Killers, Angels, Refugees
This is a story about love and betrayal, murder and sex. It has all the elements of a trashy thriller novel, a teenage romance, and more than a little history. It might even be a story incorporating the elements of the short story, but I never got that class. Whatever, it is the story of my life. Why am I telling you? Because I want to tell someone, I want to be able to understand it myself.
My name is Buffy Anne Summers, though please feel free to forget the middle name. And Buffy? Blame my mother. My life was never going to be normal, it was my destiny for it not to be, but she had to go and give me a name that made me stand out that little bit more, so that at the time when my life changed before my very eyes, when the world became a different place for me, and not necessarily for the better, I had to cope with the 'What kind of name is Buffy anyway?' Everyone wanted to know who Buffy was and I just wanted to hide. In fact, I wanted to retire.
So maybe I should give you the working title. Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. Yeah with the comma and the capitalisation. That is me and that is my job. Always has been and it always will be. And the longest living slayer in history. Proud, yes, humble also. Waiting for my number to come up, you bet. I have lived more in my years than most people do in a good long lifetime. But you people already know this don't you, already know who I am and what I do. Or at least you do up until a certain point.
The love bit of the story, well the first was Angel. Yeah, that was supposed to be my eternal love, the fire that would always burn in my heart, that would always take all my soul. Don't talk to me about souls. I get to keep mine but he had a tendency to loose his. Careless you might say. Oh, and that is why it goes hand in hand with the betrayal, murder and sex. Complicated. That is Angel for you. Now we are good friends again, and as long as we stay away from the last little issue on the list then we can avoid the others as well.
So that is the conventional story, the one that everyone knows about me. Even my mother. And if she knows, well, it can't be that bad can it? But what about the rest? I am twenty five now, and I have spent the past two weeks going through with a decision I should have made a long time ago. But I am stubborn, I can admit that now. I can also admit that I need her. That I have spent every day not thinking about her, just because I didn't have the courage to. Why do I care this much? Try the fact that last time we really got together I stuck a knife in her gut. Tried to kill her to save the aforementioned eternal love, so I guess that makes me as bad as both of them. Oh yeah, she has had a dabble with the whole 'taking of another human life' deal as well. I did tell you what type of story this was. She got out of prison a little while ago, and then went back to work. Didn't I mention it? She's a slayer too. My black opposite, frequently referred to as the rogue slayer, the psycho slayer, the dark slayer. Yes, she was all that was not me.
Then she did it. She broke away from herself and tried to be free. Free from all that had been wrong. I forgave Angel and he hurt those I loved, she killed strangers. But I couldn't forgive her. For one simple reason. I couldn't beat her. I sent Angel to hell and that kind of settled the score. Balanced out the cosmic scale so to speak. Her, I just put into a coma and then regretted it the moment that I had. From the moment I stuck the knife into her, I lost all my fight, and she still had it in her. Blood pouring out of her like it was never going to stop and I'm all 'oh what have I done' and she still floors me with a right hook. Then throws herself off a building because she knows that I am never going to beat her.
This is a story about love and betrayal, murder and sex. And magic. I always forget the magic, it's so much part of my life now I just take it for granted that all tales of my life will contain magic. It goes without saying.
Anyway, I wanted to forgive her, but then she took my body and nearly got me killed, so it kind of finally ruled out forgiveness and wanting to help her, make her like me. My ego I suppose. I just couldn't imagine anyone wanting to be like that, not wanting to fight the good fight. So the scales tipped in the favour of revenge. So she handed herself into the cops and took that away from me too. She would never let me beat her, even when she was already broken by everything else in her life. And boy, did I hate her for that.
