going to fuck up her end of the deal, no matter how much she hated going to see her therapist.

Luckily, Dr. Tan wasn't a ruthless type who wanted to analyse her to death. She would just sit back and let Faith talk. And Faith had come to realise that she didn't have to give too much away. She could placate the Dr with a few stories about her childhood. A few tales of how she daydreamed and fantasised, in order to dissuade the authorities that she was mad for having slipped up and mentioned vampires and demons during her confusing spell of detention.

She would tell Dr. Tan about how much she wanted to change. About how she wanted to stop wasting her life. . .and make something of herself.

Faith was sent away every day, with the good Dr feeling sure that Faith was on the path to recovery.

Faith felt sure herself that she was, despite the lingering self loathing and despairing regret.

Slipping on her dark clothes and her boots, like armour for her soul, Faith readied herself for the day. She knew the routine by heart now, but she never complained. What had to be done, had to be done. She would eat her breakfast, she would brush her teeth, she would ride in Giles' car to the therapist. After rambling her way through the session, she would hastily make her way the short distance to the Magic Box, waiting outside the back door for Giles to let her in, just in case a Scoob was there. Just in case Buffy had dropped by.

There she would train, and she would learn about being a slayer. Reading. Studying. Growing. If it was a tutor day, Giles would take her home for her lessons, and she would wait for him to get back later in the day. On the other days, she would stay at the Magic Box, hidden away, down the stairs and in the back room with the dust and the stifling scent of damp and rotting wood.

If Giles knew Buffy was due to come round, he would do a nifty spell that effectively hid her from Buffy. Like some kind of force field that meant Buffy wouldn't sense her presence.

Buffy didn't come around too often, however. She was busy catching up at college. She was busy with Riley, and with slaying.

After straightening her hair out, Faith made her way downstairs to be greeted by a bowl of healthy looking brown stuff that Giles liked to call cereal. She held in her sighs. Her sadness. Her desire to ask for the hundredth time…the question of when she would be allowed to slay again.

The answer was always. . ."soon."

Soon wasn't close enough.

"I hope you got a good night's sleep, Faith. We have a lot to do today," Giles said, as he bustled around the apartment, gathering up bits and pieces to take with him to the magic shop. "I want to make sure you've grasped the finer points of the Culma Ver," he continued.

Faith had had just about enough of the Culma Ver. It was a training practice much like Tai Chi. . .only with swords. Though without the fulfilling feeling of sliding the sword into something squishy and demony. She didn't quite see the point in the exercise, but felt a sense of calm after spending hours controlling her body, her mind, and the sharp blades that swayed dangerously close to her.

"Sure," she mumbled around a mouthful of brown mush. Not mentioning the slayer dream that had woken her during the night.

She was used to Buffy stabbing her in her dreams. Not that they were particularly violent. They weren't. They weren't informative, and they certainly weren't very nice either, but they were strangely comforting.

She didn't have a clue if Buffy shared her dreams. If Buffy was actually there with her in them. They tended to talk in riddles between each other, and the ending was always the same.

Faith would be left with her own knife jutting out from her stomach, and as she looked into Buffy's eyes. . .all she would see within them was hate, and emptiness.

Giles looked sadly towards Faith as she sat in silence, her bowl before her forgotten as she became lost in her thoughts. He could only imagine what she was thinking. Only suppose that her mind was in some dark place that she was fighting to stay out of. The shadows beneath her eyes told him more than Faith did herself.

He wanted to reach out and touch her, to rest his hand on her shoulder, to show that he was there for her. That he was there to support her.

But Giles didn't know if it was the right thing to do. He wasn't comfortable with fatherly gestures, and he was pretty sure that Faith wasn't used to being touched without it meaning something else. Without it being a prelude to something.

Faith was used to being taken advantage of. He could tell that much. It didn't take a genius to see why she failed to interpret friendliness, or a helping hand, as just that. . .with no strings attached.

He wanted to kick himself for missing it before. He wished so much that he had just opened his eyes when she had first arrived in Sunnydale, a scared and lost child, in need of refuge and understanding.

They had all failed to see her for who she really was. They had failed her, and she had paid the price for that.

"I think tonight we'll take you on patrol, Faith. I'll make sure we'll be well away from Buffy, and I'll stay with you," Giles said, nodding to himself at his sudden decision.

Faith looked up at the former watcher, not quite believing her ears. "Slay?" she said slowly, blinking in the sunlight that filtered through the blinds.

"Yes, Faith. We'll take you slaying. But not for too long. We don't want you to get…"

The rest of Giles' words were lost, as Faith grinned and felt just a little shred of hope and light emerge within herself. She knew. . .if she could slay, she could mend, because slaying was an integral part of who she was. It made her feel good about herself, it made her feel strong, and right.

Of course, there was a shadow now, over the light. A mistake made whilst slaying lay as a thick black cloak over some of the goodness in what she did. It was draped over her calling, no matter how much Giles repeated to her that mistakes had happened before. That she wasn't the first, and wouldn't be the last slayer to have had such an unfortunate accident.

He tried to reassure her everyday that the good she did would far outweigh her mistakes. That learning to control herself, her actions, her instinct to kill. . .would make her a better slayer. A better person.

She believed it would one day, but she also knew it would never completely erase the shadow and the blight over her soul.

*****

Having spent the day repeating the same actions. The same instances. . .Faith readied herself for the night's slaying. It had been all she could think about all day. She'd done her best not to wear herself out during her training. She had steadied her mind, and her body. Now she just wanted to get at some vamps.

She missed the smell of dust. The feel of power. The heat of battle.

Waiting, pacing, in Giles' apartment, Faith couldn't help the butterflies that tumbled around in her stomach. It was a mix of excitement and trepidation. It was a mix of fear and regret, and solid, hard hate. For herself, as much as for the things she hunted.

Her butterflies were halted however, when the phone rang out loud into the quiet room.

Faith picked up the receiver, only just realising it was probably not the smart thing to do when it was too late. She wasn't meant to go answering phones willy nilly. It could be Buffy on the other end.

As she held her breath, however, Faith could clearly make out the haughty English accent of Giles on the other end. She placed the receiver to her ear.

"Faith…I can hear you breathing, there's no point in pretending you're not there," he said with a slight chuckle to his voice. "I'm afraid we're not going to be able to go slaying tonight, Faith. Something has come up here with Buffy. I need to stay and find out more about the Garak demon that's on the loose."

Faith didn't answer. She felt her heart hit her feet, but held in her disappointment.

"Soon though, Faith. I promise," Giles assured. "There are steaks in the refrigerator, and pop. I'll be back later, Faith. Oh, and don't answer the telephone."

Faith didn't have chance to reply before he hung up and got on with whatever it was he was doing. She could have sworn Buffy was on an independent kick when it came to slaying. . .but obviously Giles was still needed in some capacity.

She was jealous. She wanted to slay. She needed to slay. But her needs were inconsequential it seemed. Faith couldn't complain, as it was all part of the package. All part of redemption. She would do as she was told, and she would like it.

Kicking her heavy boots off and hanging her jacket back up on the hook, the slayer did her best to ease her muscles and her brain out of potential slay mode. It wouldn't be easy, but there was nothing she could do about it. At least Giles had a TV to comfort her. A few hours of lame films and she'd be ready to trudge to her bed again, to wait for the nightly dreams that tore at her soul.

A few hours slipped by, yet Faith couldn't settle. Giles wasn't back and she was getting ever more edgy.

She was sure he should be back by now.

Pacing wasn't helping. Attempting to control her body and her mind through the exercises Giles had taught her was just getting her more worked up. Faith had to know what was going on. She had to get out. She had to make sure Giles was ok.

Sweeping her hand through her lush hair, Faith made a decision. She grabbed her jacket and pushed her feet into her boots. Making sure she had a nice sharp stake in her inside pocket, she left the apartment and hit the side streets of Sunnydale.

The fresh night air was like elixir for her lungs. Breathing it in deep and keeping to the shadows, she headed for the Magic Box.

It didn't take long to get there, her strong legs carrying her swiftly through the trash strewn alleys and dank crevices of the town. She knocked on the back door, hoping Buffy wasn't there. Nobody answered, and she could hear nothing from inside with her ear to the wood of the door.

"Shit," she muttered to herself.

Slowly, Faith moved around to the front of the building. She crouched low, looking through the thick glass of the shop window. No lights were on, and nobody was home. There was no sign of demon or vampire presence. No sign of anybody.

She would have to look further afield.

Slinking out of sight through the trash once again, Faith headed towards the nearest cemetery. It was as good a place to start as any.

She didn't get far in her search, however. A strong tugging feeling pulled her short as she passed a squalid looking building to her left. She could hear music thumping through the walls. Dance music oozing out of the cracks in the old building that looked far from in use, but was apparently teeming with life. Low-life to be more exact.

She could see people stumbling in and out from her vantage point. They were drunk. They were desperate. They were probably made up of at least a hand full of vamps, given the tingles currently running rampant up and down her spine.

The feeling was strong, and it was jerking her forwards, towards the club doormen guarding the large, dirty doors.

Faith didn't really want to enter, but she didn't feel like she had a choice. If her feeling was right and there were vamps in there, she knew she should really lay in wait for them leaving with their prey. But standing around outside didn't seem to be an option for her right now. Something was leading her in, and she was powerless to stop it.

The dark, smoky atmosphere peppered with strobing lights and bodies swaying and grinding to the music used to be a haven for her. Not here, but places like it. Places like it everywhere she had run to.

It was no haven now. Just a reminder of how lost she had been. Just an example of her lowest points.

Faith's dark eyes scanned the tightly packed room, and the bar to the right. She wasn't sure what she was looking for. Wasn't even sure why she had talked her way past the bouncer. She wasn't sure. . .until her gaze rested on a figure in amongst the crowd.

