PART TWELVE: 5th October 2004 - 25th November 2004
Chapter One: You're Lost But I'm Waiting to Find You
They were halfway over the Atlantic and the private jet was filled with the murmur of people talking quietly. They thought she was asleep. How they thought she could sleep was a mystery but one she didn't care about. Buffy was just pleased they'd finally stopped trying to engage her in their conversations.
She sat alone in the same seat she had taken on the way to Greece. She hadn't strapped herself in this time though. Crashing and burning had lost its scary. A part of her would have even welcomed it right now. Night had fallen, later than it should have because they were flying backwards around the world, but now she stared out at the black beyond the oval window, feeling it consume her, sucking her into its heart - a reflection of her betrayal.
Being on this plane felt like desertion. She was abandoning Faith, leaving her to suffer her fate alone. A fate passed down to her because she had tried to save Buffy. Had saved Buffy in a literal sense, but in every other sense she didn't feel saved. She felt raw and lost and hopelessly alone despite being surrounded by friends and family. And if she felt like this, how much worse must Faith be feeling?
If she was still able to feel anything at all.
Troy had said she could, but he hadn't made it sound like a good thing.
Buffy hadn't wanted to leave. She had wanted to stay exactly where Faith had disappeared in the hope that she would suddenly poof back into existence, alive and happy; Hera's misplaced punishment no more than a temporary time out on Hell's naughty step.
She had insisted on staying put for over an hour, loud, angry and defiant, as the wedding guests slowly left the temple, taking their time in case anything else interesting happened. Once it was only Faith's guests left and the temple felt large and echo-y, a mausoleum for her last memories of Faith, Buffy's jagged, incensed tears turned to a cold rage. Her thoughts became clearer and Troy and Toni were finally able to get through to her.
Zeus hadn't been making idle threats. She already knew that, but they spelled it out for her anyway. She didn't care. Being zapped to join Faith was exactly what she wanted. If Faith had no choice but to suffer for eternity now, Buffy was more than prepared to suffer it with her. At least they would be together. She didn't even really care if Toni and Troy were zapped too. Maybe the four of them all deserved to be in hell for what they had put each other through this year. They had all lied, all cheated, all used each other in one way or another. In fact, when you thought about it, Faith was the most innocent of them all. Sure she had done all of those things too, but she hadn't been in on the biggest of the badness, had been oblivious to just how deceitful and manipulative the rest of them had been, and yet she was the one most penalized.
Buffy realized now, with awful clarity, that she should have told Faith everything from the moment she had learned all of the facts. She didn't have a clue how that would have worked out in the end, but surely it wouldn't be as bad as this? Damn it, though, she had been keeping quiet under the assumption that she was doing the right thing. That in the long run her silence now was saving Faith's soul from eternal damnation when she died.
Fate was an asshole, but then she already knew that too.
However, she might not have cared if the three of them had been gifted with a one-way ticket to the underworld, but as her fury cooled from raging fire to a simmering boil she realized it wasn't just the three of them that were in danger. Her family were there and as much as Faith's loss was agonizing, she couldn't risk their lives because of it.
She had tried to get them to just go. They all knew the consequences if they stayed. She had talked and talked, trying to reason with them, and then simply yelled at them to get the hell out of there so she could concentrate on. . . what she didn't know yet, but the important thing was that they got gone, back to the States where they were safe. Toni had stepped up immediately, offering her father's jet to get them home safely while insinuating that she herself was not leaving Buffy' side - she would thank her for it, one day, but she hadn't at the time. Her friends were her friends though and they had all reacted in the way that made her love them so much - even though she had cursed at them plenty at the time. Willow, Xander, Dawn, Giles, Andrew, even Kennedy had refused point blank to go without her and no amount of reason or hysterical shouting would make them change their minds.
So here they all were, halfway across the Atlantic.