So I put her out of my mind, out of my heart, the dark evil twin of mine. Even when it became clear that she was fighting the good fight as well now. There was no way that I was going to her and she never came to me. There was a time when she was always ready to throw down, but not anymore. She went for the quiet life, and all I ever heard about her was when Angel told me something. I never asked about her, never wanted to know, but he seemed to think that it was important that I did. That someday I would need to be certain of her. I would have to make a decision. In the end there was no choice though, my decision made itself:
Sometimes when I dream she is there, always watching me from the shadows. Sometimes she walks over to me and I stick a knife into her, calm as you please and she just lets me. Other times she just holds me as I cry on her shoulder. They are the dreams I always try to forget about the next day. That is why I have spent the past years so actively not thinking about her. But tonight was different. There was none of the round the edge fuzziness that you get in a dream, no shifts in between black and white and colour, and I could feel everything. I could taste the night in the air, smell the trash that was at my feet, hear the scream of her voice as a couple of vamps held her down, ready to bite. She is fighting as hard as she can, but somewhere she lost her stake and they are stronger than her. I look around and there is dust everywhere, as if she has taken out a small army. There is a fire in her eyes that was like it used to be, the old Faith that was burning with hatred, not the new and improved version that Angel had insisted on telling me about. I staked the two with fluid movements and I knew that I was meant to, that was the point of this dream. I was meant to save her, but it would be up to me to know why and what to do when I woke up. Which I did the moment that I reached my hand out to her to pull her up of the floor of the alley. I sat bolt upright in bed and it was all as vivid as life.
We had shared something like that before when she had been in a coma. When I had put her in the coma. It had been important then, and I had no reason to doubt that it would be important now. I looked at my watch. 5am. If I was lucky then Angel would be back from patrol by now. I dial the number that I know off by heart and it rings for a while before he answers. At some point I have started shaking, but I don't know when and I am scared to ask myself why.
"Angel it's me."
"Is everything okay?" I love the way he asks, it reminds me of the time when we were young and in love. Correction, I was young and in love.
"I need to find her." I say it simply knowing that he will know who and what I mean. In the past seven years everything has changed and nothing has. He is like her, a part of my soul, the wavelength that I am on. I listen to the silence and I know that he has just nodded. He knows the tone of my voice by now and can tell that I'm not after another showdown with her.
"I got a postcard a couple of weeks back. She was in New York. She sounded happy Buffy." Despite everything there is a hint of warning in his voice. "I don't know if she is still there, but at least you know that she is still on the east coast. I think she may have made her way up from New Jersey. She mentioned something about Giants Stadium."
"She'll be heading north then."
"My guess is that she will be in NYC for a few more weeks, there are plenty of opportunities for vamps there, and nobody has done a good clean sweep of the area for a couple of slayers now. She's dusted her way across the country Buffy, so I don't see her stopping now."
"Okay. If you think that, she will probably still be there. Thank you Angel."
"My pleasure. Take care." I know that it is his pleasure, that finally something he has been hoping will happen for many years now is slowly starting to grind into action.
"I will." I hang up the phone and reach into my purse and pull out my credit card. Now is the moment that I know I am supposed to hesitate but I don't. I pick up the handset again and call the airport. There is a flight leaving at 10am with seats still on and I book, knowing that I will have to pack everything and leave in two hours if I want to make the checking in time.
There is nothing much that a girl like me needs, a few suitable changes in clothes, a couple of crosses, and a stake on the inside of my jacket. The advantage of still sticking to the Medieval weaponry – it doesn't get picked up on the metal detectors as you go through security. I fill up my workout bag, knowing that I can buy whatever clothes I need in New York, if I discover that I am going to have to stay for longer than the underwear lasts.
I take a deep breath and knock on Willow's door. I hate doing this to her now, fresh out of a break-up, but it is a bit of a must. And she of all people will understand. My best friend, my oldest friend now, could we have gone through any more together? I don't even bother knocking, but push the door back and sit down gently next to her, trying not to startle her. Which is something I fail to do. She sits bolt upright and extends her hand.
"Memento, homo, quia pulvis es et in pulverem revertis!" A quick flash effectively kills her bureau, and then she puts her hand to her chest. "Jesus Buffy you scared me! I could have just dusted you. Wassup?"
