Monosyllabic Eccentricity

Title: Wasteland
Author: Jennifer-Oksana
Rating: R
Spoilers: Birthday
Summary: On the road. After the death. Faith POV.
Disclaimer: Joss owns all.
Author's Note: Because nothing's more riveting than Chaucer and Boccaccio


The hell of it is, you have to keep slashing your arm if you want to travel. Cuz, see, that's how you know if you have it or not. If you cut yourself and the cut heals green and oozy, you have IT, the Death, the pestilence, and no one's going to do anything but shoot you on sight and burn everything within a ten foot radius of you.

By law, you aren't supposed to move if you had the mark, but human denial's a river that runs deep. It took a quarter of the prison dying off to let the guards finally give it up that they were in charge. The rest of us burnt it to the ground--probably with most of the guards and some healthy people still inside, but no chances were taken. Only people with clean cuts left that place alive, for safety. I had to kill my two best friends in there because one of them had it and the other was fucking her. No one was going to die of the pestilence on my watch.

Pestilence. It's an old word, a funny sort of word that Giles or Wesley would use, but that's how people talk about the Death 'round here and it's no good to stick out. People don't trust travellers, even clean ones. Too many folks here got taken for a lot by con artists and thieves from the LA Basin during the Exodus.

Here's where the food is, even if the ocean's too far away. Central Valley, California, somewhere between Bakersfield and Fresno, still with the Aqueduct, still with the food.

And here I am, with a cut. Three years after the Death came, cutting like a knife through butter, worse than any anthrax or chem warfare could have been. Before the news cut out for good out here, President What's His Dumb Ass was saying it was Saddaam and the Iraqis or Osama and the Evil Folks but I knew. Cut healed green and oozy? Then it killed you?

Demons.

Nobody believes in demons, though. Like I said, human denial? River. A fuckin' river that drowns out reality.

Travelling, it like, brings out the poet in me, you know? Also the cutting. I get out a lot of the old bloodlust in making that cut fresh every day--the Death takes three days, but I heal fast, so every morning, I cut myself--and watching the skin heal.

It's funny the way it heals, all puckery and seamed. Like someone sewed it and if it weren't for the fact that sewing a permanent cut into your skin would make it bleed and if you bleed green, you have the plague, no matter how real the sewed cut looked, that's how I'd get past people if I had it.

Instead I have a nice seam on the inside of my right arm, looking like a suicide wannabe. That and a lot of knowledge about demon-lore that nobody wants to hear. Of course, if I call it plague-lore, it's all good, but mention that maybe the Death's caused by a demon?

Fuck you, bitch, we don't need your devil-talk.

And here I am, with a cut, walking up the Valley, heading for Sacramento, maybe. Heard that cars might be back up working in Sacramento, maybe even planes, and if that's true, I'll fuckin' turn tricks if I have to, but I'll be on a plane out of this fuckin' state in a week, flying as far and fast away as I can go. I hate California and I always did. Stupid state, with its airy-spacey hippies and the endless heat and drought and desertness.

Stupid state, stupid time slaying here, stupid Death. Stupid stopping in Bakersfield for eight months to get enough supplies to survive up to Fresno.

Stupid currently being out of supplies and alone on the remains of Highway 99.

I'm tired of walking, so I sit down on the side of the road, wondering if I should have tried my luck walking up 5, but nah. No towns. I would have really starved to death.

So I sit. Maybe I even cry, but Slayers don't cry, especially ex-con Slayers who managed to survive the fucking Death, the Death that killed one out of every two people in California and one out of every five people in the Western Hemisphere.

But the cuts on my arm are still clean. The blood's still red, uninfected by anything.

And I sit.

And sit.

And sit.

Finally, I see, like, a van. And fuck pride, I'm on my feet, waving my arms like crazy, willing to deal with the van guy being a psycho who'll try to kill me before he lets me into the van, but I can't walk to Fresno. And it's been...it's been three months since I saw anyone with a car that had enough gas in it to move.

The van slows down. It stops.

The door slides open.

I know the guy in the van. At least one of the guys, which is fucking impossible. Sunnydale had like, a ninety-percent death rate (I told you that the Death is fucking demon-related), and B and all her people were dead in the First Three Days.

"Faith," the guy says. His hair isn't spiky anymore, which is weird. Actually, it's just shaved off, like most guys, like most people. Less stuff to spread contagion into. "Right?"

"Yeah," I say. "Oz, right?"

