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A MYSTical Experience

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Summary: The first crossover I ever wrote. Set mid-S5. Buffy/Faith.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Games > Fantasy > MystPatKFR13113,907231,3567 Oct 077 Oct 07Yes
Disclaimer: Everything BtVS-related to Joss and FOX. Everything MYST-related to Cyan and the Miller brothers. All songs from Dave Matthews Band's 2001 album, "Everyday." I borrow out of love.



~~I know I'll miss her later
Wish I could bend my love to hate her
Wish I could be her creator
To twist her arms now

She stares up at the stars when
The stars fell from her hair then
I bent down to collect them
And then she was gone~~


Faith always got an immense amount of pleasure from lifting weights. Her strength disturbed her fellow inmates; because of that, she was generally left alone. As long as she wasn't bugged, she was happy. She had a lot to pay for--if some stupid chick with an attitude tried to start something, she'd have to fight back, then there'd be a busted jaw, and she'd be right back on the lowest rung of the 'Redemption' ladder. Self-defense it might be, but there was no such thing in prison. The guards beat you, and showed you both the pit called, 'Solitary.'

Not at the same time, obviously. The instigator went first, the offense dictating the time limit, and the girl on deck was thrown in her cell, a guard on her until it was her turn. Most of the time though, Faith stayed out of trouble, not even paying attention to the goings-on of her new home. She sat on the bunk in the small, confining room, thinking about her. Dreaming about making it up to her, and doing the right thing so she'd be let in again someday. There were even dreams where she told her...what she couldn't.

The slayer would do it for herself too, but her once partner was a major driving force.

It was still hard for her to believe she'd gone as far as she did. Being messed up was one thing, she had accepted that years ago, but she never thought she was capable of murder. Funny that that was the only charge they couldn't make stick--the Mayor swept those indiscretions under the carpet, making her confession meaningless. At least to the law. All they had were a few assaults and a torture or two. Still, she had done wrong no matter what; she knew that, and wanted to earn her ticket out. Wanted to be productive in the world...and by her side. Buffy's side.

~~Oh, I sleep just to dream her
I beg the night just to see her
That my only love should be her
Just to lie in her arms

Oh, I came there to find out
Find out she'd made up her mind, oh
My arms are all tied up
To me she was blind~~


The blonde was out there on her own, and that's the major reason why Faith hated being in here. It wasn't guaranteed that whenever she got out, Buffy would be alive; she needed to back her up. Her offer would be met with hostility, of course, if their last encounter were any indication. Every, uncharacteristically harsh word, was deserved. But since then, she'd been in the dark concerning Buffy's exploits, because Angel didn't come around anymore. Depressing herself, she set down the barbell and approached the guard.

It was time to go dream.

"I'm ready to go back."

Though he was now used to her loner attitude, if he were in her place, he'd avoid that cell for as long as possible. "You're damn strange sometimes, Lehane."

"Just Faith." Her last name reminded her of her relatives, which is why she never used it.

Smiling in disbelief, he shook his head. "You've gotta be the only girl around here who likes her bars, you know that, Faith?"

"Try staring at 'em for a few hours--they start to get wicked entertaining." She sarcastically drawled, smirking back at him.

~~This space between us
Where wingless dreams fall earless
Will you not bear me witness
With your back to me now

It seemed so unnerving
Still somehow deserving
That she could hold my heart so tightly
And still not see me here, oh~~


Just before they reached their destination, Faith noticed that someone had left a book-cart sitting out. The library guys were going to be pissed. Not that she cared, but they were. For the hell of it, she grabbed a book.

Her escort looked surprised, so she called him on it. "What, I can't read now?'" He let her inside her cell and locked it up, ignoring the glare. "Not all us cons are illiterate, ya know. Some of us are special."

Taking the bottom bunk--nobody wanted to share with her, so she was free to choose--she winked. The guard grinned, and missed her sigh as he walked away; he could be a real asshole.

~~Oh, I sleep just to dream her
Beg the night just to see her
That my only love should be her
Just to lie in her arms

I know I'll miss her later
Wish I could bend my love to hate her
Wish I could be her creator
To be the light in her eyes~~


She figured reading would put her to sleep the fastest, so she opened up the book. It was pretty damn old from what she could tell, and it appeared to contain gibberish. If they were words, she didn't recognize the language--Giles or Wes probably would've gotten a kick out of this. Flipping through the hardbound volume, her eyes bugging out when she saw the last page. Not able to help herself, she touched it...it looked so real.

{I realized the moment I fell into the fissure that the book would not be destroyed as I had planned. It continued falling into that starry expanse, of which I had only a fleeting glimpse. I have tried to speculate where it might have landed, but I must admit that such conjecture is futile. Still, questions about whose hands might one day hold my Myst book are unsettling to me. I know my apprehension might never be allayed, and so I close, realizing that perhaps the ending has not yet been written...}

For a moment she felt lightheaded, and then there was blackness.

***

(Pick me up, love!
Pick me up, love
Hey, how long, how long, how long
Everyday
Everyday, ah

Pick me up, oh, from the bottom
Up to the top, love, everyday
Pay no mind to taunts or advances
I take my chances on everyday

Left to right
Up and down, love
I push up love, love everyday
Jump in the mud, oh
Get your hands dirty with
Love it up on everyday)


How did she get suckered her into this? She had come here to train, but now she was helping her watcher clean the shop for the day. "If you're gonna keep making me do this," Buffy yelled from the storage closet, "you could at least pay me something. Nickels, even."

"Can't you simply do it as a favor to me?" Giles asked, calling back to her. "I asked Anya, but she refused, saying something about the store being infected with mortal disease."

She saw something wrong here. "But she's *your* employee! Force her to do it."

"I've learned that that, uh...approach, rarely works with her." He responded lamely, knowing he should've stood his ground with the ex-demon.

The young woman rolled her eyes. "Oh, so I'm just some big pushover who'll always do what you want?"

"That's what I was counting on, yes."

(All you need is
All you want is
All you need is love.
All you need is
What you want is
All you need is love

(Everyday
Everyday
Oh, Everyday...)


"Shut up." She muttered, and got up to stop the music.

The radio was taunting her from the boom box on the counter. She did want love, but unfortunately, her boyfriend had left her, so a twisted vampire seemed to be her only option--the song definitely wasn't improving her crappy mood. Love wasn't in the cards for her, and that...well, sucked. Like she had the time, anyway. Glory, the Bitch-God from Hell, wasn't letting up, meaning it was just a matter of time before everything fell apart. The god reminded her of Faith, actually; the way she'd gotten under her skin, and stayed there.

Except that Glory was pure evil, and really did want to kill her family and friends. She didn't think the brunette slayer ever *wanted* to, but if her warped mind thought it necessary for survival, who knows? And how does someone become that detached? Unable to not think that it was partly her fault, she tried to make the thoughts of her once sister-in-arms vanish--now wasn't the time. What she did in L.A. and on the roof of the loft still disturbed her dreams, but Faith was where she belonged, and that was the end of it.

Going back to the closet, she bumped into the shelf, and swiftly caught a book she'd caused to fall. It was old, dusty, and she had no idea where it'd come from.

"Hey, Giles! What's thi...?" She trailed off, absentmindedly beginning to search the pages.

When she got to the final one, she gasped. There was an illustration--a moving illustration. It detailed an amazing-looking island, and she was treated to the full tour. The land had a forest, marble buildings, an underwater ship...it was indescribable. Not to mention impossible. Faulty slayer senses had to be making her see things. She decided to smooth out the page, so her eyes could focus correctly.

{I realized the moment I fell into the fissure that the book would not be destroyed as I had planned. It continued falling into that starry expanse, of which I had only a fleeting glimpse. I have tried to speculate where it might have landed, but I must admit that such conjecture is futile. Still, questions about whose hands might one day hold my Myst book are unsettling to me. I know my apprehension might never be allayed, and so I close, realizing that perhaps the ending has not yet been written...}

For a moment she felt lightheaded, and then there was blackness.

***

When Buffy came to, she found herself lying on a dock. Rising up slowly, she looked around in silence, and then spoke to herself. "Okay, what do I know for sure? That Giles is *so* gonna kill me when I get back...if I get back." What was she saying? Of course she would. "'Look before you leap,' he says. 'You could get into serious trouble,' he says. Gee, I hope he's happy." She grumbled, but didn't feel any better. "Guess I should probably figure out where I am."