"I have to go Will. I…have to go and find Faith." For so long her name has never passed my lips and it feels strange now, like they want to tingle with the memory of a word.
"Why? What's happened? Is she evil again? Give me a minute to get ready and I'll come with you." Her brain has gone into overdrive and I have to put a hand onto her arm to stop her from getting out of bed.
"It's okay. I had a dream that's all. I think that she might be in some kind of trouble, and I need to find out what."
"Are you sure you'll be okay?" I know that Willow is like me, even though we don't talk about it. Faith causes the feel of steel against your skin to leap to the front of your memory, pushing out that smile and those eyes that were so dark, so filled with pain, that I should have seen through them sooner, before she lost the plot.
"I'll be okay. I just need you to look after things here for a few days, okay?" I wait for her to nod, and then lean forward and place a kiss on her cheek. I know that she is a capable young wicca these days, as her now slightly burnt furniture can testify. And with Giles and Xander, I know they can manage a routine patrol. Besides, things here on the Hellmouth have been quiet, the next evil pencilled in is for around two months time, so most of what is going on at the moment is research. Still not my strong point, so I think they will manage without me there for moral support. She looks at me and nods, giving me the permission that after all this time she knows I will wait for before I go. I get off the bed and move towards the door, holding onto her hand for as long as I can, that extra little bit of reassurance that only my Willow can provide. I smile, and leave, picking up my bag from the hallway, and going to my car. As I step out into the early morning sunlight I feel like I am beginning a journey, and just a little piece of me thrills with fear.
The plane is delayed by two hours, which just means that I have two extra hours to think about what I am doing, how I will feel and just what do you say to someone you wanted to beat to a bloody pulp the last time you saw them? I think of all the lines I can come up with and always the conversations in my head lead to us fighting. I can picture the moves she would make and even though I don't want those images there, they come anyway. She does that to me. There is something about Faith that touches me so deeply, like all of the anger that she was carrying around when I knew her awoke the anger in me. I slip my credit card into the computer terminal and check the Internet for hotel rooms in New York. I want cheap and easy, knowing that anywhere in Manhattan is probably close to vamp activity. And where there are vampires, there will be my slayer. My slayer? Who am I trying to kid? Faith has herself and she has never needed anything else, has never allowed herself to need anyone. I finally find a place that still has rooms just off Broadway, knowing that it will have to do.
I think about checking my email and then realise that I am just wasting money killing time, and besides I'm still not sure I would know how, without Will looking over my shoulder and saying things like 'now press enter' and 'double click on the icon'. Not that she uses her hacking skills that much any more. Not since that time Xander dared her to get into the Pentagon and she did. The things she saw there made her think witchcraft was a more normal and safer option. I didn't like to ask. In case it involved pictures.
I feel my stomach churn over as the wheels of the plane hit the tarmac, and the sudden friction pulls the belt tight across my stomach. For a second I want to heave and it's mainly because I am here. At some point over the next few days I will find her, dead or alive. It takes very little time to get through customs and I realise that I am trying to delay, and I curse myself for being a coward. When you're the slayer you tend to run towards things all guns blazing. Not drag your heels like a kindergarden kid who doesn't want to play any more. The moment that I step out of the JFK airport building the heat hits me, and I walk over to where I can get a cab, the weight of my bag nothing to me, feeling very much alone in a big city. Whenever I went to LA I had either my father or Angel, but here I have no-one. Or rather I have someone, I just don't know where they are. I feel like a little girl again, and I know that I can't let it show. So I make sure I have the thirty dollars flat fare I need to get me to Manhattan and then for the next thirty minutes just watch the traffic and the buildings pass me by, listening to the blare of the horns as we weave dangerously in and out of the traffic. And I thought *I* was a bad driver.
He doesn't help me with my bag when he drops me outside the hotel. Well, four buildings down from my hotel actually, and I find I am praying for the air conditioning to work. I feel tired and dirty from the plane and the dream and the permanent adrenaline kick that I have been on since I woke up. Now all I have to do is check into the hotel, have a shower, ignore the 'roaches and then go and find her.