A girl dancing. Her eyes closed, as her hips swayed and her hands covered her own body, bathed in the blue light from above her. She was lost to the music. To the smoke and the drink, and the men that leered and pressed close to her.

Faith's heart ceased to beat. Every muscle fired up and her pupils flared to take in the sight.

It was Buffy, and Buffy had spotted her.

CHAPTER FOUR

Note: For Electra. My inspiration and my heart.

Before she could turn. Before she could slip away in the hope that Buffy hadn't recognized her or felt her presence, Faith became rooted to the spot. Her eyes locked with Buffy's. Her heart thumped and pounded back into life as the world faded, leaving nothing but Buffy ahead of her. Buffy slowly walking towards her, slicing through the crowd as they parted for her, heads down and bodies moving, like so many zombies on a night out from the graveyard.

Buffy couldn't believe her eyes. She wanted to rub them. She wanted to blink and do a double take, but she was busy trying to look composed. Trying not to let Faith know she was shocked, surprised, a little scared. . .a little excited.

The last time she had seen Faith, Buffy had felt so much better about herself. So much more self righteous, but now she felt unsure. She felt different. Changed. She still knew she was right and Faith was wrong. She still knew she was better and had the upper hand, but there was something inside her that had slipped.

She didn't know what it was, and right now, with Faith's dark eyes piercing her own. . .she couldn't think straight enough to even begin to work it out.

As the music died in their ears, both slayers became focused on only each other. Their movements were subtle, small, barely movements at all, but they were beginning to circle each other. They were sizing each other up as if by habit, or nature. Like they were fated to be stuck in the same loop, repeating the same actions with each other. . .because it's all they knew. It was the only way they could relate.

Faith didn't know if she should run, if she should break the ice, or if she should fight. Throughout her time ensconced with Giles, she had thought about Buffy, she had dreamt about Buffy. She had even slipped back into old fantasies when her guard was down, but she hadn't envisioned how their next meeting would go. She hadn't dwelled on this moment. There was no rough-idea in her head about what would happen. It would be down to Buffy, as always. . .to take the lead.

As they moved closer, the patrons of the nightclub shifting clear of them as if they could sense the tension, the slayers looked each other over. It wasn't sexual, it was instinctual. They were judging strength, checking for weak spots, looking for subtle signs of possible attack.

Faith really didn't want to attack. She didn't want to fall back into those old habits, not now. She was through with that with Buffy. She was through with fighting her. Faith had accepted that she was wrong, and that her apologies meant nothing. She could see that much in the depths of Buffy's eyes. Into her soul that screamed its hate at Faith, without disguise.

"What are you doing here?" Buffy said under her breath, so quiet yet so loud it resonated through Faith.

She heard every word, every syllable that was dripping with disgust. Despite the roar of the sounds around them. . .there was no way she could have missed those words. That voice.

Faith didn't have a reply, she just stared, right into Buffy as Buffy crept closer.

The heat of the packed room dissipated as a cold chill shot through Buffy. She felt it in every muscle, in every bone and sinew. In her heart and veins. The stark look she was receiving from Faith, as the question left her lips once again, told her nothing.

All she knew was that Faith was there, invading her territory yet again. Causing her mind to race in its attempt to deal with her presence, to deal with the reasons of the tension, the fear and the excitement. She had never understood why Faith had the power to cause so many conflicting emotions and feelings within her. The confusion had been there from day one, and right now. . .it was almost unbearable.

Buffy couldn't take it, she had to make a move. She had to discover why Faith was there. How Faith was there. She had to know what came next.

Pushing her shoulders back, remembering how broken and defeated Faith was back at Angel's, Buffy stepped forward and took the younger girl by the elbow. She exacted just enough force to lead Faith away from the dance floor and to the fire doors to the right.

Faith followed blindly, in no moral position to be difficult or uncooperative. Whatever it was that Buffy was leading her to. . .she couldn't deny it. She couldn't deny Buffy her hate or need to punish her. Faith knew, deep within herself, that she deserved the punishment. That Buffy was, and always would be, justified in the way she treated her.

As Buffy pushed open the fire doors, pulling Faith along with her, she ran through every possible outcome and consequence to come. Buffy was nothing if not forward thinking. She may not have appeared that way on the outside, but inside, she was forever thinking about how her actions would look. What her actions would say about her as a person. As a slayer.

Practically throwing Faith up against the wall of the alley they now found themselves in, Buffy asked again, "what are you doing here?"

Her words were loud and clear now, only the muffled sound of music in the background tainting the atmosphere that enveloped them both.

Faith looked down at the floor, her eyes glancing over to Buffy's boots. They were black, they were hard, and they were clearly made for kicking ass. Faith had never seen Buffy wear anything so. . .Faith-like before.

"Faith," Buffy practically spat the word, "why are you here? What do you want?"

Flicking her eyes back up to Buffy's, Faith took a deep but slow breath. She had expected the pain that came from Buffy's harshness. She had felt it in abundance when Buffy had made her feelings clear back in LA. It still stung, though. It still hit her right in the centre of her chest.

She tried to speak, but words failed her. There was no snappy, smart ass Faith left in her. There was no fight. No will to fight the girl before her.

Sighing, Faith ran a hand through her hair, finding it increasingly difficult to look the other girl in the eye. "We should go find Giles, he'll explain," Faith muttered.

"Giles? He knows you're here? You've spoken to him?" Buffy's eyes went wide and her heart leapt into her mouth. "Faith, I swear. . .if you've done anything to Giles, I'll kill you."

The words "I'll kill you" caused Faith to stop avoiding eye contact, for a split second her dark brown pools of regret and pain became locked on Buffy. She knew Buffy meant it. She felt it in the cold hard stare. She felt it in the deep scar at her side.

"I know," Faith whispered into the dark alley.

Both girls stopped all exchanges. All thoughts went back to that night. The night they fought to the death.

She didn't regret it. Buffy knew her actions were the right ones. She only ever did the right thing. It hadn't been a choice she could shy away from. Faith was wrong, and Faith had to be stopped. Buffy was a slayer, and stopping evil was her duty. Faith wasn't going to make her feel like a victim ever again.

A minute passed as they stood in silence, the night air cooling their taught bodies as Buffy invaded all kinds of personal space. She had somehow moved closer to Faith, so they were almost touching as the taller of the two stood with her back to the dirty wall.

One step, and they would be pressed together. Faith could feel the heat radiating from Buffy. She could feel where Buffy's skin was covered and where it lay open to the elements. She could feel the soft breaths of the other girl blowing over her cleavage as she breathed through her nose.

She could smell Buffy. With every intake of air, Faith's senses hit overload as the scent of her supposed enemy filled her lungs.

She couldn't help it, but it got her in places she knew it was wrong. It got her mind, it got her insides squirming, it got her yearning. Faith's body wanted to be closer to Buffy's. It needed the feel of her. It needed the scent of Buffy on her. She couldn't describe the need. She didn't understand the need, it just was. It always had been.

Buffy lowered her head, not in shame of what she had done. Never in shame. She lowered it to regain control of the situation. Faith couldn't look her in the eye, but Buffy couldn't stop looking into Faith's. She wasn't sure what she was looking for. Pain, remorse. . .fear. Maybe all that and more.

She didn't need to look far, as it was all there on the surface, yet still her green eyes bore into Faith. Still she ensured Faith knew who had the upper hand as she forced her up against the wall with no escape.

She wasn't touching Faith, but it felt like she was. It felt like their bodies were closer. It felt like every breath Faith took came straight from her own lungs. Like she was stealing her oxygen. Like she was feeding on her. Taking her in, again, the way she had done before. Swallowing Buffy up in her presence, in her aura. In her heat and wildness. In her frightening depths.

Buffy shook her head, loosening herself from whatever grip Faith always seemed to hold on her. It wasn't something she could put a name to, a tag to. It wasn't something she knew how to understand or deal with. Maybe it was their slayer blood, bound together through divine right. Maybe. . .but she didn't know. It scared her, and that made her angry.

"You have two seconds to tell me what the fuck is going on, Faith," Buffy demanded as she pushed her face closer to Faith's, knowing it would intimidate her.

Faith tried to back further into the wall, not in fear, as she no longer feared death from the hands of Buffy. . .she had been there and knew if it came again, she would take it. She would take it from Buffy, because Buffy was her better.

She was trying to back away for more reasons than she wanted to divulge. Faith wanted to get away from Buffy's eyes, from her smell, from her lips so close to her own. Even though the circumstances were messed up, Faith couldn't help but want Buffy in every way that was screeching at her "no, no, no".

"I'm here. . ." Faith began, unsure of why she really was there. To heal, yes, but she truly didn't understand why Giles had taken her in. Why he was protecting her from Buffy. From this onslaught of mixed emotions. "I'm here `cause Giles took me in. He's. . .helping me."

Buffy narrowed her eyes, trying to process the information. "Helping you what? Learn to be human?" It was a cheap shot. A shot at the fact Faith had crossed over to the other side. To the demon side of their secret world.

It stung Faith, but she didn't crumble. She took it. She had only been one step away from being a demon, from being a vampire. From being the exact opposite of Buffy and all that stood for being a slayer.

"You should ask Giles about the why," Faith said, "I'm just doing what I'm told."

Buffy laughed. It wasn't a giggle, it wasn't light, and it wasn't meant to lift the mood. There was nothing but mockery and contempt in her tone. "Doing what you're told? That's a new one, Faith," she said. "So if I tell you to get the hell out of my town, will you? Because we don't have room for a faulty slayer here."

Faith licked her dry lips and looked away from Buffy, holding her tongue. She didn't want to be hurt by Buffy, no matter how much she deserved it. She wanted to ask the other girl to stop and back off. She wanted to tell her how sorry she was. She wanted to atone. But Faith knew Buffy would have none of it. She had told her that much at Angel's.

She didn't want to just stand and take a verbal beating, however, that cut deeper than any knife.