She walked along the dock, hearing the sound of her feet hitting the wooden planks. To her left was a walkway resting on a small hill, to her right, an ocean with a Crow's Nest breaking through its surface--a sunken ship? She wasn't a heavy reader, but even she knew that was a little cliché. On that thought, she instantly froze, as the realization had hit her.

"Crap," The slayer exhaled, "this is that book, isn't it?" Shutting her eyes briefly, she put her hand on her forehead, knowing something like this would only happen to her. Then she looked around again, as if waiting on someone. "All right, 'Mr. Rabbit Dude,' where are ya?"

Deciding to press on, next she saw a short staircase that curved left to connect with the walkway; sitting on the dock to the immediate right, was some kind of flip-switch attached to a podium. Grasping the railing provided, she climbed the steps, soon coming to the foot of a second, larger staircase. This one curved right, leading to a high, round platform with a giant gear on it. Squinting, she also thought she could make out another podium.

Instead of going to investigate, she chose to remain closer to the ground, because she had a feeling that there was something worth seeing down here. She followed the walkway to even more steps, which led to a path of wooden beams laid right on the grass. They took her to a dome-shaped building that had gray, marble columns circling the outside of it. And surprise, surprise, 'Podium Number Three' was right near the entrance.

Whoever made this place was definitely big on podiums. "Or whoever wrote this place."

Not ready to go into the buildings just yet, Buffy turned onto the grass path.

***

Faith was crouched at the end, which cut through the small forest, unaware of who was slowly coming her way. She was skipping stones she'd found into the surrounding ocean, watching them dance along the water; might have been a strange place, but it sure beat prison. Peaceful and quiet just like her cell, except here she was completely alone, and had a view. Butterflies--it had butterflies, too. The best part, however, was that she was cut off from society, just like it should be. And to think, a book had brought her here. *A book*.

No, she wasn't in the world she knew anymore. A few feet away, a mechanism with two wheels controlled the hour and minute hands on a clock tower. If that wasn't bizarre enough, the tower sat stranded in the water, all by itself. She had no clue what it was for, but it was the kick, as was the rest of the island--there was a damn spaceship. Only problem? Locked. She got the feeling that this was one, giant puzzle, she was apparently supposed to work out.

But if someone was making her jump through hoops, she was going to be royally ticked off.

That's when she heard the footsteps...good to know her slayer senses weren't completely inept. As the person got closer, all thoughts of attacking left her head. She didn't move, able feel who it was; when they stopped, she heard the voice. The voice that had driven her crazy--emotionally and mentally--that had annoyed her, had told her to get the hell out of a hungry vampire's way, had reached out to her, had made her laugh, that had made her feel things she hadn't known how to cope with.

"Hello?" Buffy asked, cautiously.

Faith faced her ex-partner, then, flashing a small, hesitant smile. "Hey, B--how ya been?"

***

The blonde turned to steel as animosity radiated off of her in waves, stinging her target. "I should've known." She said in an accusing tone, crossing her arms over her chest. "What the hell's going on here, Faith?"

In answer, the accused tried to lighten the moment. "Gilligan's Island..." Her voice became deep and ominous. "...In, The Twilight Zone." She laughed at her joke, but the other girl didn't. "Damn, tough crowd. Don't you watch TV?"

Narrowing her eyes, the petite slayer continued to place blame. "You did this...somehow, you definitely did this."

"Wow, that almost makes sense." The brunette replied with irritation, wanting to laugh. "Okay, not really, but--"

"It makes perfect sense." Buffy lamely insisted. "Perfect sensical sense."

Faith stood with a sigh and stepped closer to Buffy, who promptly took two steps back--she flinched, but it wasn't noticed. "So what's the 'White Hat' manual say? You knock me out again? Go ahead, first one's free." That threw the 'Good' slayer a little, while the 'Bad' one kept going. "Oh, I know! Then you can tie me up with all the rope this place *doesn't* have, and hand me over to the cops that *aren't* here, like a good girl."

"How do you know they're not here? Or that there's no rope?" The Summers' stubborn streak wouldn't let her admit defeat.

"Uh, you think I coulda looked, maybe? Slide me a little credit, B." This much sarcasm had to be overkill, but Faith didn't care. "No, wait...I got it!" She snapped her fingers like she just had a brilliant idea. "You chuck me in the ocean, I drown...problem solved. The odds of anyone finding me are pretty damn slim, so don't worry, you'll still have a clean rep."

Buffy had been thoroughly shamed. "Faith, I..."

The younger slayer came real close to tossing a few choice words the older's way, but she inhaled deeply, and controlled herself. "Look, we both know this place is deserted--just you and me, girlfriend." She received a reluctant, agreeing nod. "I was reading this book in my cell, and it had a picture in it I swear was doin' a fly-by; put my hand on it, then...bam," She gestured at the scenery, "I wind up here."

The blonde assumed it was her turn. "Um, same. Except I was in a storage closet." She should've been prepared for the curious grin--didn't Faith ever stop thinking about sex? "Cleaning. *Just* cleaning."

"Hey, whatever. Not sayin' a word." Faith backed off, her grin transforming into a smirk.

"Focus!" Buffy sternly instructed. "We're here cause we were both idiots--that much we know." How come it felt like she wasn't simply referring to their being stranded on an island? "I knew there was a good reason to be anti-books." A forehead wrinkled in confusion, so she enlightened her. "They're evil."

"Oh." They both stood there awkwardly, until the Bostonian forced a cough. "I'm not gonna--"

"I wouldn't let you get the chance." The older of the two interrupted, and 'shame' reared its ugly head once more. "But...I'm not gonna, either. I don't just go around attacking people."

Almost too easily, the words spilled from her mouth, like they were a defense mechanism. Faith picked up on this, but it didn't lessen the pain any. "It's your call."

"K, we both have places we need to be, so," Buffy knew she wasn't going to make it out of here by herself, "it would probably help if we worked together. If you try anything, though..."

"Chill, B--I'll be good." The con promised, meaning it, and she could see that she'd been believed.

Satisfied, her self-appointed keeper smiled for the first time, in an attempt to be positive. "Now, since you're the expert on wherever 'here' is...why don't you show me around?"

Faith shook her head, ready to object. "Whoa, I never said..." She wasn't being given a choice; an expectant hand was held out, asking her to lead the way.

***

~~You cannot quit me so quickly
Is no hope in you for me
No corner you could squeeze me
But I got all the time for you, love

The Space Between
The tears we cry
Is the laughter keeps us coming back for more
The Space Between
The wicked lies we tell
And hope to keep us safe from the pain~~


In the octagon-shaped library, looking at burnt books, Buffy's suspicions were raised. "Your work?" Faith shook her head, hiding hurt and annoyance. "Just wondering."

A chandelier hung from the sky-painted ceiling, its light reflecting beautifully off of the oak floor and walls. Directly opposite the entrance sat the sole bookcase, which held the destroyed volumes. On either side were two paintings--one looked like steps leading into a passage somewhere in the library, the other looked like the doorway. And to the left of the actual doorway was a fireplace, to the right, a painting depicting the island. Finally, the two, unoccupied walls were display-shelves, but whatever they displayed had been charred.

"I'm wondering why these are all spic'n'span, when most of 'em got lit." The brunette bent down to examine the mixture of crisped and untouched literature. "One match, and this place is torched in two minutes, easy." She looked up at her companion. "Means the flames were wicked intelligent, few books had 'luck' on their side, or...it wasn’t just about gettin’ stiff."

~~But will I hold you again?
These fickle, fuddled words confuse me
Like, 'Will it rain today?'
Waste the hours with talking, talking
These twisted game we play

We're strange allies
With warring hearts
What wild--eyed beast you be
The Space Between
The wicked lies we tell
And hope to keep us safe from the pain

Will I hold you again?
Will I hold...~~


The blonde nodded at her, getting that those responsible had a calculated purpose. "But they're gone...right? Whoever did this?" She was attempting to convince herself, as she didn't want their situation to become complicated any further.

"Dunno ‘bout you, but I know when I’m alone." Faith reasoned, standing.