"Excuse me," I call over to the guy who served me, and he waddles his way over. "That cutting?" I point at it and he swells up with pride.
"Yeah, they're my girls."
"Huh?" I say again, more than a little confused.
"Coyotes. Some of the hottest girls in town. They work at a bar just round the corner from here. That's why I call them my girls. They usually come in here for breakfast and to wind down before they go to bed for the day." He chuckles and it suddenly makes sense.
"Erm, how old is that article?"
"Well, just last week. Lil has been running Coyote Ugly for years now, but it is really beginning to take off. She likes to keep things pretty low profile, what with the dancing on the bar n stuff, but a reporter from The Voice got in a did that article. Got the girls in full swing." He chuckled again, but it was more fatherly than dirty old man. "Hey, if you want to go, you had better hurry up. Sometimes the line is around the block by now if it's a good night."
"Thank you." I smile and tip him big for the help he has given me, and make my way out of the door. I can hear the roar of motorbikes pulling up around the corner, and see he was right. There is already a line of people raring to go and I feel a bit stupid being there on my own. She might not even be working tonight I realise, if she is still working there at all. The line moves slowly and I can feel the anticipation building inside me as I shuffle forward. It is all I can do to stop myself from pushing to the front. I have come this far and I know that I can not go back. I feel like I always do when there is an impending end of the world. The sense that in a while things will never be the same again and the weight of it all rests on my shoulders. I get to the front and the guy on the door asks me for my ID. I'm used to it, I know that I still look younger than my years.
When I get through the door I know that making my way to the bar will be a struggle, the place is already almost full. To its legal limit anyway, but I can sense by the feel of the place, by the heat of the place, that whoever owns it flies pretty close to the wind. And I can see why Faith chose this place to be where she earned her temporary cash. It was her place. Everybody changes, but nobody changes completely. There is something inside us all that is a piece of whatever we were, all the things that we have ever been. I have seen too much of the real world now to know this, seen too many people come and go and changed, seen my lovers die.
I just hope now that she is here. I don't have to wait long. The jukebox kicks in suddenly, almost making me jump and snapping me away from my thoughts. The girls jump up on the bar, just like they were in the cutting on the diner wall, and the last one up there is her. I can feel my heart in my mouth as I look at her for the first time in years, taking in how much and how little she has changed. I watch as the blond girl dances her way up alongside her, and they rub their hips together, as the other girl swings around the pole at the end of the bar. Faith still screams out sex like no-one else I have ever met, and I find myself smiling as I watch her put on the show for the customers. People like me just watching and cheering. The other girl makes her way over to the two of them and dances the other side of the blond. I can tell by the way that her and Faith look at each other there is something between them, I have seen that look of challenge on her face before, that little glint of danger in her eye. Even from the distance I can see it, I can feel it prickle the back of the neck as my hairs stand on end. As the three spilt up the music stops and they slip from my view. I know it is now or never and I make my way to the bar as best as I can.
There is only one easy way there, which means I am the other end of the counter to Faith, and I know that she hasn't seen me. Then I feel eyes on me. I look up to see a blond woman, in her thirties and the owner I guess, looking at me as if she has seen a ghost. It stops her dead in her tracks and it freaks me out a little, the look on her face. I see her look over at Faith and I don't know what the hell is going on. I watch, almost as if in slow motion as Faith looks at her and the concern spreads across her face, and then she glances over to me. Our eyes connect and I wait for her. I have chased her long enough. Now there is nothing she can do except either ignore me or come to me this time. I watch her slide a couple of dollars into the cash register and then walk over to me, as the other woman begins to serve again.
She walks up in front of me and looks me in the eyes. My mouth goes dry, so I say the first thing that comes to mind. "I'll have a water." I watch as there is the slightest of scuffles over a loudspeaker that is on the back shelf, and then Faith slides me a glass. I sip it carefully.