They had all talked frantically about what had happened for the first couple of hours of the flight, as they planned and threw out grand but impossible rescue missions and tried to explain what had happened, or come up with a plausible lie at least, to a very shell-shocked Sean Lehane. He had seen his daughter disappear in a puff of smoke but had managed to convince himself that she had simply run away before the ceremony could be completed. He seemed to think this was the smartest thing she had ever done - he kept muttering about sacrificial goats - and clearly he thought they were all crazy.
Buffy hadn't contributed to the noisy chaos, having fallen into a stony silence she refused to break for any of them. She had listened, oh she had listened to all of it, but until she heard something actually helpful she had no interest in participating. It might alleviate some of her guilt or make her feel better for a moment and she didn't want that.
Not that she was wallowing; this wasn't a situation for wallowing. She just needed to think. Think hard about how to put this right. She didn't have the first idea yet, but if she could think enough it would come to her. This was what she did! She was the hero, she saved the day, she made the world less sucky. She had been doing it for everyone else for years, now she had to figure out how to do it for herself; how to save her world.
So she sat alone and stared out of the window. They were flying above a layer of thick clouds and a crescent moon had turned the nightscape into a luminous sea. It was pretty. Normally she would have loved it. Right now she just wished Faith was here to see it with her. Faith probably wouldn't have appreciated it for its prettiness but it had to be better than whatever she was looking at right now. Buffy didn't know what that might be. Her Greek mythology knowledge was up about ninety percent on what it had been before she'd become Faith's Maid of Honor, but she hadn't been researching the underworld in that time. Tartarus was bad, she knew that much. Toni had said Hades was like earth without the color or the luxuries but Tartarus was worse. It was fire and torment, plus didn't it have the guy forever pushing a rock up a hill? So even the entertainment was boring as, well, hell.
The thought of Faith being stuck there forever made her brain itch and crawl but there had to be a loophole. There was always a loophole; life was full of loopholes. So was death, that was why she had made it out twice. She just had to find this one. She had done it before, beaten the Master, Angelus, Adam, Glory, even The First, by finding that one tiny little opening that gave them a chance. She would do it again.
Not everyone believed she was asleep, she realized with a silent sigh. Toni sat down in the seat next to her. She didn't say anything yet, just sat there, staring out of the same window at the glowing clouds. She had been sat at the back of the plane with Troy ever since Buffy had refused to speak to anyone, the two of them retreating from the main group like their tails should have been between their legs. Even though they had both done the right thing in the end, the right thing that had caused this tragedy.
Buffy blinked back a couple of fresh tears but no more came to take their place. She was emotionally cold now, outwardly at least. Inside she still broiled with too many bad emotions but she had seen exactly how much good they didn't do her at the temple, and she couldn't focus like she needed to when she gave in to her anguish anyway. It was better to be detached.
"We will be landing in about four hours."
"It's a fast plane." It was the first time she had spoken in hours and her voice sounded weird, too casual maybe, to her.
"You should eat something."
"Worried I'm gonna puke when we land again?"
"I do not mind if you are sick. I mind that you have had nothing to eat but Froot Loops in the last twenty-four hours."
"I'm not hungry."
"When we land then?"
"If I'm hungry."
Toni sighed. "Buffy, you must..."
She turned to her irritably. "Look, it's not like I'm trying to starve myself to hell! I'll eat when I want to eat, Tone, okay!"
The Italian's eyes widened; as Buffy realized what she had said, hers did the same.
"Toni. I'll eat when I want to, Toni. I'm sorry, I'm just. . ." She shrugged her shoulders, not seeing the need to finish her sentence.
Toni just nodded and a couple of minutes of uncomfortable silence passed.
"Can I get you a drink instead?"
Buffy just shook her head. A few gallons of alcohol sounded great right now but she needed to be able to think clearly. Drinking herself to oblivion would have to wait.
"Is she dead?" she suddenly blurted.