"B, we're getting nowhere stood out here in this stinking alley, if we get back to Giles. . ." Faith realised why she was there in the first place. "Wait, where is Giles? He said he was gonna be with you."

"I killed the demon, so he should be on his way back home," Buffy informed her, then shook her head, getting back to the point. "Stop trying to distract me, I want to know what the hell you're doing back here. Why aren't you in jail with all the other psycho dykes?"

Faith was about to tell Buffy once again that she should talk to Giles, but the last comment caught her attention. Why had Buffy called her a dyke?

Faith creased her brow, and tried to think of any reason for Buffy to call her that. She couldn't think of one. She had always presented herself as a man-eater, a slut who couldn't get enough stick.

She'd had thoughts about Buffy. She had come to terms with the way Buffy made her feel, but she had never crossed a line and indicated to Buffy that she was into her, or gay. Or at least, she didn't think she had. It was all such a blur. Every event, every feeling and desire, all smushed together in the fog and whirlwind of their short time together.

Faith didn't know what to say. She was trapped, by Buffy being so close to her, and by her own fears and uncertainty. "There wasn't any evidence," is all Faith could come up with in her defence.

"So, the dead body didn't give it away to the cops then, huh? The fact you killed him, dumped him like garbage, then went nutso," Buffy sneered, pushing the limits, wondering herself why she had called Faith a dyke out of the blue.

Faith couldn't take anymore. Her own self-hatred was enough, she didn't need to hear it from Buffy. Not now. Not when she was so close to being on the right tracks for a change.

She stepped forward, away from the wall and right into Buffy's space, not attempting to intimidate so much as just cause the shorter girl to back away a little.

Buffy didn't back away, instead she saw the movement as a threat. As an indication that she had pushed Faith far enough to trigger her to lash out. To slip into the Faith that Buffy had grown used to.

Using both her hands to shove Faith back into the wall, Buffy grabbed onto the lapels of her jacket, keeping them tight in her grasp as she pressed her body into Faith, pinning her to the hard brick behind her.

"You move when I tell you to move," Buffy snarled.

Her chest was firmly pressed into Faith's, their exposed stomachs hot against each other as their shirts rode up in the confined space. Buffy could feel Faith's warm breath tickling her lips where their faces lingered inches apart.

She didn't think she'd ever been so close to Faith. She didn't want to be so close to Faith. It made her crazy. It made her head crazy, and she couldn't think straight.

Buffy tried to catch her breath, her heart pounding in her own ears. She wanted to throw Faith to the side, she wanted to move away, but she couldn't. As if they were being bound together by some external force, Buffy stayed pushed right against the other girl.

She took a second to just look over Faith's face. Her eyes darting as she took in every curve, every freckle, every little thing that made Faith the attractive girl she was. She was struck by the other girl's delicate skin, her soft lips, her beauty under the mask of makeup.

It made her sick to her stomach. She hated Faith. She hated what Faith had done to her. What she had done to both her boyfriends. She hated the way Faith made her feel inside.

"I hate you, Faith," Buffy said with an ice-cold tone.

It hurt Faith more than she could explain to herself. It hurt enough for a little of her old self to sneak out. "You coulda fooled me, B. With you all pressed up against me, getting hot n needy, I thought you were planning to fuck me against the wall."

Before she could react or move, Faith felt the back of her head slam into the brick behind her, a sharp pain blinding her temporarily as her forehead split, right where Buffy had butted her.

Blood trickled between them and Buffy pulled away sharply, letting go of Faith's jacket as she shoved her away in disgust. They stood facing each other, both poised, ready, hearts thudding and muscles twitching.

Swiping Faith's blood from her brow, Buffy felt a little more of herself slip away. She had killed Faith, or tried to, once before. It had burned her soul. It had scarred her, no matter how much she denied it to herself. Now, faced with Faith before her, her blood once again on her hands, she had to decide what was right.

What made her the better person. The better slayer.

What made her right.

CHAPTER FIVE

Note: For Electra. My inspiration and my heart.

Buffy forcibly pushed the door to Giles' apartment open. It wasn't locked, which worried her. The whole situation worried her. She couldn't quite get to grips with it all, or what little she knew. And there was the fact that she didn't trust Faith. She would never trust Faith.

Grabbing hold of Faith's jacket sleeve by the wrist, Buffy rushed into the small living room "Giles!" she shouted, not believing that Faith hadn't done something to her watcher.

She had listened impatiently to Faith's explanation of what was going on, but the details were sketchy, and Buffy wasn't about to be fooled by Faith again.

"Giles!" Buffy screeched once more, as she pulled Faith along behind her.

"B, there are no puppies to save, slow down," Faith said as she pulled her arm free from Buffy's grasp.

"Indeed there aren't. Now, what's going on?" Giles asked coolly, his eyebrow slightly raised as he watched the pair stumble to a stop in the middle of his living room.

He thought keeping his cool would diffuse some of the fuss and anxiety away from Buffy. She looked on the verge of exploding, and her current high-pitched tone clearly indicated that finding Faith back in Sunnydale was not a fun thing to stumble upon.

"You're ok!" exclaimed Buffy, looking Giles over for signs of injury, kidnapped-ness, or drug use, as surely he wasn't just going along with Faith being there. . .in her town.

"Yes, Buffy, I'm quite ok, apart from the fact my door is now broken," Giles said with a frown, moving toward his rather forlorn looking door as it hung limply from the frame.

Leaning down to pick up the broken lock, he suggested that they all sit down calmly, and talk about why Faith was back in Sunnydale with them.

Buffy huffed, strutting into the room as she looked for signs of struggle. She couldn't see any, but kept her wits about her, as she leaned on the desk behind her that was littered with books and papers. She wasn't about to sit next to Faith. Her enemy. It was bad enough that Faith was anywhere near her, and her watcher, she didn't want to sit down and have tea and biscuits.

"I'll stand, thanks," Buffy said snarkily.

As she took a seat on the small sofa, Faith glanced over at Buffy. She could see just how desperate Buffy was to figure out what was happening. Buffy had listened to Faith's brief explanation, but her face had been a mask of stubborn scepticism.

Through Faith's account of what had happened with the cops, with Angel, and about how Giles had stepped up and offered her hope when she had none…Buffy was quiet, her eyes narrow and jaw set. The words bounced off her, but at least she wasn't mashing Faith's face into the ground.

Just before Buffy had been about ready for them to fight. To step into comfortable shoes and trade blows like so many times before, Faith had said a word that made Buffy's haze clear. That stopped the oncoming freight train of punishment and retribution.

Faith told Buffy to call Angel if she wanted to hear, and know for sure, what the truth was.

Buffy's fists instantly fell to her side, her green eyes looking greener in the shadowy alley as they stood in a face off. A few more words from Faith and Buffy clicked down a gear, just enough to actually listen, though not understand or believe.

Wiping Faith's blood from her fingers on her jeans, Buffy took the responsible and mature route, and ordered Faith to come with her as she checked out that Giles was ok. She made sure Faith was right beside her, arms length away. Close enough to take down if she had to.

Their trip back to Giles' had been mostly quiet and awkward. Every movement that Faith had made caused Buffy to whip her head round, expecting an attack. Faith couldn't exactly blame Buffy for feeling that way. For assuming that she would turn on her. It was who she had been. Probably who she still was under the desire to change, and to be different.

Giles cleared his throat as he looked at both slayers. The tension in the room was solid and hard. Jagged edges of mistrust, anger and hurt jutted out from the girls as they settled into uncomfortable silence.

He ventured forward with his explanations and reasons. He watched Buffy's face twist and turn. Her eyes roll. Her head shake. Her arms folded firmly across her chest. She wasn't going to be easily swayed. She wasn't going to give Faith an easy time of it, or a chance to apologize so she could start fixing some of the damage.

Rubbing his temple as he felt a headache beginning to impede his patience, Giles sighed. "You can either work with us, Buffy, or. . .you can stay out of this and give Faith a chance to heal, and to make right some of the wrongs she did."

Buffy looked away from her watcher, her teeth clenched tight together as she suppressed her anger. There was no way Faith could make anything right again. She had destroyed any chance of that. She had used Buffy, her friends, her mother, her boyfriends. Faith had tainted everything with evil, and there was no way she could just put that behind her. There was no way she could help Giles in his little mission.

"I'll stay away, thank you. I don't plan on her screwing up my life. . .again," Buffy stated, keeping her gaze away from the dark figure on the sofa.

Faith's shoulders hunched even more forward than they had been, as she tried to fold in on herself. As she felt the need, the real, palpable and overwhelming need. . .to just disappear.

"Buffy!" Giles snapped, causing both girls to look up sharply at him. "Faith's actions were born out of our mistakes as much as her own. You should keep that in mind whilst you're judging."

Buffy opened her mouth to defend herself, and exonerate herself from any blame, but no words came as she glanced over at Faith as she sat frowning in confusion and turmoil.

Faith wanted to stand tall and tell Giles that he was wrong. It was her fault. All of it. She had killed. She had lied. She had turned towards evil and all it stood for, against Buffy, against Giles and everything she should have stood for. Faith didn't want to pass the blame.

"Giles, I. . ." Faith stuttered, "you can't blame anyone but me. It was me. I did it. I did it all. I shouldn't even be here." Tears began to well in her eyes, so she turned away from Buffy even further, her head down as she fought back her pain.

"No, Faith. . .we're all responsible, and I for one have promised to put that right, so you're staying," Giles said softly, as he stepped forwards a little and laid his hand on Faith's shoulder.

The gesture surprised Buffy. It made her insides squirm.

Giles was her watcher. He was meant to stand by her, not Faith. Faith who had killed. Who had caused pain to all her friends, to everybody she could, to her. It wasn't right, and she was fuming inside. Her mind racing with ways to get Faith out. To get her to run. To mess up again. To just. . .leave Buffy and her life alone.

"This is crazy," Buffy said under her breath.