There was sadness in their eyes as they looked at one another. It was plainly obvious what they'd lost, and the way things were going, both girls doubted that the comfortableness and familiarity would ever be regained. Gone was the banter, along with the sense that they were one; it was missed, but a history like theirs just wasn't forgettable. Tense, avoiding, closed off--that described their relationship now.

~~Look at us spinning out in
The madness of a roller coaster
You know you went off like a devil
In a church in the middle of a crowded room
All we can do, my love
Is hope we don't take this ship down

The Space Between
Where you're smiling high
Is where you'll find me if I get tickled
The Space Between
The bullets in our firefight
Is where I'll be hiding, waiting for you

The rain that falls
Splash in your heart
Ran like sadness down the window into...
The Space Between
Our wicked lies
Is where we hope to keep safe from pain~~


Hoping to hear a 'no,' it was asked, "Should we read?"

Buffy cringed rather dramatically. "I vote for putting that off as long as possible."

The younger slayer smiled at her, relieved. "You're the boss." The older almost let herself smile back...almost. "Let's check out the map, then."

Going to run her fingers over it, she felt a small, barely noticeable protrusion; pushing in caused a small hum to sound. An outline of the buildings on the island appeared suddenly, and there was a circle behind the library, with a line coming out of it. At certain areas, the line would become red. When it changed colors on the underwater ship, she released the button and noticed the words, 'TOWER ROTATION' at the bottom of the map.

They heard...it was like gears shifting and something turning.

"What did you do?" Buffy asked, glancing around worriedly.

Faith thought, before grinning. 'Idea.' "Find the button on the painting with the stairs, and push it."

"Um...why?"

"Just trust me."

"Trust you?" The Californian choked out.

"C'mon," The Bostonian sighed in frustration, wearing her best, pitiful look, "you don't wanna see me beg, do ya?"

Actually, a part of Buffy did, but she simply shook her head in confusion, and found the button like she was told--who was in control here? After the picture swirled, a stone wall came crashing down in the doorway, trapping them. Meanwhile, the bookcase lowered and clanked, forming steps just like in the painting.

When it was all done with, Faith was congratulating herself, and someone had latched onto her arm in fright. "You all right?" She didn't know whether to laugh or be concerned.

"I'm fine. Just tripped."

"Then why the vice?"

The shorter girl wasn't going to say that she was scared, because that would mean she wanted protection from a psychotic killer. Not true. Though she cursed herself for it, she was beginning to question the 'psychotic' part. This was Faith--she had to keep her emotional distance, or feelings would be used against her. Why wasn't she releasing?

"I had to, uh, stop myself from falling, and...you were there." She explained, believing it to be a rational excuse. "Didn't have a whole lot of choices."

Faith was somewhat disappointed by that. "Letting go or what?"

"No way." Buffy shook her head vehemently, and then pointed into the newly revealed corridor. "We're going wherever that does, and I don't want you ditching me."

The brunette smirked--Buffy Summers was freaked. In the past she would've toyed with her, but that wasn't really wise at this point. "Well, if you *gotta* touch me," She never did do the wise thing, always getting the same glare, "how bout goin' 'Hand Only'?"

The blonde wordlessly grabbed that particular body part--and *nothing* else--trying to make it seem as though it was a completely normal, everyday thing that two people did. "Ready when you are."

"Yo, didn't I just get us a lead?" Faith was searching for some gratitude.

She was silently told not to push her luck. Oh well. At least Buffy wasn't revolted at the thought of physical contact...it was progress, anyway. They entered the corridor, still holding hands.

~~Take my hand
'Cause we're walking out of here
Oh, right out of here
Love is all we need here

The Space Between
What's wrong and right
Is where you'll find me hiding, waiting for you
The Space Between

Your heart and mine
Is the space we'll fill with time
The Space Between...~~


***

Upon finding a small elevator at the end, they crammed inside and rode to the top, trying very hard to be unaware of the closeness of their bodies. They exited into a not-so-spacious room, which had two ladders in front and in back of the elevator. Going up the one with a 'Book' plaque attached to it, they could see outside to the submerged ship; ascending the ladder with the 'Key' plaque, they were greeted by yet another plaque that had three different dates on it. However, besides coming to the conclusion that they were in the tower, they were stumped.

Having made it out of there and the library alive, they went up to the gear platform. The bird's-eye view wasn't helping them think of ideas, so Faith decided to start a conversation. When she asked about Sunnydale, she was stopped.

"No, we're not sharing." Buffy told her, forcefully.

"Why not?" Faith queried, agitated. "There's plenty to catch up on--I've been in jail for ten months, you've been livin' the free life..." She felt like rocking the boat.

"Whatever I tell you, you'll just save it for when you get bored of prison and come after us again." The blonde rationalized, staring at her with wary eyes. "It's really kinda clever--you stay locked up long enough to make us think you're serious about paying for what you did, then cause we aren't expecting it..."

"Screw you, B." The brunette spat. "If I wanted out, I woulda split the first week. And you know me...since when do I plan? Not like I have connections--the other chicks hate me, I hate 'em right back."

"Faith, the only thing I know for sure when it comes to you, is that I never knew you at all."

"Yeah, well, goes both ways, cause I never had you pegged as someone who'd stab a girl in the gut." The younger slayer was getting angry now. "You're just full of surprises."

Remorse shone briefly in the elder's eyes, but it was quickly replaced by fire, as she gave her retort. "You mean you never thought I'd act like you?" The girl looked like she'd been stabbed all over again. "It's funny what some people can drive you to."

"Ooh, got a point there." Faith got in her face, gaze intense. "I mean, I did sorta confess for you and all." She smiled mysteriously in response to Buffy’s gaping, and her next statement walked the line between sarcasm and true insanity. "Careful--only thing evil geniuses like me need is an opening."

She stormed off in the direction of the library, but was quickly followed behind. "What's that supposed to mean? And where are you going?" Buffy demanded to know.

"Thought you said 'no sharing'?"

***

Faith didn't make it to the library, instead entering the building next to it. Slamming the heavy, wooden door closed behind her, she went to sit in the chair in the center of the room. It reminded her of the kind dentists used. Closing her eyes, she took deep, calming breaths--she'd just been acting the way Buffy expected. It happened every time, and she didn't want it to. The rage was building up in her again, when all she wanted was peace and quiet, where she wouldn't have to be near anyone.

But if she couldn't handle people, how was she ever going to get back on the Light Side and fight the darkness? It was difficult enough fighting the darkness within herself. Where it came from, she didn't exactly know. Whacked parenting? Traumatizing pre-teen rapes? Though she had thought so at one time, it wasn't Buffy's fault. Whatever was wrong with her had been wrong for a while--the petite slayer just had a knack for aggravating it.

She'd kept the darkness in check only because she had never stayed in one place for too long. Being always on the move, nobody was able to get to her, but then Sunnydale came along. Used to alienating people right from the start, it shocked the hell out of her when Buffy didn't back down, and they came to like each other eventually--the blonde just wanted to be her friend, which was a change.

Somewhere along the line, she wanted to be her friend too, and a connection was made that wasn't about sex; she had tried to break it, but it remained intact.

It was one mistake after the other, then. As annoyed as she got with Buffy's 'Goodie-Goodie' attitude, she was drawn to it, just as Buffy was drawn to her 'wild side.' They could never find that middle ground though, so Faith was pulled in every direction, which made her nuts. She felt abandoned, ditched, hung out to dry--she couldn't deal with the emotions flying at her, and that's when she crossed the line. The very moment she did, it was like she had left her body and became a spectator, as someone else messed with her life.

Falling from that rooftop, she'd thought it was the end, but she woke up. In the hospital, the person she was before the Mayor--the basically decent girl who just flirted with the bad side--clashed with the murderous bitch. She suffered from a major identity crisis, and all both halves could agree on, was making Buffy hurt. Stealing her body, she got a taste of what being good resulted in; when she was forced to go back where she belonged, the pieces that were her, put themselves together. Mostly, she became the girl who she had been, but not completely.

The other one was still there, making her presence felt, and she gave in again because she was weak. She despised that part of her with a passion, wanting it dead. But the only way to do that was for both parts to die, so she tried using Angel, and he wouldn't do it. He made her go through the pain, the guilt, the haunting dreams...it was during all of this that she had accepted something she'd been struggling against--she loved Buffy Summers, and needed to be in her life. If she couldn't die, she figured she'd piss off that dark part of her by going to jail; it was also what Buffy wanted.