Toni didn't hesitate despite the abruptness of the question. "It is unlikely. When Helena went to Hades she left her body behind as is custom, but in Tartarus it is different. Your soul can go there when you are dead, if it is befitting, but you can also be banished there alive."
"Okay, I know that was in plain English, but I need it plainer."
Toni looked like she regretted coming over but after a few seconds of looking away turned to her. "Faith left no body. She was not dead when she arrived there, but the chance of a human surviving in Tartarus for long. . . your bodies are not designed for such long term endurance."
"But she's a Slayer."
"That will no doubt aid her greatly but not indefinitely. The demons she will face there are greater, stronger, more evil that what you or she have faced on earth. Untouched by humanity. They are like Pitbulls in comparison to lapdogs."
"And if she dies there?"
Toni waited, not seeming to know what she was asking.
"If she dies there she's really gone," Buffy clarified impatiently. "We can't get her back."
"Buffy," Toni began gently. "There is no way to get her back now."
"No! I don't believe that. There has to be a way! You got Helena back, didn't you?"
"That was different. Tartarus is a far more dangerous place to enter than Hades for one. I do not know if it is even possible. The wards around it. . . It is a prison. Nobody can get in or out unless the will of the Gods allows it. Even then. . . "
"The will of the Gods?"
Buffy stood up and pushed past Toni to get to the aisle. Toni tried to grab her, guessing where this was going but Buffy avoided her hands, ignored the startled reactions of her friends too and marched to the back of the plane.
Troy looked up as she approached. Buffy didn't give him time to do more than that. The fold-away table was down in front of him and she flipped it up without even breaking stride, sending a few small glass drink bottles flying while the rest got crushed. Before the glass had even started smashing Buffy's hand was heading for Troy's throat. He could have stopped her dead, surely he had the power, but surprise had him backing out of his seat instead, not exactly defensive but leaning up against the wall, one hand held up in agreeable surrender.
"Buffy. . . "
He didn't get any more out before her hand was around his throat, squeezing hard enough to impede even his god-type windpipe.
She was aware of Toni behind her, pulling at her shoulder, telling her to stop, to let go, but she didn't care. Neither did Troy. His eyes were just as locked on hers. This was their moment, as weird as it was.
"You are going to help me get her back!"
"I don't know how." His voice was pitiful.
"No, you're not listening." Buffy tightened her grip on his throat and tried to shake him. "I don't care how you do it but we are going to get her back! You're a God, aren't you? You have all this power and influence over otherworldly things. So stop sniveling like a pathetic little boy and start acting like the man Faith thought you were!"
That brought some fire back to his eyes and he knocked her hand easily away from his throat.
"And what can you do about it if I don't, Summers?"
She brought her other fist forward underarm, already clenched, and punched him hard in the groin. Troy grunted in pain, hunching over, cupping himself with one hand while his other gripped the back of the seat hard to keep himself from keeling over in front of an audience.
She leant forward to snarl in his ear. "That's just a taster. Next time there'll be a sword in my hand. Let's see you try and father a replacement miracle boy with your balls cleaved in two."
He lunged for her but it was a weak attempt. Buffy pushed him, making him sway backwards and then brought her knee up hard for another go. She connected mostly with the back of his hand this time but from the way his breath hissed out between clenched teeth and his face went an even darker red from pain and anger, she knew that she had scored another good hit.
"That one was for starting all of this in the first place. You have until we land to figure out how we get her back."
Buffy turned away so that Troy wouldn't see that new tears were welling in her eyes. That meant that she couldn't hide them from Toni as well though. Toni tried to put a comforting arm around her and lead her away.
"Don't come near me!" she hissed.
Toni stopped, hurt. "Why?"
"Because I want to hurt you too."
Toni straightened her shoulders. "I can handle that."
"Trust me, bambina," she sneered the endearment. "You really don't want to try."
With that she pushed through her gawping friends to get back to her solitary seat and wait out the flight alone.
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