"It may seem crazy to you, Buffy, but to Faith. . .it's her last chance," Giles pointed out. "I was hoping you would at least try to understand. I don't expect you to just forgive Faith, or trust her right away, or even pretend to be her friend. I just ask that you give her some space to mend."

Taking deep and slow breaths in order to suppress her emotions, Faith gave Giles a small smile. Her eyes brightened instantly and Giles wished that the young girl had more to smile about. He wished the dark shade of pain and self-loathing would lift from her.

She deserved another run at it. She deserved their help this time. Their understanding, encouragement and guidance. She deserved to be freed from the dark and lonely place she was hidden within.

There was a little sparkle of optimism inside him that suspected it was possible. That somewhere down the line, some of Faith's carefree exuberance would come back, without the heavy weight of rebellion that lead her before. Without the threat of falling into the wrong hands again.

"Whatever," Buffy huffed, her displeasure clearly visible.

Shaking his head, Giles tempered his desire to request that Buffy stop being so uncompromising. She was stubborn by nature, however, which worked well in her favour when it came to slaying, but not when it came to matters that required her to step from the spotlight.

Not seeing any likely-hood of understanding and acceptance, Giles put his faith in time healing some of the gaping wounds that both girls had sustained.

"I think a nice cup of tea is in order. Faith, would you bring in the dirty cups, please?" He asked, making his way into the kitchen, trusting Buffy not to harm Faith, or the rest of his flat, in any way.

"Sure," Faith answered quietly, lifting herself from the small sofa and looking around for dirty cups.

She picked up the one on the coffee table in front of her, then glimpsed over to the desk Buffy was currently perched on the edge of. There was a cup amongst the piles of paper and assorted magic books Giles kept for research.

Faith looked from the cup to Buffy, and back. Buffy seemed oblivious. Too caught up in looking haughty as she inspected her nails, doing her best to completely ignore Faith.

She approached the desk slowly, her heart thudding as she got closer to Buffy. As the tingles from their slayer connection prickled her spine and made her twitch.

Faith had always felt strange around Buffy, but now. . .there was so much more to it. There was so much to fix and overcome.

Buffy noticed Faith's advance and wanted to back away as much as stand her ground. The cup was right by her and Faith was getting unnervingly close. She had an urge to rush Faith. To press her up against the wall again and intimidate her. To do something that screamed at Faith that she wasn't going to be a victim again.

Instead, Buffy chose to turn around and show her back to the other girl in defiance. She wasn't about to make nice with Faith. She wasn't about to let the girl crawl back into her life, her head, her. . .

"I just need to. . .the cup," Faith murmured as she reached out towards it, her arm almost brushing Buffy's side as she did so.

Holding her breath, and refusing to acknowledge Faith, Buffy distracted herself by shuffling the books around on the desk. Faith's scent swept over her, filling her nostrils and wrapping its way around her. It was too much, too Faith, and she wanted to shove her away, but Giles was her watcher, her mentor, and Buffy wanted to do her best for him. Or at least try to.

Glancing over the titles as Faith picked up the cup and began to move away, giving Buffy her breathing space back, Buffy noticed a grimy book entitled `The Book of Jawbreakers'. She wondered what it could mean, and supposed. . .if it was a book with supernatural `jawbreakers' as its subject, that slayers, and her in particular might be in it. She was strong, and had done deeds that should be written about after all.

Opening the musty old book, Buffy began to flick through the pages. The writing was foreign to her, and there were very few pictures, though one right in the centre caught her eye.

She became instantly enthralled by it. The colours were vivid, despite the apparent age of the book. Surrounded by a haze of golden light that seemed to transcend the paper, there was a circle. It looked like a deep pool, with something in its depths that Buffy couldn't quite see.

She wanted to know what it was. She wanted to feel what it was.

Reaching her hand out, her fingers needing to touch the very fabric of the page, Buffy heard a faint voice behind her.

"Giles told me to be careful with that one, B. You're not meant to touch it or something," Faith warned.

Her warning came too late. It fell on deaf ears as Buffy's finger tips slipped over a sumptuous silky texture. She wasn't going to do what Faith told her. Faith was nobody. She didn't have the right.

As her senses melted to the soft and alluring surface, Buffy felt herself being tugged. It didn't feel violent or threatening. It felt nice. Reassuring and right.

She let it happen.

From the kitchen, Giles heard a crackling sound, saw a flash of light that dazed him, then heard a smash. Dropping the tea bags to the floor he rushed back into the living room.

It was empty.

Frantically looking around, Giles scanned the room. The dirty cups lay broken on the floor. His paperwork floated about as it made its way from the air to find a surface to settle on. A book, its pages open to the dull light of the room, stood proud of all the others.

He rushed over towards his desk and looked down at the book. "Oh shit! Buffy, what have you done?" he asked the empty space around him, knowing that Faith knew not to touch the powerful tome.

Clutching the book in his hand, Giles spun around, giving a puzzled look to the shattered cups on the floor.

"Now that's not right. It takes one, not two," he muttered to himself, trying to work out where both of his slayers had gone.

After searching the small apartment for Faith, he had to conclude that both girls had been taken by the commanding magic of the ancient book. But it didn't work that way. From what he knew. . .only the person touching the page should be effected.

Rubbing his brow and lifting the telephone to his ear, Giles dialled and waited for an answer, and with any luck, some help. "Ahh, Willow, I'm hoping you can be of some assistance," he said, clearly sounding a little shaken up.

He was shaken up.

Just as progress was being made with Faith. Just as things seemed to be getting to the point where both her and Buffy could move forward. . .they had been taken. And Giles couldn't be sure where, or why.

CHAPTER SIX

"So, you're telling me Faith has been hidden away here. Nobody but you and Angel knew. Buffy bumped into her by accident and broke your door, then they went poof and disappeared."

"In essence, yes, Willow," Giles confirmed.

"Okay, that. . .still doesn't make sense, but I can deal with that," Willow said as she nodded in conclusion. "This is the Hellmouth, and stranger things have happened. Like. . .yunno, parallel universes, girls turning into rats, mix n match demons, crazy candy, Buffy getting engaged to Spike. . ."

"To be fair, Willow, some of those incidents were your doing," Giles smiled down at the redhead. "But aside from all the mishaps and events that have happened in our time together on the Hellmouth, the fact is that Faith is here for my help, and I intend to give it this time, whether or not Buffy, or the rest of you understand."

"But Faith isn't here anymore, and neither is Buffy," Willow said, pointing out the obvious as she sat on the edge of the sofa cushion, her eyes big and bright despite the dim surroundings.

"Indeed, which is why I called you, Willow. I may know a little about the book I believe has taken them, but there are magics involved that even I am unable to comprehend," Giles confessed. "You on the other hand. . .have a far better chance at unravelling what has happened, and hopefully you'll be able to bring them back."

Willow looked a little caught in the headlights. Giles couldn't blame the girl for being a tad confused and possibly apprehensive. Willow had great power within her, but the power was still raw and unpractised. She had done great and impressive things before. She had wielded magic from her heart and mind in ways that Giles couldn't quite understand. . .but Willow hadn't yet learned to truly control and channel all that was within her.

He hoped she could do her best for him, with him, for the two girls lost somewhere he didn't know enough about.

"I'll call Tara, she'll be able to help. If that's ok, I mean. . .if you don't want anybody else knowing about Faith, I can. . .well no, I can't keep it from Tara `cause yunno, but I understand if you want it to stay a secret. . ." Willow babbled on, trying to work out what was the right thing to say.

"Willow, call Tara. We need all the help we can get. I don't know for sure where Buffy and Faith are. I don't know if they're in danger. I don't know if they're even together," Giles sighed. "If they are together. . .I'm even less sure about how they will cope."

Giles picked up the book he believed to be the cause of their disappearance. It was old, it was worn, and it was clearly an important tome due to its size and bold lettering. He had been researching it only recently, having been sent it by an old friend in the council.

There were deep mysteries within it. Powerful forces that bound its yellowing pages. Stories of old telling of its use and might. He had only scratched the surface of its true intent and secrets, but what he did know made him shudder.

If the girls were caught in its web, they might never be freed from it.

"Is that it?" asked Willow from over his shoulder.

"Yes, Willow. This is The Book of Lawbreakers. It holds the souls of those condemned by crimes they have committed. Such a person is encouraged to touch the page within the centre of the book, and they are taken from this world to. . .well, I'm not sure where to. Once a soul is within, however, it is trapped forever," Giles explained gravely, placing the book next to some other old texts he knew he would have to trawl through for clues and answers.

Willow ran her fingers over the cover of the book, displacing some of the dust that clung to the lettering. She could feel the magic tingling through her hand and up her arm. She closed her eyes and saw lights swirling ahead of her.

"If it's meant to take only the person touching the page, though. . . what happened to Faith?" Willow asked as her head became fuzzy from the forces surging up her arm.

"I don't know, Willow," Giles said as he took a deep breath and rubbed his glasses clean. "As far as I'm aware, there's no precedent for such an occurrence. We can only hope that we're able to bring them both back. Safely."

*****

Buffy groaned as she felt herself claw her way back from unconsciousness. Her head was swimming and sore. Her eyes refused to open and she could feel blood trickling down her brow into them. It felt like a truck had been parked on her, and her arms wouldn't move to alleviate the weight from her stomach.

She tried to assess the situation from where she lay. Any sudden moves could put her in more danger, or could alert any hostile nearby to her presence.

Running her tongue over her lips, wetting the dry surface, Buffy forced open one eye, just a little. Just enough to let in the light and orientate herself. She didn't know what had happened, or where she was.

She remembered a book, a light, falling, Faith. . .then nothing. Nothing until she felt her head pounding like an alarm to wake her. There was hard gravel or dirt beneath her. She could feel it on her fingertips. The air was cold and dry, and the only sound she could detect was wind. A distant howling, like it was whipping around great canyons and crag filled mountains.