Safe behind bars, she'd do what was necessary to fix herself, and then go to back to her fellow slayer to...salvage what was left. Except she wasn't being given any slack. Why should she be given anything? She had done a number on her, and once Buffy felt violated, her trust wasn't easily re-earned. Faith realized that all she had ever wanted her to say two years ago were three words, but then, she probably would've just blown it off. Now...well, she was getting ahead of herself. She simply wanted one more chance to stay on the right path, and would do anything to get it; that'd be enough of a reason for her to resume the fight to silence her darker half once and for all.

As long as the attempts to bring it out of her were stopped, she didn't see why she wouldn't succeed. The creaking door interrupted her musings then, as it opened--how much time had she spent in here? It soon shut gently, and she was no longer alone.

Quiet and uncertain, Buffy spoke. "Um...Willow's been dating Tara for a while. It wasn't really that big of a deal to us, which was weird, because I always thought *that* kinda had to be." Once she began, the words flowed easier. "They're one of those couples that're so adorable you wanna...you know, but they're happy. So are Xander and Anya." She smiled, extremely glad for her friends. "He has his own place, and he does construction now--I think he likes it a lot." She bit her lip, knowing there was more, but suddenly drawing a blank. "Oh! Giles, uh...owns the magick shop, and Anya works for him when she feels like it. Dawn's a pain as always," She sighed, the rundown finished, "and the rest is...complicated." The brunette smiled, opening her eyes. "I thought you were asleep."

They both knew that was a lie, so it was ignored. "How's the soldier?"

"We broke up." The blonde answered, the memory of the younger slayer's actions returning.

Faith's brow shot up. "Yeah?"

"Yeah, so I guess you got what you..." Buffy trailed off when she caught herself trying to bring them back into their vicious cycle. "Never mind." She took a few moments to mentally berate herself. "What happened with Riley...I didn't see it coming till it was way too late."

"The guy worshipped you, B." In the other's body, the Bostonian had seen how he looked at her, and his expression was all too familiar.

The Californian sadly smiled, nodding. "I know." Then she averted her eyes, not wanting to talk about it. Instead, she focused on a box that connected to the chair, and was suspended slightly above Faith's head. "What's that?"

Huh...hadn't noticed it before. Pulling it down, Faith's eyes widened. "Think we're onto somethin'." Not only because it had tons of buttons and sliders to play with, but because those three dates on the tower plaque just made sense.

"Hey, there's a switch by the door." Buffy announced, going to hit it. When the lights went out, she became mesmerized. "Wow."

The brunette got out of the chair, and craned her neck--the entire room was filled with stars. It was a planetarium, and the box-shaped apparatus showed you the constellations on any date, at any time. "Score."

***

"No frickin' way!" Faith exclaimed, excitedly. "Scope out the giant tree!" She laid on her back to stare at it.

The tree in question was behind a log cabin in the woods, and a brick wall enclosed the majority of its base--the unblocked side had steps going up to a platform, which the tree sat in. They'd spent a night on the island so far, having hit a few dead ends.

Buffy made sarcastic 'ooh' and 'ahh' sounds, as she wearily seated herself down on the bottom step, looking at her fellow slayer. "It's probably just another puzzle, and apparently, we're not too great at those."

"Who says?" The brunette questioned, not deterred by the other girl's defeatist attitude.

"Me." The blonde then kindly elaborated for her forgetful companion. "Sure, we raised the gears out of the water and got to the clock, but then we pulled the handles wrong."

"We got in the spaceship, didn't we?" Came the triumphant counter.

"Yep--we did." Buffy conceded, smirking at the optimism. "But since we're both tone-deaf, what good did it do?"

Grinning, Faith propped herself up, putting her hands behind her. "Least you got to see what a kick-ass pianist I am."

Snickering. "I had no idea 'Chopsticks' was so complicated."

"How's 'Three Blind Mice' go?" The younger slayer grinned even wider, not at all offended, because she was well prepared. "Wouldn't mind a refresher."

The older gasped. "You weren't supposed to hear..." Her audience started laughing, so she turned serious to hide her embarrassment. "We said we were gonna get the sunken ship...un-sunk, before we did anything else--remember, Faith?"

"Geez, B, loosen up!" Faith light-heartedly insisted, the reality waiting in their world having been temporarily pushed from her mind. "You hafta love this."

"Oh, I'm pro-mystery, believe me." Buffy assured her, unknowingly speaking in an identical tone. "I'd just like to...try and solve one at a time." A pair of brown eyes rolled, looking in her direction, and she sighed. "Please?"

Hearing the polite request, there was a smile. "Any ideas?"

"Not...exactly." The blonde stared down at her feet, and cleared her throat. "But...ca-can anybody really *have* an idea?" As she posed the question, she looked back up, her cheeks red. "I mean, it's not like you can hold one in your hand and say, 'Hey, I have an idea!'"

The brunette was grinning again, highly amused by the obtuse response. "Guessin' Nancy Drew didn't cover stuff like this."

"I wouldn't know." Buffy glared for a second, before her hazel eyes betrayed her and the blush came back. "I was more into the...um, Babysitter's Club." There was hysterics for a good five minutes then, and she could only offer in her defense, "They were cool."

In between chuckles, "They were?"

"Fine...what'd you read as a kid that was so much cooler?" She challenged, her childhood memories now tarnished.

"The Hardy Boys," Faith said with a wink, getting to her feet, "what else?" Then the mischievous glint appeared. "I just think you got juiced over babysitters."

A chase promptly began, and the slayers kept smiles on their faces the whole time.

***

~~Look at me dreaming of you
All I could hope is to have you
To have you walking with me
Laughing so in love, we two
Almost drunkenly
I did imbibe of this
Fantasy of you and me~~


After two days of some trial and error, some searching, and some very eye-straining reading, they had raised the ship. It turned out that the three constellations--a frog, a leaf, and a snake--corresponded with three pillars that lined the path from the library to the log cabin. Pushing them had caused the miniature replica of the ship to rise out of the nearby birdbath, and when it did, so did its big brother. They were standing inside the ship's cabin now, opened the only door they could find.

A book sat on a chair. Looking at each other uneasily, Faith decided to be brave and peruse it, going to the last page; it had another, moving picture, but of a different island. Not really focusing, Buffy's gaze traveled to the dark-haired girl, who had looked better--she could tell Faith hadn't been eating much. Her eyes were tired, hopeful...and sad. The darkness that'd been in them seemed to be fading, but it still flickered, and that's what she was afraid of.

~~Was I a fool to think?
The way you looked at me
I swear you did
But you looked away too quick
Was I a fool, was I a fool to think
That you would take me home
As if I was yours
Was I a fool to think at all?~~


What she could admit to herself, but wasn't ready to admit aloud, was that she saw the change. Well, Faith could've just learned to stretch her acting skills (it wouldn't be the first time), but she wanted to believe that what she saw was genuine--more than anything. Because even as worn as Faith looked, the girl still had that fire she loved...and how did she do such a quick one-eighty? The time they were spending together reminded her that Faith was a human being, and she was surprised by how much of the 'hatred' had been an act.

It was such a strong term--did she hate her? She was hurt by her, yes, but 'hate' was supposed to be all consuming, and she wasn't feeling very consumed. At this point, it was a matter of trust...could she, and should she risk it? A couple of days ago, she would've answered in the negative, not believing it'd ever happen, but she was beginning to remember why she had eventually warmed up to the Bostonian two years before.

If only she could pinpoint the exact moment of their meltdown.

Too bad she couldn't find a spell to go back and prevent it. That entire period had been a blur, and her decisions were made during a time when she was working to win back her friends' acceptance, when the one person she loved more than anything in the world was thrust unexpectedly back into her life. Her emotions all going haywire certainly hadn't helped her to think clearly, so when Faith came along, she was unprepared for it. Frankly, the brunette's whirlwind arrival had knocked her flat on her ass.