"How did you find me?" I can't tell anything from the comment, she has learnt to keep the emotion out of her voice in the years between us.
"The postcard that you sent to Angel. I had the city, I just had to find you in it. The way you have been going, I just followed the trail of dust." I say it with a smile so that she knows it is a joke.
"Why did you find me?" I can see now by the look in her eyes that she is uncertain of herself now, and less afraid to let it show.
"You know why. I had the dream, just like you did. You needed my help." I can see that she thinks for some reason that I am trying to have a dig at her about something, probably her slaying ability. I think of all the conversations that I have played through my head today, and I don't want this to end like any of them. I place my hand on her arm, and it seems to calm her a little. "Not the slaying," I whisper. "*You* need my help. And as soon as I realised I came. So are you going to tell me what's wrong?"
"This isn't the time or the place B," She whispers to me and I can see by the dart of her eyes that the older woman is watching us carefully. I get that feeling again that there is something going on here that I know nothing about, but I have no choice but to let it go. "I'm staying on West 34th street. Number 101. Be there at three when I get back and we can talk then. Okay?" I feel like she is trying to get rid of me and those old doubts flash through my mind again. That something makes me ask myself whether it is really her address at all. She must guess what I am thinking because she smiles at me, that Faith smile that is designed to make you feel good. I know that I have no choice in the matter at all anyway, unless I want to make a scene, so I just nod and turn around, leaving the rest of my water and try to work out the best way to get out of this damn place.
When I get outside the night is cooler, much cooler than when I went in and now I have a few hours to kill. If I was back home I would do that literally by going on patrol, but this is a different place altogether. I wouldn't know where to go, and I don't sense anything untoward. I make my way back to the diner, remembering what he had said about them coming in after work, so the place must be twenty four hour. He smiles when I walk through the door, but I want to think, not talk, so I order a coffee and take a seat in one of the booths. He brings it over and I nurse it while all the thoughts in the world seem to run through my head. I can't understand why that woman seemed to know me, seemed to understand something about me that I wasn't even sure of myself. And I didn't like it one little bit. She couldn't have been that much older than me, but she somehow had made me feel very young. And the fact that Faith was at home there. Angel was right, she had changed. Even in that short space of time she seemed softer, more vulnerable. I know her well enough to know that she has always been vulnerable, but her letting it show? That was a new one on me. But that didn't explain the dream, the danger that she was supposed to be in. I know that she had the dream as well, and I could tell she had been expecting me to come this time.
I ordered another coffee, convinced that I was going to have the jitters soon, and I wish I could have something stronger. But I need to keep a level head for a while. I check my watch for the umpteenth time, and as I drain the dregs of the cup, I decided to talk a slow stroll to the address she gave me. I know that it is not that far away from here, but I am itching to be doing something. If I'm lucky I might even run into a vamp or two. The place is still quiet though and I have learnt in ten years of professional demon slaying how to read the signs. There has been a pretty big dent in the vamp activity here, can feel it in the air. I wonder if she has even left any in a city this size. I can't help but be impressed. Well, and a tiny bit jealous. I'm pretty much tied to the Hellmouth and she gets to do the rest. Which makes for a much more colourful resume.
At twenty minutes past three, I am beginning to wonder whether she gave me the right address after all, when I hear her footsteps heading towards me. I don't say anything to her, just nod a little in acknowledgement and follow her as she leads me up the stairs. I can tell that she is tense, I can see it in her shoulders, and she turns her back to me. When I hear the difficulty she appears to be having getting the key into the lock I wonder if it because her hand is shaking so much. My suspicions are confirmed when she actually drops the key, and I have to smile a little as I imagine the string of curses that are going around her head now. She finally gets the thing unlocked and motions me inside.
I look around the room and it is very much Faith. My mind is taken back to the first time I walked into her room when there was an uncomfortable silence between us, when there was no hurry, just the two of us needing to talk to each other. We couldn't do it then and I wonder if we'll be able to do it now. I go to comment and then realise that if I start to tread a path we have already walked then it will probably lead to the same place.