Buffy took a deep breath, feeling the weight above her shift, feeling dust fill her lungs. There was only one scent in the air.

Blood.

It wasn't her own blood, however. It was Faith's. She knew the smell. It was different to other people's blood because she was a slayer, but it was also different to her own. She couldn't describe the difference, and Buffy didn't know if it was her heightened senses or just her memory telling her that it was Faith's.

Buffy would never forget the smell or the feel of Faith's blood.

She'd had Faith's blood all over her hands before. She had sat slumped on the floor, watching the redness drip to the glass-strewn roof of Faith's apartment. Every drip, every splash echoing in her mind. The smell of betrayal. Of strength. Of weakness. Of yearning.

Buffy closed her eye shut again and gathered her thoughts. Whatever had happened, wherever she was, she had fallen. That much she could tell. With the pain in her head and back it was clear. . .it had been a long, hard fall.

As her faculties came together, Buffy felt her pain receding. Her slayer healing had begun to kick in, but she could tell that whatever bruises and breaks she had sustained were pretty bad. She wasn't going to be leaping up anytime soon, especially not with the weight that seemed to be on her.

Opening both her eyes, wishing that the wet, sticky feel of blood could be swiped from her brow, Buffy reassured herself that she could deal with the situation. With any situation.

She wasn't expecting dark brown hair to be tangled up with her own. A solid and unmoving body laying over her, not the truck that had first crossed her mind. Buffy knew instantly that it was Faith. A very unconscious Faith, draped over her, her breaths shallow and body limp.

Buffy wanted to propel Faith off her. She didn't want to be stuck under the girl. She didn't want to be that close, feeling her warmth and her body. Feeling the soft touch of dark hair against her cheek.

She didn't seem to have the strength to be so violent as to launch Faith into the air, however. Grimacing, Buffy shifted herself to the side under Faith, then rolled the bigger girl off her and onto her back.

Faith stirred, a slight groan escaping her lips as her back hit the floor. Buffy rolled her eyes and wished for the world, or wherever they were. . .to swallow Faith up so she didn't have to deal with her. So she didn't have to deal with them. Buffy didn't want this. She didn't want the memories, the hurt, the responsibility. Buffy just wanted to move on.

But she couldn't. . .Faith was right beside her, and not looking in great shape. There would be no moving on right now.

Sighing, Buffy looked Faith over for injuries. She kept her hands on the dirt ground, deciding not to touch the other girl. Not wanting to. She could see blood making a slow trickle from Faith's brow. The cut Buffy had caused earlier was now bigger, and was accompanied by a very nasty looking bruise and bump.

Buffy wiped her own brow, clearing it of the blood that had seeped from Faith onto her. She felt a pang of guilt, but buried it inside. "It's not my fault you decided to bash your head off the floor and made it worse," Buffy said in Faith's direction.

Faith didn't reply, nor move.

"At least you're keeping quiet for a change," Buffy mumbled under her breath.

She really didn't want to be near this girl. The girl who had done so much damage. More than she knew.

More than Buffy could even come to terms with herself. She would never tell Faith how deeply she was hurt by her betrayal. She'd told her how much of a victim she had made her feel, but it went beyond that. It went deep inside her. It tore at her veins and her blood.

Sitting back on her haunches next to Faith, Buffy looked around. She took a second to wonder why she had checked on Faith before her surroundings, but didn't dwell on any possible answers.

The landscape before her was barren and dry. The wind blew shimmering dust clouds of sand around, swirling it over the few scattered rocks Buffy could see in the distance. She clutched her small jacket around herself, feeling a chill to the breeze and a bite from the sand. As far as she could see, there was nothing but dust and sand, and the odd dark tumble of stone.

The place, wherever it was, was like a desert. Like a vast deserted slither of Arizona or Mexico. It wasn't either of those places however. Buffy could tell that just from the colour of the sky, and from the shadow it cast on the ground. The thick churning hues of red and black above her head, coupled with an intense light despite the dark sky. . .left Buffy in no doubt that they had landed somewhere unearthly.

"Great, and I'm stuck here with you," Buffy muttered, looking down at Faith.

A crack of thunder behind her caused Buffy to twist her head round, and she stumbled back from her haunches and onto the floor. Where she thought there was once nothing, a huge cliff now stood, its rock face glinting at her in shades of red.

The thunder rolled on loudly, splitting the sky open overhead. Buffy shivered as she watched, as she felt the air around them crackle into life.

Water began to splash down on her, on Faith laying beside her, quickly pooling around them as a torrent opened from above. Each splash of rain that hit Buffy's skin stung. It felt like rock shards hitting her. Fragments of ice and glass rushing towards the ground. Towards them.

It was only water, however, and it was soaking both of them.

Buffy looked frantically around for a safe haven. For anywhere she could run to. There was nowhere out on the open plain, and the cliff behind her became her only hope of refuge.

She thought about leaving Faith. She deserved to be left out in the open with the hard rain hitting her and keeping her down, but Buffy knew that would be wrong. No matter who it was, she knew she had to do her best to get them both to safety.

Standing with difficulty due to her pain and the torrential downpour, Buffy moved alongside Faith. She looked from Faith's head of tangled dark hair, down to the scuffed black boots on her feet. Buffy didn't want to touch. She didn't want to help. She didn't want to be responsible.

She didn't have a choice though, and she felt that in every twitch of her muscles.

Buffy took a deep breath and hauled Faith over her shoulder, muttering under her breath at the weight, at the rain, at the sodden sand that made her stumble and struggle towards the rock face.

Faith didn't move. She made no sound. Perched on Buffy's shoulder, being held awkwardly and without thought, Faith remained unconscious, much to the relief of the blonde girl. Buffy didn't want to deal with an awake Faith right now. She had enough dealing with Faith being helpless in her grip. She had enough dealing with the feel of her, with the scent of blood overwhelming her.

All she could smell was blood. Despite the heavy rain kicking up the sand and the earth, it's all there was. It's the only thing she could sense in all the confusion.

As they reached the cliff bottom, Buffy realised it was much darker there then out in the open. The shadowy rock was wet and cold, and much more ominous than it had seemed two minutes before. There was no other place to look for cover, however, and further along the face Buffy was sure she could see an inlet. A cave maybe, or just a crevice where they could put there backs to the wall and wait.

Wait for what, Buffy wasn't sure. . .but she had been a slayer long enough to know that all things could be explained, and solved. Sometimes it took brute force, other times it took patience and understanding, and then. . .a little brute force.

This would be no different, even though she had to admit that she had never felt so lost and far from home. Far from everything she understood and was comfortable with. Maybe it was because Faith was there. Her enemy. The girl that screwed her over. That tried to take her friends lives, her boyfriend's life. Her life.

As she got to what she could now see was a little cave, Buffy tried to shake all the thoughts from her head. She had to deal with the situation. With how to keep safe. The immediate concern was to get out of the stinging rain. To hide out until she was dry and the sky ceased to take its toll on the land beneath.

"I really hate getting wet," Buffy grumbled.

She stopped at the mouth of the cave, peering inside, waiting for any animals or demons to show themselves. Waiting for Faith to make a quip about Buffy not liking to get wet.

Nothing charged at them from the cave, and Faith made no such vulgar remark.

The rain thankfully wasn't coming down at an angle to reach inside the little hole in the side of the rock, which Buffy was very grateful for. She wasn't so thrilled about the fact it was cold and dark, with no comfy spot to curl up on, but there was no option but to use it.

"I'll take that side and you can have this one, not that it's far enough away," Buffy said aloud as she dropped Faith to the floor, trying to be careful, but not overtly so.

Straightening herself out, wincing from the sore points on her body and from the damp feeling of her own clothes against her skin, Buffy moved to make her way the two steps to the other side of the dank cave. She stopped, her eyes fixed on Faith and how uncomfortable a position she had laid the younger girl in. She couldn't just leave her like that.

Not knowing why, but feeling compelled to do it, Buffy bent to lay Faith on her side. To make sure she would wake up in a comfortable position. In her head Buffy was yelling at herself to leave Faith outside, in the rain, as uncomfortable as possible, but from deeper within herself she felt an obligation to protect.

"I should be kicking your ass, not carrying it around, and giving it a nice spot to rest," she jibed as she moved Faith's hair out of her face, tucking the dark locks behind Faith's ear.

Buffy looked down at her hand, her fingers lingering in the dark hair. She stared down at Faith's face, her gaze travelling over the soft features of youth. Faith didn't look like a `hard girl' now, with her lips parted a little as quiet breaths escaped them. No scowl. No cocky look. No years of living-on-the-edge in her steel like brown eyes.

Faith's eyes were closed, and Buffy wanted to run her fingertips over the gentle curve of her eyebrow. The eyebrow that would dance and twitch with every excited gesture and mischievous remark. The eyebrow Buffy had always wanted to touch.

Her fingers hovered just above Faith. So close, but not close enough to touch.

Buffy could feel her heart begin to beat like a drum. She took it as a signal. As a warning.

"You're evil," she whispered to Faith in the darkness.

She stood, backing away from Faith as she made her way to the other side, keeping her distance. Keeping her eyes fixed on Faith. Waiting for her to wake. Waiting for the rain to stop. Waiting.

Buffy didn't feel there was anything more that she could do. So, she would wait. She was used to it. She had been waiting for a long time now.

Or maybe only since that night at the Bronze, when a slayer walked into her life and turned it upside down.

CHAPTER SEVEN

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 non-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 did find 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.

CHAPTER EIGHT

A crack of lightning jerked Buffy from her fitful sleep. It had struck close by, lighting up the insides of her eyelids with its white glow. She looked towards the small cave entrance to see flashes of electricity crossing its path. Fingers of white grasping from the sky to the ground.

She sighed, fighting down the fear that she would never escape. Her slayer courage forgotten as she bit her lip and thought about her mother and her friends. She couldn't begin to think about how much she would miss them, as it cut too deep. She couldn't imagine how damned her life would be, trapped with Faith as her only comfort.