~~I've grown tired of love
You are the trouble with me
I watch you walk right by
I smile, you do not notice me
Treat me recklessly
All you do is toss me pennies out
But the silence in me is screaming
Won't you come and get me?~~


To say that she wasn't jealous of Faith then, would've been a lie. This new slayer had come to town seemingly free of any constraints--any notion of 'duty' or emotional baggage--but she soon discovered that appearances were deceiving. The girl had a vampire on her tail and a childhood that constantly plagued her. But still, Faith was very much a, 'Go her own way' type, and it was jealousy of that, which caused Buffy to keep her at a distance.

The younger slayer had tried to get close, wanting to listen to her problems.

Even though that could've helped, the cold shoulder was given. As a result, Faith was able to feel their connection before she did, and it undeniably ran deep. The brunette had wanted to take advantage of it, but her partner had been scared to. When they slayed, or were just near each other, the feelings it brought out were overpowering--they were so in sync. Upon finally choosing to accept it, she borrowed from Faith's free spirit, and there was a look, a hint of something more, which was too much to handle.

~~Was I a fool to think?
The way you looked at me
I swear you did
But you looked away too quick
Was I a fool, was I a fool to think
That you would take me home
As if I was yours
Was I a fool to think at all?~~


Then the spiraling began. So where was that moment? Their first slaying? The alleyway? Surely it was too late at the loft...or was it?

~~Was I a fool to think?
The way you looked at me
I swear you did
But you looked away too quick
Was I a fool, was I a fool to think
That you would take me home
As if I was yours
Was I a fool to think at all?~~


Faith noticed she was being stared at, and cleared her throat to get some attention. "Looks like we're back at square."

Maybe it was because her eyes were more open to it in the aftermath of her breakup, or because of these few days, but Buffy was now able to acknowledge that she'd only had strong feelings towards two people in her life. Unfortunately for Riley, he hadn't been one of them. How did she know that? Simple--it didn't feel like her heart got ripped out of her chest when he left.

She blinked. "But we hafta go through, don't we? What choice do we have?"

The brunette shrugged. "All I know is...here?" She pointed at the floor. "Hell of a lot cozier," She directed her finger at the book, "than there."

"Let's sleep on it, okay?" Buffy suggested as they walked out onto the deck, even though she agreed with the assessment. "It's getting dark anyway, and I *know* we're both tired."

Faith nodded without much prodding, but something had been bugging her. "I can't believe this whole, damn island has no beds. Don't know about you, but my back's been killin' me."

They'd been sleeping on the hard, wooden, library floor, and the comfort level wasn't very high.

"Yeah...and books? Not good pillows." The older slayer frowned, reaching up to massage her neck. "This cramp won't go away."

The younger debated her next action, wondering if it was a smart thing to do, but she bit the bullet and got behind Buffy, so she could relieve the discomfort. The recipient tensed up initially, though once fingers started moving, she relaxed. There was suddenly no reason why she shouldn't allow Faith full-access to her neck. With her walls down, this felt totally natural; their connection was that strong. If she just wasn't afraid to be hurt again--

"Better?" Faith questioned in a hushed voice that wasn't as confident as she would've liked.

"Uh huh." Buffy mumbled, affirmatively. "Much." When she started to lean back into her, they separated in an instant.

A lot had happened, and this was speeding up too fast.

"You, uh..." The Bostonian had a guilty expression on her face, as she attempted to bypass what had just transpired. "You know a couple witches, they teach you anything?"

The blonde became so perplexed that the dizzy feeling she was struck with immediately went away. "Like what?"

"I dunno...how to make a bed appear?" Faith's throat was dry--maybe talking about 'beds' wasn't that great of an idea. "I'll settle for the thing back in my cell."

Buffy smiled sympathetically. "I usually stick to slaying and let them handle the magick...it wigs me out." Stretching, she sighed and rested her hands on her hips. "Knowing a spell or two would be handy, though."

"Nah, you're right...should stick to what you're good at." The brunette said, smiling. "We're slayers, B--tough as they come. Who needs magick? Can take it if you can."

"You challenging me?" Smirking, the Californian put an arm around Faith's shoulders. "First I wanna get back on the kind of ground that doesn't move." She wasn't a fan of old, shaky things. "Then we'll figure out where we're gonna sleep."

~~You make a mess of me here
I dance a thousand steps for you
If you say yes to me
I'll be whatever gets you through

You make a mess of me here, was I a fool?
I dance a thousand steps for you, was I a fool?
Was I a fool, was I a fool to think?
Am I a fool, am I a fool for you?~~


***

~~Sometimes I can't move my feet it seems
As if I'm stuck in the ground somehow like a tree
As if I can't even breathe
Oh, and my screams come whispering out

As if nobody can even see me
Like a ghost, sometimes I can't see myself
Sometimes, then again, oh

If I were a king
If I had everything
If I had you and I could give you your dreams
If I were giant-sized, on top of it all
Then tell me what in the world would I sing for
If I had it all~~


Deciding on the grass beside the library, Faith found herself lying awake, watching Buffy do the sleeping. It was a beautiful sight...definitely something she'd like to see every morning. The blonde was the greatest puzzle of all, but she'd known that if she just hung tight, she would work her way past the bitterness, and get to Buffy as she remembered her--a fun, amazing, human being, and she had succeeded. Absorbing the anger and the jibes was well worth it, because they were on friendly terms again.

Was she doing the right things, though? Well, besides the massage, she was doing just fine. She was even rediscovering herself, and didn't completely despise what she saw.

~~Sometimes I feel lost
As I pull you out like strings of memories
Wish I could weave them into you
Then I could figure the whole damn puzzle out
Then again, oh

And if I were a king
If I had everything
If I had you and I could give you your dreams
If I were giant-sized, on top of it all
Then tell me what in the world would I go on for
If I had it all

I could take anything
If I had no greed to bring
Only the poison that's tainting the clean
Oh, then nothing~~


Being here was like living a fantasy, but she had hope that the strides they'd made wouldn't be lost back home--once they returned, that is. Maybe there was a future for them...or maybe this was another one of her dreams. Needing to make sure it wasn't, she reached out to run her fingers along Buffy's cheek. It was real, all right, but before she could contemplate their being together any further--

"Faith, no! Please, I...no...don't!"

~~Remembering times much younger than me now
When my breath was light
When the world raised me up kind

And here mother comforts child
Every moment was waking up
But now I've grown tired...out

If I had it all, you know
I'd fuck it up~~


Faith scrambled to get upright, cursing. She really was a head case--her and Buffy? Yeah, that'd happen; every uncertainty had just resurfaced. Feeling sick and suddenly wanting to get away, she ran to the ship, opened the book, and placed her hand on the picture.

Still asleep on the grass, there were tears running down the older slayer's face. "I'm sorry..."

***

The younger slayer was transported onto another ship, separated into two halves by a stone crag. Rain poured down and the thunder was violent, so she entered the first passage she saw to escape the weather. It was dark inside--it felt like she was descending stairs. Just when she thought she'd hit a dead-end, a door opened automatically, and she walked into a nicely furnished bedroom. Her eyes zeroing in on the big, soft bed, she collapsed onto it, crying herself to sleep.

***

"Faith!" Buffy screamed as her eyes shot open--she searched around frantically. "Faith?"

She was alone.

***

She didn't know how long she had slept, but she awoke to see a drenched and shivering blonde staring at her, concerned. She was too disturbed and too angered by what she'd heard to show any concern of her own for the distraught slayer.

A hoarse voice, "I thought..."

"Ya know? Not exactly caring." Faith jumped off of the bed and brushed past her.

She ran outside onto the ship's deck. It was still raining at a torrential rate, and she had nowhere to go. She couldn't do this...she couldn't. Climbing up shakily onto the ship's edge, she looked down at the rough, pissed off waters below--she'd return to the routine. Either that final barrier would break, or she would die trying to tear it apart; the dance never changed though, so it'd most likely be the latter.

Buffy had raced after her, and she stood soaking wet, winds howling around her, eyes wide in fear. "Get down!" She commanded, her size not affecting her ability to intimidate.

"Why?" Faith yelled over the thunder. "I was just screwing with your head! Played you from minute one, and you were friggin' clueless!" She smiled in victory, but the madness didn't claim her tortured eyes. "Like old times, huh?"

"I don't believe you." The petite slayer responded. She didn't know what she had missed or why Faith was acting this way, but she knew she hadn't been tricked.

The frazzled Bostonian hadn't counted on that, but she didn't falter. "Always had trouble seeing the obvious."