"Yeah," he says. "You contagious?"

I hold my arm up and display the mark. "Clean as a whistle."

"You must have to cut deep to get it to stay all day," he says, waving me in. "Where are you headed?"

"North. Sacramento," I say, climbing into the van with my backpack and my mouth dry as it could be.

Someone laughs. "Nothing there."

"I heard maybe planes," I said stubbornly. "Cars, definitely."

"No, the Death came back through there," Oz said. "We just came from there on a sweep. Nothing there. Two out of three dead. The survivors mostly starving to death. We went down to Bakersfield, but they're not letting people in."

"Fuck," I say.

"Yeah, no fuckin' kidding," the driver says. "We're thinking of trying to get past state borders into Oregon. Decon's pretty harsh but once you're there, you're a hero for surviving the pestilence."

"Maybe," Oz says.

"Definitely," the driver says.

"Yeah, and definitely there were cars and planes in Sacramento," Oz says pithily. He looks at me. "Water?"

"Yeah," I say. "How much?"

"You're a Slayer," Oz says, raising an eyebrow. "We've been tracking you since we heard you were on the road to Fresno."

He hands me a bottle of water. I take it, eyeing him.

"How much?"

"Protection at nights."

I bite my lip. It's not that I can't take anything out there--I can--but if someone infected with the Death were to jump me, I'd be dead. Three days, dead. Or if I survived (and the Death has something like a sixteen percent survival rate), I'd die because they'd leave me on the side of the road and I'd dehydrate or I'd be killed by someone who was afraid they would die of it.

"Deal," I say, taking a drink of water. "It's getting worse, then?"

"It's adapting itself," one of the other guys in the van says. "Sooner or later, the demon carrying this thing will infect someone allowed to cross back and forth and we're all dead."

"You said demon," I say, stunned.

"Well, it's a demon-based contagion that's three times as deadly as the bubonic plague--what they used to call the Death--and it's green and pus-y and the viral carrier's not human," the guy says. "So it's either alien or demon and there aren't any aliens and there are demons."

I'm impressed. Maybe, finally, the fact that we're all doomed means that the river of denial has shrunk up and we're finally going to face reality in all of its tough beautiful reality.

"Yeah," the driver says. "But fuck that. Demons can go fuck themselves. What I'm wondering, you know, is if we can find a drummer in Oregon."

Maybe not.

Oz looks at me and grins. "Dev's obsessed with starting the band again," he explains quietly. "He thinks that's the best way to deal with it, by moving on, by being human again."

"What do you think?"

"I'm not really human," he says quietly. "Your cut's starting to go away."

He touches the sore skin on my arm, where the seam is more a memory than a reality.

"It's been a bitch. Most people don't even believe in Slayers, so I have to keep cutting and cutting and it won't stay."

He nods. "You cut it before you go out and when you come in mornings," he says. "We can't afford contagion. We almost had a thing in Bakersfield."

I nod. "Someone you knew?"

"Yeah," he says, like it hurts. "Cordelia."

"That cheerleader girl? Angel's secretary? She--"

He shakes his head, like he's a little sad, but mostly surprised that it happened at all.

"She swore she was clean, almost came on board--but she tripped. She cut herself. In Bakersfield. Well, just outside. She was sitting outside, crying, and I--"

His voice fades out. I get the picture. I've seen as many of them as he has, looking fine except for where the cut is, where the red blood is tinged with green and you know--you fucking KNOW--that tomorrow or tomorrow or tomorrow, the person's dead.

"She said she was already a demon," Oz mutters into his hands. "She said she wasn't contagious."

He looks at his feet. I look with him and I see the gun.

"You do it?" I ask.

"Didn't have a choice. Werewolves don't get this--we're immune to blood-based pathogens--and I couldn't let the rest of them die."

I knew. I could see it in my head, could see any of those little Sunnydalers, crying, begging, swearing. You swear a lot of things when you've got the pestilence.

You're lying.

"How many did it take to put her down?"

"Four--she wouldn't lay down, and I--"

I nod. "I dig."

"Nobody's going to die of the pestilence on my watch," Oz says, looking at me. I take another long gulp of water, wipe my mouth. The van's a fuckin' oven. We go over a bump and I realize that it's a long way to Oregon.

If there's still an Oregon.

"Nothing to worry about from me," I reply.

We look at my arm. There's nothing left of the cut except fresh pink skin.

I close my eyes and count down the minutes until we stop.