Right now, as the damp air kept her chilled to the bone, Buffy was grateful to have Faith to cling to. . .and that ravaged her brain far more than not knowing how she would get back home.

She couldn't allow herself to dwell on whys and what ifs, so she pressed closer to Faith, seeking her heat but also seeking some kind of familiarity no matter how much she hated her.

The word hate reverberated through Buffy's mind as she breathed in deeply, wishing she could smell anything but blood. The scent of it had tainted her nostrils the entire time they had been there. She could smell nothing but the metallic sting of Faith's blood.

Buffy used the flashes of light from outside to take a look at the cut on Faith's brow. It had healed, leaving only a trace of dried blood on her hairline. The bump still appeared to be tender, though it had diminished in size a little.

Lifting her hand, Buffy gently brushed her fingertips over the lump. The bruise was nasty and Buffy winced as she touched it, subconsciously feeling the pain for Faith. Buffy moved her inspection from Faith's broken head to her closed eyes, imagining them open without realising she was doing it.

She watched for a while, her fingers having moved from Faith's forehead to her hair where she played with the texture of it as it rolled over her hand. She hadn't allowed herself to just look at Faith since that fateful night when Faith had made her mistake.

Maybe she feared that the mistake was contagious. That Faith would infect her with `wrong'. Once Faith turned her back on her and her calling and went to the Mayor, Buffy had never looked at Faith in the same way at all. Physically or mentally.

She couldn't without causing her brain to go into meltdown. She didn't understand a lot of what she'd felt at the time, and what Faith's defection made her feel. It all hurt too much, in ways she didn't know how to deal with.

"Why did it all go wrong?" Buffy asked, not expecting an answer.

Deep down she knew some of the answers, but she didn't know how to admit that. Not even to herself.

It was all best buried. It was better to hate than to be confused. Buffy understood hate, fighting, survival. . .but she didn't understand Faith or why she had done the things she had. She didn't understand her own actions either. It was all a mix of emotions and thoughts she didn't know how to unscramble.

Buffy removed her hand from Faith's hair, slipping it back under the younger girl's jacket. Her gaze remained fixed on Faith's face. She knew exactly where her dimples were when she smiled. She knew the exact colour of her eyes. She had memorised the cleft in her lip and the slant of her nose.

Trying to kid herself that these things were burned in her memory out of loathing, Buffy finally looked away. Looked down to where her hand lay hidden under Faith's dark jacket, where it lay against the soft skin of her side.

She allowed herself to touch. For her fingers to feel the faint warmth of Faith. She shivered as a chill ran down her spine. Some things were meant only to be looked at and never touched. Some feelings and ideas were never meant to be realised.

Buffy lifted her hand from Faith, detesting the way her delicate feminine skin felt on her fingertips. Detesting the tugging need to reach out that it instilled in her when it came to Faith.

Her hand didn't get far, however. Her curiosity got the better of her and she pushed Faith's jacket aside and lifted the thin material of her top a little way, to reveal a faint red scar. Buffy felt a wave of nausea hit her as she recalled the night she stabbed Faith. Her intention was never to kill her, but to break her. To get her to conform and bend to her will.

Faith had been too strong and wouldn't comply, and Buffy had been left with no choice but to take it to its natural end. Natural for a slayer anyway. There was no allowing the villain to escape when it came to being a slayer, and Faith had carved a very clear niche for herself as the villain.

It taunted Buffy endlessly that she'd had to bury Faith's own knife into her stomach. She knew she'd do it again if it was called for. . .but it still made her a little sick to her stomach. Sure, Faith was evil and she hated her, but she was also human. She was a slayer too. They shared a destiny together and no matter how much Buffy tried to ignore that. . .she couldn't, and it was driving her mad.

Softly, she whispered her fingertips over the scar she had caused. Buffy watched as she followed its flushed colour from top to bottom. She frowned, feeling the hurt Faith had caused her. Feeling the betrayal. Feeling the sadness. Feeling the regret.

As her fingers lingered she felt her heart twinge inside her chest. There was so much she wished hadn't happened. It was too late to take it all back. It was too late to go back. But maybe. . .she could try to see what Giles saw. Try to let the past move behind her.

Buffy kept her fingers pressed gently to Faith and felt rather then saw Faith's eyes open. She took a second to look up, but when she did, all she saw was wonder. Faith's brown eyes searched hers as a troubled frown creased her bruised brow.

Faith's hand moved over Buffy's at her stomach, grasping it lightly. Panic hit Buffy and she pulled her hand away, and scampered backwards. The softness in her thoughts evaporated and Buffy drove a hard mask over her face. She stood, stooped a little due to the cave height, her gaze fixed on Faith. Waiting for. . .she really didn't know what.

Faith squinted into the darkness, seeing Buffy poised and looking almost feral as she stared down at her, her green eyes wide. Buffy's clothes were torn and dirty, and her hair was damp and straggly. The sight almost scared Faith. She'd never seen Buffy looking so. . .wild and threatened.

Faith didn't know what was going on, but self-preservation kicked in and she tried to stand. As soon as she lifted her head from the floor however, her stomach lurched. Faith swallowed hard, trying not to be sick as she rose to all fours.

She coughed, her throat dry and head pounding. She closed her eyes and furrowed her brow, reaching out to the wall beside her to help herself up. Faith stood very shakily, leaning heavily against cold stone, unsure of whether Buffy would suddenly pounce on her or not.

Looking down at herself, she realised she looked just as bad as Buffy. Had they fought? She didn't know. Her last memory was of being in Giles' apartment, having told Buffy not to touch the book he had warned her about.

"B," Faith murmured, her voice cracking as she battled not to vomit, "what the hell happened?"

Buffy unclenched her muscles a little, seeing that Faith was apparently in no shape to go psycho-bitch on her. In fact. . .she looked pretty bad.

"I don't know," Buffy admitted honestly. "There was some kind of light, then we landed here, or rather. . .just outside," Buffy indicated the cave opening, keeping her eyes on Faith's every movement.

"Here?" Faith asked, sliding back down to her knees as she felt her head oozing in and out of blackness. "Where's here?"

Buffy relaxed a little more but once again felt the bite of the icy wind, causing her to rub her arms as she stood in the firing line of the rain as it swept in. "Some kind of wet, desert nightmare? I don't know, I didn't find the tourist information point yet, and sadly my map of desolate and unappealing hell dimensions got blown away in the freakishly evil wind outside."

Faith found the strength to cock her eyebrow. She guessed that Buffy really didn't know where they were, so it probably wasn't a good idea to ask more questions and antagonise her anymore than she already seemed to be.

They kept their distance, as usual. Closeness being too heavy with intrigue and possibility. Distance keeping them safe.

Faith rested on her knees, leaning back against the wall. She could hear thunder outside the small cave, or whatever it was, they were in. A flash of lightning hit close by and Buffy jumped away from the entrance. She stopped close to Faith, then seemed to hit some kind of dilemma that made her step back into the path of the rain.

Faith sighed and looked down. She felt tired. She felt dejected. She didn't know what was going on or where they were. All she knew was that her head hurt, and that Buffy wasn't likely to help her out in discovering why.

Maybe, like Buffy had suggested, it was hell. Her own personal version of it, where Buffy treated her like scum and expected her to switch on her `evil side' again at any moment.

Buffy watched as Faith slunk lower to the floor. The younger girl lifted her hand to her head, feeling around the raised bruise and dried blood. Buffy thought she had better offer up some kind of reason for it being there. She didn't want Faith thinking she'd beaten her up.

"I think we kind of fell here, and you must've hit your head when we landed," Buffy said, feeling her teeth begin to chatter again without Faith's warmth. "You've been out cold for a good few hours. It wasn't raining at first, but then. . .somebody decided my day wasn't crappy enough. So I brought us in here so we wouldn't drown."

"Right," Faith said, struggling to keep upright and wondering just how far they must have fallen for her to feel as rough as she did. "Must have been that book. Giles told me it could be dangerous."

Buffy looked blankly at Faith, trying to work out what she was talking about. "Book?"

"Yeah, you find them in libraries, or mostly lying around at Giles'," Faith said with a half-hearted chuckle, her dazed condition making her push her luck. "You were looking through the one he told me not to touch. He said it was dangerous so I left it alone. . .and I tried to warn you, B, but obviously too late."

"How the hell could a book do this?" Buffy asked, waving her arms in the air. "Don't be dumb, Faith, it has to be something else. Maybe your demon friends have brought you home, and I got caught up in their warpy thing." She pouted, positive that their predicament wasn't her fault.

Faith winced, not wanting to recall that she had ever got involved with, or close to a demon. The Mayor was never really a demon to her though. He was. . .something she'd never had before. Somebody who cared, or at least seemed to.

"You were looking through that Lawbreaker Book, B. Then the next thing you know, we're here, and I have a headache to end all headaches, and you're standing around in the rain talking about warping," Faith said, wondering just how much longer Buffy was going to allow her to speak. "B, face it. . .you got us pulled into some kinda weird place here."

"Don't you dare try to blame me, Faith," Buffy said, raising her voice, not wanting to hear accusations from Faith, who had fucked up more than Buffy ever could. "The book wasn't even called that, it was something to do with. . .jawbreakers."

Faith noticed the little stomp Buffy ended with and recalled just how endearing she could be when she wasn't being a self-righteous bitch.

"Lawbreakers, B. The thing was all dusty and shit, you musta read it wrong," Faith pointed out, feeling increasingly weary. Needing to lie back down and worry about where they were and what they were going to do later, when she felt better.

Silence prevailed for a minute as Buffy wracked her brain and Faith moved her legs from under herself and sat on the dusty floor. She felt woozy, the space around her drifting in and out of her sight. The lightning flashes outside burned the back of her eyes and she wanted to shut them and curl up into a ball to sleep.