Perhaps she did, but the double meaning was pretty obvious--they'd both been blind to certain things. "So this was all a big game? And you beat me?" It was time to change tactics. "Congratulations--what'd you win this time? The way out of here? Were you gonna strand me?" She fired off question after question, sure that an answer wouldn't be forthcoming. "What did you win, Faith?"

"A cool way to go." Peering into the ocean again to bring the point home, this wasn't unfolding how Faith had expected it to. "Probably just needed an excuse to off me, right? Well, better late than never...let's get this done."

"I'm not gonna kill you; you wanna jump, do it yourself." Buffy saw the confusion, and the girl didn't budge. "If you're not, then get the hell down." Still nothing, so she pressed on. "I have no idea what's going on, but when you weren't there, I freaked because I thought you were in trouble." That was the honest truth, whether it was believed or not. "I don't wanna lose you again--if you die, I swear," Her voice was deadly serious, speaking carefully and clearly, "that I will hate you for the rest of my life."

"You already hate me!" The brunette yelled, but the strength of her statement withered some, as she noticed water on the other's face that wasn't from the rain.

"Damn it, Faith! I do not!" The blonde exclaimed with frustration, beginning to get as pissed off as the waves. "Sometimes I wish I could, cause it'd be easier than..." She tapered off, not ready to put all of her cards on the table. "But I can't--and I've tried. Even after everything we've...been through, I *don't* hate you."

The reforming slayer swallowed, starting to think that she had made another mistake. "Then why were you dreaming about...?"

"You!" Buffy filled in without hesitation, as she understood now. "You falling off the roof? How I didn't stop it from happening? Because it never would have if I'd given you a reason to stay with us, but all I did was take the knife and just..." There was no mistaking it--she was crying, and the words were getting caught in her throat. "God, I felt it...go into you. And when you didn't...wh-when you were in the coma, I could still feel *you*." Her legs were slush, and she was about to collapse under the strain. "I'm so sorry...I--"

Faith had a good stream of tears going as well, when a humongous wave crashed into the side of the boat she was perched on, knocking her off balance. She fell overboard, but managed to hold on with one hand. That was mainly an instinctive move, however, because her mind was occupied with the admission she'd just been witness to. Buffy blamed herself? Buffy thought about them? It might've come out thanks to her little stunt, but it didn't matter--that same, stupid stunt was why she was dangling above a fierce sea.

"Faith!" She was rushed to. "Give me your other hand!"

'Is this like a scene out of a movie or what?' The brunette thought with a small smile.

And it would end badly, without the romance, if she didn't get her act together. The second she lifted her arm up, she was hefted back onto the deck, narrowly avoiding the follow-up wave. That was a *close* call, and even she'd admit to that if she had to retell the story. Out of danger, she was quickly being squeezed tightly in Buffy Summers' arms--it was always one extreme to the other with them. Then the small slayer broke down, and she joined in the release, embracing with equal force.

***

As much as they didn't want to ruin the moment, they soon hurried back into the bedroom, because they weren't really fond of pneumonia. Buffy stood at the foot of the bed shivering from cold, while she watched Faith go to open the dresser drawers. She never wanted what just happened, to ever happen again. Their arguments always spun out of control, getting bigger than either of them. This one, thankfully, they'd resolved on a positive note, but a single second later, and the alternative would have occurred. No--never again.

She smiled, their earlier, happier conversation coming back to her. "Hey, you found a bed...a nice bed."

The brunette turned to smile back, and saw that the other slayer was still upright. "What're you doin'? Sit down, Buffy." She ordered in a soft, but firm voice. "I think there's some flannels in here."

Buffy complied, this new, protective side unexpected. She knew the risk taken out there was to get her attention, though she had to be sure it wasn't more than that. "Were you serious?"

"About these?" Faith pulled out two pairs of flannel pajamas, and showed them to her--they were each blue plaid.

"No." The blonde shook with quiet laughter, but when it passed, she wasn't joking. "About wanting to die."

The younger slayer wasn't suicidal, but there were times when she thought it'd become her only option, like in the alleyway with Angel--someone else had to do it. She threw her a pair as she chose how to answer. "I wanna make things better; figure I pay my debt, I'll get a shot at it." She hesitated, the vulnerability on her face plain to see. "But if nobody cares...what? Gotta live with the pain? It won't go away--it'll *never* go away. Sometimes I think I oughta just," Her voice nearly failed her, "crack the big mystery a little early."

"I care." Buffy reminded her. Putting the pajamas aside, she rose off of the bed to guide her over. "You won't have to deal alone anymore, I promise." She sat her down on the mattress, took the garments from her, and eyed the saturated prison-issue clothing--they'd been wearing the same outfits for days now. "You're freezing...you hafta get that off." She told her hormones to take a break. "Lift up."

If it were any other time, Faith would've contemplated all the possibilities that request presented, but she just shook her head shyly, feeling exposed enough already. "You don't need to--"

"D'you trust me?" The older slayer saw the answer in expressive, brown eyes, before the nod even came, and she smiled. "Then let me."

Acquiescing, the Bostonian's arms went straight over her head. Once Buffy was able to get her free of the offending shirt, she flushed a little, seeing nothing but a black bra over her top-half, which was far from unappealing. She managed to stay on task though, and slip the oversized flannel shirt on without incident. Yet every touch of hand on skin was electrifying, making them both much warmer than they'd been mere seconds earlier. Several, sharp intakes of breath later, still not finished, she thought she was going to pass out.

"Pretty sure I can handle the rest." Faith told her, noticing the unease and giving them an out.

Eternally grateful, Buffy moved to the other side of the room just as her roommate reached behind her back to unhook the bra. For the next, few minutes they changed in silence, trying not to think about what the other was doing. Finished first, the East Coaster pulled back the covers and sat against the pillows.

When the blonde returned to the bed, she used her as a cushion. "I trust you, too." She said quietly, getting plenty comfy, and the action spoke louder than the words.

The brunette didn't question it, but did wonder something else. "Am I making it better? Cause if I'm not--"

"You are." The West Coaster assured her. "How bout me? How am I doing?"

Buffy wanted to carry some of the blame, and it wasn't right, but Faith loved her even more for it. "You did what you had to."

"Faith, we both made mistakes. Me? I should've been there." Buffy was aware of all the little mistakes, but her absence was the heart of it. "As soon as things went bad, I just hopped on the 'Anti-You' bandwagon, and gave up." She hated herself for that. If it were Willow or Xander she wouldn't have walked away, but it wasn't, and what would they think of her if they knew she had feelings for someone so unstable? "And it was because--"

"I was a lost cause." The brunette supplied, knowing full well she had been hanging onto threads of sanity.

The blonde shook her head. "No you weren't, and you aren't now. Know who I've seen the last, few days? The 'Faith' who told that corny alligator story, who made me actually enjoy the fact that I'm a slayer, who I had fun with...when I wasn't busy being depressed." She sighed, but then smiled. "Anyway, I'm glad she's back--I missed her."

"The psycho's in there too, B. Didn't you see her?" Faith said, all with anger directed at herself. "Damn it, I just want..." That anger then came up through her throat as an almost primal, guttural cry, forced past clenched teeth.

Not only could Buffy feel how tense Faith had become, she could also feel her literally begin to shake. Sitting up, she pulled the girl to her, and there was no struggle; a head was laid on her shoulder, and she ensnared a waist, speaking soothingly. "You're not her...not if you don't wanna be."

"I don't." It was said with conviction. "The people I got to? I close my eyes, see their faces, and tell 'em I'm sorry--it doesn't mean jack, but what else can I do?" She blinked the tears out of her eyes. "I am, Buffy...know that, right?"

"Yeah, I do." The older slayer said gently, though hearing her entire name uttered twice in the same conversation was strange. Once was already weird. "Someone...they told me that whatever makes us slayers has darkness in it. I didn't wanna believe them, but I think it might be true." What Dracula said had nagged at her brain for months, and with the exception of Giles, this was the first time she'd admitted to anyone that she hadn't completely dismissed his rantings. "I don't like that part of me, either, but it can't control us if we don't let it, so we're not going to." She glanced over at her partner's face, double-checking. "Are we?"

"No." The younger said in response, and it was a little weak, so she spoke again with significantly more confidence. "Hell no--whatever it takes, that line's not gettin' crossed again."