"So, have you worked at the bar long?"
"Coupla weeks. The money's good."
"Looks like your sort of place." I say it with a smile, hoping that she will know that I am saying it in good humour, but I can tell she's not sure. She does a shrug that is a little defensive and more than a little old Faith.
"Like I say, it pays well, and the girls are really nice."
"Glad to hear it. Still slaying as much?"
"There are plenty around here to keep me busy." I watch as she walks over to the night-stand and pours herself a double shot from a bottle of cheap stuff and knocks it back faster than some of the regulars in that bar where she works. I watch as she shivers a little as it makes her way down her throat. "Want some?" she calls to me over her shoulder.
"Yes, please." I can see the shoulders tense in surprises, and I hear the cap turn back. She had already been starting to screw it back on, so she must have been certain of my answer already. A little bit of me feels good that I am keeping the upper hand, but I know that it is worthless without her doing the same. She has no desire to compete with me now, let alone beat me. I watch as she pours me a double and herself another as well. Her hands are shaking slightly as she hands me my glass. I smile thank you to her, and our fingers brush slightly as she passes it to me. It is the first time we have touched in around seven years, and yet it feels like the first time that we did. So much tension between us. "Thank you."
"No problem," she avoids my eyes and walks back over to the chest, swirling the whisky around the bottom of the glass and sipping it slowly. I knock mine straight back, suddenly not caring whether or not my head is entirely clear. I have needed a drink all night and I savour the taste as it warms its way down my body. Not that the taste is that good. It's cheap, but it does the job. I hate the fact that in a way it reminds me of her. I can tell that she is surprised that I can hold my drink much better than when I was a kid and I smile at her again.
"Things change Faith. People change. I know that now. I've changed. So let's cut the pleasantries and get right to it. How can I help you and will you even let me this time?" I'd rehearsed so many lines in my head when I was waiting outside her building and that was not one of them. But it was out before I could help it, and it seemed strangely appropriate. I can tell she is still waiting for me to pull out a knife, so pretending that we totally trust each other all of a sudden would just be a lie. And I don't want us to start off this time with lies.
"I'll let you help me this time B. You know that already or you wouldn't have come." When she says it I realise that she is right and that I knew all along really. She let me in that dream and if she was prepared to let me help her there, she would let me here and now. In the real world. I nod and she sits down on the bed, almost as if her legs won't hold her up if she tells the story. I feel my heart sink to my stomach, but don't say anything, just let her tell whatever it is in her own time.
The first sentence gushes out, how she had been slaying and was alone but had been doing okay.
"There was this girl, Kathryn her name was. She came into the bar one night and she just looked so fucking much like you that I was scared shitless. She wasn't you though B, she was this uptown girl who was looking for a screw. I don't know why I did it B, why I invited her back when I knew that she just wanted to do that. Use me. Like I used to be used. There'd been nobody since I got out, coz I didn't want that life any more, yunno? But she was just so much like you and I thought it would be like being with you, and it just seemed like the right thing to do even if it was wrong." She was starting to cry and I was wondering how a story about a broken heart was leading to mortal danger. I didn't want to think about the implications of the other things that she had said, not yet anyway. She needed to talk and she needed someone to listen.
"We get together another couple of times and it starts to feel, good, I can tell that there's something there. You know how you can just tell? It was starting to feel special and we weren't using each other any more. Stupid huh, B? Faith thinks that she can have the happy ever after. Except that whole redemption thing ain't quite balanced in my favour yet." She let out a huge sob then and continued in a strangled voice. I wonder why seeing her this upsets makes me hurt a little inside and I give her a tissue, and sit next to her on the bed, rubbing the bottom of her back like I do with Will when she's upset. I don't know whether she even notices, she seems to busy trying to make her breath even.
"Well, the one night we were having a really good time, I made a coupla hundred bucks and I was really juiced, yunno. And then this guy comes into the pub and says there's a girl outside, and I run outside thinking some poor kids been attacked, and its her B. It's fucking her. She's dead and it's my fault."