It was cold though. Deathly so. She had woken up a little warmer than she felt now, remembering suddenly that Buffy had been tucked up against her. Hope fluttered through Faith's heart, but she realised Buffy had only been seeking her heat, as the other girl stood shivering in the doorway.

"Look, B, even if it was because you were looking at that book, it doesn't matter," Faith said, hoping to ease some of the tension. "You didn't know it would do this. Let's just hope Giles knows how to fix it."

Buffy opened her mouth, ready to object again to the idea that she had done something to cause their latest calamity. She didn't have much fight in her, though. She was too cold. Too soaked from the rain. Tired of clashing with Faith.

She looked out into the downpour, watching the dirt on the ground being kicked up by the torrent of water. The wind swirled it into shapes, and Buffy could see similarities between them and how she felt. She was in turmoil inside and had been for some time.

A strike of lighting, so close it made the air crackle inside the cave, broke Buffy from her thoughts. She wanted to move away from the rain and the lightning, but that meant moving closer to Faith again. She wasn't ready to act all buddy-buddy with Faith, even if she did want to find some way to move on from what had happened between them.

Forgetting and forgiving wasn't something she thought she could do with Faith. She had been able to set aside the horrific things Angel had done, because he had done them when he had no soul. Faith didn't have that excuse, and she had never given Faith a chance to tell her the reason for her behaviour and betrayal.

She didn't think she could ever allow Faith that opportunity.

"B, you're getting soaked over there. You can move closer yunno, I ain't gonna bite," Faith said. "My Doctor thinks my crazies are clearing up, and they're not contagious." She tried to smile despite the pain she was in.

Buffy felt her own lips tug a little at the corners, but she battled it down, refusing to let Faith get inside her walls like she sometimes did in her dreams.

"You may not be contagious, but I don't trust you, Faith," Buffy said, her cold tone making that very clear.

Faith sighed, needing to lie down. Needing some warmth as much as Buffy did. "You don't have to trust me, B," she said sadly. "But I'm not in any shape to be a threat to you, and we can't do anything until that storm blows over. I feel sick, I'm sore, and I'm fucking cold. Now come on. . .just lay back down with me before we both freeze to death."

Buffy held herself whilst the rain dripped from her hair, watching Faith as she rested on her side in the only dry area of the shelter. She knew she was cutting off her nose to spite her face, but she couldn't seem to get past her own stubbornness and need to be right all the time.

She shook her head like a petulant child. "I can't," Buffy practically whispered.

Faith tussled with her eyelids to keep them open as she shook from the stabbing cold. The darkness was encroaching on her sight, but she could still clearly see Buffy, as she was shrouded in light every time the skies threw their bolts to the ground.

She could also see what Buffy was doing. She could sense the struggle within her. She knew what it felt like to battle with your own emotions, trying to work out what's right and wrong. She'd done enough running to know the signs.

"B, I remember something you once told me," Faith said quietly, her strength waning as she looked up at her fellow slayer. "You told me that the first rule of slayer club was to not die. . .or something like that."

Buffy chuckled slightly at Faith's confused look. She understood, however, and she did recall once telling Faith something similar. "I didn't get all Brad Pitt on you, Faith, but yeah. . .you're right. Our first job is not to die," Buffy agreed, feeling that maybe she was safer with Faith now than she ever had been.

She truly didn't trust Faith and was sure she never would, but her skin was turning blue, and Faith looked on the verge of passing out. She was the better, quicker, stronger slayer anyway. . .so there really was no reason to fear Faith.

At least, not for the obvious reasons anyway. When it came to the things she didn't understand, for Buffy. . .there was plenty of fear involving Faith. Fears she didn't like to dwell upon.

Discounting them all, Buffy shuffled forwards and lowered herself to the floor. Her eyes were fixed on Faith's and they shared a moment of silence, and maybe a little understanding, before she lay next to her. She kept her back to Faith and moved into her, holding herself stiff in her consternation at having to seek something from Faith again.

Faith got as close to Buffy as she dared, smiling secretly at having her close. Despite everything that had happened between them, she had only ever wanted Buffy to be close to her. She had only ever wanted Buffy to be touchable instead of some `perfect girl' that lived in a glass case.

She knew Buffy wasn't perfect. It seemed only she, Giles and Angel really knew that. . .but she realised that they all, including herself, still cherished the idea that she was special. That she was something to hold onto. That there was hope that she would let them into her glass case with her one day.

Faith hoped that too, and was only just understanding that as she felt sleep overcome her. As she lifted her arm over Buffy and felt no resistance.

CHAPTER NINE

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.

CHAPTER TEN

Faith stared down at Buffy, her mouth falling open as she witnessed what was happening. She froze, her mind finding it hard to grasp the danger Buffy was suddenly in. Seconds ticked by and Faith shook her head, clearing out the lack of understanding and reaching the very distinct conclusion that she had to do something. . .and quickly.

"B," Faith called, her heart pounding in her ears as she ran towards the other slayer.

Her feet skidded to a stop close to Buffy sending up a cloud of dust. She grabbed onto her outstretched arm, gripping it firmly as Buffy grasped her forearm back.

"Pull, Faith," Buffy instructed, using her free hand to push at the earth quickly swallowing her.

She couldn't budge herself and Faith's tugging didn't seem to be doing much either. Buffy felt panic setting in, but at least Faith was helping her. She hadn't expected her to. She never would have guessed she would dash back to her with such a look of shock on her face, but Faith had done just that. And now she was pulling with all her might.

"B, I can't get you out," Faith said, gritting her teeth and scuffing her boots on the floor as she tried to yank Buffy out of the ground.

"Don't let go," Buffy said, almost pleading as Faith moved her legs either side of her and took both her arms.

Buffy's torso was quickly disappearing, the air being squeezed from her lungs as the ground clasped her like a vice.

"I'm not gonna let go, B," Faith assured, anchoring herself by digging her heals into the hard ground as she gripped onto Buffy's upper arms. "Hold onto me."

She leaned back, tugging on Buffy and hoping that she would somehow come unstuck. The earth around Buffy was solid and seemingly unyielding, but her efforts began to pay off.

Feeling her muscles strain and her brow dampening, Faith let out an almost carnal growl as she put all she had into freeing Buffy.

"That's it, Faith," Buffy yelled over Faith's string of expletives.

Buffy felt the ground give around her. The vice slowly let her go. She clung onto Faith's shoulders as more of her emerged from the dust and sand. She could breathe again, and as her legs slowly slipped from the sullied earth, Buffy kicked them free, crumpling on top of Faith as they tried to shuffle away.

The ground, or whatever it was beneath them wasn't done, however. Faith's foot was too slow in moving and she felt it being tugged downwards.

"Shit, this thing is still hungry," Faith gasped as she tried to yank herself free.

Luckily, from her laying position Faith's own weight wasn't aiding her descent into the avaricious sand. It gave Buffy plenty of time to grab onto her leg and pull it out before it got any deeper.

They scrambled away, standing and keeping their eyes transfixed on the ruffled circle of sand that had tried to devour them. Buffy's hands were still clasping Faith's forearms after their hasty retreat, their bodies still on high alert.

"What the fuck was that?" Faith said, catching her breath, her dark eyes scouring the area around them.

"I have no idea, but whatever it was. . .I don't think it's gone," Buffy answered, wanting to let go of Faith but not wanting to at the same time.

She didn't question why. She didn't want to dwell on her motives for staying attached to Faith. And more importantly, she was too busy worrying about the low rumble they could hear all around them, coming from below.

They stood as motionless as they could, hardly daring to breathe.

A burst of noise to their right caused them both to spin, Faith stood behind Buffy with a hand on her shoulder. A patch of sand blew upwards and the ground below it screeched. Buffy felt Faith close at her back and fell into a comfortable fighting stance, ready for whatever it was that seemed to be about to jump out of the ground.

All went quiet, then as if waiting for its chance to cause the most surprise. . .a ferocious cry came from the spot they were watching. As the cry sounded out a spurt of bones came shooting out from a hole that suddenly appeared. As quick as it had emerged, it vanished again, and the bones clattered to the floor in a neat pile where the ground was now solid once more.

"Well, now we know how the bones got here," Faith remarked, watching for more movement.

"Yeah, and I was nearly a pile myself," Buffy said quietly as she turned in a circle, staring at the many shimmering white piles she could see scattered across the deserted landscape.

All was quiet now. All deceptively calm.

Buffy swallowed, suddenly feeling her mouth go dry as she realized how close she was to being eaten. . .or whatever it was that would have happened had she vanished into the earth. She had Faith to thank for freeing her, and no matter how much hurt she carried inside herself from the past, she couldn't help but feel a little of it dissolve. She felt a little of the need to hate desert her.

"Thank you, Faith," Buffy said, looking up into Faith's eyes as the sun made them sparkle an almost chestnut red colour.

Faith was still looking around them, keeping focused on the dust and sand for more surprises, but she blinked slowly when Buffy thanked her and glanced towards her for a second.

Her gaze didn't stay on Buffy. It couldn't stay on Buffy for too long. She was too afraid of what Buffy might see in her eyes. "It's no problem, B," she said softly. "You saved me too. Thanks for that."

Faith looked away to the direction of the now setting sun.

Buffy looked down, a little shame seeping under her defences as she realised she had never saved Faith, not in the way she'd most needed saving. "It was nothing," she muttered, wishing she could let go of her pain and disappointment, but clinging to its comforting embrace.

"We'd better get moving. We don't wanna stand around looking like dinner again, and it's probably gonna get dark soon," Faith pointed out.

They didn't know where they were headed, but Buffy agreed. Whatever it was under their feet it probably wasn't going to give up on the prospect of a tasty slayer treat.

An hour or so passed as the girls walked in silence. They'd left the piles of bones behind, which hopefully meant they weren't in danger of being swallowed whole again. Buffy certainly felt safer now. The ground was less sandy and more dusty. There almost seemed to be a path they were following too.