"This time, I'll be there helping." Buffy promised, finding her hand and entwining the other girl's fingers with her own.

"You sure about that?" Faith wanted to give her a chance to go, despite the fact that she needed her there. Though thrilled when the answer was 'yes,' she couldn't leave well enough alone. "Why now?"

It wasn't going to be a bump-free road, to put it mildly.

"Cause now there's bigger things to be afraid of."

"Than me?" The Bostonian's stomach tied up in knots.

"Than us." The blonde corrected her. If she didn't stop ignoring it here, if she didn't admit it, she had a feeling she wouldn't get another opportunity. "Remember outside the Bronze?"

"When we met?"

Of course--she had traveled across the country to find the Buffy Summers her watcher had criticized as well as praised, in the hopes that the girl might understand and help her dust Kakistos. They were the Chosen Two, the only slayers active in the world, and if they teamed up, it would be a thing of beauty. Demons would piss their pants before trying to tangle with them, and best of all, she wouldn't have to run, wouldn't have to go it solo any longer. It didn't quite go as she envisioned, though why had that been such a shocker?

Buffy nodded. "When I got there and saw you fighting that vamp, my brain just kinda...shut off." She started to receive a grin, and it pleased them both after all the heaviness they had gone through; she quickly shot back a mock glare. "The next thing I remember is you handing me back the stake, and us looking at each other." She vividly recalled the disorienting feeling that had coursed through her. "It was so..."

"Intense." Faith found the perfect word--she'd spent days asking herself what the hell had happened in that mere speck of time.

"And it totally threw me, cause life and I were still sorta...readjusting." The Californian had to keep talking or she'd never say it all. "I just got back in school, the gang was acting weird around me, my mother wanted to lock me in the house...not to mention all the 'Angel' drama." She paused, exhaling. "I couldn't handle something else." This was where her first mistake came in. "So I thought if I avoided you long enough, eventually...you know, it'd go away." She smirked--what was that saying? 'The best laid plans...?' "But Giles made us patrol together."

It had thrown the brunette too, but unlike her fellow slayer, she had welcomed the new level of companionship, and it got more and more intense. "I shoulda backed off."

"No," Buffy shook her head immediately, wanting to dissuade her friend of the notion that she'd done anything wrong, "I liked slaying and hanging out with you. A lot. The more we did, the more, whatever it was, didn't bother me." She bit her lip, unsure of how to explain. "Maybe it's the 'shared destiny' thing, but you're, I dunno...it's like you're there with me, even when you're not." Her eyebrows scrunched up, as she didn't think she describing it right. "I'm not making sense."

"Yeah you are." The look in Faith's eyes said that she completely understood, and that was exactly the point.

They *got* each other in a way no one else did...that's just the way it was.

The blonde nearly got a chill; when they were on the same page, it was eerie. They both thought they knew what was coming, even though they couldn't believe it yet. "Well, back then...it felt like I was cheating on the guys or something, so there was guilt. I barely know you and I feel closer to you than my best friends?" She was incredulous. "How's that normal?"

"Was ready to recite my life story--every crappy detail--after we took out Kakistos. Man, it was nuts." The listener revealed, shaking her head at the ludicrousness of it, as it wasn't something she liked sharing. "But something was telling me it'd be five-by-five, that you wouldn't treat me any different."

"Then why didn't you?"

"Same reason I snapped." Faith found it to be almost funny. "By the time I listen to myself, things've gone to hell already; slate doesn't get clean." She spoke up again when the other girl had grown quiet. "So you and me...what's the sitch?"

That was the sixty-four-thousand dollar question, wasn't it? It brought Buffy out of her thoughts in an instant--thoughts of Faith's childhood, and the horrors it must have been filled with. She didn't pity her; she admired her strength, her ability to fight her way back. Not many people could, not after falling. But the desire was there, and as she met her eyes, she understood the part she played...she was the other half.

She knew what was between them, had for two years, and could see that her partner did as well--they had both been frightened of it. Of what it meant. They'd denied themselves what every fiber of their beings told them was right, purely because they were afraid to need someone else. Independence was important, but it wasn't everything. Love was a risk: you risked negative reaction, hurt...however, the risk also offered good results.

Had they been afraid of being happy, too? Well, it was time to conquer that fear. Like she said, there were bigger things to be afraid of, and 'love' was not one of those things.

"I saw you in the hospital, just laying there." Buffy didn't want to salt the reopened wounds, so she cut to the chase, as breath was held. "Your eyes were closed, and there were bruises...all over your face, but--"

"Still thought I was hot, huh?" The younger slayer asked with a playful smile. "Hey, preachin' to the choir."

There was only so much talking and past rehashing she could take. This night was up there as one of the most draining in her life, and while it was all for the right reasons, she had to inject some levity into the conversation. They were on their way, they were sealing the gap, and if she guessed correctly, they were about to take the step she never expected they would. Meaning Buffy was going to say something sweet and perfect, but...she wasn't very good at that sort of thing. Words had gotten them this far, but she didn't want *them*.

Besides, she associated the hospital with eight months of endless nightmares she didn't want to awaken again.

To her relief, the older slayer, who'd tried to look mad, was now rolling her eyes and barely containing laughter. "I *was* going to say that that's when I knew I loved you, but...the moment is officially wrecked."

Okay, so hearing a few more words wouldn't kill her.

Faith broke into a wide grin, sitting up straight. "Gotta disagree." Buffy, amused, stared expectantly at her. "S'only wrecked if I do this."

She grabbed the pillow underneath her and gave the blonde a swift bop on the head, which set the laughter free. They went back and forth a few times, feeling silly, but when it was over, the whole mood of the room had changed for the better. And the image of Buffy, her face red with color and giggling, didn't wreck anything at all. "I love you, too." The ease with which that rolled off her tongue wasn't lost on her, and was as perfect as she'd get.

It was enough. The feathery weapons were returned to their proper place, before hazel eyes stared into their brown counterparts. They held so much more than either slayer originally knew--pain, joy, sorrow...the negatives seemed to overwhelmingly dwarf the positives. But caring shone through them brightly now, running deep, to the very core of their beings. As Buffy put her hand on Faith's cheek and closed the gap between their lips, both received unspoken forgiveness.

Hitting the turning point, Faith nearly believed that this was the way it'd always been. That they hadn't hurt one another, that they'd done this every day for the past two years, and that she didn't have a lifetime's worth of issues to work through. Because while they might've been okay, she wasn't completely there yet, though this was a nice start. She responded, almost desperately, wanting to feel this so much; it surpassed even the best of her dreams. Finally, she could see the light at the end of the tunnel...she was touching it.

With the thought that she might actually come out on top running through her mind, she ended their contact suddenly, and pulled Buffy into another hug. Her first goal had been accomplished--she was holding the blonde, and a good thing had begun. The next goal was to impress the parole board in a couple months. But that came later; she could stay just like this for a while. Which she did, until she had to say, "So you don't think I'm hot?"

***

The slayers awoke to a knocking on the bedroom door, but were too tired to get up and investigate. Also, they were quite comfortable in bed, limbs tangled together. Last night led to the deepest conversation either of them had ever had...with anyone. There was no energy left. Faith was used to having her reserves wiped out, however, that was usually after a whole bunch of sex. Which she and the girl in her arms didn't have, and she didn't care.

"Morning." Buffy yawned and smiled. "And what the--?"

"I've brought you dry clothes--dress quickly. The book will bring you to my home, and I will explain all that need be explained there." The voice said on the other side of the door.

"I guess this means we hafta move." She grumbled, slowly removing herself from her partner's loose grasp, because by the grin, she knew she was the one leaving the warmth, first. Going to open the door, she brought two, cloth robes and a book inside, and pouted. "Great...now I'm cold."

"Real subtle, B." Faith chuckled, watching her girlfriend place the book on the dresser, and then jump back onto the bed. She permitted her back into the embrace, closed lids, and sighed--this was so peaceful, which meant it had to end. "We just gonna follow?"

"Again, options? Kinda limited." The blonde pointed out, taking a hand and inspecting each finger, feeling each one, just because...because they were Faith's. "But we don't have to go yet; he's not the boss of us."