"It's not your fault." I say it but she doesn't hear me, too caught up in the pain to listen to me.
"She's lying there with this little silver cross hanging from her palm and you know what its like B, when you just know. You see it there and you know. One of those motherfuckers that I am supposed to take care of had got to her. It was my job to look after her and I let her down. I let her down in the biggest way, coz whoever did it turned her. He fucking turned her. There was the blood on her mouth and I was hurting so bad and I had to do it B. I had no choice." She starts sobbing again into the tissues I gave her, and I can feel the story tug at my memory. The way it feels to send your lover to hell because you have no choice. And the fact that it is the right thing to do doesn't ever make it hurt any less. So that is the look in her eyes, now. She looks at me and she understands. She has been there. One time I would have been so happy that she had finally felt my pain, but now I am just sad. Older, wiser, and never wishing that kind of hurt on anyone. I want to say the thing that it took me a long time to realise. I close my eyes and there on the back of the lids is the image of Angel's face as I drove the sword through him. It's something that I will never forget but now it is particularly vivid.
I get up and walk over to the chest and divide the rest of the whisky out between the two glasses, not caring if this gives a new definition to 'make it a large one'. I sit back on the bed and hand a glass to Faith who is still crying hard.
"Faith. It's not your fault. You did the right thing. You did the only thing." Oh shit, that just makes her cry even harder and I move closer and wrap my arm around her shoulders, pulling her into me, relieved when she allows me to. I know that she is scared, scared that this will always be the way of her life, and with the track record she has going for her I'm not surprised. Faith and bad luck seem to go hand in hand, and I realise for the first time that she is more than a little amazing to have gotten this far at all. Any weaker person wouldn't have made it through this far. I hold her for a long time, us both sipping the rest of our whisky, until she looks up at me.
"How long are you staying in New York?" she sniffs. I drain my glass and I can't look her in the eyes because now I don't know. I had planned a week a most, but now I just want to be here. I try to answer as honestly as I can.
"For a while. Giles says that there is *another* big evil coming in two full moons' time. He's doing the research, so it was no problem coming out here to you."
"Never stops for you, does it B?" She looks bleary eyed from the whisky and the crying and yet there is still something that makes me want to smile when I hear her call me B. She closes her eyes and I put my glass down, knowing that there is nothing I can do that will take her pain away, but there is something I can do to make her a little more comfortable. I put my hands on her shoulders, feeling the tension in there that does not want to be massaged away. I roll the muscles back and forwards with my fingers, determined and grateful now for all those sleep-overs when I was a kid. I tease the knots with my fingers, and as her breathing becomes slower and more relaxed I feel the tension slowly sliding out of her body.
Eventually her shoulders move freely, and I can feel that nearly all the tension is gone. I lean back and slip my legs either side of her hips. I feel tired and sad. I reach forward and slide my hands around her waist and gently pull her up the bed into me, letting her head rest on my shoulder, her back to my chest. I don't let her go but drop a little kiss on the top of her head, I don't know why. It just feels like the right thing to do. I feel the intake of her breath under my hands and I wait for her to say something. She doesn't, just lies there and allows herself to be held. Before long her breathing becomes steady and low, and I realise she is asleep. All cried out.
My eyes are heavy but my mind is wide awake, too many memories spilling through it, and my mind working its way through the implications of all that has been said tonight. I was right all along, it was me she needed more than anybody to tell her that she was okay, that she could do it. That she was forgiven. I think even she will be able to guess by the way I am holding her now that she is forgiven. And above all, I feel something that is normally reserved for people like Giles. I feel proud. After what she has told me tonight, she could have run away. Like I did. She could have turned her back and her belief on what was good. Instead she had taken the responsibility, more than her fair share of the blame. She had done more than that. She had allowed herself to dream and ask me for help. The old Faith would never have done that. Angel could see her when I was blind. And that is why he has mentioned her all these years to me. So that in some small way he could prepare me for this moment.