Outcroppings of rock dotted the landscape, and in the dimming light they could see what appeared to be mountains far in the distance ahead of them. Mountains that looked to be running either side of a valley.

The path they were on was leading them straight for it.

As the sun finally began to shrink beneath the horizon, Buffy felt the cold begin to descend around them. She threw her torn and tattered jacket over her shoulders as Faith removed hers from her waist and put it on.

"Think we should keep walking or stop for the night?" Faith asked, watching as Buffy rubbed her hands over her arms to keep herself warm.

She could see a large rock formation just ahead. It looked like an ideal resting spot. There was a flat section they could jump onto and a large overhang that would shelter them a little. Faith thought she should maybe point it out.

"We should stop over there for the night, it looks safer than the ground," Buffy said, pointing, having noticed where Faith had been looking.

"Sounds like a good idea to me, B," Faith agreed, not really caring that Buffy had tried to make out that she was the smart one. . .as always.

They kept walking in silence as they neared the rock. Buffy indicated for Faith to walk around it one way as she walked the other, checking the area for anything nasty that might pop out at them.

"It's clear around here," Faith called then hoped up onto the flat surface.

Buffy watched as the younger girl ducked under the stoop. Her dark hair was wavy after the rain. Her dark clothes dishevelled but not as torn as Buffy's. Her dark aura being highlighted by the setting sun; its paintbrush of red leaving an eerie glow to everything, especially Faith as she shuffled under the overhang, digging around in the pocket of her tight jeans.

Buffy lifted herself up onto the rock, stood and stretched her back. It was still sore from their fall, but there were no crunching bone noises so she wasn't too worried.

Looking out towards the valley in the distance Buffy shaded her eyes from the glare of the sun as its remaining slither slipped beneath the dry ground. She would take them that way, she decided. It looked far more likely to be populated than the bone-strewn desert they were traversing.

Hopefully, it wasn't populated by things that were more likely to hurt them than help them.

"Fuck," Faith grumbled from beneath the stoop now shaded in darkness.

Buffy looked Faith's way and saw her cradling something in her hand. "What?" she asked, turning her back on the last rays of the sun.

"My smokes are screwed. Dry clean only I guess," Faith said with a sigh and a shrug, screwing the offending packet up in her hand and throwing it off their perch.

"God's way of telling you to quit," Buffy smirked as the destroyed packet hit the ground.

"Yeah?" Faith chuckled. "And what's this," she swept her hand out to indicate the now dark and cold desert landscape, "God's way of saying you're fucked anyway so there's no point in trying to change?"

The words hung in the air for a few seconds, giving both girls the chance to examine them, to taste them and feel them and let the weight of them press out feelings neither girl was comfortable with.

Buffy looked down, her instincts telling her one thing. . .to tell Faith that changing for the better always had a point. That it was the right choice. The right thing to do.

Her deeper feelings, her fears, her need to cling to her own self-assured opinion of Faith and what she had done and why, stopped her. Those feelings were telling her not to speak. Not to give Faith the slither of hope she needed. The assurance that her desire to now `do the right thing' was correct. Was worth it.

Maybe it had more to do with the fact she herself could see a glimpse of what could be. That she could see how Faith had already changed. The glimpse was too scary. It was too close for comfort, it was too much, so Buffy turned away from it and moved under the smooth rock that would be their shelter.

Buffy took her place next to the other slayer, sitting with her back resting against the warm stone. She glanced over at Faith who was staring out bleakly into the encroaching night. A little jab in her conscience forced words from her lips.

"If there's something worth changing for," Buffy said softly, "then there's always a point."

Buffy didn't clarify what she meant by "something", unsure herself about the intention of her words. Somewhere, where she didn't want to look, she had an idea that the `something' had to do with her, but Buffy was far from ready to admit that, or want it.

"Now go to sleep, and hope that littering here isn't going to cause some kind of trash hating monster to crawl out from under the rock," Buffy said, aware that Faith had sullied an otherwise litter free environment. "Yunno, if you're gonna change, I think you should start with basic stuff like not throwing your trash on the floor. If you master the basics, maybe you'll eventually get to. . .the not murdering of people." Buffy continued with a sly grin, unable to hold back from belittling Faith just that little bit more.

Faith kept her eyes fixed on the blanket of darkness rolling in, as the sunlight took its last look at the world. She didn't have the heart to sigh. She didn't feel she had the right to take offence at Buffy's words. She was too busy wishing she could understand. Understand her many reasons for wanting and needing to change, and tell Buffy that she was a major factor. That in reality. . .she was the main factor. The reason. The fuel that burned Faith's light of hope inside.

It was a faint light, barely graspable, but it was there, despite the ice that Buffy poured over it.

Faith didn't comment back, instead choosing the option of shuffling into a laying position under the canopy of stone.

Buffy wanted a comeback. She needed Faith to be. . .Faith, otherwise she was left with examining who Faith really was. She was left with thinking, and feeling, and hurting. She didn't like not being in control. Buffy didn't like not knowing which way was up.

She wanted to push Faith. Push her to her limits until she cracked and snapped at her. She didn't want to see a changed Faith. A changed Faith scared the crap out of her more than psycho Faith.

Huffing, sighing and grumbling as she laid down, Buffy tried to get comfortable on the rock next to her supposed enemy. Her enemy. . .that had earlier saved her life. That had risked her own life for Buffy.

Another sigh escaped Buffy as she felt the weight of her own ego and self-righteousness come crashing down on her. She turned, lying on her side next to Faith, whose back was to her.

"Faith, I didn't mean. . .well I did mean it, but I didn't `mean' it," Buffy said quietly, clumsily trying to atone for her cruel words.

"No worries, B," Faith answered. "You were right."

Her voice cracked a little and her shoulders stiffened under her black jacket. Buffy watched, a faint light from a far away moon illuminating the soft curves of the rock, and the tough edges of Faith.

Somewhere a voice inside Buffy told her to reach out to Faith. To touch her. To bridge the gap. To proffer a peace treaty. Her hand didn't move, however. The gap would remain.

Buffy watched, and waited for Faith to fall asleep. She scooted a little closer, searching for a little more warmth without waking Faith. She allowed one of her fingers to gently touch the soft tumble of Faith's dark hair as it covered the small area of rock between them. She took comfort in the texture, whispered a quiet goodnight and fell asleep.

The night travelled them by, growing colder and more sinister. As they shivered in their thin clothes, a dream took them to surroundings that were more familiar.

"At least we know we're not dreaming that awful place if we're dreaming this," Buffy said as she found herself face to face with Faith.

"I dunno whether to be happy about that or not, B. I mean. . .you can wake up from a dream," Faith pointed out, looking into Buffy's eyes.

"That's true," Buffy nodded. "So. . .is this a slayer dream? Are you here, or am I just making this up in my own head? Am I making the other place up in my head?" Buffy asked, not expecting answers. There were never any answers in the dreams she shared with Faith. Just more and more questions.

Faith chuckled, "I have no idea, B. I quit asking to understand these things. All I know is. . .you're here and I'm here. It's the same every time."

"The same. The same me, and you. . .and why is there always a bed?" Buffy questioned, suddenly realising the small fact.

"Because you're kinky, B," Faith said with a wink and a smile.

It was always so much easier in their dreams. So much less baggage. So much less worry. So much less of everything, but it always ended with a knife, shoving them back to reality on its sharp tip.

"We're never usually in the bed though, this is a first. . .for my dreams," Faith noted, looking over the crisp white blanket as it covered them both on the large bed. "For the slayer ones at least," she added, without thinking.

The last comment tripped its way through Buffy's brain, not stopping to allow her to dwell on it, or fully understand its implications. It did leave an imprint, but not one she could recognize.

"Maybe it's a sign. These dreams are always so. . .riddle-y," Buffy mused, doing her best not to look down the gap in the sheet in the small space between them.

She wasn't ready to discover if they were both naked or not. That brought about a whole truckload of more problems and thoughts she didn't need to be faced with. Faith wasn't as discerning, however and without stopping to nurture Buffy's already panicking mind she lifted the sheet a little way and glanced down.

"Well, we're both naked, B," Faith affirmed. "I dunno about riddles, but this one's gonna take some serious explaining of the inner mind kind. One of us has us naked in bed."

"Hey, don't look at me, maybe this is your dream. Maybe. . .I'm not here at all," Buffy said, confusing herself even more.

"You're here, I can feel you," Faith said in a quieter tone, lowering the blanket and placing her hand in the space between them.

Buffy let her eyes drop to Faith's hand, so pale against the stark white of the cotton sheet. She knew what Faith meant. She could `feel' Faith too. She always had in their dreams together. This one felt different, however.

Faith watched emotions play across Buffy's face. Little twitches. Little changes in the colour of her eyes. There was a tsunami of thought going on beneath the surface. Each crashing wave devouring the last. Each answer being buried by more questions, by more of their past doubts, fears, hasty ignorance and shame.

The bright room they were in was silent. The bed the only item within it. The slayers the only occupants.

Buffy moved her hand over Faith's, her actions strangely detached from her. Like she was suddenly looking out from deep within herself, seeing her own hand cover the soft skin of Faith's on the bed sheet.

She felt the texture. She brushed her thumb over the delicate strength of it.

The air around them was suddenly thick with anticipation. With expectation. With suppressed and silenced recklessness.

Faith licked her full bottom lip, her heart poised at the thud of a beat. Waiting. They'd never touched in a dream. Any move to make physical contact other than the thrusting of a knife had always resulted in waking. Had always ended in pain and regrets.

Buffy was touching her now. Her fingers soft on her hand. Taking her hand. Holding it, fingers entwined. She closed the small distance between them, her hot breath spilling over Faith as their mouths met. Just touching. Just. . .on the brink.

On the precipice of stepping off the cliff into the cloudless sky below.

...continued in chapter 11...

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