Oh no--it was starting all over. Concentrating on insignificant details, stomach doing somersaults...well, there was no going back now. It felt like she was being reintroduced.

'Hi, Buffy, it's Love. Remember me? Got into a big brawl with Reason and Logic, kept me busy for...two years? Wow. Sorry. Yeah, I know, I know, mistakes were made, but I went back to the drawing board, made sure the word 'vampire' wasn't on it, and I feel really good about this one. Hope the gender switch is...uh, I had to try something different, okay? She's a keeper, too. Just help me out; put in the extra effort.'

She silently agreed to that, but her smile faltered as the brunette spoke. "And if he's the ticket outta here..."

"Then you go back to prison." Buffy sadly realized...the place the Bostonian went to for her. "Does it help? Being there?"

"Lets me straighten stuff out in my head. 'Cept now I'm just hiding in there; I don't wanna do that anymore." Faith paused, not exactly believing the next part. "Hafta face the firing squad in two months...parole board." The older slayer was sure her heart had stopped in that split second. "Angel got it pushed a while ago. Been walkin' the line--it's not much, but there's a chance. Catch is, they'll probably make me see a shrink if...*when* they get rid of me."

"I can talk to the parole guys if you want. So we can get back to the life-saving." The younger noted the use of the plural, as the older continued. "I'll have your back, you'll have mine, so screwing up? Not likely." She stated, confidently. "We're better than that--as long as 'The Chosen Two' don't forget that they have brains. Which also won't happen."

Faith somehow smirked gratefully. "Could get bumpy."

"And that's a new thing? You'll do this because you want to...I believe that. And I feel really lucky right now." She grinned at the brunette's sudden bashfulness. "Better go see what 'Stranger Guy' wants."

"Isn't there a rule?"

"But now we can kick the asses of people we don't know; helps not being five." The blonde said with self-assuredness, and as she went to retrieve the robes, she lost that, thinking of home. "Um, there's something I didn't tell you about. It kinda has to do with Dawn..."

***

After putting their hands on the picture at the back of the new book, they found themselves in the middle of a large, stone chamber. Doorways lined the room, and they were standing on a dirt floor. Directly ahead, a man with glasses, black-haired and bearded, sat writing at a desk, and behind him was a shelf lined with books.

He looked up from his work and smiled. "Greetings, my name is Atrus." He extended his hand, and they took turns shaking it. "Welcome to D'Ni."

"It's..." Faith was trying to look impressed when she really wasn't. "The rock's cool."

"This is but one building; it would be my pleasure to show you the city, but I'm sure you're anxious to head back to more familiar ground."

"Definitely, but," Buffy agreed, "where we were...?"

"'Myst Island,' a getaway age of sorts, written by my wife Catherine and I. I only became aware of your presence there the other day when I was checking to make sure it was maintaining its stability." 'Age? Stability?' The man continued, not registering their perplexed expressions. "You then discovered the book to my 'Stoneship Age,' which is where I first spoke to you."

"We're just the muscle, man." The brunette spoke before he could keep going. "Slow up...go simple."

"Simply, the D'Ni race has the knowledge, ability, and materials to write bridges to other worlds." Atrus patiently explained. "We call it the Art--that knowledge gets passed on, and taught to anyone willing to spend the time to learn. Some foolishly believe that we create the worlds ourselves, that we're gods, but we are not; worlds exist, we merely find paths to them."

"Magick?" The blonde questioned, curiously.

"Yes, I suppose it is." He nodded. "Special ink and pages are used specifically for the links to the Ages, which is how we refer to the worlds." He grabbed two books from the pile he had on his desk. "That reminds me--I've created linking books back to where I estimate you originated from." He opened the volumes to their picture windows: one was the interior of the Magic Box, the other, Faith's prison cell. "I keep a record of where every Myst book is placed."

"You just stick 'em anywhere?" The usual, 'Guest of the State' asked.

"I like to travel, and need a way to return. But if I were to create a linking book directly here to D'Ni, the risk would be too great." He told them, shuddering at the thought. "What if a person of greed and selfishness were to come steal our secrets?"

Buffy got it. "So you watched until you thought you could trust us?"

Atrus smiled again. "And you've proven that to me."

"K, last question--why are there burnt books in the library?"

His eyes saddened. "I gave two people my trust, whom I cared for a great deal, without ever truly knowing them...it's a mistake I haven't allowed myself to make again."

"Oh." She always managed to hit people's sore spots, but the worst part was the vagueness of the answer.

"Island was the kick...thanks for the vacation." Faith grinned, happily.

"I'm glad you enjoyed yourselves." Its creator was pleased. "Whenever you're ready to leave, you may."

~~When the world ends
Collect your things
You’re coming with me
When the world ends
You tuckle up yourself with me
Watch it as the stars disappear to nothing
The day the world is over
We’ll be lying in bed

I’m gonna rock you like a baby when the cities fall
We will rise as the building’s crumble
Float there and watch it all
Amidst the burning, we’ll be churning
You know, love will be our wings
The passion rises up from the ashes
When the world ends~~


They walked away a few feet, their time coming to an end--for now.

~~When the world ends
You’re gonna come with me
We’re going to be crazy
Like a river bends
We’re going to float
Through the criss cross of the mountains
Watch them fade to nothing
When the world ends
You know that’s what’s happening now
I’m going to be there with you somehow, oh...

I’m going to tie you up like a baby in a carriage car
Your legs won’t work cause you want me so
You just lie spread to the wall
The love you got is surely
All the love that I would ever need
I’m going to take you by my side
And love you tall, ‘til the world ends~~


"Two months?" The older slayer asked, quietly.

The younger grinned again. "Be on my best behavior."

She'd have to, to get out and join the fight against Glory, as well as protect the kid; it had hit the fan in Sunnydale. That Hell-god did *not* want to meet her.

"Good, cause I'll be waiting; in the meantime, just think happy thoughts."

~~Oh, but don’t you worry about a thing
No, 'cause I got you here with me
Don’t you worry about a
Just you and me
Floating through the empty, empty
Just you and me
Oh, graces
Oh, grace

Oh, when the world ends
We’ll be burning one
When the world ends
We’ll be sweet makin love
Oh, you know when the world ends
I’m going to take you aside and say
Let’s watch it fade away, fade away
And the world’s done
Ours just begun
It's done
Ours just begun~~


"Like what?"

~~We’re gonna dive into the emptiness
We'll be swimming
I’m going to walk you through the pathless roads
I’m going to take you to the top of the mountain that’s no longer there
I’m going to take you to bed and love you, I swear
Like the end is here

I’m going to take you up to
I’m going to take you down on you
I’m going to hold you like an angel, angel

I’m going to love you
I’m going to love you
When the world ends
I’m going to hold you
When the world is over
We’ll just be beginning...~~


Buffy kissed her nice and slow, making it last, and then pulled away. "Like that."

They walked back to Atrus, squeezed one another's hands, and then Faith suggested, "Same time."

"You are both welcome back whenever you wish." He graciously offered the invitation...

...Before they vanished from his sight.

***

She was returned to her cell, when two guards came running.

One of them gaped. "I'm telling you, she wasn't here. If somebody would've listened to me yesterday..."

"You need time off, Hank. Lehane loves her cell; she'd never leave it." He winked at her like he knew. Maybe he wasn't such an asshole, after all.

Nope, she wouldn't leave it--not just yet, anyway.

***

One second after she had linked to the Magic Box, Atrus linked in after her.

Giles was behind the counter, and she looked on with disbelief as the two men shook hands. "Thank you for looking after them, Atrus--it's much appreciated."

"It was the least I could do; you and your Council have been very good to D'Ni, and have helped our rebuilding efforts more than I can say. I was happy to be of assistance." The man pushed his glasses up on his nose. "And your judgments proved correct, my friend. Though you did understand my need for caution, I hope?"

"Absolutely, and I suspect they needed the extra time...it runs very deeply with them."

"It often does." Atrus smiled, knowingly. "Well, I must get back to my writing; farewell, Rupert." He nodded at the dumbfounded observer. "Buffy, it was a pleasure."

"Take care." The Englishman smiled, getting the Myst book for him. "Tell Catherine 'Hello' for me, would you?"

The slayer looked at her watcher questioningly when their guest exited. "Ahem?"

The End

You have reached the end of "A MYSTical Experience". This story is complete.

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