I wondered what this Kathryn had been like. I have to say it is spooky to think that I had a double. I suspect that Faith would have fallen in love with this girl as well, if things had been differently. Fallen in love with her because of who she was, or because she was like me? It is an odd question to have to ask, but I think it would have been the former. I think that is why we are here now, like this and it is comfortable. She has seen past me and to something else. She knows now that I am not the be all and end all of her world. It hurts slightly when I think that, even though there was never anything between us, and I spent such a long time using all my energy hating her. The reasons why seem so stupid now.
I move my hand, slowly, carefully, so I don't wake her up and run the tips of my fingers under her ribcage, knowing always where I pushed the knife in. I can feel the skin slightly raised against the material, and I know that I have scarred her. Branded her. Lying here now I don't know whether it's the emotion or the whisky that is making my brain work, but I wish that I could love her like she needs me to. I know that she is still in love with me, despite Kathryn. She is the other half of me. I just don't know whether I could love her like that, I don't even know how to begin to try. I don't even know if I will feel the same way tomorrow when I wake up and it's daylight. Things always seem more real in the day, when we walk in the sunshine. And another doubt flashes through my mind. She might still love me, but does she still need me? Has tonight fulfilled the needs of the dream? She got to talk and be forgiven and it's just another step in the healing process, something that's been taking her farther and farther away from me as the years have gone on. I want to know the answers, but I realise that I can't fight off the sleep any longer and my head falls back onto the pillow. I am vaguely aware of the fact that we are breathing in rhythm and then I think of nothing.
"Morning sleepyhead." She says it with a smile in her voice, and for once there isn't the slightest hint of sexual undertones.
"Like a baby," she sits up and turns around in between my legs. "But that's probably coz I was being held like one." She laughs and I laugh with her, punching her playfully on the arm. Her voice changes to serious for a second. "Thanks. For last night. For listening to me."
"It was what I came for Faith."
"Yeah, well. Thanks anyway." She stands up, restless, and as uncertain as I am as to what happens next. She opts for the practical. "I'm going to take a shower okay? Then we could do breakfast?"
"Sure," I smile and stretch, stiff from the position I've been in all night. As I listen to the water running, I pull my knees up to my chest and look out of the window, willing my mind to wander, drift anywhere.
She comes out of the bathroom, a towel wrapped around her body, wet hair clinging to her shoulders. There is something I have to do, something that I have to know. "Come here." My voice is distant, even to me, and she looks at me puzzled, but does as I ask. She protests faintly as I pull the towel open and look at her body. It is only two inches long, but I can see that the edges are slightly jagged and I guess I must have twisted as I pulled the knife out. She closes her eyes as if she doesn't want me to know what she is thinking. I reach out and touch it gently, feeling the ultra-smooth texture that only happens with scar tissue, feeling where it joins the rest of her skin. I feel the tears well up and overflow my eyes, but I don't wipe them away. I wonder if she touched it this way, my scar, after they had made love? Did she know what I had tried to do? It takes all the strength I have to pull my fingers away and look up to her face. Her eyes are still closed, but the tears are sliding down her face like they are down mine. I stand up and place my forehead against hers, my hands holding the sides of her head, and we just stand there in silence, crying for ourselves, for each other, and for all that we have seen and lost.
She opens her eyes at the same time as I do, glistening darkly with all the emotion I have ever seen. And then I know. Here face is close to mine and I know. I know I can love her like that. I can love her how she wants me to. And how do I know? Because I already do.
This is a story about love and betrayal, murder and sex. And ultimately about hope. That is why I am sitting here now on a plane back to California, next to a woman who has never flown before, and who is gripping my hand as if I could make it all okay. She has her eyes closed and so I look at her, taking in those features that are a little older and little wiser. A face on top of a body that is almost perfect. And it crosses my mind, a stupid thought, that maybe one day, with enough love, I might make that little scar finally disappear.